I'll Take Manhattan!

Words by Dorian Mode and photography by Lydia Thorpe

New York has never been easier for seniors

When I lived in New York in the early 80s, it was a tough town. The trains were a thicket of graffiti and you feared for your life after midnight. But with the price of a studio apartment in Manhattan nigh on a million dollars, the entire island has been gentrified. It’s now a middle-class world filled with folks with a lot of greenbacks. So, it’s blossomed into a joyful city and there’s never been a better time to visit.

But as aforementioned, there’s no cheap accommodation in Manhattan. You could choose Airbnb but that’s not for us. We need a hotel proper, not some sweaty college student’s spare room. But you can save money on a Manhattan hotel with a self-contained kitchen. With this in mind,  we stayed at The Beacon Hotel that flanks the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side (where the annual Tony Awards are held). What we like about the Upper West Side is it’s a family neighbourhood and only a short walk from the bucolic sanctuary that is Central Park. The Beacon offers suites at reasonable rates.
We often save money on holidays by cooking for ourselves and there’s a tiny kitchen in your suite at the Beacon. Right across the road is a supermarket. And the bottle shop (“liquor store” – I’ll translate as I go) is only fifteen elbow crawls from the hotel. There were loads of Aussies staying at the Beacon, so they must be doing something right. Indeed, we heard so many Aussie accents we laughed out loud in the lift (“elevator”).

The Beacon Hotel on the Upper West Side is quite reasonable

Our favourite thing was the Beacon’s happy hour. Booze is cheap in the US. So, you can sit al fresco with your Sex in The City Cosmo on the footpath (“sidewalk”) watching New Yorkers for a meagre $8US a cocktail. “They’re not fighting they’re talking,” my wife whispers into her pink drink as a couple passes us. New Yorkers are a vociferous race. (Moreover, at O’Donoghue’s Pub at Times Square – while killing time before a Broadway show, cocktails were only $5 each! (At these prices, the more you drink, the more you save.) The Upper West Side is quite upmarket so most denizens were smartly dressed, we noticed. It’s an older neighbourhood, so we saw loads of seniors with grandchildren tugging at their sleeves.

You can get $8US cocktails at the Beacon’s happy hour

Central Park
New York’s “back yard” is Central Park. Throughout the year you can take a guided tour of the park in a horse-drawn carriage, pedicab tour or if you’re feeling energetic and had your All-Bran that morning, you can rent a bike and tour around on your own. We love all the jazz musicians busking in the park. They often make more money busking than playing in the clubs. Being a jazz musician myself, I can assure you, they are all first rate. There was a free piano in the park so I played for fun. Not quite Carnegie Hall but no tux required!

Me playing the piano in Central Park - no tux required!

A lazy 15 min stroll through the park is the world-famous Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art). This was voted the best museum in the world on Trip Advisor. Why? Because the Rockefellers, Vanderbilts, Carnegies, Morgans, had so much moolah they “schlepped” (a New York verb) half the world’s treasures home. So, it’s a bit dizzying strolling into a room full of van Gogh’s or Picassos or Manets and Monets. We also enjoyed the Greco-Roman wing and the American wing, which houses one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of American art in existence—more than 15,000 paintings, sculptures and decorative arts.
Only a few blocks from the hotel on the Upper West Side, is the Natural History Museum (remember the movie with Ben Stiller?). Besides the dinosaurs, they have some fascinating pieces including the Star of India – the world’s largest gem-quality blue star sapphire. (Tip: This reminds me! Don’t make the mistake – like me – of walking down 47th St with your wife, as every single shop is a jewellery store!)
Entry to most museums in New York is by donation. They suggest $25. (Yeah, right!) The best value deal is the New York City Pass. You can buy this either online or at Times Square – easy to get to by simply taking the #1 train on the subway at 72nd and Broadway – two blocks south from the Beacon. The pass gives you access to museums and iconic NY attractions, such as the Empire State Building. It represents good value. Other must-see museums in the Big Apple to must-see, are the Frick and the Guggenheim.

The walking route through Central Park takes about 2 hours at a leisurely pace (2.4km)

Big Apple Greeter
Recently, some chums of mine visited the Big Apple and met up with a free guide via Big Apple Greeter (bigapplegreeter.org). Greeters are volunteers who share their love of the city with visitors (for free), including many Aussies, who are coming to New York for the first time. My pals walked the famous ‘High Line’ (The High Line is a 1.45-mile-long New York City linear park built in Manhattan on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad. (If only we could have done the same with Sydney’s monorail!) with their elderly guide – a sprightly octogenarian! He then took them for a walk around the village, pointing out fascinating buildings with their pocket histories. See links at bottom the page or just Google your way to the website.

My wife and I love the funky vintage stores in the village

Food ain’t cheap in New York but the Jewish delis are great fun and thrifty. A lot of New Yorkers eat from the steaming vans on the street but my wife and I were wary of getting crook. (I’m sure we would have been fine.) We mostly ate in the American diners. It’s like eating at a restaurant with fast food prices.
These iconic restaurants were originally dining cars from trains, which were relocated across America. Burgers are about $8US and coffee (never-ending cup) is $2US. The Viand – the diner flanking the Beacon – was a favourite haunt of Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Dreyfuss. We had some enormous breakfasts there each morning for about $8US each. (And struggled to finish them.)

Macy's department store with the Empire State building in the background

It’s simply de rigueur to see at least one Broadway show in New York. Why? Because they are world class. We saw a brace of them: Book of Mormon and Beautiful, The Carol King Musical but our favourite was An American in Paris. This is my favourite MGM Musical film (remember those?). Indeed, I know more about musicals than is acceptable for a heterosexual living on the NSW Central Coast. Think Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse and you’ll remember the film and its unforgettable dance sequences. The theatre district begins at 42nd Street and Broadway (“Times Square”) and is easy to get to via the #1 train from the Beacon.
The subway is simple. You buy a metro card style ticket and fill it up. It’s dead easy and the cheapest way to explore the city. For lunch try the Stardust Diner at Times Square with its singing waiters – each one a Broadway star in the making.

Radio City Music Hall is an entertainment venue in Midtown Manhattan - it's known as the Showplace of the Nation

So, New York is a wonderful place for seniors. But do go in the summer or early spring or autumn (“fall”) as winter is very cold and the city becomes grey with an icy slush they call snow. (“Go figure!”)





No trip to NY would be complete without at least one visit to a jazz joint. To find out more, click below