The Venetian mask and playing card "room key" from NYC's "Sleep No More" theater production.

Grub Street Diet: Day 3 in New York City

DAY 3: Saturday

On our last full day in New York City, my husband and I trek out in search for a good New York bagel like the good tourists that we are. I had suggested Sadelle’s or Absolute Bagels, but my husband demurs after doing a bit of research, and chooses Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company instead. So, we set out on the 20-minute walk to Chelsea, passing the gleaming storefronts of shops filled with sleek mid-century modern L-shaped sofas and gilded arc lamps that we imagine that only the suits on Wall Street could ever afford.

We arrive to Brooklyn Bagel and the line snakes out the door, teeming with a mix of locals and tourists: parents and their young children, half of the Tulane women’s volleyball team, and a gaggle of senior citizens. The long line gives us a chance to study the array of bagel options, and it moves quite fast due to an employee that is furiously taking orders like he had snorted an Adderall before the morning shift. I tangle with the thought of ordering lox (when in Rome…) but settle on a norm-core order of egg and cheese on sesame.


The sesame bagel sandwich is titanic in size, enough for two people to split. The bagel itself exhibits a nice crunchy crust on the exterior with a soft, chewy glutinous inside. The size is almost to its detriment; at times it’s so chewy that it becomes dry. Still, we muster to stuff down a bagel breakfast sandwich each, happy to walk the one-and-a-half mile back to the hotel.

The benches in Madison Square Park coerce us to sit down for a bit halfway through our way back. We sit on a bench next to the original Shake Shack as the employees are unfurling the folded patio chairs for lunch service. As I sit there, I take note of how aggressive the squirrels are in the city. I see a particularly rotund squirrel literally hop on a woman’s shoulder to snatch a piece of food from between her fingers and my jaw almost drops in disbelief.

We scuttle back soon to Midtown afterwards, and then venture out to the East Village when we serendipitously happen upon an arts and food street festival where we purchase some street art from Brooklyn artist Joey Allgood.

We wind our way down Ninth Street when the spray-painted lettered awning of Superiority Burger catches my eye. Chef Brooks Headley’s new vegetarian burger joint was on my list of “must-trys” before we left so I convince my husband to swing through to try one of the veggie burgers. It’s a punk-rock, lo- fi kind of space complete with a Gatorade water cooler dispenser on the counter, and a very small space at that, and at 2 p.m., we aren’t terribly hungry, so we settle for the original burger, the one that started it all—the Superiority Burger ($6).

The Superiority Burger from Brooks Headley's NYC burger joint in the East Village.
The Superiority Burger from Brooks Headley’s NYC burger joint in the East Village.

We grab our order of two burgers and an Arnold Palmer (R.I.P.) to-go, primarily because there’s only seating for six in the entire place, with a pair of schoolhouse tray tables amongst the options, and make our way to Tompkins Square Park.

On a bench, inside the park, we unwrap the foil, and discover that the Superiority Burger is more like a slider than a full-size burger, but dig in nevertheless. As we nash our teeth into the soft Martin roll, and reach the oozing melted Muenster cheese and tangy dill pickle, into the crunchy veggie patty, we soon discover that this is one hell of a veggie burger. The quinoa-bean patty holds well together, and it’s moist too, helped by a smear of tangy brown honey mustard. I think that if only veggie burgers could always be this good, I wouldn’t miss meat at all.

We finish our burgers in several fast bites and in the mist, stroll through the famed St. Marks street on the way home back to the hotel for the final show of the weekend. The Superiority Burger doesn’t subdue our hunger for very long, so before the final show, we walk over the Xi’an Famous Foods for our last dinner of the weekend.

The Mount Qi spicy pork hand-ripped noodles at Xi'an Famous Foods at 34th Street in NYC.
The Mount Qi spicy pork hand-ripped noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods at 34th Street in NYC.

It’s a perfect place for a quick, casual and cheap meal in the city and luckily for us, there’s one located in Midtown on 34th Street with plenty of seating. Name checked by foodie luminaries like Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern, this is one of my favorite spots in the city for hand-ripped noodles when not around Chinatown (or Flushing).

Stewed pork burger from Xi'an Famous Foods in NYC.
Stewed pork burger from Xi’an Famous Foods in NYC.

The stewed pork noodles are just as good as I remember them this night, though the hand-picked noodles are a little too thick and chewy this time around. The stewed pork burger is entirely forgettable though and disappointingly bland, and worse yet, cold. It’s a bit dismaying, but we shrug it off and start to prepare for our consolation prize for not winning the Hamilton lottery—a production of Sleep No More.

The 30-minute walk to Sleep No More in Chelsea is eerie, misty and dark, and it’s so apropos. We walk hurriedly, barely able to fully ingest the menacing cacophony of the city: passing by nebulous shadows lurking puffing on cigarettes by door stoops, furious car horns blaring at full force and pulsating house music emanating from bars. Smoke billows from manhole covers on the street and I can’t help but feel an ominous presence.

We arrive to the door front of what looks to be a multi-story warehouse, renamed as the McKittrick Hotel (a nod to Alfred Hitchcock), on the outskirts of town. A large burly door guy clad in all-black ushers the short line inside. We queue in line, and after a mandatory coat and purse check, ascend to a smoky bar with two playing cards, our room keys,  in hand—a “10” and a “jack”. The speakeasy bar, Manderley Bar, is like a pastiche of one that you might find from the Roaring Twenties or thirties. A crooner in a zoot suit and slicked back hair tilts the vintage cardioid microphone back towards the grand piano and welcomes the new 8 p.m. crowd to the show, with nary an instruction on what to do next. A slender, coquettish woman, dressed in a floor length sequined gown, circulates around the V.I.P. roped-off section nearby, speaking in an affected lilt, flirting and coaxing guests to try the absinthe.

The Venetian mask and playing card "room key" from NYC's "Sleep No More" theater production.
The Venetian mask and playing card “room key” from NYC’s “Sleep No More” theater production.

What follows in this immersive play is almost too strange for words. The zoot suited guy approaches the mic again and beckons those with “jacks and under” to approach the left side of the stage.  I follow the herd and inch towards the elevator. That’s when a bellhop asks me if I’m a solo traveler.

I shake my head and say “no”, but he pushes me onto the elevator anyway and hands me a white Venetian mask. Before I can even protest, he shuts the elevator door and leaves my husband behind in Manderley. I quickly realize that this is no ordinary show. The guy instructs the small group to wear the mask and informs us that there is no speaking a la straight out of the Stanley Kubrick/Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman romp  “Eyes Wide Shut”. He pushes one guy out onto a random floor, and closes the elevator again and it moves up. The rest of the group is dropped off at another floor, again without any instruction.

Without my husband, and no way to find him, I’m left to explore in what seems like a macabre abyss intensified with haunting music that is amplified at a drone all night. I wander into a random room and look at around at the elaborate set design that seems like it’s straight out of a twisted version of a haunted “Alice in Wonderland”. I had boned up a little about the show, and knew it was loosely based on the Shakespeare play “Macbeth”, but nothing prepared me for this type of immersive play.

It’s insanely dark with only a few spots of light from dimmed lamps, and I have no choice but to keep pushing through the dark tunnel of cluttered rooms filled with curated trinkets, apothecary jars, and taxidermy. I sit in a couple of chairs, run my fingers over a few of the trinkets and suitcases and read some of the handwritten letters signed by Macbeth that have been left on the desks for the guests to indulge. Occasionally, I wander upon one of the congress of roving actors, whom roam through the hallways, into rooms, and up and down the stairs, moving with a herd of clumsy guests trailing behind them eager to try to follow the apparent narrative.

I watch a scene with a woman and man, seemingly romantically involved, gyrate, dance and tangle theatrically and violently  in a bedroom scene, and then the man, who I surmise to be Macbeth, completely disrobes and descends into a bloody bathtub set in the middle of the room. “What am I watching?” I mutter to myself, utterly confused and mystified.

It feels like I’m in a silent acid trip and I continue to wander, a bit lost, and alone climbing up and down the stairs of the five-story (or six? A masked employee blocked the entrance to the sixth level) building, exploring the more than 100 rooms. I continue to wander, into a room depicting a mental institution, into a graveyard, into a room filled with ceramic bathubs, into a baby’s room filled with hanging doll heads. I hear another the wallow of an actor, again with a mesmerized crowd desperately trying to trail behind, run downstairs into a ballroom and I follow. It’s also the home of the production’s conclusion and I watch in the semi-circle that has formed surrounding the actors, alone in a white mask over my sweaty head, still in a stupor as the actors gather at a table built for the Last Supper to act out the choreographed finale.

I finally find my husband after two-and-a-half hours in the smoky bar and we leave in a bewitched stupor. When we exit McKittrick Hotel, it feels like we’ve been spit out of an avant-garde portal as we stumble onto the sidewalk. What did we just pay $140 a ticket for? I don’t think we still know.

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