There is nothing like bringing in the New Year counting down to that glowing ball above New York City’s Times Square. The excitement is timeless and millions around the country tune in for the annual event, me included. Midtown Manhattan never looked so glamorous.
Originally called Longacre Square after London’s Carriage District, the site was renamed around 1904 when the New York Times Headquarters were established there. The Times Tower was built by publisher Adolph S. Ochs and he started the tradition of hosting a New Year’s Eve celebration right in the middle of his square. And here we are still toasting to Ochs’ old party plans.
Even before the Times Tower, Oscar Hammerstein I built a theater complex on 44th Street in 1895. The Olympia included 3 stages and a rooftop garden. More theaters began to crop up around WWI and with high-end hotels like The Astor and The Knickerbocker, Times Square was becoming a true entertainment district. During the Great Depression, though, Times Square became dark and seedy. Adult entertainment was cheap, leading to sketchy nightclubs, brothels, and street walkers. That grittiness furthered with an increased mob presence in the late 1960s. Gambling, drugs, and crime meant this was no longer a glitzy destination.
It wasn’t until the 1980’s and 90’s that NYC decided to reclaim Times Square as a classy entertainment district. Bigger businesses, better restaurants, more mainstream retail, and what you see today is the newer improved square. The grittiness is still there and if you ask any New Yorker, they’ll probably say it’s all part of NYC’s charm. The high/low mix made for a very interesting Fall trip this past October. And I loved every New York minute.
I stayed at the Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel on the corner of 7th and West 47th Street, right in the heart of Times Square. It also faces Broadway – this drama geek’s Mecca. The Great White Way stretches from 42nd to 53rd Streets. And it really does glow. Sweet smiles from my 4-year-old got us an upgrade to a room facing the street and I’ll tell you, the view never got old. The city truly felt alive.
Our first night, we checked in around 10 p.m. Luckily, the nightlife was just getting started. We headed over to Junior’s on 45th Street for dinner and had the “best cheesecake in New York”. Yes, it was good. Our meals were good, too, but it’s important to note that meals in New York are about $20 per plate. This is standard around the city so save your pennies for this trip.
Right after dinner, the theater crowds spilled onto the street. Oddly enough, there are only 4 theaters actually on Broadway, the rest are along the side streets. Something about the dirty streets – trash piled along the sidewalk – and the well-dressed theater goers further highlighted the high/low contrast. Add in the street entertainment with people dressed as characters, and you have quite the show. Speaking of shows, I originally thought I wouldn’t see anything on Broadway. With a kid in tow and busy days exploring, I thought I wouldn’t fit it in. Yet, someone was handing out flyers one morning for Sara Bareilles’ Waitress with a promo code and a big discount. It was a sign. Plus, The Brooks Atkinson Theatre was just around the corner from my hotel. Betsy Wolfe really nailed the lead as Jenna and the songs were both heartbreaking and uplifting. The whole cast was great with crisp vocals and slick choreography. Jason Mraz joined the cast on November 3rd and knowing his talent, he probably nailed the role of Dr. Pomatter.
You can’t visit NYC and not have pizza. On another night, we ate at John’s of Times Square on 44th Street. John’s is located inside an old converted gospel church, which explains the beautiful interiors. The coal-fired brick ovens are supposedly seasoned with age and I have to say the pizza was fantastic. They don’t sell slices – you’ll see the signs everywhere stating “no slices”. But I wasn’t convinced that our party of 5 could finish two whole pizzas. Well, we got pretty close. Two slices remained for an easy cold breakfast the next morning. Oddly enough, the menu includes a no cheese version. Perfect for my pal who has a weird aversion to cheese – how did they know he was coming?!
Another great place to eat is O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub on 45th Street. Their Irish beef stew is really, really great. I washed it down with a Guinness, of course. The restaurant and bar has quite the ambience as well. Dark wood paneling and hanging lamps could make for a nice date night.
There are tons of shops in Times Square as well. A huge MAC, Forever 21, and plenty of other places to buy quick souvenir goods. I didn’t really shop since I planned to eat well and see as many sights as possible. The square also has some chain restaurants like the Olive Garden and TGI Fridays, but we opted to explore New York eateries instead. Thanks to a subway station near our hotel, we were able to see quite a bit of the Big Apple. But I’ll share more about that on another day.
I loved staying in Times Square – it was the perfect home base for my NY adventure. Thanks to the old Times Tower and Hamerstein’s early theater development, pieces of Longacre Square have endured the years of glitz and grime. Cheers to 2018 and all the new adventures it will bring. Happy New Year, travel friends!