All day at work on the day I was due to leave for NYC, I checked the weather and my flight status constantly. I had friends that were flying out of O’Hare that same day were texting me that their flights had been cancelled. There was a huge winter storm brewing on the East Coast, and any flights in and out of New York were getting cancelled left and right. At 4:00pm, I left work to hop on the blue line to the airport, hoping for the best.
I got to O’Hare and saw that every flight before and after mine had been cancelled, but mine hadn’t yet – it was still on schedule. I was convinced this trip wasn’t happening, so I went to McDonald’s (the best airport food, don’t judge me) to drown my sorrows in french fries and chicken nuggets. The customer service desk for United had a line that stretched almost the whole length of the terminal, full of angry customers on cellphones. When it was about time to board, the flight was still on time and they began the process of opening the gate and letting on families. Apparently we were on a smaller plane, which would be better to navigate the storm with. I didn’t feel overly confident about my safety but I got on the plane anyways.
The whole flight was normal up until the last half hour, which was very, very turbulent. We landed safely (thank goodness), and I hopped in a cab right away, headed towards Harlem. My cousin, Gracie, was hosting me for the weekend, and she greeted me with Spanish rice and beer; she knows me so well. We caught up on our lives and listened to music until I was too sleepy to keep my eyes open.
We woke up at a leisurely pace the next morning and had bagels at home before heading out for the day. We took the subway from Harlem to Union Square, where we ran directly into a puppy truck full of dogs up for adoption. We couldn’t resist stopping to pet the little fluff pups. There was one particular little ball of love that I wanted to take home with me. He liked me too, I know it. We went into Innisfree and we got a ton of sheet masks and some free samples, which was amazing because there is no Innisfree in Chicago.
Next, we walked to the Wing in Flatiron, where Gracie works. It’s a women’s only club and coworking space and it is heavenly. There were walls of books organized by color and plush, pink sofas and armchairs. They had a little cafe, where we got some coffee and avocado toast. We got to sneak up onto the roof to take in the view, which was lovely, of course. Later, we would visit one of their other locations, in Soho, which was bigger and even more beautiful, if that’s even possible. Both locations were little oases of calm and pastel perfection.
We also made a stop into The Strand, which is one of my favorite places in NYC. It’s a wonderland of new and used books. We wandered through the stacks and shelves and picked out a few titles. I got “Nocturnes” by Kazuo Ishiguro and a tiny little t-shirt for my niece and Gracie got a couple of books too. After we made our purchases, Gracie led me to one of her favorite ramen places in the city: Ramen Thukpa for a late lunch. It definitely lived up to the hype. We each got a Sapporo and a big bowl of ramen, which we slurped contentedly. The restaurant was pretty small, and the staff was super nice and attentive. We had to sit for a while after we finished because we were so full.
We went to the other location of the Wing to have a cocktail and sit, read and regroup for a while before we headed out for the night. It was nice to be able to relax and freshen up there! We were meeting a couple friends for dinner at Kiki’s in Chinatown. On our way there, we wound up stopping into a pop-up gallery and were greeted with Brooklyn Lagers and a pamphlet on the artist. I wish I could say who it was, but, to be completely frank, I didn’t write it down and it’s been too long since my visit to try to find out. Regardless, the gallery was a treat for all senses: gravel paths led through a field of turf with Chinese statues sprinkled throughout. It smelled like fresh-cut grass. On the walls, collages made of gold and silver chains spelled out sayings on mirrors. It was really fun to experience.
Kiki’s is a wonderful, cozy Greek restaurant; we met our friends Mike and Christy there for dinner. There was a little bit of a wait for a table, but it wasn’t too bad. We ordered a liter of red wine and some small plates: fava bean paste, tzatziki sauce, moussaka, roasted chicken and grilled octopus. The food was SO GOOD! I always love Greek food, but this place was exceptional. We had a truly lovely dinner and conversation. Kiki’s will be on my list to try again next time I’m in the city for sure.
After we finished our meal, we went to a bar called Rocka Rolla in Williamsburg. It was the perfect place: cheap beer, a good jukebox and a big booth just for us. The beer was served in huge goblets, and after a few of them, I decided Gracie and I NEEDED matching Rocka Rolla t-shirts, so I bought us each one. We held court in our booth for the majority of the evening, and more and more friends joined us. We drank and danced until it was almost closing time. Then Gracie and I took a cab home and got a pizza to split on our way.
The next morning, we were both feeling pretty rough, but I made us go out and get breakfast anyways. After a walk around Harlem, we ended up at The Grange, where we drank every liquid they put in front of us and ate in silence. I had french toast and bacon, and the bacon was so dang good. It was a little overpriced, but that’s what we get for choosing a hip brunch spot in Harlem I guess. After breakfast, Gracie and I went to see the Royal Tenenbaums house, which was just down the street, and then she walked home and left me to explore Harlem on my own. I was grateful for a chance to see this slice of NYC that I hadn’t experienced yet.
My first stop was the Apollo Theater, which weirdly enough, was in a trip of outlet stores and fast food restaurants. I wanted to see this place where so many of my favorite musicians performed, but unfortunately the tours are by appointment only, so I had to settle for seeing the lobby and taking photos of the marquee. I sang some Aretha Franklin in my head and moved on.
I walked a little south to see what I could see and was delighted to find a lovely strip of cafes, restaurants and apartments that I would love to move right into. I stopped into Double Dutch to get a latte to keep me going. It was such a cute little coffee shop, but it was absolutely packed so I took mine to go. The coffee was delicious, but I chugged it so I could go into a restaurant (Harlem Tavern) where live music was playing. I sat and had a glass of wine at the bar to listen, which was a lovely way to spend an hour.
When the band finished their set, I decided to take another walk around the neighborhood before heading back to Gracie’s apartment. We took the train together to Soho because she had to work that evening. I walked her there and then went to Canal Street Market on her suggestion to get something to eat before my flight. I perused the small vendor’s goods and grabbed a bibimbap from the Korean food counter. I sat in the common area to enjoy it – which I did with gusto! It was delicious. I cabbed it to La Guardia from there and reluctantly went home. Every time I come to NYC, I have to bribe myself with another visit to get on the plane home. One of these days, I’ll just move there already, but until then, I’ll always look forward to the next visit.
Have you been to New York? Which is your favorite NYC neighborhood?