Get your kicks when you’re 66! That’s been the mantra I began singing over two months ago when I first decided to celebrate my birthday throughout the month of August. At this mature point in my life, I get to celebrate as frequently as I choose, and this year, I decided to have two parties: one in Austin, Texas, which I’ve called home for the past 12 years, and the other in Manhattan, where I was born.
This year, I wanted an intimate get-together of no more than 10 people, including my son, as he lives in the NYC metro area and a few close friends whom I haven’t seen for several years. I wanted a hotel with easy access to the UPW (Upper West Side), near the restaurant I booked for the birthday dinner and other places such as Zabar’s Deli, museums, and Central Park.
The primary purpose of my trip was to spend my birthday with my son and friends and then some extra time with my son, who took off from work for the occasion. I took a 6:00 a.m. flight, arriving around 10:30. My son picked me up at EWR Airport, and we drove to Hoboken, NJ, where he lives. Then, we boarded a bus to Port Authority and took a subway to the hotel.
I was famished, so we walked uptown, about a mile away, to my favorite deli in America: Zabar’s. Zabar’s has everything you want in a Jewish deli and more. There are cheeses and deli meats from all over the world, a selection to make you dizzy. The fish section is to die for sturgeon, white fish, three types of salmon cut delicately into razor-thin slices, and pre-made salads. I made a sandwich with the Zabster salad (crawfish) and everything bagel. My son and I ate it, then walked another couple of miles window shopping.
A visit to NYC is only complete with a visit to one, two, or three of the best museums in the world. I decided to go to the Met for a few hours as my time was limited, and I hadn’t been there in 15 years. My son and I visited the Asian wing and studied Korean, Japanese, and Chinese art. The highlight for us was a reproduction of a Chinese garden.
We then took a bus downtown for the sightseeing, well, sightseeing for me, as I hadn’t been down Fifth Avenue since before the pandemic. Although it took longer than a subway ride to get to the West Village, it was worth the ride. NYC’s subway and bus system has a contactless, super hi-tech system where you pair your watch to an app and seamlessly connect, saving a lot of time when rushing through the turnstiles. Just put your watch/card on the screen and go.
My son took me to a glorious vegan Japanese restaurant in the West Village called Nami Nori. I ordered the Signature Set (non-vegan), which included make-your-own rolls of tuna poke, crispy shallots, x.o. Scallop, tobiko, lemon coconut shrimp, green curry, lime, cilantro salmon serrano, ginger, myoga, and the tosazu cucumber, black sesame, shiso, plum roll.
These small yet filling delicacies are mouth-watering jewels. It’s relatively easy to accommodate both vegan and non-vegans in the village, and Nami Nori is one such recommended restaurant.
Even if you are an experienced traveler or a travel writer (as I was for over two decades), it’s not the easiest of tasks to find the perfect hotel in a major city that has so much to offer, intense competition in the hospitality industry, and special deals going on almost all the time.
I made up my mind to stay at the iconic Empire hotel, one of my stomping grounds in the 1970s. I wrote about it in my memoir, Under My Skin – Drama, Trauma, & Rock ‘n’ Roll, where Larraine Newman (formerly of SNL fame) and I met the TV show crew for drinks one afternoon. Back then, it was located across the street from Central Park on the Columbus Circle west side. It relocated years ago to 63rd Street off the corners of Broadway and across the street from Lincoln Center.
The Empire Hotel went through a significant transformation in the 2000s. It was completely renovated and reopened in 2007; I last visited 10 years ago. It’s a luxury boutique hotel that preserves some of its historic elements. Prominently featured in the TV series Gossip Girl, it was a backdrop for various scenes.
I was eager to have a drinks party the day after my dinner get-together at the rooftop lounge and bar of the hotel. The iconic red-lit signage in big, bold, upper case letters, THE EMPIRE HOTEL, wasn’t lit as we arrived at 5:00 p.m. The overlook uptown and downtown was impressive as we could see down to Times Square, where the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.
A few of my friends from the night before arrived, as did a friend whom I met in Amsterdam when I lived there. Like my son, her daughter lives and works in NYC and visits several times a year. We had tried meeting for over 10 years, but until now, our timing was off.
She brought her daughter; another friend got hers, so three young adults joined us. We ordered some appetizers of fries (delicious, thin, and crispy) to share. I had the Rooftop Frosé Rosé wine, watermelon puree, a perfect drink for the still summery weather at 80 degrees – a fantastic way to end a short yet memorable trip.
How do you celebrate birthdays after you turned 60? Have you done something “grand”? What about celebrating several days? What over-60 birthday celebration is the most memorable for you?