How the Grammercy Tavern redeemed NYC: Springtime in New York City, pt. 2.

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I have been thinking a lot about my New York minutes since I have returned home to the place that I call The City, with no other descriptors required. Part of this is because visiting NYC has made me see SF in a different (even more flattering, truth be told) light and also because my hostess, R, will be heading west to do her own comparison in less than a week. I keep looking for a nicer way to say that i think NYC is completely overrated, because that seems so generic and uninspired as criticism goes. But on the other hand, I doubt any New Yorker would give two shits about how their criticisms appear to anyone else, so, so be it.

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If I were to attempt to synthesize my NYC experiences, I would have categories like food, interpersonal interactions, reflections… rather standard travel blog stuff. In a week I did do a lot, and ate a lot. And the whole time I was there I felt like I was looking. Looking for something, someone… I am not sure. Lots of folks had told me how I would see a lot of similarities to The City while I was in NYC. I did not. Brooklyn is so NOT like the Mission. I had been told that Williamsburg is so hip-hip-hipster. I just though it was odd. (More on that to come…) Frankly, I thought the East Village was more like the Mish than anywhere else I visited, and it was like my neighborhood in the way that makes me want to go to another neighborhood. Brooklyn Heights was nice – very Noe Valley. But cold. The parts of NYC that I like the best were the ones that seemed unlike any other place – quintessentially “New York” as people might say. And I suppose that is the point of going to New York City. I mean, the human habit of comparison, while helpful for building context certainly seems to do very little to enhance experience.

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I loved the Upper East Side. Why? Mostly because the people I interacted with there were the nicest ones I ran into anywhere. But on telling New Yorkers this they seemed shocked so I guess I just got lucky. I thought Columbia was beautiful and it is totally unsurprising that I would find the academic acropolis inspiring and comfortable. I found Central Park to be depressing, but that could be seasonal – I know no other completely deciduous park and so things were very sparse and brown. The daffodils were coming up though and I related to their longing for nicer weather on a visceral level. I loved the mythology of New York that I could conjure up in my mind… but then things would happen that would bring me right back down to reality, and I would find myself saying, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

Fortunately I was staying with a Brit, and like New Yorkers, the British have no problem being clear about how things should be done: all things, all the time. Unlike New Yorkers, the Brits can be rude in such a posh way, people seem to not realize what is happening until it is all over and there is nothing to be done about it. THat definitely helped in dealing with some outrageously hideous service in a city that is supposed to be so… I don’t know, serviceable I guess. Or maybe it is not. I am not sure. Either way, the examples that come to mind are R’s battle over the misto and the ridiculousness at Buvette. I will start with the story of the coffee, as is leads into nicely to trying to have a coffee at the aforementioned restaurant.

R likes her coffee strong. And ridiculously hot. As such, she feels that regular coffee (drip or french press I assume) is too weak, and so her chosen drink is an Americano. [Do not get her started on the notion of iced coffee, because she cannot even begin to conceive of why such a thing would ever exist. Of course she thinks the same of iced tea, “That is just cold tea. Why would anyone want cold tea?”] However, R does require a milk infusion in her Americano but, as previously mentioned, she likes her drinks to be scalding hot, so using cold milk in her Americano is not okay. Therefore, R orders her coffee as follows: “Could I please have an Americano with steamed milk?” This seems simple.

It is not.

“So you want a misto?”
“I want an Americano with steamed milk.”
“A misto.”
“Fine, a misto.”
“That is $4.00.”
“What?!”
“Four. Dollars.”
“An Americano is $2.50.”
“But you want a misto.”
“No. I want an Americano with steamed milk.”
“That is a misto
“That is a made up word.”
“No, it is an Americano with steamed milk.”
“Where does it say this on the menu?”
“It doesn’t.”

You see how this will go. On principle, R is annoyed to be paying extra simply because she does not want cold milk in her coffee. And on principle the baristas are confused by this because apparently it is cool to pay more for coffee. R finally did get someone to admit that misto was a made up word. And in another instance she got an explanation that it was the amount of steamed milk that changed the name and therefor the price of the drink. Also, it turns out if you just tell people you want hot milk, this does not cost extra. Though there was much concern among the barista population surrounding the burning of said milk. I think we had coffee at maybe five different places in an effort to expose the fraud of the misto. We did find a place that steamed the milk and did not charge extra, nor did they ask a lot of strangely redundant clarifying questions. [We did enjoy some $4.00 cookies… though R had also initially taken issue with the price of the cookies, until she ate one – and I must concur: epic and worth way more than $4.] All the while I just drank my regular old coffee with cold half and half – after I let it cool a bit.

I think we won in the end.

On our sojourn through the West Village, we took a timeout at Buvette. Make no mistake, this place is completely cute and had we not had big plans for dinner, we might have had a more substantial stopover here, but we both wanted coffee and this place seemed perfect. In hindsight, it may have been a bit too French. Anyhow, we came in and sat down at the counter, but then realized that there was a better seat in the window. So we moved so that we were both sort of facing the front window, though, not sitting directly adjacent to each other. The waiter, who was clearly French, and looked exactly like this, walked over and got a really pained look on his face.

“Oh you are sitting there?”
“Yes, is that okay?”
“It is just so complicated.”
“This is a seat, right”
“Yes, but,”
“So we can sit here right?”

At which point the waiter who is decidedly not Christopher Abbott, let out an audible sigh and walked away. Are you fucking kidding me? Wile he went over and pimped the most expensive wines to a table across from us another server took our order. A third server brought the coffee. And one of those final two brough the bill while the other collected it. French Not Charlie never came back. I guess it was just really too complicated. And don’t even get me started about the guy with the headband hat at the main bar.

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We spent Easter Sunday in Harlem. There had been some discussion around attending a gospel church – for the music, but that ended up not panning out and on walking by the church wherein we saw many tourists coming and going from the church we felt glad to not be partaking. Unsure of where we might eat we considered this place, but there was a substantial wait and there was a decidedly theme park vibe with an entirely black staff in prohibition-era garb and an entirely white clientele. So we stepped outside to contemplate our options. While we stood there a young black man wearing headphones came bouncing up the sidewalk. He appeared to be rapping, like maybe along with whatever he was listening to. I looked at him while R continued checking out restaurant options in the area. The next thing I know, this young man is in front of us and I get the feeling that he is going to try to get us to take a flyer or a CD or something because he is approaching in that manner. But he never breaks stride with his diatribe – the initiation and context of which we had no idea – and the next thing I know he is fanning out a handful of twenty-dollar bills in his hands and getting in my face saying, “Yeah, I got my hundred dolla’ bills. You’re not used to seeing a black man who is not financially indisposed are you? Are you? Yeah, that’s what I thought, you ugly white bitch.” [Say it with me: Are you fucking kidding me?] As he moved on, I looked at R and we mentally recapped what had just happened, unsure if we had both simultaneously misconstrued the event. Nope. It happened. And, ugly? Brother, please. You do not know ugly.

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Moving on, we decided to try Melba’s and it was an excellent choice in every way… except for the route we took to get there. In a nutshell, I would just say avoid 114th Street east of Frederick Douglass Street. You won’t be sad you did. We were seated at the bar, had excellent food, excellent service, and top shelf Bloody Mary’s – one round for free for an oversight on our order. It was good enough to put us in a dangerous food coma for much of the rest of the day. Somehow it seemed appropriate for a grey Easter Sunday in NYC and we did some churchin’ – we checked out the Cathedral of St. John: The Great Divine, disputably the largest cathedral and Anglican church, and fourth largest Christian church in the world. Plus we passed a beauty parlor/mortuary which seemed really apropos for anyone preparing for a resurrection.

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We survived the day, the vodka, and the unending stream of R’s people who seem to have completely infiltrated and assimilated to NYC down to the iced coffee. [We ended up walking behind a pair who both reminded me of Colin Frissel, and surely came to America because they saw Love Actually, and were extolling the wonders of iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. “It is amazing, like the aftertaste is so much smoother.” I feel fortunate that we were able to recover R’s eyeballs from the great heights to which they rolled.]

We did go to Brooklyn, twice. Once was to check out Roberta’s on A’s advice (bearing in mind A is mildly obsessed with Girls and so, Brooklyn.) The thing about Roberta’s is that it is in a completely dodgy neighborhood (Bushwick is supposed to be up and coming. I’ll defer to “coming”) and after getting a great deal of press for the food as well as some haters and a naked waitress. We were also warned that even going at 8 pm on a Monday night, we could expect no less than an hour wait. For pizza. [Yes, you know it is coming: Are you fucking kidding me?] Everything about Roberta’s turned out to be true. The neighborhood is shite. The building is a hovel – though clearly intentionally so: “You realize we are essentially in a shack?” was R’s observation as we embarked upon our wait time. And the food was really, really good.

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Our wait ended up being only 30 minutes, the service was great, the super-hipster servers were just all pretty happy to be there, or at least they could pretend to be happy way better than that tosser at Buvette. And if I did not say it already, the food was great. If you go, do not miss the olives or the brussels sprout salad.

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And then we left Brooklyn. Which was a relief, because you know you’re out of place when after never EVER blending in Manhattan, I suddenly looked like I belonged in Manhattan.

Things were definitely looking better in my eyes, though granted, no New Yorker would ever give a crap about that.

The pièce de résistance though, save for seeing R and F.B. had to be the Gramercy Tavern. This was sort of a perfect day. We had gone to R’s new gym – the ever bougey Equinox, complete with Khiel’s products in the locker room – for spin class. This was new to me and seemed like a really NYC thing to do. And anyone who says yoga is cult-like, I will raise that claim with a spin class: Holy Rollers up in there. Then we met F.B. and saw his amazing new place. This reminded me that ALL city experiences are greatly enhanced by having shit loads of money. I had been generally feeling like the commensurate quality of life in NYC was way lower than in SF. Then I saw F.B.’s place and died. His doorman is called Igor and is for sure a Pre-Soviet Russian. It was lovely, and would inspire in me dreams of the possibilities for real estate, if I wanted real estate. We got to hang out all day and catch up and R and F.B. finally got to meet after having missed several opportunities in the UK and that was a stellar connection, which is always pleasing. We talked about the differences between the East Coast and the West Coast… and the only thing we could all agree on was that there were many. [“People in NY wear black because of fashion, in SF they wear black to match their moods.” F.B. “People in NY think they are so important because everyone wants to move here: Are you fucking kidding me? And by the way, black is slimming.” Me.]

And then for dinner, there was the Gramercy. We walked in and got the last table in the tavern, and things only got better form there. The food and service made us never want to leave. Even the couple – likely on a Match.com date who were practically mating two tables away, didn’t mess things up. I did not photograph the food, because, you know, look like you’ve been there and all that. But here is what I ate, along with a lovely cocktail and a bottle of wine:

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Goat Cheese, Pecans and Pickled Onions
Celery Root Chowder, Clams, Mussels and Ham

Then was dessert. I let R choose. So the Chocolate Pudding, with Salted Caramel and Toffee Popcorn was a delicious surprise. However, not to be outdone by any Meg Ryan character, R wanted to try the Roasted Peanut Ice Cream. If you look at the menu you will see that her choice was not included in the Selection of Ice Creams (Vanilla Bean, Coffee and Butter Pecan). Nevermind. There was also conversation about the cheese plate. But upon hearing there was no appropriate fruit, R was aghast, the waiter improvised. He brought the pudding, the ice cream selection with roasted peanut added, AND the cheese plate (Chef’s Selection of Farmstead Cheeses: Kunik – goat and cow, Warrensburg, New York Landaff – raw cow, Landaff, New Hampshire Bayley Hazen – raw cow blue, Greensboro, Vermont).

It was ridiculously indulgent. So of course we had champagne as well. And never an eye was batted at a single request. It was the kind of night that could make a person fall in love with New York.

Of course, I mean only a person who did not live in San Francisco….

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4 thoughts on “How the Grammercy Tavern redeemed NYC: Springtime in New York City, pt. 2.

  1. As someone who’s just arrived in New York, I’m with you on the overrated and “this place is effing crazy” fronts. I think it’s supposed to get better when spring arrives. (If it ever does.) I think part of New Yorkers’ pride stems from the fact that it *is* a tough place to live, and if you make it through and have a decent life, you feel like you’ve accomplished something.

    • I was just talking to my hairdresser (who lived in NYC and has a good deal of affection for the city) about this exact thing. He said when he goes back to NYC now, he is shocked at the quality of life that people are willing to tolerate there. While SF is crazy expensive and has lots of other urban dilemmas, it somehow seems like it is just a little easier to have a nicer life here. Of course, my West Coast sensibility chalks this up to better weather and friendlier folks, but that is pretty subjective. No question NY is tough – on all fronts. It was one of the other intangible differences I noticed, people just seemed a little rougher around the edges… and that is definitely a certain kind of toughness.

  2. Pingback: Turning another page. | Really?? Yes. Really.

  3. Pingback: A San Francisco Stay-cation: Basically a week long advert for my city. | Really?? Yes. Really.

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