Edge observation deck.
Edge observation deck.
Image: Supplied

“New York City, please go easy on me tonight…” I bop my head to Alicia Keys’s City of Gods while I ready myself to open up about my travel itinerary to the immigration officer at John F Kennedy (JFK) International Airport. It will take me an hour to get to the front of the snaking queue. Yes, it seems the tourists are coming back to the concrete jungle “where dreams are (still) made”.

Under normal circumstances I would have booked a transfer with blade.com, but because this is an impromptu trip, I revert to the good old trusted Uber. But wait, I’m in the United States and they use Lyft. I grab my luggage, rush to the airport exit, and am met by an icy gust of wind. It’s a shade after 5pm and it’s 4°C. I’m quickly reminded that northern-hemisphere winters aren’t for the faint of heart.

The last time I made my way into the city was in November 2019, for the New York City Marathon — I was a spectator — a few months before the pandemic would change the way we travel. It’s hard to think that it’s nearly two years since I’ve been here, because something about this arrival feels so familiar. On my last trip I was lucky enough to stay in a downtown hotel, but I can remember feeling like just another common tourist in the concrete jungle. This time, I’ve opted for an apartment on the Upper East Side.

As I unlock the door to my quintessential New York brownstone, I rediscover not only that space is at a premium in this city but also that a characterful façade does not necessarily translate into grandeur inside. But, who am I to complain? I’m in New York, and I need to prepare for my first night out with the locals and so begin my experience of the city’s new normal.

Like many restaurants in major cities, New York’s eateries introduced alfresco dining back in 2020 in the hope of saving about 80 000 jobs and encouraging social distancing. Nearly two years later, this is still the case at many of them. I meet up with old friends and we make our way to Vinatería — a Spanish-influenced Italian joint on 119th Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard — for a quick bite. The restaurant opened its doors nearly nine years ago, when Harlem was already wrestling with gentrification. But Vinatería’s ambience exudes comfort, sophistication, and inclusivity, accommodating long-time residents and the influx of “new locals”. Like most places on a Friday night, liquor flows and dollar bills multiply. Not long after dinner we find a place where the bright lights get dimmer and the jazz louder. (But I’d be a fool to divulge where — unless you offered me another glass of vino, or a penicillin cocktail.)

By the time you read this, warm weather will be on the horizon, in time to liven up a city that was in partial hibernation not that long ago

One afternoon, I take a walk along the High Line. On this particular day, the weather gods are on my side and temperatures reach 12°C — a whiff of spring is in the air, you might say. The Nara Roesler gallery in Chelsea is showing “Hotel Solidão”, Brazilian artist Marcelo Silveira’s first solo exhibition in the US. It brings together works from different periods of the artist’s career, with special emphasis on his use of Cajacatinga, a native Brazilian wood. It’s fascinating to see what the artist was able to create and how much emotion each piece expresses.

I end my afternoon with a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum, with the Hudson River gleaming in the sun. I spot a number of runners jogging topless and in the shortest shorts to be found — it is, after all, the last month of winter in this part of the world. It is rather quiet around the museum, in a marked contrast to the crowds of people who landed at JFK on my arrival. One appreciates this stillness, as it allows you to reflect on those who were taken from us.

The sun is setting, it’s rush hour, and trying to flag down a yellow cab at this time of the day is a true challenge to any man or beast. I decide the quickest way to make my 5pm reservation is to use the subway. Edge, located on the 100th floor of 30 Hudson Yards with 360° views of New York City, is the highest mid-air sky deck in the Western hemisphere. I’m glad I’ve managed to grab a last-minute ticket — I’ve never truly experienced New York from this perspective. Conveniently located one floor above is the new late-night cocktail bar Peakaboo. Watching the sun set while sipping a Manhattan, in Manhattan, is a fine way to end my stay.

The next day, I take flight from the newly revamped and dazzling LaGuardia Airport to continue my US adventures. The revamp is likely to make LaGuardia the airport of choice for many travellers, as it is much easier to navigate, conveniently linked to the city, and getting high praise from travel influencers. By the time you read this, warm weather will be on the horizon, in time to liven up a city that was in partial hibernation not that long ago.

Good to know /Visas: South African citizens need a tourist visa to visit the US. See za.usembassy.gov/visas/

Covid: Travellers over the age of 18 must demonstrate proof of full vaccination against Covid-19 to their airline prior to boarding a flight. All travellers over the age of two must take a Covid test within one day of departure, regardless of vaccination status. Airlines must confirm passengers’ negative test results before boarding. 

 From the May edition of Wanted, 2022.

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