Hello, OTF! My wife and I decided about six weeks ahead of time to head up to New York City for the Islanders game with a couple of our friends. This was my first trip travelling with the Preds, and my fifth or sixth trip up to NYC. We went up Friday afternoon, so we had approximately three full days to sightsee. It worked well, as my wife had never been to NYC, so we did a lot of the major tourist things you would do on your first trip. As promised, here's my Fanpost version of the OTF Travel Diary: Big Apple Style!
We stayed in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, about ten minutes from the Barclays Center. It's very reminiscent of East Nashville: a lot of independent little coffee shops, bakeries, and eateries, with some older established places throughout. The neighborhoods are made up primarily of little brownstone-type apartments; this is a picture of the apartment we booked through VRBO:
It's a nice little area, and pretty safe too; we arrived back in the neighborhood around 11pm more than once, and never had an issue with walking the two blocks back to our apartment. Having said that, there is a stretch of Atlantic Avenue (one of the main thoroughfares that runs through Brooklyn and where the Barclays Center is located) that I would definitely not walk through after dark. We were thinking about walking the mile or so to the BC on Monday evening, but decided against it after we saw what we would be walking through as we Uber'd to downtown Brooklyn on Sunday morning.
I won't give you a blow by blow of what we did, but here are some highlights:
Grand Central Station - it can be very confusing if you're actually trying to board one of MTA's subway lines, but go see the terminal proper. A great people watching place, it's one of the great architectural spaces in the city.
Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island - a must if it's your first time; one of the great symbols of America combined with a wonderfully fascinating history tour at Ellis Island, these two alone will take up half a day, if not more. We took the first ferry at 9am, didn't get back to Battery Park until 4pm, and we STILL had exhibits on Ellis Island that we didn't get to explore. Pro tip: if you want to go up to Lady Liberty's crown, you'll need to get tickets like 6 months in advance. If you can't get those, however, get the Pedestal tickets. The view of Lower Manhattan from the Pedestal is definitely worth it.
9/11 Memorial, Museum, and One World Observatory - I can't say enough about this. Do it. It's an emotionally wringing experience, but it's a beautiful museum that pays poignant tribute to those who died that day. I'll offer this advice: do these three in the order listed above. The memorial outside the museum is powerful, and it adds a little extra umph later on as you walk through the museum. One World Observatory is great to do last, as it will provide good respite from the gravity of the museum and stands as a tribute to how the city and the country moved forward.
Empire State Building - if the Statue of Liberty is the first thing people think of when they think of NYC, then the Empire State Building is probably #2. The art deco style of the building is really incredibly to see, and while One World Observatory is higher in terms of sheer elevation, the view of Midtown from the Empire State Building is really great. However, if you want a truly incredible view go to the Top of the Rock at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. You get the same view of Midtown, plus a view of the Empire State Building, plus a great view of Central Park. Still, go just so you can say you've been there.
Rockefeller Plaza & St. Patrick's Cathedral - really cool if you're a TV fan like myself. We didn't get to do the NBC tour this time around, but I've done it on a past trip and it's really a lot of fun. St. Patrick's is probably one of the most well-known cathedrals in all of the U.S., and it's worth it to carve out 30-45 minutes to walk around the interior.
Worth the trip across town solely for these restaurants:
John's on Bleeker Street - this place has been around since 1929. Unlike a lot of pizza joints in NYC, it doesn't serve slices, only whole pies cooked in a coal-fired brick oven; come ready to eat. The booths are cramped, (spoiler alert, space to stretch out in NYC is not common), but the pizza is amazing.
This is the one restaurant I visited on this trip that I have visited in the past. It's that good. That right there above is a pie with sliced homemade meatballs, ricotta, basil, and chopped garlic. Just typing that makes me do this:
Bamonte's is a little different; don't get me wrong, the food is still really good, although not great. It's primarily a red sauce establishment, and trends more along the lines of what you might get if your friend's Italian grandmother was cooking for you. Having said that, you don't go for the food so much as you go for the experience. This place has been open literally since 1900. It's old school. We're talking waiters in tuxedos, towels draped over their arm, not letting you poor your own wine or San Pellegrino, and shouting at each other in the kitchen in Italian.
And the dining room:
Oh, baby, the dining room. It's like stepping back into the 1950's; in fact, it looks like one of the restaurants straight out of Goodfellas. The Sopranos actually filmed scenes here for a handful of episodes.
Speaking of Goodfellas and Tony Soprano, this place has legit mob ties. Anthony Rabito, a consigliere for the Bonanno family, was banned from visiting Bamonte's (among other establishments) when he was released in 2009 because of its reputation for being such a hot spot for the mob.
It's a place you should visit for the atmosphere and the people, and the food is pretty good to boot. The pic above is not from our visit, but is a great view of the dining room and the glass walled kitchen at the back.
Plus, each table has a button that you push to summon the waiter. Guess who has two thumbs and was totally oblivious to that while he was there?
Shake Shack (easy to find since there are so many around the NYC area) Locals refer to this as one of the best burgers in town. I was skeptical, but it is very, very solid. I don't know if it beats a place like The Pharmacy or Burger Republic, for example, but it comes close. If you go, get the SmokeShack; the roasted cherry peppers elevate this one to another level). If you can, go to the original location in Madison Park. It's an outdoor only seating area, and it's beautiful, especially at night.
Great if you're in the area, but don't trek 45min for here:
Brooklyn eateries: Lula Bagel, Bagel Pub, and Domo Taco all are great small local joints in Brooklyn (specifically the Crown Heights neighborhood); if you're in the area, definitely check them out, but I wouldn't put them in the same category as the three above prior mentions. Try the spearmint lemonade at Lula Bagel along with one of their fresh grilled sandwiches, the mango blueberry salsa at Domo Taco on a lemongrass chicken quesadilla, and a hand rolled bagel along with your favorite flavored cream cheese from their plethora of choices at Bagel Pub.
If you take the subway to Barclays, you'll come up the stairs and be greeted with this:
It's very evident the place wasn't built with hockey in mind; if you pay any kind of attention to the league in general, you're probably aware of this. Just for poops and giggles, though, here's proof:
Yep, that jumbotron is over one of the blue lines. Yeesh.
Some random observations:
Stats boards are awesome. They have stats above the jumbotron that shows who's on the ice, how many shots, goals, and assists they have, and their current time on ice counter. Which leads me to this: WE NEED TOI STATS AT BRIDGESTONE.
It was so nice having that info readily available, but as my friend who works in sports TV production pointed out, it's likely a result of it being a basketball arena first and they are just using what they already have available.
That may be the case, but how about these separate smaller boards with additional stats on them? Surely they could add a couple of smaller ones like this to the Bridge's rafters:
Either way, I'd say the Preds fanbase is on the whole a somewhat casual (but maturing) one, and TOI might not be of interest to everyone like it would be me (or most of you reading this).
The fans for the most part were nonchalant; we had a couple sitting in front of us who were friends of Tony Bitetto's family and we were talking with them back and forth through the night. A couple dropped some "F*** NASHVILLE" in our direction after the game, but it came across more as frustration at the Isles than any animosity towards us.
Concessions are much better than at Bridgestone, just for the simple fact that THEY HAVE COKE PRODUCTS. That likely doesn't matter much to you, but I can't stand Pepsi. Immediate points for that. Besides that, Barclays has, in my opinion, better quality, if not more diverse, options than does Bridgestone.
Their concourse is a little more claustrophobic; Bridgestone's openness is one thing I didn't realize I take for granted:
Merch: I always love to get a shot glass from every place I visit, so I was disappointed when the pro shop didn't even have those. There's a lot of clothing and hats, but I found it to be a little lacking in things that didn't fit into those two categories. I suspect part of it has to do with the fact that they have to share the shop with the Nets. I think they shuffle everything around for each team, as everything Nets related was kind of haphazardly stowed in the back third of the store.
Attendance was sparse in some of the upper sections, but I'm pretty sure those were the limited view seats.
In case you're not aware, because it was constructed first and foremost as a basketball arena, there are seats in Barclays that don't have a clear sightline to the ice. Most of the empty sections were on this end of the arena; however, a Monday night game against a lesser known Western conference opponent might have also contributed to this.
This made it even more impressive to me that the Blue and Orange Army had their seats in the upper sections on this side (that's them holding the flags between sections 228 & 229 at the top of the above pic). They're basically the equivalent of Section 303, but my experience that night was that they weren't quite as organized. They tried to get chants going, but it was not a raucous crowd until like the last 3 minutes of the game when they were trying to tie things up. I'd be interested to see how crazy that place gets against a divisional rival.
Goal celebrations: I don't care what anyone says, the "YES!" chant after an Islanders goal is one of my favorite goal celebrations in the NHL, maybe even more so than Preds fans alerting the opposing goalie to his recent shortcomings.
Between periods: It's interesting to see what other teams do during intermission; Islanders fans reeeaaallllly love their t-shirt cannons. However, one thing they did in addition to said cannons was host a mobile game called Hockey Flick:
People could log in on their phones and play on the Jumbotron against three other players in front of the whole arena. I kind of missed the live music and on-ice happenings at Bridgestone, but I really liked the mobile game on the tron.
They also played quick scoring recaps of other games going on that night, which is something I really like, especially this time of year. Again, I understand why they don't do it at Bridgestone with the band playing, but I feel like there's always a few extra minutes after the band is finished where they could squeeze in relevant highlights, say from the division or other playoff teams in the conference. Here's a short video:
In the video above: the obligatory "I hate Chicago" that must go with every Preds article.
Post game: there's a Shake Shack right across the street from the BC; go grab a shake after a game to let the foot and subway traffic die down.
Overall, Barclays was a very interesting experience. It was cool to see the team on the road, and to experience another fan base's "home game." Barclays is clearly not a hockey arena, and I kind of feel for the fan base as they're between a rock and a hard place right now, especially since the rumors are that the arena isn't going to renew their agreement with the team after the 2019-2020 season.
However, a trip to NYC is ALWAYS time well spent (even if your feet do end up sore more days than not) and seeing a revitalized Brooklyn was a great time (so different from my other NYC trips!) If you have a chance over the next couple of years to see a hockey game at this unique arena, I would highly recommend it.
If you do, though, here's one last tip that I learned the hard way: never fly through LaGuardia. LaGuardia sucks a big fat puck.