By Gretchen McKay

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On the road with the Steelers: New York

Categories : Travel
A spectacular view of Central Park from the Mandarin Hotel in New York City.

 

The Steelers don’t take on the New York Giants until late afternoon next Sunday. Theoretically, then, you could jump in your car at the crack of dawn on game day and get to MetLife Stadium with plenty of time to tailgate before kickoff at 4:25 p.m. But that’s missing the point.

One of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, if not the world, the Big Apple is the epicenter of, well, just about everything. Whether you’re a fan of theater or fashion, addicted to shopping (window and otherwise), a lover of art and culture, or simply hungry for a really great meal, New York’s got it all. So why not make a weekend of it?

Fall is the perfect time to visit this city of 8 million, the most populous, culturally diverse and bustling in the U.S. (a third of its inhabitants are foreign born). Just remember to wear comfortable shoes because once you hit its busy streets you’re going to want to explore.

Getting there

Seems strange, but the New York Giants don’t actually play their games in New York; MetLife Stadium is about eight miles west of the city in East Rutherford, N.J. It’s an easy seven-hour highway drive from Pittsburgh (Route 28N to Interstate 80E), but if you’d rather fly, the New York City area is served by three airports: Newark Liberty International (EWR) in Newark, or LaGuardia (LGA) and John F. Kennedy International (JFK) airports in New York. With advance planning, round-trip fares can be as low as $130; a taxi from JFK to anywhere in Manhattan costs $52.

On NFL game days, special NJ Transit service operates between Hoboken Terminal and the Meadowlands Sport Complex Station (trains run every 10 minutes, and a round-trip ticket costs $5.75). You also can connect with NJ Transit trains at New York City’s Penn Station (take the train to Secaucus Station, then use your ticket to transfer via the escalators to the Meadowlands Service). The round-trip fare from Secaucus is $4.50, and the trip takes about 10 minutes. For a schedule, visit NJTransit.com.

The primary means for getting around the city itself is by foot. Laid out on a grid, with wide sidewalks, New York is extremely walkable. It also has an easy-to-navigate 24/7 subway system that carries some 4.5 million people a day. (A SingleRide subway fare is $2.50; a seven-day MetroCard, which buys seven days’ worth of unlimited subway and bus rides, costs $29.) For a printable map or more info, go to mta.info. Cabs also are plentiful, but fares quickly add up: after a base fare of $2.50, it’s 50 cents for every one-fifth mile or 60 seconds in stopped or slow-moving traffic (or for waiting time), and passengers also pay bridge and tunnel tolls — and are expected to tip.

Room with a view

So where should you stay? If you’re looking to save money or avoid a long game day commute, the answer is New Jersey. There are many reasonably priced hotels/motels in the Meadowlands area near the stadium, including The Hampton Inn-Carlstadt at the Meadowlands (hamptoninn3.hilton.com) and Residence Inn East Rutherford Meadowlands (marriott.com), both within walking distance and offer free parking. (Hampton Inn throws in a free breakfast.) Other inexpensive chains include Holiday Inn, Sheraton, Econolodge and Fairfield Inn.

If you’d rather overnight in one of Manhattan’s 90,000-plus hotel rooms — and who could blame you? — you don’t have to take out a second mortgage so long as you steer clear of the big name, ultra-lux digs in the heart of the city. (Although if you want to spend the money, it’s easy to find discounted rooms on websites such as Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz.) One reasonably priced hotel recommended by nycgo.com, the city’s official marketing and tourism organization, is Yotel (yotelnewyork.com), a high-tech hotel two blocks west of Times Square. It features sleeping “cabins” with handmade organic mattresses, and rates starting at $229/night.

PG graphic: Steelers Nation in N.Y.
(Click image for larger version)

The rooms are equally slick (and tiny) at the concept Pod Hotel (thepodhotel.com; two locations at 230 E. 51st St. and 145 E. 39th St.). No two rooms are alike, but all have en suite bathrooms with frosted glass doors, modular furniture, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. They average $229/night and range in size from a mini-bunk (with bunk beds) to rooms with two double beds. It’s cheaper still at The Bowery House in New York’s trendy Nolita neighborhood (220 Bowery, theboweryhouse.com). Built in 1927 as the Prince Hotel, it was reconfigured in the 1940s into single rooms just large enough for a bed to house soldiers returning home from World War II. All the bathrooms are shared, but what you give up in privacy you make up in price: rates average $89 a night. It’s especially good for groups: the Museum Bunk accommodates eight people with four twin bunks, while the Bowery Bunk can sleep 12.

Other hotels recommended by friends who live in or travel frequently to Manhattan include the Holiday Inn Midtown at 440 W. 57th Street, the Best Western Seaport Inn in the heart of the South Street Seaport (seaportinn.com), the Skyline Hotel at 725 10th Ave., (skylinehotelny.com) and any of the Apple Core Hotels (there’s five of them,applecorehotels.com). If you prefer more sophisticated boutique hotels, The GEM Hotel (thegemhotel.com) has three locations: in Chelsea, Midtown West and SoHo.

Bust a gut

There are more than 24,000 restaurants in Manhattan alone, offering everything from haute cuisine to tapas to hole-in-the-wall bar food. Where to start? Personally, I think no visit is complete without sampling at least one all-beef hotdog at Gray’s Papaya (2090 Broadway on the Upper West Side, or 402 Sixth Ave. in Greenwich Village). Two dogs and a drink: just $4.45. For more substantial, casual fare, you can’t beat Five Napkin Burger (three locations) or Vynl in Hell’s Kitchen (754 Ninth Ave.), where the menu includes such divergent delights as Kung Pao Shrimp Tacos and Little Madam Hams, an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich topped with ham and sunny-side up quail eggs. For a true Chinatown experience, head to Big Wong King for a steaming bowl of congee or plate of glistening pork ribs (67 Mott St.). In neighboring Little Italy, the nod goes to Angelo of Mulberry Street (146 Mulberry St.).

For a hometown homage, go to Rye House (11 W. 17th St). Owned by Pittsburgh native Michael Jannetta, it serves a sandwich called “Pittsburgh”: grilled Andouille sausage, provolone — and slaw and fries.

Other friend-recommended restaurants include Live Bait, a Cajun eatery in the Flatiron district (14 E. 23rd St.), Shake Shack, a small chain serving fresh-ground burgers, flat-top dogs and fries that got its start from a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park (five locations) and Chimichurri Grill, a cozy Argentinean steakhouse in Hell’s Kitchen (606 Ninth Ave.) My brother-in-law swears by the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, where a dozen Wellfleet oysters and a martini are “like heaven … assuming heaven serves booze and oysters.”

For authentic wood-fired Neapolitan pizza, consider Keste Pizza & Vino in the West Village (271 Bleeker St.) or Don Antonio by Starita in Midtown (309 W. 50th St.), which in February earned the title “Best Pizza in New York” from New York magazine. Before moving to NYC, Chef Roberto Caporuscio made his famous pies at Regina Margherita pizzerias in Bellevue and Lawrenceville.

More elegant and expensive options include Becco (355 W. 46th St.), a popular Italian eatery owned by Lidia Bastianich and her son, Joe; Red Rooster, Marcus Samuelsson’s stylish Harlem brasserie (310 Lenox Ave.); Junoon, an upscale Indian restaurant reflecting the diversity of India in the Flatiron district (27 W. 24th St.; $35 prix fixe brunch on Saturday and Sunday); Nobu for Japanese (105 Hudson St.); the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center, which looks out on the skating rink; and Tertulia, a Spanish taverna serving tapas in the West Village (359 Sixth Ave.) … the list goes on and on. For more suggestions, visit nyc.com/restaurants.

New York also has an amazing food truck scene; find a guide at newyorkstreetfood.com or findnycfoodtrucks.com. Or enjoy a strolling curbside lunch with Turnstile Tours. Its food cart tour includes six stops and costs $48 (urbanoyster.com).

Sights and attractions

The most popular attractions almost need no introduction: bustling, shiny Times Square, where the lights never dim and the Toys R Us store boasts an indoor Ferris wheel; Central Park, home to a zoo; the Empire State Building observation deck, the Statue of Liberty, which reopens its crown to the public today following a lengthy renovation; the9/11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan (reserve a free visitors pass at 911memorial.org); and Rockefeller Center, which is already open for ice skating.

This also is a museum-lovers town, with dozens of art and other museums. The largest museum of its kind in the world, the Upper West Side’s American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at W. 79th St., $19 suggested donation) has 45 exhibition halls with more than 30 million artifacts — big enough to comprise four city blocks. TheMetropolitan Museum of Art (1000 Fifth Ave., $25 suggested donation), conversely, includes more than 2 million works of art representing 5,000 years of history. Adore your Van Goghs and Warhols but also love a bargain? On Friday, admission to the Museum of Modern Art (11 W. 53rd St.) is free 4-8 p.m.; at the Whitney Museum of American Art, it’s “pay what you will” from 6 to 9 p.m. More offbeat, and controversial, is the Museum of Sex (233 Fifth Ave.), the nation’s first museum dedicated to the preservation and presentation of human sexuality. (Adults only.)

Less cerebral pursuits include the Harry Potter exhibit at Times Square ($25 adults, $19.50 kids), the Saturday market at Union Square (through Nov. 17), Chelsea Market, an arcade of food stores and restaurants at 75 Ninth Ave. For an off-your-feet tour of the city, consider a Gray Line double-decker bus tour (newyorksightseeing.com; $49 and up) or a Circle Line harbour cruise (circleline42.com, $27 and up). A ride on the Roosevelt Island Tram (49th St. and Second Ave.) costs just $2.25 each way and treats passengers to spectacular views down the East River of the East Side skyline and on a clear day, all the way to Lady Liberty. The High Line, an elevated railway-turned urban park along the west side, is a delightful garden oasis above the street bustle with great views on the Hudson River (access at nine points from Gansevoort Street to 30th Street; see thehighline.org).

Give my regards to Broadway

The must-see “Book of Mormon” has been sold out for months. So Post-Gazette theater critic Sharon Eberson suggests the also-popular “Newsies,” “Peter and the Starcatcher” or “Grace.” If you don’t mind standing in line, the TKTS ticket booth at Times Square offers tickets to Broadway and Off Broadway musicals and plays at up to 50 percent off for both matinee and evening shows on performance days, beginning at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. There’s also a booth at South Street Seaport. Info: tdf.org. For current shows, go to playbill.com.

Yep, there’s an app for that

With so many people, and so much to see and do, New York can easily overwhelm. Thank goodness, then, for smartphones. Some of the best apps for navigating the city include NYC Map, which provides directions to nearly 90,000 of the city’s restaurants, stores, attractions, hotels and bars; CabSense NYC, which uses your current location to find the best street corners near you to hail an open cab; iTrans NYC Subway, a subway guide; and ILoveNYTheater, which allows you to browse current and future Broadway productions. Explore 911 offers a walking tour of the area around the World Trade Center; NYC Museum Guide catalogs hours and locations. For dining, there’s Eat Street (menus and locations), New York BlackBook (hot restaurants, bars and nightlife), New York on Tap (bars) and Tweat.it (a guide to food trucks). Many can be downloaded for free; visit itunes.com.

Steelers country

In a city this big, there’s more than one bar in which to watch the Steelers. The best, say friends who live there, are Hurley’s Saloon in the theater district (232 W. 48th St.) and the boisterous Hibernia Bar in Hell’s Kitchen (401 W. 50th), where the “Steelers Polka” blasts before kickoff and an Iron City costs $4. The Irish Exit (978 Second Ave.) is a pretty good place to pump an Iron, too, along with pierogies and 50 cent wings.

More info

For free maps, guides and brochures, visit nycgo.com.