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Saturday, September 6, 2014

At Home in New York

A Guest Blog by Page Leggett

Feeling (surprisingly) at home in New York
(And desperately seeking a foot rub)

My friend, Lynsley, and I didn’t grow up together, go to the same college (we weren’t even in college in the same decade!) or work together. We met when I was on my way to meet someone else. I was in a new job and got lost as I wandered, directionless, in a lonely maze of cubicles. She pointed me to the right place.

She also told me about the date she had the night before. (It hadn’t gone well, but she was already cheerfully thinking about an upcoming date with a different guy.) I told her I was new at our company, and she said we should stay in touch.

This would not be the last time I would need directions from Lynsley. I was lost for much of the next five years, and she patiently, lovingly and tirelessly helped set me on a new path.

She and her sister, Leigh Ann, are sort of known for offering suggestions, whether you’ve asked for them or not. But I’ve been taking their advice for years. They really do know best.

Lynsley and Leigh Ann are as generous of spirit as they are with their advice. Lynsley’s brave choice to leave her corporate job and spend time traveling has kept her on the road, in the air and away from her Hell’s Kitchen apartment. So, she’s been offering it to friends. For free.

I was the beneficiary of her largesse over Labor Day weekend, which is also Lynsley’s and my birthday weekend. She offered – no, encouraged – me to stay in her apartment for a couple of weeks. Instead, I crammed two weeks’ worth of adventures into three-and-a-half days.

Armed with pages of notes, well wishes from the doormen she had alerted to my visit – and shoes that were purported to be comfortable – I took on the formidable city.

Food for thought
For me, food is a central part of any trip. I plan the rest of my schedule around meals. Well-informed sources had recommended Mario Batali’s upscale seafood place, Esca; Kellari Taverna, a lovely Greek resto in the theater district; Marseille, a bustling French bistro in Hell’s Kitchen; the library – or one of the dining rooms – at the chic NoMad Hotel (known for its craft cocktails) and the tiny, hip Lower East Side spot, Acme. I didn’t make reservations; I was solo and didn’t figure I needed to reserve a table for one. Being one traveler, it’s easy to get at least a seat at the bar.

Lynsley had given me, in eight pages of notes, the advice to wander her neighborhood and walk in any place that looked appealing. On my first night in town, I strolled through Hell’s Kitchen as I tried to get my bearings. I also let it sink in that I was a New Yorker for the next few days. (A hybrid of a tourist and resident, but still.)

It was getting dark, and I was getting hungry. Il Forno looked warm and welcoming, and I could’ve sworn it was on someone’s list of recommendations. It wasn’t, but the simple roasted chicken and goat cheese orzo were just about perfect. And my waiter, who told me it was his first night and he was in training, was charming.

My San Francisco friends, Danny and Daniel, were in New York for a wedding over Labor Day, and we met for dinner between plays on Saturday. Like Lynsley, they believe that, in New York, you can just start walking and stumble upon a restaurant that looks interesting – and it will probably be incredible. We loved the dark mystery of Room Service Thai and walked in. One sip of my ginger-basil mojito convinced me our random choice had been wise. Their pumpkin chicken curry should be on every Thai menu.
I didn’t have a friend recommend Estela, but I did see – just days in advance of my trip! – that Bon Appetit named it one of the best new restos of 2014. The pleasant memory of the avocado, pancetta and egg on Danish pastry still lingers.

Retail therapy and aromatherapy
I had made a special trip to NoLiTa (by cab – it was too far for my tired feet to take me) for Estela. (I told you my itineraries revolve around food.) But I didn’t want brunch to be all I did in that part of town. My waitress pointed me in the direction of Elizabeth St., where I found one darling boutique after another. And they weren’t all outrageously expensive. Unlike Barney’s, where I had gone two days prior to get my brows done by the gentle master himself, Robert Sweet William. Seriously. He’s an artist.

One accessories store (which I may have walked in just to enjoy the AC) had a small bottle of the most serene fragrance. I loved it all the more because of its name: Aromatic Irritability Treatment. So much better than “perfume” or “cologne.”

When the shopkeeper told me Tata Harper is a wonderful woman who makes her all-natural elixirs on her Vermont farm, I was hooked. Too bad she had just sold her last vial of irritability serum. Now, I was on my way to being irritable. But the shopkeeper said, “You can just take the sample.” I told her I felt guilty about taking it – it was still three-fourths full – so she let me pay her (much discounted) cost.
People who say New Yorkers are rude – and the retailers snooty – may not have spent any actual time in the New York I’ve gotten to know since taking up temporary residence. These New Yorkers – the doormen who remember your name, the waiters who treat you well even though you’re by yourself, the young waiters-in-training, the retailers – started to feel like my people.

The play’s the thing
Besides food, this trip was about theater. I saw as many plays as I could cram into my schedule. Here Lies Loves, the David Byrne-authored “poperatta” based on the life of Imelda Marcos (and set in a discotheque where the audience becomes part of the action) was an unforgettable night of theater and dance. I don’t mean I just watched the performers dance; I danced. The entire audience does.
The other play I saw that day – It’s Only A Play – was only so-so. But it was a thrill to see Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, F. Murray Abraham and Rupert Grint on the same stage. The sold-out house applauded wildly as each actor made his entrance. We even applauded the set when the curtain went up. New Yorkers are allegedly jaded – and maybe this crowd was made up of nothing but tourists – but we were enthusiastically overcome by star power.

I’d recommend the electric Sex with Strangers, too, but I saw the second-to-last performance of the David Schwimmer-directed play. There was plenty of sex, as the title suggests, but the real drama comes from the storyline about dating (and privacy) in the age of social media.

The twenty-something woman sitting beside me told me she had seen the play eight times and would be seeing it again the day it closed. She told me she’s a magnet for celebrities (so am I!) and we both gushed about seeing Sally Field in the audience of Sex with Strangers. I bumped into her again on the street two days later. New York can feel like a small town, I discovered.

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical was, to quote one of her songs, “some kind of wonderful.” The Tony-winning star was out of town over Labor Day, but I can’t imagine she’s better than Rebecca LaChance, who played the role in her stead.

I’ve been back home for three days, and my feet still hurt. (Those shoes were comfortable – up to a point.) I walked, and I walked and then I walked some more. I walked the High Line. I walked all over Broadway. I walked down Fifth Avenue and became one with the crowd in Times Square.

I walked as if I owned the city. And thanks to my generous friend, I felt – for a time – like I did.  

Page Leggett is a freelance writer who lives in Charlotte. Or, as she puts it on LinkedIn -- she's a teller of tales, shaper of messages, and righter of grammatical wrongs. 


TLF said...

Wonderful article, Page! Heading to NYC soon and hope I can travel your trail a little bit-especially the epicurean parts...

Shane said...

Just saw this...lurve!