Day Six: Saturday March 12th:
By rights I should probably have been much more tired and/or hungover than I was when I awoke early on Saturday morning, but I was excited about the day ahead. This was exactly the type of day I wanted to come back to New York for: to make amends on areas I barely scratched the surface of the first time and to find new experiences.
I had my second tour with Free Tours By Foot scheduled for 10am this morning, meaning that I had to meet up with the guide in Greenwich Village by 9.45. Fortunately the meeting place was right outside the Waverley Restaurant, so I could feed two birds with one scone and get my breakfast bagel and coffee whilst making the meet with Renee.
This seems like a good place to mention one of the minor issues I was still experiencing with navigating New York, despite being on the sixth day of my second visit. When exiting a subway station it is pretty difficult to find your bearings, particularly if there is a mass of people ahead of and behind you and you’re almost forced into making a snap decision on which direction you should be travelling. Of course, using the correct subway exit in relation to where you’re wanting to go would help immensely here, but I had a habit of using the first exit I confronted unless I absolutely knew there was a better one.
So how do people know which way to go when hitting street level? It’s a lot easier around Midtown where you can almost use the tall buildings as a compass: you know that the Empire State Building is north, the Chrysler is north-east and if you can see the World Trade Center you know that’s downtown. But uptown vs downtown wasn’t really my issue, it was more east vs west. So much so that I had developed a little trick which allowed me to fool my fellow pedestrians into believing that I was a competent traveller. When I would invariably head west on a street only to realise after a block that I should be walking east, I would move into the side, look at my phone for a couple of moments until anyone who is behind me will have passed and then turn and stride confidently in the opposite direction.
Anyway, having eventually located the Waverley Restaurant I had a brief moment to grab an on-the-go breakfast and meet the guide outside. As was often the case I was the first member of the group to sign in, so I spent some time chatting with Renee. She asked where I was from and what brought me to New York, and my response seemed to impress her. Not so much the content, but the delivery. To paraphrase: “You’ve already learned to slow down so we can understand your accent.” I wasn’t aware that I had done that, but in retrospect it was noticeable that I was only having to repeat myself once on many occasions, rather than two or three times initially.
This was another very warm day in New York. The hat, scarf and gloves I had packed were lying redundant back in my hotel room and the drawer full of t-shirts were untouched as a single layer was adequate. I could probably have left the light jacket back in the room too, but that would have been tempting fate. Ideal conditions for exploring the diverse and bohemian neighbourhood of Greenwich Village on this walking tour. This area felt like it was pulsating with history, and Renee did a good job of explaining the roots of the village. It was interesting to note how they almost have their own identity down here, with their refusal to adhere to the grid system and maintain their old street names, not to mention the various bizarre attempts around the Washington Square Arch to declare Greenwich Village independent. The story of the Stonewall riots was fascinating, infuriating and uplifting and I loved seeing the tiny square of property of the Hess Estate across the street by the cigar store. Much of the tour was dominated by the celebrities and writers and artists who have resided in the village over the years, giving a real flavour of the cultural influence Greenwich Village has had.
The tour ended at Washington Square Park and I finally got a look at the fabulous white marble arch, which I had neglected to see last year. From there I made my way towards Hudson Street, but first I had promised myself that I would get a photograph of the Sex and the City building for my aunt back home. Having never seen the show this posed a bit of a problem, but I had a rough idea of where it was and it became immediately clear upon turning onto Perry Street as the site was marked by groups of excited young women and their intensely bored looking partners.
Onto The White Horse Tavern on Hudson Street and undoubtedly the most unique tour of my visit – the Greenwich Village Literary Pub Crawl. I am by no means a great connoisseur of literature, but you don’t have to be to enjoy this tour. The two guides have a great rapport and over the course of three hours and three bars they have constructed a highly entertaining and insightful tour. Many of the names discussed – Dylan Thomas, Jack Kerouac, Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe, Bob Dylan – will be familiar to even the lightest reader (me), and even if they’re not you’ll still see some great bars and learn about this beautiful neighbourhood. Several of the sites visited during the walking portion of the tour were seen and discussed on my earlier tour, though from a different perspective here (there were a few anomalies between the two on stories about Chumleys and the Stonewall riots and the door on the Washington Square arch) We drank at The White Horse Tavern, Kettle of Fish and finished up at Marie’s Crisis Café. A thoroughly enjoyable three hours and highly recommended if you’re looking for something different. They had a Brooklyn tour scheduled for the next day which I would have loved to have joined, but unfortunately my Sunday afternoon was already taken.
From there I enjoyed a slice of Sicilian from Bleecker Street Pizza before heading up to Blind Tiger. I’d read a lot of good things about this bar previous to my last trip but couldn’t enjoy it due to the large crowd. Thankfully it was a little quieter on this Saturday afternoon and I was able to take a seat at the bar. I sampled a couple of beers from their extensive range and left satisfied this time, on my way back for a second visit to Peculier Pub on Bleecker Street. After a drink there the barmaid I remembered so fondly from last year – having not been on shift on Thursday – started work, and I was pretty thrilled to see her. Even moreso that she actually remembered me too! I was impressed that a barmaid in New York City, on this popular drinking street, would remember a Scottish tourist from a year ago.
So I caught up with her and ordered some wings, having remembered that I particularly enjoyed the wings here in 2015, and put a couple of dollars in their excellent jukebox. I had a few more beers and switched my attention between the various games on the television’s…and then there came a point where I realised that a glass of water had appeared in front of me. Unusual, I thought, but I sipped at it along with my beer. It was soon empty and a while later another water was before me, and it was then that I realised that I had been falling asleep at the bar! Those two glasses of water roused me back to a normal drunken stupor, and it became clear that I had spent too much time in the sun today without properly hydrating. My forehead was red – not painfully, but it was burned – and I remembered that since that coffee at 10am this morning all I had drank was beer. Pretty stupid. I passed my apologies to this barmaid who I had been looking forward to seeing for a year and thanked her for taking pretty good care of me in the circumstances and retreated on the 6 train back to my hotel around midnight.
Best tip today: Prepare for all seasons – and keep yourself hydrated! I came to New York anticipating the same chilly end of winter conditions I had experienced last year, but instead spring was in full blossom during the majority of my trip and I was facing conditions I would usually consider to be a pretty good summer back home! I learned after today to drink plenty of water during the day and to order a glass every other pint during the night.