This was the first year that “The Great Saunter Walk”, the 32-mile perimeter walk around the entire island took place since 2019. Since I had done the walk twice on my own, actually doing more of the walk than was required. This year I wanted to make it official.
I officially finished “The Great Saunter Walk” in May of 2022
The problem was by the time I wanted to sign up for the walk, it was completely sold out. So, I was put on a waiting list. With a prediction of rain all day (and it did rain all day!), many people dropped out before the event occurred, so I got to sign up. On a very gloomy Saturday morning, I got to the Frances Tavern at 7:30am to register and start the walk by the entrance of the Staten Island ferry.
Rather than rewrite the whole day, I updated the blog that I have written over the last two years and added to it. I hope you all enjoy my journey around the most famous island on earth on the gloomiest and rainy day ever. I hope you enjoy the journey!
*This blog is dedicated to Lucy, whose input and cheerleading for this blog has been much appreciated and to another memorable lunch!
I have been volunteering at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen for almost nineteen years and over the years you become friends with the other volunteers. Lucy and I have gotten to know one another over the years. Last Spring, we had gotten together for an amazing lunch over pizza from Lions & Tigers & Squares on West 23rd Street.
Maybe it was the pizza, maybe it was the weather or maybe it was just the view of the Flatiron Building in the background as we were eating lunch by the plaza next to Madison Square Park or maybe all of the above. It was just an amazing lunch.
Over the Fall and Winter months we had kept in touch and the conversation always went back to that amazing lunch and just the beautiful view of the Flatiron Building in the background while we ate. I had commented to her that all over the world people wished they could be in the very spot that we were in eating lunch and here we were eating there. There is sometimes a moment in time that are just perfect.
When Lucy came in again, I had been through a lot lately losing my friend, Barbara and some family issues. So, it was nice to have someone nonpartial to listen. I was going through a lot at one time.
Having had pizza the night before and for lunch the day before that, I really did not want to go back to Lions & Tigers & Squares at 268 West 23rd Street (See reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) so we on a whim tried S & A Gourmet Deli at 240 Eighth Avenue (See reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) for a sandwich.
Talk about another excellent lunch. The sandwiches there are excellent. S & A Gourmet Deli does a great job with their food. I ordered Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich ($8.99), which was two freshly fried chicken cutlets topped with Swiss Cheese and Ham topped with spicy mustard on a fresh hoagie roll. Each bit was amazing.
The Chicken Cordon Bleu sandwich at S & A Gourmet Deli
The two of us had a nice afternoon talking about what was going on in our lives and just enjoying the warm weather. What was strange was only about an hour before it was pouring down rain and then as we met it cleared up. By the time we finished lunch, it was almost the same weather as the time we had lunch last year, sunny and warm and in the 70’s. I guess God was listening.
Having lunch outside with the Flatiron Building in the background is amazing!
After lunch was over, we said our goodbyes and I was off to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to see the Magnolia trees blooming and the breathtaking Daffodil Hill, where thousands of daffodils would be blooming at one time around a 100-year-old Oak Tree.
With everything going on, I am getting a little leery about traveling by subway but off I went. The ironic part is that the trip was smooth and quiet and non-eventful. I found out later on that evening that the N Line earlier the morning had been hit with a smoke bomb and a shooting. Talking about shattering an imagine. Thank God I did not know all this on the trip down to Brooklyn.
The Entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden at 990 Washington Avenue
The weather was even better when I got up the stairs on the Number 2 line outside the Brooklyn Museum. It had gotten even warmer. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden was the busiest it had been all season with people taking pictures of the now blooming Cherry trees and Japanese Garden coming to life in the early Spring months.
Daffodil Hill was just as spectacular as the many years before. The daffodils were in full bloom and the hill on the other side of the Japanese Garden next to the flowering Magnolia trees which were also in full bloom. The scents were wonderful with scents of sweet jasmine and candy.
There are very few places in the world that are perfect but the bench by Daffodil Hill is one of those spots. To sit there and just admire Mother Nature at work at her best is just something. I look forward to this every year and is one of the main reasons why I keep renewing every year. For one afternoon, I just want to sit at that exact bench and admire Mother Nature’s handywork.
The Japanese Gardens are starting to bloom
The Cherry Trees in the Japanese Gardens on the other side of the hill were just coming into bloom as well and the whole effect showed that Spring is here and not a moment too soon. Everyone needed the warm weather to come and relax us. It has been a long Winter.
I ended spending over two hours just walking around the gardens and relaxing under a tree like everyone under the Cherry Tree Esplanade that has not bloomed yet. The soft grass and the relaxing sounds of contemporary music on every half hour was a nice way to spend the late afternoon.
Once left the gardens, I was going to go to the Brooklyn Museum, but it was closed and the weather being so beautiful I decided to walk to Downtown Brooklyn and see how the reconstruction of the Fulton Mall was going. So I took the long walk around the circle and walk down Flatbush Avenue towards Downtown Brooklyn. I made a few detours along the way and explore Brooklyn.
As I got to the turn off to Atlantic Avenue just off Flatbush Avenue near the Barclay’s Center, I decided to make the turn and explore a neighborhood I knew well. This part of Brooklyn I had used for my novel, “Firehouse 101” and I spent many a day exploring the streets of Boreum Hill and Cobble Hill for my book, noting the streets, parks and businesses. There are lot of memories of me walking this neighborhood almost twenty years ago.
My novel “Firehouse 101” set in Boreum Hill and Cobble Hill Brooklyn
I can’t tell you how many times I walked Atlantic Avenue, Flatbush Avenue, Smith Street and Court Street for inspiration. Many of the observations of those afternoons were written into the book as I tried to make it as real as possible.
When I got to the corner of Atlantic Avenue and Smith Street, I made the right turn and walked the length of Smith Street in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn. It also amazes me how a neighborhood keeps changing as new businesses keep opening and closing changing the complexity of a neighborhood and how the long-time businesses still chug along and watch it all happen. There are those family-owned enterprises that make the City unique.
As I rounded Smith Street, admiring all the new gift boutiques, gourmet shops and small restaurants, I crossed over Degraw Street to walk the ‘border’ of the neighborhood in my novel and walked to Court Street and walked up the street. I needed to stop a few times at some bakeries that I had been to many times on my walks here.
As I walked all over Atlantic Avenue, I saw all the new little boutique bakeries with their $5.00 cookies and $7.00-$9.00 pies that looked delicious but were not worth the money. No pie that is about three bites is worth $7.00. When I visited the longtime neighborhood favorite, Monteleone’s Bakery at 355 Court Street the woman at the counter reminded me why this bakery has been around for 100 years. Quality and service.
The pastries at Monteleone’s Bakery are delicious
The prices and selection are also a nice part of the bakery. Their miniature pastries which are nice sized sell for $2.00 a piece and the selection of them is extensive. I bought a pastry stuffed with cannoli cream and a mini cream puff with vanilla cream. I had the woman put them in a bag so that I could eat them along the way. They both lasted barely a block.
When I mentioned to the woman about the $7.00 pies and $5.00 cookies at the bakeries on Atlantic Avenue, she just laughed and said this is the reason why Monteleone’s is so popular and has been around so long. They know their customers. I know that I will be back when I visit the neighborhood again.
I was still hungry as I walked down Court Street to the Fulton Mall and downtown, so I stopped at the Court Pastry Shop at 298 Court Street for another pastry. I love my sweets and had not been there in a few years. It is funny that the Court Pastry Shop was used in a very funny scene in my book “Firehouse 101” so I always remember my trips there in the past when I was doing location spots for my book. Their cream puffs and eclairs are delicious.
I eyed my favorite eclair in the case and bought one immediately ($3.50). I swear it had been at least three or four years since I had had one and they are still the best. They had such a thick layer of chocolate icing on them and filled with the most delicious vanilla cream.
Now being full of sweet snacks, I continued up Court Street to the Brooklyn Court House and then walked back down Fulton Street to the Fulton Street Mall. At this point most of the Fulton Street Mall has been demolished and replaced with new apartment and office buildings. This was part of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to revitalize downtown Brooklyn with a broader retail selection and replace many of the older buildings.
It is not quite done yet but within five years most of Downtown Brooklyn should be redeveloped. It looks so much different from even two years ago. This was documented in film “My Brooklyn”.
The film on Downtown Brooklyn “My Brooklyn”
It was such a nice afternoon, and I was enjoying the sunshine so much and I had a lot of energy with all the desserts in me, I decided to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, which I have done many times and never tire of looking at the view.
Talk about the perfect afternoon to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. It was clear, sunny and about 70 degrees. It really looked like the tourists were back because people were taking pictures all over the bridge from every angle including ready to fall off the bridge because they were leaning so much over the rails. The view of Lower Manhattan was just spectacular.
By the time I got to the Manhattan side of the bridge, I was starved. I decided that I had the energy to walk to Chinatown which is only a few blocks away from the bridge entrance. By the time I got to Chinatown, it was almost seven in the evening and found that most of the smaller places were closed (it was a weekday). So, I walked all over Mott Street, East Broadway, Catherine Street, Henry Street and the Bowery and decided on an old standby which I love Dim Sum Go Go at 5 East Broadway.
I was hungrier than I thought. I started with Shrimp and Mango Rolls ($5.95), Duck Spring Rolls ($5.95), Pork Soup Dumplings ($6.95) and Steamed Shrimp Dumplings ($5.95). After devouring all of that, I ordered the Pan-Fried Pork and Chive Dumplings ($5.95) and the Steamed Roast Pork Buns ($6.95). Everything was so delicious and fresh and came out steaming hot. Even on a weeknight I was surprised by how full the place was and it seemed that people were ordering more than me.
I especially loved the Shrimp and Mango rolls with the breaded and fried ground shrimp mixture with a piece of fresh mango in the center. It had a nice sweet/savory flavor to it and was fried perfectly golden brown. All of the dumplings were cooked to perfection and the pork and chive dumplings had a nice flavor to them (See review on TripAdvisor).
The Soup Dumplings at Dim Sum Go Go are excellent
By this point it was twilight and just getting dark, but it was still so nice out that I decided I wanted to walk through the East Village to see how busy it was that night and to see how many NYC students were out and about. Plus, I wanted to see if the Anthology Film Center was still open on Second Avenue (it was closed that night). I walked up Second Avenue past all the trendy little restaurants and closed shops which were packed with students. I could not believe how busy the area was this time of night, but it was still in the 60’s and just a nice night to mill around.
By the time I reached 14th Street, I figured I might as well walk back to Port Authority and walked up a combination of Second, Third and then by East 23rd Street, up Lexington Avenue through Kips Bay and ‘Curry Hill’ which I had visited a year ago. All of the Indian restaurants were busy as well and the smells of cumin and curry wafted through the air. I always love walking through this neighborhood.
I walked across East 34th Street and arrived at the doors of Macy’s and Herald Square was just as busy as the rest of Manhattan with people walking around the plazas of Herald and Greeley Squares. Koreatown on West 32nd Street off Broadway was also packed with students and tourists going out to dinner and enjoying the dessert restaurants. The restaurants serving Bubble Teas and Korean Cheesecakes has long lines to them.
I finally arrived at the Port Authority at almost 10:00pm and could not believe how far my journey took me. From the Brooklyn Botanical Garden to the Port Authority. This is the power of wonderful warm weather, a nice evening breeze and good food. It gives you the energy to keep going.
It is amazing what three years can bring. Chinatown was all but dead over the last two years for the Chinese New Year celebrations and it was nice to see them come back in a vengeance.
It has been a rough time in Chinatown in Manhattan over the last three years. I wrote about going to the Chinese New Year parade in 2020 and it had been nothing like the parade in 2019. It had been freezing in New York City in 2019 but that had not kept the crowds away on a busy parade afternoon. In 2020, the looming crisis with COVID was spreading through China and people were very wary about coming to Chinatown for the parade. In fact, I did not see too many people of Chinese decadency at the parade two years ago. It looked more like tourists lining the streets.
New Year in 2022 was a different story as the streets were lined with people ready and happy to celebrate the New Year. That bottled up enthusiasm was shown on the streets in the core of Chinatown by hundreds of people having a good time. The morning had started out with a nice crowd that grew as the afternoon wore on. It helped that it was 60 degrees and sunny outside. It was the last day of the ‘Spring Thaw’ and the weather really helped (Sunday would bring snowy weather and 38 degrees).
It also gave me a chance to not just tour the neighborhood to see of any changes in stores and restaurants but sample foods at many of them. I came in with an appetite! There were places that I wanted to revisit but find new ones to try along the way. I arrived at noon time and needed a snack before I started my day.
The Lion Dances outside businesses all over the core of Chinatown were in full swing when I got there with groups of people following the troupes around Mott, Bayard, Canal, Pell, Elizabeth and Mulberry Streets south of Canal Street. Some of the troupes did go north of Canal Street but most businesses are in the core of the neighborhood.
The Lion Dance helps bring good luck in the coming year
Things were just really getting started on Mott Street, the main corridor of Chinatown so I walked down the street to the Bowery to see what was going on. When I arrived at the Bowery, I headed north on the Bowery on the edge of the original Chinatown. This is where I found Bowery Inn Bakery at Bowery. This must be a new bakery because I could not find it on any map.
The Bowery Inn Bakery has a wonderful selection of hot and cold baked goods, and the best part was that they did not take the pastries from the case. They were hot from the warmers behind the case lines. I ordered a Roast Pork Bun ($1.75) and an Almond Bun ($1.50) to get me through the walking around the neighborhood. The staff is really nice there and seemed happy when I wished them a Happy New Year.
I walked all the streets in the neighborhood watching the various clubs wishing all the businesses a Happy New Year. Colorful lions bowed and shook and raised up and down wishing stores and restaurants as prosperous New Year in a city environment that desperately needed it. I have been to Chinatown many times since the holidays, and it has been very quiet down here since the beginning of 2020. All the festivities had been cancelled last year and it had been tough on these businesses. Now it looks like better times will be ahead of us.
Here is a little history of the Lion Dance from when I ran the Chinese New Year celebrations at the Asian Grille back in 2011:
The Lion Dance
The Lion Dance has a very interesting history in Chinese culture. The story is that a monk had a dream which there were many sorrows and evils plaguing the land. The monk prayed and asked the gods how he could prevent these evils from occurring. The gods told him that a lion would protect them and fight back the evils. The Chinese people having never seen a lion, but had heard stories that the lion was the king of all beasts. So the monk combined all the lucky or magical animals he could think of and so made the lion.
The Southern Lion dance is very symbolic. It is usually performed as a ceremony to scare away evil spirits and to summon luck and fortune. The Chinese southern lion exhibits as wide variety of color and has a distinctive head with large eyes (of an eagle), a mirror on the forehead (demons are supposedly scared of their own reflection) and a single horn at the center of the head (the horn of a unicorn mentioned earlier). Lion dance costumes are considered to be spiritually protective when used as they are traditionally blessed before usage.
The Southern Lion Dance was originated from Guangdong, the homeland of the Chinese southern style lion. The Chinese southern horned lions are believed to be Nians (which are a mythical beast). There are many different styles of dance as well as different styles of lion’s heads depending on the region that the group comes from (Wiki).
It was fun following these colorful beasts all along the streets and listen to the drumming of the groups who I am sure had been practicing. While all that was going on, people were letting off New Year’s poppers and the whole street was filled with streamers and confetti and glittering paper. It was so nice to see people having such a good time.
This video from YouTube really captures the festivities in 2022
I started to explore the back streets to see if there were any changes to the fringes of the neighborhood. I have to say that more galleries and stores are starting to open where old warehouses and restaurants used to be as you can see the hipsters moving over here from the East Village, Alphabet City and the Lower East Side. Little by little I am seeing the changes in the neighborhood.
When I walked over to Chrystie Street, and I stopped at Chi Dumpling House for some lunch and then to Tao Hong Bakery for dessert. This little stretch of Chrystie Street by Sara Delano Roosevelt Park has three of the best and most reasonable take-out restaurants in the neighborhood, the other being Wah Fung #1 Fast Food.
Wah Fung #1 Fast Food at 79 Chrystie Street has long lines
The lines for Wah Fung #1 Fast Food at 79 Chrystie Street was about thirty deep when I arrived and is always busy. People are always lined up for their containers of roast pork and duck with white rice and cabbage. You can get a delicious lunch here for around $5.00. It has been on more food blogs than I can name, and I have been here several times for their excellent roast pork and rice (see my reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com).
The roast pork and roast duck at Wah Fung #1 Fast Food has them lining up everyday
I bypassed the lines at Wah Fung and went to Chi Dumpling House (sometimes called ‘C & L Dumpling House) at 77 Chrystie Street. I was in the mood for steamed dumplings and scallion pancakes.
Chi Dumpling House at 77 Chrystie Street still has the old sign
Even though I was not that hungry I always have room for more dumplings. Both the fried dumplings and steamed pork and chive dumplings ($4.00 now) are worth the wait. These large doughy delights are served with soy and hot oil sauces that bring out their flavor. The Scallion Pancakes are pan-fried to a crisp and are fun to dip into the sauces as well.
The steamed pork and chive dumplings here are excellent!
I took these little delights into the park and enjoyed them along with my scallion pancake while I was watching all these little kids climb over the jungle gym while yelling at one another. It was so nice to see all these families out and about on such a warm afternoon. By the time I finished my lunch, it must have hit 60 degrees and it was a perfectly blue sky.
For dessert, I went to Tao Hong Bakery at 79 Chrystie Street. They have the most reasonable baked goods and drinks and the best place to go when you have eaten at the other two restaurants.
Tao Hong Bakery at 79 Chrystie Street
I love coming here for their egg custards, raisin twists and their cream buns. When they have their lemon pastries, I try to get those too. This time I settled for a raisin twist ($1.25) because there was not much left. People really bought them out. These twists are loaded with butter and juicy raisins and are fun to pull apart.
The Raisin Buns here are the best
After I devoured my lunch, I needed a long walk to digest, and I walked down Chrystie Street and strolled through the park. The one bad thing about Sara Delano Park is that the bathrooms are really disgusting. They really need to clean them better.
I made my way back down Grand Street and walked to the Museum of Chinese in America at 215 Centre Street. The museum had finally reopened after almost two years and a very devastating fire in their storehouse in 2020. They almost lost their collection.
The Museum of Chinese in America at 215 Centre Street
What I enjoy about this museum is the sheer history of the Chinese immigration to the United States and overt racism that has been felt by the culture since the beginning. I walked through the current exhibition “Responses: Asian American voices in the Tides of Racism” and it is heartbreaking to see what an entire society of Americans are enduring. This pandemic as one scholar noted has brought out the worst in people that has been bubbling up for a long time.
The permanent collection showed the strides though as a culture and the contributions of prominent Americans of Chinese decadency have made to the country. It was interesting to look at pictures over the years of the development of Chinatowns in cities all over the country and the progress in business and the arts that have been made.
The “Responses” exhibition
I took my time and read through the exhibitions, and it was an interesting timeline of history. It showed how generations of hard work and assimilation into the larger culture still holds dialogue. Nothing is clear cut in society. I ended up being there more almost two hours.
After I left the museum, I followed the music back to Mott Street and saw some of the more elaborate dances and saw several clubs competing with one another. There were large crowds all over Mott and Bayard Streets and since the heart of Chinatown was closed to traffic (finally people can walk around the restaurant district), there was plenty of room for people to enjoy the festivities and let off poppers in celebration of the performances.
By 6:00pm though most of the performances were slowing down and all the restaurants on Mott Street and the surrounding side streets were full of people sitting down to dinner. That was so nice to see at a time when so many of these restaurants were struggling over the last two years. It is good that they were packed the way they were pre-pandemic.
For dinner that evening I was not too hungry but when I was walking around following the lion dancers, I looked at the menu and the pictures of the dishes at Shanghai Heping Restaurant at 104 Mott Street on the other side of Canal Street from Chinatown in what had once been Little Italy. There was a picture by the front door of a Fried Duck dish and I had to go to try it.
The food lived up to the picture. The Fried Duck ($23.00) was excellent. The duck was boneless and marinated in soy and what tasted like Peking sauce and then the duck was breaded and pan-fried so that it was crisp on the outside and moist and succulent on the inside. The duck had such a rich taste to it from the flavor of the meat and so moist that it pulled apart.
Don’t miss the Fried Duck at Shanghai Heping Restaurant
Their Shanghai Fried Rice (Sum Gum Fried Rice) was excellent as well
The one thing I liked about Shanghai Heping Restaurant (see my review on TripAdvisor) was that they do not rush you. The restaurant started to fill up again after I got there and since the duck dish took some time to cook, I started to watch other patrons’ food come out and all the dishes looked so interesting and well-prepared, and people took their time to enjoy them. Since the restaurant was not on the other side of Mott Street, there were no hordes of crowds running around the street.
After dinner was over, I walked back into the heart of Chinatown to see the Sanitation Department cleaning the streets of all the confetti and streamers and popper packages. There must have been hundreds of them let off that afternoon to welcome in the New Year. It is so nice to see people back in Chinatown again. Maybe better days are ahead of us.
Gong Hay Fay Choy!
The colorful lanterns add a festive look to the neighborhood
I have been coming to the Wonton Noodle Garden at 56 Mott Street since it opened in 1978. I remember coming here when I was in high school several times with my parents. The food all these years have been consistent and in all the times I have eaten here, the meals have been terrific.
The one thing I have always liked about the restaurant is that you can see the soups and dumplings being made from the front window. The gentleman who makes the soups has been there for years and I have watched him over all this time day after day when I visited Chinatown make soups with noodles and dumplings for customers all over the world.
I have been to the South Street Seaport dozens of times over the years and can’t believe that I never noticed this memorial dedicated to those lost in the Titanic disaster. I was visiting the Seaport recently after finishing another walk down the length of Broadway for my blog, “MywalkinManhattan.com” and was walking past the Seaport on my way to Chinatown. Something about it this time caught my attention and I stopped to look at the dedication of this small lighthouse.
It was really touching to see that the people from the 1912 disaster were not forgotten in New York City, its ultimate destination. This was the work of Molly Brown, the ‘Unsinkable Molly Brown’ from the movie. She wanted to be…
There are just some restaurants and shops that are institutions in their neighborhoods and the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory is one of them. I have been coming to the store since the 1990’s when I fell in love with their Lychee and Fortune Cookie Ice Creams. What I have loved about the flavors here is that they follow a Chinese-American theme with flavors based on fruits and desserts popular here in the states.
The Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory logo
Since the first time I ate there, I have tried their Almond Cookie, Banana, Mango and Passion Fruit flavors over the years along with some of their seasonal flavors like Pineapple and Strawberry. Since then they have added flavors like Durian, Black Sesame, Green…
There are times that I walk around Manhattan and things just pop out at you. Tucked inside small pockets of the City are small community gardens, detailed statues, street art and sometimes a small cemetery. I had passed the First Shearith Israel Graveyard or also known as the Chatham Square Cemetery many times when visiting Chinatown since I was a kid. This tiny elevated pocket square of land is located next to a building and locked behind a gate just off St. James Place right at the end of Mott Street strip of Chinatown.
You really have to look for this at the side of 55-57 St. James Place
This is the oldest Jewish Cemetery in Manhattan that was in use from 1683 to…
Each neighborhood in New York City has its share of bodegas and delis that supply everything from grocery items, cleaning supplies and in some cases hardware items for last minute touch ups in apartments.
Where these stores differ from one another is their prepared food sections. This is where you can get your all day Bacon, Egg and Cheese sandwich on a hero roll to a Chopped Cheese (Two hamburgers chopped with spices and topped with American Cheese, chopped lettuce and chopped tomato) to the classic Bacon Cheese Burgers, Grilled Cheese and a variety of wraps.
I came across Catherine’s Deli & Bagels when touring Chinatown and I just stopped in to look around. I saw the sandwiches that were being made and what was on the grill…
There have been many changes in the Little Italy section of Manhattan and I have been watching slowly disappear over the last ten years. When I was growing up, Little Italy went from Mott Street to Center Street and then from Houston Street to the north and just below Canal Street to the south. Chinatown in the 1970’s was pretty much relegated to Mott Street and the side streets below Canal Street. Then the 1980’s came with the explosion of immigration from all parts of China and then Hong Kong after the Chinese take over of the City in 1997.
Meanwhile most of the people in Little Italy started to move out by the mid to late 1980’s as the second and third generation of Italians went to college and…
I never thought I would see the day that Manhattan would look like Beirut.
Author Dominick Dunne wrote a book years ago entitled “Another City, Not My Own” about his return to Los Angeles after years of being away. It has been four months since the Membership Night at the Met Breuer, and I swear it was almost surreal going back into New York City for the first time in over four months. I felt like I was in exile.
First barely anyone was on the bus into New York. I was one of about seven people on the bus that had to stop in Union City, NJ first before getting into Manhattan. It was strange to see everyone with masks on. It was a real eye opener. I felt like I was entering a different world and you could feel it when we arrived in Port Authority Bus Terminal. I had never seen the terminal so quiet in all my years coming into the City. Even late at night when I used to take the 12:20am or 1:20am buses out of Manhattan, there will still people all over the place at night.
When you get into Port Authority Terminal, there is not a lot of people hanging around anymore. All the stores and restaurants are closed except for a few fast-food coffee places as not everything has opened up yet. Coming out of the terminal, there are no longer the crowds hanging out outside the terminal like there used to be. Everyone is on their way to where they have to go.
I started my walk up Eight Avenue past all the bodegas, fast food restaurants and many closed hotels. This stretch of Avenue was very quiet and because of the recent protesting and looting due to the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis, the Theater District was completely fenced off. You could not walk through that section of the neighborhood. There were a few fast-food places open for takeout and the popular Shake Shack, the upscale hamburger restaurant, was open for takeout and going strong with the few tourists and businesspeople in the area.
Some businesses were still closed and boarded up due to the nights of looting the first week of June during the protests. Plywood covered some of the smaller stores and hotels while most everything else was either starting to open up or opened. This was a very different scene from a week ago.
When I arrived at Columbus Circle, my end point for the project on the West Side, Columbus Circle Park has fencing and guard rails around it. They were trying to protect the statue of Christopher Columbus that stands tall atop a pedestal.
Columbus Circle in its better days
All over the county, people are vandalizing statues of what they conceive as ‘controversial’ historical figures and Christopher Columbus seems to now be a major target. The statue, created by artist Gaetano Russo, was donated by Americans of Italian descent and lead by publisher Carlo Barsotti, was dedicated in 1892 on the 400th Anniversary of Columbus arriving in the New World.
Now the statue, fountain and park are behind fencing to keep vandal from defacing the statue. It is a sad day in this Country when people try to ‘erase’ history because they do not agree with it. Trust me, the police were all over Columbus Circle.
The Christopher Columbus Statue at Columbus Circle
It was even stranger as I walked down 59th Street toward Fifth Avenue. All the hotels were boarded up on the lower levels, the apartment buildings had guards inside and out and to see plywood across the Plaza Hotel and the Park Lane Hotel it almost makes me wonder what Leona Hemsley, who once owned the hotel, would say? The guards and the doorman were standing tall in front of the hotels trying to direct people.
Turning the corner to Fifth Avenue was very calming. All over Fifth Avenue merchants were either taking down the plywood or had taken it down by Monday afternoon when I started my walk. Just six days earlier, businesses were scrambling to put the boards up and now they were taking them down. The guards were still there but there was security inside and out in stores up and down Fifth Avenue.
Bergdorf-Goodman with plyboards (has since come down)
The new Nordstrom Department Store that opened on Broadway was just taking the last of their plyboards down when I took a quick on Broadway to see the store. By the time I passed The Plaza Hotel, Bergdorf-Goodman and the Apple Store had either taken their boards down or were just finishing. Walking further down Fifth Avenue, the condition of the shopping area went block by block.
Fifth Avenue boarded up (still up at the time of this writing)
The exclusive stores on one side of St. Patrick’s Cathedral were still boarded up and Saks Fifth Avenue had taken all the plyboards down but still had guards all around the store. Even Rockefeller Center which just five and a half months ago was mobbed with people for the holidays was fenced off with guards and police all around it. You could only see the fountain in the distance.
Fifth Avenue north of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (still up at the time if this writing)
Saks Fifth Avenue had been really closed off with plywood on the doors and windows and barbed wire against the building. Armed guards with watch dogs monitored the store for several days. When I got there on Monday, the guards and dogs were still there but the boards were taken down, but the store still looked eerie.
Saks Fifth Avenue boarded up (has since come down)
The guards did not look like anyone’s fools, and I walked by quickly on my way down Fifth Avenue to East 44th Street. The Cornell Club which is where I work when I am in Manhattan working on the blog, was closed tight and would not be opening according to the sign until July 1st. Across the street from the club, the headquarters for Brooks Brothers Men’s store, which just declared bankruptcy, was still boarded up tight like that whole section of Madison Avenue. Madison Avenue also was just opening up the afternoon I was in Manhattan.
From East 44th Street, I walked down Fifth Avenue through the old shopping district below East 42nd Street and it was sad to see the old Lord & Taylor building being torn apart for an office building. A company that has been in business since 1826 declared bankruptcy and will be liquidated as soon as stores are allowed too fully open. This was a company that was once one of the best women’s stores in the world reduced to closing because of bad management.
Even Lord & Taylor could not get a break from all this
I rounded the corner at West 34th Street to see Macy’s Herald Square, where I had worked for four years back in the 1990’s when the neighborhood was not that great. The store had just taken the plywood off the store and the windows that were damaged on the night of the looting a week ago had been replaced. There was security and guards all around the store and strangely enough people were eating their lunch in the plaza by Herald Square like nothing had happened a few days earlier.
Macy’s Herald Square boarded up (has since come down)
I could not believe what I saw on TV the night it was being looted and there were small fires outside the store. I had been working at the store during the Rodney King riots, the first attack on the World Trade Center and the problems in Crown Heights but I never thought I would see anything like this as the neighborhood is far better today than it was back then.
Macy’s the night of the looting a week ago
I never thought I would live to see this at a store I worked at for four years
As I walked by the store filled with colorful displays and ‘reopening soon’ signs you would have never known any of this had just happened a week earlier. People were just walking along the sidewalks like it was a regular day.
My walk continued down Seventh Avenue past the Fashion Institute of Technology, which was all boarded up since the campus is closed for classes and guards were all over the place. Here and there small restaurants and shops had now opened for curve side business and deliveries.
I crossed over to West 23rd Street to Ninth Avenue and again small take out places had reopened and drug stores were buzzing with people. There was a lot of people walking around in the neighborhood, taking to one another or walking their dogs. I walked past Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen which was gated at that time as service ended at 1:00pm and there was newsletters and posts on the fence that dated back to March 13th when the Soup Kitchen closed for business.
I walked up Ninth Avenue and crossed over again onto West 38th Street to where all the reasonable restaurants and take out places who cater to the Garment District are located. Most were closed for business but there were still a few Chinese places still open to the workers in the area.
I walked back into Times Square and took the subway to Chinatown. Now that was unusual. The platform had about four other people on it and it was spotless. There were no homeless people hanging around and the everything was very clean. I took the N Subway downtown and the car was spotless as well. I had never seen such a clean subway car. There was only two of us on the car and he was about ten feet away from me. We got to Chinatown the quickest I ever had in all the time I took the subway. Another eerie thing was all the posters on the walls of the subways were dated back from either February or March. By Chinatown, there is still a poster for a failed Christmas film.
Chinatown in lower Manhattan is usually a bustling neighborhood where you can barely walk the streets because there are so many people on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are usually lined on all sides by fruit and vegetable vendors and people selling prepared foods. I had not seen the neighborhood this quiet ever. Even when I visited Chinatown after 9/11 for my birthday dinner it was not this quiet. Almost all the businesses were still closed.
Mott Street which is the heart of Chinatown was deserted. Most of the popular restaurants and take out places were closed. Wonton Noodle Garden, my go to place for Cantonese Wonton Soup, was just doing takeout and delivery. It is hard to believe the last time I had eaten there was March 9th and it was almost empty then.
Most of Mott Street and the side streets were closed for business.
It was strange to walk down a street of closed restaurants and stores. Unlike Little Italy located across Canal Street, they have never closed Mott Street down for outside dining. There were a few restaurants opened here and there and I was surprised that Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard Street was open that afternoon and they looked busy.
I walked all over the neighborhood and one after one of my favorite spots to eat where either closed down or were in the process of opening up again. There were not too many choices to eat at in the late afternoon. Still, I walked to Chrystie Street and my old standby, Chi Dumpling House at 77 Chrystie Street A, for some fried pork and chive dumplings ($2.00). I swear that just cheered my up after everything I saw.
I sat in Sara Delano Roosevelt Park and just enjoyed the warm sunny day. The food at Chi Dumping House could put a smile on anyone’s face. These plump pork and chive dumplings are perfectly fried and crisp and crackle when you bite into them. With a little hot sauce, it was the perfect meal.
The dumplings here are so good
The people who were walking around seemed happy to be outside and that there was calm in the air. It was a beautiful sunny day and people were sitting and talking, jogging around the park and talking to their kids. There was some normalcy in the world that afternoon.
As I traveled back down Canal Street, I needed something sweet to finish off the meal and everyone one of my favorite bakeries was closed so I tried New Cameron Bakery at 242 Canal Street.
The selection was pretty small that afternoon and I chose one of their Sweet Topped Buns ($1.35). A couple of bites of that and it really made the afternoon.
The sweet topped bun
Before I took the E Subway back up town to leave the Manhattan, I took a quick stroll through SoHo (South of Houston), which once upon a time when I was growing up was a manufacturing district and then was an artist enclave in the late 70’s and through the 80’s. By the 2000’s, it had become an extremely expensive and exclusive neighborhood. After a night of looting and stealing, the whole neighborhood boarded up.
SoHo boarded up
I had not seen the neighborhood look like this since the 1970’s and I can’t believe it looked the same when I was a kid. I have to admit the graffiti on the plywood was interesting but not something I really wanted to see here now.
This was truly pathetic
It is a sad day when you see human nature at its worst but I am still convinced that there are more good people in this world then bad and I still think we are winning!