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Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan’

Penelope NYC interior restaurant

I spent my Labor Day weekend in NYC, staying in a little apartment near Park Slope and wandering in both Brooklyn and Manhattan. The trip, like most of my New York weekends these days, was a mix of familiar and new: a long browse at the Strand, a fantastic musical I hadn’t seen (Come From Away, which made me laugh and cry), a lovely Friday evening in my favorite tangle of streets in the West Village. (The bookseller gossip at Three Lives continues to be the best.)

I went back to the Chocolate Room, which I visited on my first-ever trip to NYC for a retreat led by Jen Lee, years ago. I finally went to Books Are Magic and then tried out Jolie, a French-Mexican cantina in Cobble Hill. I had brunch with dear Abilene friends (both of whom I’ve known since I was a college student and they were just kids) at Maman in TriBeCa, which was new to all of us.

And on Sunday night, I went back to Penelope.

Like so many of my NYC loves, Penelope was a gift from Allison, my dear friend who used to live in Queens and periodically take me to all her favorite NYC spots. Penelope is the kind of place we both love: cozy and inviting, with simple, homey comfort food and yummy desserts. We first ate there on a frigid January weekend, and it lived in my memory as twinkly and delicious.

There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of restaurants in NYC, and I love trying multiple new ones every time I go. Part of the adventure is simply walking into a new place that looks interesting, on whatever street I happen to be on. But I am also both a creature of habit and a person who and delights in repeating joys. When I find something I love, I generally want to enjoy it again and again.

A couple of years ago, during a work conference in midtown, I trudged over to Penelope for dinner one night, dry-eyed from staring at PowerPoint screens and nearly voiceless from a lingering cold. I sat at the bar, which was festooned with twinkle lights, and ate a bowl of spicy, orange carrot-ginger soup. The waitress, after hearing my scratchy voice, brought me a mug of hot water with honey and lemon, a vibrant yellow slice floating on top. Her kindness choked me up (even more than my sore throat). It was such a gesture of care.

I’ve spent enough time in New York now that parts of it feel like mine: there are places I can throw off the tourist mantle for a few minutes, neighborhoods I know well enough not to second-guess my every step. Much of it, of course, is either unfamiliar or constantly changing; the city is huge and dynamic, and even if I lived there, it wouldn’t stay the same. But I’ve drawn immense pleasure from coming back to my favorite places, including Penelope.

This time, it was late on a Sunday night and the place was nearly empty. But the waitress still had a smile for me, and I sat and read my book, savored my sandwich and glass of rosé, and relaxed into the quiet familiarity (and the nineties jams on the stereo). I walked back to the train through Murray Hill, with my leftovers in a brown paper bag, sleepy and footsore (I’d been walking for three days) and entirely satisfied.

Do you like going back to favorite places in cities you’ve visited? Or would you rather try something new every time?

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strand bookstore awning nyc

One of my favorite things about traveling alone: I can go to as many bookstores as I want. My husband is a patient man, but when we’re traveling together, he occasionally wants to see something other than the inside of a bookstore. (I can’t imagine why.)

On my solo trip to NYC in mid-August, I indulged my book-browsing habit to the tune of five bookstores in four days. I came home with a dozen new-to-me books (stuffed into the Strand tote bag I had prudently carried along), and a full bookworm heart.

three lives co bookstore nyc front

I stayed at the Larchmont Hotel in the West Village, so my first stop was Three Lives & Co., just a few blocks away. It’s a cozy, well-curated space with shelves that reach nearly to the ceiling.

three lives bookstore interior

I eavesdropped on a bookseller who was talking novels with a customer, and chimed in to second his recommendation of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. (My purchases: Robert MacFarlane’s Landmarks and Thomas Montasser’s charming novel A Very Special Year.)

Last time I visited Idlewild Books, they were in a second-floor storefront near Union Square, but they have moved to a spacious ground-floor shop in the West Village. I went in for a browse and picked up a quirky New England travel guide. The a/c was on the fritz and the box fans were blasting, but I loved nosing around the stacks and dreaming of trips I’d love to take.

idlewild books nyc interior

Up on Bleecker Street, also in the Village, bookbook provided another break from the heat and a fascinating place to browse. I picked up some good nonfiction at 50% off, including The Empathy Exams and H is for Hawk.

bookbook bookstore bleecker street west village nyc

I spent a good portion of my Sunday wandering the Upper West Side, and Book Culture on Columbus Ave. was a must. I love their huge ground floor full of gorgeous fiction, fascinating nonfiction and beautiful gifts, and their cozy children’s section in the basement is perfection. I came away with a whole stack: fiction, nonfiction and a couple of children’s books. And I loved this display toward the front of the store.

book culture women display

The Strand, with its 18 miles (!) of bookshelves, wasn’t far from my hotel, but I didn’t make it there until Sunday night – too busy wandering. I slipped in for a browse just before closing time and bought The Art of Slow Writing, which Addie had recommended. And then – because I could – I went back the next morning before my train left, and came away with a journal and a couple of gifts.

strand bookstore nyc exterior

I’m heading back to NYC later this fall, and a couple of these stores will definitely be on my list. If you’ve got other favorite NYC bookstores, let me know – I’m always looking for more bookish places to enjoy.

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central park yellow flowers nyc

Confession: I had a hard time at first coming up with books for this post.

There are a million books set in NYC, but the New York in my head is the New York of TV and movies: Friends, Castle, pretty much every Nora Ephron film ever made. (I once spent an entire solo vacation pretending to be Kathleen Kelly.) Plus, New York is always changing: every book set there captures a slightly different city, filtered through a different historical era or narrator’s perspective.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t gather up a handful of books about this beautiful, gritty, bewitching city. So here are my New York favorites for you. Please add yours in the comments!

Children’s Lit/Classics

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
I loved this book as a child – dreamy Francie, her hardworking mother and exuberant Aunt Sissy, and the hope and heartbreak of growing up in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn.

The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright
I adore this first book in the Melendy series, about four siblings who live in a big, comfortably shabby brownstone with their father and their housekeeper-general, Cuffy. The siblings take turns exploring the city by themselves on Saturdays, and the sense of wonder and independence is exactly right.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsberg
Claudia and her little brother Jamie run away from home – to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as one does. When I visited the Met for the first time as an adult, I thought about them sneaking through the halls at night and scrounging coins from the fountain.

Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet’s childhood was so different from mine: a brownstone with a dumbwaiter! Ole Golly! Tomato sandwiches and chocolate egg creams! It all seemed fantastically exotic to me. But Harriet is a New York girl through and through.

Remember Me to Harold Square, Paula Danziger
This fun middle-grade novel is built around a New York scavenger hunt undertaken by three kids – so it contains lots of city trivia. But it’s fast-paced, funny and highly entertaining.

strand books nyc exterior

Nonfiction/Memoir

Here is New York, E.B. White
White wrote this long essay in 1949, after the city and the world had been transformed by two world wars. But reading it in the wake of 9/11, it still feels eerily relevant. He evokes so well the combination of hope and possibility and fear, the vibrant rhythm of the city streets. (I found my copy at the Strand, pictured above.)

Act One, Moss Hart
An inside look at the mid-century NYC theatre world from one of the great playwrights. Hart’s voice is wry, witty and warm. (I picked this one up at Three Lives & Co. in the West Village.)

My First New York, various authors
New York is beautiful and brutal, and it glitters with possibility. This collection of about 50 essays captures the dazzling range of New York experiences: gorgeous, bewildering, always exciting. (I bought my copy at Shakespeare & Co. on the Upper East Side.)

Eat the City, Robin Shulman
Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, NYC teems with food production: gardens, breweries, farms. Shulman explores the city’s history through its food producers, past and present. (Another Strand find.)

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, Laurie Colwin
Colwin writes with wit and grace about food, love, and tiny New York apartments. I especially love “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.”

Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl
Reichl visited dozens of restaurants as the New York Times food critic, often in disguise. This is a rarefied New York, but it’s so much fun (and mouthwateringly described).

brooklyn brownstones light

Fiction

Rules of Civility, Amor Towles
A glittering tale of high society, love and ambition in 1930s New York. Gorgeously written.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, Melanie Benjamin
A razor-sharp, elegantly written imagining of Truman Capote and the circle of wealthy socialite “swans,” notably Babe Paley, who were his darlings in 1950s NYC.

The View from Penthouse B and The Family Man, Elinor Lipman
Lipman writes witty comedies of manners, and these two novels both draw New York in quick, loving strokes.

Girl in Translation and Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
Kwok’s novels both feature Chinese-American protagonists struggling to make their way in NYC. She draws the sharp contrasts of New York – enormous privilege next to great poverty; immigrant traditions and the siren call of the new – so well.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
This novel is tragic, moving and sometimes very funny . It is an incredible mosaic of New York: all the lives and the loneliness (and the post-9/11 cocktail of fear, love and loss).

Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
Eilis Lacey emigrates from her small Irish town to Brooklyn in the 1950s, struggling to build a life for herself. This is a lovely evocation of a vanished New York, with a quietly appealing main character.

Bunheads, Sophie Flack
A well-written YA novel about a young ballet dancer in New York – who starts to wonder if the world of ballet is where she truly belongs. Captures the constant possibility that thrums through the city.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are your favorite books about (or set in) NYC?

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brooklyn brownstones light

Recently, the hubs and I hopped down to New York for the weekend. The reason (or excuse)? A college friend of ours was performing in Carmen, and we both were hankering for a getaway. (Not that we really need a reason to head to New York – but it helped galvanize us.)

This trip was a short one – almost exactly 48 hours long – but we packed in a lot of fun and good food.

subway public art nyc

Right after getting off the train, we met our buddy Isaac for lunch at Bareburger in Midtown. I’d been there before, but J never had. Their burgers (beef, bison and other varieties) are so fresh and tasty.

We returned to a neighborhood we love: Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where we stayed a couple of years ago. This time, we rented a charming third-floor walk-up near Fort Greene Park, comfortable and flooded with light.

brooklyn apartment living room

After dropping off our bags, we wandered the neighborhood, popping into a few shops and visiting the Greene Grape, which stocks all kinds of delicious food and drink. Then we tried a restaurant around the corner (recommended by our Airbnb hosts): Madiba.

madiba wall tapestry mandela

Madiba is often used as a name for Nelson Mandela, and fittingly, this restaurant has a funky, welcoming South African vibe. I loved the art prints, textiles, tribal masks and the music. And the food – as you can see from J’s expression – was amazing.

jer bunny chow madiba

We both ordered curry dishes – I had lamb curry with saffron rice, and J opted for the chicken “bunny chow” version in a hollowed-out heel of bread. We split a rich, creamy malva pudding (with apricot jam) for dessert. Every bite was perfection.

malva pudding

After dinner, we caught the subway to Brooklyn Heights, where we saw Theater 2020’s production of A Little Night Music. I don’t have any photos from the show, but it was fantastic – minimally staged in a spare Gothic chapel, and beautifully sung. I’ve been humming “Send in the Clowns” for over a week now. (I particularly loved Charlotte, the scheming wife with a dry wit and impeccable delivery.)

The next morning dawned sunny and cool, and we ended up grabbing breakfast at the Fort Greene Park farmers’ market. Because I could not resist a cherry pie muffin.

cherry pie muffin

Delectable – plus it matches my gloves. (Not pictured: the hot apple cider I bought to go with it. Also wonderful.)

We strolled the neighborhood, and of course we had to visit Greenlight Bookstore. (J kindly indulges my bookstore obsession when we travel.)

greenlight bookstore window brooklyn

Lunch was fish tacos at Cafe Habana – not quite Tex-Mex, but pretty darn close.

We hopped a train into Manhattan after that, and spent the rest of the afternoon strolling the Upper West Side. A Shakespeare exhibit at the NYPL branch at Lincoln Center, a visit to Book Culture on Columbus Avenue, chai lattes from a tiny shop called The Sensuous Bean. I adore the Upper West Side (where I stayed last fall), and it was a brisk but mostly sunny afternoon. Perfect for strolling with my love.

upper west side nyc

Later, we enjoyed dinner at Hourglass Tavern in Hell’s Kitchen – so named because they pride themselves on getting patrons to the theatre on time. We had time to savor our pasta and wine (without feeling rushed), and then headed to our evening at the opera.

diamond horseshoe lights

The Diamond Horseshoe, where this production of Carmen was staged, is a performance space in the basement of the Paramount Hotel on West 46th. It’s a cross between a swanky hotel bar, the opera house from Phantom of the Opera, and a scene straight out of Moulin Rouge – a wild, glitzy mix of opulence and decay. But the opera was excellent. (Though we were partial to the tall Texan playing two different roles – a soldier and a gypsy.)

jer isaac carmen

Sunday morning found us brunching at Walter’s in Fort Greene (another host recommendation and apparently a popular neighborhood spot). I had the huevos rancheros, which were delicious. And the people-watching was so fun. (It always is in New York.)

huevos rancheros walters brooklyn

We caught the subway into Midtown to drop our bags off at Penn Station, then grabbed some chai at Think Coffee and headed for the High Line, which I had visited but J had not. Most of the plants are dormant right now, but it was a gorgeous day and the views are stunning.

high line bridge nyc

After strolling the length of the park, we wandered around Greenwich Village, split a pizza at Ribalta, and hopped back on the subway to catch our train home.

high line selfie nyc

Two days in NYC is never enough, but I’d say we made the most of it. We came home with tired feet, a few new books (of course) and a slew of lovely memories.

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brooklyn spread love sign

Our recent New York weekend began with Mexican food, book browsing in the West Village and dessert at Cafe Lalo. It continued with a gorgeous, sunny Sunday.

little zelda brooklyn

We got chai and breakfast sandwiches from Little Zelda, and ate them perched on a bench on the sidewalk, enjoying the sunshine.

sept 11 memorial reflection

After breakfast, we caught a train to Lower Manhattan, where we visited the 9/11 Memorial. It was crowded, but still (mostly) quiet, and so moving.

sept 11 memorial pool

Everyone says it was a gorgeous fall day when the planes hit the towers – a day just like this. Endless, heartbreaking blue sky.

sept 11 memorial blue sky

I had wanted to see the memorial for a while, and I’m glad we finally went: it felt right to walk around the two sunken pools and pay my respects. I couldn’t help thinking back to the day (I was a high school student in West Texas) and the changes those attacks have wrought in all our lives.

sept 11 memorial flowers

I wanted to walk around and read every single name.

first responders sept 11 memorial

After spending a while there, we caught a train up to SoHo, where we browsed the high-end shops and visited Purl Soho. I came away with two gorgeous skeins of bright pink yarn.

purl soho yarn

Our friend Mary Kate recently moved to NYC, and we met her for lunch at Parm. We ate delicious Italian food (eggplant parm on a sandwich, people) and talked for ages.

jer katie mary kate nyc

After lunch we headed up to Central Park, which is always a treat, but especially so on such a gorgeous day.

central park nyc

We walked and walked, watching the children and the buskers and the rowboats on the lake, trading stories about our time in Boston and Mary Kate’s brand-new NYC life.

After all that walking, we needed sustenance, so we popped into Magnolia Bakery on the Upper West Side, where Mary Kate tackled this chocolate monster. (She asked for a box to take it home.)

mary kate cake magnolia bakery nyc

We headed back to SoHo in an attempt to visit the Central Perk pop-up shop – but, alas, it was closed. (We’d checked it out earlier, but the line was miles long.) We contented ourselves with photos of the iconic logo.

central perk logo nyc

Next we headed to McNally Jackson, where we stayed almost until closing time. I picked up the delightful Greenglass House (the author works there) and the fascinating The Genius of Language.

mcnally jackson books nyc interior

Dinner at the Grey Dog was delicious – hearty American food and more good conversation. (And cool lighting.)

grey dog soho nyc interior

New York, you are full of wonder (as always). We’ll be back.

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The little girls of Avonlea school always pooled their lunches, and to eat three raspberry tarts all alone or even to share them only with one’s best chum would have forever and ever branded as “awful mean” the girl who did it. And yet, when the tarts were divided among ten girls you just got enough to tantalize you.

Anne of Green Gables, L.M. Montgomery

I didn’t eat raspberry tarts last weekend, but this quote sums up how I feel about my three days in New York. It is, of course, impossible to see all the things I want to see in one weekend – and Allison did her level best to make sure I saw as much as I could. But I just got enough of so many things to tantalize me. I only had a couple of hours at the Met (enough to get about half of a quick overview – the place is HUGE); an all-too-brief browsing stop at the Strand (partly because I knew I could have stayed all day); a short (if leisurely) stroll through Central Park; a tour of the Upper West Side cut short by heavy rain (though we braved it as long as we could).

Don’t mistake me – I enjoyed every moment, and tried my best to soak it all up. I loved seeing the knights at the Met:

And visiting Hans Christian Andersen in Central Park (as well as the other stops on my children’s literature tour):

I loved wandering through Manhattan, admiring the beautiful brownstones and wondering about the stories held in each one:

And, of course, I had to visit Cafe Lalo, site of the rose-and-a-book, he-knows-something-she-doesn’t-know scene in You’ve Got Mail:

There were so many other lovely moments: eating pie with my friend Beth on a bench in Brooklyn; a brief solo stroll around Prospect Park; hanging out in Bryant Park as I waited to meet Allison after work; watching Ramona and Beezus in Allison’s cute little Queens apartment and talking for hours; munching apple cider doughnuts at the Union Square farmers’ market. But all these moments only served to underline my already firm conviction:

I have to go back. And soon. (And bring Jeremiah with me this time.)

Because, really, who wouldn’t want more time in this beautiful city, with this lovely tour guide?

Thanks for a fabulous weekend, Allison. I’ll be back before too long.

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