Sometimes in life one feels compelled to do things that are so extravagant they are absurd.
In November, with only six weeks to plan, Mike and I decided to surprise some of our best friends in New York City at Christmastime. It was Sarah’s 29th birthday, and we thought it would be brilliant to go over-the-top on the birthday before her 30th, because she wouldn’t be expecting anything. We wanted to surprise Amy for no reason other than to show her we love her with a Christmas surprise she would never forget. See above: extravagant.
Obviously we couldn’t have planned this without the integral help of their significant others. I use “significant” very purposefully here. We literally could not have done this without Casey and Brian, nor would we have wanted to. Their company was as crucial as their planning.
We schemed over email for weeks, finally choosing where each surprise would take place. Due to logistics and complications, we didn’t nail down each location until the day of each surprise.
Mike and I flew into NYC on Thursday, Dec 8, checked into our hotel and walked straight to the Empire State Building. On our way we were furiously texting instructions to Casey, who was driving Siri into the city from D.C.
We had all purchased tickets in advance, so there was no line to get to the Observation Deck on the 86th floor. Mike and I scoped the scene, knowing we needed good lighting to catch the moment on video. Once we found the perfect spot, we texted Casey and told him how to get there.
Mike and I hid behind a pillar until we saw them exit the correct door, and then sprinted after them. I tapped Sarah on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, miss, you dropped something,” so that she would turn around.
Her reaction was priceless: http://youtu.be/qE4gb-cuceY.
As was the view.
After the great surprise, we went to dinner at an upscale Irish restaurant named Brendan’s. Afterward, we were so overwhelmed with bar options that we naturally chose…karaoke.
Mike and Casey sang “Don’t Stop Believin'” and Sarah and I sang “Man in the Mirror.” The former kind of made sense for our trip. The latter made no sense at all.
Shall we discuss the Charlie Chaplin statue? Let’s not.
A huge part of the reason for us coming to NYC in the first place was that I hadn’t been since I was 12, and Mike hadn’t been since he was 22. We’d always wanted to visit for the magic of Christmas in New York, so it was a major bucket list item.
We were not disappointed.
From the minute we arrived, we began a long parade of “I can’t believe this” that didn’t really end until we left four days later. Stepping out of Grand Central Terminal after taking the train from Newark through Penn Station, we both gasped at the immediacy of our awe. I stared at the Chrysler Building like I had flown in from another planet, rather than from across the country.
To my delight, I was mistaken for a local almost immediately. A woman walked up to me and asked where Penn Station was. I couldn’t believe my luck that the one person who asked me for directions was looking for the one place in the city I could actually point her to.
On second thought, the luggage I was dragging down the street may have been her reason for approaching me. But I digress.
The next day was a smorgasbord of tourist activity that fulfilled my inner need to traverse an entire city in hours. We brunched, we went to Central Park, we went to the Upper West Side, the Upper East Side, the Shake Shack, the Guggenheim, the Belvedere Castle…until we couldn’t take anymore.
Then we went to dinner at a French bistro called Rue 57, which is the kind of place that makes you glad to be alive just so you can eat there.
I mean, we’re seated in a wine cellar decorated for Christmas in New York City. Please slap me across the face.
The rest of the evening is burned into my brain as one of the highlights of my year: we windowshopped on 5th Avenue at Christmastime. There are no words.
I didn’t even notice when Mike took this picture, but it is exactly my expression for six blocks of eye candy. I don’t think I held a conversation with any of my three companions. Why would I, when my new friends Tiffany, Bergdorf, Bloomingdale and Van Cleef were waiting to greet me?
It was spectacular.
We went to The Plaza and Rockefeller to see the tree, and made a drive-by at Serendipity and Dylan’s Candy, but really, after the day we’d had, it was all beginning to feel like saying yes to your fourth dessert.
The next morning we were refreshed by the excitement of surprise number two — the Amy reveal! We went to SoHo to shop until Brian and Amy arrived into the city from Philadelphia. We agreed to meet at Katz’s Delicatessen, of “When Harry Met Sally” fame. It was providential because the previous day Amy had mentioned how excited she was that Katz’s was going to start shipping their meat to Philly. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Of course, the line outside of Katz’s was half a block, so our timing was way off on this surprise. Brian was texting us that they were practically done eating so we needed to get inside pronto. We rushed to order and then walked back to their table for the reveal: http://youtu.be/liZMRcRzA54.
Her reaction is classic Amy — no visible shock, just a huge smile and a question: “How did you get here?” We filled her in on all the details and then watched her relieved face as she realized that yes, we had an agenda for the weekend. Brian’s face was equally relieved, since he had been sweating bullets for 45 minutes.
First we walked to Greenwich via Washington Square Park.
I wasn’t at all embarrassed to insist on a “Sex and the City” walk-by.
After catching up over a couple of pints at a 150 year-old pub…
…we went to 50 Commerce for a grown-up New York drink. It had the kindest bartender and the lighting of dreams.
We did a quick change for dinner at 10 Downing (yes, apparently all NY restaurants decline choosing a name and instead just name their address) which was perfect for a 29th birthday feast.
Amy blew our minds by having a friend in the city celebrating her birthday at a fabulous underground club, so we bypassed the velvet rope and walked right in. I have to admit it felt impossibly cooler than entering any bar in the greater Seattle area.
We decided to check out 230 Fifth, a rooftop bar that I’d read good things about. On our way there, we saw this fantastic sight.
It never gets old.
After a brief wait we made it to the top and took in the fabulous views and astronomical drink prices to match.
We found a seat, but it was brief because we were informed that in order to sit anywhere, we had to buy a bottle. This does not happen in Seattle, and I was equally indignant and mortified. Since the cheapest bottle was $225, we chose to leave.
In the words of Carrie Bradshaw: I couldn’t help but wonder…how often does one have three redheads in one’s establishment? Why wouldn’t one welcome such a rare occurrence?
We finished the evening at a much lower-key bar, happy to have a place to sit and drinks that didn’t need to be mortgaged.
Our final day together was spent at the Central Park ice rink, Times Square, Magnolia Bakery, and the Village. It was perfect.
After our friends left Sunday evening, Mike and I had a final date night at the World Trade Center Memorial.
It was a sobering end to the weekend, and it made us more emotional than we expected. We didn’t realize that going at night would be so impactful; the glow from the fountain surrounded by the lights of the city was overwhelming. Couple that with the roar of the water drowning out all other sound, and the effect was intense. The memorial reminded us of the horror of that day, but also made us appreciate the freedom we enjoy to visit the stellar city in which it’s housed.
To recover, we had a quiet dinner at Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, where we talked about the weekend and relished a date night like no other.
As I flew back to Seattle, the phrase Amy and Sarah said all weekend wouldn’t leave my thoughts, “Is this really happening?”
Yes, ladies, it happened. And I couldn’t be happier.