Gabby’s not much of a morning person but somehow the idea of bagels for breakfast in the hotel restaurant overlooking Central Park was too tempting. So on the start of our first full day it was Bagel Beast 1- Sleep Monster 0. As Gabby made her way through her bagels we tried to figure out a plan for the day. Gabby marked out all the places she had researched on her map as places we could stop to eat or recaffeinate and let me consult the result. I, in the meanwhile, had used the pen to draw a circle on my map that incorporated Union Square, the West Village, SoHo, NoHo, Nolita and East Village and ambitiously wrote day 1 by it. Capitalising on the milder weather, and the fact that after breakfast we would both need to walk half the city, the rough circle was the plan for the day.
So we long jumped the melting snow puddles, J walked around some taxis across 57th and dove into the subway to take the R train to Union square. Coming out onto the square we made our way across to the bank only to find out that we, in New York City – the shopping, restaurant and cultural capital of America, only had the $80 dollars in my wallet to spend until I could unblock my card the next day! It was fortunate we hadn’t scheduled for Gabby’s shopping heaven day!
Walking, as we know, is free but it did mean that our trip to Barnes and Noble was just to browse (good news considering our luggage limit) and to load $15 onto the Iphone of T-mobile unlimited calls, texts and slow internet for $3 a day! We needed to do this because the hotel wanted to charge $13 a day for internet and NY’s independent coffee shops are some way behind London’s in offering free Wifi.
After 16 year old Gabby had reminisced visiting B on his course at the New York Film Academy we made our way south to Washington Square. At this point I finally wised up and realised that although the squares were green on the map this did not need to translate to something parky and living in reality, which is odd considering the square’s hippie history.
We waded through the melting snow of the very sleepy West Village streets, past its rainbow flags, ice sculptures and achingly hip cafes. To be honest we both found it quite hard to feel the vibe of the area since nobody was around, so we traipsed around some more but couldn’t find a buzz so headed eastwards towards the shopping districts. When we navigated towards Jane’s (one of Gabby’s sunday brunch recommendations) we finally found where all the Villagers were but we decided we were still too full to join them.
Gabby was certainly in her element when we arrived in SoHo and its surroundings. She had found trendy retail therapy mecca, Londoners picture Shoredich meets Sloane Street. We wished some of our precious budget adieu when Gabby met her orange converse and she finally cracked before Tory Burch’s sale which brought out the contingency plastic. 7 years of repressed capitalism, exacerbated by boutique exile in Dublin, was frothing up in a grisly berseker frenzy with clothes flying everywhere. Somehow, she was able to chanel (sic) this into sale items only and a very nice cardigan.
Having worked up an appetite we consulted Gabby’s map and it was with considerable excitement that she discovered that we were near Katz’s Deli. The notorious ‘When Harry Met Sally Place’ with the slogan “send a salami to your boy in the army” (OIA). Before we had even walked in, Gabby knew she was home; it didn’t seem to matter to her that we had been to the Carnegie Deli only yesterday. In any event Katz’s was much more fun. It felt a lot more authentic, it was still touristy and had all the autographed heads but the queue for the service counter, sawdust on the floor and distance from Broadway were all in its favour. The guys slicing whacking big pastrami sandwiches behind the counter all looked like they were enjoying themselves and convinced me to try one, Gabby queued up for the bagel counter.
Now, as you can see, the pastrami sandwich is a grotesque looking thing, you would say only its mother could love it but being made of so many meats you’d not be sure which mummy it belongs to anymore. The colour of a dog’s red rocket and the consistency of gooey sausage, it emerges from some metal bath of boiling water, is then shaved off like a kebab and stuck in between two mustard swept rye slices and handed across the counter. Somehow, I wasn’t salivating at the prospect but everyone seemed to be eating happily, so I set to and ate half.
OK, this is enough of an introduction for happened next. As I had been eating my pastrami, Gabby had devoured half her smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel (no it didn’t seem to bother her that she had had that for breakfast). I realised that Gabby was looking at me with an expression which, after eight and half years, I had never seen on her face. At first, I thought it may have been disgust, as I have mentioned this would have been understandable, but then I realised it was something else: it was an insatiable primal thirst.
You know about the Shopping Berserker and the Sleep Monster but they are nothing compared to the Bagel Beast or so I thought. I suggested to Gabby that we swap halves and to my stupefaction, in the worst prisoner exchange ever, she voluntarily surrendered her Deli bagel for the pastrami. Something deep in her DNA had bubbled up and manifested itself for the first and a new food primacy was born. Gabby had eaten from the pastrami of knowledge and she would never be able to go back.
I introduce to you a love affair with a pastrami sandwich…..
After such revelations we both really needed a coffee to make sense of the world again. Third Rail Coffee was on the map and a short stroll up 2nd. Behind the Leo and Kate fogged up windows of the hard to spot coffee shop inside, was delicious coffee, the best coffee we had in all our time in New York. Gabby, still a little confused from her pastrami baptism thought it was better than Roasted Brown here in Dublin. I accused her of treachery and I think the comment was retracted but still, you can taste that it was great coffee.
And strong! Recaffeinated we decided to walk back to the hotel to experience Fifth Avenue still in its Christmas colours. We walked past Madison Square ‘Park’ and the Flatiron building (which I was far too excited about, actually I looking back on it now I think I was proportionately excited about – seeing as it’s a super friggin cool building, well I liked it), past the sex museum which shocked Gabby who had so recently lost her Edenic innocence and the apparently heavenly OIA Rockefeller centre. No further food was necessary.