New York: City of legend

By Chris Reed

Lights, cameras, action: Chris Reed goes on location in New York.

The hubbub of Times Square. Photo / Chris Reed
The hubbub of Times Square. Photo / Chris Reed

So this is what it's like to be a Mafia boss. I'm sitting at the bar in a "gentleman's club" in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City.

I'm drinking a vodka tonic as scantily clad dancers shimmy on a stage punctuated by poles and enclosed by the rectangular bar.

There is neon and there is booming music. There aren't many "gentlemen", but it's only lunchtime.

If the scene seems familiar, you must be a Sopranos fan. This is Satin Dolls, location for the show's mob hangout, the Bada Bing!

I'm in the spot where mob boss Tony Soprano brooded, plotted and occasionally meted out rough justice to the unfortunate bartender.

Like the rest of my tour group, I'm under strict instructions to keep camera and cellphone out of sight.

According to our guide, one tourist spotted texting at the bar was pounced on by staff keen to protect the confidentiality of clients and dancers.

A case of life imitating art? It's hard for the lines not to become a little blurred in New York, the city where film crews never sleep.

According to the Mayor's Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting, film and TV crews spent more than 27,000 days shooting on location in New York in 2008. The record was almost 35,000 days two years earlier.

The industry employs 100,000 New Yorkers and pumps about US$5 billion ($6.5 billion) into the city's economy.

The headquarters for showbiz before Hollywood took over, New York remains its second-largest centre and attracted more than 250 films in 2005.

It's hard to walk more than a few blocks without being reminded of one movie, TV show or another. Some of the greatest film-makers in the world have used its attractions as settings - from Hitchcock and the Statue of Liberty to Woody Allen and most of Manhattan.

You'd be surprised if the land of opportunity hadn't found a way to capitalise, and a variety of tours tempt trainspotters and casual fans alike.

The former can choose Sopranos and Sex & The City excursions.

Besides the trip to the "Bing", the highlight of the Sopranos excursion is the chance to sit in the booth occupied by Tony and his family in the final scene of the final episode, shot in a New Jersey diner.

Sex & The City buffs can visit locations from the TV show and movies, including the trendy boutiques of SoHo and Greenwich Village. General tours feature locations from classics such as Breakfast at Tiffany's, Taxi Driver and Ghostbusters.

Even if you're not a massive movie fan, they're a chance to get to grips with the mayhem of Manhattan from the comfort of a tour bus, no bad thing for even the seasoned traveller.

I arrived in New York after three months in South and Central America, halfway through an around-the-world trip with my wife.

Despite our exploits, it was the first destination that prompted us to create a detailed itinerary for our stay: we didn't want to miss a thing. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Immigration Museum were ticked off by early afternoon on day one. Wall Street and Ground Zero followed, before a row on the lake in Central Park.

Day two began with the Egyptian art and European painting collections at the vast Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by shopping on Fifth Avenue and a Major League Baseball game.

A showery day three featured the Sopranos tour for me, more shopping for her and, reunited, Midtown highlights including the Rockefeller Center, Chrysler Building and Grand Central Station.

As the clouds lifted, we saw a stunning sunset over the Statue of Liberty from the ferry to Staten Island before heading uptown to one of New York's famous comedy clubs.

The fourth day, Saturday, included a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, lunch in Little Italy and a self-guided walking tour of much of lower Manhattan.

The afternoon ended with our second superlative sunset, this time from the top of the Empire State Building, before we did Times Square by night and had dinner uptown.

We were apart again for our final morning, me gawping at the Museum of Modern Art's awe-inspiring permanent collection, she shopping for shoes.

Despite the blisters, we felt like we'd barely scratched the surface.

All the hyperbole is true; New York is an intoxicating, overwhelming destination.

Under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, it was transformed into one of the safest big cities in the world. The public transport is wonderful; the amenities, arts and entertainment mind-boggling. Who knows how long you'd need to be there to feel like you'd experienced rather than just visited it?

Like London, you probably have to live there and, even then, you'd probably leave feeling there was much more to do.

It's the hallmark of a great destination that you can't wait to go back. Venerated film-maker John Ford once said: "When the legend becomes truth, print the legend." New York is both; its star billing is deserved.

NEW YORK ON A (LONG-ISH) SHOESTRING

You get what you pay for and it's never going to be cheap to visit New York. But you can save some money by compromising on accommodation and focusing on free attractions.

It costs nothing to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge or ride the ferry to Staten Island and back. The bridge offers outstanding views of Manhattan's Lower East Side and Queens, depending which way you walk.

If you time it right, you can see the sun set over the Statue of Liberty on the way there and Manhattan by night on the way back.

The Statue of Liberty is a must - and relatively cheap because it's administered by the brilliant National Parks Service. The US$12 ($16) ticket includes entry to the Ellis Island immigration museum and boat transfers. You'll pay more to go inside the statue - reserve your place well in advance for the crown.

All accommodation in New York is expensive, but you can make big savings if you're willing to share a bathroom with a small number of other guests. The Belleclaire and Hotel 99, both in the Upper West Side, are worth checking out.

Recommendations: Book for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in advance at statuecruises.com. Book for the first boat of the day to avoid the crowds.

Buy: A seven-day pass for unlimited subway and bus rides: US$27.

Visit: Scenes from your favourite films and TV shows with On Location Tours.

Consider: A US$45 express pass for the Empire State Building. You can waltz past long queues to get to the top of the most famous skyscraper in the world.

Plan: Be prepared. New York is a city where you don't want to get up at 10am and wonder what to do that day.

- NZ Herald

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