Thank you to my folks for sending us to New York City to celebrate my birthday!
There is a place in Times Square where you can forget that you’re in Times Square.
Times Square is out of control.
The buildings are adorned with towering, skyscraper-tall screens flashing advertisements. The sidewalks and plazas are packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people. Know that you can’t get anywhere quickly.
Even though I was a tourist, I could not wait to get away from the tourists. There is no rhyme or reason to the way people walk down the sidewalks. Hugging the right does not exist. Groups of tourists move through Times Square in big, slow blobs that take-up the entire sidewalk width and abruptly stop.
The air smells like a million different things: Trash. Urine. Bodies. Car exhaust. Cigarettes. Cinnamon roasted candied nuts, falafel, and griddled meats and onions.
There’s a center plaza where people dressed as costumed characters (or wear next to nothing at all) vie for tourist photos. The center is see an ocean of people taking selfies. Like I suggested in my post about surviving an entire day at Universal Studios-Florida, you can’t navigate around everyone’s selfies and selfie sticks. So just don’t, because, if you do, you’ll never leave Times Square. In fact, you’ll probably grow old and die there.
Times Square lands in the middle of the Theater District. This means that Saturday evenings are extra crazy. If you are trying attending a show on a Saturday night, make an RSVP for dinner, grab something casual, and/or leave PLENTY of time to get to the theater.
The good thing is that you will never go hungry in Times Square. Much is overpriced. But much is not. $19 hotel bar cocktail to dollar slice, you can find it all in Times Square.
There’s Guy Fieri’s restaurant, a giant Olive Garden, a flashy Applebee’s, and a puzzling number of TGI Friday’s. Pret a Mangers perch on every corner. So many so, that the coffee shop chain became our inside joke. Each time one of us would spot one, we’d try to be the first to nudge the other person and matter-of-factly state, “Hey, have you heard of Pret a Manger? It’s a fantastic local coffee shop.”
Sake Bar Hagi
Many online sources recommend Saki Bar Hagi as a reasonably priced restaurant to escape the Times Square crowds. The restaurant entrance is located next to another Japanese restaurant and down a concrete stairwell. If you aren’t looking for it, you’ll probably walk on by. We did, twice.
The restaurant is still busy and seating limited, but we found seats at the bar. Nevertheless, we felt like we were someone far from Times Square. Service is concise in the most thoughtful way.
The menu offers a large selection of Japanese bar food such as yakitori skewers, okonomiyaki (savory Japanese pancakes), fried bits of meat, fish, tofu and seafood, fried rice, stir fried noodle dishes, and soups. Plus there’s a long list of sakes and a handful of Japanese draft beers.
Jake ordered a spicy ramen soup special with kimchi and oysters, thick with egg. This massive bowl cost somewhere around $15. I chose the okonomiyaki with kimchi.
If you like takoyaki (the little octopus-stuffed pancake balls), you’ll like okonomiyaki. These pancakes are made from a similar batter poured around bits of seafood and kimchi, drizzled with a savory sauce and Japanese mayo. Their texture is denser and chewier than a typical American breakfast pancake. Bonito fish flakes dance from the heat.
A huge menu with fair prices, cold drinks (or hot sake if you prefer) and a subterranean haven beneath the street-level frenzy. Pause here.
Sake Bar Hagi
152 W 49th St.
NY, NY 10019
What a great synopsis . Seriously. The smells of NYC are many and varied and you captured it. I love being a tourist but I also love NOT being a tourist and it helps to go with someone who lives there, Micah and Wendy have introduced us to some pretty amazing places that we never would have found otherwise. Not that I can remember any of the names right now…….
Thanks Beth! I bet Micah and Wendy have some great favorites. There are so many bars and restaurants it’s overwhelming.
That was a perfect description of Times Square! It is all those things and yet somehow…it holds an appeal! Fun adventures you had!
Love that you found a little hidden escape from the busyness of Times Square. And I just love the way you describe everything – it is like I’m having a conversation with you one on one 🙂
You summed Times square up perfectly. When we were there we took the short hike to Les Halles where Anthony Bourdain used to chef it up. Pretty banging French food in a relaxed atmosphere, away from the touristy hellscape of Times Square.