Oh, New York! For all your frustrations, I never get tired of you. I try to go to New York at least once a year – and manage it about every other year. The impetus for this trip was the inevitable closing of Roundabout Theatre’s Cabaret at Studio 54, with the inimitable Alan Cumming reprising his role as Emcee. When they announced the show would be closing March 29th, no matter what, I decided I just couldn’t miss a chance to see his performance, and booked my flight! New York was still emerging from one of the harshest winters in its history while in Austin, spring had arrived with a soft and gentle flutter. I was going to need to pack strategically.
The BEST travel bag
I ordered this Nena & Co. day bag after seeing it on a blog post at TheFreckledFox.com. It was a real “Treat Yo’Self” moment, as they aren’t cheap. But I haven’t regretted my purchase. The roomy interior, and multiple side pockets with easy access were great for traveling, and the bag fit perfectly under the seat in the plane. The gorgeous colors make me happy every time I look at it. Since I had to dress lightly enough to board a flight in Austin, but carry alternative cold-weather clothing for my arrival in NYC – along with the necessary book, snack, bottle of water, etc. – this bag was perfect.
Day 1 – Arrival and Dinner with Kathleen in LES
Getting to the airport & back – Pack a lunch, you’re going to be in this cab a while
One of the biggest adjustments for me in going to New York is accepting that it will take what seems an irrationally long time to go a very short distance in actual miles. There are cheaper ways to get to your hotel from the airport, but they also require even MORE time, and since I tend to be temporarily fatigued after even a short flight, I decided to spring for a yellow cab. Arriving at JFK at 2:30pm, it took an hour and a half – most of that in standstill traffic, to arrive at my hotel in Lower Manhattan.
The Hotel – That’ll do, New York
I got my hotel with one of Priceline’s mystery “Express Deals”. I was concerned about bedbugs, but not enough to pay over double the amount for the pleasure of knowing at exactly which hotel I’d be staying. I gambled on one in the financial district and ended up with a room at the World Center Hotel, a supposedly 4 star with no reported incidents in the bedbug registry (“This hotel is clean!”). As with many cities, Bustle’s Houston included, be prepared to adjust your expectations when booking a hotel in NY and remove a star or two from the reported rating. My room was very small, with no bathtub (only a shower), thin scratchy towels and an in-room thermostat that often blew cold air when it was supposed to be on heat. However, the bed was comfy, the hotel staff very helpful, room service was available and there was a really nice bar on the top floor with views overlooking the city. That’ll do, New York.
Dumplings and Mermaids
For the first night, I decided to take it kind of easy. I met my lovely friend Kathleen, who works as a historical costume actor at the New York Tenement Museum and she took me to one of her favorite haunts, Vanessa’s Dumplings. I got the pork & chive dumplings, and we shared a larger order of the veggie. Scrumptious!
Afterwards we wandered around Little Italy, shooting the breeze, where we decided a trip to what Kathleen calls the “Always Christmas Store” (actually called Christmas and City) was in order. I confessed my secret obsession with the holiday, and off we went. Our favorite section of the store was the aisle completely dedicated to mermaid ornaments. Mostly because, of the various styles of mermaids on display, many seemed to have actual jobs. A mermaid firefighter! A mermaid police officer! A mer-man stripper! You bring home the bacon, you industrious mer-people! We were tempted by the glamorous Ferrara bakery, but too full of dumplings to partake of any of its wonders, though we did go inside and inhale the sugary scents.
Day 2 – Upper West Side, Grand Central Station and Cabaret
Brunch and Baby
Upper West Side Apartments - View from the Park
I hoofed (& subwayed) all the way to the Upper West Side to brunch with my friend Shanna and meet her new baby. She had texted that once I met him I would “know the true meaning of cuteness”. One always supposes new mothers are a bit biased, but not in this case - Ian couldn’t have been more precious. Squee!!! After a delightful meal and catching up, I headed back into the softly falling – yes, snow, despite the fact that it was the second weekend of spring.
Under the Stars
I visited Grand Central Station in the afternoon, a combination marvel of beaux-arts architecture, train station and (surprise) miniature mall. I was blown away by the gorgeous station with its grand archways, glorious chandeliers and the famous constellation ceiling. Milling throughout the station were New York natives, seemingly oblivious to its remarkable beauty, and tourists blocking traffic as they took picture after picture.
The inside of Grand Central Terminal (Station)
It felt strange to find so much commerce in such a magical place, whether it was an upscale market filled with fresh flowers and artisanal cheeses or something as pedestrian as a Duane Reed. It was in a side hallway (tunnel?) that I discovered a small stand selling the wares of Verrier Boutique, prints and greeting cards illustrated by a local fashion designer and hand-detailed by university students with glittery touches. I fell in love with the decidedly girly designs, a fusion of whimsy and a tough kind of insouciant wit, and purchased two prints and a couple of cards. One is for Bustle, don’t tell her.
The Ceiling in Grand Central Terminal
I then headed back to get ready for my evening at Cabaret. I gave myself plenty of time to get back to the hotel, but it was here that New York threw one of it’s typical hurdles in my path. The subway train I was on got “temporarily” (read: indefinitely) delayed, Hopstop continued to give me bizarre directions, and I got back to the hotel so late I was forced to forego dinner and attempt to hail a cab to Studio 54. It should be noted here that my skill in hailing cabs is extremely slight. So when a black cab stopped for me, even though I knew I was likely about to get scammed, I had no choice but to take him up on his ridiculously inflated fare. Sigh…New York will definitely get you when you’re vulnerable.
Photo from Roundabout Theatre Company's Cabaret
But oh, the show! Cabaret was every bit as wonderful as I expected. Alan Cumming is a master of his craft. He held the audience in the palm of his hand, and made it all look so effortless. Not the kind of effortless where a big star is just phoning it in, but the kind of effortless you see in Olympic athletes, performing physics-defying feats of agility and strength as if they were simply born to fly. THAT kind of effortless. I felt especially lucky to be there on closing night. The entire cast was suffused with that special jolt of energy and presence that only the certain knowledge that this is the last time you’ll ever do this show can summon.
Alan Cumming and the cast of Roundabout Theatre's Cabaret
A Better way
When I got back to the hotel, I was famished. Too late for room service, I discovered that there was a nearby deli that was open, and hallelujah, delivered. For less than the cost of the mediocre burger I got from room service on my first night, I got a delicious pastrami and swiss delivered to the hotel lobby from Café De Novo. I should have known. In New York, there’s always a better way.
Read My New York Trip: Part II & Vim's NYC Travel Tips.