My friends and I know how to maximize an experience.
When Sara Rose and Sheena McCall purchased an auction item at the Clarence Brown Theatre’s annual gala this summer, the offer was two nights in a hotel room for four people along with a walking tour of the city by Ronny Venable (a Clarence Brown alum living in NYC) and a fancy dinner as part of the New York City Wine and Food Festival. Oh, and lunch at Tavern on the Green.
But we ramped up the experience to include four nights, three plays, a jazz club and numerous restaurants and shopping stops — in addition to the tour and over-the-top dinner. In short, we maximized it!
Follow along here for our opinions on the good, the bad and the “meh.” And make your reservations! Nothing beats the Big Apple for fun!
Let’s start with the plays. They all were wonderful. We gave two an A-plus and one a B-plus, but it got bonus points for including a Knoxvillian in its cast!
“Dear Evan Hansen”
We paid $300 apiece for these tickets, but they were worth it. The play is an examination of the meaning of life and family and friendship and loneliness in this digital age — all set to music. It seemed to have an especially big effect on parents in the audience, many of whom were crying throughout. This was Sara’s favorite play. A-plus.
“Come from Away”
When the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, caused all planes to be grounded, 38 of them landed unexpectedly in the tiny town of Gander, Newfoundland. This resulted in about 7,000 scared, desperate, frustrated passengers disembarking and immediately doubling the size of the town’s population. But the residents embraced and befriended them and, despite the strain on the town’s resources, displayed heartwarming human kindness that had me, for one, in tears. This was my favorite play of the trip. Again, an A-plus. Tickets were $200 each.
Don’t get me wrong. We loved this play about the employees of a pie shop. It had sad parts and happy parts. But, most important to me, it had John Cullum, a Tony Award winner from Knoxville who played the part of the curmudgeonly pie shop owner. I think we might have scored it higher if we hadn’t already been blown away by the previous two plays. Its sound system was a little muddy, making the lyrics hard to understand, and the plot was somewhat predictable. But we’d still give it a B-plus. Tickets were $200 each.
A Personal Walking Tour
Ronny Venable is an actor and fundraising professional originally from South Knoxville but living in New York City for more than three decades now. He also is a fantastic tour guide. As part of our “prize package” from the Clarence Brown, Ronny met up with us Saturday afternoon following our lunch at Tavern on the Green (more on that later).
Next stop: Federal Hall National Memorial on Wall Street, a landmark administered by the National Park Service.
We all loved the next stop. At 55 Water Street is a nondescript escalator that takes you to the Elevated Acre — a rooftop garden atop two office buildings.
Back down on the street, we ran into a movie or TV filming taking place.
Then, it was on to see the “Fearless Girl” statue.
Jennifer and her dog, Max, were displaced by the Sept. 11 attack and fled to New Jersey for weeks. She actually saw the towers fall and saw people jumping to their deaths. Sixteen years later, she still can’t discuss it without crying. Ronny couldn’t take us to the actual September 11 Memorial because he found it too upsetting. “I just can’t take it,” he said.
Ronny is available for personalized tours. He’s a lot of fun! He can be reached at WalkWithRonny@gmail.com. We highly recommend!
We had a lot of it! Here’s a quick rundown.
Breakfast at Balthazar.
French. Fun. Delicious. Only downside: It’s pretty far from the Theater District where we stayed. Our cab got bogged down in traffic, and we had to get out and walk towards the end because we were very late for our reservation and the restaurant was about to close for a private event. And this was at 10:30 on a weekday!
High tea at The Plaza.
Yes, it’s expensive. About $100 each. But you gotta do it!
Quick dinner at The Stinger.
The Stinger Cocktail Bar and Kitchen is operated by Chef Todd English and is located in our hotel, the InterContinental Times Square. The drinks and the bar snacks are great and we had them almost every night.
But, on this night, Sara and I needed a quick dinner prior to opening curtain of a play. We adored the quick food we had at The Stinger.
Lunch at Marseille.
Alan and I love Marseille, the French restaurant just a block from our hotel. I introduced Sara to it.
Being a tourist at Tavern on the Green.
It’s fun to go there. But do it for the atmosphere — not the food.
Arguing about Esca.
Esca, a Mario Batali eatery on W. 43rd Street, is one of Sheena’s favorite restaurants. The word esca is Italian for bait and a lot of the fish is served raw. “I love raw fish!” Sheena exclaimed. Well, I don’t. And I’d been to Esca once before and found the cooked food almost too salty to eat. (Click here for a post about that visit.) But, being a fair-minded person, I decided to be a good sport and give it another shot.
I was careful about my order and, this time, the food was a lot better. But the noise was cacophonous. We literally could not hear each other talk. It was so bad that we chose to forego dessert just so we could get the heck out of there.
So, the food was great. But the noise was terrible. I recommend picking another restaurant. Sheena likely will disagree.
Miscellaneous other adventures.
Here’s a little known fact for you. Most of us who know Sara Rose know her as an executive with Bush Brothers or with Whittle Communications, her previous job. But did you know that she also was for five years a handbag purchaser for the retail industry? She knows everything about handbags — and how to pick a good one. She helped me find my new one at DKNY — and I love it. She knew more about handbags than the sales staff! (I think they were a little intimidated.)
Next post: An evening in Chef David Bouley’s Test Kitchen. Amazing.