Story and photos by QUENTIN S. AGNELLO
Tuesday, March 21, 2023
I did not know what to expect when I first arrived in New York City. Graciously, our Uber driver at the airport navigated the aggressive streets of Manhattan.
The Manhattan Bridge was part of our route. However, at night it is more of a deathtrap than a beautiful sight, because there was very little paint to signify the border on a two-lane road.
We made it in one piece to our destination in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. My mother, stepfather and I stayed the next five nights in a three-floor, two-bedroom apartment with rooms that weren’t much bigger than a community college office.
The floors were built in 1910 and showed their age, with creaking floorboards and cracked wood marking every other step.
It was past 10 p.m. by the time we had settled into our abode. It was not long before our minds drifted to hunger. The refrigerator was bare of anything but condiments, and the cabinets held utensils, but there was no food to speak of.
What was worse, all of the good restaurants, markets and venues had closed their doors by then. Our last option was to wander the borough for food.
There, in the darkness of the city was a bodega – a mini-mart with everything you could possibly need in a pinch. Alcohol, food, over-the-counter meds and even fresh deli sandwiches.
Wednesday, March 22
I awoke to the honk of horns and the bustle of the city. I slipped from my bed into the day and freshened up before stepping out into the city.
The orange glow of the sun shone through the leafless trees and the city streets. It was just the start of spring, so the flowers were blooming but the trees had yet to recover their green leaves.
The first item on the agenda was the Statue of Liberty. We needed to show up an hour early to Battery Park in order to make the ferry to Liberty Island. This required the use of the subway system.
I have never been more amazed, terrified and disgusted by the NYC subway system. Massive metro cars that run on time and carry thousands of people at a time, something I had not experienced.
Thousands of people means crowded cars and unsavory passengers. This was by far the most continuously stress-inducing form of travel I have ever experienced.
We made it to Battery Park, which was a serene spot along the eastern shore of Manhattan. With a large and complex children’s playground separate from the main park, tourists are free to enjoy the park’s serenity along with resident families.
The ferry was guarded by a security checkpoint, not unlike an airport. Metal detectors, x-ray machines and armed officers kept everything running smoothly. “The price of Liberty is constant vigilance,” was a quote uttered by my stepfather.
The ferry ride was to be expected, however, the sight of the Lady Liberty was nothing to scoff at. Liberty Island was abuzz with tourists from all over the world. Even on a weekday, there were droves of people.
The several dozen flights of stairs up to the pedestal had to be climbed in order for us to make our money’s worth on the tickets. But first, we had to go through another security checkpoint with locker storage this time.
It was exhausting and a bit confusing, but we made it to the top. The view of the statue was not as full from right beneath her, nevertheless, the entire view from the stone pedestal was awesome by definition.
The next stop was Ellis Island, the immigration port that once processed a thousand people daily. It stood as a hallowed monument to the trials and tribulations of many people who sought better lives.
It was impossibly large on the inside. Massive halls for lines of processing, quarantine rooms, bunkhouses and offices make up this three-story mansion of a building. Despite this, things still felt impossibly cramped.
After wandering these islands for several hours, we retired back to our flat in Williamsburg to recuperate before hitting the streets again.
This time, our destination was the Radegast Hall and Biergarten, a German bar in Brooklyn.
The place was unassuming from the outside. The only sign that it was a German pub was the medium-sized blue banisters that hung near the windows. Pictures of beer generally mean you’re going in the right direction.
As we entered, the inside was rustic and dimly lit, but different in an inviting style. We were met by a hostess and seated in the banquet hall. It was the largest and most well-lit space in the restaurant.
First, beer was ordered. It was possibly the best-tasting draught, even the best beer, I had ever tasted. It was smooth, flavorful and the head was almost creamy. One was enough to satisfy me for the night. For the life of me, I don’t think I could pronounce the name correctly.
Appetizers were served to the table in the form of sausages and dipping sauces, as well as large, oven-baked pretzels and a dish of beef bone marrow with toast.
Sausage was kielbasa, Argentinian sausage and jalapeño and cheddar sausage. They came with the delectable housemade mustard sauce.
The pretzel was no Halal cart pretzel. This pretzel was warm, soft and came with warm dipping cheese.
I was hesitant to try the bone marrow. Having heard the health risks around bone marrow and bone broth in the past, it took some time and finishing my pint to work up the courage to try it.
I found it surprisingly savory. Oily and buttery like fat but meaty in an indescribable way. Definitely well prepared but not something I normally would order.
We returned to the flat shortly after the appetizers were cold. A nice end to my first day in New York.
Thursday, March 23
The beer that warmed my soul last night came back to haunt me in the morning. Luckily, the negative effects were short-lived and I was able to get ready for the day.
In Williamsburg, I walked several blocks to the nearest Dunkin Donuts. The yellow-orange sunbeams poured through the streets as the borough shifted and rumbled with life. Brooklyn was just as lively in the morning as it was at night. The bars nearby served espresso cocktails and coffee instead of their usual menu in the mornings.
Throughout the trip, I was surprised by how businesses felt so small in this massive city. Even restaurants and delis known for their good food and fast wait times have an almost-crowded feeling. This was especially true at the Dunkin.
I freshened myself up with caffeine and waited for my stepsister to arrive at our abode. She decided to join our party for our trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art. We were still reeling from yesterday’s activities, but I was determined to see this massive museum.
It was absolutely astonishing. The building took up several blocks in Central Park. We would’ve had the time to admire the park, but the constant rainfall had everyone seeking shelter in the museum.
The inside was just as breathtaking as the outside, with large curved ceilings and massive stone pillars. The place felt like a castle or an abbey. Each room was filled with exhibits of impossibly intricate relics.
There were so many exhibits to explore that I could not see every part of the museum and fully appreciate it. I spent a half-hour in the Arms and Armor Hall just to view a portion of the full display.
The museum was a compendium of artifacts from across the world and across time, including handcrafted sculptures from Africa, a hall of steel-plated suits, Greek marble displays and massive Egyptian temples.
By far, my favorite section of the museum had to be the oil-painting exhibits. Classical artists from across the world use Impressionism, Realism, and other forms to express figures, locations and abstract objects on canvas.
It felt as if three hours had passed by in a few minutes. We had not finished touring the museum, but our bodies could not handle any more.
We marched away from the museum in search of caffeine and carbs. I was delighted to happen upon a pizzeria serving by the slice.
Famous Famiglia had cheap slices and decent prices. It was a true New York pizza – large and thin slices that you fold in half just to keep the thin edge from flopping.
After lunch, we made our way back to Williamsburg for some well-deserved rest. By 7:30 p.m., we were craving food and drinks.
The Ore Bar, a dive bar slotted into the building spaces within our block, was our first stop of the night. It was small and dimly lit, as well as sweltering. This was not a bad thing for many because it was chilly at night, but our jackets and layers would leave us sweaty.
It was a chilly night, but not unbearably so. This made the outdoor seating even more attractive.
I ordered a Cleo’s Mood, a drink with mezcal and orange/tangy liquors. In retrospect, I would not order the drink again, but it was enough to satisfy me.
After our glasses were empty, we strolled a few blocks to a nearby Thai restaurant called Sage. The name of the place made certain menu options confusing. A “Sage Margarita” did not have sage in it. It was almost a play on words like “The Ore Fashioned” which was just an old-fashioned made at The Ore.
Pork strips, pad thai, curry puffs and dumplings were plenty to fill our bellies. Some of the items were not amazing, but nothing we ordered was inedible.
Overall, Williamsburg was a pleasant part of Brooklyn. Despite its ramshackle houses and occasional fecal matter, the neighborhood felt calm and inviting. Nothing was ever far away and new faces were countless.