New Year's Eve in The Big Apple and your GypsyNesters were seriously contemplating a Times Square, ball-dropping extravaganza. After a bit of research and chatting up of locals, we felt that wading into a crowd of a million people, getting frisked and herded into little fenced-in safety areas, then standing for hours with no restrooms, food or libation is no way to ring in a new year. Even an article entitled "Fear Conquering & Ball Dropping," as hilarious as that would be, could not entice us to spend that much time needing to pee.
So, what to do? There are numerous clubs with parties and bands all over town, fancy restaurants with special dinners and enormous price tags, hotels with rot-gut champagne packages, cruises on the rivers and even a lung-busting midnight fun run through Central Park. We chose a fast growing new tradition for our New York New Year revelry - walking across The Brooklyn Bridge. Both free of charge AND priceless.
Guided tours are available for this unique annual trek, but thousands of people each year bundle up and set out across the bridge on their own. We began our crossing at about a quarter past eleven, had plenty of time for a leisurely stroll, as leisurely as possible among throngs of revelers on a December night above The East River, across the bridge and then get back to the middle in time for the countdown to midnight. The views of the Manhattan skyline, the river, other bridges and The Statue of Liberty make for a fantastic walk on any day or night of the year, but since we had the chance, why not on the eve of a new year?
With ten minutes left until the big moment, we crowded our way to the center of the bridge. It was packed with revelers. Not a bad thing as the wind had picked up and the temperature dropped down, we gladly shared our body heat and excited smiles. We, along with throngs of others, kept a close eye on the nearby Watchtower Clock in eager anticipation. We were not the only non-locals, it was like a mini U.N. meeting up there. Joyful noise in many languages floated around us as we gazed upon New York City dressed up in her holiday splendor.
Just before midnight an exuberant Japanese group began a chant and the countdown began. The finale of the count was easily understood in any language, HAPPY NEW YEAR! Hugs and greetings were exchanged between strangers and loved ones alike while fireworks brightly exploded in several locations around the city. Champagne corks popped and toasts were offered as each group celebrated according to their tradition. Awesome!
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States with construction beginning in 1869 and completed in 1883. At the time it was the longest suspension bridge in the world, 1,595.5 feet. There was some tragedy involved with the building of the bridge, designer John Augustus Roebling crushed a foot during the surveys for the project, contracted tetanus and died. Before passing away he appointed his son, Washington Roebling, to carry on the project, but Washington was stricken with decompression sickness while diving below the river to work on the pilings. He was left paralyzed but communicated his wishes through his wife Emily, who supervised the project for eleven years. All told twenty seven people lost their lives during the construction.
Despite the tragedy, the bridge became an immediate icon with poems and songs written about it. Later, it became a movie star appearing in dozens of films including Deep Impact, Godzilla, I Am Legend, Cloverfield, Zombi 2, and Kate & Leopold.
Though we most likely stood out as visitors to the big city, no one tried to sell us the bridge like George C. Parker and William McCloundy are famously said to have done to gullible tourists back in the early 1900s. They must have been fairly successful salesmen since the phrase "I've got a bridge to sell you" became a part of the American lexicon. By 1949 even Bugs Bunny was trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to a naive tourists.
Wallets intact, we walked into Manhattan to find a spot to warm up, have a nightcap and relieve ourselves. That's right, we managed to refrain from peeing off the bridge. We found a little place but, man, had the celebrations taken a toll on this bunch! Of the seven people left in the bar, two were asleep and four were incoherently drunk. The other one was the bartender. He seemed OK. We ordered and sat back to watch a little bit of the show. After a bit of babbling and barfing from the characters, we decided it might be time to call it a night.
We didn't try it on New Years for fear of the crowds, but right at the base of The Brooklyn Bridge, on the Brooklyn side, is Grimaldi's Pizzeria, with arguably New York's best pizza. Now that's a bold statement, New York is known for it's pies and the joints that serve them, so we we happily delved into our latest chapter of the "New York Pizza War."
Legend has it that the first pizza ever was served by Gennaro Lombardi at Lombardi's in Little Italy way back in 1905. Lombardi's still serves up a mean pie, we know from experience, but hundreds of other places have sprung up to compete, forty six of which have Ray's in the name one way or another. Ray's Original Pizza, Famous Ray's Pizza, World-Famous Original Ray's Pizza, it seems like there's one on every corner.
Our personal favorite among the contenders comes from John's of Bleeker Street, still, we're always on the lookout for a better pie, so a trip to Grimaldi's was undertaken. Their website claims "the coal-fired oven at Grimaldi's Pizzeria delivers a unique flavor and consistency that is just not possible from wood or gas ovens." Both John's and Lombardi's also use coal ovens, so we are inclined to believe the boast, but trying is believing.
Grimaldi's is a tiny place under the Brooklyn Bridge in DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and is famous for not only the pizza, but the line waiting to get in. Even on this Sunday afternoon the line was several dozen deep.
After about twenty minutes we were inside. Ordering didn't take much thought, the menu is limited to basically salad and pizza. No pasta here and the listed appetizers looked to be pizza toppings served minus a crust. No problem, it's all about the pie. In fact the center point of the restaurant is the line where they make the pies. It's dinner and a show, watching the dough get pounded, tossed, covered and popped into the oven.
The finished product is one good pizza. Great cheese, excellent crust and sauce that would make a jaded New Yorker cry. The Italian sausage is a favorite at Grimaldi's, so we had to give it a try. They grind it fresh and toss it on raw to cook with the pie. Mama mia!
In general, our favorite pizza is the one we're eating at the time, but with a little time to reflect we agreed that John's is still our favorite. Their meatball is hard to beat. But Grimaldi's is really close.
Maybe we should go back to each several times, just to make sure.