Day four: Thursday March 10th:
I woke up very tired this morning after the late concert last night and I suppose the effects of jet lag still lingering in my body, so I adjusted my morning plans a little. I had intended on eating breakfast at the “Seinfeld” restaurant – Tom’s up on 112th St – but instead utilised the coffee facilities in the hotel living room and headed on the 1 train from Times Square to Cathedral Parkway to take the “Highlights tour” at the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine. This is something I had only decided on doing in the last week or so of my trip planning after reading about it in the Lonely Planet guide and I’m glad I did. It’s the largest Anglican cathedral and church in the world (if I remember correctly it is a distance of 600ft from the door to the altar) and the interior is a breathtaking mixture of Roman and Gothic architecture, with design plans having changed partway through construction. The tour gives a great insight into the history of the building, the story behind how even today it remains unfinished and the damage done by fire in 2001 and points out some of the amazing details in the design. If you have an interest in history or architecture then this is a very worthwhile tour to take. You can just turn up to the desk inside the entrance and book yourself on the tour at either 11am or 2pm.
From there it was a short walk to Tom’s Restaurant, where I could photograph the iconic exterior which doubled as “Monks” in Seinfeld. Despite the interior not being used in the show itself I was thrilled to be eating in the restaurant. The food was very good and the service excellent. It had a nice old school New York feel to it, and I believe the restaurant is a Greek-American family owned place which has been around a while. I ate the pastrami omelette and sweet potato fries, which proved delicious and filling.
Back to Midtown for the first of three Free Tours By Foot on this trip. The NYC Subway Art tour met at the McDonald’s on 50th St at Broadway and was led by Darryl, whose mannerisms and phrasings really cracked me up. He was a captivating guide who showed a real enthusiasm for this hidden gem of an experience. The tour examined a small sample of some of the art which decorates some 280 of New York’s Subway stations. Apparently the only criteria that the official artists have to follow when creating pieces for the subway is that their work must relate in some way to the station in which it’s being placed. So there are some colourful murals of revellers celebrating the New Year at Times Square; toys decorate the passages at 23rd St; bronze sculptures of bureaucrats are strewn throughout 14th St. Also at Union Square is a touching, apparently anonymous, display of labels displaying the names of each of the victims of 9/11. It’s fascinating to note how even regular New Yorkers who are rushing through these stations on their day-to-day business are often oblivious to most of these works. There was an instance at 14th St where Daryll was pointing out one of the bronze sculptures at the foot of a woman who initially took offence that he was accusing her of being a fare dodger who was being arrested by the police – only for her to look down and realise that there was actually a piece of art at her feet! Loved this tour and the whole concept of Free Tours By Foot, which would more accurately be termed “pay what you wish”.
I had dinner reservations for Keen’s at 9.30 on this night, so I had a few hours spare following the end of the tour. I went back to my hotel to refresh and cool down – this was another high temperature March day – before heading down to Bleecker St for a couple of drinks. A weird choice considering the location of Keen’s, but I really enjoyed Peculier Pub last year and was eager to see if the barmaid who made it such an enjoyable place was still there. She wasn’t (at least not on Thursday), but I enjoyed a couple of beers – the Ithica Flower Power was one I remembered fondly from my last trip – and took the F train from W 4th St to Herald Square for my dinner at Keen’s.
All I can say is this: there are no words for how good that steak was at Keen’s. I hadn’t eaten since the brunch at Tom’s, so I was REALLY looking forward to this meal. Unfortunately that led me to devour the basket of bread and the celery sticks as soon as they arrived at the table, and if there is one tip I could offer for Keen’s it would be to NOT eat the bread (not because it isn’t good – it is – but because it is quite filling. I wish I had the foresight of the gentleman at the table next to me who refused the bread when it was placed in front of him. He’s obviously eaten here before!) I ate the fillet – medium rare – and a side of fries, and it was cooked to perfection. Just thinking about it now is making my mouth water. It was an absolute delight. A couple of beers and the meal set me back less than $100, which I felt was great value. It was the one “big” meal I ate in New York and it was worth every cent and more.
I rounded off the night with a couple of drinks at The Ginger Man, which is in the shadow of the Empire State Building. This is a bar I enjoyed last year, but something about it felt a little “off” this time. Good selection of beers, but I felt out of place here. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Maybe I was simply stuffed from the tremendous meal I had just enjoyed or maybe The Ginger Man just wasn’t what I remembered it to be, I don’t know. It felt a little pretentious, which some “craft beer” bars can by nature, but this wasn’t an endearing pretentious.
Best tip today: Besides “don’t eat the bread!” – the NYC Subway Art tour was one of the highlights of my trip. Really interesting and it was great having some of the beautiful pieces of art which I would otherwise have been oblivious to pointed out to me.