Since we’ve known each other, Andrew and I have taken a small handful of trips together — Georgia, California, North Carolina, Wisconsin. Two weeks ago, we flew to New York City for what would become my favorite vacation we’ve taken.
We left Chicago the morning after the 4th of July and landed in NYC around lunchtime. Andrew had splurged, spending his hotel points on my dream place to stay: The Ritz-Carlton New York, just across the street from Central Park. As our Uber pulled up, the doorman stood poised and ready to grab our matching suitcases (my pink one was a very thoughtful birthday gift from Andrew). He ushered us inside, and we rolled our bags past the spectacular lobby toward the front desk.
“Welcome to The Ritz-Carlton,” said a kind man named Ender. “Are you celebrating anything special?”
“My birthday!” I exclaimed.
“And our engagement,” added Andrew. It was true. Since we got engaged in Georgia, life has been a whirlwind of making decisions, then changing our minds, then making more decisions. We’d hardly stopped to toast one another. I couldn’t wait to take my ring (and my man!) out to the finest NYC restaurants.
“Well, we had already upgraded you, but I’m going to upgrade you once more,” Ender said with a wink. I stood there, grinning like a twelve-year-old. “Allow me to escort you.”
One elevator ride later, Andrew and I were standing in the most gorgeous hotel room I had ever seen. Everything was elegant and new, from the marble entryway table to the snow white crown molding to the plushest bed. The dual picture windows faced Central Park, showcasing treetops and the Manhattan skyline (Ender said it was the best view in all of NYC). Andrew and I ran around the room taking photos.
After a late lunch at the steakhouse next door, Andrew and I spent the afternoon walking in and out of the high-end shops and department stores on Fifth Avenue: Prada, Barney’s, TAG, Gucci, Bloomingdales. Andrew loves to browse, as do I, so we had a ball looking at beautiful things.
We had a 9:30 reservation that night at Balthazar, so when sun began to go down, we changed our clothes and went down to the hotel bar. It was tucked away behind the lobby, decorated with dark wood and soft leather stools. Unsurprisingly, we ordered the same thing — a vodka martini, extra dirty, with regular olives — and scooted our chairs close together. Already, this weekend was becoming one of my favorite memories with Andrew, and I told him as much. I felt so grateful to be with him and enjoy it all together, from our luxurious hotel room to our ice-cold martinis (a welcome contrast to the humid air outside).
By the time we arrived at the restaurant in Soho, Andrew and I were very hungry. Balthazer is an NYC staple, well-loved for the traditional French fare and renowned wine list. I had eaten there once before, on a lunch date with my mom the summer before I left for college. Almost eight years later, the interior looked very much the same with its crimson banquettes, raw seafood bar and the deliriously delicious smell of homemade bread. The hostess delivered us to a table in the back.
It was quite possibly the greatest dinner we’ve ever had. We ordered a bottle of crisp Sauvignon Blanc, a side of buttery asparagus, and the grand seafood tower — a splurge that was completely worth it. When the tower finally arrived, we started at it for a moment, marveling over the crab claws, shrimp, lobster tail and calamari ceviche. And then, we dug in. I ate too fast and drank too much wine, but I’d do it all over again if I could.
After sleeping in, we went out to get coffee and make a plan for what to do that day. It was a sticky, rainy morning, and my hair quickly turned into a mess of frizz and curls. We opted to Uber to ABC Carpet & Home, one of the most cherished furniture and decor stores in all of the city. This was another place I have been before, once on our first-ever NYC trip and once last year. But it was a store I thought Andrew would enjoy — he has a not-so-secret love for interior design — and so we went.
We sauntered through each floor, touching textiles and talking about how we want to decorate our home in Chicago. As soon as we made it back down to the main level, Andrew and I were ready for lunch at ABC Kitchen, the best of ABC’s three restaurants. The space itself is so unique — high ceilings, dim lighting and painted white brick throughout. We sat down and ordered a small bowl of marinated olives, a glass of rosé for me and a sour beer for Andrew. The menu here is full of chic twists on American classics. We split a kale salad and a pizza, a dish that I could write an entire post about: sauteed mushrooms, lots of oregano and a farm egg on top.
In the drizzling rain, Andrew and I walked a few miles to Soho after our meal, stopping only to watch part of the World Cup game (I still have no idea who was actually playing). We spent hours exploring the boutiques that lined the iconic one-way streets. Soho feels like a tiny, hidden village in comparison to the craziness of Fifth Avenue.
The clouds began to clear by late afternoon, revealing sunshine and cooler temperatures. We headed back to rest for a little while before our dinner. For our second and last dinner, we had a reservation at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in the East Village. It was a restaurant we’d read about while doing research for the weekend.
We FaceTimed with Andrew’s mom as we got ready for the evening, and then FaceTimed my dad in the Uber. They both told us to have fun, and oh, we did! At our table, Andrew and I each ordered a whiskey cocktail — me, a bourbon old fashioned, and him, a more daring rye creation. This is the sort of place that you order everything at once, and the server brings it out on a set schedule. We studied the menu for a while and looked at the plates around us before deciding on Montauk diver scallops, roasted Savoy cabbage and the pork porterhouse — three dishes that absolutely blew us away. We ended the meal with a sake cocktail and an Aperol spritz.
From there, we stepped into the cool night air and headed to our next stop, an old dive bar famed for serving only two options: light beer or dark beer. Andrew’s boss told him to check this place out, and luckily, he gave us the secret instructions for how to order. We confidently strode to a bench in the back, asked for “two darks,” and then waited for the bartender to bring us four mini-sized beers. (For each beer you order, they bring you two.)
Andrew and I love a good trio, so to close out our evening, we Ubered to the Village Vanguard, a legendary jazz club in the West Village. There was a 10:30 show, so stood in line outside, anxious to get inside. I saw people of all ages, some alone and some in groups. It was clear that this particular club was worth the wait, as the line snaked down the block. A half hour later, the bouncer wiggled his fingers at me and Andrew, signaling that it was our time to enter.
Downstairs, there were dozens of tiny tables, a back bar and chairs lining the walls. The venue was packed, likely because the performers that evening were very well-known and well-respected in the jazz community (we had no clue!). The Barry Harris Trio enchanted us from beginning til end. Andrew and I sipped our wine and listened. The music notes swirled and filled the room, and Barry himself (88 years old!) was such a crooner. We loved it.
We got back to our hotel very late, and both of us needed a bite of something sweet. I picked up the phone, dialed room service and boldly ordered the Ritz cookie platter. We changed into pajamas and the cozy hotel robes, and when I heard that knock on the door, I ran to the door. The plate had chocolate chip cookies, macadamia nut cookies and oatmeal cookies. Andrew and I wolfed down all six of them.
On our last morning (and my last day of being 24!), we put on workout clothes and headed to Starbucks. The sun was shining and the temperature was somewhere near 70 degrees — truly the most lovely weather imaginable. Cold brews in hand, Andrew and I made our way into Central Park, where we strolled aimlessly, talking about everything and anything.
One of the things I love most about Andrew is how easy it is to be with him. I can be serious, I can be goofy, I can be quiet. He can be serious, he can be goofy, he can be quiet. We were so giddy in the park that Saturday, holding hands as runners passed us by. After we finished our coffees, we sat on a bench and called my best friend. I put Courtney on speakerphone, and we told her about our weekend and heard about hers. As I write this, I wish I could go back to that exact moment.
We had just a few hours left before our flight, so we walked up Madison Avenue in our baseball hats and white sneakers. There is something peculiar about visiting another city — you remember just how much you love your own. We had a blast spending a few days in NYC, but we were both ready to go back home to Chicago.
On our (turbulent!) flight back home, I closed my eyes and thanked God for such a dreamy trip with Andrew. I wouldn’t have wanted to celebrate my almost-birthday with anyone else.