Twenty-Four Bookish Hours in NYC (Plus, HAMILTON!)

Last week, Steve and I snuck away for a long-planned mini-break.  As I told y’all on Monday, almost a year ago, I bought tickets to see Hamilton on Broadway.  The only tickets I was able to get were for a Thursday night, so we took a long weekend, flew my mom down to D.C. to watch the kids, and hopped on a train up to New York.  We arrived in the city mid-day Thursday, checked into our hotel (more about that in a minute) and headed out to wander the neighborhood for a bit.  First stop – only a block away – was the New York Public Library!

I would like to send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils…

Steve had never been to the NYPL before.  I’d been there – and actually spent a lovely afternoon with a Miss Read book in the main reading room – back in the summer of 2012, while he was off at a Yankees game with his dad.

Since I was the “expert” – a.k.a. had been there exactly one time – he told me to show him around.  Uhhhhh, I’ll try.

We found the reading room, and the book request counter.  I HAVE SOME REQUESTS.

Then the main event – down the main stairs into the children’s section!  I love the NYC-themed mural on the wall.  But of course, there’s one reason why people flock to the children’s section in the main branch of the NYPL.

Hello there, Pooh and friends!

I have always loved Winnie-the-Pooh (and my kids love him, too) and his playmates in the Hundred Acre Wood.  I feel so lucky to be able to visit Christopher Robin Milne’s original toy menagerie from time to time.

Steve said that Pooh was bigger than he was expecting him to be.  I think he’d anticipated something more the Pooh I had as a child – which was small.

After admiring Pooh and friends for awhile, we headed back out into the city in search of something else to do.  We had a lot of time to kill before our dinner and theatre evening, and we’d noticed the J.P. Morgan Library on our walk from Penn Station to our hotel.  I’ve been listening to Book Riot’s new(ish) podcast, Annotated, since it launched – and after their early episode on Belle de Costa Greene, Morgan’s personal librarian, I’d thought it would be cool to visit the Morgan library and see the fruits of Belle’s collecting for myself.  Since the Morgan Library was right there, and we had hours free, we decided to go check it out.

First stop – checking out Morgan’s collection of medieval treasure bindings.  They were really spectacular.

I was happy to see some books of hours in the collection, but bummed that none of them were French.  A long time ago at a university far, far away, my freshman art history project was a paper on medieval French books of hours, and I still get excited when I come across one.  Morgan’s were mostly German and Italian – extremely cool, but I wasn’t quite as well-versed in their symbolism as I would have been if they’d been French.  Most of my paper was about family status symbols and symbols of wealth in the books, which has a lot to do with paint color, so I was able to share some facts with Steve on the assumption that the paints that were expensive in France during medieval times were probably also expensive in Germany and Italy.  He was impressed, and if I got any details wrong – well, he didn’t know!

After we’d gotten our fill of the treasure bindings, we made it to the section I was most excited to see – J.P. Morgan’s personal library and study!  Steve asked me what made the Morgan library interesting/worth seeing.  So I explained that Morgan was one of the financial titans who lived and enjoyed his fortune in a time when collecting rare books and artifacts was a big status symbol.  However, unlike D.C.’s beloved Henry Folger (who focused completely on Shakespeare’s First Folios and rare Shakespeareana and eventually created our Folger Shakespeare Library), Morgan didn’t have any one author or artist who interested him in particular.  He just bought whatever seemed super-cool.  And, as I learned from Book Riot, his librarian – Greene – was extremely cool in her own right (go listen to the episode, if you haven’t already heard it!).  Enough rambling – let’s go inside.

I made a beeline for Morgan’s study.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that the books were shelved alphabetically, so I went about verifying the presence of my favorite authors.  Austen, the Bronte sisters, Eliot – all there.  (I didn’t have time to check for Trollope, but I’m sure he was there too.)  I spent several minutes crouched in front of the Austen shelf, with the Brontes right beneath it.  Although – inquiring minds want to know: why did Morgan have Volume III of Agnes Grey, but not Volumes I or II?

After we got our fill of Morgan’s study, we emerged into a spectacular rotunda.  Once upon a time, when Morgan actually lived (and Greene worked) here, this was the main entrance.  Pretty impressive, no?

From the rotunda, we headed into Morgan’s personal library.  Oh.  WHAT.

#goals

Off the library was Greene’s office, which was filled with more books and treasures from the collection.  Can you imagine working here, surrounded by rare books and objects of art that you’ve acquired (with someone else’s money)?  More #goals.

While I would have loved to grab a book off the shelf, curl up in one of Morgan’s chairs, and read the afternoon away, I thought that would probably have been frowned upon.  So we wandered around until we had our fill of the library, and then headed back to the hotel.  Steve wanted to get in a quick nap (so as to be wide awake for our exciting evening plans) and I decided to use that time exploring the hotel.

Because – we checked off another bookish bucket list item and stayed at the Library Hotel.  I’ve had this hotel on my list for years, and it absolutely didn’t disappoint!

The idea behind the hotel is that each floor corresponds to a different theme, and within each theme, the rooms are all individually themed too.  When I booked the hotel, I requested a room on the eighth floor – the Literature floor.  I also listed my favorite authors – Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Anne Bronte, Trollope – and someone at the hotel must have thought that was adorable, because when we checked in we were informed that they had upgraded us and placed us in the Classic Literature room.  YES.

Each room contained a selection of books that corresponded to its theme.  These were ours – I spy Fitzgerld, Trollope, Dickens, Capote… and Jo Nesbo?

I wandered around the hotel and checked out the scene while Steve napped.  Eventually I found my way into “the reading room” – a book-lined lounge with free coffee, pastries and cookies.

I got myself a Rory Gilmore-sized cup of coffee and settled down to – what else? – read.  (No, I didn’t pull Ready Player One from the shelves at the hotel.  That was my Alexandria Library copy that I toted along with me, and which Steve is now reading.)

Eventually, Steve joined me in the reading room and we had another coffee together before getting all fancied up for our big night on the town.  First up – Saju, a Provencal bistro near Broadway.

Appetizer course: salmon tartare for him; soupe au pistou (Provencal vegetable soup) for her:

(Sorry the pictures are so terrible.  I assure you it was delicious.)

Entrée course: kobe burgers for him; salmon with potatoes and asparagus for her.

By the time we finished our meal, the city was lighting up.

We hurried through Times Square en route to our destination: the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

What’s your name, man?  ALEXANDER HAMILTON!

As noted above, Steve and I have been waiting almost a year since buying our tickets – and really, even longer than that to see the show.  The soundtrack is playing in our house almost every day, our kids love the music too, and we’ve been anxiously anticipating curtain up (metaphorically speaking; there’s actually no curtain) on Broadway.  And the show absolutely didn’t disappoint.

One thing that we both noted, and couldn’t stop talking about, was how funny the show is – funny in ways that don’t necessarily come across when just listening to the music (as great as it is on its own).   The actor who played Aaron Burr was absolutely hysterical – rolling his eyes, side-eyeing, and making funny gestures all over the place.  There were other visuals, too, that took the show from great to once-in-a-lifetime.  For instance?  When Angelica sings, in Satisfied, the line “My father has no son, so I’m the one who has to social climb for one,” Philip Schuyler was cleaning his glasses up in the scaffolding – that really tickled me.  And you know the dubstep when young Philip raps in Take a Break?  THAT’S ELIZA.  There was more, but I don’t want to spoil anything – because everyone should go.  Mortgage everything and go.  It was worth every penny.

After the show, we wanted to keep the night going, so we found a Prohibition-style bar and broke down the whole performance over gin and whisky cocktails.  It was a really magical night that I’ll remember forever.

And that was it!  We had time for a leisurely breakfast before our train home to D.C. and our babies the next day.  It was just a brief jaunt up to NYC, but damn was it memorable.

Thanks for a wonderfully bookish – and way too quick – twenty-four hours, NYC!  We’ll be seeing you again soon, I hope…

11 thoughts on “Twenty-Four Bookish Hours in NYC (Plus, HAMILTON!)

  1. Oh where to begin? haha this trip looks so fun!! I’m glad you had such a good time 😊
    The libraries were so cool…like I would never want to leave there!📚
    I’ve never heard of that hotel before, but I’m now adding it to my bucket list! That’s the coolest thing ever!❤️

    • It was a great trip! Short, but very sweet. Both libraries were gorgeous – I’m lucky that my husband, although not an avid reader, indulges my love of bookish travel!

  2. I’m SO glad you got to do this. I love the NYPL! And I am way jealous of the Library Hotel and Hamilton. Super awesome!

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