Bucket List 88: New York, New York

I don’t have a terrible memory – but I’d rather not put it to chance. This summer, I’m recording what I consider to be New York notables. This is a list of restaurants, bars, people, street corners, parks, as well as moments that stand out as something worth repeating or, at the very least, remembering.

I am also publishing this for my friend, Steffi, who will be here in the fall to train as a new hire for J.P. Morgan (she’s an impressive one). And so with her in mind, I give to you my knowledge of New York City, as limited in scope as that of any NYU-offbeat, but at least it’s a fair assessment. Here is my blip of a summer, nearly over, gone in a flash, and this is what I did…

DO

1. Ask Mike Myers for directions. He was wearing dad socks and a t-shirt on a street corner in the West Village. I was looking for a bar called Employees Only so I approached the nearest person I could find and it was the comedic legend. Oh la-di-da.

2. Meet an American Apparel employee and realize that all the hipster stereotypes are true.

3. Friday night at MoMA; Free from 4-8 p.m. [warning: if tourists bother you, avoid these hours]

4. Watch a foreign film at East Village Cinema, the curiously abandoned movie theatre. Wonder how they stay open and sneak in a box of mini pastries from Veneiro’s down the street (11th, between 1st and 2nd Ave), the oldest Italian bakery in New York. Stick to goods from the homeland (cannoli, napoleons); opt for Black Dog Bakery a block away on 2nd Ave for French tarts from consistently rude attendants. It’s still worth it.

5. Find some moody jazz playing, preferably a small, dark venue underground; great for dates, not so much for double dates.

6. Take a bottle of wine up to the roof of your apartment building. If this is not allowed…find a way. I’ve lured many friends to the attic of Manhattan – Morningside Heights – to relax on my roof where there just so happens to be a restaurant, Terrace in the Sky. I go for the couch swings, the garden and the skyline.

7. Discover Riverside Park. Run the 4-mile stretch beside the Hudson; pass the countless baseball fields and Columbia profs reading on benches. On a Saturday, don’t miss nearby Cherry Walk lined with docked sailboats named “Hambone” or “Liquid Assets.” 

8. Read the Saturday Times with coffee. I personally cut straight to the last page of the NY Times Mag where there’s always an incredible short story. I wonder what it takes to get one published – oh, probably just a literary agent and a bestseller – a girl can dream.

9. Sunbathe on the Great Lawn in Central Park; avoid Frisbees and footballs, people-watch and soak it up, sun and a free Saturday rarely coalesce.

10. Have a bizarre run-in with a crazy man. This one in particularly was polite. He said, “Excuse me, miss, would you mind stepping aside?” Thinking I was blocking his path to the subway, I hopped to the right just in time for him to start peeing where I had been standing. I’m just grateful he asked me to move first.

11. Watch When Harry Met Sally, Barefoot in the Park, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Big, Annie Hall and Manhattan have a Woody Allen party. Feel closer to the stories.

12. Overhear a couple’s conversation you couldn’t make-up if you tried:

Location: Central Park, bench beneath a tree

(The couple sat close together with a picnic basket beside them; it would seem all is well…)

Him: You’ve been STALKING me ALL DAY!

Her: WHAT are you TALKING about Adam? I CAME here for YOU!

Him: Jesus, you’re CRAZY!

(Walking past, I looked at them and laughed so hard, I think I interrupted whatever was going on there)

13. Watch the sunset over Manhattan from Brooklyn. There are different viewpoints: the Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park is older than Brooklyn Bridge Park and less crowded. I prefer Empire-Fulton in for the view (see photo), Brooklyn Bridge Park for the ice cream.

14. Hookah at Khyber Pass on St. Mark’s.

15. Boldly cancel a hair appointment at John Frieda, go ahead, I dare you. Get scolded, they are “VERY BUSY YOU KNOW!”

16. Ride in Patrick’s $10 limo complete with small pet dog. He’ll offer you beer and illegal substances. He’s an old man, so thank him and kindly refuse. He’ll let you pet the dog and show you a picture of Scarlet Johanson holding the dog.

17. Bond with your roommate, slowly. Start by eating lunch together, randomly, one day. Swap stories. Eventually, have that awkward – “accidental naked” moment, realize neither of you cares. Make plans for yoga!

18. Go to a Yankees game, buy a hot dog, smuggle in a few bottles of Brooklyn Lager and have at it. With Jay-Z in the audience and Rodriquez on the verge of 600 home runs, you can’t go wrong. The Royals were clobbered, 7-1.

19. Watch kids playing baseball in a city field; realize the sport still has magic anywhere you go.

20. Discover just how badly restaurants mark up wine; try to scold the bartender; he’ll shrug and give you the old “That’s New York, whuddya gonna do?” I found a bar in Soho selling a $15 bottle for $11 by the glass. Now when I’m out, I stick to good beer.

21. Have a movie moment and tearfully reunite with an old friend from across a busy street. Wait until the cabbies clear the road, run to each other, embrace and ignore the stares.

22. Watch Amy Poehler’s live sketch comedy at the United Citizens Brigade Theatre Sunday nights; $10 7:30 show, free 9:30 show.

23. Meet a Fox Producer and finally ask all those burning questions you’ve had about Bill O’Reilly, offset.

24. Chat-up an old director in Washington Square Park; NYU film school is a block away, they’re a dime-a-dozen.

25. Befriend your doorman. Tony, an older gentleman, saves me a copy of The Washington Post every morning.

26. Walk Jay Street at dusk when DUMBO becomes a surreal urbanscape of spray-painted brick buildings framing a perfect view of Manhattan over the Hudson, obstructed only by the giant planted legs of Manhattan Bridge. It’s a scene I imagined as a little girl dreaming about city life, and it’s on Jay Street in Brooklyn.

28. Witness a street fight, traditionally traffic-related. On Houston and Varick, I saw a biker with every likeness to the Hell’s Angel’s explode off his Harley after a van tapped his bumper. A crowd of street-side pedestrians encircled the scene, re-creating nothing short of a WWE shakedown while the biker rocked the van back and forth.

29. Miss home when you’re having one of those days. When it rains it pours here. One Friday I went home sick to discover Columbia University had turned off my Internet access, my computer’s power chord was broken and I had lost my $90 subway card (beers and a Yankees game with Carolyn cheered me up).

30. Wait in line for rooftop access to the Empire Hotel. Yes, the bouncer will have a strange likeness to The Situation from Jersey Shore.

31. Watch The Big Lebowski in the Brooklyn Bridge Park on Thursday night for the “Movies with a View” film series, New York’s version of a drive-in. Party-packed boats sailed past the hill covered with thousands of us on blankets watching the film and everyone waved to each other with the Manhattan skyline in the backdrop – you just don’t see that often.

EAT & DRINK

32. White Horse Tavern in the West Village, where poet Dylan Thomas drank 18 whiskies and died, where Frank McCourt realized he wanted to go to college, where Bob Dylan was a 1961 regular; great for burgers, brats and cider.

33. Stumble upon the oldest Irish tavern in NYC. McSorley’s Old Ale House in NoHo is a home away from home. Between light and dark, I order dark, and get no greater satisfaction than drinking it in a bar that drew the likes of Abraham Lincoln. The tavern hearkens Hell’s Kitchen bootleggers and the Westies in the time of Owney Madden and Mickey Featherstone.

34. Instinctively wonder if the old man with the unruly beard reading the paper next to you at the Hungarian Pastry Shop is JD Salinger. I had to fight tears back when I remembered he had died this year. For some writers in New York, there was always that secret hope of meeting him one day, I being one of them.

35. Grimaldi’s in Brooklyn, but only if you can stomach the lines extending as far back as the Hudson. Best cannoli I’ve had to date.

36. Spontaneously grab a slice. There are some days so busy, you would starve were it not for the corner pizzeria. I won’t venture to tell you the best because hell if I know. But there are a few I enjoy because of 1. proximity to the bar I’m leaving 2. price and 3. old NYU haunts . These include Ben’s Pizzeria in Greenwich Village, Famous Joe’s Pizza in the West Village, any corner pizzeria on 3rd Ave and of course, Famiglia’s.

37. Peanut Butter Company in Greenwich Village – because why the hell not. You have to love a place that celebrates the most traditionally boring sandwich in America, though there’s nothing boring about the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl™ Sandwich.

38. Shake Shack – the “IN-N-OUT of NY,” – on the Upper West Side, where the slightly ridiculous lines are never as astronomically ridiculous as that of the original Madison Square Gardens location.

39. Shake Shack is good but it’s not the kind of burger that sends me over the edge because of its dainty size. Enter 5 Guys Burgers and Fries, the better of the two.

40. Behold the Corner Bistro’s burger the size of a boxer’s fist. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s a shack with old school burgers and McSorley’s Ale on tap.

41. Embrace the great holes in the walls – i.e. Casa Havana in Chelsea for cubanos and margaritas under $10, Plump Dumpling on 2nd Avenue, the Big Enchilada for TexMex and Paul’s Da Burger Joint on 3rd Ave.

42. $50 burgers and beers, avoid this episode whenever possible. It is a tragic combination, along with $27 quesadillas.

43. Pinkberry happy hour!

44. Brave the first few “on-my-own-for-first-time” dinners at home. This requires an awkward grocery trip or two trying to plan out your meals in advance like you never really have to do in college or living at home; buy tortillas and shredded cheese, sandwich bread and Ben and Jerry’s.

45. Brave Park Slope parents using strollers like lawn mowers to cut through pedestrian traffic for a sandwich at Press 195 in Brooklyn.

46. Market Table in West Village for Cobb Salad or lobster rolls (the vogue lunch of summer 2010)

47.  Mario Battali restaurantsOtto’s near Washington Square Park is my favorite on 5th Ave; made to feel like you’re dining in an Italian train station.

48. Chelsea Street Baking Co. – wait 2 hours for their blueberry pancakes at brunch, pass time with an old friend at one of many coffee shops across the street.

49. EJ’s Kitchenette on Upper East side for “crunchy French toast,” basically glorified corn flaked Texas toast served up in a kitschy diner upper eastsiders are sure to escape to for weekend brunch comforts.

50. Pomme Frites on 2nd Ave. Beside countless student bars, some businesses are born out of sheer opportunity. Large cones of Belgian fries, 30 dipping sauces and poutine draw intense after-hours crowds. Do not be swayed by surrounding copycat businesses promising “authentic Belgian fries” for less, they are inferior and they do not sell Mexican ketchup or War Sauce for that matter.

51. Chase food trucks around – think you’re crazy for buying schnitzel from a vehicle – think again. Hunt down Schnitzel & Things, Dessert Truck, and the Dosa Man of Washington Square Park.

52. Wait 30 minutes for a carne asada burrito from the Calexico cart, Vendy Award-winning. After one bite, I’ve forgotten what Chipotle tastes like.

53. Opt for the Spicy Redneck at Crif Dogs on St. Mark’s. Curbside hot dog vendors can only offer so much, but a housedog, bacon wrapped, with chili, cole slaw and jalapeños won’t be mistaken for Oscar Meyer. It’s a shame they only serve PBR and Miller High Life to accompany food made for good beer.

54. Fall prey to Dumbo’s limited dining options in 103 degree whether, be forced eat at Rice; not that it’s bad, but wholly incongruous with inferno-like surroundings.

55. Korean BBQ in Little Seoul of Bergen County, New Jersey. Marvel at how it’s considered out-of-town when only 6 miles from your apartment.

56. Hi Life on the Upper West side for sushi and burgers! I wouldn’t be suggesting it, had the place not been packed.

57. PhoSure in the West Village for traditional Vietnamese sandwiches, though the name is suspect.

58. Eat out with adventuresome-types. Try the mystery roll on the sushi menu, finish with red bean ice cream and indulge in road trip fantasy talk of driving Route-66 together; maybe in another lifetime when I’m reborn as Kerouac’s Sal Paradise.

59. Have the Boathouse experience: the fillet, the cupcake and the sweetest box of chocolates you’ve ever seen for a birthday by the lake. Invite an interesting assortment of characters. Order the Kentucky Honey bourbon when the rest of the table orders wine.

60. Discover Amsterdam’s corner sangria, goblet-sized and in Morningside Heights. Compared to the thimbles they hand out as drinking vessels everywhere else, it’s worth the trek uptown.

61. Employees Only on Hudson Street for my favorite cocktails in the city.

62. Mohitos at Cuba on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village, they’re “the best in New York!” or so the sidewalk chalkboard reads.

63. Talk beer with the new Brewmaster of Chelsea Brewing Company on Pier 59. The Rice (Hanszen ‘03) alumnus will recommend Black Hole Stout.

64. Forgo the cupcake craze (whatever happened to platecakes?) or cool down with an Almond Cookie cone at Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, Strawberry at Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory, or gelato at GROM on Bleeker.

SHOP

65. Boldly buy a hat. Don’t channel the fedora-clad cast of High School Musical – think Ingrid Bergman – if the director had given her the hat to wear instead of Bogart in Casablanca.

66. Find that beautiful, un-wearable city dress, just slightly out of price range. Try it on, adore it, forgive the fact that it’s see-through but eventually, return it to the racks relenting you’re never going to find an occasion to wear it.

67. Shop 11th between 1st and 2nd where every style stereotype abounds. It’s a fair mix of boutiques and consignment – but each store has an entirely different persona, catering to a subset of NYU clientele. Buffalo Exchange for hipsters and patient browsers, Tokyo Joe’s for brand slaves and countless boutiques for the Parisian chic, the metrosexual and the stylistically confused.

68. Finally buy that poster you’ve been eyeing on Bleeker for the past month.

69. Try and find a book at The Strand. It’s the nation’s largest used books store; there are more books here than people in the city. Somehow this fact has paralyzed me from ever finding a book though (I say this to people and they gasp). It’s like dating here for many – you pick one up, it looks interesting enough, but for chrissake, there are a billion other books to consider! – you put it down and look for a better one.

70. Roam the only 99-cent store that sells sushi. Don’t buy it, but marvel that many people do. Actually, Jack’s 99 Cent Store is a landmark in Midtown East. It’s three floors of chaos, but if you can muster the elbow space, pick up $50-worth of household cleaning products for $6.

71. Grocery shop at Trader Joe’s. Ask the staff questions about the best products (they know their food like Mac Genius’ know their Apple). There are only three locations around the city; one in Brooklyn and two downtown which makes Morningside Heights the no-man’s land of cost-effective grocery shopping.

72. Browse the Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair and Brooklyn Flea Market. Be selective with your craft fairs, however, there are many per weekend and they’ll absorb your afternoon. So many organic t-shirts to sort through!

73. Get used to ruining your favorite pairs of shoes; wear and tear takes o a whole new meaning. This makes shopping for shoes as necessary as shopping for toiletries; though certainly more enjoyable.

74. Walk past a rugged-looking John Mayor shopping on Spring Street. Hold yourself back from approaching him; god only knows what he’d say to a female fan – I believe Perez Hilton can attest – unkind words, I’m sure.

75. Stockpile Ben and Jerry’s, 2 for $6. Stick it to all the grocers in NY who prices their pints at $7. That being said, avoid the Appletree Markets in town, they price theirs at $8.

76. Fruit shop in China Town for cherries so shined they’ll blind you.

77. Be ridiculously impulsive – but only once – to get it out of your system. If I were to do it over again, I hope I would still buy that summer dress hanging in the window of that African market on St. Mark’s…but honestly, I think it was the pitcher of sangria talking…

78. …and DON’T buy bootlegged movies after 2 happy-hour margaritas with coworkers. Yes, I am guilty of this and no, Toy Story 3 did not work.

SUBWAY

79. Have a fantastic night out on the town and then forget all about it in a mood-killing 2-hour return uptown on the 1 Train (spend an additional hour waiting for a subway that never comes on 42nd). Think to yourself as you fall into bed, exhausted, what did I do again tonight?

80. Hear a busker as good as any celebrated musician that lifts your mood entirely

81. Meet the sexual harasser. Slap a wandering hand away from your backside on the 6 Train.

82.  Give up your seat for an elderly person or a woman with a baby; sporadic subway announcements will remind you of this social duty.

83. Ride the subway in an empty car; like being the only one in a movie theater. The first time this happened to me, it was spooky. I’m familiar with trains so packed with people, you get used to the feeling of stranger’s arms resting against yours. The bad news: usually this is late at night when there is good reason to feel a little on edge.

84. The mind-numbing ride. Have your cell phone die, and your ipod die and realize you forgot your subway read. Stare at the ads on the ceiling encouraging pregnant women not to do drugs

85. Run into an old friend on the subway. Colliding into my high school chum Carolyn underground Times Square at the 42nd Street station is a fantastic example of this.

86. The unusually awful ride. Observe something that makes you never want to ride pubic transportation again: having ridden alongside bad parents or unstable passengers.

87. The unusually great ride. Observe something that makes you grateful you ride public transportation: when a group of strangers strike up conversation pertaining to shared hometowns or interests; when little boys break out into a game of cops and robbers and the train becomes a playground.

88. Get a kick out of the 6-year-old city kids more subway-savvy than you.

There is more I hope to do before I leave: kayak on the Hudson, explore Queens, picnic in High Line, become best friends with Tina Fey and write the next great American novel. A girl can dream.

Until next time!