New York City is definitely a city that never sleeps, and if you’re loaded (or just not on our meagre backpacker budget) you could have an amazing time in the city for days (and nights). But if you’re limited for cash you could still get your kicks without parting with too many greenbacks. First advice for those on the cheap, buy a weekly metro pass. You can take the subway and the bus anywhere you want all day. The subway entertainment is thrown in for free. Even if you’re only here for three days like we were, you definitely get more bang for your buck.
We started off by heading to NYC & Go, which is right by Times Square and the Late Show with David Letterman CBS studio. If you’ve managed to do what we’ve done and pinned your own Google map of your personal tailored sites, you can use their free wifi and maps to draw yourself up a customised route. We opted to walk the first day to dodge the cabs and traffic, although there is a good network of bike lanes within central NYC, if you’re game enough to use them. Our first stop was another DDD (Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives) location. Gazala’s Place, with it’s unassuming shop front, leads you into a homely restaurant that dishes up tasty, filling Druze fair at a reasonable price with friendly staff. Opting to get a few dishes to share we dived into the soup, sandwich and fries lunch deal for $15 only to be disappointed when the guy next to us got served the signature dish of hummus, pita, rice, salad etc. We’ll put that one down to quickly onsetting hanger and lack of being able to get past the first three dishes on the lunch menu.
Dodging the queue for theatre tickets, which is stupidly setup dead bang in the middle of Time Square, we wedged ourselves a position on the grand stand seating to one end to take the stock standard tourist photos and spend a moment taking in the atmosphere. A short walk (weather permitting) takes you to small yet leafy Bryant Park, which had come highly recommended. Bring a picnic and pick a table whilst watching people compete over a chessboard and throw petanque in the pits. If you’re lucky you’ll get invited to play, but make sure your game’s up to scratch, because these guys will hustle. Over and above all this, the amount of free yoga, language and other classes that are on offer, make this one of New York’s most diverse and alluring parks.
Right next to Bryant Park we were able to playfully skip back to our childhood at ‘The ABC of it: Why Children’s books matter’ exhibit at the NYC Library…for free. The real reason we stopped in was to see the original Winnie the Pooh dolls that the books were based on, if this is what you’re here to see just make you know where you’re going and don’t end up in the actual kids reading area, sticking out like sore thumbs in completely the wrong place….just ask a librarian, from the look on her face and her quick response, this has happened before. Walking into the exhibition, you first take in some of the worlds oldest children’s books, based on biblical and moral teachings, followed by all your old favourites. Think ‘Where the Wild Things are’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Ferdinand the Bull’ and the Golden Book favourite ‘The Pokey little Puppy’ (apparently the worlds biggest selling kids book ever and originally sold for 25c…try getting it for that these days!). We were surprised our friend Jenna Rothwell’s book ‘Ben the outside dog’ was not amongst these literal masterpieces (excuse the blatant plug). We’re sure one day it will be! Exhibitions are rotating and mostly free, and ladies don’t pass up the chance to walk into the amazing entrance hall that all you SATC fans will recognise as the grand staircase on which Carrie was jilted by Big in the SATC movie.
Another stroll down NYC’s skyscraper and subterranean geyer (steaming sewer vent) lined streets, you arrive at the Hollywood film favourite location of Grand Central Terminal. You can take the best typical tourist shots from the staircase, looking down to the bustling booking hall (a tripod and a slow shutter speed will give you that rushed hustle and bustle look). After this we retired to the subterranean den of the Oyster Bar, located in the basement colonnade. With its dimly lit vaulted interior, you can either choose to sit at one of the horseshoe tables whilst being served by a waiter or take your seat at the bar as we did. Oysters here come by the single so don’t think you have to order a half dozen or a particular type. Choosing to take two of three different types we enjoyed the oysters, sultry service and live action production line of some elderly gentleman shucking oysters and serving up steaming hot chowder. If suitably dressed (which we weren’t, and we mean ‘suit’ably) you can enjoy a cocktail at what used to be NYC’s largest first floor apartment come cocktail bar, Campbell Apartment.
On most people’s list of New York must see’s is Macy’s department store. On a paupers budget the best way to experience this place is ride the escalators right to the 8th and 9th floors where you’ll get to see some of their original old wooden escalators. The trip up will take you on a nice tour through the Louis Vouiton/Calkin Kelin clad floors that you can’t afford.
Free sites done for the day, and with a thirst on, it was time to prise open the wallet and take in some of the bars. With Matt being an avid Manchester City supporter, the first and most important stop – The Mad Hatter bar. Speaking to the barman behind, we were told this place goes absolutely ballistic at 2am when a Manchester City game is on, and why wouldn’t it when City is the best team in all the land and all the world (Matt made me write that).
Pints down, strolling back to the Pizza Pub that we’d previously locked into our ‘hanger’ memories, we passed what could only be the nirvana for sports bar fans. Meeting the engaging owner out front, he cordiously invited us in and swiftly send Matt to the back corner to stand on the table to get the best vantage point to purely take photos of the all encumbersing TV screens in the place. The owner was so enthused by his bar, he wasn’t even bothered that we didn’t buy a drink.
Hanger kicking in, we made continued on to the Pizza Pub for the $5 beer and slice, where we encountered what turned out to be the end of year trophy ceremony for the winners of a local hockey league, peppered by international players. We met Belgians, Dutchies and Aussies to name a few, who took us and in entertained us for a while.
We made two more stops for the night worth mentioning, or should we one not worth mentioning. Overpriced drinks and non-attentive service from a bar that only had one other person in it, don’t believe the hype you read about Burp Castle. Yes there was some nice murals on the wall, but nobody was dressed as a monk, the atmosphere was lame and the front porch felt like you were in prison. Trust us, take your dollars down the road to McSorley’s Old Alehouse. There’s two types on beer on the menu, light or dark, sawdust on the floor, friendly attentive staff even when it’s packed (which it was) and the closest thing we found in NYC to a real, proper London pub. Needless to say, we spent the remainder of our night here.