Before we get started, hit play on this song to listen to while you read the blog. Maybe grab a tissue. For context to those who've never heard it, this song came out in December 2001 and it's the best Christmas song there is full stop.
Wednesday night was the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree in NYC which kicks off the Christmas season. NYC is one of the most special places on earth for Christmas. Don't listen to that dumdum White Sox Dave who will complain about something innocuous about the City because when the bars are decorated, Christmas parties spill into the streets seemingly every night, the Rockettes are high kicking all over creation, and the mood around town is a joyous one, it simply cannot be beat.
Part of those decorations are the numerous trees tucked into different corners of the city. Lots of folks only know the Rockefeller Tree (for obvious reasons) but that isn't even the best tree in NYC if you can believe it. For all my colleagues who are new to NYC this Christmas season and anyone visiting, here are the official rankings of best Christmas trees in NYC and as a bonus I've included a restaurant or bar in the area to stop into once you've seen the tree. There are a bunch more not on the list but these will tickle your Christmas itch.
1. New York Stock Exchange - 11 Wall St
For my money, this the best tree in NYC. Set against the backdrop of an iconic building on the cobblestone street, this tree screams class all the way. Not overly big but very full, it stands proudly each year. The neighborhood (FiDi) is largely for businesses (although the last 15 years more folks have moved down there) so after work hours when the lights are on, you won't have to be Barry Sanders dodging folks on the street. That is perhaps the best part for me - you can go to take it all in and enjoy without feeling like you're slammed shoulder-to-shoulder in an elevator with other folks. It's only a few blocks from the 9/11 Memorial which is also very pretty yet somber to see amid cold December temperatures. While you're there, don't forget to visit my favorite monument in NYC - America's Response Monument "De Oppresso Liber" which is dedicated to the brave Special Forces Soldiers who went into Afghanistan following 9/11.
Where to eat - Harry's
A staple in Fidi, you might miss it if you don't know what to look for as it's nestled in the basement of a building on Hanover Square. I love spots hidden down a flight of stairs. Not so much when you have to climb them after a few bottles of wine. Anyway, it has an old school steakhouse vibe with a bit of a modern twist. Legend has it Large brokered so many deals in this spot that you can actually order a "Large" which is a very dry martini and an escort out the door. Conversely, his bride Annie is so revered in here that she has a booth with her name on it.
2. Washington Square Park - 5th Ave and Washington Sq N
What can I say, I'm a sucker for all white lights on a Christmas Tree. Much like the NYSE tree, this gal has an unfair advantage being situated under the famous Washington Park Arch but in this country, we play to our strengths. Not the biggest tree in town but when you frame it between the Arch and the Empire State Building in the background, she sure is a beaut, Clark.
Where to eat - Minetta Tavern
Stroll down Bob Dylan's old stomping grounds of MacDougal Street and snag a seat at the bar here. A cozy spot, you won't run into tourists here but when you hear the list of regulars, you'll want to stop by - Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Eugene O'Neill, E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, and Joe Gould. I mention those names because this place maintains the old school NYC tavern feel with a Parisian twist. Get the bone marrow and Minetta burger. You're welcome.
3. Park Ave Trees - along Park Avenue between 54th and 97th streets
These aren't the prettiest trees in NYC but damn if they aren't the grittiest. All in, there are 104 trees decorated with white lights that line the center island of Park Avenue north of the MetLife building. This tradition started in December of 1945 as a way to honor all those who gave their lives in World War II. Today they shine bright to honor that legacy and stand as a symbol of peace.
Where to eat - Park Avenue Tavern or Club Macanudo
If you're walking south down Park Ave and thirsty, pop into Park Avenue Tavern. It is nothing special but it's also reliable as heck in the area. If you're walking north, you're in luck. Peel off at 63rd and step into one of the last bastions of a time gone by - Club Macanudo. One of the few remaining cigar lounges in NYC, this is my favorite spot to end up on a cold day. Grab yourself a whiskey or red wine, settle into one of the leather couches, and enjoy a quality cigar amid the subtle decadence of this swanky lounge. It's quiet and most of the patrons are north of 50 but don't be intimidated - they are welcoming and will educate you if you're a cigar novice.
4. South Street Seaport - 19 Fulton Street
South St Seaport is interesting - when you think of NYC I don't think many folks think of a seaport. But it's been around since forever and the charm hasn't left the area. More cobblestone streets line your path as you bounce around down here. The tree is simple yet elegant - white lights, good height, big star on top. The area has experienced a revival in the last decade or so and it has one of the newer trees in town.
Where to eat - The Fulton
Honestly, the only thing that needs to be said about this joint are the views of the river, the bridges, and Brooklyn. If you're in the mood for seafood, this is the spot.
5. NY Public Library - 5th Ave between 42nd and 40th
The only tree on my list that is indoors. I mention this one because obviously it looks great but also because the NY Public Library is one of those buildings that people walk past their entire lives and never go inside. I was the same way until one day when I was watching the Sex And The City movie (omg Carrie's dress) and they filmed the failed wedding inside here and I thought, "That really looks nice in there. I should check it out." At the time I was in that part of the city every day so I strolled in and low and behold I saw this tree. It truly took my breathe away. Plus, I'm into anything behind velvet ropes. The fake snow adds some pizazz that we don't normally see.
Where to eat - Dock's Oyster Bar or take an adventure down the 4-5-6 to Old Town and Pete's
The thing about midtown is you don't get as much charm as you do in other pockets of the city. Walk east on 41st if you want an upscale night with some oysters. OR. Take the subway downtown and head to two very old staples, Old Town and Pete's Tavern. They are a block apart and are always decorated in a warm decor for Christmas. Both have been featured in movies over the years so if you're into that sort of thing, these are the spots.
6. Bryant Park - 42nd St and 6th Ave
Also known as the JV Rock Center tree, this tree is like your 2nd guy off the bench. Reliable, tough, won't blow you away, but is going to get its 10 and 6. The ice rink is bigger here and it is surrounded by shops so it is more manageable than the starter up the street. With the backdrop of the NYC Public Library, it is a nice spot to grab some hot chocolate and people watch amid a festive setting.
Where to eat - Keens
This place is as cool as it gets. One of the oldest NYC steakhouses with some added flavor. It's not one large dining room but rather a bunch of rooms on different floors that all have their own charm. Also, it used to double as a Pipe Club and the names of folks who kept pipes there is a who's who - Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, Will Rogers, Billy Rose, Grace Moore, Albert Einstein, George M. Cohan, J.P. Morgan, Stanford White, John Barrymore, David Belasco, Adlai Stevenson, General Douglas MacArthur and "Buffalo Bill" Cody. They are all still on display and seeing the names is jaw dropping when you try to wrap your brain around that context. Not to mention the hundreds of pipes still hanging from the ceiling. The mutton chops are the choice for first timers. Please just don't wear a hoodie like that swine White Sox Dave did the last time he went. Have some class.
7. Rockefeller Center - 30 Rockefeller Plaza
Is it the most famous Christmas tree in the world? Yes. Is it the most visited Christmas tree in the world? Yes. Is it an impressive sight to see? Yes. For those reasons, you need to have it on the list, obviously. The biggest knock on "The Tree" is the amount of foot traffic surrounding it all day every day. Do not for a second believe Home Alone 2 when Kevin is quietly reflecting BY HIMSELF staring up at the tree. Never in recorded history has Rock Center been desolate without a single body regardless of time of day. Go see this big boy up close so you can say you did but quickly hit the rest of the list. Oh also, if you have the means to rent out the ice rink to "surprise" propose to your girlfriend, I will send you my address so you can pay me for reading this blog. That's another thing - the ice skating rink is capitalism at its finest. You have to get a reservation, you have to pay out the ass ($65 at peak time), and there's a time limit. Instead, why not head over to…
Where to eat - PJ Clarke's
On your walk over, stop into St Pat's and say a prayer because we all need them. PJ Clarke's is one of NYC's oldest spots and still has those massive urinals that make you feel like you're standing in a spaceship. Have a burger and make a friend - everyone here is nice. Last Veterans Day, myself, Large, and some fellow Vet pals shut this place down. Another story for another day.
There's a way you could easily hit all of these in one day but I don't have time to map that out for you. I just think it would make for one heck of an afternoon.
Merry Christmas and enjoy the trees of NYC!
P.S. White lights on your tree >>>>>>
P.P.S. Don't be afraid to start saying "Merry Christmas" to people when you see them. It throws people off when you start as early as December 1st but it's never too early.