The Many Sides of Manhattan

My family was in town over memorial day weekend, and barring two unfortunate events (the L train, my main method of transport, was shut down through Monday; my brother and I were caught in a torrential downpour), it was an incredible time. It was a whirlwind weekend. When my folks, especially my mom, are in town, they hit it HARD. Rather than sum up all of our adventures in one long and meandering humblebrag of a post, I’ll summarize our more-or-less leisurely Sunday, in the hopes of exposing just how many different things you can take in over the course of one day in the Big Apple, even if you’re fighting a fairly nasty hangover because you were out drinking at Rudy’s with your friend Jen until 3:30 in the morning, and then you got awesome buffalo chicken pizza later.

I woke up on the pull-out bed of my brother Alex’s hotel sometime around 9:30AM, mostly because the hotel staff kept getting our room confused with our parents’, which was adjacent. Still, don’t let that sour you on the prospect of staying at The Benjamin if you’re in from out of town. It was booked well in advance, but for a convenient location (50th and Lex), the size of the room (a full queen bedroom plus a small living room area), and the amenities (even the pull-out bed was comfortable), it was a steal. After enjoying complimentary breakfast and lounging around watching Pawn Stars for a while (I don’t understand why I love this show so much), we hit the streets to take a leisurely walk over to the theater district to catch a matinee showing of The Book of Mormon.

The show was great, and I continue to be awed by the life of creative victory Trey Parker and Matt Stone continue to enjoy. I’d been wanting to catch the show since it opened long ago, but tickets are still scarce and expensive. However, a wonderful charity, Broadway Cares sells tickets through their offices, and many are usually available close to showtime. They aren’t cheap, but since it’s a charity, you can write up to 50% of the ticket price off on your tax return, thereby saving money, fighting AIDS, AND enjoying the theater all at once.

Afterwards we took a stroll on the Highline, since it was finally nice out after several days of storms and rain. This elevated park stretches for approximately two miles through Chelsea and is built atop an old, disused freight rail. It’s perfect for enjoying a sunny day in the city, and offers some great mid-level views that were previously only available to gallery owners and the sons of Saudi royalty. In addition to the sun, view, and greenery, there are also sometimes performers and merchants out and about.

We grabbed a random and rather unimpressive slice before heading back to rendezvous with my parents before heading out for dinner at Les Halles with Ajai, James, and Jen. Now made famous by former head chef Anthony Bourdain, Les Halles is a French restaurant that specializes in hearty country fare, with an emphasis on steaks and other meats. Bourdain himself once remarked that Les Halles served the best french fries in the world, and while that might be an overstatement, the golden and crispy frites were certainly delectable, as was the flatiron steak, the crawfish pastry appetizer, and the vanilla bean ice cream.

Thoroughly stuffed, we ventured down to the Lower East Side to meet some of Alex’s old friends from Toyama, Japan, where they had taught English for several years through the JET teacher exchange program. Jarad had suggested we meet at a place called Saints Tavern, and our crew beat the Toyama contingent by about half an hour, which we spent drawing a variety of nightmarish phallic and yonic chalk illustrations on the slate tabletops before heading to the greatest dive bar below 14th street, Spanky and Darla’s.

I didn’t include S&D on my round-up of NYC bars because I thought I had too many village bars on there, but let me tell you, this place is swiftly becoming one of my favorites. It’s cheap, loud, and dirty, and it has an excellent juke box stocked full of country, Southern rock, Motown, and other classics. It’s also usually a shitshow, especially on weekend nights, but that Memorial Day Eve it was a bit more calm, though there was a group of fratty guys at the far end of the bar who would periodically chant a series of indistinguishable acronyms before yelling gibberish. One actually looked at me across the bar, threw up his hands in glee, and exclaimed “FOOTBALL!!!!!!” Other highlights included a giant man in the most pimpin’ outfit I’ve ever seen outside of the Player’s Ball and the lone female bartender who kept buying Jen shots. Alex remarked that it reminded him of  Texas bar, and I had to concur; as Ajai aptly put it, it’s a bar that has a “thin edge of menace” to it, though I have never actually seen any fists fly.

We drank until perhaps 3:00am, with many shots, beers, and drunken jukebox singalongs; one man very solemnly clinked his beer glass with mine as I belted out “The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down”, though my selection of “Always on My Mind” didn’t go over so well with the dance-happy crowds. After we had exhausted our cash supplies, we walked back up St. Mark’s to Sing Sing karaoke, and belted out all the hits until closing time. Then we got some fairly terrible pizza from the place across the street and parted ways.

So you see my friends, Manhattan isn’t all trendy Asian fusion places and investment bankers. There’s also lots of good to middling pizza, plenty of weird drunks, and great places to hang out and maybe get in a fight with friends!

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