Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day Two: McQueen, Momofuku and More

Isn’t it fun to open your eyes in the morning, still in a sleepy haze of non-location, only to be greeted by a whole new vacation environment?  Maybe I should scratch that “sleepy haze” part, since the floor to ceiling windows in our room, which face east, allowed the sun to drop morning on us like a concrete spotlight (weird simile, I know) – Hey, right in your face!  It’s 8:00AM!  Rise and shine, slackers!  Mother Nature’s alarm clock isn’t so bad, though, when it includes sweeping views of Lower Manhattan.  Plus, it was all bright blue skies.

Anyway, we were up and at ‘em – and hungry.  Our first stop was the highly recommended Russ & Daughters, a place that really needs to be seen to understand all its wonderful offerings:

Mmm...  gefilte fish...  reminds me of my first Passover dinner, where I scarfed down a whole lotta this drowned in horseradish sauce.

Schmaltz?  Rollmops?  What more could you ask for?

A very popular place, people – both locals and outta towners alike – jostled for position at the counter to place their order.  We chose the amazing-sounding bagel combo of lox, cream cheese, scallions and tomatoes.  After a short wait, we grabbed our goodies and walked down the street to a little park.  While we enjoyed the ridiculously delish bagels, we got some free entertainment from an Asian grandma jogging circles around the pavement while chewing out her less than enthused grandkids to exercise more.  Boy, I felt bad for those kids.  I think each one nearly cried at least once.  Gramma, lay off!

Bagel of Happiness:

Tiger Grandma of Unhappiness:

After finishing up every last speck of our lunch, we caught the subway down to Wall Street.  We were lucky enough to be there on a weekday, when the place was humming with its worker bees darting here and there.  Wall Street really is like a canyon of sorts.  Here are some pics of our venture down there. The first few images are from our walk to the train while still in the NoLita/LES area:

Bustling construction at Ground Zero, and Wall Street:

Those bollards in the background are on a rotating piece of pavement - necessary for the heightened security here.  A closer look:

We had a date with L to meet at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see what would be one of the most breath-takingly beautiful, technical, and intense exhibits I’ve seen since catching the Lee Bontecou retrospective at the MCA Chicago years ago.  Deemed a must-see for fashionistas and really any design enthusiast, the Savage Beauty exhibition, which honors the late Alexander McQueen, was one of the few activities on my "mandatory" list that did not include food or booze.  Or shopping.  OK, so it's related to the latter, but oh it's much more than that.

So, we caught the train back north, then walked for a good 20 “New York north/south” blocks to the Met, along the Grand Strand.  We planned to meet at the rooftop so we could (surprise) take advantage of their al fresco bar and the great views of the Park, as well as the circumference of concrete, steel and glass that surrounds it.

A view of the skyline peeking through the foliage:

Approaching the Met...  and the Pretzelcart!

View from the rooftop:

Here’s another of my 360 degree video shorts.  Sometimes this gets it across better than my babbling:

While taking in the view, weather, and beverages, I decided my feet needed a rest and plunked my butt down on one of the few available benches (in the shade, even better).  So glad I did, as a few minutes later, a couple of ladies asked to share the scarce real estate with me, and we ended up having a lovely conversation.  We told them where we’d gone so far and what we planned to do, getting their enthusiastic stamp of approval.  As Manhattan residents, they gave us some suggestions as well.  Here’s a pic of us all (and bad me for not remembering these ladies' names - if either of you women do read this, please jog my GenXChallenged memory):

We would have a few moments like this, where we’d strike up a conversation with strangers, such as a guy on the subway who overheard us trying to figure something out and started talking to us.  Short exchanges, but a valuable piece of the trip.

Now, I was a good kid and did not take pictures as instructed (though my husband said he spotted a few “quick snaps” by some girls who couldn’t resist).  But there is no way I can even begin to explain how impressive it all was – not without writing twenty extra  paragraphs that will surely make your eyes glaze over.  So, here is a link, handily provided by the Met, which gives you a pretty darn good idea of what we experienced.  From the overlapping sounds where room met room (classical music blurring over to technical bleeps, which then give way to howling winds) to the design of the rooms themselves, the stunning headpieces and, of course, the show-stopping clothes and accessories designed by McQueen…  I can’t tell you how tempting it was to laugh at fate, grab one of those impeccably tailored jackets or the crazy Armadillo shoe or the (any number of things, really) and then just…  run like hell!  Ahh, but I didn't.  Still, talk about coveting and drooling...

Oh, I’ll shut up and show – here:

I landed you on the "About" page as it gives, more or less, the room-by-room progression we took.  Click on the Selected Objects for more images of his work, as well as the Video for shorts from past runway shows - imaginative and amazing no doubt.

We walked out of there in hushed tones, almost as if you’d left a church service.  Some people looked truly emotional.  Even my husband, who “hadn’t heard of the guy” (he referred to him as Steve McQueen once), came away from the progression of rooms dropping adjectives like “cool,” “intense” and “really good.”  Yes indeedy, es gefiel ihm (he liked it).

While our minds replayed McQueen’s achingly gorgeous visions in our heads, we wandered over to the Boat House in Central Park to enjoy, of course, some cocktails.  We found seats at the bar, which afforded us great views of the pond, the people, and the park.

Maybe the tequila had something to do with it, but I loved watching the reflection of water dancing on the ceiling (cue the Lionel Richie).

Eins, zwei, drei...  g'soffe!  (Or, maybe "Salud!" is more appropriate here ;)

What comes after drinks?  Food.  With dinner on our minds, we finally gave up our seats (which were quickly taken over) and ambled through the park back towards the calamity.

New Yorkers sure seem to like their mini-carnivals.  We saw another one the following day while on the Highline tour.

We disappeared back down the stairs to the subway and got treated to a little show in the "lobby" by some street musicians.  Check it out:

It was agreed we had to hit at least one of talented chef David Chang’s restaurants.  My brother, a chef back in Chicago, was envious when he heard we dined at Momofuku Ssam.  The design of the slender space actually reminds me of Avec, also back home in the Chi.  Warm woods, communal tables and a bar that seems squeezed along one wall – the ambiance was intimate, chatty and overall happy.  And how can you not be jovial, with the fab food?  We started out in the bar, where L's friend A joined us...

Where we played the game, "Someone tell me what's in those cases 'cuz I'm not sure..."

Enjoyed some cold ones...

And got seated after a short wait:

Lots of delectable dishes, including pork belly, pork shoulder, ham, and noodles (which of these things is not like the other, heh heh):

I don’t know who came up with the bright idea to order that ginormous pastry-thingy for dessert.  But we ate it!  Perfect end to another great dinner.

In a freshly induced food coma, we bid L’s friend A goodbye and wandered over to the Black & White Bar, where I met up with some old pals from my days working for a videogame design company in Austin, Texas.  Two of them have since relocated to Queens, so it was the perfect opportunity for a mini-reunion.  I found the bar’s name funny and fitting, as I have memories of these guys playing the newly released game Black & White back in the day.  Seated in separate offices, all the lights off, their faces aglow from the computer screens, and you could hear them trash-talking each other over speakerphone.  A weird yet endearing memory of my time working (and drinking, oy) with them.

My husband’s cousin lives in Brooklyn, so we arranged to meet up with him next, along with our friend/host/L’s husband S, who’d been unable to hang out with us til now due to work obligations.  We converged at the Summit Bar, had probably a couple too many margaritas, and enjoyed yet another fine summer night.

Random light object we passed while out and about:

Scenes from the Summit Bar:

After leaving the Summit, we stumbled on over to our friends L & S's apartment in the East Village.  I had finally hit a wall by that point and gotten a lot tired and a little grouchy.  So, my husband and I departed the after-party, heading back to the hotel to rest up for our next big day (fair warning, LOTS of pictures for Day Three).

Here are a couple closing shots of our room with a view by night:

If New York mornings blast their hello to you, then at least the nights lull you to sleep with a kinder, gentler glow.

Day Two – most excellent and most conquered.

All images:  my own