By Sandra Hutchinson
Ten months after finally securing much-coveted tickets to the Broadway smash hit Hamilton, my husband and I finally got to see it last Wednesday evening. We tried to make the most of our short time in the city. Here’s an overview:
1. Hamilton! Does the hip hop historical musical live up to its hype? Yes it does. It’s a work of genius by Lin-Manuel Miranda about the life of Alexander Hamilton (based on Ron Chernow’s biography). Hamilton, of course, was one of the founding fathers, and was General George Washington’s chief aide during the American Revolution. Hamilton was key in the development of the Constitution, principal author of the Federalist papers that helped it win ratification, and the first U. S. Secretary of the Treasury.
The show is raucous and energizing. It’s already sold-out until next fall in New York (although you can purchase tickets with much shorter lead times through ticket re-sellers at inflated prices). We paid $549 per ticket, through the box office, last winter, for what turned out to be great orchestra seats in the 14th row. (Maybe see it in Chicago? It opened there in October.)
2. Bryant Park. Bryant Park sits directly behind the New York Public Library (main branch) that fronts 5th Avenue, between 5th and 6th, and between 40th and 42nd streets. This time of year the park has a large ice skating rink and food and gift shops housed in glass and metal kiosks modeled after European Christmas markets.
The last time we were in the city, we had a nice lunch at Bryant Park Grill, tucked right behind the library, looking out into the park. And if you’re in the area and need a restroom, the Bryant Park public restrooms are about the nicest and classiest ones I’ve ever seen. (On the 42nd street side of the park.) In warmer weather, the park makes for a nice spot to sit, rest and maybe watch or play an intense game of chess.
3. New York Public Library. We took a walk through the library, where we especially like to take in the view in the Rose Reading Room with its celestial ceiling murals. The iconic space reopened this fall after being closed for two years for renovations. A plaster rosette had fallen from the ceiling, necessitating a complete check and repair of the ceiling.
Years ago, we had taken our two boys to see a display of the original stuffed animals the author A. A. Milne based his Winnie the Pooh stories on, when they were housed at a small branch of the library. Much to our delight, we discovered on this visit that the stuffed toys are now permanently on display in the children’s room at the main branch. It’s on the lower floor.
The stuffed animals returned to public view this past August, after being restored. They were originally owned by Christopher Robin Milne, A. A. Milne’s son, and inspired the characters in his enormously popular Winnie the Pooh books. Definitely worth a visit, for young and old alike. Click here for a link to an article about the restoration of the stuffed toys.
We checked out the map room and the library gift shop, and were then thrilled to find an exhibit on the second floor: “Alexander Hamilton— Striver, Statesman, Scoundrel.” It is on view until the end of December.
We were able to review aspects of Hamilton’s life that we got from the show the night before. And of particular note for our region— Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler, a daughter of Phillip Schuyler, who served in the Continental Congress and became a Major General of the Continental Army. His home, Schuyler Mansion, is a New York State-owned historic site in Albany, and his summer home, built in 1777, is just south of Schuylerville, and part of Saratoga National Historical Park. You can explore the exhibit online by clicking here.
Don’t forget to visit Patience and Fortitude, the marble lions in the front of the library, properly adorned for the holidays.
4. Holiday store windows. Growing up, I lived about 35 miles north of midtown Manhattan, and it was an annual ritual to go into the city and looks at the department store windows on 5th Avenue, as well as the tree at Rockefeller Center (where my father worked when I was very young). So I guess it’s not surprising that I have a strong pull to still see the windows.
This year, we saw the windows at Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, and Macy’s (at 34th Street). Saks’s windows are always my favorites. This year’s theme focuses on the Nutcracker’s Clara searching for sweets. It’s colorful, fun, with lots of movement. The facade of the building is decorated with an elaborate, sparkly changing light display which is only visible after dark.
At Bergdorf’s, the windows are less obviously about the holidays, but are richly layered with whimsical creatures and mannequins dressed to the nines.
And an interesting aside—in the elevator with us at Bergdorf’s was one of the cast members of The Real Housewives of New York, Dorinda Medley. You never know who you’ll see there. She graciously posted for a photo when we asked outside the store.
And at Macy’s, there were only several windows decorated to tell a holiday story—this, of the little girl Virginia who wrote a letter to the New York Sun asking if Santa Claus really exists. These windows were not nearly as colorful, fun or fanciful as the ones at Saks.
5. Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel (35 East 76th Street). Ludwig Bemelmans was the author and illustrator for the classic Madeline books, about the “twelve little girls in two straight lines” who lived in a Paris convent. In 1947, in exchange for a year and a half of room and board for himself and his family at the Carlyle, the artist covered the walls of the bar with murals depicting whimsical animals and characters in Central Park (although there is one wall with Madeline and her friends in Paris with a French flag flying.)
The bar is dark, atmospheric, and known for its leather banquettes, expensive cocktails (starting at around $21 each) and piano at which the late Bobby Short long entertained. Now our friend and Hudson Falls native Tony DeSare plays gigs there periodically. We aim to make it down there when he performs sometime. If you can swing the cover charge and tab, it would be a memorable evening.
6. Pre-theatre dining. It’s always a challenge to get a decent meal at an affordable price at 6 pm in New York’s theater district. Unfortunately, I didn’t try for dinner reservations until Tuesday afternoon, so the pickings were pretty slim. When I found availability through Open Table at a small Italian spot, Scarlatto, on West 47th Street, I grabbed it, even though the reviews were mixed. It was serviceable but I wouldn’t recommend it given the other options in the area, if you plan ahead.
Incidentally, I like to use Open Table to make restaurant reservations when we travel. You can use the desktop version or a mobile app on your phone. It’s easy. Once you plug in your desired date, number of guests, dining time sought, and neighborhood (or city) the app shows you what’s available. You press a button and voilà— you’re reserved. You will have the best luck using Open Table in larger cities or college towns where many restaurants participate in the service.