The last time I was in NYC was late February. Coronavirus was something happening in China and Italy, not in my favorite city in the world.
At the time, nonetheless, my son and I exercised caution. We avoided Chinatown, fearing exposure to an illness we knew far too little about, denying ourselves our favorite soup dumplings and scallion pancakes from Joe’s Shanghai. There was lots of hand washing and minimal touching of common surfaces. We had a terrific time.
Barely two weeks after that last visit, Covid-19 wrought havoc on the place I find myself craving if more than a couple of months should pass without my having a “fix.” I don’t know if I’ll ever forget how frightening, even from a distance of nearly 150 miles, it was when NYC was in the throes of the worst global pandemic in a century. (Beyond AIDS, of course.) 2020 has been some year.
Returning more than six months later came with a fair bit of uncertainty beginning most basically with my hotel reservation, which was canceled a couple of weeks prior to my expected stay. The hotel’s reopening had been pushed back a month, which prompted me to shift locales from midtown east to TriBeCa, a change which ultimately worked out remarkably well.
We arrived early in the afternoon and were able to park a few car lengths from the hotel and immediately check into our room. I’ve had this parking good fortune before with this particular hotel on holiday weekends, which is one of the reasons my preference is to stay south of Houston Street when possible. The convenience of on-street parking spot saves time and money, friends, and who doesn’t like that?
New York City is a different place these days, and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. While many museums have recently opened, some of my favorite activities are no longer available, or limited as in the case of the Highline, which currently requires a timed ticket for entry, and eating at the bar, which remains verboten.
Restaurants in NYC are only permitted to offer seating outdoors,* which was fantastic over the gorgeous holiday weekend, but will certainly be an issue in another 8 weeks or so.
Dining in the city is different beyond not being able to just belly up to the bar, but not necessarily in a consistent fashion. Our first stop, for a snack and cocktail, had an unexpected protocol to gain admission. It began with a QR code, which initiated an online health survey to both determine exposure to Covid risk and eliminate responsibility on the part of the restaurant should a guest contract the virus on site and attempt to hold them responsible.
It took a couple of minutes to navigate, but overall our timing was good. By the time we left, a line of about a dozen people had developed and I imagine things must get backed up at times.
Once seated, there was another QR code to scan. This was how the menu was accessed and items were ordered and paid for – a totally new experience for me.
This system basically turns the server into a food/drink runner, but it didn’t negatively impact our experience. We kind of just wanted to relax anyway and the cocktails and tacos we had were perfect and the setting, a completely open air dining room, was lovely.
Later that night, we had dinner at a seafood spot in NoLita. As is the case all over the lower Manhattan area we explored, parking spaces have been eliminated to allow restaurants to accommodate guests on an extended sidewalk, cafe style. It is such a wonderful modification that I hope it becomes an annual seasonal thing.
The ordering process was somewhat different at our dinner destination, although again there was a QR code involved. The link accessed from the QR code provided the menu, not a portal with which to place an order. This, we learned, was more typical than our lunch experience. A server took our order, delivered our food and took care of us in a more traditional fashion which we appreciated.
When we weren’t eating, we were walking. There were noticeably fewer foreign accents, mostly uncrowded sidewalks and only the rare yellow cab to be seen. For the first time ever, I used Lyft in the city after we hit the wall following an afternoon and evening of walking, eating, and drinking since no cabs were trolling for fares. Mask wearing was fairly consistent, as was a disturbing amount of garbage, like Dinkins’ administration level, littering the streets.
None of it mattered. New York City still feels like home and I was thrilled to be there.