Manhattan memories

One of my favorites!

By Caitlin Kelly

Thanks to a generous friend who lent me her Upper East Side studio apartment for three weekends recently, I got to explore the city at leisure.

I grew up in big cities: London, Toronto, Montreal and Paris, so my life in a New York suburb for the past few decades, certainly without the social connection of having children, has been a weird experience.

I would never have chosen to spend my life outside of a city, but we had (still here!) a great apartment with a river view and a pool and I can see the towers of downtown Manhattan, even 25 miles south, from my quiet, tree-lined residential street.

If I were super rich, Manhattan could be fun — a spacious, bright apartment and not being subjected to the stinky summer streets and sweaty subway. But I would never have been able to afford and enjoy the life there I have, so I stayed out here and head in as often as I have time and money for — a round-trip trainfare is $19.

I love the variety and people-watching and walking everywhere (so much healthier than driving!) of city life. So many dogs! Such great eavesdropping.

I had a great time meandering, re-visiting some favorite spots and discovering some new ones, like:

Rockefeller Center

If you’ve never been to NY, it is spectacular, built between 1930 and 1939, 19 commercial buildings in midtown, designed by Raymond Hood. Some of its details are very beautiful, especially those facing Fifth Avenue. One of my favorites — by (!?) Isamu Noguchi — is over the entrance to the Associated Press buildings, a massive metal bas-relief of various sorts of news reporting.

Here’s the famous statue of Atlas, now wearing a mask!

Fifth Avenue

Well, if you’ve ever watched Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you’ve seen Audrey Hepburn standing before one of its windows on the famous avenue.

It’s a street with so much elegance, starting at 42d Street with the massive NY Public Library and its entrance flanked by two stone lions, Patience and Fortitude, who in winter sport holiday wreaths. Today, the street — which once housed such elegant stores as Takashimaya and Bendel’s — is now much more mass-market and full of tourists buying all the stuff they could by at home in Oklahoma.

But it’s also home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and St. Thomas.

The Plaza!

After 59th street, heading north, it becomes residential, with palatial buildings overlooking Central Park.

The Lexington Candy Shop

Last renovated in 1948, at the southwest corner of Lex and 83rd. this funky little place is a classic diner. I met a pal there for breakfast and it was great.

Donohue’s Steak House

How I love a classic NYC joint! This spot, in business since 1950, is perfect. I stopped by and had a club sandwich and a beer and rice pudding and it was just what I wanted and not a lot of money, hard to imagine at Lexington and 64th. The waitresses all wear crisp white shirts and black trousers — and in 2015, a regular left two of them each $50,000. That’s the UES, baby!

William-Wayne

One of my favorite shops. This is the place to buy the perfect hostess or wedding gift, from gorgeous lacquer trays to Indian print tablecloths, small throw rugs, picture frames, scented candles, and a tiny selection of vintage glassware. Also at Lex and 64th.

Edith Machinist

I told a much younger stylish friend, NYC born and raised, how I’d just scored there — gorgeous brown suede knee-high boots, a fab 80’s oversize leather satchel and a burgundy cotton jacket — and she laughed. “I’ve been shopping there since high school!”

To stay in business for 19 years in fiercely competitive NYC is a feat in itself! This vintage clothing shop is always full of terrific clothes, bags, footwear and accessories. Prices aren’t stupidly high and none are Big Name Designers, which makes it more fun and affordable. I splurged $180 on a silk 80s Genny dress a long time ago and wore it a LOT and loved it. Rivington is a fun street, and Economy Candy is next door!

In the window of Economy Candy. How could you resist?

Balthazar

Oh, my dears! This place, a classic French bistro, holds one of my most cherished memories, meeting my first agent there for lunch on a scorching spring or summer day in 2001. He was handsome as hell, looking like a younger William Hurt, and, then being a new agent needing clients, was wooing me — which is now not the case for most writers!

The restaurant is one created by Brian McNally, opened in 1997, who is a legendary restaurateur here, a Briton whose venues are both hyper-stylish and skilfully weathered.

The agent ordred Kumamotos — which were…? Tiny oysters I’d never heard of or tried.

It was such a pleasure to return to this stalwart where I ate outside, and lunch came to $87. Yes, I know. It’s a bloody fortune!

But sometimes the experience — the food, the service, the street, the people-watching — is worth every dime.

16 thoughts on “Manhattan memories

    1. The city is amazing. It really rewards walking and looking and just going slow.

      I would never recommend the tourist-y spots (Times Square, pre-COVID, uggggh) but I almost always stick to neighborhoods with with their indie shops and restaurants and landmarks. Each is so distinctive.

      My favorite is the West Village, with tree-shaded cobblestone streets and so much (for us!) history — many homes built in the early 19th century. The brownstone mansions are SOOOOOOO expensive but nice to look at.

      1. It sounds great! I like to explore when I travel and steer clear of tourist hotspots in big cities.

        The West Village sounds lovely. I’ve seen it in lots of movies, and the classic Friends of course (which I only got around to watching for the first time last year!). I can imagine it’s a very pricey place to live or buy a house. Talking of pricey places, a browse around the Sotheby’s real estate website (lots of gorgeous places in London and NYC) always makes me feel poor! 😀

      2. The West Village is also full of tourists — and some tours go to gawk at the “friends” house!

        Living here and reading real estate costs means “only” $I million is somehow “cheap.”

      3. Absolutely! A million starts to seem cheap in comparison to luxury multimillion pound (or dollar) houses. A neighbour dropped off her Country Life magazines recently, one of which had a property special with a portfolio of “smaller country estates”. Ah well, one can dream….

  1. thanks for this lovely and personal whirl around town! i’m so glad you’ve had the chance to rerurn for these unhurried weekends there.

  2. Jan Jasper

    Wow, what a huge stroke of luck to be able to borrow a friend’s Manhattan apartment for 3 weekends. I love New York City, and I lived there from my late 20s to early 40s, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else as an adult. After moving to Jersey, I still went into the city often for several years, but even pre-Covid, I was making the trip in from New Jersey less and less often. The crowding and the noise and the often rude people (though they are not always rude) was startling to me. I wonder, has it gotten worse, or am I just more thin-skinned now that I’m older? I know I could not live there again, though in some ways I still consider myself a New Yorker, and despite my griping, I do love visiting. I can’t think of anything more delightful than borrowing a friend’s apartment for a weekend or 3.
    I love that Atlas at Rock Center is wearing a mask. Did you see that Patience and Fortitude (the library lions) are also masked? When I saw the lions in a photo, wearing their giant-sized masks, it actually brought tears to my eyes – tears of pride in what I still consider “my city.”
    It’s great that organizations do these small gestures to encourage mask-wearing. There is nothing like New York City. Nothing. Anywhere.

    1. She was finally able to go to Texas and see her grandkids, so that made it possible.

      I get more energy (and more tired) from a day in the city than weeks in the burbs. I love how quiet and beautiful my town is but there’s nothing to do. I wouldn’t live here without easy access to the city.

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