The Bergen Room Bistro is the student run dining room that is part of the Hotel Management Program. The dining room is open depending on the semester. The restaurant is serves both lunch and dinner depending on the semester. The restaurant is open on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the school year.
The Hotel Management Program at Bergen Community College
For $10.00 you get a four course meal cooked and served by the students. You are served a soup or a salad to begin with freshly baked breads that are made by the Baking students.
The Hotel & Restaurant Students
You are next served an appetizer, a choice of two entrees, one a meat and the other a fish dish…
Old Hook Farm Farmhouse Homestead at 650 Old Hook Road
One of the nice things about Bergen County, NJ is the small farms that remain in the area showcasing our Counties agricultural past. There are only about six left and located mostly up in the upper parts of Bergen County where the bulk of the farms were located up until the 1980’s. Land prices and development have made some disappear and with others a lack of an heir to continue the tradition on going forward.
The entrance to Old Hook Farm
The Old Hook Farm is a throwback to a combination of the old-fashioned General Store and Farm Stand that used to dot small towns in Bergen County. The outside of the store has a greenhouse full of decorative plants for both the house and for the gardens. In the Holiday months, the greenhouse is filled with hot house flowers for the holidays and outside there are Christmas trees, wreaths and other holiday decorations for sale. When it snows, it looks like a picture out of Currier & Ives.
The flowers and decorative products of the greenhouse
During the Fall months, the farm was ablaze with colors in the background while the front of the greenhouse was filled with gourds, pumpkins and corns of different colors. There were all sorts of Halloween related merchandise for decorating the inside and outside of the house.
Blogger Justin Watrel in front of the Fall display of products at Old Hook Farm
The inside of the Farmers Market has all sorts of fresh produce with seasonal fruits and vegetables, freshly baked pies, cakes and scones and loaves of bread from a local vendor.
The fresh produce is beautifully displayed in the inside of the market
There are candies from Conrad’s in Westwood, NJ (see blog on that store on this site), milk from a local dairy farm with no artificial ingredients, gluten free products and a lot of non-GMO grocery products and all natural snacks. There is an array of grocery items that are good for you.
The refrigerated cases are filled with all natural dairy products like ice cream, eggs and milk
There are natural cleaners for the home and cleaning supplies that are good for the environment. There is a small section of cosmetic and home products that are all natural.
The Old Hook Farm is a place of sights and smells and the beauty of the seasons in the trees and woods that surround the picturesque acreage. It is also a nice place to stock up on gifts and farm products for any social visit. It is special place especially during the holiday seasons.
History of the Old Hook Farm:
(From the Farm’s website)
The town of Emerson did not exist during the Native American origin. The name ‘Old Hook’ on the east side of the town came from the Dutch word ‘Hoek’ meaning ‘angle’ or ‘corner’. The angle of the land was created by the three connecting water ways, the Hackensack River, the Pascack Brook and the Musquapsink Brook. The first person to make their home here was William Rutan, who settled on a parcel of land just west of today’s ‘Old Hook Farm’ sometime around 1748 (Emerson Town History).
The current ‘Old Hook Farm’ was bought by current owner, Bruce Marek’s grandfather in 1925 as a weekend getaway. He rented the farm and the farm house to a local resident for 35 years and the family had a large garden on the property until about 1948. Then his father took over the land and cleared the fields and had Soil Conservation come in and do contours and started to grow in the greenhouse. When his father died in 1973, he took over the farm and within eight years, reopened the garden store and started to experiment and grow organic crops (Bruce Marek’s interview with ‘Bergen Save the Watershed Action Network’).
I have been coming to Hot Dog Johnny’s since 1975 when I made my first trip to the Delaware Water Gap with my family. My father always enjoyed taking the back roads and he remembered this hot dog stand that sold buttermilk with their hot dogs.
Hot Dog Johnny’s at 333 Route 46 West in Buttzville, NJ
Hot Dog Johnny’s has kept the same limited menu since it was founded in the 1940’s, hot dogs, fries and drinks. It has been CASH ONLY all this time as well so don’t come with the fancy credit cards and they post that they are cash only right when you order.
The sign is famous on its own
You place your order at the take-out window and there are picnic tables just outside the building and down by the tributary of the Pequest River. The views of the river and the surrounding mountains are breathtaking and on a nice day, it is a pleasure to eat outside on the picnic tables by the water. You could not ask for better views in the Spring and Fall.
The food is really good and very reasonable. The hot dogs are deep fried and they are served on soft buns with a limited number of toppings: mustard, ketchup, pickles and onions ($2.25). There is no chili or items like that to top them. They have a nice snap to them when you bite into hot dog.
The French Fries I believe are freshly cut and deep fried to perfection. They are always hot, crisp and golden brown ($1.80). They are lightly salted and you can get packs of ketchup for them (due to COVID).
There is a limited number of beverages including Buttermilk, Birch Beer, Coke, Diet Coke, and Lemon/Lime Soda. The small drinks are $1.00 with larger sizes available.
The whole meal cost me $5.72 for a hot dog with mustard and a pickle, French Fries and a small ice-cold Birch Beer (the meal I have always ordered here). It is a good deal to me.
I love the food here.
The History of Hot Dog Johnny’s:
(From their website)
Across the nation the words “Hot Dog Johnny’s” trigger visions of a nostalgic roadside stand known as much for its food as for its atmosphere. With the Pequest River flowing in the background, Hot Dog Johnny’s is a landmark to anyone having traveled Route 46 through Buttzville, NJ.
Family owned and operated since 1944, John Kovalsky founded Hot Dog Johnny’s thus earning himself the new nickname. John and his wife, Louise, ran Hot Dog Johnny’s in its early days from a small modest stand to its current state as a sixties independent roadside stand.
Although both John and Louise have passed on, their legacy lives on. A very hard working man, who believed the only way to make an honest living was to work hard for it, stood behind his words as he worked in the Dover mines in the day and the Hot Dog stand at night. He strongly believed anything was possible with the right kind of support which he always credited his wife Louise with.
Hot Dog Johnny’s opened its doors on Palm Sunday, 1944 sharing space with a gas station at the intersection of Route 46 and 31 in Warren County, NJ. It was not long before John Kovalsky knew he outgrew the space he occupied thus leading him to buy land along the Pequest River on Route 46 not far from the original location. A man with great vision, he built a hot dog stand not only to provide the best food services possible but also to provide an atmosphere for families to meet and enjoy for years to come.
The testimonies of customers over the years prove Hot Dog Johnny’s visions were on target as they tell stories of coming to the stand as kids with their parents and now come as parents themselves with their own children. It’s a meeting place for family and friends, a fun place for kids to ride on the swings and whether you’re having your meal at the tables on the patio or on the grass by the river one thing is for sure, your experience at Hot Dog Johnny’s will be a memorable on for years to come.
The original stand is still displayed with pride on the grounds of the present Hot Dog Johnny’s property.
Hot Dog Johnny’s original stand that is located to the back of the parking lot
The business is currently being operated by Hot Dog Johnny’s daughter, Patricia Fotopoulos, who has been involved with the business since it opened in 1944. At age 8, Pat stood on the crates handing out sodas. Today, she stands proudly handing out the best Hot Dog’s ever to the most loyal customers ever.
Hot Dog Johnny’s has been cited by the Travel Channel as being one of the most popular roadsides stands across the country and has also been featured in many major newspapers across the country.
Sometimes there are just establishments that don’t fit into the traditional mold of this blog but when I find one that stands out it really makes it special. There is something about the boardwalk businesses at the Jersey shore that just different. Maybe it is just the sites and smells or just the combination with the sea air and the beautiful weather with the aroma of good food. This is how Franconi’s Pizzeria & Ristorante on the corner of Oak Avenue & the Boardwalk in Wildwood, NJ makes your mouth water.
Franconi’s Pizzeria & Ristorante at Oak Avenue and the Boardwalk
The one thing I have to say about the staff at Franconi’s is…
It has been a tough summer. I pulled a muscle and it has been hard to do long walks around Manhattan so I kept it to short walks around my neighborhood. As I have improved, I have been able to get more done and have started to drive again. I was able to make the trip to Boonton, NJ for the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association Barbecue.
So off I went adjusting the car seat higher with a pillow and an ice pack. It was a short trip with no traffic and the pain has now subsided with more walking. When I arrived at the home for the barbecue, I had to walk around the property to loosen up a bit.
Still it was a marvelous day and the most beautiful weather sunny and clear and 72 degrees. The residents loved being outside to enjoy the fresh air, music and food and the members liked that we still could socially distance and converse with the residents outside as long as there were not too many gathering (we want to keep our retired firefighting brothers safe too). Please check out my blog on the August BCFHA Barbecue:
The Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association August Barbecue at the NJ Firemen’s Home August 15th, 2021:
After the barbecue was over, I decided to head back to Downtown Boonton to explore the downtown on a weekend and get some stretching for my legs and back in before the long ride home. Downtown Boonton, which has been discovered by the artists and hipsters is going through a major change as we speak. There is so much to see and do.
Downtown Boonton, New Jersey is showing a new rebirth from the local shops of the past to new restaurants, galleries and shops popping up all over the downtown. Known for the local ironworks that once made this a company town, somehow this small hamlet was discovered by artists and galleries have been popping up on the main street.
What I like about Boonton’s downtown is the diversity of old and new mixed together and that the main street is a sloped and curving so that you can see the remains of the iron works and the park below. The views of the mountains and trees lined valley’s are spectacular in the summer with swaths of green trees all over.
I discovered Downtown Boonton by accident when I decided to drive around when I had time to spare before an event last year. I had read something about the Boonton Historical Society in a magazine (See my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com). So I visited the Historical Society after our April meeting last year and attending their 2019 Open House for Christmas. That was a nice event with docent tours, light refreshments and musical performances. Since then I have been back a few more times to explore the shopping district.
I have started many trips at the Boonton Historical Society located at 210 Main Street. This interesting little museum is a treasure trove of local history with displays on the history of the local Iron Works, the Trolley Car industry and its role in the development of transportation in the area and displays on the history of the local police, fire and local schools. There are also some interesting pictures of the changes in the downtown area. They also run great walking tours.
I have visited the museum during the 2019 Christmas Open House which was an interesting afternoon of Docent tours of the museum’s Trolley and Railroad exhibition memorabilia and then a wonderful concert from a local musician with refreshments following.
In the Summer of 2021, I took a walking tour of the old Iron Works factory with a local historian. We toured all the spots in Grace Lord Park that had been built up to support the factory along with ruins of the old structures of the complex. It was sad that these will be knocked down for a new condo complex (see my review on TripAdvisor and VisitingaMuseum.com).
On my last three trips exploring the downtown, I have been admiring the statues of dogs and cats that line the street and flank all the buildings. The Boonton Arts Creative Placemaking Initiative organization in partnership with Boonton Main Street Inc. has been showcasing artists who have created these works.
The Dog Days of Summer & Some Cool Cats’ is a public art exhibition showcasing artist’s customer designs on life sized statues displayed on the main street. Artists are sponsored by the public. Once the artist received a sponsor, they get the opportunity to bring their design to life. For the duration of the summer, the sculptures will be available for adoption on the Boonton Arts Etsy page. The project has now raised $70,000 for local animal shelters and over $6,000 for local schools (Boonton Arts).
“Dog Days of Summer & Some Cool Cats” outside the Boonton Post Office
Across the street from the Historical Society at 309 Main Street is Eric’s Jamaican Cuisine which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It specializes in roasts, stews, fish dishes and the patties look amazing. The smells of food cooking and spices from the background grill will make your mouth water.
I stopped in on a recent visit and had a Beef and Cheese Jamaican patty ($2.50) and it was delicious. The crust was so light and flaky and had a nice portion of filling inside. The Chicken and Jerk Chicken patties were sold out so I tried one of the Fried Dumplings ($1.00). It was a round deep fried crisp dough that was perfect with a little jam.
The service could not have been nicer and the woman working the counter went over the menu with me. I love the smell of the spices when you enter the restaurant.
The downtown shopping district has an eclectic mix of the restaurants and shops. One of the first places I ate lunch at when I was touring the downtown on my first trip was Pasquale’s Pizza at 307 Main Street #1. I stopped in for a slice of pizza and a Coke and the pizza here is really good. The slice was full of flavor with a nice gooey consistency. The service was very pleasant and on a cool Sunday afternoon was one of the few places that was open. The service is very friendly.
Walking up the hill from the train tracks, you will look up at the winding main street at an interesting mix of historical buildings that are in the process of renovation or have been brought back to their original beauty.
For lunch one afternoon, I ate at Wah Yan Kitchen at 601 Main Street. This little hole in the wall take out restaurant services delicious Cantonese food at very reasonable prices for lunch. The afternoon I was there I had a Shrimp Lo Mein with a side of Pork Fried Rice and an egg roll. The one this that differed Wah Yan Kitchen from many of the take out places I have eaten at is the portion size was very large and the dish did not skip on the ingredients. There was lots of chopped roast pork in both the fried rice and in the egg roll. Everything was delicious. The family who runs the restaurant could not have been nicer to me.
On a recent trip to Boonton, I stopped at Egg City at 605 Main Street for a late breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny day and I sat by the widows watching the world go by. I ordered the Eggs with Chorizo which came with a side of potatoes and wheat toast. The scrambled eggs came in a hard scramble with plenty of spicy Chorizo sausage chopped inside the eggs. Adding some of the hot sauce provided on the table, it added an extra zing to the dish.
The Scrambled eggs with Chorizo Sausage makes a nice combination
Boonton at one time must have been a very cultural center for the arts in the region having a theater, opera house and a well established library all located within the downtown area. With the Morris Canal cutting through the town and the Ironworks at the bottom of the hill, the traffic in the downtown at the turn of the last century was extremely busy being a place of trade and shipping.
The Darress Theater at 615 Main Street has been closed during the COVID pandemic but was still open in late 2019 when it was showing some classic films. It was closed when I visited the town over the last year and a half though.
The theater was opened in 1919 as a vaudeville house with many famous names on the circuit visiting the town like Burns & Allen and Abbott & Costello. After WWII, the theater became a movie house showing first run movies until the local malls took that business away in the 1980’s. Before it closed due to COVID, it had been showing classic films and live shows (NJ Daily Record).
As you make your way up the hill, you will pass the picturesque Boonton Library at 621 Main Street. The library opened in this building in 1894 in a small section of the structure. The property was bought from the Iron Company in 1849 by Eliza Scott and was used for stores. Then the building was bought by local resident James Holmes in 1856 and in 1870 and was converted into the family homes. Upon his death in 1893, he willed the building and a sum of money so that the building could be used as a town library (Best Public Libraries/History of Boonton Library).
The impressive old building holds a periodical area, a Children’s and Teen Library and a sitting area for patrons. You can still see from of the impressive details of the old building when walking around the library.
Another wonderful restaurant that I tried one afternoon after a long walking tour of Grace Lord Park was Roma Pizzeria & Restaurant at 709 Main Street. They have the most delicious cheese pizza and their garlic knots are really good. The pizza has the most amazing sauce that tastes of fresh tomatoes, garlic, a bit of hot pepper and olive oil. It really gave each bit a rich flavor. The family that runs the pizzeria is really nice too and I was able to eat at one of the outdoor tables and admire the view of the area.
Right down the road is the old Engine/Hose Company One firehouse at 713 Main Street. This original firehouse of the Boonton Fire Department was built in the 1890’s. It was renovated in 2012 and was formerly Maxfield’s Restaurant. The building is currently empty but you can still admire the stonework of the old building and the details that showed its once fire fighting past (LoopNet.com).
The old Engine/Hose Company One at 713 Main Street
Next to the fire house is another reminder of Boonton’s cultural past is the Boonton Opera House at 715 Main Street. This architectural gem was build in 1850 as Independence Hall which was used for various functions. Then in 1890, the owner added a third floor and christened it “Mrs. Green’s Opera House”. The building was fully renovated in 2016 by business owners in the area and now houses offices and retail space (Daily Record). Check out the buildings details on the other side of the street.
The Boonton Opera House at 715 Main Street
After my walking tour of the Iron Works Company with the Historical Society and a nice lunch at Roma Pizzeria & Restaurant, I sampled Scoop House at 813 Main Street. Scoop House is an old fashioned ice cream parlor with homemade ice cream and unusual flavors. The menu includes all sorts of sundaes, shakes, ice cream sandwiches and waffle & ice cream combos.
I had an unusual flavor called “Cookie Monster”, which was a purple ice cream with cookie dough batter in it and crushed chocolate chip cookies. Talk about different and delicious! The prices are also very fair at a time when other ice cream shops are charging premium prices.
I passed other businesses that were closed on most weekends and made my way to Grace Lord Park which is located at the top part of Downtown Boonton. From the sidewalks you can see the river path through the park and as you get closer to the bend, the waterfall near the bridge. This relaxing little park was once part of the Iron Works Company and where we started our walking tour of the area with the Boonton Historical Society.
The front part of the park as you enter from the downtown is lined with paths, a children’s playground, a wooded area, historical signs of the site, the gazebo where concerts take place and our meeting ground for the tours and the falls.
The Falls of Grace Lord Park in Boonton, NJ
On a perfect sunny day, a group of us joined the Historical Society of Boonton, NJ on a tour of the former Iron Works Company and of a section of the Morris Canal that ran through the town during the turn of the last century.
On my more recent trips to the park, I just enjoy walking around the Falls area and taking a short hike down the paths into the woods and admire the river. On a nice day, there are plenty of families running around the park. In the summer, there are all sorts of concerts in the park and on the weekends there is the Farmer’s Market.
I visited the Farmers Market on the Saturday on Labor Day weekend but the town cancelled the market at the last minute. Still there were a few vendors that had set up and I was able to sample their wares. The Schieferstein Farm from Clark, NJ had all of their fruits and vegetable lined up in bins and they had the most flavorful white peaches for a dollar. It was juicy and sweet and there is nothing like a Jersey Peach when it is in season.
Don’t miss the Schieferstein Farm stand for the sweetest Jersey Peaches
I returned the next week and there were many more vendors selling all sorts of wares at the Farmers Market. I visited Gizmo’s Pet Products for gourmet pet treats, Race Farms out of Blairstown, NJ for another sweet juicy yellow Jersey Peach ($1.00) and Urban Gypsy Arts by artist Vicki Stafford who sells handmade knit and crocheted hats and scarves, handmade earrings and pins.
A Crocheted Voodoo doll by artist Vicki Stafford, the perfect gift for Halloween
Along the way there were other vendors selling Empanadas, Italian dinners, gourmet cheese, homemade pickles and freshly baked breads and pastries. There really is something for everyone at this Farmer’s Market. There was guitar band performing that morning for the patrons with original songs and a small play area with a Cornhole set up for the kids. The Boonton Farmers Market is a nice way to spend an early Saturday morning.
On my way back down the hill through the downtown area, there are several bakery and gift shops to explore and have a quick dessert before you leave town.
Heavenly Temptations at 712 Main Street is a perfect place to duck into when it rains as it did on two afternoons when visiting Boonton. It has a extensive bakery section with cupcakes, muffins, scones, cookies and croissants. The shop also has an extensive collection of gift baskets, books, local art products and other assorted gifts. It is also a big meeting place for locals (Heavenly Temptations website).
Creations by Sabrina is like walking into a bakery that treats their bakes goods like displayed jewels in a the case with beautiful and elegant looking cupcakes and cookies for sale. Each cupcake has its own unique look and flavor.
Another establishment to enjoy pastries with a Spanish flair is Pergamino’s Bakery & Café at720 Main Street. I had ducked into Pergaminos during a rainy afternoon when they were closing down for the afternoon and the people working there no only let me walk through while they were cleaning up but I could buy what I liked and they would not rush me out.
What attracted me to Pergamino’s was the Columbian pastries and hot foods that the bakery restaurant carried. On my first trip, I tried a Guava Plate, which was a flaky pastry split into two and filled with cream cheese and guava jelly. It was flaky and sweet but I was not crazy about the cream cheese in the dessert.
I was also able to try their Beef and Cheese Empanadas, which I ended up taking home with me. They warmed up in the oven perfectly and I liked the spiciness of the beef which was accented by the home made hot sauce they gave me.
On the second trip, I tried one of their Apple Turnovers, which from what the staff said were really popular and I could see why. Surrounded by a sugary puff pastry, these sweet apples are rolled in cinnamon sugar and butter and baked until a golden brown.
When you reach the middle of the downtown area, you can see the remnants of the old Morris Canal that used to run through town. When I was taking my tour of the Boonton Iron Works (see above), this section of the canal was filled in years ago but at the turn of the last century, the canal was busy taking iron and other raw materials from the area to market. This is what made Boonton Boonton.
This section of the canal was called Morris Canal Inclined Plane 7 East for the machine that allowed the boats to navigate the canal to overcome changes in the elevation (Boonton Historical Marker).
Morris Canal Inclined Plane 7 East that parallels the downtown
As I made my way down the hill, back to the car, I passed the popular Don’s Sandwich Shop and music store. I stopped in one morning after visiting the Farmer’s Market and had a Bacon, Egg and Cheese sandwich on a soft chewy roll. It was the perfect breakfast on a cool morning.
They made the sandwich with provolone cheese instead of the the traditional American cheese and with a little mayo added the perfect zing to the sandwich. The couple that runs the shop could not have been nicer to me.
There is even a music shop within the store, Drummer’s Corner, which is located in the corner of the sandwich shop.
Adding to the many historical sites in Downtown Boonton is the Boonton Civil War monument located in the middle of the shopping district. This interesting piece of town history was erected in 1876 and was “In grateful remembrance of their fellow citizens who volunteered in defense of The Union of the War of 1861-1865 Honor to the Brave 1876” (Monument). This touching monument is a tribute for those who were lost in the Battle of the States.
As I walked back to my car, I took time to glance at the scenic views from the main street of the foliage and mountains that make the backdrop of the downtown area. I can see why the artists are starting to move into town and the amount of art galleries that are starting to open (most were closed on the weekends on my last two visits).
Take time to walk east of the downtown to visit the historic homes of former factory workers of the Iron Works which are now being snatched up and renovated. When I drove through the downtown one last time and made my way up the hill, I drove past Grace Lord Park. Up the hill through the Essex Street neighborhood above downtown were blocks of old Victorian homes and mansions line the streets overlooking the park.
There is so much to see and visit when walking Downtown Boonton and with the influx of new residents and the energy of the present ones, it is making Boonton, NJ a vibrant and interesting town to visit.
On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, I stayed to watch the Boonton Fire Department Labor Day Parade and that was a lot of fun. The Department marched in the parade and fire departments from all over the County joined in with their fire apparatus. It was a beautiful day for the parade.
The Boonton Fire Department had their classic apparatus in the parade
Here it is Father’s Day and the Summer Equinox again and I have reached Day Two Hundred. I have walked much more than half the Island of Manhattan, neighborhood’s in the surrounding boroughs, and historical towns and destinations in New Jersey, New York State, Pennsylvania and beyond. It is hard to believe that I have come this far and that I have been doing this for six years. It does take a lot of work to really see these neighborhoods in detail and research all the wonderful things to do and see. This is best part of the blog is sharing it with all of you!
I have recently completed another walk down the entire length of Broadway for the fifth time (Day One Hundred and Thirty Nine: Walking the Entire Length of Broadway) and a second walk around the perimeter of Manhattan (Day One Hundred and Sixty Seven: The Great Saunter Walk), the 32 mile walk that felt much better this time (being in better shape for walking by exploring Kips Bay, Rose Hill, NoMAD, Koreatown, Midtown South, Midtown West/Hell’s Kitchen and Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton before this year’s walk. If you had read the blogs from last summer the City had just opened up on June 10th, 2020 but with the riots and security reasons, I did not enter the City again until June 15th, 2020). I wanted to update both blogs with new things to see and things that I might have missed, which was a lot.
I love walking through the new Riverside Park on my way uptown for “The Great Saunter Walk”. I started at West 23rd Street this year.
The Core of Manhattan and the Perimeter of Manhattan:
Day One Hundred and Thirty Nine: Walking the Length of Broadway from 242nd Street to the Bowling Green:
As I am finishing my walk of the streets of Hell’s Kitchen/Clinton between 10th and 12th Avenues, I am also revisiting neighborhoods that I have walked before adding new restaurants, stores and artworks to the blogs. So much changes but then again you notice things you did not see on the first few trips to that section of Manhattan.
In all my time walking around Manhattan, I never realized that is was itself an ‘open-air museum’ with lots of artwork along all the streets and parks and with that, I have also credited all the artists with their bios and a little history of their careers as well. Even the ‘street tagging’ has gotten interesting again and you really have to look along the walls to admire the ‘taggers’ work.
Don’t miss the Tom Otterness Playground on West 42nd Street. He gives new meaning to the word “Jungle Gym” in his park in Hell’s Kitchen
With the COVID pandemic slowing (it is not over everyone and I still carry two masks and sanitizer with me just in case), the City is opening back up and with the last of the graduations behind us for this year, more people are wondering the streets of the five boroughs and it looks like people are moving back in with more restaurants and hotels reopening. By September, we will hopefully see the Theater District (one neighborhood I will not walk until it reopens for a fair view of it) reopen and the shows start again.
Since last June, most of the bigger museums have reopened but this time only with timed tickets and limits on the people who are attending the shows. This has made for a better experience. If you plan on visiting the museums more than a few times, I would suggest becoming a member and saving the money on the entrance fee. Plus a lot of the museums really need the membership income.
Look over my sister blog, “VisitingaMuseum.com” for ideas of small museums and historical sites that I am revisiting:
I have also been taking many trips up to the Hudson River Valley on outdoor walking tours, patio lectures and farmers market visits. Just driving through these small towns will give you a touch of nostalgia and a wanting for the past. Trust me, all that turn of the last century architecture and quaint storefronts are being brought back to life from the displaced ‘Brooklynites”, who have scattered all over the Tri-State area and are bringing their creativity to small towns in four states, New York State, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Here and there tucked into these small downtowns, old Victorian homes and storefronts are being renovated and reviving communities that needed support to their downtown cores.
Downtown Catskill, NY was interesting to visit recently
So as I update my long walks around the Island of Manhattan and to the small towns in the Hudson River Valley, I hope everyone has a chance to read my older blogs starting with Day One in Marble Hill in June of 2015 and walk your way through Manhattan with me. COVID has changed so much all over the City but has not ruined the true hearts of New Yorkers and especially the Manhattanites I see everywhere.
Everyone is watching the City heal and will watch it go through a rebirth again. Trust me, it looks far better now then it did in the 1970’s and 80’s when I was growing up and the times I worked in Manhattan. You did not want to see West 34th Street in 1988 when I started at R.H. Macy.
I am also now on my sixth pair of sneakers since starting ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’.
Lastly to my father, Warren George Watrel, whom this blog is dedicated to I want to wish a very Happy Father’s Day! I miss our walks around Manhattan at this time of year but I always feel you in spirit!
I love you Dad and Happy Father’s Day!
Blogger Justin Watrel with his father, Warren Watrel in 2013
There are times that I just stumble upon a really good restaurant by accident. I found Big Bowls/Little Plates on my Dining program with Mileage Plus and once I tried it I have been coming back ever since. The food and service are just excellent and the atmosphere is downtown ‘hip’.
For a small restaurant in downtown Rutherford, NJ it is so interesting in it’s decor. The use of the exposed brick walls, the Christmas lights on the ceiling and the wooden tables gives it a ‘City Vibe’ with a contemporary twist. The tables are larger made to share the space but in the era of COVID we are kept apart. While most of the orders when I was there both times were take out, it is more fun to…
I have been to Miss T’s Two several times when I needed a quick snack and was in the area. The deli is tucked in a residential neighborhood right near Hackensack High School so I know who their customer is when the school year is in session.
Miss T’s Two is primarily a deli/bodega selling some household items and snack foods to the locals who live in the area but they also have a small hot food area in the back of the store and this is where this unassuming place shines. Their hot food selection may be limited but everything I have tried is delicious and extremely reasonable and is always fresh.
The first two trips I made to the deli was by accident. I had passed the place…
I love coming to Demarest Farms and visiting the farm store and the grounds. It is like a step back into time. When I was a young child, I used to come down to the old farm stand that was across the street and pick up corn and tomatoes with my aunt who lived around the corner from the stand. In the 1990’s, the family opened the farm store across the street which used to be the old cornfields right next to the Garden State Parkway and a new tradition was born.
In 1991, they build the big store across the street.
Well, Christmas is finally officially over for me. It was one for the books. The holiday season just came and went without much fanfare or activities. Nothing like last year which was a lot of running around visiting decorated homes or running to the next cocktail party or dinner. Those things just did not exist this year. This season was all about the outside walking tours and small get togethers.
The whole holiday season became a blur and I started to attend a lot of outdoor activities that became available. Anything to get out of the house and see people or go do something out of the ordinary. I really had to search things out.
They started closest to home. I was trying to split my time between places that were just a drive away, going back and forth to the Hudson River Valley, which gave me a change of scenery and walking the neighborhoods of Manhattan, which gave me a sense of purpose as I felt I was supporting the City by being a cheerleader for all it had to offer even in the era of COVID.
My holiday journey started with the delivery of 375 Christmas trees for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association. It was a big undertaking for a major charity that supports graduating high school seniors with scholarship money for college. I sometimes wonder if these students know what we go through to get the funds.
The trees were really nice this year
I have never seen so many Christmas Trees fly off a lot so fast. The membership of the Men’s Association got there at 9:00am and the truck arrived at 10:15am. We sold our first tree at 11:30am as we were tagging them. I stayed the entire day from 9:00am to 10:00pm when we closed the lot down for the evening. In the three shifts that I was there with the other guys, we sold 45 trees which we have never done our first day of sales.
The Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association at set-up 2020
We were completely sold out by December 11th which I have never seen before. It seemed in the era of COVID everyone reverted back to the 1970’s and wanted a fresh Christmas tree for their home. I thought this was wonderful and people could not have been more supportive to our organization.
Please read my blog on “Christmas tree sales in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ”:
Please watch the commercial I did in 2015 to sell our trees
The first week of December means “Open Houses” at some of our merchants in Downtown Hasbrouck Heights. I look forward to seeing all the Christmas merchandise being offered, all the bouquets created for the event and the beautiful Christmas windows that our florists in town have done.
Bill O’Shea’s Florist at 231 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ always has a nice gathering the weekend before Thanksgiving. This year was like no other but it did not keep a nice crowd of residents from coming out and looking over ideas for floral displays, house decorating ideas and listening to festive holiday music all while nibbling on prepackaged treats and bottled drinks.
Bill O’Shea’s has some of the nicest displays at the holidays
In a normal year, it would be hot chocolate and coffee with freshly baked goods but COVID has changed the way these businesses are run. Everything had to be prepackaged and most people at it outside as juggling and shopping with a mask on was tough.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, the same weekend we set up the Christmas Tree lot for the Men’s Association, Heights Flower Shoppe at 209 Boulevard in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ had their Open House and that was equally as nice.
Heights Flower Shoppe is housed in a turn of the last century home that dates back to the original founding of our downtown and has a very classic boutique look to it. The store was stocked with all sorts of Christmas decorations, homemade candies, decorative household gifts and beautiful floral displays as well as outside had decorated wreathes and grave blankets.
The homemade candies and Christmas decorations adorn the store
Like Bill O’Shea’s, there was all sorts of packaged holiday treats to enjoy including Italian sodas, small bags of homemade Christmas cookies and candies. Last year they had a nice assortment of cookies and small sandwiches with coffee, tea and punch so there are always holiday treats to nibble on too here as well.
All of Downtown Hasbrouck Heights was beautifully decorated for the holidays with wreaths on all our lamp posts, Christmas lights on the trees, merchants display windows decorated to the hilt and Christmas music playing.
Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ is always so nicely decorated for the holidays
This year because of COVID, the Annual Holiday Parade and Christmas Tree Lighting were cancelled in town but they did have a small get together at the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights to light the town Christmas tree. It was lit from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany on January 6th. It is always a beautiful site when entering town from the west side of town.
The Christmas Tree on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ
Even the little Neil Parrot playhouse, a local landmark in Hasbrouck Heights, was decorated for the holidays and was lite up at night as well.
The Neil Parrot Playhouse on the Circle in Hasbrouck Heights awaiting Santa
There were several nights of my aunt and I exploring the town and driving block by block to see all the decorated homes. Hasbrouck Heights and the surrounding towns of Lodi and Wood Ridge always do a wonderful job decorating for the holidays but with everyone being home and COVID hitting the area hard, people wanted to really decorate and make this year even more festive. Between the merchants and home owners, they made this time of year in Hasbrouck Heights very festive.
Please read my blog on Visiting Downtown Hasbrouck Heights, NJ:
I did not just celebrate Christmas in Hasbrouck Heights. I ventured into other parts of New Jersey, to New York City and my usual haunts in the Hudson River Valley but like New Jersey, New York State was on a lock down as well and all the decorated mansions and holiday gatherings were all cancelled as well. So everyone did their best to celebrate outdoors and have all sorts of tours and small get togethers. You had to move fast when reserving these events as they did fill up because everyone wanted to get out of the house and see things.
The Sinterklaas Parade that I have participated and volunteered at for so many years was cancelled because of COVID but like the Halloween Parade, the committee put together a video of the parade to share with the world. Still it did not compare to the excitement of walking down the hill with stars and music lighting up Downtown Rhinebeck, NY.
The noble Frog was to be our mascot for this year’s Sinterklaas Parade
It was not the same as the year before where the crowds kept getting larger and larger every year. The whole town came to life with activities, songs, lights and laughter but was silent that weekend except for people having dinner in town. I was able to sneak up during the week. The entire town was decorated with white lights and beautifully decorated store windows. Rhinebeck is one of those towns in the Hudson River Valley that looks straight out of a Currier & Ives woodcut.
Downtown Rhinebeck, NY at Christmas
Since all the Christmas parties and get togethers were cancelled, it gave me more time to look into other outdoor events. I went to a special “Historical walking tour at the Holidays” at the Bergen County Historical Society in River Edge, NJ. The tour was lead by Historical singer and lecturer, Linda Russell, who explained the traditions of the Dutch Christmas all while singing Colonial Christmas songs in between the talks at each historical house on the property.
The Steuben House at Christmas
Actors dressed in costumes (and masks of course-COVID is still going on) danced in the Steuben House ballroom as colonialists celebrating the holiday, Dutch housewives putting their children to bed while awaiting Sinterklaas. There was a Dutch wooden shoe with carrots for his horse outside the door and mistletoe on the ceiling.
Linda Russell performing and lecturing at the Bergen County Historical Society
There was a discussion on the Pagan traditions of bringing ‘greens’ from outside inside to have a bit of ‘live nature’ into the home. So mistletoe, pine and holly adorned homes during the winter months as these things were green and brought a bit of life into the dead of winter.
The last part of the lecture was done in front of the Campbell-Christie House with a visit from Sinterklaas himself. We had a short talk about who Sinterklaas was and his part in the holiday season. Then all the members of the tour enjoyed refreshments and got a goody bag when we left with holiday sweets. The lecture and songs were a nice way to enjoy the beginning of the holiday season.
My favorite song by Linda Russell “I saw Three Ships”
As I was finishing up the semester at the College, I was getting holiday preparations done at the house, having small gatherings of family and friends and trying to be COVID safe. I was also running in and out of the City finishing my blog on Kips Bay before the holidays started getting busier. I learned a lot of New York’s Colonial past from walking around this area of the City.
My blogs on the Walking the neighborhood of Kips Bay:
The next weekend I made my last trip of the season to Long Beach Island to visit Beach Haven and the tour the rest of the island one last time before winter set in. It had really closed down since Halloween. I expected it to be much busier with more people moving down there on a permanent basis. Driving up to the lighthouse, I saw more dark homes then lite ones.
I wanted to take one more tour of Long Beach Island to see how they celebrate Christmas at the shore. They do things very quietly in Beach Haven. I went to the Surflight Theater to see the only play I had seen since I attended Carnegie Hall last Christmas to see the play “We need a little Christmas” which I had seen advertised at the theater over the summer.
“We need a Little Christmas” at the Surflight Theater in Beach Haven, NJ
After the theater, it was surprisingly warm that afternoon hovering around 58 degrees so I walked to the beach one block away and walked on the Jersey shore for my only time that year and for the first time on Beach Haven beach since 1975. It has been a long journey since that time.
The Beach Haven beach was beautiful that afternoon
The town’s Christmas trees were across the street from the theater on the square just off the downtown. Even they had a subdued Christmas at the shore and the whole event welcoming in the season was done virtually.
Christmas in Beach Haven, NJ adapted like the rest of the world
My holiday dinner was spent at the Chicken or the Egg that evening and it was really good. The menu is so extensive and innovative. It was hard to make choices.
Cinnamon Bun Ice Cream sandwich at Chicken or the Egg
Their fried chicken sandwiches are really good and their Cinnamon Roll Ice Cream sandwich should not be missed.
The Chicken or the Egg at 207 North Bay Avenue in Beach Haven
I was able to tour the whole island that afternoon before it got dark and even at twilight here and there were signs of Christmas in small trees lit in the shopping areas and decorated homes. It is an interesting place at the holidays with the waves crashing in the background.
My blog on “Exploring Downtown Beach Haven and Long Beach Island, NJ”:
The next week was finals week at the College and I had to give my final exam. The students also finished work on their case study, “Bud N’ Mud”, a simulated flower/coffee shop I had the students develop. It was interesting to see how a group of student entrepreneurs would create a store with their own ideas on how to grow the business. This project ended the Fall semester.
One of my favorite logo’s from the “Bud N’ Mud” project
With the Christmas trees selling out by December 11th, we held our annual Christmas party at the Christmas tree stand site for the Men’s Association. It was a cool not cold night and we all huddled around the fire taking alternate turns hitting the makeshift buffet table and enjoying good conversation. It was a great way to end the year successfully and there will lots of scholarships being given out at the end of the school year.
The last big event before Christmas came was the Sunday before Christmas with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department holding our Annual “Santa Around Town”. Because COVID was growing, the event was revamped from previous years and instead of stopping at sites all over town, we drove down each street in town slowly, having Santa wave and greet people who were on their lawns, driveways and porches. The residents of Hasbrouck Heights seemed touched by it and I could tell from the safety of the fire truck that the kids got a kick out of seeing Santa. People really needed the pick me up in holiday spirit at the time.
The Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at “Santa Around Town” 2020
On the Tuesday before Christmas after I finished work with my other job I needed a break and wanted to go on a road trip to the Hudson River Valley again. I was nostalgic for Christmas’s past and decided to visit some of the towns Upstate.
I explored Downtown Woodstock first seeing their very unusual Christmas tree in the square. I have to say one thing about Woodstock, they do pick out the most interesting tree to sit in the square. It always looks more surreal than traditional. Their annual “Santa Parade” was cancelled this year as well and they did a drive by with Santa at the Woodstock Fire Department who runs the parade.
Downtown Kingston, NY was next on the list. Talk about a town in transition. In the almost three years since I have been visiting Kingston, I have never seen a downtown change so rapidly. The businesses there have gone from all this ‘hippie granola’ businesses to all these antique furniture stores and art galleries and some really expensive restaurants. One of the locals told me the new residents are “Brooklynizing” Kingston.
Still the downtown was nicely lit for the holidays and their Christmas Tree while small is nicely lit for the holidays on the edge of the downtown “Stockade” district. The Dutch Reformed Church on the other end of downtown was nicely lit with wreaths on the doors.
I crossed the river and drove to Red Hook, NY which I love. Their downtown looks like an old fashioned shopping district straight out of another Currier & Ives print. All the little stores were decorated with garland and white lights and the merchants decorated their windows to the hilt.
My last stop on my search for the perfect picturesque Hudson Valley River town was returning to Rhinebeck, NY for the day. Rhinebeck was quiet on this Tuesday evening as most of the restaurants were closed and the shops had closed for the evening. Still it was nice to walk around and admire the while lights on the trees and admire the display windows.
The Christmas lights and windows of Downtown Rhinebeck, NY
Even the way I celebrate Christmas changed this year. Instead of spending time with my family, I spent three days in Manhattan with my best friend, Maricel, at a hotel in Times Square. Neither of us had the time to travel and we both had to work in the City, her at her hotel and me working on my blogs so both of us needed the rest.
AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street
We stayed at the AC Hotel New York Times Square at 260 West 40th Street. What the room lacked in size, it made up in the view and in the location. We were one block from Port Authority, two blocks from Times Square and within walking distance from all the Christmas attractions from Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas windows and the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
While Maricel worked on Christmas Eve, I walked around the City. I saw the tree at Rockefeller Center which was loaded with people not keeping socially distanced. I admired the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue which had a New York City theme with Christmas scenes from around the City “This is how we Celebrate”.
Saks Fifth Avenue’s Christmas Themed window “Over the East River and Through the Neighborhoods to Grandfather’s House We Go”
Rockefeller Center’s Christmas Tree was even more special this year
I thought the windows at Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf-Goodman really lacked in creativity. Bloomingdale’s was having a bad year and Bergdorf’s had just gotten sold again (forth time since I worked there in 2004) so I did not expect much. With Lord & Taylor declaring bankruptcy earlier in the year and closing the main store on Fifth Avenue and B. Altman’s long gone and Macy’s going mechanical for the last few years, the excitement of seeing the windows has been less than enthusiastic.
Still it was nice to walk around Midtown after leaving the Rockefeller Center area and just walking around Third, Park and Madison Avenues. By 7:00pm, everything had shut down for the night and the streets were really quiet. What was eerie was when walking down Park Avenue and looking up and seeing so many dark buildings. The area looked abandoned with so many apartment lights out. I wondered where everyone went?
When Maricel got off work, I brought in dinner 9th Avenue Deli at 769 Ninth Avenue. I brought in a juicy cheeseburger and chicken fingers which we shared and then dug into. The perfect comfort food on a cool night. Christmas Eve was a mild 59 degrees and it was nice to walk around.
9th Avenue Deli at 769 9th Avenue
We just hung out the whole night and watched movies in the hotel room. I went to bed early and sunk into the wonderful Marriott hotel bed. Marriott had the best hotel beds and every time I stay at one of their hotels, I slept like a log.
Christmas Day we just relaxed in the room and I called many members of my family to wish them a Merry Christmas. While Maricel went to work, I decided to start touring neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Rose Hill and NoMAD in preparation in my walks there. It started out being a cold, cloudy day and there was barely anyone on the street. I saw a few people walking their dogs and that was about it until about 3:00pm. It them cleared up and was a mild 55 degrees until it got dark and then cooled down.
What really shocked me about Times Square was how dirty it was on the streets. They had not picked up the garbage on Christmas Eve day and did not pick it up until after Christmas Day so between the theaters being boarded up and the ply boards filled with graffiti, hotels closed and restaurants shut, the whole Theater district looked like NYC circa 1975. It was creepy how the pandemic was affecting the business of this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods like Kips Bay, Murray Hill, Rose Hill, NoMAD and the Flatiron District were really quiet that morning and early afternoon. All the restaurants and stores were dark, three hotels had closed in the district and I saw just a few people milling around. Things changed as I got closer to Macy’s Herald Square.
When walking around Koreatown, which runs between Sixth and Fifth Avenues between 35th to 32nd Streets, the side streets were teeming with Korean couples and groups of family members dining in the outdoor restaurants and cafes. This neighborhood was really jumping and full of life.
As the day wore on by 5:00pm, the rest of the City came back to life and more restaurants and stores opened up. Christmas morning and afternoon were now over and I could tell that people wanted to get out of the house (probably to get away from the family celebrations). When Maricel returned, I ordered in dinner from Golden City Chinese Restaurant at 423 Ninth Avenue, one of the few neighborhood restaurants open and we our dinner in the room. The food was okay. It was nice to just eat in the room and relax.
Christmas dinner was Lemon Chicken and Fried Rice from Golden City Chinese Restaurant
We checked out at noon on the 26th and she left for work that afternoon, I headed into Brooklyn to visit the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and the Brooklyn Museum. Both were really quiet that day. The Brooklyn Botanical Garden was mostly dormant for the winter and most of the garden was closed off because of COVID. The “Studio 54” exhibition had long closed at the Brooklyn Museum so I just wondered the halls and looked at some of the changes in the permanent exhibitions that they had. I left the City for home early that evening.
The last week of the holiday, I entertained family at a Lasagna and Champagne dinner I had a the house. Since I was not able to spend time at home during the holidays, my aunts came over to my house and we had a three course meal with champagne and wine. We spent the whole night laughing and enjoying the evening.
New Year’s Eve was a quiet evening at home alone talking with other friends who were staying home alone as well. Times Square was empty that evening with the exception of the 350 first responders who were invited to the ball drop. When I watched it on TV it was eerie to see it so quiet. There was no one for blocks except police guarding Times Square.
I headed back up to the Hudson River Valley again on New Year’s Day to go on two walking tours in Staatsburgh, NY at the Mills Mansion. It was the Annual “First of the Year” walking tours and it was a cool, crisp morning for a walking tour of the property. There were two tours that morning, one was on “Winter Activities in Victorian Times” with us learning about all the winter activities that the residents here enjoyed like skating , sledding, ice boating and horse drawn sleigh rides.
Staatsburgh, the Mills Mansion in the winter
The other tour later that afternoon was on “Ice Harvesting in the Hudson River Valley” , where we learned about how the ice harvesting of the Hudson River was a big business before the advent of refrigeration. Large slabs of ice were cut from the river, floated down stream and then packed in straw awaiting sale over the metropolitan area for peoples ice boxes throughout the year. It just gave me anther excuse to visit the region I love so much.
My blog on the Mills Mansion on VisitingaMuseum.com:
Another local event that was COVID safe was a driving tour through the “Holiday Lightshow” at Demarest Farms in Hillsdale, NJ. This was the first time that the farm opened the apple and peach orchard across the street from the farm stand. I saw this display the last week it was open and even after the holidays, it was a special treat as we awaited the Epiphany.
Driving through the display only took about forty minutes but was a delight in the senses and sounds. I played the classical music station as I drove through and admired all the colorful lights on the now dormant trees while Santa’s and Snowmen winked and waved and toy soldiers lit the way through the dark field. Even the Demarest homestead was ablaze with lights.
Demarest Farms at 244 Werimus Drive in Hillsdale, NJ
My blog on “Visiting the Farms of Bergen County, NJ at Christmas”:
Don’t miss this holiday lights ride through the orchard in 2021
The holiday event I visited was the Bronx Zoo for their “Holiday Lights” event at the zoo. It was the last night of the event and I arranged for the tickets that afternoon. The zoo gave me a 30% discount to go that evening and I was on the subway ride up to the Bronx.
The Bronx Zoo Light Show
I was really impressed by the display. The entire park was decorated with white lights, with different sections of the park decorated with different themes such as jungle animals, aquatic mammals and all sorts of assorted elephants, seals, penguins, lions, tigers and bears (oh my haha). There were costumed characters to take pictures with and they even had the Bug Carousel open that evening. I got a kick out of riding this since I had not done this since I was a little kid.
The Bronx Zoo musical Christmas Tree in the old part of the zoo
In the older section of the park, they had zebras on stilts and a musical Christmas trees that had an interesting soundtrack of contemporary Christmas songs. Even though Christmas had been over now for almost two weeks, it me back into the Christmas spirit.
So there was the Christmas holidays in the era of COVID. Lots of outdoor activities in hot and cold weather. Many walking tours and more subdued events. Gone were the cocktail parties and big formal dinners and in their place were many more smaller outdoor events and communicating with nature.
Maybe we all needed to take a break from the more formal traditions and go back to the basics of family and friends. I think this was a reflective year and realizing what is important. It had not changed that much for me. I just adjusted to the times, wore a mask and got going. Staying safe and keeping others safe is what is all about.
Hours: Open Thursday-Sunday: 11:00am-5:00pm (the last tour is at 4:00pm)/Open Monday Holidays from April 19th to October 28th. The mansion then closes to prepare for the holiday season. Closed on Thanksgiving and Easter. There are special programs from January to April so please see the website.
Admission: $8.00 for adults/$6.00 for groups and Seniors/Children under 12 are free. Special events have separate fees and can run from $8.00 to $10.00 and above.