Friday, June 7, 2013

Hotel Stay Review: Conrad New York (in Lower Manhattan)

  • From what I understand, the "Conrad" brand of hotels are supposedly the premier line of Hilton hotels (at the front desk, there is, of course, the Hilton Honors priority check-in desk). I stayed at the New York location in downtown (Manhattan). The hotel is modern in design (love! love! love!) with an airy lobby. It is listed as a 5-star; however, my room felt more like a spacious (of course, we're talking NYC standards here) 4-4.5* suite. It amazes me that people pay ~$500/night for these rooms. I paid in the sub-$150 range. This was probably the nicest place I've stayed in NYC yet. Others have published they paid in the $125-range for slightly longer time periods, at approximately the same time as when I was there (which is completely believable to me). So, definitely shop around for prices. 
  • The shower is separated from the toilet/sink area (which I always appreciate). Both bathroom doors didn't appear to have locks and actually had a slight gap from the wall when closed. The shower heads were fantastic. I was thrilled that they had both the rainfall-style one above, and a modern, handheld one on the side. The shower room was enormous, but had a single, dim light. The lighting in the toilet area was significantly brighter. This is important because a guest sitting in the living room area can make out the shadow/silhouette of a person on the toilet when the Japanese-style sliding door is fully extended and the lights are on. The shower is simply too dark to have this issue. By the way, the shampoos, conditioners, lotions, etc were from Aromatherapy. 
  • The second sink in the wet bar was very convenient to have when we entertained. The hotel-packed fridge (complete with sensors, of course) didn't allow guests to put anything in there. The coffeemaker was a bit tricky and often resulted in wasting a coffee pod. Fortunately, the housekeeping staff was very generous with replenishing pods. The hotel provides a surprisingly nice variety of drinking glasses. :)
  • The two large flat screen TVs were as expected (one in the bedroom, the other in the living room). The couch was on the medium side (definitely not the huge monstrosities in, like, the Venetian or Palazzo suites in Las Vegas, if we're comparing 5*s). We comfortably sat 3-4 in the living room area while cranking up the A/C and drinking cool beverages while avoiding the scorching temperatures outside. Speaking of heat, the hotel did not appear to have a pool. :(
  • What you're perhaps really paying for is location. It is conveniently located next to the National 9/11 Memorial. The subway entrances/exits are approximately a 3-4 block walk away, though. Someone recommended that we get a taxi from the nearest subway point, since we were carrying a number of heavy suitcases. In the end, we just opted to get rides from our friend, and did not bother with the subway most of the time. What we really liked what how it shared a same wall as Shake Shack and movie theater. It is also across the street from a mall. Oh, and of course, there's a riverfront park nearby.
  • When I checked in, I requested a room with a view but they were already sold out. So, from our room, we could still barely see over the Hudson (and saw a Colgate Ferris wheel? on the Jersey side). Our wing of the hotel was not near the waterfront at all (another hotel stood in between). The bar at the top of the hotel (which B checked out) appeared to have distant views as well.
  • Something I really loved were the lights. You could control the lights using various touch panels throughout the suite AS WELL AS on the TV. That was coool. Unfortunately, the light in the living room area were on the dim side and only received a sliver of natural light coming from the hall and bedroom. Then again, the hallways are so dim that when I saw the housekeeping staff trying to read their schedules, they had to bend over to the nearest light bulbs. Sad, really. Someone give them a flashlight!
  • Other plusses included blackout curtains, an umbrella(!), a cheap branded bottle opener, and a "Do Not Disturb" button/indicator (LIGHT)!
  • Overall, if you can get this room for sub-$200 (which for NY is GREAT), I'd easily do it. Just don't expect a normal 5-star. 

Travel: NYC (Downtown) - Day 8

  • We checked out of our hotel. E and R picked B and I up and went directly to the super famous Katz's Delicatessen. We sat near the table where Harry and Sally had their orgasmic scene. I had a corned beef on rye sandwich along with matzo ball soup. B had a pastrami on rye sandwich. I believe E had kugel (which she reported wasn't that great). R also had corned beef on rye but with sauerkraut (which she promptly removed). A band was setting up and doing sound checks, so that was a bit weird. It was nice though to see the autographed pictures and classic signs. I always thought the restaurant had booths, though. :/
  • E then drove B and I toward the airport. We stopped at a cell phone lot (how many people know what that is?) to teach E how to use her camera. B ran around in circles as E explored photography concepts such as blurring and panning. 
  • We flew a direct AA flight back to LAX. We ordered way too much food on the plane (the gourmet popcorn is GOOD!). It was nice to have an empty seat next to me again (happened both ways!). :) 
  • Upon arriving we took a cab back home and were disgusted by how rude the cab driver was. His tip? $0.25. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Travel: NYC (Downtown) - Day 7

  • B and I figured that since we were in lower Manhattan, we'd just stay in the area. As we tried to get our bearings, we ran into our Improv teather! B and I then had breakfast at the Cosmopolitan Cafe in Tribeca where we each enjoyed rather generous portions of crepes. To walk it off, we wandered down to Wall Street, the Charging Bull sculpture, Bowling Green park, and Battery Park.
  • B was rather intrigued by the Alexander Hamilton US Custom House. It had gorgeous exhibits and architecture and, more importantly, water dispensers.
  • After buying more water and returning to our hotel, we decided to order from the uber popular Shake Shack (attached to the hotel). I actually ended up with a spicy, bacon cheeseburger of sorts (I hate spicy).
  • We then changed clothes to meet up with E and R at Danji for some (spicy) Korean. :( We grabbed desserts nearby afterward. 
  • R, B, and I then went to the Gershwin Theatre to watch Wicked. It's the best musical I've seen so far.
  • E met up with us at a bar after the show where we discussed combinatorics and trigonometry. Not wanting to lose E's fabulous parking spot (in the middle of the road?), we then ate at Kashkaval until closing. B saved the restaurant from burning down. 
  • To close the night, E dropped us off at our hotel.

Travel: NYC (Brooklyn) - Day 6

  • E was busy in the city in the morning, so B and I cleaned her place (took out the trash, did dishes, went grocery shopping for her). We even walked M at the local dog park! 
  • We met up for lunch in the city and, after going in circles searching for a place that wasn't jammed- packed, we finally agreed upon Wild Ginger Vegetarian Kitchen. I'm still not a fan of brown rice. :(
  • Since we were so close to Chinatown and Little Italy, we decided to walk (as opposed to taking the subway) to our hotel (to check in). We passed the courthouses, City Hall (both, actually), WTC, Occupy Wall Street, St. Paul's Chapel, and a zillion other places in the 90F+ degree heat.
  • Before we made it to our hotel (that 5-star hotel will have its own review in the next coming posts), we hit up a grocery store to buy water and snacks, as we had been melting during the fastest photowalk I've ever done in my life. After checking in, we cranked up the A/C before re-gaining our strength to return to E's apartment.
  • That evening, we met up with B's cousin and her friend at Boat Basin Cafe along the Hudson River nestled within Riverside park. It was not a very good restaurant and had amazingly poor service, but was in the most unique location (within a traffic turnaround). We even got to sit dead-center and watch the buses circle us from above.
  • That evening, R flew in at 11PM and she, E, and B2, joined B and I on the rooftop of JP's friend's (A's) place where we had an amazing view of the city. E drove us back to our hotel at 2am (TY again E!).  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Travel: NYC (Brooklyn) - Day 5

  • B and I stopped at The Bagel Store where after being given "the tour," I got an egg, bacon, and cheese bagel with butter (instead of cream cheese). B had something jalapeno-y and a solid coffee drink. We decided to eat in the very small space. As with most places we'd visited at this point, they were cash only.
  • We took an hour long subway ride to the Brooklyn Museum and from there walked to the adjacent Prospect Park. B and I mostly stayed around the Boathouse area that had a pond, bridge, and man-made waterfall nearby. We watched ducks float by as a couple tried fishing near the waterfall (how odd!).
  • Afterward, E joined us for a late lunch (breakfast, really) at Tom's. Lots of pancakes, steak, eggs, egg cream, milkshakes, and toast went around. E brought along M who barked at everyone outside. lol. We attempted to do a return at IKEA, but B was running late to his work-meeting in the city. B later met with a former colleague at Momofuku Noodle Bar.
  • Without B and B2, E and I enjoyed "Frexican" (French + Mexican cuisine; a totally new concept to me) outdoors at Santos Anne. I had a mango margarita along with my shrimp risotto. E had duck tacos. Yum!
  • We stayed up waiting for B to return before all three of us passed out at E's place.

Travel: NYC (Brooklyn) - Day 4

  • It rained all day. E, B, B2, and I drove around trying to find a place to eat and finally settled on Brooklyn Label. I had a mimosa with "Green Eggs & Ham" (read: basil omelette and bacon!). Yum. It was such a large breakfast though that we each had food coma afterward and, since it was raining anyway, we decided to just skip a day of sight-seeing.
  • On the way back to E's place, we stopped by Beer Street where we picked up a delicious watermelon-flavored (wheat ale) brew. We enjoyed it the rest of the afternoon. Literally.
  • That evening, we returned to the city and had a lightning-fast dinner at Mooncake Foods Restaurant (we were running late!) before attending our Improv class. That was easily the most stressful thing I had done in a couple years. I guess I just wasn't meant to be an actress or comedian.
  • We then headed over toward Times Square where we also did a pit stop at the Hershey's store before heading back for some chicken soup and ginger ale at E's apartment.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Travel: NYC (Brooklyn) - Day 3

  • B and I got an early start since E was busy with other things. We each got unlimited passes to ride the subway and proceeded to Central Park. The "L" train was under construction that day and we had a little adventure riding around the bus system before eventually taking the subway. 
  • On the way, we grabbed coffee and pastries. B really wanted to hit up a halal food truck that had a line that wrapped around the corner. We also passed the "L O V E" sculpture in Midtown, which had tourists posing in front of it, as a homeless gentleman slept under the "V."
  • While B and I wandered around Central Park, we passed the ice skating rink, Belvedere Castle, the reservoir, and other iconic locales. To escape the heat, we ventured onto the Upper West Side and ate at Tukuaz
  • E then called us and we met up in Bushwick. Despite B2's insistence that the subway ride to Coney Island is part of the experience, E drove us there, seeing how the sun was setting in 1 hour. We stood in the long lines at Nathan's. B and E rode the famous wooden roller coaster ride, Cyclone, while I took pictures of the amusement park. B and E tried the funnel cake at Paul's Daughter.
  • After we got back, and after a quick side trip to DUMBO, B, E, and B2 went to see a comedy show at the Upright Citizen's Brigade theater.

Travel: NYC (Brooklyn) - Day 2

  • B and I woke up at 9am (local time) and met up with E and B2 at hipster-haven Harefield Road for brunch. Despite being sunny, it was incredibly windy that day. I had to borrow E's sweater which amazingly fit, considering she's so much tinier than I am.
  • Before making our way to Bedford Road and eventually to the East River, we made a pit stop at the 9th Annual Bicycle Fetish Day celebration. B2 apparently recognized one of he booth owners (surprise, surprise) and we stayed for a bit as B asked about a giant two-seater bicycle that someone was assembling on-site. He later rode on it and had a blast. 
  • At the East River, the police re-routed us, seeing as how strong winds had blown the roof off of one of the newer condominiums and threatened to hurt pedestrians below. So we wandered to the East River Ferry Dock to snap pictures of Manhattan and the Williamsburg Bridge.
  • On the way back to E's place, we stopped by Mast Brothers Chocolate to get free dark chocolate samples and then Saltie for gourmet sandwiches, drinks, and cookies. B2 returned to the bicycle competition.
  • After E left, B and I walked to Alligator Lounge to score free, small pizzas with our single orders of beer. We regrettably grabbed nasty Thai take-out from a place that shall not be named. We spent the remainder of the evening resting from the day's long walk by watching Netflix on E's enormous flat screen TV and having our ears blown out by her quirky sound set up. By the way, "The Other Woman" (with Natalie Portman) is horrid, to put it nicely.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Travel: NYC (Brooklyn) - Day 1

  • B and I took a taxi to LAX to board a direct American Airlines flight to JFK at noon. This was the first time I had to check in luggage for a trip to NYC simply because the weather report showed that there would be a 40-degree swing in temperatures throughout the week. I know one should pack in layers for that sort of thing; but between sunny/rainy/cold/heat-wave weather and casual/dressy attire, I simply could not squeeze everything into a carry-on and backpack. The upside is that American Airlines gives some sort of priority for passengers that do not board the plane with a roll-on carry-on. So, B and I squeezed in somewhere between Group 1 and 2's boarding call..
  • We arrived earlier than our scheduled time (8:40pm local time) and waited for E to tell us where we would meet on the subway system back to her place. Instead, we were pleasantly surprised when she drove up in her own car at the airport (with M, her dog, in the backseat)! E described M (a rescue, chow mix) as "skittish" and he was definitely afraid of us at first, but he had no problem resting his head on my luggage in the backseat as E and B navigated the route to get back to E's place.
  • We arrived at E's rather large apartment in East Williamsburg, dropped off our luggage, and went out for dinner at St. Anselm (one of E's favorite restaurants). We miraculously avoided the 3-hour(!) wait and were called back to return to the restaurant after briefly standing in the bar next door for less than 15 minutes. It was definitely pricey (B and I split a 34 oz. steak at $1.90/oz.) and we had plenty of drinks and sides to satiate us (E's boyfriend, B2, eventually joined us after he attended an EDM? concert earlier).  
  • From there, we split up. E and I went to a 24-hour laundromat to wash sheets/towels while we chatted, and B and B2 went to a tiny "movie" theater (that is actually a deli in the day) that played audience recommended movies. People also brought in their own alcoholic beverages. 
  • When we fnished up, E and B2 dropped us off at E's apartment and they left (with M!) to stay at B2's place. It was then that B and I realized we would have E's apartment all to ourselves the entire time we stayed there. E is just awesome like that.