New York is a place that has left an indelible mark on me. There is something special about that city. Maybe it’s because it seems so familiar, we grew up with it imprinted on our imaginations. My wife and I have been several times, but on a recent visit, we had to consider our teenage daughters, who were accompanying us.
I've annoyingly become a bit smug about the city and decided to stay in Brooklyn, where we could savour the vista and blend in with the hipsters of Williamsburg for the first couple of days. We all discussed at great length what we would eat, long before we arrived. Everything was split into the most important food groups – burgers, pizza, fried chicken, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, sushi, pancakes, waffles and doughnuts.
TikTok was their main reference point. Names of unheard of restaurants were scattered about like confetti. In truth, I didn’t like losing control of the eating itinerary. What the hell, I thought to myself! What if they’re rubbish? But it was their holiday, so I was going to keep schtum and play ball.
One full day in Brooklyn was enough though. It was a bit scruffy and post-apocalyptic. It rained as we caught the ferry to gentrified Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). We gratefully ducked into the Time Out indoor market, a collection of carefully chosen food vendors with public areas for eating. It’s Nirvana for the indecisive. You get whatever food group you fancy, eat up and people watch. Later that day, we ate in Lilia and it was cool, with heavenly pasta.
Over the next few days, I toned down my natural inclination to go to happening restaurants. Thanks to my friend Tim Magee, we discovered Hector's, the world's most perfect diner, which was right beside our hotel in the Meatpacking district. Burly men passed by the window with dead pigs curled over their shoulders. Horrified, the girls nudged their pancakes and bacon. I told them this area wasn't always full of Tesla showrooms and designer stores. A few meatpacking businesses still remained in one stalwart corner. This area has a gritty past, and New York more than any other city is constantly regenerating.
We walked the Highline and went up the Edge in Hudson Yards, where we took in the magnificence of the city. I hadn’t been to Times Square in years, too many tourists. However, over the four days we were in town, I found myself there twice. I enjoyed the first visit. It was dark and the flashing monolithic signs consumed us, necks craned to the neon. The capital of consumerism was ready to gobble us up.
We queued in vain for Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Tantalisingly we could see them being glazed before our eyes, but the line wasn’t moving. An M&M superstore beckoned from across the street. Patient parents with small children stood in more lines for their turn. I watched my excited girls become small again and felt a pang.
We found ourselves in Times Square again the next morning for a tour bus outing. The city is back with a bang, but yet we could see the ghosts of businesses past; not all have made it through.
We crawled downtown through the traffic. As we passed NYU, one of the daughters wondered if any Kardashians went to college there. That worried me. We were told we had to get off near Ground Zero as a movie was being shot. We hopped off and thought of food once again, but first we had to visit the site of the Twin Towers. It silenced us and quelled our appetites.
We turned towards Canal Street in the sun. Cumulus clouds of dope hung in the air as we walked. It turns out New York has legalised recreational marijuana, and boy do they embrace it. I had gotten munchies by proxy. We found Wo Hop, a charmingly raffish gem of an old Chinese restaurant in a basement on Mott Street, deep in the heart of Chinatown. Food always cheers us up and soothes any potential familial acrimony.
The afternoon was earmarked for shopping, so we agreed to separate. The eldest is a good shopper, like her mother. To them it's like a military campaign. My youngest is more chilled. In time she'll probably be sent to keep an eye on me. I met a friend who lives in the city and we shopped for beer in some of New York's edgier bars. Later, the family reunited in Arturo's on Houston for coal fired pizzas.
Despite having tickets, a rather massive line at the Met Museum almost put me off. But I'm glad it didn't. It was exceptional. I saw some Vermeers and the girls saw the dress that Taylor Swift wore to the Grammys; culture boxes ticked.
The daughters proved quite resourceful. We separated a couple of times and they always found us. One mis-communication saw us in a cab to go for an unplanned lunch. We had had enough of the clamour of Fifth Avenue for one day, but they wouldn’t leave, consumed with shopping fever. Outraged at being abandoned, they said they’d follow us. Later, they hopped out of a cab, unfazed and, like the Sex in the City girls, laden with bags.
I’m not sure whether we will ever be back in New York as a family. Pretty soon they probably won’t want to come on holidays with us. So I’m glad we did this trip, it was special. Sometimes you have to store a memory, keep it warm and nurture it. In years to come, hopefully it will be a highlight of their young lives. We tried our best to help them fall in love with New York, and I hope they did.