We arrived to the city that never sleeps quite late in the evening after several hours on a flight with not enough leg room. Dead tired our only concern was to find our hotel and sleep – and hopefully get passed the oncoming jet lag as easily as possible.
Being on a budget we planned for our first weekend in New York to stay at one of the cheap Chinatown hotels. Getting accommodation in Chinatown will also provide easy access to the southern part of Manhattan.
Now I have stayed in a lot of weird hotels and hostels over the years, but I have never tried anything remotely like Bowery Lodge. While centrally located at the exit to Manhattan Bridge and in the middle of Chinatown this was a fantastic bargain, but inside it seemed the oddest construct.
It was an old and cheaply designed office building with cubicles. But the cubicle dividers went to the floor and each private cubicle had a door. I wouldn’t call these rooms, but a dorm with paper thin walls set up between beds. And when I say paper thin I am not talking about the rice paper in a Japanese traditional room. No these seemed even thinner. The cubicle was 2 by 2 meters and held a bed and a small stand. Yet it was clean, which in the city of bedbugs is a pleasant surprise.
We had on various fora been warned to bring earplugs, and surprisingly enough and despite the heavy sounding fans and the fact that we could hear even the smallest of sounds from three cubicles away, we fell asleep easily enough.
Waking up in the big apple
The good thing about our hotel cubicle was that is did not invite for you to linger around. Providing only a thin bed and grey walls, we had no interest in hanging out at the hotel or returning for an afternoon nap.
Breakfast in Chinatown
Our first day was already planned out and we began by heading off in the direction of Mott Street and the central parts of Chinatown. Starting off by shopping for a few moon pies and other breakfast items from Fung Wong Bakery, before heading down Pell Street finding a small and nondescript café called Mee Sum Café.
Sitting down at this very local and far from touristy little place was absolutely heaven, and perhaps the moment that we both realised that we were indeed in New York. My boyfriend enjoyed a steamed meat bun while we each had a perfect cup of coffee. Despite the run down interior this was a little slice of heaven.
After our visit to Mee Sum Café, we passed by the Edward Mooney House – the eldest brick building in New York, or that is what it said on a piece of paper in one a the windows.
We ended up in Columbus Park enjoying our Moon Pies while people watching. Even with a grey sky several tables were filled with groups of local elderly chatting or playing various Chinese board games.
Christmas in Little Italy
After breakfast we headed up Mulberry Street as it turned into Little Italy. Unlike Chinatown, Little Italy feels far from authentic and is filled with tourists and souvenir shops. But I admit it had its charm and perhaps on a less cloudy day it would be a great place to enjoy a coffee. If indeed they make it as the Italians.
While our visit to Little Italy was but a walk down Mulberry Street, we did end up spending an unforeseen amount of time there. We were drawn to a massive Christmas shop.
There is just something pompous and over the top about American Christmas decorations. A stark contrast to Nordic minimalism which has been the dominant theme where I am from since the end of the 90’s. We wanted to find something quirky and different to our Christmas set-up this year and I must admit that the idea of Disney figures on my Christmas tree brought forth quite a bit of nostalgia and memories of watching Disney Classics as a young girl.
The nutcrackers too drew me in. I have a great love for these wooden soldiers and we ended up buying a small purple glittery nutcracker alongside our first ever snow globe which off course featured New York.
Enjoying the area SOuth of HOuston
With our snow globe and nutcracker nicely wrapped up, we continued our walk north on Mulberry until we reached Houston. Our plan was to stay south of Houston for our first weekend limiting our sightseeing to the areas close by our hotel.
But I’d seen on Bestbuy that a portable hard drive was on sale just across the street on Broadway and not having any place to storage my pictures, we had to cross the forbidden line.
Our visit to Bestbuy was also our first meeting with Broadway – a street which is celebrated throughout the world for its theatres and plays. Yet, Broadway is not only broad, but also long and we were far away from any of the glamour of Broadway.
Hurrying back to the South side of Houston our next area of exploration was the fabulously cool SoHo. I really liked the area despite the posh shops and too-cool-to-be-ignored people everywhere. There was a small town atmosphere to the place, which pleased me.
Starting to get hungry, we happened upon Fanelli’s Café which was crammed with people. What we didn’t know was that we had entered a historic landmark in Manhattan.
The house on Prince Street was build in 1847 and for a few years it alternated between a saloon and a grocery. As such, it is one of many New York establishment claiming to be among the eldest food-and-drink-establishments. According to New York Art World, it is the second eldest as grocery stores also sold drinks. No matter what from 1867 onwards it has been a place for drinking and in New York standards that is ancient.
During the Prohibition from 1920 to 1933 the place acted as a speakeasy alongside many similar places all over the US. A speakeasy was a place which sold unlicensed alcohol either home brewed or from bootleggers.
From the artists took over SoHo and the emergence of the Beat Generation and up until the 1980’s Fanelli’s was a central meeting spot for the neighbourhoods artists.
Today, the walls in the back room where we sat is filled with liquor licenses from the 19th century, while an old dial-up payphone is placed next to the bar. Despite so many things turning retro for the sake of commercialisation, Fanelli’s Café still lingers in the past – and I like that.
Having had our first New Yorker lunch, we walked through SoHo stopping by the MoMa Design Store before slowly making our way back to Bowery Street.
Lower East Side and Katz’s
We continued into the Lower East Side as evening settled in and happened upon another New York institution as dinnertime came about. Katz’s Delicatessen started up as a small deli in 1888 and has since then been famous for serving some of New York’s best pastrami sandwiches.
Quite a long list of movies and TV-series have been filmed here, yet one of the most famous movie scenes filmed in Katz’s is the fake orgasm-scene from When Harry Met Sally.
The place is fun to experience and full of locals and tourists alike. When entering everyone is given a ticket which is then stamped whenever you order something. When you exit you have to turn over the ticket and pay.
It was great to start off our time in New York with both Fanelli’s and Katz’s. I can’t wait to explore more of the city tomorrow.