I have a love/hate relationship with New York City. I love the city itself, but I hate the reason that I’ve been able to spend so much time here over the last 3 years (another story, another time). Still, on those occasions when I can just relax and take in the city, I find myself enthralled. It’s a place unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been and it speaks to the part of me that wants to be at the center of things. Those moments when I can just soak in the vitality of the city – they’re fun. This week was one of those times.
First of all, the weather in New York was perfect. It was in the upper 70’s with clear skies and a slight breeze. It was the kind of day that takes the city and really makes it come alive. I had a morning of business meetings that went very well. I had the opportunity to meet some very interesting and engaging people, and broaden my horizons a little. When we concluded, I walked back to my hotel – stopping along the way at one of my two favorite restaurants in New York – Hale and Hearty Soups.
I don’t know about you, but I love a good soup. Too often relegated to the status of appetizer, Hale and Hearty has taken soup and put it at the forefront of the dining spectrum. When you walk in, a giant board of 20+ varieties of soup greets you. Some are mainstays, some are specials for that day only – all are available to sample. As luck would have it, my two favorites where on the menu: Tuscan White Bean with Spinach and Sweet Corn Chowder. With a small serving of each firmly in hand (along with a bag of oyster crackers) I made my way back to the hotel.
I spent the rest of my afternoon catching up on e-mail while soaking up the ambiance of the city that came leaking through my opened windows. The sounds you hear in New York are unlike anywhere else – it has a language of its own. There are car horns, sirens, music, voices, birds – it all combines to form a background hum that pulses with an energy that is hard to describe, but also hard to ignore.
After exhausting the workday clock, I changed clothes and headed down towards Times Square – I had tickets to see a show. It was a good walk – the streets were not overly crowded and there was a nice breeze working its way down 8th Avenue. Along the way, I stopped at the second of my two favorite restaurants in New York – The Bread Company Café – for a slice of pizza.
Pizza is an institution in New York. According to local legend, the New York City water supply is uniquely predisposed towards creating the perfect pizza dough. I can’t really put my finger on it, but pizza DOES taste different in New York. There are hundreds of bakeries and delis in New York. They line the streets in the same way nail salons line the strip malls in suburban America. Walk down any street and you will see hundreds of pizza pies laid out in shop windows like meat at a butcher, just waiting to be reheated and served in all of their hot and delicious glory.
I made my way to the counter of the Bread Company Café and chose a slice with pepperoni and pineapple. The other thing you find at all of these bakeries is a stunning array of freshly baked sweets. I happen to love the brownies at The Bread Company Café, so I added one to my tray. With my slice, my brownie, and a Sprite Zero, I was set for 15 minutes of pure culinary bliss.
Stomach full and spirits high, I continued my walk down to Times Square. Have I mentioned that I love Times Square? It’s bright, and loud, and vibrant, and alive. It wasn’t overly crowded, so I walked around for a bit, taking in the sights. It was such a beautiful night; I could have easily walked around for hours. Quickly, however, the appointed hour arrived and I made my way to the Brooks Atkinson Theater.
If you’ve read some of my other posts, you know that I am both a fan of 80’s hair metal and a fan of Broadway. Much like the fateful joining of peanut butter and chocolate in countless TV commercials in the late 70’s, (or the marriage of bacon and popcorn I achieved last month) – my two great musical passions have been fused together in what I found the be the perfect way to spend an evening in New York – the musical “Rock of Ages”.
If you aren’t familiar with “Rock of Ages”, it’s a story set on the Sunset Strip in the late 80’s. Drew is a young, aspiring rock star working clean up at a famous club – The Bourbon. Sherrie is a fresh-of-the-bus-aspiring-actress from Payola, Kansas. (Having aspired to be in the music business at one point in my life – the name Payola, KS is genius). When they meet, the attraction is immediate.
Trouble finds the two star crossed lovers when Drew is unable to express his feelings to Sherrie, and the both end up going their separate ways. As the city threatens to demolish the Bourbon, Drew and Sherrie find out that they have ended up in places they never wanted to be. As they find their way back to each other they realize that there are few things in life you regret more than not following your dreams.
The one thing that I didn’t expect going in was just how FUNNY the show would be. The narrator/bar manager, Lonny, was absolutely hilarious. With a healthy dose of Jack Black-esque manic energy, he not only kept the story flowing – he also kept the audience in stitches. By far his best moment was his rendition of “Can’t Fight This Feeling” with bar owner Dennis, when The Bourbon is being shut down. DiCaprio and Winslet have nothing on Lonny and Dennis – I laughed so hard, I cried.
Unlike most Broadway musicals, there was no orchestra for this show. The stage itself was set up like the main floor of The Bourbon. All of the music was provided by a five-piece band that stayed on the stage the entire show, and every song was instantly recognizable to any fan of 80’s rock. There was Poison, Warrant, Mr. Big, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi, Damn Yankees, David Lee Roth, Quiet Riot, Extreme, Journey, Whitesnake, Europe, Pat Benetar – even Quarterflash, and Asia made an appearance. The lead guitarist, Joel Hoekstra had a Sebastian Bach look and attitude – and he absolutely shredded the guitar, even making the obligatory journey to the front of the stage to throw picks into the audience. (He’s also a member of Night Ranger these days…sounds like a busy schedule.)
At the door, they handed out cigarette lighter shaped LED lights to use during the show. As soon as “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” – out came the lights and up went everyone’s hands. Sure – it wasn’t quite the same as burning the hell out of your finger in order to keep your lighter lit for the entire song – but the spirit was there. The end of the show was “Don’t Stop Believing”. As you know, that song has had a massive resurgence over the last few years – and it was put to great effect here. The ENTIRE building stood and sang along with the cast. It was powerful way to end the show.
“Rock of Ages” is a remarkable show. It perfectly captured the excess and excitement that permeated hair metal in the 80’s. Yes, it was very firmly tongue-in-cheek for much of the show – but it wasn’t condescending or dismissive. In truth, “Rock of Ages” is a love letter to all that made hair metal in the 80’s an arena-filling phenomenon. It was full of great music, cultural references, hot women, long hair, crude humor, and yes – heart. At its core, it celebrated the FUN that hair metal brought to the party and it reminded me of some of the better days of my youth. It was the perfect Reese Peanut Butter Cup of rock and roll theater goodness.
When the show was over, I made my way back to Times Square. I was on a musical high and needed to walk off some of the energy buzzing through my veins. I stopped at Starbucks to get a hot tea, and finally headed back to the hotel. It was one of those days that I really didn’t want to end and I found myself hard pressed to fall asleep. I opened a window, let the cool night breeze in, and listened to the street below. Ears still humming from the show earlier, I closed my eyes and eventually surrendered the day to sleep.
I have to say, that was one of the better days that I have ever spent in New York. Meet some new people and have engaging personal and professional conversations – check. Walk around the city people-watching on a day with near perfect weather – check. Have not one, but two of my favorite soups from Hale and Hardy – check. Also have a slice of pizza and a brownie from my favorite bakery – check. See a great musical on Broadway that allows me to relive the soundtrack of my youth – check. Also laugh myself silly at the selfsame musical – check. End the day with a cup of hot tea, a beautiful hotel room, and the sounds of the city as I fall asleep – check.
It’s hard to imagine a much better day in New York. The only thing that was missing was sharing the experience with my wife. Guess I need to start pricing deals on two plane tickets to La Guardia…
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