Just five minutes to enter a New York state of mind
'One belongs to New York instantly," Tom Wolfe once wrote. "One belongs to it as much in five minutes as five years." I lived in New York for three-and-a-half years and have lived back in Ireland now for almost two years but it still only takes five minutes in the Big Apple for me to feel back at home in its grimy canyons. When midtown traffic slowed to a Friday afternoon standstill, I jumped out of the taxi into the muggy air and walked the last sweaty mile with my suitcases – it seemed like something an impatient local, one of Wolfe's 'Masters Of The Universe', would do after a long flight. I wasn't one any more, but I was retracing my steps.
In 2008, I spent my very first night in the city at the Fitzpatrick on Lexington Avenue and now I was coming back here again. Since I was paying then and someone else was paying this time it was hard to tell if I'd come up or down in the world, but by the looks of things, the intervening six years had been kinder to the hotel than to me and I got, as always, a great welcome from them.
After the long journey I was eager to get out into the late summer air. Luckily, the day after I arrived all of Fifth Avenue was closed off for bikes as part of the annual City Streets festival.
New York, like London and Dublin, is trying to make itself more bicycle-friendly – they recently introduced city bikes like ours and they're a great way to explore places off the beaten track. Most tourists in New York end up in midtown, which is where the majority of the hotels are clustered, but the city has gems they rarely see: just north of Central Park, in Inwood, there are breathtaking rivers and woods that look like they could not possibly be on the island of Manhattan.
Fort Tryon Park on West 192nd street is rated by a friend of mine, a movie location scout who has worked in the city for 15 years, as "one of the greatest spots in all New York". You'll feel like you're on top of a mountain with spectacular views of the skyline. Spots like this are at a premium in fine weather. For most of the summer Manhattan is regarded by its inhabitants very much as the armpit of the nation – sweaty and unpleasant. However, around Labor Day – the last Sunday in August – the worst of the humidity begins to abate and the nights are balmy and beautiful.
Shakespeare in the Park, which this year brought out stars like Kevin Kline and Glenn Close, is well worth a look in Central Park.
The outdoor movies – voted by locals and usually with a New York theme (I caught West Side Story) – also fit the bill if you can't bear to watch actors suffer in tights.
One of the things I have missed the most since I came back to Ireland has been the food. I've literally had to learn how to cook since coming home.
Aside from the fact that you can sit down for a meal up until around 10pm anywhere (by which time the shutters are going up in Dublin) the sheer variety of grub in New York trumps anywhere else in the world. The best meals I ate there all came in at less than €20. A few highlights: The best tacos in the whole city are sold at Dos Toros on 4th avenue at 14th street. Usually I run a mile from anything with an Irish-sounding name but a new place called The Mighty Quinn's on 2nd Avenue at 6th Street came recommended by a Louisiana native as 'the finest southern barbecue outside the south'. The meat was so rich and delicious that I seriously pondered the logistics of FedExing myself a wrapped meal for when I got home. For spectacular steaks, go to Niles restaurant in the Affinia hotel on Lexington Avenue – they serve it with a cheese risotto instead of fries. And for killer margaritas and more-ish Mexican food La Palapa in the East Village is a mandatory pilgrimage.
One of the reasons I'm no longer a real New Yorker – aside from the fact that I secretly hope Anthony Wiener becomes mayor (think of all the entertaining scandals!) – is that I missed the biggest event of the last few years: Hurricane Sandy. The hurricane I was there for – Irene – turned out to be a total non-event. We boarded everything up for a light rain and a breeze. Sandy, on the other hand, was so big and destructive that one hard-bitten East Villager I spoke to described it as "almost not worth the days off work". Easy for him to say.
One of the worst hit areas was Staten Island and I took the ferry out to see what is reportedly the least glamorous of the boroughs (even allowing for the fact that Christina Aguilera comes from there).
The ferry provides great views of the Statue Of Liberty but once you get to Staten Island there's a surprisingly good selection of bars and restaurants. Even if you're short of time, it's well worth waiting at least the half hour till the next ferry and walk about a quarter mile to the beautiful Staten Island September 11 Memorial.
The 'snowplough' arches frame where the World Trade Center towers would've stood across the harbour in Lower Manhattan.
On the inside of each 'plow blade' are silhouettes of each borough resident who died there and the silhouettes are all forever facing the point where the towers once rose.
It was a ponderous end to an amazing trip. Leaving New York's never easy, as the REM song has it. It will be six years next year since I moved there but somehow Wolfe was right: I still feel I belong.
Discover this land, like never before at www.discoveramerica.com
NYC & Company is the official marketing, tourism and partnership organisation for the City of New York. Visitors to New York City are welcome to stop by the high-tech interactive tourist office in midtown Manhattan, located at 810 Seventh Avenue between 52nd and 53rd streets. To get the very latest information about New York City or the surrounding neighbourhoods, go to www.nycgo.com or call the Dublin office on 01 631 9604.
Fitzpatrick Hotel Manhattan is a 4-star boutique hotel, part of the Irish-owned Fitzpatrick Hotel Group, and is located in the heart of midtown Manhattan on 687 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10022. www.fitzpatrickhotels.com/manhattan. To plan your NYC trip check out nycgo.com, the official guide to NYC.
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