New York City has often been called the greatest city in the world, even the center of the universe. It’s a cruise port and a major hub for international air travel. Put another way, if you travel, you’ve likely passed through NYC. What’s it like right now?
Why is this important? As we come out of the pandemic lockdown, our frame of reference is usually our home town. Here in Bucks County, PA and nearby New Jersey, life feels back to normal. Restaurants are open at 100% capacity. States have dropped the mask requirement, although businesses can make their own decisions. Live theater is starting up again. Lots of traffic on the roads.
The picture changes when you go to New York, an 8 MM person city dependent on tourism and commuting office workers. Here’s my story:
On Wednesday, June 2nd I took New Jersey Transit (commuter rail) into NYC to meet my brother-in law for lunch. No problem parking in the parking structure adjacent to the Trenton Transit Center. At 9:00 AM on a Wednesday, the place was almost deserted. Same story with the platform and of course, the train because it originates in Trenton. FYI: Masks are required in train stations and on the trains.
Arrived in Penn Station, NJ. It’s a major rail station with 21 tracks. At about 10:30 AM, the station was pretty empty.
I walked a block above ground to the subway station without my mask, because NY has followed the federal guidelines, allowing fully vaccinated people to walk around without them. It went back on for the subway ride. The platform was empty. The train car had about 20 people inside, at about 11:00 AM.
Walked across West 49th Street. This is midtown Manhattan with plenty of office towers and expense account restaurants. Looking up Avenue of the Americas towards Radio City from 49th Street, I was surprised at the lack of pedestrians and traffic. On the positive side, I was amazed by the style and sophistication of the outdoor dining restaurants had setup. Clearly, they brought in designers and spare no expense.
As I walked along 5th Avenue, I had extra time, so I decided to stop in the Cartier flagship store. They had an area with a red velvet rope for people with appointments to line, up. There weren’t any, so I walked up to the door, welcomed me in and set about assigning me to someone. I explained I was just looking. Masks were required in the store.
There are more empty storefronts of 5th Avenue than you would expect. The landlords have decorated the windows quite well, but a lot of businesses are no longer in this flagship location.
It was noon. Time for lunch. The French restaurant we chose had outdoor seating extending into the street along with tables on the sidewalk. We sat inside. About half the seating had been removed. Tables for two were no longer six inches away from the next table. When we asked for menus, they directed us to a QR code encased in a Lucite paperweight. We explained we “don’t do QR codes” so they printed off menus.
Expect the a la carte menu. At this point, the two and three course set lunch menus are gone. I think they’ve gone from separate lunch and dinner menus to one menu, standardizing pricing. We had a $65 bottle of wine, which is pretty much entry level. FYI: Champagne is $25/glass (4 ounce pour, or about 6 glasses come out of a bottle.)
We are used to NYC prices, so entrees in the mid $30 range didn’t surprise us. I really wanted to try the white asparagus appetizer, but not at $33! I’m sure it was the golden caviar topping that shot the price up.
The main dining room was largely empty, but the outdoor seating was filled.
After lunch, I reversed the process, heading back to Penn Station for the train ride home. The biggest takeaway was the lack of people on the streets. It might be different in largely residential neighborhoods of the city, but when you remove tourists and office workers, Manhattan can look pretty empty.
Cover photo: Cartier Flagship Store on 5th Avenue
The many pictures below go with the story, courtesy of Bryce Sanders