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Travel Not Tour - by Liv Hambrett

Uptown Girls

April 6th 2008 00:35
When our cab pulled up in front of number 850 West End Ave, Upper West Side, New York City, we all sat for a little while, silent with disbelief. It was reminiscent of a similar silence, one that occurred exactly six days prior as we surveyed the ghetto over which Irwin presided. I prodded Dee and told her to go in and double check this was actually our hostel, as the umbrella stretching out over the wide, tree lined path, with '850 West End Ave' scrawled elegantly along the side painted a picture far too pretty for our hostel expectations. Not to worry, however, the inside of it was the very image of the lowest of hostel expectations ... our room was so small we nearly ran out of oxygen on several occasions and there were moments when we even missed Irwin's and our indoor rockery.

This blog is going to be, primarily, about food. This is because, somewhere along the way, this trip became less about seeing the world and more about eating it. We may have missed a few major monuments along the way, but give me a city and I will give you the best place to get a hamburger, a bagel, a coffee, a short stack or a sangria. Surely that is all there is to life.

Our move to the Upper West Side brought with it a total change of lifestyle. Our park of choice was now Central Park, the Manhattanites backyard; we were privy to the best bagels in the city (Lenny's Bagels, as rated by the influential Zagat - any eatery with Zagat's seal of approval has unofficially made it in a city where the average lifespan of new restaurants is 6 months) going 'downtown' meant only as far as midcity and we began hooting smugly at jokes aimed at Upper East Siders. Upper West Siders are so much more broad minded and diverse. We became accustomed to seeing more nannies than mothers, complained if we had to take the bus all the way down to 52nd and ate more pizza and drank more Starbucks than is actually humanly possible ... actually, it was at a particular Starbucks that I had a rather nasty experience that involved me erroneously picking up an old cup, thinking it was mine, and taking a liberal sip of someone else's cold, discarded cinnammon latte. Satie had also taken the liberty of using this cup moments earlier as a disposal recepticle for her green tea bag. Yes I gagged. Very publicly.

We did do the touristy things, however, including Musuem Mile, home to some of the best musuem's in the world, ground zero, 5th ave (repeatedly) and a fantastic movie tour. And it was on this movie tour that we learnt the best method of stalking actors. Whenever you see a fluro piece of paper, taped to a parking meter, it means that a shoot of some sort will be taking place soon. The piece of paper tells you what is shooting - a film, television series or commercial - who is directing it and the main stars. Needless to say there was great excitement amongst the three of us when we discovered Revolution Road, starring Kate Winslet and Leo in their first pairing since Titanic, was being shot a block back from our hostel. We also saw Hairspray on broadway, which was fantastic - the movie is coming out soon with John Travolta and Michelle Pfieffer, everyone keep your eyes peeled - and the third Pirates installment and perhaps one of the funniest movies I have seen in a long time, Knocked Up. And so entertainment, as well as food, was a strong theme for the three of us.

Seeing as New York City is riddled with Irish Pubs, it only made sense that our favourite bar was one and our fondest, most alcohol sodden memories, take place in 'The Parlour' ... apart from a particularly lovely evening spent in a bar on the roof of a building that is in the middle of Times Square. However one cannot maintain a $14 glass of wine habit every night. Thus it is far better to befriend the bartenders of a lowkey Irish pub, who love your accents and your ability to push on through whatever concoction they might want to try out on you. Us Australians don't have strong stomachs for nothing.

It was at The Parlour, that Satie experienced her finest hour thus far. I need not go into detail, Lord knows we have rehashed it amongst ourselves (and for captive audiences across the globe since it happened) enough, however I will raise the curtain of silence enough to give a very brief rundown of events. After a delicious Italian meal at Regional ... my massive pasta dish consisted of 8 pieces of ravioli (someone in the kitchen must have overheard people complaining about American meal sizes and decided to singlehandedly rectify the situation) we walked down to the Parlour and unwittingly (read: completely on purpose because the rest of the bar averaged an age of 65) crashed a bachelor's party. An hour later we were drinking partly on their tab, partly on the bartender's generosity. We were slapping the back of the groom to be, downing shots and slapping the bar with our left hands and teaching our bedazzled audience the words to everyone's favourite birthday drinking song. Of course, it was only manners to demonstrate how the song worked, and so 'here's to Liv/Dee/Satie, she's true blue' was probably sung more than anything else. I paired up for a pool game with a salsa teacher who was delighted I was Australian, as South Australian red wine has been his drink of choice since an illicit affair with an Australian woman ten years ago. In between losing the game for him, he took me for spirited spins around the pool table.

Satie teamed up with the Rudest Man Alive ... and to say that in New York is a big rap. Everyone is rude in New York until you smile at them, then they fall over and ask where you're from. This man was from Brooklyn, 60 years old and with the face of a boot. Every five minutes or so, regardless of who was talking or what they were saying, or even if they were talking to him, he would bark 'STOP. Are you done?' Perhaps this is what pushed Satie over the edge. Perhaps this is what forced her to reach for that extra shot, willingly accept that extra Sydney Sunrise (the cocktail the bartender made and allowed us to name) ... whatever the reason, by the time we left The Parlour, for the Firehouse, Satie was well and truly on the path of no return. An hour later would see her wielding darts at The Dive Bar (actual name) throwing them into the walls and, at one point, using it as a microphone to sing a song to a group of people who clearly had their backs to her. It was only at Dee and my (pleading) insistence, that we departed The Dive Bar and finally returned home. Destruction and havoc were subsequently wreaked and it suffice to say, at this point, that the facilities of 850 West End Ave will never be the same. Nor will Satie's osophegus.

Of course, such an evening gives one an excellent excuse to go looking for a huge breakfast the next morning and it is here that I am going to give The Metro Diner my own personal Zagat rating ... burgers the size of your head, plus a mountain of fries, salad, and a pickle. Satie watched on in pale faced horror as Dee and I hoovered - every so often she departed when it all got too much.

Our final days flew past - we ran through rainstorms at 11pm at night to alleviate cabin fever, went looking for Shopsin's in The Village (the best breakfast place ever and frequented by Drew Barrymore) only to find it had gone - we were thus forced to enjoy a sandwich at The Grey Dog, another wonderful eatery we can highly reccommend - we ate cupcakes at the most talked about bakery, Magnolia (as loved by SJP and a plethora of other celebs) and on our second last day we smuggled a friend and her massive suitcase into our hostel room at 2am in the morning. Basement doors weren't made for nothing, and by that point we were so bitter about our shoebox room we were just looking for a way to get even with the hostel (leaving a fermenting tub of pesto pasta in the fridge for 10 days wasn't enough). And so Amber spent our last two nights with us in the most intimate hostel room on the Upper West Side.

We saw out New York in style, with a karaoke evening back at our favourite pub. Although Satie had vowed not to drink ever again, the lure of The Parlour proved too strong and we fell prey to rounds of white wine as provided by the bar manager as a means of keeping us there for karaoke. We performed a stunning rendition of En Vogue's 'Don't Let Go', half of it with the microphone fortuitously switched off, and I am sure the bartender wondered why the hell he wasted so much white wine on enticing us to stay.

Our singing, however, was not a patch on the vocals of the cab driver who took us to JFK the next morning. As we whizzed through Morningside Heights, I turned to Dee and quietly asked her if the crescendoing vocals were the cab driver or the radio. By the time we were driving past Harlem, it was clear it was the former, and he did not stop, nor lose volume, pace or tone until he had pulled our suitcases from the trunk and set them down on the pavement outside Lufthansa Airways.

And so we bade farewell to New York City, leaving behind a trail of bewildered New Yorkians who still don't quite get why we smile so much.

Best Bagels; Lenny's Bagels, Upper West Side
Best Breakfast; George's Restaurant, Rector Ave, Financial District
Best Value for Money; Metro Diner, Upper West Side
Best Sangria; a tie between Regional on the Upper West Side and Le Petit Cafe in Soho
Best Cupcakes; Magnolia Bakery, Greenwich Village. The kitchen is so small they only bake enough for each customer to buy a dozen cupcakes each maximum. To the SATC fans out there, it is Magnola cupcakes Carrie and Miranda are eating when Carrie tells Miranda she has a crush on Aiden
Best Sandwiches; The Grey Dog, Greenwich Village - you can even bring your dog. It's so hygenic.
Best Way To See The City; Dream Bar, Times Square, get there as the sun is setting
Best Irish Pub; The Parlour (clearly)
Best Starbucks; one of the thousands on 5th ave
Best Way To While Away a Lazy Day; A breakfast bagel, The Met, then Central Park.
Best Hotdogs; definitely a street vendor
Best Place to Find Eccentrics; on the bus
Best Place to Find Vagrant Artists Who Will do Your Portrait; on the Staten Island Ferry


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