My brother Zach’s college graduation from New York University had come quick, and it was the perfect time to go back to New York City before the hot summer days were upon us. So a weekend trip in early June of 2012 was met with some jam-packed days and cocktail-sipping nights. Upon arrival we checked into our suave NYC hotel right in Times Square and started the trip off right with dirty martinis at a posh neighborhood tavern. We ventured south and met Zach and his girlfriend Liz at one of their favorite local Indian restaurants where the food is cheap and authentic, and the atmosphere can’t be beat. We haggled for free appetizers and ate round after round of delectable Indian cuisine until we could no longer… sitting happily under the thousands of red lights strung ornamentally from the ceiling. It was a gay old time. We cooled our spicy pallets on some beers at the nearby McSorley’s Ale House before getting late night cheesecake goodness and turning in… tomorrow would be a big day.
We woke to a gloomy day and anxiously headed over to Yankee Stadium where the New York University Graduation would be held. It was my first time at the Stadium which was exciting, as was the bevy of parents and the many students, all gleeful their accomplishment and openly optimistic of whatever would come next. A sea of purple graduation caps colored the stands of the commanding Yankee Stadium… the band played and the commencement begin. The inspiring and heartfelt speech by US Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor was the highlight, and soon we were outside searching desperately for our graduate among the thousands of people waiting to congratulate the class of 2012.
Zach was found with some of his friends, and the standard congratulatory photos were taken in his obnoxious cap and gown. The subway was too crowded to even describe, so we gave up, walked a few blocks, and settled at a local sports pub where we scored a table and scarfed down sandwiches, waiting out the crowd. We were finally able to take the subway back downtown, and passed the day walking around Times Square watching street artists and snapping photos.. we visited our favorite staples of the area, playing the ultimate tourists and not caring whatsoever. (I even took a photo with the infamous “Naked Cowboy”) We ventured further out towards Canal Street and at last, Little Italy… our favorite! I just love roaming the streets of Little Italy, smelling the homemade pasta goodness and taking in the scene… it has so much character it is like you have stepped onto the set of a movie. We did this until our stomachs were growling, which we satisfied with an amazing meal at one of my Dad’s favorite restaurants. Yum!
The next day was undoubtedly my favorite. Having gotten recently engaged, I was amidst baby’s first steps of wedding planning, and had been on the dress hunt. Previous years had me hooked on the TLC reality show dedicated to the art of the wedding gown… Say Yes To The Dress. I had spent hours online looking at various gowns and realized the overwhelming task this can become: white or off-whites, beaded or lace, A-line or fitted, train or non-traditional... it was no small feat! So it was perfect timing that we were heading to New York, home of KLEINFELD BRIDAL (the high-end fashion boutique for wedding gowns known round the world… and also home to Say Yes To The Dress), which houses the best designers and unique looks that even Chicago’s finest boutiques do not carry. So without ever having tried a dress on, I thought, what a better place to start? And I innocently booked an appointment.
So back to our third morning… I woke up and readied for the adventure ahead… my first wedding dress shopping experience! As we saw the tall glass doors of KLEINFELD inviting us in, I was admittedly nervous… like I was meeting the president or something. The place did not disappoint. Immediately upon entering, the place exudes confidence with its elegant décor, high ceilings, and plush furniture. Everything beige and white – the stars of the show (the gowns) line every wall, gleaming under perfect lighting and exaggerating their competing flare. The place was exclusive, appointment-only, and had only a few brides trying on gowns at once, which added even more class. A thick wad of printed photos in hand, I was overly prepared for the task ahead having researched my ideal fit and favorite designers. But would KLEINFELD have them? Of course! Little did I know this would be my only dress shopping experience, as just the second gown I draped around my body would be it. I had secretly hoped it would be “the one”, as it was by far the front runner in all my online preparation. One look in the mirror in this Lazaro ball gown and I was done for… fighting tears and breaking out into a rash of excitement – god I was girly. I tried on several more just to make sure, and in the end could not have been more confident. I was ecstatic to wear my choice once again and stand gloriously in front of the full-length garnished mirrors on a carpeted pedestal, my parents and brother looking on in approval and adoration. I was a bride!
Unable to wear off my excitement the rest of the afternoon, we shopped around and took a tour of Zach’s NYU classrooms where he learned the art of acting, TV and film, etc. Our sweet tooth was satisfied as we stopped for over-priced cupcakes at Billy’s Bakery, and ran into an assistant to Martha Stewart who was picking up pounds of homemade frosting for her show. We enjoyed the gorgeous day walking the parks and meeting Liz’s parents who were in town for the graduation as well. Our group of seven dined on flatbreads and bruschetta at an unassuming Italian spot before heading to a fundraiser event for Zach and Liz’s theatre troupe. The night of drinking and socializing was topped off with cheap slices of thin New York-style pizza.
The next day would be the smaller graduation ceremony for the Tisch school of theatre. We dressed up and walked to the nearby auditorium where the names of each graduate were called, and onstage they went to receive their diplomas… a paper invitation to the real world. After a long day, we had yet another celebratory dinner, this time at the highly anticipated Fig & Olive… and what decadent cuisine it was!
Our final day offered another gorgeous day of sun – we took full advantage. Jumping on the subway to Brooklyn, we met Zach and Liz and set out for the afternoon. To the gorgeous parks it was… we made it through several long stretches of Prospect Park, and onto the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. We climbed trees like kids and gawked fondly at the colorful scene of never-ending flower beds. This city can be over-the-top, dirty, and unrelenting. But if you look closely, you will find a little bit of magic.
For the full album of this trip, click here or visit the Photos Page.
[May 2012] Family was heading there – friends were on their way… all signs were pointing towards Tom and I to venture back over to the East coast for some classic NYC adventure. Our flight and two public bus combo was met with some traffic, albeit relief from the over-priced taxi service which we refuse to succumb to, Manhattan… $60 for a 20 minute ride? I don’t think so. Before we knew it we were towing our luggage on the upper east side to a friend’s conveniently located apartment just blocks from Central Park. Four of Tom’s buddies and myself, the only gal, celebrated this sunny day on the private apartment rooftop with a few cold ones in hand.
Soon it was time to venture south where we met my family at a classic upscale diner, Café Cluny where we feasted on tasty eggs benedict and lip-smacking mimosas. We worked it off enjoying the gorgeous spring day by walking around and finding the unique High Line. The High Line is an old above-ground subway-turned sidewalk and park… where pedestrians have the rare opportunity to walk a flower-lined sidewalk for blocks, avoiding the crowded streets and noisy city below. We settled for lattes at an outdoor café on fifth avenue for some time to pass before heading to NYU’s Tisch theatre for Zach’s play… the main reason for our trip.
The student rendition of The Madras House was spectacular: from costumes to set, to the delivery of the complicated, well-rehearsed lines. We were agreeably impressed to say the least. After the show the family put Zach’s girlfriend to the test over cheap pizza and pitchers of beer. Suffice to say she won us over with her warm charm and genuine character.
Although I was absolutely exhausted, Tom and I had to fight the NYC madness to make our way back to the north end of the island where his friends were drinking the night away at a crowded bar. It was just about the last thing I wanted to do… but we were otherwise homeless. So we fought our heavy lids and joined in on the fun. Luckily it wasn’t long before our host forfeited his apartment keys so we could turn in early.
The next morning was greeted with more beautiful weather. While Tom and friends caught up with beers on the roof all day, I took advantage and walked to Central Park, wondering the unending grounds and snapping photos before settling in with a Bloody Mary at the lakeside eatery, The BoatHouse. I was soon met with my parents’ company and we enjoyed the entire afternoon chatting and drinking with a backdrop of tourists on gondola rides and turtles playfully lapping in their scenic domain. It was one of those perfect days to remember.
As the sun dropped, I made my tipsy way back to the boys who were undeniably a few more beers deep than myself. Okay, a lot more. So I did what anyone would do and joined in. One large rooftop party and one crazy bar later, Tom and I left the party and braved the rain for a fancy dinner with Zach and Liz and my folks. We tried decadent tapas at the candlelit cave-like restaurant. Of course, the party continued post-dinner as some late-night shenanigans were to be expected.
Our last morning we brunched with the family one last time on bottomless pancakes. The day was less than inviting with whipping winds and unforgiving rain, but Tom and I were determined to take advantage of our close proximity to the newly revealed 9/11 Memorial. We walked the grounds of the finely groomed park and stared sadly into the echoing fountains where the towers once stood. The architecture is fascinating… water flows seamlessly into the twin gaping holes into the earth, the names of brave citizens engraved into every inch of its’ strong granite exterior. The place is hauntingly beautiful and equally sad. We took it all in in silence and eventually made our way home, our hearts heavier. Never forget: United we stand, New York.
[November 4, 2011] A somewhat impromptu girls’ trip was at hand in the Fall of 2011… so me, my mom Diane, and older sister Ashley would venture to the Big Apple for some quality girl time, (and some visits with my brother, Zach). The guarantees: a lot of shopping, a lot of cocktails, a lot of laughs.
Our flight was fun-filled… compliments of several mini bottles of lemon and black cherry vodka that Diane stealthily snuck on the plane. Before we knew it we had arrived in New York City and were greeted by Zach who brought us to one of his favorite local spots for cheap and authentic Indian cuisine. The place was adorable – we haggled for free appetizers while sitting below thousands of red festive lights… you even had to duck to walk below the starry ceiling. The food was of honorable mention… from the veggie paneer all the way to the tandoori chicken and buttery naan. WOW. It seemed my taste buds had transported me all the way back to India.
We washed down the spicy goodness with cheap beers bought at the convenience shop across the street, and capped the night with a few too many light beers brewed at one of my favorite NYC past-times… McSorley’s Old Ale House, [established in 1854]. One bar later and we were agreeably exhausted from the exciting day. Back to the room, we faced an imminent struggle to remove Diane’s tall boots from her swollen feet. That we did, and turned in for some much-needed shuteye.
The crisp morning brought a stroll, (lattes in hand), down the financial district, and then onto SoHo. With nowhere to be, we were thrilled with our “no agenda” day, and turned to window shopping in the lower west side. SoHo is a wonderful, somewhat underrated gem of Manhattan. The adorable shops, quiet side streets, and fashion-forward shopping bring the place to life. We spent all day wondering modestly through the shops, mostly looking, and buying a couple things here or there… To rest our sorry soles, we had Bloody Mary breaks at Gatsby’s pub, and a search for the “world’s best” chocolate cake shop, which turned out to be rather disappointing.
We later fancied up in our pint-sized hotel room for the night ahead… and met Zach downtown at the delicious Gradisca, a favorite of my parents’ for dining in NYC. We sipped the best martinis, pureed with fresh passion fruit, and dined on small plates and meats. Next stop was the trendy Bubble Lounge – an exclusive champagne bar serving delicious handmade cocktails and expensive bubbly. We sat on the swanky couches watching young socialites and rich entrepreneurs, pretending to fit in. A few cocktails later, I was anything but fitting in with my self-made dance party.
The last morning us girls enjoyed coffee outside a small café before visiting Zach’s new apartment and checking out his slightly above average, college-style digs. A long wait was in store at a local Brooklyn diner, after which we bid adieu to Zach and continued our “girls take over Manhattan” film reel. We jumped on the subway headed back across the bridge into Manhattan, where we played the ultimate tourists in visiting Radio City, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square. I played photographer and we scarfed down street hot dogs which were admittedly less than fulfilling. Chicago hotdogs prevail… no contest.
Our last few hours were spent sheltered from the rain in over-priced stores, and finally, the woman’s dream that is Bergdorf Goodman. We explored each floor and laughed at the ridiculous price tags, finally gawking at the gorgeous Christian Louboutin shoe art, which left us wanting. Diane refused, despite our best sister efforts, to purchase the $700 pair of Valentino patent pumps, so off we went to catch our flight… no shopping bags in tow. Nonetheless, it was a trip that was short but oh so sweet. No one telling us where to be or what to do, the city was ours so we did nothing but enjoy. In our books, it was a success. After all, girls just want to have fun…
Since my brother Zach was still a student at NYU and the weather was warming up, Tom and I decided to take advantage and head out for a long weekend in the Big Apple. It was our first flight together (4/8/2010) and Tom, without many flight tickets to his name thus far, stared out the plane window practically the whole time. We arrived to a gorgeous sunny day in Manhattan and watched passerbys as we waited for Zach to greet us in Union Park. The buzz of artsy college hipsters vying for places in the spotlight was ever so present… the city of lights where dreams come true. After a quick tour of my brother’s typical dorm room (a 4 by 4 room with posters taped lazily to the tired walls) we were off on the subway to enjoy the day. We refused to use a cab the entire weekend and succeeded.
Our first stop: Times Square. This was not my first time in NYC – my dad took me for my sixteenth birthday – so a lot of my enjoyment came from seeing Tom experience the metropolis for the first time. Honestly, Times Square was just as overwhelming on my second visit with the over-the-top ads, lights, shops, and mass of tourists. Tom and I took some photos, explored Toys’R’Us complete with a full sized ferris wheel inside, passed the famous Radio City music hall and NBC studios, and made our way to Rockefeller Center. We watched some ice skaters and tried to envision the countless concerts and memorable shows which have taken place at that very spot.
Next it was time to see the skyline from a higher perspective… 104 floors up to be exact. Elevator after elevator transported us up to the top of the Rockefeller building where we were free to roam around outside and take in the insurmountable views. The picture perfect sights of gaping Central Park on the north and the Empire State Building on the south were enough to keep us up there for over an hour taking it all in. Afterwards we made our way back to ground level where we walked 5th Avenue and met Tom’s good buddy Steve Valenta (living and working in NY post-college) for some fun. We reunited at a local pub where Steve’s company was hosting a free (yes, free!) happy hour of delicious bar food and bottomless kegs.
A few hours and few too many beers later, we made it back to the NYU dorm where we met Zach’s roommates, fancied up, and made our way back downtown to Zach’s theatre production dubbed ‘Rehearsal!’… a small yet entertaining compilation of amateur writing and hilarious scenarios. My brother of course played the over-the-top buffoon which he does so well. After the play Tom and I tried out Zach’s motorized scooter and had a few dark beers before meeting back up with Steve and Tom’s other friend Mike Anello who was visiting for the weekend as well. It was a night to remember with people we rarely get to see.
The slight hangover and overcast skies failed to damper our moods as we set out early the next morning to explore more of this enchanting town. We happily left the air mattress on the less-than-sanitized dorm floor, grabbed a traditional street vendor hotdog, and were off to Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. We were both pleased to buy some knockoff illegal goodies by
haggling street sellers while we waited in line for our ferry ride to Ellis Island. As we sailed closer to the monumental Statue of Liberty, I tried to
picture myself as an immigrant years ago who saw the torch-holding lady as their ticket to freedom. The Statue is remarkable from every angle, and absolutely massive from below! (I had never been to see it before, so this was a treat for both of us). We explored the disappointing Ellis Island Immigrant Museum next, and once back on land made our way to the financial district and the unnerving spot where the Twin Towers once stood. This was before the memorials were
constructed and the emptiness brought chills to my spine.
It was time for some R & R so we found the oldest pub in NYC, McSorley’s, on behalf of my parents’ wonderful suggestion. We were so happy to
enjoy this gem of the city! The place has not been vacuumed since its erection
in 1854, so the ambiance is that of faded newspaper clippings covering the
walls, spider webs and dust hanging from the age-old light fixtures, and tiny
mugs of beer served four at a time which come in just two options: light or
dark. Yum! We ended up staying longer than planned as we wet our whistles on
tiny mug after mug of light brew, bringing us back in time.
There was no time to freshen up for our romantic night on the
town so we headed straight for Chinatown and then made our way to our destination: Little Italy. Benvenuto!
Ciao Bella! We were yelled at in Italian from all sides of the street – the chefs competing for us to enter their restaurant and try their homemade pastas. The smell of tomato sauce and fresh garlic envelopes the quaint cobblestone
street decorated in Italian lights hanging overhead. It was as perfect as I’d imagined…which made choosing a place to open our wallets quite the challenge.
Though we were starving, we made our way up and down the entirety of the street to experience the little pleasures and finally chose ‘Pellegrino’s’ where we enjoyed mouth-watering homemade pastas and a bottle of red wine amongst fellow patrons of New York. It is still one of our favorite dates we’ve had.
A quick change at Zach’s dorm and we were hauling our bags to Steve’s chic and impressive apartment where we were met with a pregame party of over 30 guests. Steve and his gang brought us to their favorite New York hotspot – home to flat screens lining the bar which played 80’s music videos the whole night.
A drunken dance party of course ensued.
Rise and shine for our last day in NYC – the city that literally never sleeps! Steve joined Tom and I on a walk through SoHo where I taught them how to haggle for stolen merchandise and cheap knockoff watches and sunglasses. We followed with brunch in Madison Square Park, saw the famous flatiron building, and took a brief pit stop in the Museum of Sex where Tom and I were
sporadically interviewed by the Dr. Oz show. Yes, we made it on the show; no, the dirty stuff did not. Phew.
A relaxing and picturesque afternoon in Central Park was to follow. Tom and I climbed around like kids, duplicated a photo my parents took when they were dating, and laid on the grass among blooming Spring trees. Zach
met us with some grade-A grass which led me to puke in the middle of the day in Central Park. Guess I can cross that off my bucket list. Our threesome enjoyed
the sunset before Tom and I parted for Times Square again where we spontaneously bought cheap tickets to a live stand-up comedy show. We later changed at Steve’s apartment and tried to make it out before basically falling asleep at the bar. It is safe to say we packed it all in… We left the next morning with “New York, New York” playing in our heads.