By Adam Lloyd

Attempting to tour America’s largest city in a single weekend is like dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet; unless you’re prepared to make yourself incredibly sick, you simply can’t try everything. However, you can still experience a wide array of what is available, and if you manage to choose carefully and pace yourself, you’ll probably leave wanting to return and explore what you missed the last time.

There are several ways to approach taking a weekend in New York. There is the bohemian option, spent primarily in the galleries, shops, and cafe’s of SoHo and the East Village. Or you can try a tour of the city’s cultural offerings, including on and off-Broadway theater and the numerous, exceptional museums scattered throughout Manhattan. A more historically conscious trip might consist of visits to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, and the Empire State Building. While Harlem, China Town, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side all provide fascinating examples of New York’s ethnic diversity. Finally, who can forget the glitz of Times Square, the shopping on 5th Avenue, or the romance of Central Park?

Rather than stick with any one theme, we decided to try a little bit of each. The first task was finding an area of town to make “home base.” Midtown-West, also known as the theater district, seemed like a logical choice. Located just a few blocks from Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, 5th Avenue, and of course, Broadway theaters, it would make sightseeing easy and cut down on the need to fight New York’s infamous traffic.

The rates for a hotel room in Manhattan can be exorbitant, so do your shopping carefully. Weekend prices are usually less expensive as the exodus of business travelers creates a good number of vacancies, but many of the cheaper, boutique hotels are not accessible to visitors with disabilities, so your choices may be limited.

Friday

We found a relatively good deal at the Crowne Plaza Manhattan (800-243-6969), located at Broadway and 48th. The hotel is 46 stories, has an indoor pool, two restaurants and a bar. Valet parking was provided by an unrelated company for $34 a day, which we accepted for safety’s sake.

The hotel’s lobby is currently under renovation, necessitating a roundabout journey through an adjacent office building and three sets of elevators to reach our room, but gushing apologies were forthcoming from every employee we encountered.

Check-in was smooth, except that anyone not at five feet will have a tough time seeing over the registration counter. At the desk there is a sign notifying hearing impaired guests that alert kits are available upon request. However, those with visual impairments will be disappointed to learn that there are no braille number plates outside the rooms.

Though not large, the wheelchair accessible room allowed enough space for easy maneuvering and equipment storage. A lowered peephole, thermostat and light switches (one annoyingly obstructed by the room’s desk), along with bathroom wall bars, a roll in shower and accessible sink made the space reasonably wheelchair friendly. A double bed, desk and chair, bedside table, closet, tv, coffee maker, mini-bar, and in-room safe come standard.

Once we had unpacked, it was time to explore the neighborhood. Being a mere three blocks north of Times Square, that was where we found ourselves drawn. New York seems to be perpetually under construction. Thus, between scaffolding, torn up pavement, and curb cuts which regularly sit two inches above the street, we slowly made our way down Broadway.

As we reached the pulsating lights and signs below 46th street, we were amazed by the frenetic pace of activity. A stock ticker sped across one building, MTV was shooting a segment in their studio, ABC was showing previews of its fall line-up on a mammoth Sony television, and hundreds of tourists were trying to document the experience with cameras, video-cams, and even one easel.

After wandering a good twelve blocks, stopping for some warming coffee, and trying a bag of absolutely delicious roasted nuts, we returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

The day before we left I had made reservations at an Italian restaurant, Becco (355 W 46th / 212-397-7597), that I’d read about on Sidewalk.com. According to the website Becco was wheelchair accessible, and ignoring my own advice I neglected to ask detailed questions, simply inquiring if a wheelchair could get into the restaurant. Imagine my surprise as we approached the establishment only to find two steps down to the entrance. (This turns out to be the case along much of 46th Street’s Restaurant Row).

My ambulatory friend went into the restaurant to inquire and to our good fortune, and Becco’s credit, they had a ramp for such occasions. The incline was somewhat steep, and a wider than standard adult chair could not have fit on the ramp, but backing down, I smoothly found my way into the restaurant.

The space is intimate, with a comforting, very European feel. Serving monstrous steaks, seafood, pasta, and boasting one of the city’s best, inexpensive wine lists, we were very glad to have been able to get in. Both of us ordered the $22 prix fixe which consists of either a caesar salad or cold antipasto, and unlimited helpings of Becco’s three daily pasta dishes.

The caesar salad was delicious and the portion very generous, but the real find was the antipasto. With slices of marinated peppers, eggplant, artichoke, shrimp, scallops, mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and a vegetable relish, you could be more than happy ending the meal there. However, the best was yet to come.

One by one, your waiter brings out a hot-off-the-oven skillet filled with the pasta dishes. This night, our first table-side serving was a heavenly mushroom and ricotta stuffed ravioli, cooked in an herb butter sauce. About half way through the ravioli, a shrimp and scallop risotto was added to our plates. The rice and seafood were expertly cooked and was as savory and delicious as any I’ve ever eaten. Finally, al-dente linguine in a tangy tomato, basil sauce rounded out the entree. Each of the pastas was done beautifully and the distinct flavors complimented one another well. Best of all, unlimited servings of any or all of the dishes are promptly brought out whenever your plate looks close to empty.

For dessert, the assorted gelate (Italian ice cream) is terrificly smooth and creamy, and accompanied by either cappuccino or a fruit soaked Grappa, makes for the perfect end to an enchanting meal. A note on the bathroom- although it can be entered with a wheelchair, the bathroom is not ADA equipped.

On 49th street, we came across The Time (224 W49th), a hotel bar that shouts New York style. Black clad waifs direct all patrons to a large, glass elevator which transports you into a dimly lit, ultra-modern bar area. Low to the ground, black and white couches are grouped in clusters around black coffee tables. Along the back wall, mini-video screens, matted in large, brushed aluminum frames show soothing scenes of the ocean’s surface, while a sound system plays low key rock tunes. A sleek bar lined with tall, modern chairs is staffed by surprisingly friendly model want-to-be’s, serving $10 drinks. The capacity crowd was primarily sophisticated 20-30 somethings, all in black and drinking martinis, cosmopolitans, and various whiskey variations – not a beer in sight.

After a couple of hours mingling at The Time we decided sleep was needed for all the touring we had planned the following day.

Saturday

The next day started with a walk to New York’s acclaimed Carnegie Deli (854 7th Ave. and 55th Street). By the time we arrived there was already a long line stretching out the door. As we approached the front of the line to ask about the wait time, we were pleasantly surprised by the hostess who came out and told us she would give us the next available table. There isn’t an official wheelchairs first policy at the restaurant, but at their discretion they try to be as accommodating as possible.

Inside, the deli is narrow and always crowded. Getting to our table wasn’t difficult, but be prepared to maneuver in some small spaces. The walls are covered with autographed stills of celebrities dating back as many as three decades, adding to the sense of history and the feeling that you’ve found a place that encapsulates the very essence of New York.

The menu is extensive as deli-fare goes, and the complimentary pickles are delicious. We each ordered matzo-ball soup and split a pastrami sandwich. The soup came with two grapefruit size matzo-balls, and a tantalizingly rich chicken broth. The pastrami was lean and extremely flavorful, especially accompanied by the deli mustard. It must be noted that Carnegie’s sandwiches are a good six inches thick, and the triple-deckers could feed a family of four, so order accordingly.

After eating, it was over two blocks to 5th Avenue for some window shopping. Gucci, Saks, Brooks Brothers, Prada, Christian Dior, Takashimaya, and Tiffany’s are just a few of the stores you’ll find along this famed shopping corridor.

Continuing north on 5th Avenue, you eventually come to Central Park. There are numerous accessible paths into the fifty block park, and we took the first we came across on the southeast side. Gently sloping, paved paths made getting around the southern fifth of the park a breeze. It is an incredible sight to be amidst sprawling fields, lakes and trees, all the while surrounded by skyscrapers peeking over the edges of the foliage.

Hours can be spent wandering through the tranquil park, which was particularly beautiful on this crisp fall day. Sadly, there was only time to explore ten or so blocks as we made our way across the park to it’s west side, on our way to more sightseeing.

The next stop was Rockefeller Center, just off 5th Avenue and 50th Street. The GE building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza is home to NBC, so we decided to try the studio tour (212-664-3700). Tickets, which are purchased in the gift shop, are $17.50 for adults and $15 for seniors and children aged 6-16. No children under 6 are admitted.

Tours leave every fifteen minutes (hours of operation vary depending on the day of the week and time of year) and take 70 minutes to complete. The next available tour wasn’t for an hour and a half, so we bought our tickets and walked through the expansive NBC shop. T-shirts, mugs, caps, and anything else you can think of, were adorned with either the proud peacock or logos from the network’s various shows. Upstairs, several interactive attractions allow you to appear via blue-screen on the Jay Leno or Conan O’Brien shows, or to give the weather forecast with Al Roker.

With still more time before the tour we headed across the street to watch the ice skaters at Rockefeller Center, and try some sinfully sweet chocolate truffles from Teuscher Chocolates, just off 5th Avenue. Beautiful purple and white flowers had been planted among the fountains and benches above the skating rink, and to simply sit there soaking in the atmosphere was extremely pleasurable.

We returned to NBC studio in time to queue up for a security check, then on to the tour elevators. The first stop on the tour is the NBC History Theatre. In this small viewing room, three televisions show a ten minute program in which Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, of the Today Show, guide you through the history of NBC, from its start as a radio station to the future of HDTV broadcasts.

Another elevator ride leads the tour to two of several working studio sets. Options include NBC Nightly News, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, NBC Sports, and Rosie O’Donnell, among others. Our tour brought us to both the Dateline and Saturday Night Live sets.

Getting into the Dateline set with a wheelchair took some care as lighting equipment made the entrance rather narrow, but once on the set it was easy to look around. It was extremely cold, and our guide told us that all the sets are pumped through with refrigerated air to keep both the cameras and on-air personalities cool under the hot lights. Needless to say, the spotlights were off during the tour.

The Saturday Night Live set is viewed from above through an observatory window. Being that it was Saturday, we were fortunate enough to be present for an actual rehearsal where host, Norm Macdonald, was running through a sketch in which he played Lou Gehrig. It was interesting to see how an actual segment of the show was put together.

The final stop on the tour is, unfortunately, rather anti-climatic. At the Mini Control Room a volunteer is chosen to deliver a weather report in front of you, the live studio audience. At that point you are redirected to the gift shop to buy all those NBC products you can’t live without.

That night we met friends for dinner at Medusa (239 Park Ave. South / 212-477-1500), a Mediterranean restaurant in Gramercy Park. The thirty block, half hour drive down Broadway took us over some incredibly bumpy roads. For those with lowered-floor mini-vans, you may scrape the vehicles’ underside more than once. Parking was available at a nearby garage for about $4 an hour, as street side parking was completely full.

The narrow restaurant’s glass facade, candle light and striking, red hued walls creates an ambience reminiscent of an Anne Rice novel. Several diners politely got up from their seats so that my wheelchair could squeeze by on the way to our table. Reaching the non-ADA bathroom would have been next to impossible.

Once at the table, bread sticks and olive chutney were brought out while we contemplated the menu. As an appetizer, the spicy duck baked in a flaky pastry was a delicious choice. The sesame crusted tuna medallions would have been wonderful except that they were covered in an overly sweet citrus sauce.

Following dinner we headed further downtown to New York’s seminal punk venue, CBGB (315 Bowery), known for launching such bands as Blondie, Television and the Ramones.

A $5 cover gets you into this completely black, tunnel of a club. A narrow, warped, wooden walkway is flanked by an elevated seating area to the left and a black, plywood bar on the right. Just past the bar, if you can battle your way back that far, is a small dance floor and stage. Literally thousands of playbills and bumper stickers from past performances are plastered on every surface available. My impression was that if you stayed too long you’d surreptitiously end up with a sticker or two stuck to your person.

The band that night was PCP Highway, who did a punk-by-numbers set, right down to the Sid Vicious look alike on vocals. The crowd was largely leather-clad, heavily tattooed, and surprisingly well behaved. Bathroom facilities are down a flight of stairs, but as the picture shows, you may be better off for not being able to get in. Our night ended when the club’s did, allowing just enough sleep before our final day.

Sunday

For some reason Crowne Plaza’s policy doesn’t allow advance confirmation of late checkouts, so upon waking up I called the front desk to request a 4:00 departure for that day. Two was the best they could do, so I accepted.

Breakfast, Sunday at Art Cafe (1657 Broadway) was a utilitarian affair. We needed eggs and strong coffee, and they were close to the hotel. Enough said.

Also in the neighborhood, but nowhere near so pedestrian, is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Located at 11 West 53rd Street, it is one of the most engaging museums I’ve ever attended. The building itself is bright and airy, with a lovely courtyard for patrons to enjoy a break outdoors. The art spans several mediums and covers the modern era, from 1880 to the present. Tickets are $10 and include two free passes for a return visit.

The museum is currently featuring a year long exhibit called MoMA 2000. Divided into three segments, the exhibit will showcase the past century in modern art. “Modern Starts” (1880-1920), the first segment, is further subdivided into three topics, “People” which runs from October 7 until February 1, “Places,” October 28 to March 14, and “Things,” November 11 to March 14. Then follows segment two, “Making Choices” (1920-1960) which runs March 16 until September 12, 2000. Finally, “Open Ends” (1960-2000) takes over from September 14, 2000 to February 13, 2001.

Only the “People” exhibit was open at the time of our visit, but the collection of sculptures and paintings from Picasso, Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec and Munsch to the black and white photographs of American families at the last turn of the century, gave clues as to the power and scope of the coming exhibits. The changing interpretations and ideas about the human form are contrasted, to great effect, with its steady presence as a subject for artists throughout time. To see MoMA 2000 grow and evolve will be a treat for everyone.

Getting around the museum is no problem at all with elevator access and large galleries. Audio aides and tours are also available.

MoMA’s hours run from 10:30 am until 5:45 pm Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Hours Friday are 10:30 am to 8:15 pm. They are closed on Wednesday. An interesting alternative for visiting the museum is through a program called Mondays at MoMA. For $39 you get a guided tour after hours 6 to 7, followed by wine tasting & live piano music from 7 until 8. Call 212-708-9403 for information.

Sadly, our stay at MoMA was cut short by our need to check out of the hotel at 2 o’clock. Getting back in time, we found that our bill had been slipped under the door to our room. The checkout procedure consisted solely in signing the bill and dropping it and our keys at the registration desk.

We weren’t ready to end our trip just yet, so we had the bell desk hang on to our bags while we went to our last destination. Retrieving the van from the parking garage we headed down Broadway to Greenwich Village. Parking on the street was no problem just north of Washington Square.

From there we cris-crossed several streets, taking in the local scene as we walked toward the NYU campus. Very few of the shops and galleries that we passed were accessible for chairs, but the window shopping was incredible. Thrift shops, music stores, funky restaurants, and galleries inhabited every block from NYU well south into SoHo.

After two hours of exploring, we needed to escape the chilly weather and ducked into a tiny pizza joint near NYU called La Mia Pizza Restaurant on 8th Street. The place didn’t look like much, but the pizza was some of the best you’ll ever find. The pepperoni actually tasted like something other than salt, the crust was thin and crispy, and the sauce was tangy and delicious. Fortified by the pizza we returned to the Crowne Plaza, collected our bags, and drove south toward the Lincoln Tunnel and home.

Sticking to the plan, we got to experience quite an array of sites in New York, and yet we barely touched the surface. Certainly, another weekend could be filled entirely with things not done this trip, yet it is always nice to revisit the places you truly enjoyed. Accessibility, except for the few problems you expect in urban areas, like construction and the occasional missing curb cut, was pretty good on the whole. Again, planning is the key to success, and succeeding in New York definitely has its rewards.