A Southern Brunch
Winter doesn’t slow down the action on New York City’s Upper West Side. The area is just as lively on a cold March day as it is in July, and the cultural season is in full swing. A trendy place to start the day with breakfast or brunch is Jacob’s Pickle at 509 Amsterdam Avenue at 84th Street. Diners might have to wait outside, especially for Sunday brunch, which is especially popular.
The wait is worth it though, as the Southern-influenced meals are delicious and the portions are humongous. The dishes are built around homemade soft biscuits which surround the egg sandwiches or are the basis for French toast covered with fresh strawberries. The Bloody Mary is said to be the best in Manhattan and the signature pickles are fantastic. It’s like a trendy, upscale Cracker Barrel restaurant, so patrons should be prepared to walk out with doggie bags of extra food.
If the day is especially cold, head to the American Museum of Natural History at Central Park West and 79th Street where a day can be spent exploring. Almost as soon as they enter, visitors are met by the iconic 94-foot Blue Whale model suspended from the ceiling.
The spot is popular with selfie-takers who line up for just the right shot. Movie buffs can follow Ben Stiller’s footsteps in “A Night at the Museum” or see the bones of a reassembled Tyrannosaurus Rex more intimidating than the raptors in the “Jurassic Park” movies. The museum just opened a new state-of-the art exhibit, T. Rex, the Ultimate Predator, which features virtual reality experiences.
The Hayden Planetarium is also part of the museum and the star shows should be experienced at least once in a lifetime.
Eat like Jerry Seinfeld or Lady Gaga
Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld wrote the Seinfeld TV comedy series based on their lives on the Upper West Side. Fans can have lunch and dinner where the characters had some of their most hilarious moments. La Boite en Bois on West 68th Street serves a prix fixe lunch or pre-theater dinner.
The tiny French eatery feels like a beautiful little wood box with its dark paneled walls, hence the name. It was here that George had a memorable dinner when his girlfriend had an overly enthusiastic reaction to her delicious meal. Keep your eyes open for stars here – we’ve eaten right next to Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Speaking of stars, you can have a drink or meal right across the street at Joanne Trattoria, which is owned by Lady Gaga’s very Italian-American parents. Be sure to try the meatballs cooked from the secret family recipe. Once when we were dining here, Lady Gaga dropped an album and promised fans signed copies if they met her at the restaurant.
By the time we finished dinner, the restaurant was besieged by a line of hundreds of fans waiting to purchase an autographed copy. Just around the corner at 229 Columbus Avenue is Pomodoro Rosso, also featured in a memorable Seinfeld episode. It was at this very tasty bistro, with its charming Mediterranean décor of red and white checked tablecloths, where Kramer stood in for one of George’s girlfriends to break up with him. Even though it was known as the “break-up” restaurant on the show, you’ll be much more likely to enjoy a peaceful and delicious pasta dinner.
For a Latin Happy Hour, head to Rosa Mexicano at 61 Columbus Avenue. The decor is modern and upscale with fountains and beautiful blue lights. A house specialty is guacamole that is expertly made at the table with all fresh ingredients. The house margarita is a frozen pomegranate concoction that doesn’t stint on the tequila. Meals are delicious, but patrons who are heading elsewhere should definitely give the bar a try.
Guantanamera at 939 8th Avenue serves what is arguably the best mojito in Manhattan, if not the universe. The bartender carefully muddles the fresh mint leaves before adding just the right amount of rum and topping the drink off with a substantial chunk of sugarcane.
The bar food is excellent, with empanadas stuffed with meat or cheese a personal favorite. Full Latin-flavored dinners with fish, chicken, pork and plantains are offered at the cozy tables and many nights feature live Cuban music and dancing.
A Night at the Opera
Lincoln Center is up to the block at 64th Street and Columbus Avenue. The complex features 30 performing arts venues clustered around a large fountain. The Metropolitan Opera House is the largest of the theaters and really shouldn’t be missed even by people who think they aren’t opera lovers.
The entrance to the building is decorated with massive paintings by Marc Chagall and the interior is all red and gold decor that screams refinement and class. Tickets in the Family Circle at the highest levels of the 3,900 seat auditorium are very affordable at about $40.
The acoustics in this “peanut gallery” is said to be the best in the house. If you really want to experience life as a one-percenter, you can try for $25 rush tickets to the prime seats which usually cost several hundred dollars. All you have to do to compete for these bargains is to register on the Met’s site and be ready to log in and try to buy tickets as soon afternoon as possible any weekday.
Weekend tickets are also available but in more limited quantities. If opera doesn’t appeal, check the Lincoln Center website for jazz, classical and even folklore groups. There are often free events as well as tours behind the scenes.
Snowy Central Park
If you’re lucky enough to experience snowfall in Central Park, you’ll never forget sledding on the hills or trekking on the paths on your way to hot cocoa at the Central Park Boathouse Restaurant, or something a little stronger at the iconic Tavern on the Green. Taking a horse-drawn carriage ride is especially enchanting in the colder months when you can snuggle under a blanket and giggle with friends. The park is open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. and is perfectly safe when you stay in areas full of other visitors.