You guys know how much I love playing tour guide. And one of my absolute favorite locations to do it? My home state of New York. It’s so easy to fall into a routine when you’re back on your home turf, there’s nothing like seeing it through the eyes of a traveler to make you fall back in love with the place they call you one of their own.
Which is one of the many reasons I was elated when my very own Bearded Bartender booked a week-long New York stopover en route back to his native Newfoundland for the holidays.
The trip began, like all Alex-led excursions, in total chaos. Ian arrived to an apartment full of Saturday evening energy and all my Brooklyn besties, and the weekend kind of continued on in that tone. We went to a birthday party in the old loft apartment building I used to live in, we dropped in on local favorites like Dough, we watched sunset over the bridge, we walked what felt like the entire length of Franklin Ave, we hit up the Craftacular, and we (read: Ian) cooked a big Mexican feast for all the roommates letting us crash.
We also did something new even for me — ice skating in Prospect Park’s Lakeside Center. I give major kudos to new friend Brianna for getting us out on the ice in honor of her birthday. It was so lovely to spend a rare blue-sky December day outdoors!
I loved this beautiful Brooklyn weekend, celebrating all the people and places that make up my favorite borough.
However, this being Ian’s first ever trip to New York, I wanted to make sure he saw the basics in addition to the offbeat. So for a few nights mid-week when all my friends would be busy working anyway, we checked into a small apartment rental in midtown Manhattan. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t typically do apartment rentals because I think that for me personally, they’d be too isolating when I’m traveling alone. But I’m getting much more into them when I’m traveling with others.
I kind of cringed when I was browsing apartments on Flipkey and realized my favorite studio was located on 39th and Park. It’s a pretty charmless area that I would never consider living in — but, I’d soon realize, was absolutely perfect for all the tourist-happy activities we had in mind.
First of all, the place was cute and perfectly sized for two. It was moments away from Grand Central station which made getting around the city painless, but tucked away enough that it wasn’t too noisy at night. It had a desk that I spent a few hours working at each morning and much more floor space than the average Manhattan hotel room. And at $159 a night, it was a lot cheaper, too!
There was a tad bit of drama when we got into the apartment and Ian detected a gas leak (left to my own devices I would have probably cracked a window, called it a day, and perished alone in my sleep), which led to the property manager trying to move us to a much less appealing room, us refusing, them turning off the gas, and us not having access to the stove for the duration of our stay. To my disappointment I never received a response to my email to the renter, but what can you do. We did love having a fridge, a microwave and a full set of dishware for making breakfast and snacks and storing and reheating our many restaurant leftovers.
From our little home base we hopped all over Manhattan. To a vinyasa class at Yoga to The People, to a laundry list of new and old favorite restaurants, and to some very Ian-specific destinations like The Strand, a must-do for any bibliophile.
One stand out highlight was a double date to Duane Park with hometown bestie Kristin and her man Mark that overshot our expectations by a mile. From the burlesque dancers to the fire-eater to the magician to the talented vocals of the emcee and the live jazz band that accompanied him, we were wowed. And the food and service, easy to neglect when there’s so much emphasis put on the show, was both fantastic. Definitely a fun new find for me — and the perfect place to recommend for special occasions.
Like I said, the apartment could not have been more perfectly located. It was a bitterly cold week in New York, and we were both completely under-prepared for it. Had we been staying further than a few blocks away, I doubt we ever would have made it to the tree at Rockefeller Center, to the neon lights of Times Square or to the charming holiday markets at Bryant Park and Central Park.
As we stood under the flurry-filled night sky looking at that famous star-topped tree, it started to feel like Christmas for the first time.
We were also a bearable distance from Harlem, an area I’d previously avoided due to the two hour commute from Brooklyn via public transportation. But once we arrived I couldn’t believe I’d waited so long to go. On a hot tip from Harlem resident Teri, we headed to Red Rooster for dinner and Shrine for a crazy diverse lineup of live music. I will absolutely be back.
To complete our borough hopping extravaganza, we spent one final night in Queens with a friend from back in Koh Tao. And then, the next morning, we were waving goodbye to the city and hopping a train upstate.
New York City is almost impossible not to make alluring — Albany, however, takes a little more creativity to entertain visitors in. Especially in the winter, my admitted least favorite season.
Still, I’m proud to say, I think I did a pretty bang up job. In addition to the requisite time spent lounging in front of the fire, cooking my mom and her man dinner (read: Ian cooking my mom and her man dinner), and taking Tucker-centric field trips, we also did a fair amount of Capitol Region exploring.
We discovered adorable new establishments like Cider Belly Doughnuts (yay to the entrepreneurs bringing adorable new establishments to Albany!), and hit up old faithfuls like the Wolff’s Biergarten and Speakeasy 518.
The speakeasy in particular — not pictured for obvious reasons — is probably one of the coolest things to ever happen to the New York state capitol, and I sincerely hope I am not banned for life for writing about it on an internet weblog. Considering phones and cameras are strictly banned inside, I have a feeling they don’t take kindly to all this newfangled modern technology.
The week (okay, if you’re wondering how we fit all this into a week, technically it was eight nights) culminated with a runner up in the coolest things to ever happen to the New York state capitol contest — John Oliver performing at The Palace.
I hadn’t been inside since I was a kid and my mom used to drag us to Albany Symphony Orchestra events on the regular, and as soon as I stepped inside I vowed not to let another fifteen years go by before I did so again. It’s a stunning, historical theater that has hosted everyone from Bruce Springsteen to The Rolling Stones. And John Oliver brought down the house with a perfect blend of hometown humor (I can’t believe how much he knew about Albany!), national politics and pop culture references.
Nope, there’s nothing quite like being a tourist in your hometown(s). Especially a home as great as this one.
Stay tuned from for one final post from the Empire State. (Hint: it involves lots of red and green.) What’s your favorite thing to show off in your hometown?
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Many thanks for Flipkey for providing me with a booking credit and Duane Park for hosting us. As always, you receive my honest opinions regardless of who is footing the bill.