New York City

November 10, 2005
Anna Knott
A secret dream getaway that's all about her--the husband is even happy to tag along while his wife goes shopping

Sean McCarthy met Katie Hellmann in third grade, when she was the new kid at school in Newburgh, Indiana. They went to a dance together in seventh grade, but at the end of the school year Sean's family moved to North Carolina. They wrote to each other through the years, and one letter from Katie prompted Sean to drive overnight to rekindle the romance 10 years after their first go of it. "I still have that letter," says Sean. Married in 2004, the McCarthys live in Chicago, where Sean works in sales for T-Mobile and Katie runs her own event-planning business.

Sean is surprising Katie for her 30th birthday with a trip to a place she's always dreamed of: New York City. Neither has ever been there. "She keeps mentioning how much she'd like to go to New York," says Sean. "I pretend that I don't hear her."

But the fact is, Sean is a very good listener. And he plans to indulge Katie in every way--dining at her favorite kinds of restaurants, drinking colorful cocktails, shopping at boutiques. "This trip is about her," he says. "I just want to do what she wants to do."

The first challenge is pinning down the perfect hotel. Sean knows Katie will want a place with some style. "I'd rather not be in a shady area just because it's cheaper," he says. The McCarthys will spend much of their time downtown, an area not known for a good hotel selection. Reliable favorites include the Abingdon Guest House in the West Village, the Gershwin Hotel in the Flatiron, and Park South Hotel in Gramercy. The first two are full for the November weekend Sean had picked, so he's relieved when the Park South has a room. The hotel occupies a beautiful eight-story building that dates to 1906.

"Authentic New York is much more appealing than what's on TV," explains Sean. Still, he asked us to brief him on major attractions that'll be convenient, so they have the option of checking them out. Their hotel is a few blocks from the Empire State Building, and they can easily start there first thing in the morning (it opens at 8 a.m., the ride up is $14, and crowds get larger later in the day). "If it's doable, Fifth Avenue might be fun," says Sean. All they have to do is take the 6 train uptown to 51st Street for browsing at Tiffany's and other ritzy shops, before detouring into Central Park for a nice walk.

But Sean knows that with only a few days in the city, they won't focus on tourist sites. "We can always come back for those," he says. They prefer to experience New York like real New Yorkers. The best way to do that is by hitting the streets and walking, eating, and (a personal favorite for Katie) shopping. "I assume she'll want to go to smaller shops that can't be found in other places," says Sean. "The more eclectic boutiques." NoLita, a hip neighborhood east of SoHo--and as the abbreviation indicates, north of Little Italy--should be the first stop. Hollywould, a little shoe store on Elizabeth Street, is a favorite for girls who can never have too many sparkly heels. Around the corner on Prince Street, INA is where New York's fashionistas put their designer bags, dresses, and jeans on consignment.

As part of her business, Katie creates invitations, and in SoHo she can indulge her paper obsessions at IS, a stationery store favored by graphic designers. She'll also love Kate's Paperie, which has tons of invitations and beautiful paper products. An informal paper district, on 18th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, includes the well-stocked Paper Presentation.

No neighborhood is better suited for wandering--if only because its layout often gets people lost--than the West Village. The streets are lined with brownstones, shops, and cafés. (As a fan of Sex and the City, Katie should keep an eye out for Sarah Jessica Parker, who's often spotted on Waverly Place.) In particular, Bleecker Street, west of Seventh Avenue, has become a newer, smaller version of NoLita. The Marc Jacobs trio of stores--his, hers, and accessories--was the pioneer, and now there's a series of high-end boutiques. Sean is happy that most of the stores have chairs. "I'll just bring a magazine and nestle in," he says gamely.

The McCarthys are interested in neighborhood restaurants. Two excellent possibilities in the Village: Mario Batali's informal pizzeria, Otto, which fills up fast on weekends for dinner. The restaurant just started taking reservations, but if the couple has to wait for 20 minutes or so, it isn't all that bad. They can have a drink in the bar, and a train timetable signals when tables open up. Also, the cozy Italian restaurant 'Ino is great for grilled panini.

"There's not much we don't eat," says Sean. For lunch, Sean and Katie might test their palates at Freemans, down an unassuming alley on the Lower East Side. A hunting-lodge aesthetic carries through in the menu (wild boar terrine?), but there are more approachable dishes, like the smoked trout with hard-boiled egg ($9).

The McCarthys host an annual martini party they jokingly call the Partini. "I'm a big fan of traditional martinis," says Sean. "Katie likes anything in a martini glass." There's a boom in Manhattan of classic cocktail lounges. At the Pegu Club, one of the newer entries, drinks are about $12 each, but the experience isn't one they'll find anywhere else. Each cocktail comes with a quartet of droppers, which allow patrons to perfectly calibrate their drink to taste. Katie might opt for the Pegu Club Cocktail: orange Curacao, bitters, London dry gin, and lime juice, served in a martini glass.

As far as nightlife, Sean and Katie--who watch Saturday Night Live and Comedy Central regularly--will find some of the city's best comedy and wacky theater at the Upright Citizens Brigade. SNL cast-member Amy Poehler is a founder and a regular at the club, located in Chelsea.

Laughs are great, but romance is what the McCarthys' getaway is about. Even jaded New Yorkers find walking across the Brooklyn Bridge magical. If the weather cooperates (a bit iffy in November), the couple will begin the dramatic 40-minute stroll at City Hall. The view of the Manhattan skyline is its own reward, but there are other reasons to make the trek. Many people say the city's best pizza is in Brooklyn, under the bridge's shadow at classic coal-oven joint Grimaldi's, and for dessert, Jacques Torres Chocolate is unforgettable. (Sean and Katie can take the A or C train back to Manhattan if they've had it with walking.)

Finally, Landmarc, a rustic American restaurant in Tribeca, is the perfect spot to celebrate Katie's birthday. It's understated but special, and the wine list has an unusually low markup: While the standard at city restaurants is 300 percent, Landmarc charges the retail price for many bottles. A grill in the back of the dining room sears five cuts of steaks, which come with five options for sauces. Landmarc doesn't take reservations for parties under six, but Katie and Sean can give the host their cell phone number and head a few blocks north to the Brandy Library, which, on top of its 300 brandies and 240 single malts, has a long list of cocktails. The Perfect Manhattan comes--naturally--in a martini glass.

Double surprise!

The nice folks at the Broadway comedy hit The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee are giving Katie and Sean free seats to a performance. Also, thanks to Comedy Central, the couple will skip the lines with VIP tickets for a live taping of The Daily Show. Now all Sean has to worry about is his wife's crush on host Jon Stewart. "I think she finds him easy on the eyes," he says.


  • Abingdon Guest House 13 Eighth Ave., 212/243-5384,, from $149
  • Gershwin Hotel 7 E. 27th St., 212/545-8000,, from $109
  • Park South Hotel 122 E. 28th St., 212/448-0888,, from $199
  • Food

  • Otto 1 Fifth Ave., 212/995-9559
  • 'Ino 21 Bedford St., 212/989-5769, panini $9
  • Freemans Freeman Alley, 212/420-0012
  • Landmarc 179 W. Broadway, 212/343-3883, skirt steak $20
  • Grimaldi's 19 Old Fulton St., Brooklyn, 718/858-4300, pizza $14
  • Jacques Torres Chocolate 66 Water St., Brooklyn 718/875-9772
  • Brandy Library 25 N. Moore St., 212/226-5545
  • Pegu Club 77 W. Houston St., 2nd Fl., 212/473-7348
  • Activities

  • Putnam County Spelling Bee 1633 Broadway, 212/239-6200,
  • Empire State Building 350 Fifth Ave., 212/736-3100,
  • The Daily Show 733 11th Ave., 212/586-2477,, free
  • Upright Citizens Brigade 307 W. 26th St., 212/366-9176,, free-$10
  • Shopping

  • INA 21 Prince St., 212/334-9048
  • Hollywould 198 Elizabeth St., 212/343-8344
  • IS 91 Crosby St., 212/334-4447
  • Kate's Paperie 561 Broadway, 212/941-9816
  • Paper Presentation 23 W. 18th St., 212/463-7035
  • Marc Jacobs 403--405 Bleecker St., 212/924-0026
  • How was your trip?

    "In a word, Ireland was fantastic," says Kurtis Frank, shown here with his wife, Heather, at the Cliffs of Moher. The couple, who we coached in May, made a lot of readers jealous by scoring tickets to see U2 in Dublin. "The show was amazing from start to finish. Thanks so much."

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    Athens, Georgia

    When Michael Stipe wrote "Shiny Happy People," the R.E.M. front man, a former University of Georgia art student, must have had Athens in mind. The 100,000 residents have a number of reasons to smile: The indie music scene Athens is the southern seat of independent music, with R.E.M. playing the part of local boys made huge. It all started in 1979 at Wuxtry Records, where Stipe was a regular and Peter Buck a clerk (197 E. Clayton St., 706/369-9428). They then picked up their other two bandmates, also UGA students, in Athens. R.E.M., the B-52's, and Widespread Panic all played the 40 Watt Club early on in their careers. The club has changed locations a few times; the latest venue, where Sufjan Stevens recently performed, has a tiki bar (285 W. Washington St., 706/549-7871). A bulldawg with spirit Sanford Stadium--despite its 92,746 capacity--sells out well in advance for big football games. Scoring a ticket is tough without an alumni connection, though it's not impossible; scalpers usually hang around outside. The university's athletic teams are known as the Georgia Bulldogs, and locals twang it out slowly and proudly, spelling it "dawg" on T-shirts. The school mascot, Uga VI, is the latest in a line of English bulldogs. Uga and his ancestors have gained national renown as the stars of a 2004 "dogumentary" called Damn Good Dog, which chronicles 48 years of beloved Ugas--trotted out at the beginning of each game--and the Savannah family that has cared for them. (It's pronounced uh-guh, by the way.) Spirits with bite The signature drink at the Manhattan Cafe, a cool dive downtown, is Maker's Mark and Blenheim's spicy ginger ale (337 North Hull St., 706/369-9767). On occasion, aspiring rock stars, emboldened by one too many, play the room. Food for the people Dexter Weaver has been behind the counter at Weaver D's, a soul-food restaurant east of downtown on the North Oconee River, for 19 years (1016 E. Broad St.). Weaver is marvelously predictable. After he takes an order for plates of fried chicken, mac and cheese, or warm apple cobbler (platter with two sides $8), his favorite thing to say is "Automatic for the people." The phrase--a promise for quick service--went national when R.E.M. got Weaver's permission to use it as the title of the band's 1992 album. A liberated tree A white oak on Finley and Dearing streets is known as the Tree That Owns Itself. In 1832, the professor who owned the land deeded the tree--and some land around it--to the tree. When the oak was uprooted in 1942, the Junior Ladies' Garden Club planted its replacement, which the nice ladies continue to keep well-watered today. Many green acres - NO LONGER OPEN Grand Oaks Manor B&B, five miles outside of town, is an impressive 1820 antebellum mansion on a 34-acre estate (6295 Jefferson Rd., 706/353-2200,, from $129). The full breakfast, included in the nightly rate, regularly features caramel apple French toast and is served in proper southern style--on china, of course.


    Monk See, Monk Do: Staying at a Korean Temple

    As the nighttime thrum of crickets rises and falls on Ganghwa, an island in the Yellow Sea 25 miles west of Seoul, I'm summoned by a wooden percussion instrument to peel myself up from my padded mat and prepare for the morning's chants. I clumsily suit up in the cotton "dharma clothes" that have been provided (rough cotton pants, T-shirt, and smock) and wonder if a monk brushes his teeth before chanting. I decide he does. I also decide that 3:40 a.m. is far too early to wake up when one is on vacation. In an effort to learn about an important part of Korean culture, I've signed up to be a monk for a day at Lotus Lantern, a monastery that's home to international monks of Jogye, the main order of Korean Buddhism. An influx of visitors for the 2002 World Cup prompted the South Korean government to ask temples to open their doors--and they've stayed open, thanks to popular demand. Currently, 43 temples welcome overnighters, and five offer translation services in English ( describes each one). There's a participating temple in Seoul, but Lotus Lantern is the closest one in the countryside; it's an hour's trip from the Seoul subway, which includes a $4 bus and a $5 taxi ride to the grounds. Although the programs differ slightly from temple to temple, most last 24 hours, start in the afternoon, and are designed to introduce visitors to the basic tenets of Buddhism. Following the morning wake-up call, we drag ourselves into the Buddha hall, filled with hundreds of paper lanterns lit by electric bulbs. I kneel with a handful of fellow travelers behind three monks leading a ceremony called yebool, in which they chant a rhythmic chain of devotional sutras, broken by repeated bows. Guests are given a phonetic transcript to join in, but I choose just to listen to the monks as they cycle through a mantra 108 times; it takes about 20 minutes, and I pass the time by awkwardly mimicking their bows. The monks fold their mats and turn off the lights. We return outside to the darkness, underneath a blanket of stars. It's a little past 4 a.m. Perhaps sensing my grogginess, Ok Kyung Chang, the Lotus Lantern's director of temple stays, reminds me why we're up at such an unfortunate hour. "The mind is at its clearest, its most focused," she says. And thus, it's a perfect time for juaseon, or sitting meditation, the next activity. In another hall, we're instructed to sit in the lotus position, facing open windows that look out at the forest. Time passes in silence. I can't claim enlightenment--a determined mosquito blocks my path--but nevertheless I feel at peace. Outside, the dawn sky has brightened over the rice paddies. Then we eat. The three-meal temple diet consists mainly of organic vegetables grown on-site and prepared simply, with soy sauce, sesame oil, and seaweed, and served with kimchi and rice porridge. The quarters are about as austere as the food. Rooms are outfitted with traditional Korean bedding: a yo, a padded mat, and a begae, a firm, husk-filled pillow. In the early afternoon, we're guided through a traditional Korean tea ceremony called da-do; monks believe tea sharpens the mind for meditation. We learn the method of preparing Korean green tea at the correct temperature--slightly warm--and are taught the etiquette of serving and drinking. Each cup is taken in three sips--one each to observe color, fragrance, and taste. And since work is an important part of the monk's day, after having our tea we'll be asked to pitch in with garden chores (today's duty: picking red peppers). Between ceremonies, we can walk around the mountains or meditate in one of the halls. I use the time to talk with the monks and my fellow visitors. While some travelers may find a stay understimulating, Karla Vogelpohl, visiting from Germany with her husband, relished the real-life encounter. "A friend in Korea knew of our interest in Buddhism and suggested we come," she says. "We feel integrated here, like we're not seen as strangers." 011-82/10-8739-3858,, $38.


    Save the Date

    Nov. 1: The Dresden Frauenkirche Destroyed by the British Royal Air Force in World War II, Dresden's historic chapel has finally been rebuilt. (Britain donated the golden cross atop the dome.) Consecration services begin on Sunday, Oct. 30, but the celebrations climax on Tuesday with an All Saints' Day mass at 10 a.m. and unescorted tours from noon to 5:30 p.m., free. Nov. 1: Melbourne Cup The annual horse race, held at Melbourne's Flemington Racecourse, is so important to Aussies that teachers have been known to wheel TVs into their classrooms so students can watch. In fact, the day is a holiday in the state of Victoria. The main event begins at 3 p.m., but arrive before noon for Fashions on the Field--a beauty pageant that's nearly as popular as the race itself., $50. Nov. 6: Athens Classic Marathon It's not just any marathon--it's the original marathon. In 490 b.c., a messenger ran the 24 miles from the village of Marathon to Athens, spreading the news of the Greek victory over the Persians. He certainly couldn't have imagined that 2,500 years later, more than 3,500 runners would follow in his footsteps (plus an additional 2.2 miles). 011-30-210/935-1888,, free. Nov. 8-15: Pushkar Camel Fair Every November, the town of Pushkar, India, attracts more than 200,000 people (and over 50,000 camels) for a week of livestock trading, camel races, and festivities, including Rajasthani folk dancing. If you want to see camel trading at its peak, you should arrive a few days early., free. Nov. 11--13 Los Angeles International Tamale Festival Carlos "The Tamale Man" Melgoza will try to break the record for the world's longest tamale--the current record is 40 feet, 10 1/2 inches--during the inaugural tamale festival in Los Angeles. Purchase spices and cornhusks in the festival marketplace and experts will teach you how to make your own. 323/223-7469,, free. Nov. 13: Andy Warhol/Supernova: Stars, Deaths, and Disasters A major exhibition of Warhol's photo-silkscreen paintings--including iconic images of Marilyn, Liz, and Jackie--makes its first stop at the recently expanded Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (through Feb. 26). Also on display will be his "car crashes": news pics of accidents, manipulated on canvas. Next up: Chicago, March 18-June 18; Toronto, July 8-Oct. 1. 612/375-7600,, $8 (free Thursdays 5-9 p.m. and the first Saturday of every month). Nov. 18-19: 36 Hours of Keystone To kick off the ski season, Keystone, Colo., opens its slopes for 36 straight hours, from 8 a.m. Friday to 8 p.m. Saturday. For $36 per person per night, you can stay in a two-room suite at the River Run Village (based upon four-person occupancy) or a double room at the Keystone Inn. 800/468-5004,, 36-hour lift ticket $55. --David LaHuta