I’m tired, I have the worst case of man flu ever recorded. My feet hurt, I’ve lost feeling in most other extremities, and the worst bit is – I did it all to myself.
Let’s start from the beginning. Ten days ago, I was having a touristy day in NYC. A good friend from home was in town, and we decided to be geeky and check out the Statue of Liberty. I had, ironically and rather stupidly, worn an old t-shirt that said ‘the city that never sleeps’. I think my social pariah status was up there with people who wear ‘mind the gap’ t-shirts in London. Along our journey, we came to discussing whether New York really is the city that never sleeps. Since I’ve only been living here a short while, and she was only visiting, we had no real answer to the proposed question.
From this, a mission was born. The challenge: to do 24hrs awake in New York, as seen through the eyes of a newcomer to the city.
Fast forward to the night before I plan to undertake my quest, and let’s stop for a minute. If you know you’re going on a 24hr session starting the following day, what do you do the night before? Go to bed early? Get a good night sleep? Or go out with eight old friends for dinner and drink Bianca’s dry of Pinot Noir and Cabernet?
Well I did the latter. I didn’t mean to, it just happened that way… and I am a liar.
It is now noon of the following day. The mission is on! My friend and I leave from the office, and immediately we’re stumped. As my stomach hunger is already making me cranky, we both decide it’s best to start our little quest with breakfast. Cue a few phone calls to New Yorkers and we’re off to Five Points. All I know is that I want eggs Benedict, and Miranda, my partner-in-crime for the next 24hrs, wants waffles. An hour of walking and much misdirection later, we arrive at Five Points, only to find that they’ve stopped serving breakfast. I guess that makes sense at almost 2pm...
Over lunch we brainstorm a list of ‘must-dos’. Ideas are banded about and rejected, Bloody Mary’s come and go, and a basic plan is put into motion. I must mention that over the past few weeks, my hair style has been likened to Mel Gibson out of Lethal Weapon, and my success rate with women has dropped from 0 to negative numbers. I seem to be repelling women at an alarming rate (and of course, I assume a hair cut will change my bad fortune). This had prompted talk of an all night hair salon – and while we’re at it - a 24hour piercing and tattoo parlor. However, researching all of this at a ‘breakfast’ table just isn’t that easy. When I really needed it, my blackberry chose to become hormonal and decidedly uncooperative. So far... so good.
And with that we make our way on foot to the Meatpacking District, where a friend has set me up with a job interview. I’m broke, and at the moment, I’m considering either stripping or selling drugs. I don’t know how to get my hands on large quantities of illegal substances, and my abs are lacking in any form of definition. The position was for a bar job at a very up-market establishment (no names yet, I’m still waiting to hear back!). I walked in with confidence and purpose, and walked out twenty minutes later with a burning desire to drink until I can’t speak or decipher which way is up. Things had not gone well…
Fortunately, I was in the Meatpacking District. If drinking unnecessary quantities of liver-destroying substances while living pretence of high society is your game, you can’t go wrong here. Queue the Gansevoort Hotel. You know you’re high society when you find yourself in the same lift as Elle ‘I’m old but still have an amazing body’ Macpherson, heading to the same roof-top bar. I like to pretend that the body and I had a moment, but Miranda was quick to remind me of my Mel Gibson status, and so I begrudgingly sat down in a corner to sulk.
I have, in previous posts, waxed poetical about my love for the Gansevoort - and so it is with a heavy heart that I must declare a depressing experience. Maybe because it was dark when I’d been there before, or maybe because I was generally inebriated and surrounded by the plethora of beautiful people that the Gansevoort invariably attracts, but things have gone very seriously downhill. The decor, which once was opulent, now seemed threadbare. The glassware became plastic. When I ordered a mojito, I was served a watery substance with some greenery in it. I think it was grass collected from the highline. All in all, it was a two drinks for $40 disappointment.
From the Gansevoort, we make our way to the much talked-about Highline. As far as I can tell, it is an old rail-road track running about 2-3 stories above the New York street level. There is some grass (I think grass, although weeds are an acceptable suggested alternative), and a few benches here and there. I can definitely understand the appeal during the warmer months, when (several?) bottles of wine and some good friends can make a great afternoon out in the sun. Come winter, I fear the Highline’s appeal will lessen with the shortening of sunlight. That being said, I’ve heard notorious reports of scandalous nudity from the glassed windows at the Standard Hotel. So if voyeurism is your thing, then I guess even the cold won’t keep the crowds at bay.
From here we jump forward forty-five minutes. Time now: 4:30pm. Both Miranda and I are flagging – too much walking, not enough excitement, and a generally wasted four hrs mean we need to take decisive action. Decisive action has taken us to Grand Central Station, and the oyster bar within its midst. This is definitely my idea, as Miranda has never tried oysters, and something about eating a live animal apparently goes against her basic instincts. Foolish woman I say...
Now I don’t know what it is, but I seem to attract a certain type of person these days. While my dream woman is a tall, voluptuous brunette with a great mind and a sharp tongue, I seem to have an appeal to the older woman, or the flamboyantly homosexual man. Throw a few crazies in there, and my repertoire of unfortunate interactions is complete. Hence why it was of little surprise that, when we sat down at the oyster bar, the strikingly beautiful, yet decidedly decrepit lady next to me turned and actually used the phrase ‘gallant’ in conversation. I didn’t have the heart to turn away from my Mrs. Haversham look-a-like, but the drunken glaze in her eyes forced a change of seats for both Miranda and I, who couldn’t stop from snorting vodka out of her nose while trying to keep her composure.
A dozen oysters, a look of disgust on Miranda’s face, and three vodkas each later, we are (quietly) drunk, and making our way out to the streets. Both of us agree on two things. 1) no more walking for the near future, and 2) we are definitely too drunk for 6pm, with eighteen hrs left to go.
Question, what next? Miranda has an urge to go meet some firemen. She says she wants a photo with a fire-engine. I say it has more to do with the big poles in the fire station. We agree to disagree. Back in the East Village where I live, there’s a bakery next to my apartment called Butter Lane. I will back their cupcakes to beat Magnolia’s any day of the week. Addictive, and delicious, Miranda decided that a dozen cupcakes and a pretty little smile is her way into the firemen’s... hearts.
Skip forward another forty-five minutes. Time: 7:30pm. We are standing outside a fire station on 2nd avenue in the East Village, admiring my camera skills and discussing whether the look of lust I can see in Miranda’s eyes while standing by a short, but remarkably well-cut fireman is actually there. She denies it, but personally, I think we could all feel the heat from her burning loins. Argument is resolved with a slap followed by further cupcake consumption. I am going to say that they tasted even better when drunk.
It’s now 7:30 – too early to start binge drinking, but neither of us was hungry. The solution – gentle ‘happy hour’ drinking. 7A, on the corner of 7th and A had a happy hour on. 2-4-1 is a fairly standard deal, except for one minor detail - each drink is $5. That means Miranda and I got four tall vodkas for $10. When the bill came, something happened deep inside of me. I now know how Sting must have felt when he first harnessed his tantric skills. It was a feeling akin to what nirvana must feel like (minus the heroin, shotguns and general malaise). It was bliss.
Time now: 8:30pm. Level of intoxication: 4 (me) 6 (Miranda). Time to completion: 16hrs. I have a confession to make. When I’m bored, and/or intoxicated with time on my hands, I do stupid things. This time, ‘stupid things’ translates to getting a piercing that I really didn’t need. I knew that any tattoo parlor worth going to won’t pierce or tattoo you when you’re drunk, but I intended to be close to belligerent before I went to get another piercing. Prudence told me that, in order for this to be successful, we should go and state our mission to the tattooist.
The following scene looks like this: I walk in with confidence; Miranda stumbles up next to me. We peruse the bongs, pipes, the gas masks with bongs attached (that was weird enough), and the piercings. I find Miranda standing in a numb state, staring at the putty figurine of female genitalia, slightly upset by all the places one can put bits of metal. I step up to the counter (quietly sure I have blood red eyes and stink like cheap vodka, perhaps with the remnants of cupcake on me somewhere). Steve, the owner of Addiction Ink on St. Marks clearly didn’t believe my claim of sobriety, but I think the tame nature of our piercings – my ear and Miranda’s nose – plus my claim of being a journalist on an important assignment (I have convinced myself that was entirely true), convinced him we were capable of making rational judgments. We walked out, proud of our achievement and forward thinking.
At this point, my eyes fell upon a name I recognized – Crif Dogs! Being the cocktail geek (I prefer the term aficionado, but don’t dare say it here) that I am, I knew of the many speak-easies lurking in darkened basements and behind secret doors all around New York. I also knew that one of the most celebrated was called PTD (or Please Don’t Tell), and was actually hidden behind the hotdog store in front of us. I walked in, knowing I was looking for a phone box, and found one - a dusty, old wooden booth that looked like a prop straight out of a Dr. Who sketch. I tentatively picked up the phone and pressed the only button available to me. A polite voice answered, and I asked (still feeling very self-conscious about the whole experience) for a table for 2. I was told there was a wait, and gave my number.
I walked out to find Miranda already standing at the hot dog counter, slightly in awe, concentrating incredibly hard on the menu. I was less interested until I saw something that defied belief – a bacon wrapped hot dog with onions and pineapple. Now I am not a particularly religious person by nature, despite my Jewish upbringing, but I am pretty sure that eating something like this would go against every religious dietary law in existence. I had to have one. I mentioned understanding how Sting must have felt when he reached tantric enlightenment… I have now surpassed him in sublime sensations. I have reached Nirvana, and gone beyond. Nothing can possibly be better than a bacon wrapped New York hot dog. Except maybe a maple bacon infused bourbon, old fashioned made by the exceptionally talented, incredibly patient Sean – bartender at PDT. This speak-easy was everything one could ask for. Asides from being exclusive, secluded and down-right cool, the drinks are delicious, the staff were presentable, and the atmosphere intimate. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best way to get drunk in style (and the lighting is easy on the eyes).
But, our mission must continue, and persistent phone calls from friends dragged us away from the tranquil den of inequity and debauchery that is PDT. A quick stop back across the road to get our piercings, and we’re on our way to Superdive. This has been a ‘must-do’ stop on our trip since the idea came up. For those of you who don’t know, the premise is simple – take a grimy, dive-bar venue, fill it with eager-to-drink people, add unlimited champagne, and garnish with the piece de résistance – Nicholas, the resident little-man who serves bubbly to the thirsty masses dressed in the finest Pirate regalia. Imagine Jack Sparrow had his own sabre-wielding mini-me, and Nicholas would be him. Needless to say, such an event (which occurs every Tuesday at the bar on Avenue A), was cause for a celebration. This evening, celebration translated to absurdly unnecessary quantities of champagne consumed with wild abandon from plastic goblets.
It wasn’t until I hadn’t seen Miranda for at least an hour that I began to worry. The time by this point is only 11pm (at a guess), but I know that I have horribly miscalculated. At this rate, I’ll be in bed, drooling quietly on my pillow, before I even get to dawn. I hunted down Miranda, who was busy getting Nicholas to display his sword wielding skills, spraying champagne across the bar. The surrealism of the moment convinced me that in one way or another, God truly does exist.
However, I was a man on a mission, and, like the marines, I never leave a man behind. Or in this case, a drunk girl with eyes for a midget. Even the best of the best don’t have to deal with this kind of stuff.
Another time jump. Time: midnight (half way point!). Location: Horus hookah cafe. Setting: Table is covered with plates of humus, falafel and Israeli salad. The table itself is also covered in remnants of these meals. Miranda and I knock back coffees as a precautionary measure, and discuss, between puffs of mint flavored hookah, our next plans. The decision is made that dancing must take place for us to keep our energy up. Miranda has heard of a club called Cielo back in the Meatpacking District, and so we settle up with plans to head there. However, our waitress points us in the direction of Le Souk – a bar just round the corner that apparently has a club level, and so we make our way there. The streets are almost deserted – a bad sign at only 12:30. We get into Le Souk, and the first thing that hits us is an overpowering stench of vomit. No idea where it’s coming from, but for some reason, we decide to stay for a drink and brave the smell. This quickly turned into an impossible feat, almost causing us both to hurl, and so we quickly return to our original plan. Cielo it is.
Our taxi drops us off on a street corner, outside a building with several well-dressed people mingling around the entrance, and a velvet rope. I like velvet ropes. They scream exclusivity and pretentiousness. What I didn’t consider is my now disheveled Mel Gibson image, and the fact that both Miranda and I are severely under-dressed in comparison to the other beautiful people surrounding us. We approach the velvet rope, and discover that this is Abe & Arthurs, the new Meatpacking dining hot-spot that houses the exclusive Simyone beneath. We attempted to speak to the officious looking guy holding a clip-board. He looked us over and walked off to talk to somebody else. Again, in a well-mannered way, beckoned him over, and again, he looked us over and walked away. The bouncer next to us kindly suggested that, if he walks away like that, we’re not getting in. A shrug and a rueful look convince us this is definitely the case. Whatever good things are said of Simyone, nothing that the bar can offer will ever, in my book, justify such flagrant disregard for people. Our treatment, or lack there-of was nothing short of repulsive, and I will be championing a campaign to spread this message about Simyone to everybody I know.
We turned, with our tails somewhat between our legs, to head to Cielo, where the bouncer described the club as ‘half-full’. Translation – empty. A $20 cover-charge was too much for us to consider finding out if our suspicions were right, and so, with two strikes under our belt, we stumble across another group of bouncers – these ones guarding the door to the 18th floor of the Standard Hotel. Strike three – we met Hugh, possibly the most charming and well-spoken door-man I have ever met, who patiently explained that without a reservation, there was no way we were getting in (even the journalism card didn’t work here). The bar was apparently quite empty, but the management wished to retain a certain element of exclusivity and refinement. Understandable, and accepted.
So far, my opinion of the meatpacking district has taken a serious beating over the past 12hrs, to the point where I may not be returning soon. Never-the-less, we soldiered on, and ended up in a bar that was straight out of Coyote Ugly; bras on the wall, the sickly smell of stale beer on the floor, and bartenders in cheap pleather halter tops told me I was in Hogs and Heffers. I sidled (like the cowboy analogy?) up to the bar, and was immediately assaulted by a bartender who told me she would happily cut my hair right then and there. Fucking Mel Gibson... Anyway, this place felt like home – rock n roll music, cheap drinks, and surly bartenders. Miranda and I immediately got involved; taking part in the type of dancing that can only be excused when saturated with deadly amounts of alcohol – think Fred Astaire meets Night at the Roxbury. I don’t remember the events leading up to it, but I do vaguely remember Miranda dancing on a bar, and the bartender trying to get her to ‘donate’ her bra to the wall. My hopes were raised... and dashed. Bloody women.
We stumble out of Hogs and Heffers, and Miranda and I fall into a cab. We left partly because I felt that if we stayed any longer, one of us was getting naked, and the other was getting their head shaved. I’m still not sure who was getting what, but I didn’t wait to find out.
The cab drops us off at our next destination; late night food. I don’t know why we went to Cafeteria – neither of us was hungry, but I made the executive decision that not only did I want some smoked Gouda and bacon mac & cheese, but that Miranda had to eat something if we were to survive this ordeal together. The dramatic hero within me knew that the failure of one meant the failure of the other. I could not do this on my own. Conversation at Cafeteria was not what one would call deep, or even particularly lucid. Both of us were sincerely drunk, and I think in my eagerness for truffle fries, I burned my tongue, adding insult to already slurred injury. I didn’t think things could get much lower than having to continuously wake Miranda up at the table, who would open her eyes and invariably come out with the statement ‘I’m up, I’m up, don’t worry.’ Not good news. When we finally admitted to ourselves that we were eating for the sake of eating and nothing more, we paid up and headed on.
It was at this point that Miranda decided she was going to take charge of the night from here on in. Despite being over an hour early, I find myself at a 24hr hair salon somewhere in mid-town. I don’t know what I expected – maybe a club atmosphere with a disco ball, some blaring music and lavish amounts of vodka – preferably served by a buxom brunette with a Mel Gibson fetish. What I didn’t expect was a surly looking Chinese woman, sitting in a garishly brightly lit, totally empty salon. Since by this time it was raining, Miranda and I felt it prudent to stand in the middle of this silent hair dressers parlor and argue in (what we believed to be) muted tones about how fucking weird this was, and how I did not want to stay here. Being the coward, and Miranda being the confrontational one, I opted to just walk out and not turn up for my appointment. This was agreed on until, as we were walking out, Miranda changed her mind and told the cigarette smoking Chinese lady we were canceling. I didn’t look back, but I have a suspicion they were only staying open for me...
Now it’s almost 4am. We still have eight hours to go, but our nerves are on edge. My mouth tastes like ass, I’m cold, wet, and starting to sober up. Standing on this deserted street corner wasn’t going to help us much either, so we jumped in another cab. Neither of us knew where to go, or what to do, so I suggested coffee. Clearly no more alcohol was needed at this point, and I needed to find a way to keep my energy up. An ex-girlfriend of mine had taken me to a cafe on Macdougal, and I remember her mentioning it was 24hrs. She lied. We only discovered this once we got to Macdougal, a street where, at 4am on a Wednesday morning, there is quite literally fuck all to do. We propped ourselves up at the only bar open, and I ordered a beer. Miranda had the following conversation.
Miranda: Can I have a cup of tea?
Bartender: Sorry, this is a bar, we don’t serve tea
Miranda: Okay, how about a coffee?
Bartender: No coffee either, this is a bar.
Miranda: Hmmm.... How about some hot water?
Bartender: I can get you some lukewarm water from the tap...?
Miranda: Okay! That sounds good!
See what I’ve been dealing with? I knew that any form of alcohol establishment was a terrible idea, and so I necked my beer while Miranda tried to come to grips with her lukewarm water.
I found another coffee shop on Macdougal, which stayed open until 5:30am. It looked like a good place to waste some time. It wasn’t until we both had sat down, ordered coffees and started drinking them that we realized there were half a dozen people sleeping in different parts of the cafe. They were apparently all homeless and regularly came in to sleep for the evening. Next thing I know, Miranda is also one of the sleepers – except she was doing her sleeping at the bar. For the next hour, I traded stories with the resident barista – a twenty-five year old Israeli named Shai, who passionately tried explaining the finer points of the Tel Aviv drug and music scene to me. I can’t make this shit up if I tried.
Four coffees and a time jump later. It’s 5:45am, I’ve woken up Miranda, and we’re on our way to the Brooklyn Bridge for sunrise just before 7. Despite the four coffees, I still needed to buy one of those five hour energy drinks, the likes of which I would never have drunk at any rational time in my life.
This however, is not a rational time in my life. While I guzzle a small vial of something I imagine has the same taste and consistency of evil, I note that my mind is slowing down to almost a standstill, and my body is starting to shake. You know the ad that says ‘everything in here is stuff you find in nature’ – they lied. Unless Satan’s piss can be found in nature. With my mouth tasting like a homeless man’s foot, we hop on the subway, and head south, to Centre Street, where we make our way onto the Brooklyn Bridge.
An interesting discovery – there are way too many people jogging at 6:15am on the Brooklyn Bridge... in the dark... and the cold... and the rain. But the view was breathtaking and wonderful. So much goes on in Manhattan, there are always cars moving to and fro, the city is never dark, and the skyline is truly beautiful. Despite the exhaustion that swept through my body, I found inspiration in the dawn light that crept up over the Statue of Liberty that morning.
Back on Manhattan side, it’s 7:15am. Only one thing left to do... The Bronx Zoo. I think, with hindsight, if we had known just quite how far the Bronx Zoo was from where we stood right then, and just how close my apartment in the East Village was, there’s no way in hell we would have made the journey that we did.
From Centre Street, we grabbed a 5 train heading uptown. However, by 66th street, Miranda and I had to get off. The motion of the train was causing both of us to feel very, very ill, and a scene akin to Linda Blair’s gastric performance in the Exorcist was threatening to spill forth from me.
Another interesting discovery was made upon reaching street level. There is absolutely fuck-all to do on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, unless you are a) married with children, b) professionally employed as a doorman, or c) run a very successful dog-walking business. It’s now 7:30am, but there seems to be an unofficial rule of New York that we were unaware of. First off, nothing ‘fun’ is allowed to enter the Upper East Side. Second of all, any and all drinking establishments (cafes) must remain closed until 8am. I’m quietly confident that we walked twenty blocks in a variety of directions without passing so much as a Starbucks. I hate the Upper East Side. Conversation between Miranda and I had been reduced to a belligerent and delirious level. That hour spent trudging Lexington is a bit of a blur, but I vaguely remember a bizarre cafe somewhere, where I didn’t trust myself to eat or drink anything. I think at one point I was convinced I had soiled myself, and felt the need to go the bathroom repeatedly to check. What was happening to me? Only twenty hrs without sleep, and my body was imploding.
Dirty looks from the manageress after what was possibly my 5th trip to the bathroom in as many minutes forced us to flee the cafe and continue our journey uptown. The prospect of a crowded subway held absolutely no appeal to either of us, and so we continued our trudge on foot.
The sun had finally decided to make an appearance, and was drying us slightly, while glimpses of the park motivated us to keep going. Up to this point, we hadn’t really asked for directions or guidance on this mini-adventure, so it would seem rude to break with tradition at this point. They say ignorance is bliss, and I want to agree with that. When I asked a passer-by how long it would take to get to the Bronx Zoo, and they said at least an hour by train, I think I wept. I say I think I wept, because whatever I did, it scared this poor middle-aged woman into running away from me at a blistering pace. A tad unnecessary I think. While Miranda went off to try and play ‘tag’ with the unsuspecting joggers in Central Park, I tried my hand at a little Jewish haggling. Apparently $200 and a glimpse of Miranda’s boobs was not a worthwhile price for the volunteer park cleaner to ‘look the other way while we commandeered his chariot to the Bronx Zoo’. By chariot I mean little electric golf-cart-like vehicle. I think he missed a good business opportunity there...
If it wasn’t for the fact that by this point, we had been awake for twenty-one hrs and were so close to finishing, there is no way we would have soldiered on. Another train ride later – I apparently tried to cuddle up to a terrified-looking woman who was horrified when I began to snore – and we’re standing in bright sunshine outside a big sign saying ‘Bronx Zoo’. I think now I understood how Lawrence Olivier felt in that movie with the sand and the desert and that Omar Sharif fellow. Technically, the zoo is free on a Wednesday, but we both got the distinct impression that access would not be granted without a ‘donation’ being made. As it was, our measly scraping together of $8 from different pockets and the bottom of a handbag was accepted with less grace than if I had offered to spit in her face as payment for entry.
I think at $4 per person, we were suitably robbed. Not only is the zoo huge (800 square acres), but it looks threadbare, and every extra attraction costs more money. Imagine if we’d actually had to pay to get into the zoo, I think I would be suitably pissed off if I was charged another $3 for the gorilla enclosure, another $3 for the bug house, etc.
Perhaps maybe our judgment is a bit biased, because once we had arrived at the zoo, we lost all interest. Done - we’d made it to the zoo, but by this point, neither of us could give the smallest shit about any of the animals there. It didn’t help that all the cool animals – lions and tigers and bears oh my – were either ‘not out today’, or ‘sleeping’. Just as well I guess, because at no point did I see anything resembling fencing or cages... Nothing in fact, except small logs about 3ft high, which seemed more useful as springs for the big cats to launch themselves off as they sailed towards us, than actual barriers of any kind.
Forty-five minutes after we disembarked from the subway, we were back on the platform, impatiently waiting for a train that would take us the 173 blocks back to my apartment. Again I fell asleep, but fortunately my drooling affected only Miranda, rather than the copious amount of scary people that populated our carriage and would have killed me for such an affront. I think I remember seeing a homeless guy pull out a tub of Haagen Dazs ice cream and smear it on an English muffin. Too many thoughts, too many questions. I was speechless.
Looking back on the whole event, I’m not sorry I did it, and nor is Miranda. I have learned a few things though – yes it is possible to do 24hrs awake in New York, but plan it first, and don’t be stupid enough to do it on a Tuesday night. Don’t (and I love Miranda dearly, even more so after our ordeal) do it with someone if you don’t know their drinking abilities, and, now that I’m sitting here with a cold – the most depressing realization of them all is this – I’m just too old. At college I could (and regularly did) 2-3 week benders on the trot, with no downside save for a bad case of beer gut and some gastronomical issues. Now if I try to do 24hrs, my body shuts down, and I’m out of commission for a week. And I’m only 23. God help me.
Next time I come up with a ‘great idea’, make sure I think it through. Then slap me and send me back to work.