This adventure tale begins with three friends and the memory of one whose tragic loss of life is still hard to comprehend. Guico, Cupcake, and I met as grad students at NSU nearly ten years ago. Guico was a year ahead of me in our program and I vaguely recall being introduced to him on the dance floor at one of our student socials. It turned out we also lived in the same apartment complex so we spent quite a bit of time together that year. I met Cupcake during her first year orientation. I was a student ambassador assisting with the campus tour and, as I struck up casual conversation with the “newbies,” found out it was her birthday. Realizing that she didn’t have plans because she was new to the area, I immediately insisted she join me and my friends for a night of beer pong at a local country bar. We totally hit it off and, within the next year, decided to share a luxury condo at The Veranda (a place we couldn’t afford on our own, but was the perfect split for two single women who enjoyed floor-to-ceiling bay windows and a pool oasis that felt more like a hidden lagoon in Plantation). Eventually, as we finished our course requirements, Guico moved back to his hometown of Miami, Cupcake sought an internship in New York, and I relocated to Tampa.
We’ve obviously kept in touch and have made plans to see each other sporadically. Last year, Guico and I came to experience fall in the city with Cupcake. While I wish this visit were no different, she and I agreed we needed to get him out of South Florida so he could escape the reality of his life for a bit. Guico and I booked the first flights out of our cities and agreed to meet at Cupcake’s apartment in the Upper East Side. Since Lyft rewards riders with TrueBlue points if they catch a ride from the airport, I used the line service from JFK to Manhattan for a flat rate of $35 (and saved on what otherwise would have been a $50+ fare). Once Guico got there, we warmed up to each other in her living room over a cup of coffee before setting out for Sunday Funday. We had a noon brunch reservation at Bathtub Gin, a speakeasy joint tucked inside a coffee shop in Chelsea. While we thought we were in for a meal and a burlesque show, it turned out that the entertainment didn’t start until 2:30 pm – but it ended up being for the best since we were able could catch up over a bottle of prosecco & three fabulous plates: coconut crusted french toast, a three-egg omelet, and the short-rib hash 👌🏽
Bartender on our way out: “Carpe Diem!”
Our translation: “Carpe DMs”
To work off our meal, we browsed a few shops in Chelsea Market. I most enjoyed the Artists & Fleas vendors and the items in Pearl River Mart because they took me back to my childhood days in Korea and Japan. We continued making our way around town and braced the chilling wind to walk a few scenic blocks along the High Line to the Standard Hotel. Although Le Bain might be the preferred Sunday Funday scene for some, the wannabe Instagram models (and their ridiculous outfits) conglomerating at the door were enough to keep us away. We were actually on a mission to get to the Top of the Standard, an indescribably luxurious bar offering panoramic views of the city – including Lady Liberty in the distance. Although a bit pricy, we delighted in a selection of perfectly concocted libations – the pornstar martini & luck be a lady:
Should you need to use the bathroom, be forewarned that you can be seen from outside, even though you’re on the 18th floor. Giant windows span the exterior wall of the restrooms, making the experience unforgettable, but just know YOU might end up being a lasting memory for someone else too. While collecting our belongings from the coat check, we saw Fabolous checking in with the hostess *insert total fandom* but couldn’t get myself to approach him (despite just seeing him perform in Tampa in April). We made our way back down to the lobby, did a loop through the Biergarten, but decided to spare ourselves another round of $15 cocktails and formally kick off our party with shots of Jamison & a beer/cider at the Brass Monkey (and so was filmed Guy’s favorite snap of the trip 😯😦😂) #drinkdrankdrunk
The only thing left on our agenda for the day was to meet up with Cupcake’s bf, Greggers, and to boo Draymond at the Brooklyn Nets v. Golden State Warriors game. In the mean time, we Ubered to the Financial District and took a pic with the Fearless Girl.
We then made our way to Iron Horse Bar, downed average-priced cocktails (YES!), snacked on mac-n-cheese bites & wings (SooOo GooD!), squeezed the four of us into a photo booth (HA!), debated testing our luck on the Wheel of Misfortune (Shotguns = YIKES), and did the only thing left to do: ride the infamous swing above the bar (WEEE~). This was totally my kind of scene: reminiscent of Coyote Ugly (simple down-and-dirty fun) with a rad bartender named Eliza, a run club crowd pounding $2 PBRs/Rolling Rocks and us: a Whasian, a Caucasian, a Haitian, and a Jew (i.e., a UN delegation).
After leaving the Barclays Center, we decided to have a night cap at The Belfry, known for their pickles (the eating AND the drinking kind). I loved the chic industrial ambience, illuminated by candles and enhanced by two handsomely bearded bartenders (Flannel pajama party anyone?!). I tested my hangover potential by trying the Tickleback (a smokey/tangy mexcal shot) and sipping the Downeast Seasonal Cider available on draft. We ended the night with an acoustic session at Gregger’s, where he tried his best to teach me the appropriate way to strum E minor.
I woke up the next morning feeling amazing. Shocker. The only things hurting were the fingertips I put to work against the unfamiliar feeling of a steel-string guitar. Cupcake had to report to work, so Guico and I strapped up our sneaks and set out for the day. We headed down 2nd Ave and found a contemporary Thai spot offering a prix fixed lunch menu. A delicious bowl of Tom Yum Goog and Panang Curry Chicken would be served for under $10, but because of the lack of nutrients I had the day before, I needed to add a Thais Salad to my order ❤ # freshest peanut sauce !
With fully bellies, we were now officially ready to start exploring. Guico and I chatted our way down Fifth Ave, along Museum Mile, and adjacent to Central Park right into Midtown. We discussed the today’s dating fallacies, the plausibility of simulation theory, and the disappointing season our college football teams have had this year (he’s a gator & I’m a nole, so it’s been weird for both of us). Upon finding ourselves at the front steps of the Plaza Hotel, we agreed that we had to poke around the lobby area before admiring the holiday-themed storefront displays at Bergdorf Goodman, Cartier, and Saks. We marveled at the grandiosity of St Patrick’s Cathedral and said a prayer from one of it’s pews. We looked up and around Rockefeller Center and caught a glimpse of the familiar ice skating ring and the world’s most famous Christmas tree (hidden by scaffolding as they [whoever the forces may be] decorated this massive entity). Needed a break from walking and for these two Floridian to warm up, we stopped in Bouchon Bakery, shared a chocolate almond croissant, and sipped a piping hot cafe au lait.
Pescatore, a low-key Italian eatery serving up $1 jumbo shrimp cocktails with a twise on a “make your own” sauce (cocktail+horseradish+lemon creme = mix all 3). Marsha, the bartender was a doll and as sweet as the homemade red sangria.
We literally ran into Cupcake, on the street, just after 5 and directly in front of Crave Fishbar and right in time for their #oystergram happy hour. Reviews boasted about their selection of $1 east and west coast oysters. It also just happened to be Mussels Monday, so we ordered (and struggled to finish) 2-pounds of their special tomato-based, Serrano chile spiced sauciness 🌶🔥
We strolled through Washington Square, admiring the Arch and the city’s after-dark skyline emblazoned by a colorfully lit Empire State Building and Freedom Tower. We met up with Gregger at the Marlton Hotel. We couldn’t score seats next to fireplace in the rustic living room-esq lobby area, so we headed for the bar. Although I wasn’t impressed by the cocktail menu, we were delightfully surprised by the Old Fashions they had on tap.
My cousin, who lives in Cali, responded to one of my social media posts to say that she was in town too! She’s *kind of* from the A (you know how the military baby story goes), so we made plans to meet for the MNF game at the official local Falcon’s bar: The Watering Hole. It had been a year since we last saw each other and, coincidentally, it was also in the city… I was just so glad to have seen her and to meet another one of our upcoming The Yacht Week crew members, Z. **Post to come in August 2018!**
It was our third morning and Thanksgiving was steadily approaching. It only seemed fitting to wake up to shots of Wild Turkey. Cupcake had one last day of work before the break. So, Guico and I continued our walking tour of Manhattan…. To save our feet, we rode the M1 bus to Mid Town and hopped off at 56th Street, taking swigs of the 🦃 along the way. We were on a mission to take a few touristy pics at the LOVE (55th & 6th) and HOPE (53rd & 7th) sculptures.
Into the heart of Times Square we marched…. It was actually my first time walking THROUGH this commercialized entertainment district. It’s hard to resist a feeling of wonderment as you pass by giant flashing televisions’ lights and theater marquees. Upon walking past the crowd hoping to score discounted tickets for the night’s shows on and off Broadway, we sighed with relief because Guico downloaded the TKTS app and purchased them from our bed that morning! If you’re in the mood to be in the mix though, be sure to bring a coffee, a flask, or whatever will help you stay sane as you pass the time. Overwhelmed by the crowds and the growing growls in our stomaches, we decided to honor Tuesday by checking out Los Tacos No. 1 🌮 I judge places based on the authenticity of their salsa and, I must say, this joint scored a 💯 We scarfed carne asada and adobada tacos and washed them down with ice cold Mexican cokes. The place didn’t have any seating, so just know it’s the perfect spot for a grab-and-go bite.
I wanted to start this next sentence with “needing to walk off our meal…” but realized that I’ve essentially said that for each paragraph that followed a description of a restaurant. Clearly, by now, I am fully vested in the NYC food scene. Anyway, we continued on our walk and passed a shop that appeared to have amateur photoshoots happening inside. We were intrigued by the set ups, so we followed suit and stopped in. Turns out, it was an eyewear boutique with staging areas set up so customers could try on and model their merchandise. #GENIUS! We sampled a few frames and put on our best blue steel &magnum faces.
With two hours to spare before meeting Cupcake, we perused the Union Square Holiday Market for a bit. After making a round, we decided to take a break before making our way uptown again. We, however, did not let our tired feet stop us from following a handsomely stout bulldog for a few blocks just to ask the owner his name (Bartholomew 😍) and to give that good boy a pat on the head. We came across a happy hour sign in front of Taproom No 307 and I tried a new local brew: the Cherry Plum Gose.
The only other pre-conceived notion we had for this trip was to catch a show. A trip to New York wouldn’t be complete without some form of live, cultural entertainment, so we scored cheap tickets (<$50) to see Avenue Q at the New World Stages. Our seats couldn’t have been better (center stage, five rows back) and the smaller theater setting was perfect for the showing. After maintaining a 14-year run, it’s incredible that the plot and the characters were still hilariously relevant! (BTW – shout out Grace Choi, a fellow Korean American and FSU Seminole, for her incredible voice and perfect portrayal of the stereotypical Asian woman).
To end the night, Cupcake thought it would only be fitting to check out the East Village. We hadn’t had been to that neighborhood yet nor had we gotten a slice of pie, so we stopped in at Artichoke Pizza a bite and a brew. We hit The Wren for the one & done, where the turn up bug crept back in. Guico ordered us shots and then got the dance party going…. The bouncer wasn’t thrilled to see what was taking place, but Guico’s moves were all too welcomed by the bartenders who began clanging their shakers and other mixology items to encourage him to “don’t stop, get it, get it.”
Our last venture for the night (and the weekend) brought us full circle. We wandered over to The Standard East Village and indulged in a few more overpriced cocktails. The Pennydrop was my drink of choice, even though it’s simply a bonafide Moscow mule. Of course, the bathrooms were notably different and a photo booth was conveniently located next to them. Since Greggers didn’t want to try another attempt at capturing our friendship in a few still-frames, we left him at the bar and did our best.
It was finally upon us – our last day in the city. Guico’s flight left at 2, but mine wasn’t until late that evening. Cupcake was headed to Boston to spend Thanksgiving with her bf’s family, so we said our “see you laters” as she packed and left to catch her train. Guico and I had our last meal together at a diner a block from the apartment. Having ate so much the past three days, I decided to opt for a simple breakfast – a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich on a croissant with a hot cup of joe. There’s just something magical about diner coffee, especially on a chilly day ☕️
By the time we made it back up the 6-story walk up, Guico had to call a cab. I packed the rest of my belongings and set out to explore Central Park. I grabbed a book and my 2018 planner so I could feed my brain and reflect on the year ahead on a gorgeously crisp fall afternoon. I also brought along my oversized scarf to use as a blanket since it had been raining earlier that morning. Up until now, I hadn’t spent time alone in a city that I don’t call home. Finding solitude in a metropolis was oddly satisfying and empowering.
I wandered through the west end of the Park, around the Lake, and down towards the Met. The exhilaration I felt could only be compared – in my mind at least – to that which Kevin McAllister must have experienced in Home Alone 2 as he strolled through this scenic place. I decided not to listen to music while strolling because I simply wanted to be present in the park. It was strange to be anonymous just a few blocks in – away from the honking and the construction – a figure amongst the squirrels and the trees. From above, it rained amber, golden, and rust colored leaves. I felt like this is what I came here for – to find myself in a city that I’ve never been able to fully navigate. And, yet, here I was.
I stopped somewhere in the moment to journal, taking time to tune and to turn in (my goal for 2018). Despite the occasional burst of sunlight on my face, I was brought back to reality by the freezing sensation I felt upon my hands. Needing somewhere to warm up, my first thought was to enjoy the Michelangelo exhibit at the Met but I didn’t realize how much time had passed as I daydreamed in the park. Rather than rush myself through the museum, I visited the gift shop and browsed the many books and art relics for sale on the shelves. I debated purchasing several things, but ended up ordering a book off Amazon because my OCD tendencies got the best of me and wouldn’t let me see past the creases and dings on the paperback cover of what would have otherwise been a neat NYC memento. The story is still cool, I guess🤷🏽♀️
The sun was starting to go down and I wanted to grab one last bite to eat before making my way to JFK. I googled “salads” and came across Sweet Green, which featured something called the Tiger Bowl. It sounded like the perfect healthy, spicy option to complete my night. Spinach, kimchi, cucumbers… give me all the shades of green.
I got back to Cupcake’s apartment to grab my suitcase and to start the second leg of my day’s adventure. During my previous visits, I’ve always utilized a ride service to get in and out of the city. Hoping to be more budget-friendly and to challenge myself to something new, I decided to take the Air Train. I found myself chickening out, rationalizing how much more convenient it would be to catch a ride to the airport. BUT! It was rush hour, and requesting a Lyft or an Uber was going to cost me nearly $100! So, that sealed my fate. To my surprise, the transit was fairly simple. I only needed to take two lines to the Air Train connector, which were all connected underground, making the transfers (while draggling a suitcase) super easy. Total costs: $7.75 ($2.75 to ride from the Upper East to Jamaica Center and $5 for the Air Train). Total time: 1.5 hours. Admittedly, I was proud of myself for doing it on my own.
Reflecting on this trip, I can’t help but feel thankful for everything that this life has to offer: old friends, new travel experiences, a diverse palate, delight in wonder, a mind satisfied by the simplest amusements, and comfort in solitude…. While my memories will serve to preserve these things, the harsh reality is that nothing lasts forever. And though we may hope that endings come with fair warning or -even better- with our own permission; unfortunately, such luxuries are almost impossible to attain. As this fleeting life continues on, be sure to make the most of each moment, of each person, for they all leave us too quickly. So, my final thoughts return to you, Alex, the reason for our trip…. I haven’t publicly acknowledged you in any other way, but I am grateful for the perspectives you’ve shared with us and the laughs you’ve caused (even if it they were at our own expense). The world needs more humans like you. Fly on and fly free 🕊