Smartini’s First Land Adventure: New York City

Loyal Readers will recall that we recently sold the boat formerly known as Smartini (renamed “Vahevala” just last Saturday) and that we’re now hoping to do a lot of extended-stay land adventures. As to the title of this post, “Smartini” has always referred to Butch and Fran (Smith and Martini = Smartini) since long before there was a boat with that name, and will continue to refer to us. One day, we may buy a house and name it Smartini, but we are Smartini, and Smartini is us. Got it?

Anyway… with us being on the boat for five years, and my son (Fran’s step-son) Bennett being in college for those same five years, we haven’t been able to spend very much time with him for far too long. So we fixed that: we spent a month in New York City, where he recently graduated from college and now lives, so that we could get some quality time with him.

Just a bit about Bennett, for those of you who don’t know him (because I’m SO DAMNED PROUD OF HIM!). He transferred to Pratt Institute the middle of his sophomore year of college, because he had finally realized what he wanted to do (be an artist), and Pratt has one of the best art schools in the US. He graduated with honors in May, did a little traveling (including nine days with us in the Bahamas on the boat formerly known as Smartini), then started looking for a job, realizing he would probably end up with something in the bar/restaurant field while he searched for something he really wanted to do. (No offense, Ron!) Well, that didn’t happen, because a month ago, he got a job at his absolute favorite art gallery in NYC, called Maxwell Graham / Essex Street. He’s a “Gallery Assistant”, but it’s a small gallery – just the owner (Maxwell Graham) and one other assistant – so he’s working directly with the owner on an almost-daily basis, and already getting to participate in the process of selecting artists to exhibit, and in dealing directly with the artists and their representatives. To say that he’s happy with this turn of events would be one of The Great Understatements Of 2021. (His mom, Fran, and I are also pretty damned pleased!)

Fran and I arrived at our one-month-rental Lower East Side apartment (notice that I didn’t use “fantastic” or “luxurious” or “nicer than we expected” to describe it – oh, well) on September 9, moved our stuff in, and had a nice dinner with Bennett, who had just started the new job two days prior. A month later, on October 9, the three of us (along with Bennett’s best friend since they were six years old – Bennett Powers) celebrated Maddie’s birthday with another nice dinner, and we left the following day. In between, we were busy! What follows is a synopsis of that month, because when I started to think of writing about all of it in detail, the immortal words of Inigo Montoya came to mind: “There is too much – let me sum up.”

The Bennetts, Then and Now

To answer the question that is no doubt dancing on many of your lips, yes, we saw a Broaday Show. Two, in fact: David Byrne’s American Utopia and Waitress, with Sara Bareilles (who wrote the music and lyrics) in the starring role. The shows were very different, and both were excellent. We were fortunate to see Sara in the show, as she was in it for a very limited run, only from the re-opening in September, for about a month.

Thinking of these shows reminds me of something about NYC that we really appreciated in these COVID times. They are doing everything they can to help control the spread, including requiring masks on all forms of public transportation and in all Broadway theaters, and (this is huge, in my opinion) requiring proof of vaccination to go into any theater, bar, or restaurant. The result is that pretty much everything is open and things are as “back to normal” as they can be.

Museum of Natural History

We went to seven museums, which I will list here in order of my favorite to least favorite: Museum of Natural History (could spend another whole day there), Museum of the City of New York (thank you for the suggestion, el Guapo!), Storm King Art Center (500 acres with really large outdoor art works, on a perfect Fall day, and Bennett was with us), Museam of Modern Art (Adam Pendleton’s Who Is Queen? is impressive and moving), New York Transit Museum (a restored example of every significant NYC subway car ever used, plus hundreds of old photos of the building of the system, and it’s in a still-functional subway station), the Met Cloisters (too much creepy religious art for my taste – and it’s ALL creepy religious art), and the Tenement Museum (available only through guided tours, and each tour is about an hour, and covers too little history).

The view from Fran’s seat at Bills Place

We went to two jazz clubs that almost couldn’t have been more different from each other, and both were fantastic. Bennett found Bill’s Place online and booked it for us, not really knowing what to expect. It’s in the basement of a building in Harlem that was a speakeasy during Prohibition, and is one of the first places that Billie Holliday sang in public when she was just a teenager. There can’t be more than 20 seats in the whole place, and ours were literally within banging-on-the-snaredrum distance of the drummer. “Bill” is Bill Saxton (who says he got tired of trying to find a gig all the time, so he hired himself) and his band is the Harlem All Stars. They played a style of jazz that was almost frantic in its pace, nearly cacophonous in its sound, and wondrous to experience live.


The other club was Birdland, named after Charlie Parker, whose nickname was “Bird”. It’s what we thought of as a classic nightclub, with a stage just barely big enough for a grand piano, a full drum kit, an upright bass, and two sax players, a separate bar, and four tiers of 2- and 4-top tables wrapping halfway around the stage. Everything about it was classy, and the music was a tribute to John Coltrane, a personal favorite of mine. A very different experience from Bill’s Place, but equally enjoyable.

Steve, Fran, Challen, Bennet Smith, Bennett Powers, and me, at Sevilla

We got to spend a lot of time with Bennett (when he wasn’t at His Dream Job), and also with “the other Bennett”, and with many of their friends. Some of the friends are also from Indianapolis, at least one went to Pratt with Bennett, and several are friends of Bennett Powers – he, and they, are recent graduates of the Architecture school at Syracuse University who all now live in NYC. It was fun seeing all of these young people in their natural environment, and being allowed to participate in their local customs. (We felt like National Geographic journalists on assignment.) We did coffee in the park some mornings, lunch and/or dinner three or four times every week, and they even let me play volleyball with them a couple of Sunday afternoons. The great thing about being there a whole month was that we didn’t have to cram a lot of Bennett time into a short period – we could get together every few days, for just a little or for the whole day, so it never felt rushed. In fact, that’s pretty much how the whole visit to NY was – a nice pace, with plenty of time to do the things we wanted to do, and still time to relax.

Tinka. Like May, only bigger – she barely fits on a lap

After being in our not-so-luxurious Lower East Side apartment for less than a week, Fran found our first gig on, a website that connects traveling people who have pets with people who will house-sit and pet-sit. A woman living on the Upper West Side, less than a block from Central Park, had to go to London for work on short notice and needed someone to stay with her little black cat, Tinka. Having some experience with little black cats, and already being in NYC, she picked us, so we moved there after only eight days in the city. We thought it was a one week sit, but was actually two, and then turned into three when our host had to stay in London an extra week, so we never moved back into our not-as-bad-as-I-make-it-sound Lower East Side abode. The apartment itself was at least 50% bigger and much “homier” – and it had Tinka! She’s a great cat – almost perfect, except that she’s quite the bed hog. And we now have our first “sit” on record, with a 5-star rating, which will hopefully start us on our way to that penthouse apartment overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in Southern Spain with the two cats.

We learned that our super power, as a couple, is meeting interesting people in bars. One incredible evening at Phebe’s, we met Dennis (the legit Irish bartender); Piotr and Ashton (who “stages” multi-million dollar apartments for sale) and their fabulous friend Ashley; Oliver, a custom jewelry designer whose dad lives on a trawler in Florida; and Scott and his wife, a Chicago couple currently living in St. Louis, who were simply hilarious to talk to – all in about three hours. Formula for success: always sit at the bar, chat up the bartender, talk to anyone who sits next to you, ask a lot of questions. You just never know where the conversation will go!

We continued our attempt at getting back in shape by joining CrossFit Bowery for the month and working out three times each week. (We had started the process by joining a CrossFit gym in Hollywood, FL when we were there in June and July getting the boat ready to sell.) Four+ years of being away from the gym has taken its toll, but it feels good to be back at it, albeit at a much lower level of intensity. No more PR’s for us – we’re just happy to survive each workout!

Me, Bennett, Fran, Terri, Bennett, and Mike – rooftop bar at The Public Hotel

Not long after we arrived, Bennett’s mom Terri and her boyfriend Mike came to town for three nights to celebrate her birthday and see Bennett. We all had a great time together, going to a couple of excellent restaurants (Lucien and Serafina) and some fun bars, including the rooftop bar at their hotel with the amazing view of the city.

View from the rooftop bar at The Public

A few weeks later, it was the other Bennett’s mom’s birthday, so they (Challen and Steve, who also happen to be dear friends of Fran and me, going back many years and countless beers) came to the city for three nights. We all went to an excellent Spanish restaurant called Sevilla that their Bennett found, a Korean BBQ place in Queens that, strangely, played Electronic Dance Music all night, and Dromedary Urban Tiki Bar in Brooklyn – the 45th Tiki Bar that Steve and Challen have visited since they started keeping track several years ago. And we went to the legendary Stonewall Inn, “…site of the Stonewall riots of 1969, which is widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.” (From Wikipedia.)

Me, Steve, Bennett, Challen, and Fran at Dromedary Urban Tiki Bar

We looked, and looked, and looked for what we consider a great place for great beer, and we were disappointed time and time again. But finally, on our last full day, we discovered The Grand Delancey, in the basement of the Essex Market, mere blocks from Bennett’s apartment. So there IS good beer in NYC – you just have to be willing to search for it (or go straight to The Grand Delancey).

We also:

  • Rode the subway all over the city, enough that we were actually starting to understand it by our last day or two.
  • Used CitiBikes all over the city – it’s amazing how quickly you can cover ten city blocks on a bike, compared to walking!
  • Walked all over the city – 10,000 steps a day? That’s nothin’!
  • Took the stairs – constantly. Both apartments were “walk ups” (no elevator), 3rd and 4th floor; every subway station involves walking down steps to enter and up steps to exit, and you often have to change levels within a station to change trains. I bet we walked up at least 400 – 500 steps every single day we were there.
  • Walked the length of the High Line, the last vestige of the old elevated train system that was converted to a public park several years ago.
  • Spent an evening with our favorite Londoner-living-in-NY, Emilie Meyer.
  • Had Cronuts (combo of a croissant and a donut) at Dominique Ansel Bakery. Delicious and decadent!
  • Had dim sum in Chinatown at Nom Wah Tea Parlor.
  • Had oysters at Grey Lady ($1 each during Happy Hour – best deal on oysters in NYC!)
  • Had both the “light” and the “dark” ale at McSorley’s Old Ale House, the oldest bar in NYC (1854). Those are the only drinks they have ever offered, and when you order one, you get two – for only $6. And I accidentally tipped the server $46 on a $24 tab – man, was he appreciative!
  • Had a Nathan’s hot dog at Coney Island.
  • Closed Pete’s Candy Store, the Brooklyn bar where Bennett’s roommate, Dylan, works. They turned on all the lights and threw us out at 2:30. (Didn’t think we had it in us – the disco nap earlier in the day sure helped!)
The legendary Stonewall Inn

By the time we left on October 10, after 31 days, I was ready to go. (Fran could have stayed much longer.) I just couldn’t get used to the trash (and worse) everywhere – on every sidewalk and street, even in the nicer parts of town. I was getting transportation fatigue – having to figure out which train(s) to take to get somewhere, and where the CitiBikes are to cover the last 5-6 blocks to your destination, and then all the walking to get to the subway, then the transfer, then out of the subway to the CitiBike, and all the steps in between all of those phases. After 46 years of just hopping in the car and driving wherever I wanted to go, and easily incorporating several errands with several stops in a single trip, I found getting around in NYC more than a little tedious. And the homeless situation is heartbreaking, and simply can’t be ignored. So we won’t be moving there any time soon.

But our time with Bennett was fantastic, exactly what we were hoping for. So we’ll almost certainly do it again, maybe next Spring.

Next up: more extended-stay traveling. Indianapolis and Fort Collins are on tap for this month and next. We’re hoping to get a 3-week cat sitting gig in Vancouver, British Columbia in December so we can visit friends Paul and Liz. Florida in January, and then maybe we’ll just go where the cat sitting gigs take us. Don’t be surprised to hear from us if we get a gig in your town. One thing you can count on from Smartini – we won’t be in one place for very long, at least not until after this crazy home buying market calms down!

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