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A sunny day in New York City, plus the Carole King Beautiful show

1-IMG_3759NEW YORK – Had a chance to spend a couple days in The Bronx the other day, which was terrific. But I also managed some time in Manhattan, taking in the scene in Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side.

There are few places more cool to hang out on a warm spring day than Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. The tulips were a blaze of pink and red and the cherry trees were blossoming and the sky was blue and folks were suntanning on the grass and the jump-rope folks were out showing people how to skip. I had a hot dog and a smoothie (Toronto’s hot dogs are way better, just fyi) and sat and watched the passing parade for quite a while.

Behind me, sitting on the grass, was a woman who had two grey parrots with her. They were both on a leash. Really. Not far away was a woman with a bright yellow sign reading, “Conversations, $1.”

Not far away there was a guy banging out a tune of some sorts on his guitar and half singing and half shouting a song with lyrics such as “Before you left did you order a cheeseburger?” and “I wear my bowling shoes day and night, even if they fit too tight.” Completely nonsensical but hilarious.

As we left the park and headed towards Broadway, a young man was at the piano on the eastern edge of the square playing Rachmaninoff. He then proceeded to play Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” after which he asked if we had enjoyed it and added, “I wrote that one myself.”

I love the buildings in this part of town; not too high and with plenty of character. The shops and restaurants are amazing. But I’ve never stayed at a hotel in the area, so any suggestions would be welcome: jim@jimbyerstravel.com .

Anyhoo, from there it was on to SoHo, which is interesting architecturally because of the cast iron buildings but doesn’t get me revved up too much as there are too many chain stores. We took a walk to Little Italy, where you’ll find a giant welcoming sign and nice cafes and a Christmas shop and a guy (at least when I was there) playing the “Godfather” theme on a beat-up accordion. I think Arthur Avenue in The Bronx is a much more authentic and enjoyable Little Italy. But I loved my rigatoni alla vodka at Pellegrino’s in Manhattan’s Little Italy; a very nice pasta dish that also had sausage, prosciutto and mushrooms.

Far more interesting than Little Italy in Manhattan is a walk from there over to Rivington Ave. in the Lower East Side. It’s a wonderful walk that takes you past the Tenement Museum and a former immigrant area filled with synagogues and cool buildings that have been gussied up and now attract tons of hipsters. As we passed the open windows of what I think was called the Randolph Bar a bluegrass band was belting out a great old tune. Just down the road was a Chinese-Hispanic grocery, and then funky bars and pizza places and more old synagogues and galleries and trendy barbershops and more.

We stopped for a drink at Schiller’s Liquor Bar on Rivington, a fave spot of mine with killer drinks and a great view of the passing parade; 20-something men in shorts with crisp white shirts and red bow ties, Chinese women with grey New York Yankees ballcaps, small children in straw fedoras, and much more.

It’s still a little gritty around the edges in parts of the Lower East Side. But that’s what makes it interesting.

I stayed a couple nights at The Row NYC, a recently renovated property close to Broadway on Eighth Ave. I didn’t like the paper cups (why no glass?) and it was a tad noisy. But it’s got a nice vibe and a cool lobby with wildly colourful panels that show swirling images and it’s very convenient for Times Square and just steps from a couple of subway lines. Nice yogurt and berries at the breakfast counter, too, and you can add your own granola or nuts or seeds to it for a healthy start to your shopping day.

A room at The Row NYC hotel.

Jim Byers photo

A room at The Row NYC hotel.

The highlight of my visit, other than the Bronx opening my eyes, was a ticket with my wife to see the Carole King show, Beautiful, on Broadway. I’m not a big musicals guy or someone who sees a lot of live theatre. Every couple years is fine by me. But this show was FANTASTIC.

We paid $125 each and it was well worth it. The acting was terrific, and the woman who played Carole King, Jessie Mueller, was not only talented but sounded amazingly just like King when she sang.

King wrote all those great songs on Tapestry, of course; It’s Too Late, So Far Away, You’ve Got a Friend, and many more. But she also did some incredible work early in her career, helping write such classics as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “ The Loco-Motion,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “Up on the Roof” and “One Fine Day.” Not to mention “Chains,” a song The Beatles covered.

An amazing talent. The cast was great, especially the fellow playing fellow music writer Barry Mann of Mann and Weil fame. He probably had the best lines of anyone in the play, hamming it up like a musical version of Woody Allen with various health concerns and quirky observations.

I knew a fair bit about Carole King but hadn’t realized how tough her marriage was to fellow songwriter Gerry Goffin. Or that she and Goffin were such good friends with Mann and Weil, who wrote such classics as “On Broadway” and “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” which also was performed by a pair of actors portraying The Righteous Brothers and which brought the house down.

The singers and actors playing The Shirelles and The Drifters were terrific, too, and added a healthy dose of dancing and theatricality to the night.

All in all, a superb investment and a wonderful time, topped by the audience belting out “I Feel The Earth Move” as the cast led the sing-along.

Bravo!

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