Sunday, January 27, 2013

NYC - Day 1

Alrighty, I'm sitting here cleaning and thinking how much better last weekend was than this weekend.  What better way to relive than to blog and share with you?

Our flight from O'Hare left around 10am, which was nice that we didn't have to get up at the crack of dawn.  We had decided to drive to the airport and park at one of the local hotels using  It worked out perfectly and within ten minutes of getting to the hotel, we were on a hotel shuttle on our way to ORD.

The flight landed as scheduled in Newark (EWR).  Wanting to save some money, we decided to take public transit into Manhattan (our other options were a cab, which we guesstimated would be $50+, or Amtrak, which was $44 EACH (goodness) for a one-way 30 minute ride).  We followed the signs to AirTrain (which is the free airport tram system).  Before we boarded the AirTrain, we purchased our NJ Transit tickets ($12.50 each) to get us to Penn Station in Manhattan. (FYI, the kiosk we visited took both cash and credit card.

The AirTrain took us to the NJ Transit EWR Station, where we swiped our tickets and waited for our train. From deboarding the plane to getting to Penn Station, the entire process took about an hour.  Once we were at Penn, we decided to walk the mile to our hotel since we each only had a carry-on and it was nice out.

We stayed at Hotel Cassa in Times Square Area (45th Street and 6th avenue).  When we'd priced out the trip, a friend recommended looking on Travelzoo for hotel specials.  I came across Hotel Cassa at $129/night and immediately liked the location. Having stayed at the Marriott Marquis my two previous trips, I was familiar with staying near Times Square. After checking out Tripadvisor and seeing the hotel had 4 stars and was ranked in the top 100 of 400+ hotels, we booked it.  The final rate after taxes/fees came out to $151 per night. Dang those stupid fees!

Our room was on the 23rd floor (of 44) and faced the south.  We didn't have much of a view, just other buildings.  The room itself was TINY; pretty much just a bed (we think it was a full), one night stand, wardrobe, chair, and TV.  However, it was very very clean and modern.  The bathroom (I forgot to take a picture) was pristine white with a glass door shower (and a wonderful shower head).  The bed was so comfortable.  For the price and location, we would definitely recommend staying here!

After dropping off our bags and a quick freshen up, we were off to explore.    We walked to Times Square to check it out. Since Ben works in advertising and his first job in the field dealt with putting up billboards, he was pretty amazing by the endless amounts of every changing advertisements.

By this time it was around 2:30pm and we were getting hungry. What better way to start a trip in NYC than with a quick slice of pizza? We walked up 7th avenue when we came across a Ray's Pizza at 53rd st.  Ray's Pizza (the original location), had been on Ben's list of places to visit, except that when I researched, I found that the original location had closed several years prior. Now there are just several Ray's Pizzas, most of which claim to be the first and are not.  At any rate, our $13 was well spent on twice slices, an order of garlic knots and a water. Not the best pizza, but still enjoyable none the less.

Following our quick bite (and filling up my month of January Starbucks mug, that was so convenient on this trip!), we walked to Central Park.It was a gorgeous 50 degree F day and nothing felt more right than a stroll in Central Park with my main-squeeze :O)

We walked a decent amount of the park, much more than I'd done on previous trips (while nannying we limited our park time to the zoo, ice skating, and playground; all of which I will admit I enjoy as an adult). We made sure to stop at John Lennon's Strawberry Fields.

We continued out walk until we reached the south end of the Reservoir, which is humongous! 
At this point, the sun was starting to go down and we were both getting a bit worn out.  What better way to cheer Ben up than with beer? Thank God for a smart phone.  Really, I don't know what we would have done without one.  I googled and found a place called City Swiggers on the Upper East Side nearby that we decided to try out.

More or less, it is a beer store with tons of great and exotic craft beer bottles you can purchase.  There's also a bar and a few tables so that you can enjoy whatever is on tap.  Nowadays, it seems inevitable that when we go out to a new place and they have beer flights, we will order them. I was surprised that my favorite pour was Harpon's Chocolate Stout.
After a round, we decided to go back to the hotel (via the subway), to grab our coats and continue on our way, but first, we looked around Grand Central Station.  It's so beautiful, it's majestic.

We weren't quite ready to eat yet, so we decided to go for a beer at Heartland Brewery, which is a restaurant and microbrew with a few locations in Manhattan.  We visited the 43rd st location.  It was quite the happening place when we walked in, but luckily we were able to snag a bar table within a matter of minutes of our arrival.  The beer was okay (I had the IPA and Ben got a stout the first round), but the atmosphere was lively; mostly tourists.
From here, we ventured a block over to our next bar, the Long Room, on 44th. We sat at the bar and were greeted with a lovely Irish accented bartender, turn's out, it's an Irish pub, which we felt right at home at after our recent trip!  We only got beer here, but I do want to share that Ben went back here one night for dinner at got the fish and chips for $15.  He said they were fantastic!
At this point, we were ready to eat and not wanting to wait, so where else to go but Shake Shack?!  It's a fast-food type burger joint with only the most amazing cheesy fries one could imagine.  The bacon cheeseburger was quite tasty too.  Brooklyn Brewing also brewed a special beer for them, so of course we had to try that too:
After that, it was time to put a pause on the drinking and enjoy a view of the city at Top of the Rock (which is supposed to be much better than the top of the Empire State Building).  It was about 10pm at this time (on a Saturday night) and there was no line (something I had been worried about originally.  I had contemplated prebuying tickets online, but we'd decided against it since we weren't sure we'd want to go).  It was freezing cold, but so worth it ($25 each). 

Let me give you a hint, there are a few viewing decks, but it's really worth it just to go straight to the top and not spend time on the others.  Pictures can't describe how pretty it is to look out on NYC the first night you're there with a man you've wanted to go there forever it.  It was perfect.
Once we were fairly frozen, we headed back down to ground level to check out the ice skating rink.  Unfortunately that was one thing I couldn't convince Ben to do.
Rather, he convinced me for one more drink before bed, so we trekked back near Shake Shack to go to Beer Authority on 40th st and 8th ave, which once again has a decent craft beer list.  They also had live music which was pretty good.

After that, it was time to call it a night, except, ever since my first time, I can't call it a night in NYC without a stop at Magnolia Bakery for a cupcake. Thus, we stopped in the Ave of Americas location (6th ave and 49th st). The first time I went to NY, I was nannying with my room-mate and we took a taxi Bleecker St Magnolia Bakery 3 of the 5 nights we were there. Ave of the America's location wasn't open yet).

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