Ever since watching “Miracle on 34th Street” as a child, I’ve wondered what it’d be like to experience New York City at Christmas. Seeing Buddy the Elf and Kevin McAllister do it in 2003 and 1992 (respectively) only heightened such desire, so when I learned there was a workers’ comp law seminar at The London hotel on West 54th street December 16-17, I signed up and bought 5 plane tickets. Talking to a friend’s airline pilot husband at a holiday party the week before we left and hearing, “New York takes Christmas very seriously!” confirmed I’d made the right choice.
We landed on Friday the 14th, spent an hour in a cab from Newark to Manhattan, and were having Sacco Pizza with Craig, my friend from undergrad (now an NYU professor) whom I haven’t seen since 1999, by 5:45pm.
At 8pm, Craig’s graduate assistant came to our AirBnB to watch the children, so that we grownups could enjoy an experience I’d planned and scheduled months before: the “dusty bottle” experience at The Office, a speakeasy hidden behind The Aviary restaurant inside the Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle. Craig stayed for an initial “dealer’s choice” beverage before my bride and I started our prepaid “dusty bottle” series of pairings.
The food and drink pairings were amazing, and the service was impeccable. I loved the ambiance, the cocktails, the decor, and the company. I have to put our evening at “The Office” as one of my top favorite bar experiences in the world (with Bar Cordon Noir in Kyoto, Moonshiner in Paris, Napoleon House in New Orleans, and Red Phone Booth in Atlanta). Each cocktail in our pairings included spirits from 50+ years ago in Prohibition-style mixtures, concluding with Midori Melon Liqueur and then Yamazaki 12 with truffles in it. Delicious. So were the caviar and pickled vegetables + hot cheese fondue food pairings.
When our time at The Office concluded, we decided we needed to go atop the Empire State Building at 1:15am, despite the clouds, the drizzling rain, and the incredulous ticket agent named Elvira who most assuredly had her grumpy pants on. We went up the elevator to the 80th floor and then up another elevator to the 86th floor and walked outside into the cool mist, circumnavigating the observation deck and entertaining the guards before coming back down and making our way back to the AirBnb to go to sleep about 3am.
We slept in a bit on Saturday, ordered Uber Eats breakfast, and hit Huascar & Co Bakeshop next to our apartment, where I had one of the best chocolate chip cookies of my life. Then the 5 of us made our way up to Central Park.
We explored the park for an hour, listening to a busking brass band belt out Christmas carols before going to Trump Tower to use the toilets. Then we window shopped 5th Avenue’s storefronts in all their Christmas splendor.
An hour later, we entered Shubert Theatre for opening weekend of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and it was awesome. I loved Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of one of my favorite books and movies, and Jeff Daniels was an outstanding Atticus Finch. I wept through 90% of it.
After the performance, we had Italian at Giardino 54 by our apartment before grabbing our sleeping bags and reporting to the American Museum of Natural History for our overnight “Night at the Museum” experience.
We loved it. We got there about 8pm, picked a spot to sleep underneath the giant blue whale, and began exploring the Unseen Oceans and Our Senses exhibitions before seeing the live animal exhibition, participating in the scavenger hunt through the hall of dinosaurs, and donning 3-D glasses for the “Backyard Wilderness” movie. We went to sleep at midnight.
At 7am Sunday, a voice said “time to get up” as the lights came on in the room with the giant blue whale. We packed our stuff and walked to Sarabeth’s for brunch. A couple hours later, we met my sister-in-law and her sons at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a few hours of exploration before I reported to the London hotel for my continuing legal education seminar.
That evening, the conference organizers scheduled dinner at Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center and a trip to the Top of the Rock observation deck. We watched through the glass as a man proposed to his girlfriend in the pouring rain on the skating rink and congratulated them as they came inside the restaurant to their roses and champagne.
On Monday morning at 8am, we entered SantaLand at Macy’s Herald Square on 34th Street, walked right up to Santa, and got our picture taken with the man himself. To the haters who said we’d wait in line 3 hours for such, you were wrong.
I went to my seminar for a bit before we broke for lunch at Maison Kayser and filed into Radio City Music Hall for the Christmas Spectacular with the Rockettes from the 5th row. I’m not sure what I expected out of the show, but my expectations were exceeded…we all 5 loved seeing the numerous Santa-centered songs and acts, followed by a nativity scene and traditional Christmas hymns complete with live camels and sheep! If I was struggling to feel the Christmas before this experience, I certainly had it afterward.
After the show, we walked over to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a half hour or so before having dinner and getting our bags from the concierge at The London so that we could head to Newark airport for our 8pm flight home.
But we did not fly home at 8pm. The flight was delayed by a couple hours, so we went to the Delta Sky Club, where only I’m allowed to go inside, but the rest of the family stayed by the front table as I shuffled glasses of wine to my wife and juice and snacks to the children for the next 2 hours at the urging of the bartender who was supposed to get off when Delta’s last flight was set to leave but was having to stay late until our flight boarded instead.
At 9:30pm, my phone rang, and it was an unrecognized number from Orange, NJ. I answered it. The ticket agent we’d met a couple hours before–the lady to whom we gave our bags and asked if there was any way the 5 of us could get home sooner than our delayed flight was scheduled to take us–saidall 5 of us had been moved to first class, and she offered to come up to wherever we were in the airport to give us our new boarding passes! I told her that would not be necessary, given I was in the Sky Club, where they can do such for us, and I ended the call. “Well, children…Delta called with some more news about our flight home,” I said as the kids’ faces sank. “They’ve bumped all of us up to first class.” There was whooping and dancing throughout the Sky Club.
We landed at 12:30am; it was nearly 2am before I went to sleep, but it was totally worth it.
A few weeks before this trip, I learned the law firm with whom I’d been co-located for 4.5 years was breaking up, that our lease would not be renewed, and that I’d have to find movers, find an office, pack, move, and unpack within a few days (and simultaneously spend a week engaged in field exercises and inspections with the Air Force Reserves). Other than going to the SEC Championship with my friend Jim Bob and our eldest daughters on December 1, this Christmas season had consisted mainly of reacting to various work crises. Spending a 4-day weekend in New York in mid-December changed that, and I’m immensely grateful we had the time and money to finally make this trip happen this year.
Nothing we did was inexpensive, but I’ll cherish the memories made on this trip indefinitely, just as I have nearly every day since we got back. I’d recommend NYC in December to anyone struggling to “feel the Christmas” at Christmas, and I hope we can go again and again.