New York May 2008 - personal experience
Trip Start May 03, 2008
6Trip End May 09, 2008
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I was all burnt out from work. My life has been a chaos the last few years. I have been working way too much and adding the stress of divorce, responsibility of my two wonderful kids and making a couple of wrong choices with women, and I was so burnt out. Furthermore, I had to change work place since my former colleagues did not approve me and did all they could to "freeze me out", making working there impossible. I was very competent as always, but they did not like my personality. My new work place was great in that sense I was accepted as a competent person and my new colleagues were great. The work load was just too much at the new work place since we had so few seniors and had to take a huge load of training the younger colleagues (and had to do my normal duties too). I felt like crap and also my body and mind responded in anxiety (which was never a problem for me) and high blood pressure. In one of the few moments I had to myself, I looked at my situation and decided I had to do something about it. So over a long time I have simplified my life as much as possible and focus on the real important sides of life, that is family, friends and not work. I also took care of my blood pressure with medication. All these modifications made a good change to my life, but I still needed something to recharge.
I thought "why not go to New York?" It was the city that I stayed in for 6 months 1989 after falling in love with a girl on vacation in Portugal 1988. I had such a great time and the city of New York, being all noisy and stressful, gives so much energy. I had a week off work and I quickly ordered ticket and hotel over the internet.
Coming in 3 May on a Saturday was great. Stepping of the airport bus in midtown was already a great energy boost. I quickly went to the hotel and changed clothes and out I went to explore midtown. Compared with 1989, midtown is much better 2008. More shops, more restaurants and more people. In 1989, midtown was pretty much deserted at night and tourists mostly took a taxi back and forth to the hotel. In 1989, midtown was the only place I felt a bit insecure at night since so few people was out at night (and I was all over NY at that time including Harlem, Queens and Bronx). Now it was safer and much more people around 24/7. Looking for a restaurant and feeling for a great steak and I found Ben Benson's. It was a great sense of quality and tradition in the place and I felt at home right away. Showing me to the table was a guy that looked like a character from a mafia-movie. Then came a waiter with a strong New York accent, showing me the menu. Right then, I could tell this was quality place, with a very good selection on meat and an excellent wine list (with a long selection of Barolo wines for example). After looking through the menu for a long time and speaking to the waiter, I decided to have a sirloin steak medium done. I did not regret that choice at all. It was the second best meat I have ever tasted, only beaten by an excellent Argentinean restaurant in Spain. It was basically perfect in both texture and taste. When meat is so good, there is no need for sauces really. The meat itself is an experience. I was thinking "wow, what a start on my New York stay".
The day after, I woke up well-rested and ready for a new day. It was time to check out midtown and downtown. I did this by foot and walking all over the place. I found "Little Brasil" on 46th Street between 5 and 6 Avenue. It was nice find with a comfortable and genuine feel to it. Going down to the Village, where I was living 1989, was great and sentimental for me. Not very much has changed over the years. Blue Note, Comedy Club and Café Reggio are all still there. Bleeker Street is still hot. I noticed one change though, Little Italy is so much smaller than before which was a little disappointing for me. Café Reggio looked just the same and served an excellent espresso with good "crema". I basically only drink espresso (or good straight brewed coffee), where one could enjoy full real coffee taste. I never understood the "Starbuck culture" with overpriced, bad quality coffee in giant paper mugs and full of milk, chocolate and "god knows what". I encourage people to go to small and independent coffee shops and basically boycott the big chains. The quality is better in the small business and much better for local business life. If people go too much to the giant companies (also in food and clothes etc), it will kill quality, local business and the selection will be the same all over the world. Also, the suppliers to big companies will be pressured to keep prices down and that will lead to more centralized productions. Go with "slow food" movement instead that was founded in the small village of Bra in Italy. Do a search on the internet and check it out. It makes great sense. But we could all start today and stop going to McDonalds, Starbucks, H&M, Gap etc... I was planning a dinner at Lebanese restaurant Byblos on east side but came too late and they had closed. I checked out the restaurants close by and found Docks. Good basic sea food at reasonable prices. Good lobster and nice atmosphere. I was going out for drinks later since I had planned "an all-nighter" at Pacha. I found a busy and trendy place with lots of beautiful people called Olives. The company there was great and after a couple of drinks I was ready for dancing. The quality of drinks was nothing special at all. For example making a regular Daiquiri with extracts and not newly squeezed lemons always gives a bad taste. As a matter of fact, one can use Daiquiri as a measurement on the quality of drinks in a bar. Just go up and ask how they make it and if it is with extract, go to the next bar if the goal is to have good quality drinks. Time for Pacha... The reason I choose Pacha is since I had not been in New York for 19 years, I did not know what place was hot or not, I know Pacha from Spain and it never disappointed me. The first Pacha discotheque started out in Sitges in Spain 1973, and then expanded to Ibiza, Madrid, Benidorm etc. Pacha always had good dance music and going for the best dj's. Also Pacha in Spain is very stylish in architecture and beautiful dancers. Pacha in New York was a bit different with a much more rough style, but the concept with great party and dj was still there. The theme for the night was a tribute to Keith Haring, so the audience was mostly gay. So, for me as a straight man, the chances of picking up a woman were basically zero. But I had no intention of trying to find a woman and all I wanted to do was dance and have a good time, and that I certainly did. I had a great night and got home to the hotel very late or early depending on how you look at it.
Monday 5 May was the day I explored American and Mexican culture. Started out the day a bit "rusty" and nothing is better than a real American breakfast with bacon and eggs, which I had at Frontiers. The breakfast was simple and basic and tasted great. On my way back to the hotel after being a tourist all day with strolling around and shopping I saw "Hooters". For me a Swedish person, the concept of Hooters is so strange and very American. I just had to try it out, so I went there in the evening. The waitresses were young and pretty and had a very friendly attitude. They were dressed in an outfit that screams 80's. But that was kind of cool and part of the concept. Hooters is not New York, but more rural US and after all the stylish places I had seen this was a nice contrast. The food, well what can I say...I enjoyed the Mexican beer though. Later on I went down the village and had crazy party with Mexican people that were celebrate the National Day. As always, Latin people are "gente de la noche"... And speaking of Mexicans and Hispanics, there are much more Hispanics on Manhattan 2008 compared to 1989. It seems like Hispanics have taken over many of the delis that in 1989 were mostly run by Koreans. I got to mention a weird but nice combination: Chorizo with chocolate butter. I know it sounds crazy but it tastes great and I will use it as snack on my parties in the future.
Tuesday 6 May was certainly a day to remember. First I met my ex girlfriend from 1989 and we had a great time catching up. We did this over fresh Sushi at Omido's and I had some very dry Japanese beer with it (great combination..). We have had very different paths since we separated. I have been living and working hard in small cities in Sweden, been married and divorced and 2 kids. Not very glamorous life, but having kids made it all worth. My ex-girlfriend is still married and live a very active social life in New York and more glamorous. On the other hand she does not have any kids and it is of course a loss. After some shopping and resting it was time for a date. I was meeting a girl I have had some internet contact. She seemed nice and looked nice on photos that she sent me. But I did have very low expectations. I was thinking "probably a fat, boring woman is going to come" (sometimes women lie with photos..). Waiting at a bar and in the door came this very feminine beauty. I was thinking: "Ok, she looks good, but probably has a boring personality". Then we start talking and she was really nice. We got great chemistry right away. She confessed that she also had low expectations and maybe that helped in making the evening so fun. I took her to my favorite steak house, Ben Benson's and this time I had a T-bone steak and was very satisfied. We kept talking and talking and getting a little drunk. She wanted to do Karaoke and showed me small place called Japas 55. It was very small but great atmosphere and we had so much fun and also met a lot of interesting people. Getting more, drunk and crazier. We kept going all night and then early in the morning it was finally time for sleep. I was basically sleeping the whole day and did not go up until Thursday!
So when I woke up at 6 am Thursday, I was all well rested and ready to walk the city again. It was a great feeling to walk the city so early in the morning before all the stress started. The city had a completely different pulse. For lunch, I met my date for two days ago at Gyu-kaku, which is a Japanese bbq. You got the meat and vegetables at your table and had a little grill at the table where you cook your own meat. It is a great way to have a dinner. There is a lot of talk, some cooking and eating. I had Kobe meat at a very reasonable price. Especially one part of the pieces was very good with lots of nice tasting fat in the meat. Again, and this time without a lot of alcohol, we hit it off good and could talk forever (but she had to return to work and we said good bye). Later at night I went to Tia-Pol and I cannot recommend this place. Trendy and overcrowded it was and had no really good atmosphere. So after just half a glass of wine I went down to the Village to Groove. I came in and it was nice there with very good soul and funk artists and very relaxed mood with people talking and dancing. Great bartenders too, those were very friendly. I recommend it strongly for those who like live funk and soul and a relaxed atmosphere. I got back to the hotel very pleased.
I was going home the next day to my "normal, everyday life", but full with energy and in a better position than before to handle the stress on home turf. I am though planning my next trip already...
To summarize the differences New York 1989 and 2008: NY 2008 is safer and has a much improved midtown with better night life and restaurants. The village and Soho is pretty much the same but a bit more stylish and expensive. The biggest problem with Manhattan is the cost of living there is getting too high and "normal people" cannot stay there. It is a risk that Manhattan will be a place for business, congresses and very rich people. From what I heard, artists and not so rich people are moving out to Brooklyn. I hope to explore Brooklyn in the future.
/ Carl from Sweden
List of Places - New York May 2008
123 W 52nd Street btw 6 and 7th Ave
New York, NY, 10019
119 MacDougal Street at W 3rd Street
New York, NY 10012
Docks Oyster Bar and Seafood Grill
633 Third Ave at 40th street
New York, NY 10017
593 3rd Ave at 39th street
New York, NY 10016
125 MacDougal Street at W 3rd street
New York, NY 10012
805 3rd Ave, 2nd floor btw E 55th and 56th Street
211 W 56th Street close to Broadway
New York, NY 10019
253 W 56th Street btw 8th Ave and Broadway
New York, NY 10019
1695 Broadway btw 53rd and 54th Street
New York, NY 10019
618 W 46th Street btw 11 and 12th Ave
New York, NY 10036
Todd English's Olives New York
201 Park Ave South at 17th Street
New York, NY 10003