A Night and Day in New York
by Heidi Ran Chan, Image Thomas Lefebvra
You wake up at 8am feeling the pangs of last night’s party and can’t go back to sleep. You (have no choice but to) think: you’ve lived here for 4.6years and that publishing/nonprofit/media job you madly hustled for has lost its luster. So has the city. This is when you decide - it must be desperation - to rekindle the fire and spend a day and night in New York as if you never stopped being that fresh-faced grad who moved to the city a month ago and is still crashing on the couch in your friend’s apartment in LES/Williamsburg/Bedstuy, making his cat homeless and angry (it never liked you after that).
Morning: You get ready for the day, bypassing your roommate’s friend from home, who’s crashing on your couch for the weekend. The crusty stovetop espresso maker you inherited from an ex-roommate in an ex-borough is more financially responsible but the there’s-no-way-I’m-small-talking-with-some-bro-from-Chicago-right-now imperative propels you on. And you find refuge at Caffe Reggio in Greenwich Village. The adorably cramped cafe claims having served the first Cappuccino in the US, and the hulking, steam-punky, machine - an original espresso machine from the 1920’s, from Italy! - in the back corner of the one room seems to confirm the tales. The space is dim, cracked, and awesomely old, crowded with giant framed paintings, old-timers, serious-looking young people and the occasional tourist. Here, you remember that even as you bitch about how things used to be, there were things that used to be even more used to be. Like, 90 years ago existed. Maybe even more than that. You think about your insignificance vis-a-vis time as you nom on espresso and cannoli and you think: that is correct.
Implausibly, it’s still morning, even though you’ve done a thing already. You haven’t seen the non-weekday late morning light, unspoiled by work commute or as an extension of the night, in years. So the only thing you can think of to do is to go boating in Central Park. Oh the romance. You pretend like you’re a literary character from the Golden Age as you row, laboriously let’s be honest, under the bridges while lamenting having grown out of rom-coms and out of being excited about rowing a boat in Central Park. Since it’s (still) morning, the worst of the tourist throng has been successfully avoided. And your imperative of solitude is appeased - you are, literally, on a boat. No man is an island, but they can definitely be on a boat. In Central Park.
It’s almost mid-day now and you’re not as nonplussed w/r/t the spacetime X activities continuum of morning time in NYC. You remember that there’s a fair going down on Hester and Essex, the Hester Street Fair in fact, and, as you’re always in the market for a random but cool collection of food, vintage clothing, crafts and other weird nonsense - anything to keep you from examining the reality of your self-fulfillment - you go. The iron work entryway makes it feelofficial and the artisanal tchotchkes - illustration prints, homemade totes, infused honeys - are legit and fun to look at. And by god if you didn’t eat one perfect little phumpling and then find the perfect vintage shirt to replace the phumpling juice-stained one you had on before.
Hunger points you to late Lunch: the most important meal of the day (?). You decide to reward yourself, for getting up so early, with something you entirely can’t afford and is of extremely dubious value: you’re going to have the afternoon tea at The Russian Tea Room. Today is an exercise in collapsing sublime ideal with tried reality which, as a fresh-faced recent transplant in New York City, was a constant, effortless thing. But now you have to dial back your cynicism and actually try, and it’s gonna cost you actual money. The $50 ($75 with a champagne upgrade) experience includes finger sandwiches, little crepes, tiny salads, a host of pastries, fancy tea, pretty porcelain, silver trays, faberge egg-chic decor, opulence, class, the glamorous old New York of your dreams.
It’s afternoon now and you deserve a nap for your heroic efforts. Your destination: the hammocks at Gantry Plaza Park in LIC, where a pretty view of the Manhattan skyline reminds you of the Miramax film intro and the first time you watched Manhattan. The nostalgia - and the champagne - lulls you to a glorious slumber.
You wake up refreshed and decide to culture it up, because you’re classy like that. The goal is the Met and, honestly, its Roof Garden Cafe & Martini Bar. Before you can enjoy delicious beverages and sweeping city views, you have to pay your cultural dues. Walk through your favorite Asian Art section and then go chill at the Temple of Dendur room for a hot second. Now you can finally head up to the roof and spend the money you didn’t optionally donate to the museum on a cocktail. The sun is setting over Central Park to the West and you feel like this day is an eternity already.
But it hasn’t been an eternity, otherwise you wouldn’t be hungry again. To satisfy your sudden onset craving for dim sum, you head to Nom Wah Tea Parlor for all-day dim sum. Because the place has history at its back - it’s been there since 1920, way before you or Big Trouble in Little China existed - it’s a less gritty than some of the other choice Chinatown spots. Chinatown restaurants tony-ing up may or may not be a good thing but Nom Wah is roomy and has a chill diner-esque decor and solid dimsum - that you order from a menu thank god because only the most hardcore of humans can withstand the pressure levied on them by the dimsum cart ladies - that makes a rolling solo diner like you feel comfortable. Nice and comfortable and hungry.
After being rejected by Apotheke next door (“You need a reservation.” “Please, sir, just one cocktail. I’m only asking for one cocktail.”) you decide you’ve had enough of Manhattan and that it’s time to bust out of this town (borough) and move on to better things (another borough). To atone for the third order of Shrimp Dumplings, you’re going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and bath in the glorious night lights of this city, lights that light the light of a thousand stars, stars you’d be able to see if you weren’t in this city. The bridge is well-lit (dazzling, you’d even say) and foot traffic is plenty so you stroll slowly, taking in the sights like you’ve never experienced it before and drinking in the brown-paper-bag beer, this one anyway, which you indeed have never experienced before.
The walk was long, arduous but #worthit. When you get to Brooklyn, you remember that you are a person and you do, in fact, have friends. You and your friends decide to meet at a bar with an outdoor space. Because fair weather, just like youth, is fleeting, and you must bleed it dry while you can. You decide to go with Spuyten Duyvil in Williamsburg because the last time you were there, everyone was in the spacious, brick wall-and-vine backyard so you and your ex fought in the narrow inside space, on the red bar stools, with little collateral damage. You wanna say your thanks and also be in the spacious, brick wall-and-vine backyard. Plus the craft beer selection here is on point.
It is now 1:30am, that magical time when you’ve already had a lot to drink but the night is still full of possibilities - it’s the 30’s of a night out. You’ve been tame all day and it’s time to turn it up. Your taste for dark lighting and progressive underground electronic music leads you to Bossa Nova Civic Club in Bushwick. They have Club Mate there, and you can do with a little pick-me-up. You don’t even care who’s DJ’ing tonight or the post-midnight $10 cover. You and your crew load up on Club Mate’s but pass on the cocktails, because you’re purists. The dancing is cathartic and you sweat out all of the fancy tea you drank at The Russian Tea Room. Eventually, the fog machine gets to be a little too enthusiastic for you; but it’s closing time anyway.
You don’t wait for the last call and, instead, herd your people towards Koreatown, that staple, that life savior of late night and late late night spots. This is pretty much the only time you’re willing to do karaoke so you do it, at Gagopa Karaoke, because it’s BYOB and it’s cheap. Generally you’d need a res but it’s late, and a few of the private rooms - the only kind of karaoke done here, not without reason - are open. You and your friends belt out Total Eclipse of the Heart and other mainstay jams until someone starts to cry (someone always does). It’s time to leave.
By now it’s so late it’s early. But, based on experience, you know that you should get something to eat before calling it quits. You think about Empire Biscuits in East Village but why, you’re already in K-town, land of the 24-hour Korean BBQ. You picture the marinated short rib strip sizzling on the grill and the deluge of small and tasty side dishes that comes with. That’s enough to convince you to bee-line across the street - the proximity seems providential to your inebriated state - towards New Wonju, the place recommended to you by your Korean friend as THE best KBBQ spot in town. Even at 6am, the place is packed. You could bypass the line and sit downstairs, where they cook the same food and bring it to your table, but no. Today is go big or go home and you’re gonna watch them ribs sizzle. In 20 minutes, you do.