When I told people I was travelling back home via the U.S. people thought I was crazy and my family were concerned. Are there no safer routes out? They asked.
As anyone who was following my late night twitter ramblings during my quarantine in the Caribbean can attest, it’s fair to say I did explore every conceivable option. At one point, this included a journey starting with stowing away on a fishing boat to a neighbouring French island and travelling back via Paris, until I realised I’d be quarantined in Paris for two weeks which would take some explaining to my husband. Stowing away on a fishing boat would have been cool though…
During my nightly SkyScanner searches, I became familiar with airport codes and indeed countries I never knew existed. But, not only was a stopover in NYC the easiest and most cost-effective route in a journey that was going to take 4 days or so anyway, there was also a poetic justice to it.
I was en route to NYC when my world came to a standstill due to COVID-19. I work in NYC a bunch and it is one of my favourite cocktail cities. I wanted to bear witness to how it was emerging post COVID, to see if any of my favourite spots were still standing, and if so support them. And after months of curfew, I was craving a good cocktail and wanted to indulge in the al fresco drinking culture and take out cocktail movement that was emerging as a response to a pretty brutal lock down.
Usually, I stay in Soho, a force of habit I guess from when I used to have an office here. But I wasn’t sure how freely I would be able to move around and so I wanted a room with some private outdoor space to avoid getting claustrophobic, especially given most communal areas of hotels may be closed. I waited too long to book the only room I could find in Soho with a private terrace (why is it so hard to search for this?) and it was booked out, so I opted for the The William Vale in Brooklyn. It had reopened just a few days before and was priced pretty sweetly and turned out to be a good spot.
I arrived late Thursday night and watched an explosion of fireworks from across the city from my terrace that seems to be a feature of lock down NY in mid June. I’m not quite sure why, given it was a good few weeks until July 4, but I like fireworks.
My first stop on my cocktail run was going to be Dante, the reigning number one best bar in the world (World’s 50 Best Bars). I’d heard word of their take out cocktails from friends in both the U.S and U.K and wanted to taste for myself.
I ordered my to go cocktail and snack in advance and put on my running shoes for the 4 mile run to Dante. I ran through Brooklyn, across the Williamsburg Bridge, past many of the closed bars in the West Village and finally reached the East Village with a thirst on.
I smiled when I heard Dante before seeing it, the three piece swing band playing out front made for a convivial vibe and was a glorious addition to the place.
I picked up my Sbagliato Bianco – a refreshing concoction containing Martini Ambrato, Quinquina, Strega, Sancerre, Verjus – in a to go cup, collected a few bottles of pre-batched martinis and a panini and wandered around my old stopping ground drink in hand. This was lunchtime on a Friday and I was in Manhattan and there was barely a car on the road or person in the street, it was eerie to see NYC so deathly quiet.
In another world this place would be heaving with local office workers grabbing a bite, popping into the shops. But street after street was boarded up after the protests, the place was a ghost town. I took a long stroll home via more closed shops and boarded up buildings.
I walked past through West Village hoping to find more of my favourite spots open, sadly there was still no sign of life from many. But I spotted Amor y Amargo open, selling pre-batched bottled cocktails from a sad little hatch instead of inside the buzzy little bar I love. I didn’t really need any more booze for my stay but I picked up a bottle of pre-batched margarita all the same. Maybe I could pack some of it and bring it home. Or find some friends to share with…
I felt sad. The heart beat of the city had been ripped out. What is a city without its workers? And it’s bars? It’s galleries? I sadly didn’t get chance to use my membership to the Whitney, given the ongoing travel ban, I should probably cancel it.
My evening stroll around Brooklyn was like night and day to Manhattan earlier. Street after street full of people outside bars, sitting, standing talking, drinking, smoking, dancing. A band seemed to circulate from block to block energising the atmosphere with music. But the action stopped pretty early, many places were only licensed until 9pm or so.
After standing in a line at a place around 10:30 that should have shut at 9pm I was turned away. I found another spot, I’d been craving Margaritas and was getting hungry, so I found a Mexican place and ordered a fish taco for tea (dinner) and some margaritas to go.
I sat and soaked up the scenes as I waited for my order. There was a real mixed bag of people making the best of a bad situation, the bar guys doing an excellent job of trying to keep order, social distancing and hygiene methods all in place.
I headed back to the hotel as people started lighting fireworks in the street drunk. Safer and nicer to watch from up high.
I’m such a big kid when it comes to fireworks.
My birthday is just before bonfire night (that’s a big thing in the UK) and many a year my dad used to surprise me with a visit, ring the bell and set off a display on our doorstep just for me. So I spent the night watching fireworks explode over the city nursing one of Dante’s finest martinis – I had fun.
The next day after a negotiation over check out times – I ordered a few more cocktails to go online and sat by the pool for a bit before taking a run down into Brooklyn to collect.
These cocktail runs were fun. I stopped by some street art my friend had suggested I check out. The street by Union St and 4th had several walls of protest art reminiscent of the East Side Gallery in Berlin. A piece of living art history, a moment documented.
I ran on through to Clover Club to pick up my final cocktail in the city and a bite to eat. Before jumping in an Uber back to the hotel to shower, dry out on the terrace and enjoy a drink in the sun, soaking up the rays before starting the final leg of the long journey home.
I’m glad I visited New York. Due to the stupid way flights work I have a return ticket back next month, but whether I’m permitted to travel again as a European I guess I’ll find out.
Unless the EU travel ban is lifted my only way back to this city I love is via a two week detour in the Caribbean which isn’t the worst idea but would make any trip a mission and a half and need to be worth it.
I miss New York, I miss what it was, and sad for my friends who are seeing their businesses destroyed and hoping they can reopen doors again properly and profitably soon, without going through the chaos of opening and promptly closing again that’s being played out in other parts of the world.
I’m sure and indeed hope that New York will look very different again next time I visit, things have already opened up a bunch since my trip by all accounts. But still, I felt kind of energised by these cocktail runs as it eased me back into the real world after being in my Caribbean bubble. New York for me remains one of the most exciting cities in the world to feel alive, I can’t wait for it to come safely back to life.