New York, January 2018

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Why in the world would anyone choose to travel to New York City in January? The holidays are over, the ball has dropped, and winter weather has set in. It’s not really the best time to visit my favorite city.

January and February are great months to snag (relatively) inexpensive hotel rooms, discounted theatre tickets, and encounter (relatively) small crowds. But my primary motivation to visit New York Jan. 12-15 was this: Miss Saigon was closing.

Miss Saigon is one of my all-time favorite Broadway shows. I saw the original cast back in June 1991, and saw it again (from the front row) in December 1992. Lea Salonga, the original Kim, left the show but eventually returned, and I saw her perform the role again in June 1999. The show finally closed, but it came back last year as a revival, with a new cast from the London revival. When I saw this cast perform at the Tony Awards last year, I knew I had to see it again.

Meanwhile, my daughter Lauren became obsessed with this show. She saw it once on tour and has listened to the cast recording for years. She lives in Denver now, so the logistics of the two of us traveling together have become slightly more complicated, but I told her last fall we could go see it. But then my fall filled up with an unexpected trip to France and the usual magazine deadlines, and I pushed back on my promise: Maybe we’d go in the spring.

I hadn’t taken into account that the show would be closing on Jan. 14. So, right after Thanksgiving I did some research and found that tickets were still available, not only for Miss Saigon but also for Dear Evan Hansen, the other (mostly sold-out) show I had really wanted to see last fall (before the lead actor, Ben Platt, left the cast). I quickly snapped up tickets to both shows, scored a half-price hotel room on Cyber Monday, and booked non-stop flights from Denver and Des Moines.

The trip was last weekend, and I have to say that despite being in January, it was one of the best times I’ve ever had in New York. Here are some highlights:

THE SHOWS

Seeing Broadway shows is the number-one reason I go to New York. This was my 21st visit to the city, and I’ve seen shows all but a couple of times – 54 total performances. I am rarely disappointed.

When we arrived on Friday afternoon, we stood in the Times Square TKTS line and bought tickets for Anastasia, a relatively new musical. I’m sort of surprised it was even on the TKTS board, because there were not two remaining seats next to each other. We bought two single tickets, and they were both good seats, although they were only 20% off, so still expensive. Lauren had been a fan of the movie musical Anastasia, but I wasn’t really familiar with it. We saw a cast performance on TV during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it looked like something we’d both enjoy. It was a good show, with lavish sets and costumes, big dance numbers, and a large cast. We saw the understudy for the main Anastasia/Anya character (and several other understudies), but they were all really top-notch.

IMG_0630The two musicals for which we bought tickets in advance – Miss Saigon and Dear Evan Hansen – are definitely Top 10 shows for me. They’re very different, but both are tragic and powerful, with strong characters, casts, and storylines. Evan Hansen weaves in a fair amount of humor in an otherwise dark show about a teenage boy with crippling social anxiety. Miss Saigon is just a 2-hour-and-40-minute gut punch – dare I say that the gritty revival was even better than the original? – after which you’re so exhausted you can barely move. Both pack an emotional wallop and are worth every penny of their over-inflated ticket prices. We saw no understudies in either show, and the new Evan Hansen, Noah Galvin, was truly wonderful – his performance was aching, fragile, and heartbreaking, and he has a terrific voice. For both shows, we had seats that were at the edge of the main floor, but very close to the stage, so we saw every expression on every face. Amazing, amazing experiences, both. (We saw the next-to-last Broadway performance of Miss Saigon, it’s scheduled to begin touring this fall.)

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THE PEOPLE

I had a blast with my daughter. And we met up in Brooklyn with my nephew, Steve, and had lunch with him in Little Italy (above). More on that later.

FOOD AND DRINK

I’m disinclined to pay more for food than I absolutely have to, and I don’t find fancy restaurants worth what they cost, especially in New York City. Lauren and I found a counter-service deli near our hotel and went there often, for breakfast (bagels, egg sandwiches, pancakes), after-theatre desserts (cheesecake, naturally), and grab-and-go stuff to take back to our room (beer, black-and-white cookies).

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We found great coffee shops in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood (True North on Lorimore and Black Star Bakery on Metropolitan), where the three of us got out of the cold and enjoyed some good espresso drinks. I had an almond croissant that was Paris-worthy. Steve grabbed a sandwich at Bagelsmith, one of the best bagel shops in Brooklyn. We also enjoyed glasses of wine at the Pinkerton Wine Bar. (All of these places were within a few blocks of each other. Take the L Train from Manhattan and get off at Lorimore. Start at True North; it’s right across the street from the subway station.)

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Ray’s Pizza is ubiquitous in New York; it seems like it’s on every block in Midtown Manhattan. Lauren and I grabbed slices of pizza there twice for dinner after the theatre; it’s decidedly unfancy, with paper plates and red plastic trays – and you might have to clean off a table if you want to eat there. But you can’t beat the price, and the white and margherita slices are soooo good. (Slices are huge, so one is enough.)

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I’ve always loved eating lunch in Little Italy, and it’s so affordable. We met Steve there on Sunday. This was the only time we ate at a real restaurant with an actual waiter, and still, my cheese manicotti was just $12.95. The bread is free, and wine by the glass is extremely reasonable. Little Italy is more fun in the warmer months, when you can sit outside, but our restaurant, Lunella, was warm and cozy. (Find restaurants up and down Mulberry Street; they’re all very similar. To get there, take the green train to Spring Street.)

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Finally: Zabar’s. I try to get to Zabar’s — a grocery store/deli that has a small, attached coffee shop with a limited menu, located at 80th and Broadway – every time I go to the city. The sad thing about going there is I can’t buy much. Sometimes I get food for a picnic in Central Park, but usually I just drool over the cheese counter, the bakery, and all the rest because I’m staying in a hotel and have no way to preserve or prepare the food. On this trip, after I put Lauren in a taxi for the airport early Monday morning and after I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I walked to Zabar’s for a pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese, coffee, and a cinnamon-raisin rugelach for a late lunch. Even crammed into the too-small counter-seating, it was still a highlight of the trip.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS AND LOGISTICS

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Vintage clothing in Brooklyn: We stumbled on a vintage clothing store called 10 ft Single by Stella Dallas, and it was delightful – just packed to the rafters with true vintage clothing, much of it from the 1950s — beautiful wool and silk and fur and flannel, and lots of other stuff, too. I tried on a plaid coat; Lauren tried on hats. I could have spent hours there. It was pricey for used clothing, and we bought nothing, but it was just so fun.

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The 9/11 Museum and Memorial: I’d visited this museum two years ago with Dave, and had seen the memorial a couple of times, but Lauren hadn’t seen either one, so we went first thing Sunday morning. It was just as powerful, tragic, and emotion-laden as the first time. I highly recommend it. Note that much of the museum is off limits to photography.  (Museum admission is $24; the outdoor memorial is free.)

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Met is right up there with the Louvre in Paris, as far as I’m concerned. I loved it the first time I saw it in 1988, and I’ve loved it each time I visited. This time, hoards of people were there to see the Michelangelo exhibit. The best thing about this was that, since I was there when the doors opened, I got to view the incredible European painting galleries (from 1250 to early 20th century) basically by myself (see above); nearly everyone else had rushed to see Michelangelo. It was heaven!

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Eventually I walked away from this area – my favorite – and visited the Michelangelo exhibit myself, and it was incredible, even with the crowd. The other special exhibit was contemporary artist David Hockney (see his exhibit catalog below), and while his art at first seemed like kindergarten finger painting compared to Michelangelo’s delicate sketches, it grew on me. I love his use of bold color and his photo collages.

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Shopping: It’s always fun to shop in New York. Lauren wanted to go to the MoMa Design Store on 6th Ave. – always delightful – and the NYX makeup store at Union Square. When she said she wanted to go to this store, I thought, oh, no problem, we’ll find this one small store in all of New York. But it was actually easy; we got off the L train coming back from Brooklyn and had no trouble finding it. And here’s a bonus: I actually enjoyed it. It was a fun, affordable shop. We poked around in a few Times Square souvenir shops and a thrift shop in Brooklyn (above); I bought a few things at Forever 21 (I know, I know: We have this chain in Iowa, but the NYC store is awesome, and much more fashion-forward) and at a Loft near Lincoln Center that was having a blow-out sale.

The New York Subway: I know the New York Subway system is in terrible shape and needs a multi-billion-dollar upgrade, but it’s still a great way to get around New York. It’s fast, and it’s easy to figure out. From our location (The Park Central Hotel on 7th Ave. at 56th Street) we were just a block from a station that would take us all over the city, with easy transfers at Union Square, 42nd Street, etc.) We found our way to Brooklyn on the L Train, to lower Manhattan, Little Italy, and the NYX store with absolutely no problem.

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2 comments so far

  1. Tim & Janice Coble on

    Great write-up of the Big Apple!!

  2. Linda on

    Enjoyed this trip with your descriptions/photos very much!


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