Reading: Ulysses (James Joyce)
Listening: To Pimp a Butterfly (Kendrick Lamar)
Sarah and I arrive at New York City’s Penn Station after nightfall. Foggy from the hours in the cramped train car, yet giddy at the prospect of reaching another itinerary destination, we squirm our way through the busy platform and find our way to the streets. Emerging from underground, we take our first gulp of New York City air; dense, a little smoggy, yet sizzling with gritty energy. We marvel at the great swathes of people, their multitude looks and languages and accents blending and crashing around us. Shouldering our packs, we descend further into the concrete jungle. Beneath the canopy of skyscrapers and high-rise apartments, through thickets of food stands and merchant carts, upon cigarette-butt and candy-wrapper speckled trails, we trek. The great starry gaze of American deities follows our progress through Time Square; even the illustrious Michael Phelps, illuminated and thousands of feet tall, smiles down on us (advertising dog food, of all things). Finally, to the delight of our weary calves, we reach the Pod Hotel in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan.
For $100 a night, the Pod Hotel is definitely one of your best bets if you’re looking for something even remotely affordable in Manhattan (if you want your own room, anyways). The place is modern, in a convenient/fun part of town, and sports fantastic showers (two faucets; one on the wall, one ‘rain style’ above). There’s even a Polynesian themed bar connected to the lobby, though we never ventured in ourselves. No, our favorite haunt, and most visited on account of being across the street from our hotel, was Dave’s Tavern. We stopped in for the first time after dropping off our packs, and were delighted by the grungy dive interior and the cheap beers on tap. A snarling boar’s head overlooks the scene, thousands of stickers (including one our own) forming a colorful and eclectic mane around the bar itself. Though there’s only one pool table, it seemed a popular spot for the game. On that first night, Sarah and I witnessed a “duel” between two rival pool squads. A young woman squared off against a stocky fellow in the first round, and the match was heated. Between shots, teammates would whisper into the players’ ears, offering tactical advice and encouragement. Their level of skill was astounding. A tough looking guy approached us and asked if I was taking a picture of his ass. “Not intentionally, sorry.” Oops. Luckily he laughed it off and we enjoyed more sharp-shooting games of pool before heading out. Next door is a small establishment called FOODY’S DUMPLINGS. Delicious fried dumplings for anyone seeking a quick snack!
Craving some live music, we wandered into a cute little jazz club called SWING 46. As it so happened, we were just in time for dance lessons. Sarah (and our instructor) graciously endured my second left foot as I attempted to learn some formal dance technique (I’m usually more of a ‘free-form’ dancer, for lack of a better term.) After the lesson, a fully loaded swing band took the stage and thrummed up some classics, though shamefully I only recognized the Frank Sinatra (Fly Me to the Moon). Sarah and I cut a rug, which I’m sure pleased the band since we were the only ones to do so. Next, we headed to a quaint little gay bar and joined the locals in mocking an introductory episode of The Bachelor airing at the time. Tired and little drunk, we ended the night with some 99 Cent Pizza. I could hardly mask my joy at the size and cheesiness of such a cheap slice! (Pizza Boy 4 Life!!!)
Our first full day began with coffee (of course) at the unassuming Empire Coffee and Tea Company. Next, lunch at Nizza, where the $10 home-made pasta lunch special was too good to pass up. It was here that Sarah and I cast out our narrow lines of communication, each knowing an Omaha to NYC transplant apiece and hoping for recommendations. Both came through, and we set our sights on a change of scenery for later that night. Taking the subway from Time Square, we cut through The Village and arrived in the Lower East Side. A place that both of our contacts had recommended was Ippudo, an upscale ramen place with rave reviews. Though we had to linger at the bar for about an hour, the wait was well worth it. Froth from our Asahi beers complimented the broth of our premium ramen. For Sarah, the Karaka Spicy: “Pork tonkotsu broth, thin noodles, pork belly, chashu, sesame kikurage mushrooms, scallions, cabbage, fragrant garlic oil, topped with Ippudo’s special blend of hot spices.” For me, the special: “tonkotsu pork soup mixed with 3 kinds of Japanese miso for a mild and rich flavor, sliced pork chashu, sansho minced pork, scallion, shiraganegi, miso paste, and fragrant garlic oil.” I can say with confidence that the ramen here rivaled the quality we’d experienced last year in Japan. Simply delicious.
Invigorated by our outstanding meal, Sarah and I took to the streets in search of a local nightclub called the Kind Regards. Hip, youthful, and low-key, we met with Sarah’s contact Dalton. A fellow Westside graduate, Dalton is a fashion designer, DJ, and all around cool dude. Between chopping up some mesmerizing beats on the turntable, he issued us free drink tickets and we enjoyed some tantalizing craft cocktails and unrelenting good vibes. Thanks again Dalton! After a couple hours, flushed with drink and smiling like buffoons, we head for the hotel… And take the train the wrong way. Luckily, our midnight visit to Brooklyn was brief and we quickly sort out how to get back. Returning to Hell’s Kitchen, four bucks means four slices of pizza in our stomachs. The perfect midnight snack before bed!
Stay tuned for more.