Destination: NYC at Christmas
Bailey had a dance performance Friday morning. She had worked really hard in learning her steps, and it showed; she did really well. She looked great too, with her flirty skirt and blousy shirt as she performed the swing. This was just one of many performance events that she participated in this past week, culminating with a Christmas pageant in which she had two roles to play. This story plays out in many families during the Holidays. It can be exhausting but it wouldn’t be Christmas without them, and at the end, when you look back and catch a breath, it was also exhilarating.
It wouldn’t be the Holidays in our household without a Christmas Tree. Fortunately for us, my dear friend Kevin, suffers through 4 hours of traffic in order to deliver one to us every year. This year, the choice tree was a beautiful 7’ balsam fir. This also meant a weekend of catching up and celebrating with him. This would include a weekend of trying to preserve customs and traditions we have performed every year for at least the past ten.
The weekend agenda, at minimum, must include the following: a visit to a German bar; a stop over at Spring Lounge (AKA Shark bar); a layover at McSorley’s Ale House; and a long stay at Peasant Restaurant. This year, along with Kevin, Brenda, Bailey and me, other participants included two other close friends, Mikey and Dino.
Why a German bar? As you may have read in a previous post, I believe that very few countries celebrate the season with the pomp that they do. In the past we would go to Rolf’s located in the Gramercy Park area of Manhattan, but this year we opted for something more local and paid a visit to Paulaner Brewery on the Bowery. Over some stimulating conversation; ranging from how great of an athlete we both once were, to the price of U2 tickets, to sudden ailments and weight gain, and how our eating and drinking habits are not the cause of it; we drink some great German Ales. Brenda and I opted for the Winter Ale to go along with our traditional favorites, Wienerschnitzel and Bratwurst with sauerkraut. The schnitzel was a healthy portion that can stand up to lots of beer, breaded just right and served with a cucumber salad and lingonberries. My Bratwurst was beautiful, with an almost milky quality about the meat. With a great German mustard and a very pickled sauerkraut as compliments; I wasted no time devouring it.
Brenda resides herself to the fact, that she would have to put up with conversations akin to these all weekend. She would have to acquiesce if she wanted to tag along. Which she always does, because deep down she enjoys the banter. On the way out, Brenda stays behind a bit to catch a glimpse of a man pondering how he was going to drink his beer that was just poured for him. He ponders, because the size Paulaner Glass he ordered was a 3 liter behemoth.
Brenda was in her late 20’s, and I in my early 30’s, when we first stepped into Spring Lounge. In those days, there was nothing Spring, or fresh, or new about the place; but it was still one of the few places one can get an affordable drink, and not have to worry about getting annoyed by large crowds or some girl using the word “like” too much or having to look at a menu filled with trendy drinks. During Christmas time, the place always had a warmth about it; almost in a log cabin kind of way, and we always enjoyed going there to meet friends for a quick catch up. It was an “agreeable place to get tight”, as Hemingway would say.
The place, which was always somewhat popular, grew exponentially popular as the NoLita neighborhood became more and more developed. Hard to get a table these days which Brenda isn’t willing to deal with; but yearly, Kevin and I forge on, and get at least one drink during his visits. This year, as we were having a Jameson Whiskey with a can of Schaefer Beer to back it up; we noticed that we were probably the oldest people in the joint. We had a laugh, toasted to our Christmas tradition, and headed out.
The neighborhood has many options for every speed. A nice quaint place to meet friends and enjoy a drink and eat some good food, without having to deal with the crowds (at least for now) is “Little Rascal”. It is a small 5 table Turkish eatery and bar that dish out some amazing lamb dishes such as their grilled meatballs and chops. They have a good wine list (we like a Tempranillo with the offerings) and the service is great. Most of all, they have Holiday decorations placed throughout and the coziness adds to the spirit of things. It’s now one of Bailey’s local favorites, which says a lot, because she is quite discerning in her taste.
In the year 1843, Dicken’s A Christmas Carol was published. One of the seminal moments of my life was reading this great novel for the first time and pursuant to that, seeing multiple versions of plays and movies based on it. I try to imagine Ebenezer Scrooge, post visits from the Ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, traveling with Bob Cratchit and his family to Olde New York, and the two of them having a convivial drink together during the Holidays. I always picture them at McSorley’s Saloon, as that was established in 1854.
My old friend Dino, who I haven’t seen in over 15 years came into my life again recently. These past few weeks we have relived our younger days through retelling of stories of our former selves. But those were ghosts of the past, and now, here in the present, he met Kevin and me at McSorley’s Saloon over 24 units of the light ale (they only have 2 choices on tap, light or dark) as we all shared our hopes for the future. The atmosphere in the Old Ale House was as joyful as one can picture, and you can imagine it having been that way for Mr. Scrooge and his good friend Bob.
The final stop on our Weekend Christmas agenda was a meet-up at our favorite place in the City, Peasant Restaurant, which my friends Frank and Dulcy run and own. Frank and Dulcy have been friends with Brenda and I through “good” and “not-so-good” times. They always made us feel that as long as there is a Peasant, no matter what, we would have a place to sit and eat. For Brenda, Bailey and I; Christmas wouldn’t be complete without at least one dinner with friends in this fine establishment.
This year, we set up four little tables at the lounge area of the restaurant, gathering near their tree and had ourselves a feast. At this gathering were three close friends (Kevin, Dino, Mikey) from different chapters of my life, joining me and the loves of my life, my wonderful wife and daughter.
It was cold out, the windows fogged up from the warmth inside. The kitchen looked beautiful as the hues of red and orange from the open fire lit it up. We started with pizza three ways: one topped with arugula and speck, another with spicy pepperoncini and soppressata, and lastly a classic Margherita. Bailey had a side order of the bocconcini which she was not willing to share (which is are small balls of mozzarella wrapped with prosciutto, then cooked in the hot brick oven quickly). For our main, we all shared a Veal Chop, Mushroom Gnocchi, and Broccoli Rabe. Along with the food, we had many bottles of Nebbiolo from the Piemonte region, a great wine that held up to all the rustic flavors. Of course there was great conversation and lots of laughter. The place was packed and the food and drink, phenomenal; but the night was more about the people I sat with in a little corner. The greatest gifts given me, which fill my belly, heart and spirit each and every day, my family and friends.
Was I exhausted when it was over? Yes! But, it is my hope that this version of a Christmas pageant if you will, plays out every year. Just as my daughter did on stage, the exhilaration I felt after a weekend like that made me want to dance with joy.
May your Season be filled with wonderful gatherings and memories. Dish Our Town wish you and yours a Very Merry Christmas! Please spread the Christmas Cheer and share this post with your friends.
Travel TIP: Right before leaving on our Long-Term travels, we decided to treat ourselves to a few staycations in NYC because we had been staying at Brenda’s parents’ house for 6 months, in NJ. There were nights that we were just too tired to trek our way home. The hotel we enjoyed the most was the Grand Hyatt in Midtown, which is so close to everything and conveniently located next to Grand Central.