Taste of the Big Apple
PUBLISHED: 14:28 13 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:18 13 June 2013
Mike Smith's top tips for a short break in New York
Known as the ‘Big Apple’ since the 1920s, New York is a tasty destination for a city break. While the chance to see its world-famous attractions is a mouth-watering prospect, the opportunity to walk along its streets and take in their unique atmosphere is sufficient to whet the appetite. Soaring skyscrapers and canyon-like avenues; dazzling neon lights and zig-zag fire escapes; ubiquitous yellow cabs and omnipresent American flags; roof-top water tanks and overhead traffic lights; fire hydrants lifted straight out of a painting by Edward Hopper and mailboxes resembling litter bins; ‘Don’t Honk’ warnings and ‘Have a Nice Day’ signs. All these elements are so familiar from the movies that taking a first-time break in New York is like wandering starry-eyed through a succession of film sets.
New York is laid out as an elongated grid pattern of over 200 streets and 11 avenues. The section of Fifth Avenue between 49th and 60th Street is probably the most expensive thoroughfare in the world. Almost every high-end store has a branch here and fashionistas relish the prospect of buying, or perhaps just admiring, the designer goods in stores such as Armani, Michael Kors, Gucci, Versace and Saks (shown here), and children love FAO Schwartz, one of the world’s biggest toy shops.
Central Park is the green lung of New York. Its 843 acres offer respite from the frenetic city, with woods, gardens, fountains, a lake, a carousel, a zoo, a theatre, a musical clock and more besides. Methods of getting around include walking tours, carriage rides and trips on rickshaws (‘pedicabs’). The gabled edifice on the left is The Dakota, an apartment block where John Lennon lived from 1973 until he was assassinated by Mark Chapman as he emerged from the building on 8th December 1980.
New York Harbor Cruise
A 90-minute Harbor Cruise around the tip of Manhattan is an experience not to be missed. This is the best way to view the most famous skyline in the world and to enjoy the thrill of sailing under Brooklyn Bridge and going up close to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The goddess Libertas, who raises aloft her torch and holds a tablet of law in her other hand, has long been regarded as the welcoming symbol for immigrants, who used to go for ‘processing’ to the inspection station on Ellis Island.
Memorial at Ground Zero
Two square cascades, whose perimeters are inscribed with the names of all the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, occupy the exact footprints of the twin towers which were destroyed in the devastating terrorist strike. Reflected in the waters is the new Freedom Tower, which rises to exactly 1,776 ft as a commemoration of America’s year of independence. The poignancy and symbolism of the memorial are all too apparent.
Tall Is Beautiful
In the first three decades of the twentieth century, New York’s companies were engaged in a competition to create the tallest building in the world. The structures that resulted are among the most beautiful in the city. The Flatiron Building, daringly built on a ridiculously narrow triangular site, is only six feet wide at the vertex; the Metropolitan Life Tower of 1909 was modelled on the Campanile in Venice and the New York Life Building of 1926 took its inspiration from Salisbury Cathedral, but was topped with a gilded pyramid. The most beautiful skyscraper of them all is the Chrysler Building of 1930, which has a glistening Art Deco crown with seven tiers of radiating arcs.
Along with the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is one of New York’s greatest art galleries. As well as masterpieces by European masters, including Van Gogh, Monet, Picasso, Seurat, Dali, Modigliani, Mondrian and Bacon, there are works by American artists such as Rothko, Hopper, Wyeth and Jasper Johns, whose ‘Flag’ looks at first sight simply to be a copy of the Stars and Stripes, but close inspection reveals fragments of newspaper headlines beneath its wax surface.
The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building would seem to have a ‘Narcissus complex’, because its interior is decorated with a succession of Art Deco depictions of the building. But this great structure has every right to be in love with itself. Although its entire design was drawn up in two weeks and it was constructed in just 400 days between 1930 and 1931, this great edifice ranked as the world’s tallest building for 40 years and it still manages to dominate the Midtown skyline with its handsome profile.
Times Square and Broadway
The lights of Piccadilly Circus pale into insignificance when compared to the brilliant illuminations of Times Square. Vast billboards beaming out the names of Broadway shows, from Lion King to Mamma Mia, compete for attention with dazzling advertisements for consumer products. In the late evening, tourists are drawn to the square like moths attracted to a bright light. The combination of illuminations and the noise of the crowd makes this the best sound and light show in town.
New York has some of the best and most expensive restaurants in the world, but Eataly, in the Flatiron District, is hard to beat for value and up-beat atmosphere. Described by co-owner Mario Batali as ‘a grocery store with tasting rooms’, this vast food shop and restaurant sells and serves every possible confection of Italian food, not least pizzas, which were first introduced in the city’s Little Italy district in 1905 and have found favour with New Yorkers ever since.
Billed as ‘the largest store in the world’, Macy’s certainly has an impressive range of merchandise, but this no longer includes books – Amazon and Kindle have taken their toll, even here. One fifth of the brands on sale are advertised as ‘Only at Macy’s’ and old-fashioned wooden escalators add a period feel to the interior. Shoppers emerging from the store into 34th Street are confronted with a fabulous view of the Empire State building, just one block to the east.
Sunset over 38th street
Most of the great sights of New York are, of course, man-made, but one natural phenomenon can compete for spectacular effect with the best of them. Take a walk along Broadway from Madison Square Park to Times Square and, if the atmospheric conditions are right, you will be treated to a fabulous blaze of red as the sun sets over the Hudson River. Even here, it is the man-made frame of the canyon-like streets that gives the picture such dramatic effect.
New York from the Top of the Rock
The finest view of New York is obtained from the ‘Top of the Rock’, the viewing platform at the summit of the tallest building in the Rockefeller Center. Manhattan stretches out like the bow of a ship, with the Empire State Building looming up as if it were a great mast and the new Freedom Tower at Ground Zero protruding like the vessel’s figurehead. The city seems to be cutting a passage through the waters, with the East River rippling away to the left and the Hudson River to the right.
Mike Smith travelled to New York from Manchester on American Airlines and stayed at the Hampton Inn on West 24th Street, close to Sixth Avenue, Madison Square and the Flatiron Building.