You're From New Jersey - What Exit?
Willie Nelson said it best, “On the road again, just can't wait to get on the road again, the life I love is making music with my friends.” We’re on the last leg of our trip and heading to possibly one the greatest towns in the world, New York – and that’s saying something for a guy who comes from Crossmaglen! Three hours in and we hit the New Jersey turnpike. As we round the bend and crest the horizon Manhattan Island rises into view. It’s a sight to behold. The air is clear and sunlight streams onto the city, bouncing off the skyscrapers and dappling the inside of our car with flecks of multicoloured magic. No matter how many times you see this place it can’t fail but to take your breath away. We descend down towards the Jersey shoreline and join the queue for the Holland Tunnel. It’s down and into the belly of the beast. Halfway through and a small neat sign, made up of the coloured ceramic tiles that line this underpass announce the half way point where you pass from New Jersey to New York. We cheer and within a minute we’re rising up from Holland tunnel and into the city. It’s hard to take it all in. City blocks rise up on every side like great redwoods and every metre down the road reveals a new view through the constantly changing angles of the towering structures all around. We take exit 5, point ourselves in the right direction and head down the beautiful avenues of the grid system to our destination at Mary’s cousin’s apartment. We’re on Mercer Street, right smack band in central Soho and the American accent on our satnav announces, “You have reached your destination. You have reached your destination.” We certainly have.
We unload quickly – there’s a nice build up of traffic behind us – and I head off to drop the car back a few blocks Uptown. When I get back, the girls have unpacked and we’re looking out from a five-storey window directly down onto Broadway. What a fantastic place to be staying. We put on a bit of spit and polish and head out to meet Deirdre, Mary’s cousin, who with her husband Kevin is our host for the next few days. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have a place to stay at the end of a long trip. Hotels, motels and all that are great fun, but there’s something special about being able to stay with friends and family when you’re away from home. We head over to La Fayette Street where Deirdre runs her clothing business, La Fayette 148. It’s an impressive place and I can imagine fans of ‘Ugly Betty’ having a field day. We meet the wonderful Deirdre and are quickly whisked off for a seven o’clock booking at a local restaurant. I’ve got the feeling there’s not going to be much hanging about on this leg of the trip. We can say goodbye to those lazy days swimming in waterholes down south. Tom Sawyer has downed the straw hat and is hailing a yellow cab for a night on the town.
Deirdre brings us to a small café called The Corner on Kenmare and La Fayette. It’s a tiny diner and with so little room inside most of the clientele are out on the single row of seats lining the wall outside. She pops inside and has a chat with a burly looking guy sitting in front of a steel door. He gives the nod, the door opens and we’re ushered in and directed immediately down a steep stairwell that goes down about a flight. We turn a corner and walk through a kitchen packed with Mexican chefs hard at work. There’s a nod and hello from the boys as we walk through into what you can only describe as the best speakeasy this side of the 1930’s has seen. It’s alive with the buzz of conversation and the clinking of glasses. The bar sports probably the best liquor cabinet I’ve ever seen. No moonshine though, it’s all top notch here. Up on the roof, which must be the underside of the street above, hang red fireman’s buckets catching a small stream of drips that have worked their way into this Aladdin’s cave. We’re in New York so it’s cocktails all round. The girls go for a margarita, but it’s all old world class for me with a whiskey sour. Kevin joins us and we’re directed to a small leather booth in the corner. No need for menus as Dee and Kevin know what’s good, and believe me it is – hot, tasty, Mexican themed food that has us wanting more. The waiting staff, all of whom could model for a top agency, are wonderfully courteous. They’re all actresses, actors, artists and musicians waiting for that break in this city of dreams. We make short work of the great food on offer and at a leisurely New York pace (that’s breakneck speed to you and me) are whisked off by Deirdre and Kevin to a rooftop bar for a night view of the city. It’s stunning, sitting probably thirty floors up looking north and south across Manhattan Island. We can’t thank Kevin and Dee enough. We’re very conscious that we’re getting a real treat. The boys drop us off on Bleeker Street in Soho to end the night and we check out The Back Fence, The Red Lion, take a walk East side to Arlene’s Grocery and end the night in one of the city’s oldest bars on Mercer Street. The next day is spent upstate with friends of Deirdre and Kevin overlooking New York from Jersey Shore. We play a few tunes into the night with Brendan Anthony (were supporting him on Sunday) to a great audience and we’re ready for our first gig today in the city that the original Mariah Wade emigrated to in the 19th century. Don’t worry, we’ll do you proud!