West Side Story  

 

Two weeks in Upper West Side, New York.

(February 2018) 

"If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere".

Prelude

View towards the NOHO from Bowery Street in Lower East Side.

I visited New York City (and the United States) for the first time in 2001.  That is rather late in my life, considering that by then I had already visited many countries, less exciting than the States. 

However, for the next 7 years, after that first time, I have visited this legendary city many times: 4-5 times every year.  The last time, though, I visited NYC was exactly ten years ago, in 2008.  We rented a wonderful first floor apartment in a three-floor building in Chelsea and stayed there for almost a month.  Needless to say, that those were some of my best holidays ever:  lots of walking, lots of good food and countless soothing hours in sweet-smelling cafes. 

Therefore, one could say that I know New York quite well.  Well, that could be true if NYC wasn’t an everchanging city with lots of hidden surprises waiting around the corner for you to discover. 

Everything here is so familiar and at the same time so surprisingly new!

My plans for this visit were to concentrate on Upper West Side and not to spend valuable time to other parts of the city, which I have visited many times in the past and know relatively well.  Of course, I made some trips outside UWS: I went to Chelsea to visit one of my favorite restaurants; I watched the New Lunar Year parade in Chinatown; I had my matcha snacks in Koreatown and my pastrami on rye in Lower East Side, I did my shopping in SOHO and Harlem, and I had lunch in posh Upper East Side.

The first day NYC welcomed us with snow. But, that was brief and next morning nothing indicated what happened.

February is not the best month to visit that part of the States and if you are unlucky you may encounter heavy snowfalls and chilly winds. 

On the other hand, February is low season for the touristic industry and air fares can be ridiculously cheap and hotels have very good offers.    

We were rather lucky during our visit, as there was nothing really extreme weatherwise:  a mild snowstorm the first and the last day (!) of our stay, reasonable rainfall during a couple of days and high for the season temperatures up to 27 C for two days (!).

Sure I do love NYC.

Arriving in JFK

On our way to Manhattan from JFK.

We arrived at Terminal 1 of JFK airport on a Lufthansa Boeing 747.  After hours of waiting to take our luggage and to go thru immigration, we took a taxi.  The taxis have a flat rate of 52$ to any destination in Manhattan, which means around 70-80$ in total, after adding taxes, tolls and tip.  Most taxis accept credit cards.

Moving around

Entrance to a metro station at Midtown.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is responsible for public transportation in New York State. It provides local and express buses, subway, and regional rail service in Greater New York.

Most tourists do not get out of Manhattan as they do not spend in NYC more than 4-5 days.  The easiest way to move around in Manhattan is the subway which moves in North-South directions (uptown-downtown). 

The NYC metro is cheap and reliable (most of the time), but alas, a filthy “scary” place.  There are very few elevators (as the stations are very old and haven’t been renovated for ages) and the worse is that these very few ones smell urine ...just keep your breath and soon you'll be at the surface.  The carriages are old, noisy and dirty, while the stations have more rats than passengers.

To get off the bus, wait till the green lights go on and push the yellow bars open.

The buses are cleaner, on time (that's questionable), efficient and compliment the subway by moving not only in north-south directions, but also in east-west directions (crosstown).  Personally, when in NYC, I prefer to travel on the busesThey may be much slower than the metro, but you can enjoy the view _when the windows are not so dirty and you can see outside.

All together the transport system is very well-organized and easy to use.  As I have mentioned for other destinations, electronic maps and transportation applications (e.g. Moovit) for telephone help a lot to move around in the city, in the most efficient and hassle-free way. 

MTA MetroCard.

Buy a MetroCard at one of the ticket machines at any of the stations, or from a station agent at a ticket booth. The machines accept both credit cards and cash, but sometimes the credit card machine doesn’t work, so be prepared to have some cash on you.

If you’re only going to use the subway once, purchase a $3 single-ride ticket from the machine only. But, if you are taking multiple rides, buy a pay-per-ride card that allows you to put a specific amount of money on it and get some discount per ride. You just need to put $5.50 or more on before using it. 

If you plan to stay for a week you should buy the 7-day unlimited travel metrocard which costs $32.  This is the best option, even if you stay for less days (4 or more), as it is the more convenient (hop on/off with no worries) and economic way.  You just swipe the MetroCard as you enter thru the metro gates or put it in the dedicated slot as you enter the bus (front door only).  You do not need to do anything as you exit either the metro gates or the bus. 

Ticket machines at a SBS bus stop.

The Select Bus Service (SBS) network introduced in NYC in 2017 and provides a complementary service to the subway system by connecting neighborhoods to subway stations and major destinations. To improve reliability, swiftness and service along these high ridership corridors a combination of tools has been implemented: off-board fare payment, bus lanes, traffic signal priority, and longer spacing between stops.

I used several times this service:  the buses are new and more comfortable (they are long vehicles).  Just do not forget to get your ticket at the bus stop before boarding the bus:  The SBS bus stops have machines where you’ll put in your prepaid MetroCard in order to get a paper ticket to take onto the bus before boarding. You can also pay by coins, but be prepared to have exact change on you. You don’t need to swipe the ticket when you board the bus, just keep it handy in case you get checked by an agent, which allows you to board the bus through any of the doors.

Citi Bike.

Citi Bike is New York City’s bike share system. It launched in May 2013 and has become an essential part of the transportation network. It's fun, efficient and affordable – not to mention healthy and good for the environment.

Citi Bike, like other bike share systems, consists of a fleet of (12.000) specially designed, sturdy and durable bikes that are locked into a network of (750) docking stations throughout the city. The bikes can be unlocked from one station and returned to any other station in the system, making them ideal for one-way trips. People use bike share to commute to work or school, run errands, get to appointments or social engagements, and more.

If you don’t feel like taking public transportation or cannot hop on a bike because you have luggage or shopping bags to carry, or you just don’t feel like dealing with other people, hail a yellow taxi or download theNYC taxi app for a ride.  Taxi rides are not as expensive as you may think, especially if you are splitting the fare between a few people.

When in doubt, walk.  NYC is an easy city to walk about and distances are not that long as you may think.  If the weather is reasonable and you are not on high heels, then walk.  Nothing compares to seeing the city on foot: you’ll find interesting spots that you may not see while whizzing by on a bike, or crawling through traffic on a bus or taxi.


30 things I hate about NYC

Rats? Litter?

thumbsdownAddresses written as "940 Madison" instead of the cross streets.  Thanks God there is google maps to find what you are looking for!

thumbsdownNo seats in coffee shops…ever.  You strangle to find a seat to sit down and enjoy your coffee.  It is supposed that New Yorkers grab their coffee paper cup and off they go.  Bullshit! They are desperate to sit down and enjoy their coffee, but there are those computer nerds who spend all their day sitting there and use the free Wi-Fi.  A friend told me that I should not be angry with them, because "they are just lonely people"… of course they are lonely, and they'll remain lonely for the rest of their life as they talk only to their computer screen!  

thumbsdownConstruction and scaffolding every day, everywhere.

thumbsdownStairs, for everything.  It seems that New Yorkers have not discovered elevators yet.  Really?  What about that mister Otis? He was New Yorker….no?

thumbsdownNot getting telephone service in the subway.  It is the 2018 stupid!

thumbsdownEveryone having a dog. There is excrement everywhere.  And I thought Athens is the "poo city"!

thumbsdownPeople talking loudly in a very irritating and pretentious way...especially the ladies.  But again, don't all Americans do that?

Construction, works, scaffolding everywhere.

 thumbsdownHaving mixed feelings about the Central Park horses:  the poor animals suffer under the intense summer heat and under the chilly winter rain… but, it is so romantic to go on a cart ride in Central Park and feel that something!

thumbsdownWalking everywhere but still never feeling like you got a workout in.

thumbsdownYour favorite coffee shop, bar, or restaurant closing because of rent.

thumbsdownAlways being by trash.

thumbsdownTrain delays.  Bus delays.

thumbsdownIncome inequalities.

thumbsdownLines for everything.

thumbsdownRats looking at you in the subway... or just ignoring you eating pizza.  

thumbsdownCard minimums and cash-only places.  Hey, this is 2018!

thumbsdownTourists, lots of tourists everywhere.  Aint't I a tourist myself?

thumbsdownThe noise...the noise...the noise.

thumbsdownThe firetruck sirens... but, not the firemen! 

Litter everywhere... literally everywhere.

thumbsdownTrump's eminent presence with all those Trump Towers.

thumbsdownAssuming any cocktail on a menu for under $13 must be a typo.

thumbsdownNY getting 15 times as much snow as the South Pole.

thumbsdownRealizing just how dirty the subway is.  Some 15,152 types of life forms, from insects to bacteria, have been identified on the NYC subway.

thumbsdownHaving many homeless people, when there are four times as many abandoned houses as there are homeless people in NYC.

thumbsdownHaving just realised that the average cost of a night out in NYC is more than $80.

thumbsdownHaving to pull up Google Maps every time you get into a taxi.

thumbsdownGetting excited when you can find a gallon of milk for less than $5.

thumbsdownTipping while using a card.  Someone has to tell them that there are simpler, more practical and less confusing ways to tip!

thumbsdownHaving to deal with rude bus drivers, who used to be very polite ten years ago!  But, again what I am talking about? I live in Athens where bus drivers most of the time ingnore you waiting at the bus stop and continue their way.

thumbsdownHaving to go through security checks every time you enter a public place.


1000 things I love about New York

thumbsupThe list is so long that I will not unfold it here.  biggrin

I love you NYC.


UPPER WEST SIDE 

Orientation, Upper West Side & Morningside Heights

Upper West Side on the map.

The Upper West Side—bracketed by Central Park and Riverside Park, and distinguished by noble, two-towered apartment buildings along Central Park West—is a place where you can frequently see families pushing strollers, walking dogs and, on weekends, settling in for brunch at mainstays like Sarabeth's.  Moreover, it is here where the word and philosophy around “brunch” was born. 

Of course, it's not all residential. There's culture, in the form of the American Museum of Natural History, the Beacon Theatre and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. And plenty of shopping, eating and nightlife as well. 

The Upper West Side extends from 59th to 110th Streets, though most of the sights are below 96th Street. 

Morningside Heights on the map.

Many consider Upper West Side to be indistinguishable from Morningside Heights, just to the north of it.

Morningside Heights is extended from the 110th street to the 125th street and it is bracketed by Riverside Park and Morningside Park.

Columbia University is the true heart and the brains of the area and thanks to it, Morningside Heights is un upscale neighborhood. 

Manhattan's most distinctive triangular building: the Flatiron Building.

Subway lines 1, 2 or 3 folow Broadway Ave and A, B, C or D trains run along Central Park West.  Buses M96, M86 and M79 cross the area from west to east through Central Park and to the Upper East Side.

The most famous street in America, Broadway Avenue, runs through the whole area from north to south.  Broadway is the only street that confounded even Randel, the creator of the famous NYC grid.  Its survival is responsible for the creation of many triangular open spaces like the Verdi Square & the Straus Park in Upper West Side, the Times Square & Union Square downtown, and furthermore, it is responsible for Manhattan's most distinctive triangular building: the Flatiron Building. 

Broadway avenue, follows a path forged a thousand years ago by the Lenape Indians.  A trail starting from the camps in the island’s northwest to the southern shore. All for one life-sustaining purpose: oysters.  New York harbor once boasted half the oysters in the entire world. Some of the largest beds were found on a small island off the tip of Manhattan, known as Oyster Island.  For hundreds of years, oysters were a primary source of food for native Americans and settlers alike. Broadway's unconventional path is testament to that history.  Oyster island got a new name later: Ellis island.

Verdi Square, the 72nd street hub.

Broadway avenue, follows a path forged a thousand years ago by the Lenape Indians.  A trail starting from the camps in the island’s northwest to the southern shore. All for one life-sustaining purpose: oysters.  New York harbor once boasted half the oysters in the entire world. Some of the largest beds were found on a small island off the tip of Manhattan, known as Oyster Island.  For hundreds of years, oysters were a primary source of food for native Americans and settlers alike. Broadway's unconventional path is testament to that history.  Oyster island got a new name later: Ellis island.

View from my hotel room at Broadway and 77th street.

Upper West Side in the movies

Famous films shot in Upper West Side.

I picked a hotel in Upper West Side and I was thrilled to stay there.  If you've seen a leafy, residential Manhattan neighborhood depicted on TV or in the movies, there's a decent chance it was the Upper West Side.

It's where Jerry made his home on “Seinfeld” and where Liz Lemon lived on “30 Rock”. Chuck Bass owned a hotel there on “Gossip Girl”.  In “The Apartment”, “Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is coerced into lending his Upper West Side place to his managers, who use it to cheat on their wives.  “West Side Story” and Bernstein’s music introduce us to the  neighborhood (called then San Jose Hills), as it was in late 50s, deprived of the glamour of today.  Tom Cruse’s car crashes at riverside drive in “Vanilla Sky” and the highly corrupt “Bad Lieutenant” Harvey Keitel wonders around the city trying to solve the case of a raped nun in an earnest story of Catholicism and forgiveness. 

Numerous movie characters have had lunch and dinner in one of the many restaurants, delis and cafés and many others had their apartment in the area.

Some films feature unique buildings that display a distinct architectural style and add an important element to the film’s atmosphere. From the Dakota’s mysterious energy in “Rosemary’s Baby” to the iconic rooftop of 55 Central Park West in “Ghostbusters”, the Upper West Side buildings featured in movies are central characters to the films in which they appear.

“You've Got Mail” poster.

You've Got Mail

Yet, what makes Upper West Side the neighborhood we all dream is that here Kathleen (Meg Ryan) and Frank (Tom Hanks) lived and fell in love in “You've Got Mail”, one of my favorite movies of all time _not because of the silly-sweet plot_, but because Upper West Side holds one of the leading roles besides Meg, Tom and Brinkley the Dog.  It feels “You've Got Mail” summed up what we love about the neighborhood's vibe. 

The film takes place in the 90's, a time when everything changes and globalization "threatens" the laid-back West Side way of life.

Note: After coming back from this trip to NYC, I watched the film again.  Yes, the 90's brought many changes in our life (alas, disturbing most of them), which has worsened our lives worldwide, but one is for sure: Upper West Side has not changed that much.  Maybe big chains like “Barnes & Noble”, have established themselves in the neighborhood (the infamous “Fox Bookshops” of the film?) and they may have forced smaller ones like “Shakespeare and co” (which has been as much as a staple of the Upper West Side as Zabar's) to close down, but people still eat and drink their coffee at the same delis and cafes, walk in the beautiful leafy streets and jogging early in the morning or walk their dog in Morningside park.

Nora Ephron (1941-2012)

Nora Ephron (the director and screen writer of the film) moved in the area in the 80s and loved it!  Read the story of her moving into the legentary "Anthorp Apartments", in The New Yorker article:

“In February, 1980, two months after the birth of my second child and the simultaneous end of my marriage, I fell madly in love. I was looking for a place to live, and one afternoon I walked just ten steps into an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and my heart stood still. This was it. At first sight. Eureka. Ten steps in and I said, “I’ll take it.”

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/06/05/moving-on-nora-ephron

We all remember Kathleen waiting for Frank in "Cafe Lalo" for their blind date. The place is always packed with tourists and film's fans. It has a great selection, though, of cakes and light food. Try the red velvet cake!


Architectural Landmarks

Central Park West.

The Beresford, just opposite to the American Museum of Natural History.

Architecture buffs will want to take their time exploring the neighborhood.

The Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District is distinguished by four luxury co-ops built during the 1930s—The Eldorado, San Remo, Majestic and Century Apartments—each of which has two towers on its interior. The design is a quirk of a 1929 building regulation that limited the height of street-facing residential constructions.

Other prominent and historic apartment complexes on the Central Park West include the Dakota and the Beresford.

Eldorado Apartments

The Eldorado Apartments seen from the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park.

The spectacular art deco Eldorado Apartments is the northernmost of the four twin-towered luxury housing cooperatives.  It  fills the complete blockfront extending between W90th and W91st Streets, and overlooks the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park.  

The Eldorado was constructed in 1929–1931 to the design of Emery Roth, and has 30 floors. Of the two tower "tops", only the southernmost  is habitable, while the other  houses a water tank _but, the floors beneath are habitable.

The building has been occupied by many famous residents, among them Alec Baldwin, Faye Dunaway, Moby, Michael J. Fox and the author Sinclair Lewis. The building was also the fictional address of Marjorie Morningstar, the heroine of Herman Wouk's 1955 novel.

San Remo apartments

The San Remo seen from the Central Park.

The San Remo is a luxury, 27-floor, co-operative apartment opened in 1930.

At the 18th floor, the building splits into the San Remo's iconic 10-floor towers, the top of which were inspired by the drum of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece, and culminating in Renaissance-style Corinthian temples crowned by 22-foot-high copper lanterns. The twin tower design was innovative when first developed, and inspired a number of imitators over the years (including The Majestic, The Century, The Eldorado and—most recently—the Time Warner Center).

Some of the famous residents of San Remo were: James Levine, Barry Manilow, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Spielberg, Donna Karan, Tony Randall, Demi Moore, Glenn Close, Dustin Hoffman, Steve Martin, Bruce Willis, Jennifer Rush, Marshall Brickman, Dodi Fayed, Aaron Spelling, and Diane Keaton. Rita Hayworth spent her last years there, in a unit beside that of her daughter, Princess Yasmin Aga Khan. Steve Jobs bought and renovated a penthouse apartment but never lived in it, ultimately selling it to Bono.  In 1985, Madonna applied to buy an apartment in the building but was infamously rejected by the residents’ board! On December 23, 2013, philanthropist Robert Wilson committed suicide by jumping from his 16th floor apartment in the South Tower.

The sign displayed at the intersection of 74th street and Central Park West (between San Remo and the Langham) commemorates the first ever recorded car accident.

The Majestic apartments

The Majestic Apartments.

The Majestic (or Majestic Apartments) is a twin-towered 29-floor housing cooperative skyscraper which constructed in 1930–1931 and designed in the Art Deco style by architect Irwin S. Chanin.  The building was originally planned to be a 45-story hotel, but the plans were changed midway through construction due to the Great Depression and the passing of the Multiple Dwelling Act, which restricted a building's height immediately above the street, but allowed tall towers if the property was sufficiently large.

The Majestic replaced the Hotel Majestic, designed by Alfred Zucker in 1894 at the same site, which had been home to Gustav Mahler and Edna Ferber, among others. 

Among the notable residents, the Majestic was home to some of the former heads of the Luciano crime family (later called the Genovese crime family) including Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky. In 1957, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante shot Frank Costello in the lobby of the Majestic in a failed assassination attempt. Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, a founding member of the New York syndicate, along with Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, and head of its security arm, Murder, Inc., lived in an apartment there in 1933.

The Century apartments

The Century Apartments.

The Century apartments building is located on the site of the Century Theatre. The theatre was demolished in 1930–31 to make way for the apartments which kept the name of the former theatre. The Century, along with its one-year older sister building, The Majestic, was among the first residential buildings to use what had been predominantly an office building style of architecture. Both The Century and The Majestic stand 30-stories and their Art Deco motifs stand in contrast to the Beaux-Arts buildings that surround them.

The Century features art deco "machine-inspired" towers and cantilevered floor slabs. The floor slabs prevent the necessity of corner columns thus allowing the building to be fitted with large corner windows.

The Dakota Apartments

The Dakota Apartments.

The Dakota Apartments on the Central Park West avenue is located between the Langham and the Majestic.  It was built in 1884 and is considered to be one of Manhattan's most prestigious and exclusive cooperative residential buildings; most probably the most famous and notorious building in NYC.  It took its name from the state of Dakota, even though historians do not agree on the exact reason this happened. High above the 72nd Street entrance, the face of a Dakota Indian keeps watch.

The building's high gables and deep roofs with a profusion of dormers, terracotta spandrels and panels, niches, balconies, and balustrades give it a German Renaissance character, an echo of a Hanseatic town hall. Nevertheless, its layout and floor plan betray a strong influence of French architectural trends in housing design that had become known in NY in the 1870s. 

The Dakota is a square building, built around a central courtyard. The arched main entrance is a porte-cochère large enough for the horse-drawn carriages that once entered and allowed passengers to disembark sheltered from the weather. Many of these carriages were housed in a multi-story stable building built in two sections, 1891–94, at the southwest corner of 77th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, where elevators lifted them to the upper floors. The "Dakota Stables" building was in operation as a garage until February 2007, when it was slated to be transformed by the Related Companies into a condominium residence.

Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Dakota can be seen in the background.

Dakota is the building that has been associated with John Lennon’s assassination, who used to live here with Yoko Ono.

The killing took place at the south entrance of the building.  It is prominently featured in Andrew Piddington's 2006 film "The Killing of John Lennon". 

Yoko Ono still lives here.

In Central Park, just opposite the Dakota, stand Strawberry Fields, a living memorial to the world-famous singer, songwriter, and social activist John Lennon. 

Landscape architect Bruce Kelly designed a meditative Garden of Peace, rich in trees, shrubs and flowers, which was integrated with the historic landscape of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. At the western apex of the garden, Neopolitan artisans crafted a circular black and white mosaic emblem into the pavement, containing a starburst pattern and the solitary word, “Imagine”, the title of one of Lennon’s most famous songs. 150 nations were enlisted to contribute plants to the garden, thus embodying the principle of world peace for which Lennon was such an influential advocate. On October 9, 1985, on the 45th anniversary of Lennon’s birth, Strawberry Fields was dedicated, and has become a pilgrimage site for visitors to NY from around the world.

THe Dakota facade.

Dakota is the building that has connected its history with the glamour of showbiz, as the celebraties  lived or still live here are countless. 

The building was reportedly fully rented before it even opened, thanks to a glowing New York Times review. The Steinway family, of Steinway piano fame, was one of The Dakota's first residents. Though he died in 1883, Peter Tchaikovsky is said to have lived there (perhaps he lived in it before its completion). Actress Lauren Bacall owned a nine-room apartment for 53 years that recently sold for $23.5 million.  Here's just some of the other showbiz people who lived in the Dakota: Leonard Bernstein (his former apartment was the building's most expensive sale), Rosemary Clooney, Judy Garland, Roberta Flack,  Boris Karloff, Rudolf Nureyev and Jason Roberts. 

The south entrance of Dakota, where John Lennon was shot.

Although historically home to many creative or artistic people, in 2005, the building and its co-op board of directors rejected the pass of one of the apartments to actors Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas.

In Roman Polanski's 1968 film "Rosemary's Baby", the Dakota was used for exterior shots of "The Bramford", the apartment building where several of the characters live.  This probably was not an arbitrary location choice, as stories of ghost sightings have loomed around the building for years.  In fact, when John Lennon was alive, he told Ono he saw a 'crying lady ghost' roaming the halls.  Later Ono herself saw her husband's ghost sitting at his white piano: he told her, "Don't be afraid. I am still with you [sic]".

The Big Five on Broadway

The Ansonia.

The Ansonia, the Apthorp, the Astor Court, the Dorilton and the Belnord Apartments on Broadway, are the "big five" apartment buildings in the heart of Upper West End.

"The Ansonia"

When The Ansonia finished in 1904, it was the largest residential hotel of its day. Legend has it that the owner (William Earl Dodge Stokes) wanted The Ansonia to be much taller but stopped at the 17th floor because he liked the view.

The Ansonia had every luxury of the period, including a pneumatic tube system that allowed tenants to exchange messages and gossip; Turkish baths; six passenger elevators, as well as large service elevators and dumbwaiters for delivery to apartment kitchens; several restaurants decorated in the Gilded-Age style of Louis XIV; two swimming pools, including the world's largest indoor pool; basement shops; fresh eggs, courtesy of the chickens in Mr. Stokes' rooftop farm; and seals that frolicked in its lobby fountain.

Architectural details of the Ansonia.

Some of its most famous residents included musical immortals Enrico Caruso, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Igor Stravinsky, Arturo Toscanini, Gustave Mahler and Yehudi Menuhin; theatrical notables Florenz Ziegfeld, Sarah Bernhardt, Bille Burke, Tony Curtis and Paul Sorvino; sports legends Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey; and writers Elmer Rice, W.L. Stodard and Theodore Dreiser.

From the moment of its completion, The Ansonia inspired a unique aura of glamour, eccentricity and intrigue. Legends about its famous residents abound: Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior used its halls for target practice; Theodore Dreiser wrote "An American Tragedy" during his residence; the Secret Service foiled a German plot to blow it up on the eve of the Atlantic Fleet's Naval ball just before World War I; the building's vast size permitted ladies’ man Flo Ziegfeld to keep his wife and mistress in separate apartments; Bette Midler and Barry Manilow began their careers at the legendary Continental Baths; and Babe Ruth's neighbors were grateful for its thick, soundproof walls after living in The Ansonia inspired him to take up the saxophone.

The Ansonia has been in numerous films and commercials. It made its film debut in The Sunshine Boys. After starring in Single White Female, it was featured in the Natalie Cole video Take A Look, played home to Michael Keaton and Marissa Tomei in Ron Howard's The Paper, and had a cameo role in White Man's Burden, Gregory Hines' directorial debut.

The Dorilton.

"The Dorilton"

The Boulevard, as Broadway was called in the early days of the 20th Century, promised great things to come. William Stoke’s elaborate Beaux Arts Ansonia apartment building was under construction at 73rd Street on the wide, spacious boulevard that evoked, at least in Stokes’ mind, the Champs Elysees of Paris.

Developer Hamilton M. Weed jumped on the French-inspired bandwagon, commissioning architects Elisha Harris Janes and Richard Leopold Leo to design a Beaux Arts concoction two blocks to the south at 71st Street. When completed in 1902, the Dorilton was an explosion of ornamentation. It immediately drew the wrath of architectural critics for its overblown decoration.

The building had separate elevators for tenants and servants, French paneled rooms and filtered water. But most of all, it had exterior flamboyance.  Most distinctive is the 71st Street entrance, a wide courtyard spanned by a connecting arch at the ninth floor. “The most attractive entrance gate in the city” features sculpted cherubs, grand iron gates and colossal limestone columns surmounted by enormous globes.

The Apthorp courtyard.

"The Apthorp"

The Italian Renaissance Revival building designed by architects Clinton & Russell for William Waldorf Astor, was built between 1906 and 1908.  It occupies the full block between Broadway and West End Avenue and between W78th and W79th streets.  It does not have private balconies, but it is distinguished by a beautifully landscaped center courtyard. The Apthorp has four lobbies – all of which are accessible from its courtyard – leading to opulent residences.

The building was named for Charles Ward Apthorp, who owned Apthorp Farm, which encompassed about 1.2 km2 in this part of Manhattan in the late 18th century.

Residents have included Douglas Fairbanks, Nora Ephron, Joseph Heller, George Balanchine, Al Pacino, Conan O'Brien, Cyndi Lauper, Rosie O'Donnell, and Steve Kroft.

Pynchon, the Apthorp and Upper West Side.

The only certain picture we have of Thomas Pynchon. Taken in 1953, when the author was 16 years old.

Bleeding Edge is a novel by American author Thomas Pynchon, published in 2013. The novel is a detective story, with its major themes being the September 11 attacks in New York City and the transformation of the world by the Internet.  The often surreal and dream-logic plot of the novel opens on the first day of spring 2001, with detective Maxine Tarnow walking her two sons to school before going to work. 

Much of the story takes place in Upper West Side where Pynchon lives for long with his wife and son.  The elusive Mr Pynchon finds a good hide in the leafy roads of Upper West Side, but he is not exactly a recluse:  in select company, he’s intensely social and charismatic.

The cover of Pynchon's novel: "Bleeding Edge".

Maxine lives in “The Deseret”, an apartment building, which many believe it is the "The Apthorp".  Although the Apthorp building does not have “turrets and gargoyles”, its courtyard closely matches Pynchon's description of the Deseret.  Besides, Pynchon himself lived in an apartment facing this building for years, so obviously he knows it very well.  

“If there can be haunted houses, there can also be karmically challenged apartment buildings, and the one they liked to spy on, The Deseret, has always made The Dakota look like a Holiday Inn. The place has obsessed Maxine for as long as she can remember. She grew up across the street from where it still looms over the neighborhood, trying to pass as just another stolid example of Upper West Side apartment house, twelve stories and a full square block of sinister clutter—helical fire escapes at each corner, turrets, balconies, gargoyles, scaled and serpentine and fanged creatures in cast iron over the entrances and coiled around the windows. In the central courtyard stands an elaborate fountain, surrounded by a circular driveway big enough to allow a couple of stretch limos to sit there and idle, with room left over for a Rolls-Royce or two. Film crews come here to shoot features, commercials, series, blasting huge volumes of light into the unappeasable maw of the entranceway, keeping everybody for blocks around up all night.”

Me at home reading the Greek edition of the "Bleeding Edge" ("Υπεραιχμή").

Other notable landmarks

Central Savings Bank (now an Apple Bank).

There are more architectural riches in Upper West Side than just the above mentioned buildings: elegant row houses, especially in the West 70s and 80s near Riverside Drive; the neoclassical Shearith Israel Synagogue, beaux-arts First Church of Christ Scientist, and art nouveau New York Society for Ethical Culture; the majestic Beacon Theatre; the former Central Savings Bank (now an Apple Bank along with luxury condo building);

The extravagant West Side YMCA

the extravagant West Side YMCA; the ABC studios NYC, the highly decorated Pythian next to the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on the 70th, the Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church; the Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Volodymyr; the west park Presbyterian Church; the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, and countless others—even museums like the American Museum of Natural History and the New-York Historical Society are notable for their architecture alone, as well as the Columbia University Complex further uptown in Morningside Heights.  

New York Historical Society building. The American Museum of Natural History can be seen next to it, and the Beresford at the background.

Typical Upper West Side row houses.


Gastronomic Paradise 

 

Food is the essence of Upper West Side.  There’s food for every taste and food for everyone's earnings and social class or age.  The three major avenues running all the way through the area from north to south, namely: Broadway, Amsterdam and Columbus seem to have more restaurants and cafes than can fit in the area.  In particular, in Amsterdam avenue, between the 72nd and 92nd streets, every other shop seems to be a temple dedicated to Edesia, the roman goddess of food who presides over banquets.   

Desserts and coffee

The window of "European Bakery" on Broadway, between 78th & 77th streets. Try the apple tart!

The Upper West Side has a serious sweet tooth.  Countless cafes, pastry shops, cookie shops and bakeries try to satisfy New Yorkers’ insatiable lust for sugar!  There are independent shops (like "Cafe Lalo" or "European Bakery Cafe"), as well as American (like "Magnolia Bakery") and international chains (like the European “Maison Kayser” and “Le Pain Quotidien" or the Korean “Tous les jours” and "Paris Baguette", which sound so frenchie...don't they?).  

Coffee is everywhere in NYC; you can smell it in every street and shop.  The good thing is that coffee culture has evolved a lot during the last decade.  As a result today one can taste really good coffee in NYC, in contrast with the coffee Americans used to drink: something like used laundry water with a hint of coffee taste.

The american coffee shop or cafe is not what we are used in Europe, or Far East.  The cafes here sell everything: from beverages and infusions to sandwiches and cakes to light meals, they are more like parisian bistros. 

There are small, independent "real" cafés  in Greenwich Village and Chelsea, but they are just rarities north of 25th street.

Starbucks is omnipresent and the only real cafe chain in the city.

The Starbucks on Broadway and 81st street, known from the film "You've got mail". Meg Ryan had her coffee several times here.

The Orwashers bakery on Amsterdam and 81st street.

"Orwashers Bakery" is a New York City institution.  Founded in 1916 by a Hungarian immigrant family, the bakery began as a small storefront in the Upper East Side. It was borne out of a desire to serve local immigrant community members and focused on the high quality rye, black and grain breads that reflected the traditions of their homeland. After being passed on from generation to generation of the Orwasher family, the business was sold to Keith Cohen in 2008.  Since then the business has been expanded, so today more and more locals, as well as visitors, can enjoy delicious artisan breads; black and white cookies; flaky, buttery croissants; and of course, airy, tender jelly donuts or plain donuts dusted with sugar or covered with dark chocolate.

www.orwashers.com

Orwashers apple Rugelash fotographed by my hotel room window.

At Orwashers you can find the best rugelach in town, an old-world treat: buttery cookies rolled with several ingredients and cut into slices before baking.  The different fillings can include raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, poppy seed, apples or fruit preserves which are rolled up inside.

Rugelach is a Jewish pastry of Ashkenazic origin. It is very popular in Israel, commonly found in most cafes and bakeries, and also a popular treat among Jews in diaspora, especially in NYC. Rugelach can be made with sour cream or cream cheese doughs, but there are also pareve variants (with no dairy ingredients), so that it can be eaten with or after a meat meal and still be kosher. Cream cheese doughs are the most recent, probably an American innovation, while yeast leavened and sour cream doughs are much older. 

Milk Bar Upper West Side on Columbus and 87th street (top). The cover of the "milk bar" book (bottom left). Detail of the shop window (bottom right).

"Momofuku Milk Bar" on Columbus Ave consistently makes a habit of sabotaging diets via Instagram, and the local branch's treats consistently live up to their photogenic qualities. The menu is imaginative in a Willy Wonka way: cereal milk ice cream, candy bar pie, compost cookies, crack pies and birthday-cake truffles complete with sprinkles are just a few options. Milk bar is an award-winning bakery from chef & owner Christina Tosi, known worldwide from her book with the same name “Milk Bar”.

http://milkbarstore.com/main/

A composition of a walnut chocolate chip cookie and the beautifully crafted Lavain paper bag.

Ask anyone in the neighborhood where you can get a good chocolate chip cookie, and odds are they'll point you to “Levain Bakery”, the tiny shop on Amsterdam and & 74th street.

I am not really a cookie person, but when my friend Myrna (a well known epicure and an excellent cook herself) told me to try Levain, I thought to give it a try.  Thus, I bought a walnut chocolate chip cookie.  There are no words capable to describe how unbelievably tasty these cookies are.  They are crunchy on the outside, soft inside and rich in chocolate which melts in your mouth… simply delightful.

Needless to say, that I have visited Levain over and over again.

The tiny Lavain Bakery on W74th street and my first walnut chocolate chip cookie.

In "Lavain Bakery" you'll also find: oatmeal-raisin and chocolate-with-peanut-butter-chip varieties, muffins, baguettes stuffed with butter and jam, oatmeal raisin scones, brioche, walnut and raisin sticky bans, sour cream cakes, lemon cakes, chocolate rolls, fruit tarts and even crispy pizzas.

The line here may seem daunting, but it moves quickly and is worth the wait. Maybe the line is the reason that recently, a new big shop opened just one block north of the original tiny shop, also on Amsrerdam Ave (between 75th and 76th streets).  Big, shiny and apealing, the new shop is now able to accomodate even more cookie funs. 

https://www.levainbakery.com/

The new "Lavain Bakery" on Amsterdam ave.

"Magnolia Bakery"

If you are yearning for cupcakes then the ultimate place for you is located on the corner of Columbus and 69th street.  "Magnolia Bakery" is a popular chain of bakeries, which opened its first location on a cozy street corner in the heart of New York City’s West Village (Bleecker Street) in the summer of 1996. From its inception, Magnolia Bakery has been cherished for its classic American baked quality goods, vintage decor and warm, inviting atmosphere.  At magnolia Bakery they serve more than 150 fresh, handmade menu items: from cakes, cupcakes, cookies and bars to icebox desserts, cheesecakes and seasonal pies.  All these are made hand, on the premises throughout the day.

The sweet smells in the bakeries are just irresistible. 

The best red velvet cheesecake in town.

Magnolia’s desserts captured the attention of a worldwide audience after being featured on the hit TV show "Sex and the City" and in popular movies such as "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Prime".  Its reputation continued to grow through mentions on TODAY, The Martha Stewart Show, Regis & Kelly, Weeds and more.

At Magnolia bakery I had some great red velvet cake and the best red velvet cheesecake in New York, second only to one I had some years ago in Kobe, Japan (but, this does not count, because comparing the “western-type” cakes in Japan to those elsewhere is just meaningless... the Japanese are just unmatched). 

https://www.magnoliabakery.com/

Magnolia Bakery.

The doughnut... or is it "the donut"?

Donuts filled with blackcurrant jam.

The doughnut (or donut) is a NYC icon.  We are all trapped in stereotypes like the one of the NYC cops eating doughnuts in their car to be strong and chase away the bad guys.  The NYC doughnut can be homemade or purchased in bakeries, supermarkets, food stalls, and franchised specialty vendors.  Actually, doughnuts are everywhere.  Dunkin’ Donuts has hundreds of shops in Manhattan, but  certainly it is your last choice, when there are available delicious handmade donuts like those in “Orwashers bakery”.

Donut filled with cream.

While food resembling doughnuts has been found at many ancient sites, the earliest origins to the modern doughnuts are generally traced back to the olykoek ("oily cake"). Dutch settlers brought olykoek with them to early New York (or New Amsterdam). These doughnuts closely resembled later ones but did not yet have their current ring-sized shape. One of the earliest mentions of "doughnut" was in Washington Irving's 1809 book "A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty": “Sometimes the table was graced with immense apple-pies, or saucers full of preserved peaches and pears; but it was always sure to boast of an enormous dish of balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called dough-nuts, or olykoeks: a delicious kind of cake, at present scarce known in this city, excepting in genuine Dutch families”.

According to anthropologist Paul Mullins, the first cookbook mentioning doughnuts was an 1803 English volume which included doughnuts in an appendix of American recipes. He also traces its origins to the oliekoek that arrived in America with the Dutch settlers in the early 18th century. By the mid-19th century, the doughnut looked and tasted like today's doughnut, and was viewed as a thoroughly American food.

The variety of american donuts is mythical.

Hanson Gregory, an American, claimed to have invented the ring-shaped doughnut in 1847 aboard a lime-trading ship when he was 16 years old. Gregory was dissatisfied with the greasiness of doughnuts twisted into various shapes and with the raw center of regular doughnuts. He claimed to have punched a hole in the center of dough with the ship's tin pepper box, and to have later taught the technique to his mother.  Smithsonian Magazine states that his mother, Elizabeth Gregory, "made a wicked deep-fried dough that cleverly used her son's spice cargo of nutmeg and cinnamon, along with lemon rind," and "put hazelnuts or walnuts in the center, where the dough might not cook through", and called the food 'doughnuts'. 

Greek "patousa donut" and "loukoumades".

THE GREEK "Loukouma".

In Greece, the fashionable multicolored American donuts is something that only recently arrived in the country… actually, those came into our life when of Dunkin’ Donuts opened their first shop in Athens.  Nevertheless, the round covered-with-sugar donut, with the hole in the middle, goes well back in time and was one of the favorite treat for kids my age and older.  This traditional donut we call “loukouma”.  Loukoumades (plural) are sold everywhere mainly by street vendors, but mostly outside primary schools.  I remember me as a school kid to buy loukoumades from the “loukoumatzis” (loukouma man) through the railings of the school yard.  And then, when I was in my university years the first donuts arrived in Greece.  My favorite one, and the most popular, was the “patousa”: a donut shaped as a human sole with raisins inside and covered in sugar glaze!  I also very well remember my long summer holidays on Naxos island, where me and my friend Maria lived on chocolate covered and filled huge donuts.

The little miracle on Broadway

The Papa's little shop on Broadway.

The story goes like this:  “A long time ago, there was a small bakery in Osaka, Japan.  The store was small, but everyone knew about it and loved the delightful sweets that filled the town with a pleasant aroma.  Everyone also loved the head baker, who always wore a smile on his face and was called Beard Papa after his fluffy, white beard (I cannot imagine a Japanese with a fluffy full beard… but never mind).  Beard Papa baked all day and night to keep the townspeople happy, because nothing made his day more than seeing everyone enjoying his baked goods.  One day, a group of children visited his store and asked, “When are you going to come up with a new treat?  All of us can’t wait for you to work more magic in the kitchen!”  When Beard Papa heard this, he knew he had to think of something quickly.  He could not let the townspeople down, and he wanted to surprise everyone with the best pastry they’ve ever had.  Beard Papa thought and thought.  Then, as he strokes his fluffy white beard, it suddenly hit him.  “I’ve got it!  My fluffy beard.  I’m going to make an original recipe for cream puffs that are just as fluffy and lovable as my beard!  They don’t call me Beard Papa for nothing.” 

The logo of "Bear Papa's" and the windows with the yummy puffs.

Papa's puffs became more and more popular as time went by.  And here we are!  The best Japanese puffs arrived at the heart of Upper West Side….at the same building block with my hotel! 

Hidden between two shops on Broadway Avenue (between 77th and 76th) and overwhelmed by the much bigger and fancier neighboring “Maison Kayser” stands “Beard Papa’s” or simply “the best cream puffs ever”.

My favorite: eclair filled with green tea cream!

The idea is simple:  3-4 different shells (all crispy and tasty) filled with different flavors of light custard cream (vanilla, chocolate, green tea, cookies, strawberry, hazelnut…to name some), baked on the spot every day, to be consumed the same day only!

Needless to say, that visiting Bear Papa’s was my daily ritual on my way back to the hotel after my long walks in the city.    

Blackcurrant cheesecake puffs.... just devine!

The Begel

Bagels have a long history going back to 17th century Ashkenazi Jewish communities in Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe. The first known mention of the bagel, in 1610, was in Jewish community ordinances in Kraków, Poland. 

Bagels are traditionally shaped by hand into the form of a ring from yeasted wheat dough, roughly hand-sized, that is first boiled for a short time in water and then baked. The result is a dense, chewy, doughy interior with a browned and sometimes crisp exterior. Bagels are often topped with seeds baked on the outer crust, with the traditional ones being poppy or sesame seeds. Some may have salt sprinkled on their surface.  There are different dough types, such as whole-grain or rye. 

Bagels can be eaten as they are or staffed with all kind of cheese, vegetables, meat and antipasti.  The most traditional of all is the begel filled with smoked salmon and cream cheese.

Bagel shops in Upper West Side.

Even though there are different varieties of bagels which people value worldwide (especially in North America), there is only one city that made it as its “official food”: NYC.

How did it startedOnce cleared from Ellis island thousands of immigrants headed straight to Manhattan’s lower East side and that meant a lot of mouths to feed.  Jews from eastern Europe brought with them a cheap street food that has become New York's iconic breakfast.  What began as an inexpensive street food is now served in over 50 different ways in shops like the "Black Seed bagels".

A hundred years ago bagel was not about gourmet it was about survival.  For 50 cents a day, bakers worked 14 hour shifts in cramped basement kitchens producing 800 bagels an hour.  Conditions were so harsh many bakers collapsed from heat stroke. 

There are numerous shops around NYC which handmake and freshly bake bagels and it is difficult to tell which are the best ones.  Upper West Side has a big variety of bagel selling shops, like "Broadway Bagel" (Broadway and 101st street), "Absolute Bagels" (Broadway, between 107th and 108th streets), "Tal Bagels" (Broadway, between 91st & 90th streets), "Orwashers Bakery" (Amsterdam and 81st street), "Bagels & Co" (Amsterdam between 79th and 78th streets), "Bagel Talk" (Amsterdam between 78th & 77th streets), "H&H Midtown Bagels East" (Columbus between 86th & 85th streets), to name some.  Also, all supermarkets, delis and smaller food stores sell bagels.  The NYC bagels are a city legend.   

Food, food & Food

The Upper West Side has a homey, residential feel, so it's no wonder that the area excels at that most comforting of meals: brunch. Come very hungry to Columbus Avenue's always-packed "Good Enough to Eat", which offers generous portions of food with a side of cow memorabilia festooning the walls.   Good Enough to Eat was founded by Carrie Levin in 1981 as a result of her desire to create and serve “good, old-fashioned American food” with only fresh, raw ingredients.  The eatery became a huge success, noted first for its all-day, bountiful breakfasts featuring omelets with Granny Smith apples and sharp cheddar, pancakes, waffles staffed with bacon, cinnamon-swirl French toast and buttermilk biscuits. It became even more well know when it began offering homemade soups, huge sandwiches, and classic Turkey and Meatloaf dinners, establishing Carrie as one of the first Chef’s in NYC to create and celebrate “traditional” American cuisine.  Dishes which won't do much for your diet, but they may lift your spirits. 

http://www.goodenoughtoeat.com/ 

You'll forget you're in Manhattan at "Sarabeth's" (Amsterdam Ave. Between 80th & 81st Streets), whose atmosphere evokes Montauk, Long Island, more than the big city. Known for its colorful homestyle cooking, warm atmosphere and family-friendly service, locals and visitors have felt at home at this very first Sarabeth’s location for nearly 30 years. This upscale, green-awning classic specializes in fun twists on old standbys: dishes include a crisp potato waffle paired with chicken apple sausage and short-rib hash with eggs and jalapeño; a bloody mary can be ramped up with poached shrimp, braised short rib hash, lemon & ricotta pancakes and a yummy selection of French toasts.  

http://sarabethsrestaurants.com/upper-west-side/ 

"Barney Greengrass" on Amsterdam (between 86th and 87th streets).

In a city that takes bagels and lox seriously, "Barney Greengrass" rises to the occasion—and also serves plenty of other fish, soups and sides. Barney Greengrass (as is the dine-in portion of "Zabar's") is a place where you see generations of visitors and Upper West Side locals dining together: old-timers, who could have ordered a bagel with a schmear 60 years ago, next to kids who first stepped in there after the advent of gluten-free rugelach. Barney Greengrass opened its doors in 1908 (its current location dates to 1929) and unless you look out the window, you'll feel like you stepped into a time machine. 

"La Caridad 78" Restaurant-Comidas China y Criolla.

In a city where restaurants can be a flash in the pan, "La Caridad 78" Restaurant-Comidas China y Criolla (Broadway on 78th street) is an elder statesman, having faithfully served Upper West Siders since the sixties.

Founded by Chinese entrepreneurs who emigrated to Cuba and fled Castro’s revolution a generation later, the restaurant presents working people’s Cuban and Cantonese fare to its loyal patrons, who include taxi drivers, artists, cops, writers, and boisterous Hispanic families.

There’s no fusion here; each cuisine is presented discretely. The Latin dishes, consisting of numerous stews and grilled dishes, are the most compelling. Arroz con mariscos is a mound of bright orange rice imbued with saffron and paprika and bejeweled with scallops, shrimp, and squid. Red pepper strips and green peas add color and crunch. The bistec en salsa de tomate is a thin but charred top sirloin steak in a sprightly tomato sauce spiked with garlic and onion slivers; certainly the most valued dish of the establishment.

The Chinese specialties tend toward stir-fried dishes with simple white sauces and nostalgic (and bland) curiosities like egg foo young and chop suey, harking back to the days before spicy regional cuisines like Szechuan and Hunan captured New Yorkers’ palates. Though renovated several times over the years, the utilitarian décor, the menu, and the ample portions remain unchanged.

The Chipotle at Broadway on 83rd street.

NYC is a real melting point of all peoples of the world and the same applies to all kind of “ethnic” cuisines.  Nevertheless, as Americans of Mexican and Cuban origin outnumber other ethnicities, Mexican and Cuban food is omnipresent. 

If you want cheap but good quality Mexican food though, you do not have to look much around: just pop into one of the many "Chipotle Mexican Grill" restaurants.  Chipotle is an American chain of fast, casual restaurants (today with shops in many countries), specializing, since 1993, in tacos and Mission-style burritos. Its name derives from chipotle, the Nahuatl name for a smoked and dried jalapeño chili pepper.   Chipotle's menu consists of four items: burritos, bowls, tacos, and salads. The price of each item is based on the choice of chicken, pork carnitas, barbacoa, steak, tofu-based "sofritas", or vegetarian. Additional optional toppings are offered free of charge, including: rice, beans, queso, four types of salsa, sour cream, cheese, and lettuce.  My favorite is chicken burrito with guacamole, sour cream, black beans and brown rice.  Try it!

"Playa Betty's" beach atmospere.

"Playa Betty's" (on Amsterdam and 75th street) is not just a restaurant, it’s a culinary road trip down the California coastline.  When we say California-style Beach Food we mean the whole coast of California from a Mendocino County food truck to Los Angeles health food to the best of Baja California!  

Playa Betty’s.

At Playa Betty’s they serve it up wholesome, fast (that is very questionable, though: I had an excellent service, but I heared several people complaining), and in a very colorful, youthful and funky environment.   You enjoy your food under neon signs, surf boards and palm trees! 

So, grab some friends, throw some surfboards into your old VW microbus and take an imaginary trip down the west coast eating overstuffed San Diego style burritos, chilly and lime glazed salmon, vegetarian enchiladas, Santa Monica salad, tacos, Dharma bowls, cali-style club sandwiches, tempura battered mahi mahi and for those with that sweet tooth: Mexican chocolate flan and churro ice-cream sandwich.

www.playabettys.com/

At Playa Betty's.

The burger

A yummy burger served at Fulton Market, downtown.

None really knows the origin of the (ham)burger and there are lots of disputes around this subject.  Nevertheless, what's for sure is that we all have mostly associated the burger with the American cuisine.  Alas, not with the great American cuisine, but with the humble American cuisine, what we call “the fast food”!  Because of “fast food” the burger is misunderstood and most people do not prize it as much as it deserves.  But,  people who value food no matter of its name or origin LOVE the burger.  I am one of them.

New York’s Upper West Side is a hamburger heaven. One can find from gourmet to “grab and go” burgers.  There’s something for everyone’s taste. One can even find great Kosher burgers! There are fancy burger restaurants and more basic ones.  The list is huge, so I will go with only two of them: a simple one and a fancy one.

"Shake Shack" on Columbus and 77th street.

For me the best Burger shop is the "Shake Shack" on Columbus and 77th street (across from the American Museum of Natural History – one block from Central Park).  This is the second Shake Shack baby that opened, back in 2008. From humble beginnings—a hot dog cart in Madison Square—Shake Shack now boasts locations not only all over Manhattan, but in many places all over the US and far faraway places like Dubai. The place in Upper West Side is a cozy, airy and full of light enclosed sidewalk café, where you can dine on simple but super tasty beef burgers, cheeseburgers,  portobello burgers and chicken burgers. 

Many people come here also for the hot dogs. 

One is for sure, after you finish your burger, do not go away without having the famous shack frozen custard.  It comes into two flavors, chocolate and vanilla, and then you supplement it with nuts, cookies, fruit and many more. 

“Five napkin burgers”, on Broadway and 84th street.

Five napkin burgers”, on Broadway and 84th street, is the definition of the seemingly contradictory term “Gourmet Burger.” Five Napkin Burger, now with multiple locations around the city, started life as a menu item at Andy D’Amico and Simon Oren’s “Nice Matin” French restaurant (Amsterdam and 79th street). The décor is something between an old New York sidewalk diner and a New York cool bar.

“Five napkin burgers”, on Broadway and 84th street.

Burgers here are very greasy, that's where the name comes from: you need lots of napkins!   Try the “truffle burger” sided with sweet potato chips and the “marguez”, which is a Moroccan harissa spiced lamp/beef burger with yogurt and oregano roasted tomatoes.    Beer varieties abound. And please, try the onion rings, served in a towering stack.  For dessert choose something very American, like NY style cheesecake, brownie sundae or root beer float (go for the Coney Island hard root beer.

https://5napkinburger.com/

“Five napkin burgers”, on Broadway and 84th street.

Big Daddy's Burgers (Broadway on 91st street) is another burger paradise in Upper West.


Pizza

Pizza is a traditional Italian dish whose origin goes back to Roman times, but its modern version was invented in Naples in the 19th century.  Pizza was brought to the United States with Italian immigrants in the late nineteenth century, and first appeared in areas where Italian immigrants concentrated. The country's first pizzeria, Lombardi's, opened in 1905. Nevertheless, it became the popular food we know, after World War II, when veterans returning from the Italian Campaign after being introduced to Italy's native cuisine proved a ready market for pizza in particular.

It is via the United States that pizza took its worldwide status. 

The pizza variations in the US are countless: New York-style pizza, Chicago-style pizza, Detroit-style pizza, Greek pizza, California-style pizza, etc.   New York-style pizza is a style originally developed in New York City by immigrants from Naples. It is often sold in generously sized, thin, and flexible slices. It is traditionally hand-tossed, moderately topped with southern Italian-style Marinara sauce, and liberally covered with cheese essentially amounting to a much larger version of the Neapolitan style. The slices are sometimes eaten folded in half, as its size and flexibility may otherwise make it unwieldy to eat by hand. 

“The Bettola” on Amsterdam.

If you long for some really good pizza in Upper West Side, then look for “The Bettola” on Amsterdam (between 79th and 80th streets).  Bettola is a family feel progressive Italian Restaurant, culmination of culinary passion, creativity and global influences.

The cuisine is offered in a warm and cozy space washed in warm shades from the wood burning oven and a piano where you can catch Chef Vlado playing.  I did not have that pleasure to listen to Vlado playing, even though I visited the place twice.  Vlado is a self-taught chef who makes every recipe his own. Vlado is also an accomplished musician, songwriter and composer; and he has his own band.

A yummy afumicatta (smoked Mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, hot sausage) and the humble Margherita in the background.

Bettola offers innovative twist to authentic Italian dishes.  The menu includes delicious dishes like Sausage Fettuccine, Lemon Chicken, Pasta al Pesto, homemade Gnocchi, Shrimp Prosecco, Veal Cacciatore and Chicken Parmesan; but I love the pizza.  The menu has only 8-9 different pizzas, but they are made of a crispy, perfectly baked into the wood oven base, topped with the best ingredients.  I tried the Afumicatta (smoked Mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, hot sausage), the humble Margherita with delicious mozzarella and the Salsiccia (tomato sauce, mozzarella, hot sausage, caramelized onions and basil). 

The service is great and you can enjoy passersby through the big windows.

http://www.bettolanyc.com/


Gray's Papaya

Gray's Papaya, the hot dog iconic restaurant on Amsterdam and 72nd Street.

I cannot wrap up the Upper West Side culinary stroll without mentioning Gray's Papaya, the hot dog iconic restaurant on Amsterdam and 72nd Street.  Gray's Papaya stays open 24 hours a day year-round and is famous for its inexpensive, high-quality hot dogs. The "papaya" in the name refers to the papaya fruit drink sold at the establishment. The restaurant was founded in 1973 by a former partner of Papaya King, Nicholas Gray. 

In the June 1, 2006 issue of Time Out New York, Gray's Papaya's hot dog was ranked first over its competitors Papaya King and Papaya Dog.  On March 3, 2008, The New York Times reported that Gray's Papaya had endorsed Democratic candidate Barack Obama in his campaign for the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election.  Anthony Bourdain featured Gray's Papaya on his Travel Channel show "No Reservations" (season 3, episode 9).

 Gray’s papaya has been in so many films and shows that to make many actors feel jealous about:   Michael J. Fox and Gabrielle Anwar enjoy Gray's Papaya hot dogs while chatting about the piano player on the street corner from the window of the restaurant in 1993's "For Love or Money"; Matthew Perry's character in the 1997 movie "Fools Rush In" makes mention of his preference for Gray's Papaya hot dogs, and his wife, portrayed by Salma Hayek, special-orders them to Nevada; it features in the 1998 Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan romantic-comedy, "You've Got Mail"; it is in the background of the phone box scene with Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis in the 1995 film "Die Hard with a Vengeance"; on the show "Northern Exposure", doctor Joel Fleischman, a homesick New Yorker, has Gray's Papaya FedExed to him at his new post in Alaska; it appeared in "Sex and the City" in the 2002 episode "Plus One is the Loneliest Number"; in the episode "The Limo" of the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother", Ted takes Robin to Gray's Papaya to ease her hunger on New Year's Eve and in the episode "Desperation Day", two of Robin's colleagues leave McLarens because some guys offer them hot dogs at Gray's Papaya; in the fourth season of "Castle", Episode 08 (Heartbreak Hotel), Richard Castle mentions Gray's Papaya in order to cheer up his daughter who is trying to get over her break up... just to mention some!


Delis, Groceries, markets & Supermarkets

"Fairway" (Broadway on 74th street). Grab-and-go selection of upscale prepared foods attached to a sprawling gourmet grocery store.

Delis, groceries, food markets and supermarkets are part of the American culture and way of life.  They play important role in everyday life, not just as places where you go and buy food, but as places of exploring tastes, widening your perspective of life and meeting people.  New York market places are characterized by fruit/flower "decorated" exteriors and packed interiors.  They are a world by their own and need to be discovered by tourists, too.

"Broadway Farm" (Broadway on 85th) is a grocery store offering fresh produce, a seafood counter & an ample selection of prepared foods.

Family-run source for gourmet groceries since 1912, this market also sells deli items & baked goods (Broadway on 75th street).

Personally, I love supermarkets and none of my trips is complete without visiting a local supermarket.  One can learn so much about a country's people and culture by just browsing around the aisles and by checking the different products on the shelves. 

When it comes to knowledge gain, taste is a sense as important as it is sight or hearing.

The famous Joe's Market shopping bag.

The welcome mural at Trader Joe’s Market on Broadway.

Trader Joe’s Market stores are not just places you buy good priced food, they resemble more to art galleries than supermarkets. There are several of them around, but while staying in Upper West Side I loved to shop from the one on Broadway (just opposite the 72nd Street Metro station).  Good prices at the most pleasant environment.  

Trader Joe’s peanut snacks.

A lincoln Center inspired painting at Trader Joe’s.

It all started in the 50s as a small chain of convenience stores. Way back in 1958, Trader Joe's shops were called Pronto Markets. In 1967, the founder, the original Trader Joe, changed the name to Trader Joe’s.  The stores became bigger,  the walls decked with cedar planks and employees donned in cool Hawaiian shirts. Most importantly, they started packaging innovative, hard-to-find, great-tasting foods under the “Trader Joe’s” name. That cut costs and save us money. 

NYC inspired paintings at Trader Joe's.

NYC inspired paintings at Trader Joe's.

Zabar's entrance on Broadway.

“New York is Zabar's...Zabar's is New York”, is the motto of the most famous deli in New York City.   For more than eighty years, and 3 generations later, Zabar's family business is still going strong and continuous the story of an Upper West Side legend. 

Zabar's is frequently referenced in popular culture. It is mentioned in the 1998 film You've Got Mail (*), and in episodes of popular TV shows like Northern Exposure, Will & Grace, How I Met Your Mother, Mad About You, Friends, Sex and the City, The Nanny, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, The West Wing, 30 Rock, Law & Order, Gossip Girl and many more.

(*) It is the scene where Kathleen (Meg Ryan) stands at the “cash only” line but had no cash with her.  The argument with the cashier and the other customers is solved after the intervention of Frank (Tom Hanks).  

Zabar's cafe occupies the small space of the original 1934 shop.

Louis and Lillian Zabar (who, in the 20’s, came to the States from Ukraine) started the business.  Back in 1934, they opened a 22-foot-wide shop along NYC’s Broadway on W80th Street. Louis was a real stickler for quality, roasting his own coffee, and personally visiting smokehouses to sample and inspect the fish – rejecting far more than he accepted. 

Zabar's has everything beyond your imagination.

Zabar’s owners has always been searching for the new and wonderful. Without question, this point has accounted for some memorable moments. Back in the 1960’s, they introduced New York to Brie, in the ‘70’s they brought sun-dried tomatoes and gnocchi, and in the ‘80’s, they got so excited about caviar – and wanted everyone to taste it – that their prices set off a so-called “Caviar War”.   The publicity, though, was not always positive.  In 2011, Zabar's briefly got nationwide attention from news outlets when a reporter for New Orleans' Times observed that the store's product labeled "Lobster Salad" actually contained no lobster.  Finally, Zabar’s dropped the name, and today the product is called just “Zabar’s salad”. 

Over the years, the business kept growing, and today they span practically the entire block front.   If your steps (or the metro) ever bring you to Upper West Side, you should not miss visiting this NYC landmark:  watch hand-slicing meltingly delicious smoked fish behind the deli counter, explore the tastes of the latest artisanal cheeses, smell the fresh-baked batches of rugelach, spy on the roasting of special coffee blends!

The only Banksy mural in Upper West Side. Zabar's took the initiative (and the cost) to protect this piece of street art.


PARKS & Recreation

Riverside park

Sandwiched between two of the City's best-known green spaces, the Upper West Side is quite literally surrounded by stunning waterfront views and miles of flora.

Riverside Park, which runs from 72nd Street to 155th Street (the newer Riverside Park South, between 59th and 72nd Streets, sprinkles in some green and public plazas), is part of an extended network of parks and paths that follows the Hudson River all the way downtown. Riverside Park is widely regarded as Manhattan's most spectacular waterfront park providing striking views over New Jersey.    

Note: The last scene of the film "You've Got Mail" was shot here in the park. 

Riverside park.

Recreational facilities in Riverside Park.

The scenic stretch holds lots of recreational facilities: running and biking paths (a large portion of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway for bicycles); cafès; public art; playgrounds; basketball, tennis, volleyball and handball courts; soccer and baseball fields and a skate park.

In the warmer months, Manhattan Community Boathouse offers free kayaking from the park's 72nd Street pier.  The New York City Marina (a 110-slip public marina) is located at the end of 79th street, an important part of New York State's Water Trail. 

Note: This is the marina the Fox family was mooring its boats in the film: You've Got Mail.

General Grant National Memorial.

In the park itself or on Riverside Drive there are several monuments and historic landmarks: the impressive neoclassical General Grant National Memorial, the massive Riverside Church, the Tomb of the Amiable Child (the only private tomb in a public place), the Nicholas Roerich Museum (just off track, on 107th street), the Firemen’s Memorial, the Joan of Arc statue, the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, the Hamilton Fountain and the Eleonor Roosevelt Memorial.   

The Firemen’s Memorial (top), the Riverside Church (bottom left) and the Joan of Arc statue (bottom right).

The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (top), the Hamilton Fountain (bottom left) and the Tomb of the amiable Child (bottom right).

As one of the eight officially designated scenic landmarks in the City of New York, Riverside Park has a long and storied history. Since 1875, the landscapes of Frederick Law Olmsted have offered escape from the city and opportunities for people of all incomes to relax, play, and socialize in tranquil settings. These landscapes contain rocky precipices, sylvan lawns, and groves of mature elm trees.

From Riverside Drive, the land terraces down steeply in three levels to a manmade shoreline and promenade, constructed between 1937 and 1941 under the administration of Robert Moses. The designers, Gilmore Clarke and Clinton Lloyd, added 134 acres to the park and twenty-two modern recreational facilities. They wove, through this extraordinary collection of active recreation and scenic areas, a vital north-south automobile artery and a railroad running in a tunnel under the entire park.

Morningside Park & Morningside Heights

Morningside Park.

Morningside Park is a 30-acre park at the border between Harlem and Morningside Heights, which occupies the area between 110th and 123rd Streets from Morningside Avenue to Morningside Drive. Much of the park is adjacent to Columbia University, which occupies a considerably big space of Morning Heights neighborhood.  Because of the University (as well as other institutions like:  Barnard College, Union Theological Seminary, New York Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Manhattan School of Music, Teachers College, Bank Street College of Education, etc) the area is considered an upscale neighborhood, which is not the case for the area just on the east of Morningside Park, where Harlem starts (actually that part of Harlem is often called  “Manhatanville”, while the Morningside Heights is called the “Academic Acropolis”).

Lafayette and Washington statue and the Seligman (Bear and Faun) fountain.

On the Manhattan strip of land where the park is located, Native Americans of the Harlem Plain referred to the land as Muscoota. 17th century Dutch settlers called the land Vredendal (Peaceful Dale), after a Dutch landowner acquired a large portion of the plot in 1738. Colonial forces used a road on the land to retreat during the Revolutionary War's Battle of Harlem Heights on September 16, 1776. Year later, during the War of 1812 three blockhouse fortifications were built on the land.  

Columbia University main buildings.

In 1867, the Central Park Commissioners proposed that a park be built in Morningside Heights to avoid the expense of expanding the Manhattan street grid across difficult terrain.  Construction of the park was completed in 1895, after several drawbacks. 

By the early 20th century, the park was perceived as extremely dangerous. Crime in Morningside Park, because of its proximity to Harlem, was often reported as a racial matter. By the '70s, Morningside Park had a bad reputation and had degraded with years of neglect. In 1981 a group of Columbia undergraduates founded the Friends of Morningside Park, which advocated returning the park to its original design,  start an extensive regeneration and give the park back to residents and students to enjoy.

Morningside park pond.

Morningside Park's natural geography contains a cliff of Manhattan schist rock, with manmade features, such as an ornamental pond and waterfall and monuments like the Lafayette and Washington statue (an exact replica of a statue in the Place des États-Unis, Paris), the Carl Schurz Monument and the Seligman (Bear and Faun) fountain.  Actually, when you look from the park the cliffs on its western part, you realize that Manhattan island used to be a place with many hills and rocky areas.  Usually, because of the perfect city grid, most people believe the island is flat.

The Cathedral of Saint John the Devine, seen from the park.

Today the park is a green oasis.  It includes playgrounds, basketball courts, softball diamonds and a dog run.  You see people jogging or walking their dogs every time of the day.

On the western rocky side of the park stands the massive Cathedral Church of Saint John the Devine, the fifth largest Christian church in the world.  There is a dispute about whether this cathedral or Liverpool Cathedral is the world's largest Anglican cathedral and church. Designed in 1888 and the construction begun in 1892, but it is still unfinished: as a result, it is often nicknamed St. John the Unfinished.

The facade of the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Devine, on Amsterdam Avenue.

My favorite pastry shop and cafe in the area. The Hungarian pastry shop is located just opposite the Cathedral, on Amsterdam Ave.

The Columbia University mascot.


Central park

Cityline seen from the southern Central Park.

Central Park is probably the most famous park on Earth, and certainly the heart of Manhattan.  Thousands of pages have been written for Central Park and it is one of the most filmed locations in the world.

Maybe Central park is the only place on Earth, for which people in far faraway places (and who have never visited NYC) know every single part of it!

The blue Jay a frequent habitant of Central Park.

A map of Central Park from 1875.

The park was established in 1857 and has gone through many restorations, renovations and declining periods.  Once a very dangerous place, today a place of leisure, sports, recreations, entertainment and dining.  

Bethesda Terrace is the heart of Central Park. Bethesda Arcade (bottom) and Bethesda Fountain (top). Here takes place the last seen of the award-winning play and film "Angels in America".

Alice in Wonderland sculpture.

Countless monuments, buildings, sculptures, cafes, hiking paths, recreation facilities and geographical features, like lakes and huge rock formations, are spread all over the park. 

Flora and fauna abounds and brings thousands of wildlife buffs inside its boundaries.

The eastern skyline seen from Central Park.

Some world-class museums are located around its perimetry: The Metropolitan Museum of Arts, the Guggenheim Museum, the Frick Collection, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Historical Society Museum, the Museum of the City of New York and El Museo del Barrio.

A cute Central Park resident.

Eureka!

The last grid bolt

NYC would not be the metropolis it is without its unique grid.

John Randel Jr was the chief surveyor and brains behind the Manhattan Grid. He was only 20 years old.

In 1808 he was commissioned the task of planning and commencing the project of transforming NYC (which those days was just the small, rather chaotic city we see even today in lower Manhattan, bellow 14th street) into the modern gridded metropolis we know today. His plan was to turn the rolling hills of Manhattan (actually, Manhattan means "island of hills) into a rigid grid of rectangles.

He surveyed and mapped his vision for the new city by stubbornly roaming the city and attempting to put long metal bolts (or monuments-marble slabs) into nearly 1,000 future intersections. These markers were the necessary precursor to actually building the future streets. Finally, in 1811 he submitted his designs to the city of New York: a grid of 12 avenues and 200 cross streets.

The work was painstaking and fatiguing, and Randel encountered numerous setbacks and problems. The obsessive man tried to ensure all of his measures for future city blocks were flawless and envisaged a perfect grid with building blocks of the same size to the extent possible (e.g. all north-south blocks were to be 260 feet long). This exhausting work went on for years, before any demolition was accomplished.   Manhattanites were not at all happy with Randel. Though the idea of a new and modern city may sound great to us today, and we all admire the city plan of today’s NYC, people’s livelihoods were at stake with these changes. Houses, farms and estates were built in uncharted Manhattan and many of them were in the middle of Randel’s future streets.  New Yorkers protested, and we even have records of people throwing tomatoes at him. Though the city was supposedly compensating the citizens, the ultimate outcome was their land being demolished.  Finally, the plan materialized to a good extend.

On Cats rock, Central Park.

The location (red arrow) of the last bolt.

Till recently, these bolts (as well as Randel’s efforts) had long forgotten, and people walked in the streets he designed without even imagining all the effort put to build this great city.

Central park, was not part of the original plan, which means that Randel’s planned intersections likely were forged into the ground and never materialized.  So, in 2004, two specialists decided to look for any forgotten bolts in the park. They spent an entire summer and finally they came upon one such bolt.

Following this discovery, Manhattan history enthusiasts have become increasingly interested in the subject. 

Today, the bolt remains unmarked and you have to look carefully to find it.

65th street Transverse.

Before visiting, I had read that the bolt is located at the would-be intersection of 65th street and 6th avenue.  I also has seen a picture of the bolt, at the background of which, I could see a building which I assumed (correctly) it was the "Dairy Visitor Center and Gift Shop". 

I visited the rock, but I could not find the bolt, mostly because there was a loony dancing on the rock (and he would not allow me any space), but also because I had overestimated the apparent size of it.  Therefore, I asked one of the park people who are there to give you information.  The first one, had no idea what I was talking about, but the second one pointed towards the rock I had already visited. 

So, I went back and eureka (!) …a metal bolt, no more than 5 cm high, sticking out of the rock.  I was thrilled.  Mission accomplished and pictures were taken, as you can see.

Professional dog-walkers around Central Park's Conservatory Water.

Entertainment

Lincoln Center

If Downtown is defined by rock 'n' roll and Midtown is all about Broadway’s glitz and glamour, the Upper West Side is where highbrow entertainment hits its highest notes.

Lincoln Center occupying the block bordered by Amsterdam ave, W 65th st, Columbus ave, and W 62nd st— is a 16.3-acre complex which is home to 11 performing arts organizations: among them the New York Philharmonic, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet. 

The lustrous Lincoln Center at night.

The lustrous Lincoln Center conceals meticulously what the neighborhood once was, and most of the older New Yorkers have forgotten, and the younger generations cannot even imagine, the lively San Juan Hill neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the celebrated cultural center.

Any such development dating from the 1960s wouldn’t be without the fingerprints of Robert Moses, who was more than willing to wipe out neighborhoods in the eye of progress.

New York City ballet building at Lincoln Center.

As NYC expanded and industrialized, immigrant communities moved northward. African-Americans were also part of this movement, even pre-Civil War, along with their neighbors the Irish, Italians and Germans. Originally, all groups were mixing and getting in trouble down in Five Points.

Harlem’s reputation as the center of African-American culture wouldn’t exist without the gradual northward movement of their community through the 1800s. After Five Points, the population moved into Greenwich Village, then to the Tenderloin in the streets between the 20s and 30s, then to Hell’s Kitchen. 

Poster of the film "West Side Story".

The area that’s now Lincoln Center was the logical next step, originally settled by the Dutch as an enclave by the name of Blooming Dale with its leafy aristocratic country homes. By the end of the 19th century, San Juan Hill was home to the majority of the black population in New York City and also one of the most compactly populated.

Frequent clashes between Irish residents in Hell’s Kitchen and black residents in San Juan Hill inspired the setting of “West Side Story,” and the opening scenes of the film were actually shot there just before the demolition.  The movie was released in 1961 and was a very big commercial and artistic success. 

Many speculate what the destiny of San Juan Hill would be if the film have premiered some years before the demolitions started.  This is just a romantic view: though Lincoln Center was built in the 1960s,  demolition of San Juan had already begun shortly after WWII. An area between 10th and 11th Avenues was first to go, becoming public housing project Amsterdam Houses which still exists. 

The Metropolitan Opera building at Lincoln Center.

Despite the decadence, the neighborhood also became a place for giving associations like the YMCA, the Colored Freemasons, and the Negro Elks and numerous black churches. Collectively, these institutions served to assist migrants coming from the south.

The New York Philarmonic building at Lincoln Center.

Culturally, the area was booming, becoming the city’s destination for live jazz. Among the clubs was The Jungle’s Casino and it was there where the Charleston born. San Juan Hill was also home to jazz legend Thelonius Monk. Today, Jazz at Lincoln Center continues the neighborhood’s illustrious music heritage. 

The Juilliard School at Lincoln Center.

The initiative for the Lincoln Center arts complex was driven forward by John D. Rockefeller, who also raised more than half of money needed to construct the development.  The main buildings stayed as they were built until 2012 when a major redevelopment plan commenced resulting to what we see today.

The famous fountain at Josie Robertson Plaza of Lincoln Center.

The Beacon Theater

The Beacon Theatre on Broadway.

Further north along Broadway (and 74th street) stands the Beacon Theatre, an art deco music hall designed by Chicago architect Walter Ahlschlager and which opened its doors in 1929.

The landmark space has hosted such stars as Michael Jackson, the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers, who played their final shows there in fall 2014.  Beacon theater was also the site of the 2011 and 2012 Tony Awards.

The Symphony Space

The Symphony Space on Broadway.

Walk some streets uptown and you'll encounter the Symphony Space (Broadway and 95th street) founded by Isaiah Sheffer and Allan Miller.

Symphony Space is a multi-disciplinary performing arts organization.  Performances take place in the 760-seat Peter Jay Sharp Theatre or the 160-seat Leonard Nimoy Thalia. Programs include music, dance, comedy, drama, film, and literary readings. In addition, Symphony Space provides literacy programs and the Curriculum Arts Project, which integrates performing arts into social studies curricula in NYC public schools.

The on-site café-bar hosts jazz sessions, cabaret and the occasional literary salon.


Mural on Amsterdam Avenue.


Bookshops

Part of the attractiveness of living on the Upper West Side lies in its ability to attract creative minds to roam through its charming streets. Many writers, actors, and artists are proud to call this area their home. The performing arts community is vibrant and their legacy is shared through the world class bookstores and libraries that serve to the neighborhood’s literature lovers: from smaller independent bookstores to national chain shops.

Despite, though, its history as a literary hub, the Upper West Side has lost its share of bookstores.  Neighborhood institutions and specialty bookshops like Shakespeare and Company and Murder Ink have closed. 

The number of bookstores in Manhattan fell drastically between 2000 and 2015, plummeting by 30%.  Even large chains like Barnes & Noble, once painted as the enemy of independent bookstores, have not been immune to the industry’s woes and several of its stores have closed in recent years.  Borders, which had five outlets in Manhattan, declared bankruptcy in 2011.  

Upper West Side Barnes & Noble store.

Westsider Rare & Used Books on Broadway (between 80th and 81st streets) is a hidden gem and an Upper West Side historic landmark. It’s one of the few bookstores in NYC to offer their customers an extensive collection of books that have gone out of print. Patrons will be able to find an old leather-bound selection and endless amounts of books shelved all the way up to the ceiling. The customer service is attentive and welcoming and the ambiance is homey with its antique style. The second floor hides a vast collection of old treasures including rare books, old photographs, VCR’s, records, and even vintage postcards and pamphlets from the early 1900’s. Take a break from the frenetic pace of modern life and find a quick escape at one of the last mom and pop shops residing on the Upper West Side!

Barnes & Noble, the giant chain, has a huge location on 82nd and Broadway, where you can find just about anything. A popular west side hang out and venue for important literary events. This location has been open since 1993 and has a coffee shop serving Factory Cheesecake desserts and Starbucks coffee.

West Side Kids on Amsterdam.

Since 1981, West Side Kids has been the neighborhood toy store for Manhattan's Upper West Side (Amsterdam at 84th street), which has also a good collection of children books.  Founded by Alice Bergman and now run by Alice and her daughter Jenny, NYC's West Side Kids carries a comprehensive selection of well-chosen toys, books and gifts for children of all ages.  Visit the toy experts to have the right assistance for selecting the proper toy for each age and stage of a child's development.

Books of Wonder logo.

Books of Wonder is the newest addition on Upper West Side list of children’s bookstores. They opened their second Manhattan store in Broadway (on 84th Street) in late 2017 and offer a wide array of children’s literature including picture books, foreign language books, reference books and more.  They also have plenty of valuable collectibles for history buffs, and a huge selection of Oz books. 

Books of Wonder first opened its doors in 1980. The tiny, hole-in-the-wall shop in Greenwich Village was barely 200 square feet with bookshelves hand-built by 20-year-old founder, Peter Glassman, and his partner James Carey.  The story goes like this: in 1997, longtime customer Nora Ephron and her sister, co-writer Delia Ephron, had Books of Wonder in mind as the model for the children’s bookstore in the movie 'You’ve Got Mail'.  Set designers came to photograph, observe, and measure so as to recreate as well as possible the store on a sound stage.  Meg Ryan even spent a day working at the shop to prepare for her role in the film. And when it came time to arrange the books on the set, staff members assisted so the film’s store would look authentic.  To this day, people visit the store and still ask, “Was this where they filmed You’ve Got Mail?”

Book Culture on Columbus.

Bank Street Bookstore opened its doors in 1970 in a small space in the lobby of bank street College and quickly evolved to become one of the main literary resources in the neighborhood. After 45 years, recently they moved to Broadway on the 107th street.  The store specializes in selling children’s books and counts with an incredibly knowledgeable staff ready to help many of those parents and teachers that can frequently be found exploring its many aisles. Bank Street also provides educational materials on the 2nd floor as well as free wrapping which is always a plus.  It continues its long tradition of daily story time and occasional celebrity appearances (past guests have included Stephen Colbert, Julianne Moore and Jeff Kinney).  During the weekends, a lovely puppet show visits the store.

Book Culture is one of the best independent bookstores in New York City and has two stores in Morningside Heights and recently opened a third one on Columbus (between 81st and 82nd streets), in the same spot that once housed Endicott Booksellers, which closed twenty years ago. A sign in the window of the Columbus store references the space's previous incarnation as a bookstore and evokes the movie “You’ve got mail” (an independent bookshop straggling to stay open, as a big national chain eats up its business). 

Book Culture was founded as Labyrinth Books in 1997 on the 112th street. In the fall of 2009 Book Culture opened a second location, Book Culture on Broadway, next to a location where used to be an independent bookstore for over fifty years.

Book Culture on Broadway (on 114th street) is a true community bookstore. Located in the heart of the neighborhood, it is a meeting place, a fun place to stop and above all, a real bookstore.  Downstairs is the Children's Reading Room, a whimsical space filled with books, toys, games, puzzles, art supplies and plush toys. It is a fun and cozy place to curl up with a book or meet other families.  


Beyond UPPER WEST SIDE

Koreatown

KoreaTown. W32nd Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue.

Having been recently in Seoul and spending there 3 very fulfilling weeks, made me rush to Koreatown the very first day of my NYC holidays.  I desperately needed some matcha cake!

Koreatown is an ethnic Korean enclave in Midtown Manhattan, centered on West 32nd Street between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue, officially nicknamed Korea Way.

If you have ever been to Seoul, then certainly these pictures make you wonder if have been taken there.

The neighborhood features over 100 small businesses on multiple stories with independently run establishments reaching up to higher floors, exuding an ambience of Seoul itself. It really feels like being in Seoul:  the same Korean cafes, bakeries, restaurants, cosmetics shops and lots of Koreans around.  The signage in Hangul is ubiquitous.

Even though the neighborhood is small, for a moment I forgot I am in NYC.  Of course, I went to have some matcha cakes in “Tous les jours” bakery and some matcha latte at “Spot Dessert bar”.

Koreatown's central location and high density of crowded restaurants, bars, karaoke clubs, and spas on Korea Way have rendered it a major tourist attraction and a center of nightlife in Manhattan.

Koreatown newspaper dispenser.

Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade.

The Chinatown firefighting station.

Manhattan’s Chinatown is the biggest in the United States, and the one with the largest concentration of Chinese in the Western Hemisphere. It is located on the Lower East Side. With an area covering two square miles, Chinatown is home to a resident population estimated at 150,000. Manhattan's Chinatown is loosely bounded by Lafayette, Worth, Grand and East Broadway streets.

Chinese Lunar New Year parade.

The Chinese first arrived in the US in the early 1800s. Many of these new immigrants worked during the gold rush in mining, manufacturing, and building railroads. The Chinese in the US were largely self-supporting, with a growing internal structure of governing associations and businesses that provided jobs, economic aid, social services and protection. Life became more difficult with the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882-1943), limiting the growth of Chinatown.

Manhattan's Chinatown.

Chinatown has been growing steadily since the elimination of the immigration quota in 1968. Today Chinatown is home to hundreds of garment factories that have an annual payroll bill of over $200 million, a jewelry district that rakes in approximately a $100 million in gold and diamond sales per year and over 200 restaurants that attract thousands of tourists.

Chinese Lunar New Year parade.

Chinese New Year is an important Chinese festival celebrated at the turn of the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar. The first day of the New Year falls on the new moon between January 21 and February 20. It is the biggest holiday of the year, homes are adorned in red and gold and children are given lai see – red packets filled with money for good luck.  Celebrations traditionally run from the evening preceding the first day, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first calendar month.  The Lantern Festival is the day when traditionally Chinese dragon and lion dances are held and lanterns are hung in the streets and in homes.  In 2018, the first day of the Lunar New Year was on Friday, 16 February, initiating the year of the Dog.

Every year a big parade takes place in Chinatown celebrating the New Year.  This year the parade took place on Sunday the 25th of February...and i was there!

The Jewish quarter (Lower East Side)

The Lower East Side is roughly located between the Bowery and the East River, and Canal Street and Houston Street. Traditionally an immigrant, working class neighborhood, today a very fashionable area.

Since the immigration waves from eastern Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Lower East Side became known as having been a center of Jewish immigrant culture (note: read also about the Bagel story). The Lower East Side is especially remembered as a place of Jewish beginnings for Ashkenazi American Jewish culture. Vestiges of the area's Jewish heritage exist in shops on Hester and Essex Streets, and on Grand Street near Allen Street. An Orthodox Jewish community is based in the area, operating yeshiva day schools and a mikvah.

Lower East Side buildings.

Some kosher delis and bakeries, including the famous Katz's Deli, are located in the neighborhood.

Second Avenue in the Lower East Side was home to many Yiddish theatre productions in the Yiddish Theater District during the early part of the 20th century, and Second Avenue came to be known as "Yiddish Broadway," though most of the theaters are gone. Songwriter Irving Berlin, actor John Garfield, and singer Eddie Cantor grew up here.

Grafiti in Lower East Side.

Since the mid-20th century, the area has been settled primarily by immigrants, primarily from Latin America, who have established their own groceries and shops, marketing goods from their culture and cuisine. Bodegas have replaced Jewish shops.

Nevertheless, the neighborhood still has many historic synagogues and many American Jews relate to the neighborhood in a strong manner, much as Chinatown in San Francisco holds a special place in the imagination of Chinese Americans, and Astoria in the hearts of Greek Americans. It was a center for the ancestors of many people in the metropolitan area, and it was written about and portrayed in fiction and films. In the late twentieth century, Jewish communities have worked to preserve a number of buildings associated with the Jewish immigrant community.

Katz's Deli on E Houston and Ludlow streets.

Most visitors will visit the area because of the Katz's Deli on E Houston and Ludlow streets. 

This iconic New York deli serves the best pastrami and roast beef. 

The story starts in 1888, when a small deli by the name of Iceland Brothers was established on Ludlow Street by the Iceland brothers. Upon the arrival of Willy Katz in 1903, the name of the store was officially changed to "Iceland & Katz". Willy’s cousin Benny joined him in 1910, buying out the Iceland brothers to officially form Katz’s Delicatessen.

The famous Roast Beef...and Me.

In 1917, Katz’s Deli was moved across the street, to its present location, during the construction of the subway system. The vacant lot on Houston Street was home to barrels of meat and pickles until the present storefront facade was added between 1946-49. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Lower East Side was home to millions of newly immigrated families. This, along with the lack of public and private transportation, forged a solid community such that Katz’s became a focal point for congregating. On Fridays the neighborhood turned out to enjoy franks and beans, a Katz tradition.

Inside the Katrz’s.

During the peak of the Yiddish theater, the restaurant was forever filled with actors, singers and comedians from the many theaters on 2nd Avenue, as well as the National Theater on Houston Street. Although the age of the Yiddish theater has passed, Katz's is still having its fair share of famous customers, whose photos now line on the walls.

Each week thousands of visitors from around the world flock to Katz's to dine in this legendary deli, and to feast on the most delectable sandwiches, platters and meats. But it's really New Yorkers have made Katz's Delicatessen what it is, making Katz's an inherent part of the city's culture and history. They enthusiastically spread the word, brought their friends in, wrote books, shot films, and kept coming back for a pastrami on rye. 

The famous pastrami on rye.

“When Ηarry Met Sally” in Katrz’s.

Lots of films shot in the famous deli, that made it a tourist spot in the city: Donnie Brasco, Across the Universe, Enchanted, We own the night, etc. 

But, it is the 1989 romantic comedy “When Ηarry Met Sally” that made Katrz’s a worldwide celebrity: it is here where Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) had her fake orgasm. It was one of the most famous scenes in the film and as a tribute, Katz’s Deli had a sign setup saying “Where Harry met Sally… hope you have what she had! Enjoy!” right on top of where Ryan sat in the film. 

Katrz’s.

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery.

Do not leave the area without taking away some knish.  A knish is an Eastern European snack food made popular in North America by Jewish immigrants.

A knish consists primarily of potato, onion and seasoning filling wrapped with a thin layer of dough that is baked. In the most traditional versions, the filling is made entirely of mashed potato. Some of the most popular savory knishes include cabbage, kasha (buckwheat grain) or spinach. More modern varieties of fillings feature sweet potatoes, broccoli, jalapenos and more. Real knishes are round, not square and never fried.

Inside the Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery.

The best handmade knishes can be purchased at the original Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery.  Yonah Schimmel’s is the oldest family owned and operated Knishery in America.  It is located at 137 E.Houston St (between 1st Avenue and 2nd Avenue) and has been selling knishes on the Lower East Side since 1890 from its original location on Houston Street.  You can take the knishes away or dine in the small shop, where seems that time has stood still.

As the Lower East Side has changed over the decades and many of its Jewish residents have departed, Yonah Schimmel’s is one of the few distinctly Jewish businesses and restaurants that remain as a fixture of this largely departed culture and cuisine.

Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery on Houston street.

As cited in The Underground Gourmet, a review of Yonah Schimmel’s in a collection of restaurant reviews by Milton Glaser and Jerome Snyder, “No New York politician in the last 50 years has been elected to office without having at least one photograph showing him on the Lower East Side with a knish in his face.”

Yonah’s knishes come also in a sweet version.  Sweet cheese knishes consist mostly of cheese coupled with your choice of fruit filling and wrapped in dough. 


It’s all about NYC  

A NYC rooftop icon

New York City’s skyline for over 100 years is dotted with up to 17,000 wooden water towers that are easy to mistake for vanishing relics of the bygone eras of seltzer bottles and street gas lamps.  But what many people (not only visitors but New Yorkers, too) don’t realize is the towers are hardly antiques — in fact, every day most NYC residents drink and bathe from the water stored in them.  Some people may not notice the tanks, but after they do, they can’t believe how many there are.

Most buildings in the city taller than six stories need some sort of water tower and pumping system to provide water pressure to tenants.

So why do people think wood water towers are relics of the past? Because they look as though they are.  While many are more than 30 years old, even new ones look old because they are made of wood that isn’t painted or chemically treated (so as not to taint drinking water).  Though the technology has become more efficient, the concept of gravity delivering water from a wood tank hasn’t changed in decades.  And while steel tanks are an option, they are more expensive, don’t provide as much insulation, require more maintenance and take longer to construct.

While these wooden relics look like a thing of the past, the same type of water pumping structure continues to be built today, originating from just three family-run companies, two of which have been operating for nearly this entire century-long history. 

But how did this happen?  When the Dutch settled New York City they found an island rich with waterways and natural streams. However, as the city’s industrial sector grew, so did its polluted waters. With no proper drainage system, standing pools of grime would form in the streets. The harm of these unsanitary conditions was not revealed until a group of wealthy New Yorkers formed the Citizens Association of New York to focus on public health reform. After the group’s survey revealed dangerously unhygienic conditions, a campaign was launched to improve the quality of water and people’s access to it.

The Department of Public Works was later founded in 1870 to improve the drainage system and access to water. During the 1880s, indoor plumbing began replacing well-drawn water, and roughly 50 years later, top-floor storage tanks started popping up all over the city. Tanks were placed on rooftops because the local water pressure was too weak to raise water to upper levels. When construction started to grow taller, the city required that buildings with six or more stories be equipped with a rooftop tank with a pump.


NYC in (my) pictures...

Chelsea 21st Street (between 10th and 11th avenues).

At UniQlo store 5th Avenue (on the 53rd street).

McDonald's, Fulton Street.

"Singing in the Rain" at Foulton Street.

Overlooking "Brooklyn Heights".

World Trade Center.

The Theodore Roosevelt statue at the American Natural History Museum.

W59th street (view from Central Park).

5th Avenue & 59th street.

"Empire Diner" (10th Avenue on 22nd Street). My favorite Chelsea restaurant.

"Vivere pericolosamente" No1. From my room window at Belleclaire Hotel, Upper West Side.

"High Line". Chelsea.

"Vivere pericolosamente" No2.

SOHO.

The Guggenheim people.

Brooklyn Heights.

Upper West Side.

"Dos Alas"murals. Spanish Harlem (3rd Avenue on E105th street).

"Haute Couture" on 5th Avenue

Times Square.