New York: A 36-hour travel guide to the Big Apple, through the eyes of a sitcom buff
What would a pop culture buff do when in New York for 36 hours? Visit these sites made iconic in films and sitcoms like F.R.I.E.N.D.S and Gossip GIrl, of course!
F.R.I.E.N.D.S., Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother, Different Strokes, Castle, Gossip Girl, Marvel’s Daredevil, Sex and the City, Mad Men, decades of The Daily Show, The Tonight Show, and Saturday Night Live. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Sabrina, West Side Story, King Kong, You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, The Devil Wears Prada, almost every Woody Allen movie: the list is endless, and a bit scary when you think about it, so I’ll stop here.
I’ll be honest though, for my first trip to New York in the summer of 2016, my ideas about the city were largely based on the sitcoms and movies I’d grown up watching, and NY played host to most of them.
We’re a generation that has been fed so much Americana growing up that we’ve started to believe we’re living it. I’m sure I’m not the only one: who didn’t want to live with close friends in a NY apartment as big and spacious and colourful as Monica and Rachel’s? Or spend afternoons on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET) with fellow wealthy trust-fund kids from prestigious prep schools, eating sushi for lunch and discussing high-school politics like Blair and Serena?
So many of us book lovers wanted to grow up to own a quaint little “Shop Around the Corner” in NY like Meg Ryan’s character in You’ve Got Mail, or climb up the high-fashion editorial ladder with a NY-based magazine like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada (a fashion makeover, in the process, doesn’t hurt!). It’s not like I wore a little black dress and stood outside Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue drinking my coffee and eating my croissant, but Holly Golightly’s morning routine and a hundred other quintessentially NY-moments from the big and small screens were definitely running through my mind.
And the city doesn’t let you forget it either: NY reminds you, at every brownstone-lined street and boutique store-front, that it IS the entertainment mecca. It practically screams at you over its dazzling nightlights and enviable skyline: “Welcome to NY, the sitcom and movie lover’s paradise!”
I was heading to NY after a busy work trip to California, so after a week of Mountain View’s concrete-office-block-jungle, Palo Alto’s covetable multi-million dollar homes with manicured lawns, San Francisco’s slightly confusing, slightly unnerving decrepit-urban-artistic revival, and after finally understanding what Mark Twain meant when he said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco”, I was looking forward to the warm NY weather more than anything.
And boy, did it not disappoint! We were staying right in the center of Manhattan (or Midtown, as they’d call it), at The Renwick Hotel, which is an art-inspired hotel (complete with a writing pad on the table in our room inscribed with Hemingway's famous quote, “Write drunk, edit sober” and the image of a glass-bottom stain) on East 40th street and walking distance from the Grand Central Station, Bryant Park, and even the Empire State Building and Times Square.
Four days in NY feel so miserably insufficient for everything you want to do: catch a show at Broadway, dinner at Nobu, eat all the awesome food (the best street-side lamb/chicken on rice from the famous Halal Guys and the cream cheese and smoked salmon bagels at Russ & Daughters), a walk through Central Park and The High Line, going up the Empire State Building, exploring everything from the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum to the jazz clubs in Harlem, visiting the famous NY TV and movie sites, all the while trying to take in the undocumented sights and sounds of NY. And this was just in Manhattan!
The good thing about being a TV and movie fan visiting Manhattan though, is that you can go on a tour for a specific show/movie (the Gossip Girl site tour, the Sex and the City hotspots tour, or the nattily combined When Harry Met Seinfeld tour!) or on one of the tours that show you locations from a bunch of TV shows and movies.
Central Park. Photo courtesy Petr Broza/Freeimages
We decided to do things a bit differently: the huge advantage of staying in Midtown was that most of these spots were a half a day’s worth of walking distance from our hotel. Which, given the weather, was perfect!
On our third day in NY, after a filling breakfast consisting of leftover pizza from Previti Pizza on 41st street (hey, when in NY...) and fortified with water bottles and thick chocolate shakes, we set out on foot exploring Times Square (countless popular and iconic scenes, including the flashmob dance sequence from Friends with Benefits, were filmed on the famous steps here), the Flatiron district and Washington Square Park (you can spot the famous Comedy Cellar there, home to the stand-up comedy of Louie CK’s titular character from Louie), Greenwich Village (hello F.R.I.E.N.D.S!), Tribeca (the FDNY Hook & Ladder 8 is right here, very sought-after for a photo-op after being used as the Firehouse in Ghostbusters), the High Line (the greenery on the elevated High Line, in the middle of a sprawling mega-city like NY, is so overwhelmingly charming that you forget for a moment its importance in popular culture and how often it’s depicted as the background on shows like Girls).
This route was great because it looped back tidily to our starting point, so after a quick lunch (at the Shake Shack on 8th Avenue), we were back at Times Square for the second-half of our TV shows and movies tour. This time, however, we got on one of the Hop-on-Hop-off buses that were going Uptown.
Ah, Uptown NY. The Upper East Side. I’m pretty certain I uttered the words, “You know you love me. XOXO. Gossip Girl” at least 17 times when our bus passed through here (the day before, walking through Bryant Park, which is the site for the NY fashion week elicited a different dialogue from me: “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out... Auf wiedersehen," Heidi Klum’s classic Project Runway line).
Being on the upper deck of the bus, the sun shining, listening to the baritone voice of our guide (a true-blue New Yorker, this old black guy named Gilbert, or “Ji-bare” as he liked to pronounce it), you could be forgiven for believing you were in a movie or on a TV show yourself. As we looked at some of the most expensive real estate in the world, Gilbert pointed out the famous residences of even more famous celebrities as he rattled off their names: Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, Bono, Sting, Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Lady Gaga etc.
We saw the famous MET steps that Blair and Serena spend hours on, in Gossip Girl. As we circled around Central Park south, there was The Plaza Hotel (Kevin’s home for a few days in Home Alone 2: Lost in NY and possibly every movie bride’s dream wedding venue — remember Bride Wars?). The Indian flag flies high at the entrance to The Plaza (since it’s still not sold off by the Sahara Group), which is a bit odd. In front, is the Pulitzer fountain, (side note: the creators of F.R.I.E.N.D.S wanted us to believe this was where they shot the opening theme, but it was actually filmed at a studio in California). The smell of horse dung (yes!) is quite jarring in that setting, but this is where Central Park’s famous horse-drawn carriage rides start from (the rides, and the smell, featured heavily in Seinfeld’s season 7 episode 11 where George, in a desperate attempt to replace the rye bread at Susan’s parents’ home, gifts them a horse-drawn carriage ride. Hilarity and chaos, of course, ensue!).
No visit to NY is complete without going up the Empire State Building (King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle, An Affair to Remember, The Mindy Project — the list is endless). I work at LinkedIn, and their NY office is in the ESB, so by virtue of the company’s many perks, five guests and I got to use the VIP pass to go up to the observatories on both the 86th and 102nd floors. Huzzah!
Later that night, we did just that, using the VIP (or “Executive”) pass to cut through over 3-hours worth of waiting in line to get to the top (many red velvet ropes were opened for us and many quizzical faces were made by onlookers wondering who these very important persons were!). After a day-and-a-half spent following the footsteps of the rich and famous, this was the perfect end to our short-lived “celebrity” lifestyles. By day’s end, I was ready for my cigar lounge, backstage VIP passes to concerts, and celebrity discounts at ultra-rich stores. I could even take on the paparazzi!
It was a quintessentially “New York experience”. In hindsight, I can honestly say, “Nothing in my life has lived up to its promise as much New York did!”
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