Ed Leahy pays a very welcome return visit to New York.
The elder gent in the front row was wearing an odd combination of suit and baseball cap. I’m not sure what style he was going for, but he had the look of, perhaps, a record producer or football franchise owner – either way he was asking for trouble.
And sure enough, trouble found him. It’s what happens when you sit in the firing line of a comedy club, and one by one the string of stand-ups picked him out, made up their own mind, and let him have it.
From ‘You must be rich to try and pull off that look’ to ‘what sort of fecking eejit (like the comics, I’m improvising here) wears a suit and a baseball cap’ were the sorts of comments the sitting duck was extracting from the performers.
But respite arrived, eventually, as the three tough-looking, crew-coiffed gents beside him were outted for ordering a jug of sangria, before all the attention turned to the loud-mouth Saudi Arabian who found himself on the end of a tirade of abuse from TV sit-com star Whitney Cummins about women not being allowed to drive in his country.
The jovial gent with the cap sat back, laughed along, and ate his cheesecake in peace.
Welcome to the Comedy Cellar on MacDougal Street (between W.3rd & Bleecker), one of New York’s most highly rated stand-up shows. An intimate, underground, old-school arrangement where you are treated to a showcase of comedy acts each performing for about 20 minutes each as opposed to a headline act.
That particular Monday night line-up was a who’s who of New York comics from top shows like Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien andd the Dave Chappelle Show.
Two very fast hours later, we were spat back out into downtown New York, where every street has a story to tell and each direction beckons you towards a multitude of options around this vibrant Manhattan quarter.
I took the short stroll west to Christopher Street and ventured down to Charles and Hudson into Banyards Ale House, an Irish bar run by two Dublin brothers, and it being a Monday, I was delighted to be informed that it was Wing Night.
The pub boasts a genuine New York atmosphere as I reacquainted myself with the city, as the 50-cent chicken wings and loaded potato skins were washed down with a few chilled imported beers to complete a fine opening night of this off-Broadway production.
You’ll find Café Borgia where SoHo meets the Village. Like many similar eaterys in the area, the café opened out onto the street with a laid-back atmosphere serving breakfast and good coffee.
I was craving a New York breakfast since the planning stage of this trip as my mind drooled over the prospect of stacks of pancakes, crispy bacon, drowned in maple syrup with the coffee mug continuously refilled.
The Village breakfast was slightly more sophisticated, but the main boxes were ticked and the setting combined with ample opportunities for people watching was most satisfactory.
The new World Trade centre is approaching completion and pops up around every corner of downtown Manhattan, so a short stroll later, my mood was more reflective as I circled the building site that is Ground Zero and paid my respects to the fallen.
Normality is certainly on its way back to this part of town and there was a genial atmosphere around the pier overlooking the Hudson River as office workers enjoyed lunch in the early summer sunshine.
Closer to the site of the former Twin Towers, tourists queued to visit the National Memorial, while I took a tour of the remarkable St Paul’s Chapel, which miraculously was unscathed by the 9/11 atrocity.
The chapel now hosts many amazing memorials to that day and a New York choir provided a very soulful soundtrack as I slowly absorbed the poignant reminders on display.
The adjacent fire station 10 House is also a stark reminder of what happened on that September day. As the workers of the World Trade attempted to escape, the firefighters of the local and nearby stations rushed into the doomed buildings without consideration for themselves.
A monument on the wall of 10 House remembers the fallen in commemorative brass.
Continuing further downtown, an Irish Hunger Memorial sits on one quarter of an acre of imported Irish soil to remember the famine, which caused so many Irish to travel to New York seeking refuge.
Every road in these parts leads to a point of interest or an area of historical significance, whether sauntering over to Wall Street to check out the Stock Exchange or continuing to the Ellis Island or Staten Island ferries.
Stone Street is the city’s oldest paved street and a great place to stop for lunch with a strip of pubs and restaurants taking over the entire street, with outdoor eating areas outside each establishment.
The evenings in these parts are also lively affairs with bars such as the Dubliner, Ulysees and Becketts all proving popular watering holes for locals and tourists alike.
After a late lunch, a wander around downtown’s furthest point, Battery Park, confirms the belief that you can find all the greenery you need without having to leave Manhattan.
Heading back uptown, I took a detour out across the magnificent expanse of Brooklyn Bridge. The views beyond to the Statue of Liberty and back across the Manhattan skyline prove spectacular.
Time permitting, China Town and Little Italy are interesting neighbourhoods to ramble around, but my next stop was a short visit, complete with take-out coffee, to Tomkins Square Park in the eclectic East Village to watch the world go by.
Like all Manhattan parks, there is always something or someone to entertain and there are many to be explored downtown without having to go uptown to the admittedly amazing Central Park.
The summer season was really kicking in and it was another park visit, this time Maddison Square Park, to finish the evening as Suzanne ‘My Name is Luca’ Vega was entertaining her hometown crowd – one of the many free events around the city.
I just managed to sneak an admiring glance at the nearby, spectacular Flat Iron building before night fell.
The luxury of having visited New York on other occasions, afforded me an extra day to discover lower Manhattan’s neighbourhoods, having already covered all the major mid-town tourist attractions on previous visits.
So again, I wandered the streets of SoHo and Tribeca before returning to Bleecker Street and heading west towards the vibrant Meatpacking district in the West Village, stopping off at the Magnolia Bakery (of Sex and the City fame) for cake, before moving further uptown into Chelsea for some shopping at the quirky Chelsea Market. Not your usual New York shopping scene, but a fine alternative with pop-up shops and boutique stores located amidst a quality food emporium.
Shopping in these neighbourhoods is just as good as the mid-town department stores, if a bit more spread out, with all the major outlets to be found and a smaller Bloomingdales store is also available if you really need a fix.
Washington Square Park, bathed in sunshine, with its buskers and fountains offered great respite after traipsing the New York neighbourhoods before I returned to the Village for a final night in the city.
It was a late night as I bade farewell, once more, to this great city and, aptly enough, it finished in The Bitter End back on Bleecker.
The acts were, in truth, a long way from the quality of the Liam Clancys or Bob Dylans of yesteryear but the vibe remains at this iconic New York venue and proved the ideal way to leave this City that Never Sleeps – leaving you want to come back for more.
Where to Stay
I stayed at the ultra-stylish, James Hotel in SoHo. The four-star hotel is located in the ideal area for exploring downtown Manhattan and adjacent to the Canal Street subway, which, if required, will bring you up to the main New York tourist attractions in mid-town in less than ten minutes. The hotel offers free wine & cheese for guests every evening and the roof-top bar, overlooking the Manhattan skyline, is the ideal spot for a cocktail to start your night out in the city.
To book The James Hotel or any downtown Manhattan hotel for your New York trip, visit www.Hotels.com.
Aer Lingus flies twice daily to New York from Dublin and three times weekly from Shannon. Fares start from €239 each way. For more information on fares and schedules, please visit: www.aerlingus.com.
For more information about New York, visit www.nycgo.com.