The Hip Mom Takes Manhattan

The Big Apple. NYC. Manhattan. It’s a city I’ve been drawn to my entire life: the lights, the towers, the millions of people bustling around, emitting enough joules to power an entire country. In fact, I was so infatuated with the idea of living in Manhattan that I convinced myself that I was in love with a boy who was moving there after college. We eloped, we moved to NYC, and lived there for almost five years. And, oh, how I loved living there — sans kids, of course. I worked, I met friends for drinks and dinner, I danced, I jostled annoying tourists out of my way to get to work. I mastered the subway, ran out of the office when George Clooney was being filmed outside – it was a grand time.

But I knew I never wanted to have children there, unless I had a fatso trust fund and a penthouse off 5th, which, of course, I didn’t. So my (then) husband and I moved away, we broke up (this is a tale for another day), I met PVT, moved to Oklahoma….yadda yadda yadda. But in an odd life twist, I am fresh off two visits to NYC. First, with two of my kids who are at the right age to appreciate this fabulous metropolis, and the second to visit my sister, who ignored all of my advice, lives there now, and is struggling mightily sans trust fund to raise her 2-year-old and infant (also a story for another day). But, on both of these visits, dear friends, I was thrilled to discover I still possess my Manhattan mojo: I can still do this city after all these years, like muscle memory. And guess what? It’s a really fun, quick, even affordable trip you can do with kids who are a bit older (you don’t want to go there with a 2-year-old who is used to Oklahoma’s plains and worry the whole time about keeping your baby out of the streets and away from steep stairwells), or, of course, with your girlfriends. So, here, I’m going to give you my patented (ah, not yet) zig zag tour of Manhattan for day one – so on day two you are practically a local and a Yankees fan.

My first jaunt is subsidized a bit – lucky me – so we stay at the Essex House, which borders Central Park on the south side. But there’s a huge variety of more affordable hotels in Manhattan. When I come to visit my sister, three of us stay in a roomy two-bedroom queen at the Hilton Garden Inn on the east side – right off all the fabulous shopping on 5th Avenue (the only detriment to the east side is it’s not as convenient to hop on the subway). From the Essex House, though, I’m here with my 16-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter, and I’m determined to show them this city. In the morning, I rouse the children early, and we meander half a block to a little breakfast eatery in Columbus Circle (you won’t starve in NYC, no worries). And then – despite PVT’s admonishments – we hop on the subway!

No, the subway isn’t pretty, but it’s easy and not scary despite preconceptions you may have gotten from TV. It’s a quick ride down to Fulton Street at the southern tip of the island, where there’s one tacky touristy thing I suggest you do — hop on the Circle Line boat tour. It’s a great way to get the big perspective on the city, and the tour guides are both knowledgeable and hilarious. Plus, you’ll get an up-close view of the Statue of Liberty without having to devote half a day to going to the Lady herself. The whole tour takes less than an hour!

We hop off the boat, and then it’s time to start walking. We walk through the famous Financial District, pass the New York Stock Exchange (this part of the island is skinny, so it’s not too far), and end up at hallowed Ground Zero. Even if you don’t go into the 9/11 museum, visiting the reflecting pools where the North and South towers once stood will take your breath away.

After this poignant pause, we keep going. We walk through the Financial District to Chinatown, where my children get to see all kinds of mysterious meats and fish dangling about in the storefronts. There are street vendors everywhere selling purses, watches, hats – anything you want, all of dubious origin.

We hustle and push our way into Little Italy, where we find a delightful little sidewalk cafe – the host looks like he heads up some division of the Mob, so I’m pretty sure it’s authentic Italian.  We happily rest our feet, slurp up some excellent pasta, and I soak up all the languages, the street goers, the delightful panoply of humanity that one can find only in this manic city.

And then more walking. Up through Greenwich Village, past NYU, popping into little shops on a whim, through Chelsea (once a “gritty” neighborhood, now full of art galleries), all the way to the newish High Line, a lush park concept that incorporates art and design, built upon old elevated freight train tracks. I could hang out here for a while, but it’s at this point (we’ve probably walked two or three miles) that my cross country runner son cries “uncle,” and we retreat back to our hotel. I let the kids lounge while I sneak out to Avenue of the Americas to grab a few souvenirs for the rest of my brood.

Instead of heading to some touristy Times Square spot for dinner, I decide we’re going to walk some more. This time, we head over to 5th Avenue, dip into the Plaza Hotel’s lobby, peak into Saks, oogle the renowned Barney’s windows, and even hit the Trump Tower’s gaudy golden lobby. And then we head up to the plush Upper East Side, passing the Guggenheim and the spectacular Metropolitan Museum of Art, eyeing the opulent brownstones, and find a delightful little neighborhood corner bistro – Orsay. It’s definitely a favorite local haunt – I eavesdrop on a matron talking about her Palm Beach pad – and am thrilled when my children try the escargot I’ve ordered as an appetizer. After an ambrosial French dinner, we meander through Central Park at dusk, dodging runners, skaters, bikers and dog walkers, all the way back to our hotel.  We collapse into bed, both exhilarated and exhausted.

Dining at Orsay

Since we’ve seen so much of the city in just one day, a second day is perfect for whatever we want to hone in on. For us, we head to mass on Fifth Avenue at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, have brunch at an Irish pub, then hop on a subway to the Upper West side where we meander through the campus of Columbia University. That night we head to Carmine’s, a beloved Times Square institution that serves up family style Italian, and then to a Broadway show. But, of course, you could use a second day to visit any of the world class museums. Kids would love the Museum of Natural History; artsy types – or really any human – would love the Met or the Guggenheim. Or maybe you want to hit the shops hard. With my mother and sisters (and an infant and 2-year-old — do not try this at home), we traipse up to the BG Cafe on the top floor at Bergdorf Goodman. It’s a bejeweled, heavily carpeted and opulent little space full of overstuffed wing chairs and ladies who lunch. I feel like we’ve been transported back to the ‘80s. Plus, we get to meander through the housewares and kids’ department to get to the cafe, oohing at the all of the glitz and none of the credit card debt!

And then, after just two days, I feel as I did at the end of a long Manhattan workweek so many years ago. After the concrete, the clanging, the 4 a.m. garbage trucks, the din, I long to see some open skies, some water, some verdant grassy space. Alas, I never had a home in the Hamptons, but I have something even better now: a big house and yard to go home to in Oklahoma. Until next time, beloved city!

Categories: Hip Mom