Five Boroughs of Sports: Labor Day Weekend in NYC
Be ready to rally for this one.
The latest installment in ESPN SportsTravel's "Power Weekend" series is so packed it might require a training regimen. We're headed to New York City for Labor Day weekend, and at no point will this trip involve snapping photos of Saks Fifth Avenue from the comfort of a cheesy double-decker tour bus.
Instead, we'll be circumnavigating the region, attending six sporting events in four different boroughs -- plus New Jersey -- and participating in sporting activities in the fifth, while still making time to feast on some of the city's signature eats, take in a few famous sights and check out the nightlife.
The city's subway system will be your new best friend, so load up your MetroCard and let's hit the Big Apple for a holiday weekend extravaganza that's sure to be anything but restful.
New York: Plan Trip | Hotel | Flight
|Power Weekend: NYC|
The ESPN SportsTravel Power Weekend is meant to give you inspiration to go on a sports-centric getaway of your own.
We select dream weekends when the sports schedule in a given city lines up just so.
You can use the home-team schedule grids in our City Guides to find the weekend that's right for you.
Sports events proposed for this New York dream weekend are (all times ET):
J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets!
It's the final week of preseason football, and the scrubs vying to avoid the practice squad will take the field as the Jets host the T.O.-free Eagles at Giants Stadium (Web site). While "tradition" might be too strong a word for this particular matchup, the two squads have played each other for their preseason wrap-up every year since 2001, including last year when Philly quarterback Donovan McNabb famously watched the game from the press box during the height of his feud with Terrell Owens. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.
If you're arriving in the area by plane, keep in mind that no way do you want to attempt the trek to East Rutherford, New Jersey, from either of New York City's two airports on the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Not unless you want to become intimately familiar with the vortex where gridlock and human misery collide. Instead, catch a flight into Newark Liberty Airport (Web site) -- located approximately 15 miles down the New Jersey Turnpike from The Meadowlands -- and cab it to the game. After that, you'll be able to rely exclusively on public transportation, so forget the rental car; you'd only curse having it once your trip takes you across the Hudson River and into Manhattan.
New Jersey Transit (Web site) operates express bus service from the stadium to the Port Authority Bus Terminal (Web site), right in the heart of New York City. Before you exit Port Authority, you can stop by Leisure Time Bowl (Web site), one of the few bowling alleys in Manhattan, and get your Earl Anthony on. Open until 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, Leisure Time is actually a much classier place than its inside-a-bus-terminal location would suggest.
After, walk a block east and spend some time wandering about the neon pandemonium that is Times Square at night, then grab a nightcap at beloved dive bar Jimmy's Corner (140 W. 44th St.). Former boxer and trainer Jimmy Glenn owns the place and, to the delight of his loyal patrons, has stubbornly stuck to the basics: a small space plastered with boxing memorabilia, a solid jukebox and cheap beers.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2
You'll need to power up with a balanced meal before embarking upon a baseball doubleheader that spans two boroughs, so hop on the subway (Web site) and make a pit stop on the Upper West Side as you head toward the Bronx. Good Enough to Eat (483 Amsterdam Ave. at 83rd St., Web site) is famous for its unique twists on hearty, home-style breakfasts, with strawberry almond waffles and chocolate coconut pancakes among its menu options.
Unfortunately, Good Enough to Eat may be a little too good -- the restaurant doesn't accept reservations and rare indeed is the weekend morning when a daunting line doesn't stretch out the door and down the block. If you're not in a patient mood, just head a few blocks north to Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam Ave. at 86th St., Web site) -- a.k.a. "The Sturgeon King." This Jewish deli opened in 1908 and serves up traditional bagels and lox alongside delicious smoked salmon scrambled eggs.
First pitch for Yankees-Twins isn't until 1:05 p.m., but arrive early at Yankee Stadium (161st St. and River Ave., Web site) so you have ample time to tour Monument Park, which closes 45 minutes before game time. The franchise honors all its greatest players and personalities in this showcase behind left field. Most are recognized with a plaque, but the true immortals -- like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle -- have been awarded monuments.
Before settling in, pick up a Philly-quality cheesesteak at Carl's, and if your seats are near or alongside the right-field Bleacher Creatures, you'll get a good laugh or two if you listen for some of their outlandish chants. At one recent game, a fan still dressed in his business clothes from a day at work was treated to a barrage of "Lose the tie!" as he entered the section. When he good-naturedly complied, the Creatures rewarded him with "You still suck!"
It's going to be a long trip from the Bronx to Staten Island, but there's time to pack an artery with a side of beef on the way. Two options stand out: Shake Shack (Madison Ave. at 23rd St., Web site), with its outdoor park-style seating situated at the southeast corner of Madison Square Park, grills up the cheapest burger in town and serves sweet-tooth-friendly chasers in the form of ice cream cones, sundaes, shakes and floats. Want chocolate-truffle cookie dough, hot fudge, bananas, peanut butter and whipped cream with your sundae? Welcome to paradise.
If you're less into outdoor settings and decadent desserts and more into dank bars and cheap beer, head down to Greenwich Village and Corner Bistro (331 W. 4th St.) for the renowned Bistro Burger, an eight-ounce monstrosity stacked with toppings which may require you to unhinge your jaw to take a bite -- that is, if you can eat it before the grease works its magic and turns bun and all into a soggy mess.
If your heart is still functioning, grab the 1/9 subway and ride it to Manhattan's southern tip at South Ferry, where you can catch the free Staten Island Ferry (Web site) from the gorgeous new Whitehall Terminal. The 25-minute ride across Upper New York Bay out to the island features views of Lower Manhattan, Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
The scenery you enjoyed from the ferry doesn't disappear just because you step inside a baseball stadium either. The home of the Single-A Staten Island Yankees, Richmond County Bank Ballpark (75 Richmond Terrace, Web site), sits right on the waterfront, with the bay and Manhattan all in sight beyond the outfield wall as you watch the "Baby Bombers" take on the Oneonta Tigers at 7:10 p.m. These young players may be worlds away from the majors, but the club still manages to exude Yankee pride in the Legends Pavilion, which, like Monument Park at Yankee Stadium, extols the greatest talents to ever wear pinstripes.
Tired? Too bad. New York is the city that never sleeps, and that means you won't either. Catch the ferry back to Manhattan, and then it's a short subway ride to Greenwich Village and its legendary music scene. Any self-respecting jazz fan will make a pilgrimage to the Village Vanguard (178 7th Ave. S. at 11th St., Web site). The former speakeasy opened in 1935 and has hosted a parade of celebrated musicians. Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Dinah Washington and Thelonious Monk all played the tiny, triangle-shaped basement room, and John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins are among the dozens who recorded live albums there.
Underground rock fans will want to pay last respects to CBGB (315 Bowery at Bleecker St., Web site), the club that almost single-handedly nurtured the early punk movement in New York by featuring regulars like Television and The Ramones, as well as Patti Smith, Blondie and Talking Heads. Due to rent increases, the venue is set to close its doors on Sept. 30 after more than 30 years of rocking, but owner Hilly Kristal has said he plans to reopen in Las Vegas.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 3
There's no better way to recover from a long night out than with breakfast and several cups of coffee at one of Manhattan's ubiquitous diners. You may be in no shape to be choosy, but you'll find agreeable options at Brooklyn Diner USA (212 W. 57th St. -- yes, it's in Manhattan), known for its monstrous portions and the fact that it unapologetically serves pigs in a blanket, or at La Bonbonniere (28 Eighth Ave. at 12th St.), a West Village joint where you might spot an occasional celebrity as you inhale your morning omelet.
Fans of Seinfeld or Suzanne Vega -- or both -- might want to head back to the Upper West Side to check out Tom's Restaurant (2880 Broadway at 112th St.), a Columbia University-neighborhood greasy spoon that served as the exterior façade for "Monk's" on the TV show and that lent its name to the song "Tom's Diner." It's typically packed with students on weekend mornings, but the staff isn't afraid to rush them through their meals if there's a line out the door.
After two days of stadium food and beer, it's time for a little physical activity, and Central Park (Web site) is New York's recreation Mecca. The Park Drives are closed to vehicle traffic on weekends, and the six-mile loop is ideal for running, biking and skating. Rentals are available within the park for both bikes (Loeb Boathouse) and in-line skates (Wollman Rink).
The 1.5-mile path around the Reservoir is a popular spot for less-ambitious joggers, and views of the midtown skyline from the northern end are a nice bonus. Skaters of both the two- and four-wheel variety will want to check out the Bandshell area, where a makeshift "rink" is the setting for earnest dancer-skaters who groove to their MP3 players with flamboyant and amusing style.
Hop the D train at Columbus Circle (southwest corner of the Central Park) for the long ride out to Coney Island. Give yourself plenty of time before the Brooklyn Cyclones game so that you can inch your way through the long lines at Astroland Amusement Park (1000 Surf Ave., Web site). The highlight, of course, is the Cyclone, the illustrious wooden roller roaster built in 1927 that achieved National Historic Landmark status in 1991 and serves as the namesake for the baseball team. The ride is fast, violent, thrilling and, above all, expensive; a single run will cost you six bucks, or if you want to hit up the Scrambler and the Tilt-a-Whirl as well, you can shell out $22.99 for the unlimited-ride wristband.
On your way over to the ballpark, make sure to grab a dog at the original Nathan's Famous hot dog stand (1310 Surf Ave., Web site), which has stood at the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenues since 1916 and hosts the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest each July 4. Six-time reigning champion Takeru Kobayashi set another world record in the 2006 competition, and it can be yours if you have the gastrointestinal fortitude to put down 54 hot dogs (53 3/4 to tie) in 12 minutes.
The Cyclones, Single-A affiliate of the New York Mets, take on the Lowell Spinners at KeySpan Park (1904 Surf Ave., Web site) at 5:30 p.m. Brooklynites immediately embraced the squad when it debuted in 2001, the first pro baseball team to call the borough home since the Dodgers bailed for Los Angeles in 1957, and games consistently sell out.
KeySpan now stands on the site of an old amusement park -- Steeplechase Park -- and Coney Island's signature landmark, the defunct Parachute Jump ride, still towers above the stadium beyond right field. Behind it, the Atlantic Ocean forms a serene backdrop to an evening at the ballpark.
Before catching the subway back to Manhattan, take a sunset stroll along the 2.7-mile Riegelmann Boardwalk at Coney Island Beach, then duck into Tottono's (1524 Neptune Ave., Web site) for some of the tastiest pizza New York has to offer. This isn't the greasy slice of congealed meat and cheese you can find on any street corner throughout the city; it's a thin-crust pie with only fresh toppings, coal-fired in brick ovens and served in a family-run pizzeria that originally opened in 1924.
Wash it all down with a nightcap at Ruby's (1213 Boardwalk), a divey bar right on the boardwalk that doubles as a scrapbook of Coney Island nostalgia thanks to old-time photos papering one wall that document the area's booming heyday.
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 4
An afternoon of pro tennis calls for a classy start. At Le Parker Meridien hotel, Norma's (118 W. 57th St., Web site) serves up succulent and imaginative twists on traditional breakfasts. Pay special attention to the section of the menu appropriately labeled "Mom Can't Make This," where you'll find the fruit-laden "Waz-Za?" waffle and Chocolate Decadence French Toast.
MIDDAY AND AFTERNOON
U.S. Open action begins at 11 a.m. at the USTA National Tennis Center (Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Web site) in Queens (you'll be riding John Rocker's favorite, the No. 7 train, to get there), with both the men's and women's brackets holding matches in the round of 16. The tournament will open on Aug. 28 with a ceremony to rename the facility in honor of Billie Jean King, and it will be the farewell appearance for Andre Agassi, who has announced he will retire after the event he's won twice during his long and decorated career.
As you stroll between Arthur Ashe Stadium, Louis Armstrong Stadium and all the surrounding courts, there are plenty of food options to keep you going strong throughout the afternoon, including the Patio Café for sandwiches and burgers or the Mojito Restaurant and bar, which offers a tequila tasting menu alongside its Cuban-themed fare.
Exit on the south end of the tennis center and take a short tour of the rest of Flushing Meadows-Corona Park (Web site), the largest park in Queens and the site for both the 1939-40 and 1964-65 New York World's Fairs. A gigantic steel globe constructed for the 1964-65 fair -- the 140-foot Unisphere -- is the highlight, but the park is also home to museums and exhibits, plenty of recreational activities and two time capsules, buried 50 feet underground in 1938 and 1965, that are meant to remain for 5,000 years. A stone monument marks the spot where future civilizations can unearth items ranging from a Holy Bible to birth-control pills.
Circle back around toward the tennis center and cross the train tracks to Shea Stadium (123-01 Roosevelt Ave, Web site) for the 7:05 start time of the evening's Mets-Braves game, the final sporting event on your itinerary. The matchup will be a poignant one: With a large lead in the standings, the Mets are poised to win the NL East crown this year and snap the Braves' 11-year reign as division champions.
And likewise do the Mets bring to an end your Power Weekend in, around and all over New York. Unfortunately, the area of Flushing surrounding the ballpark is a wasteland when it comes to grabbing a quick bite or drink after the game, so your best bet is to just head back to Manhattan first. But with the workweek less than 12 hours away, you might just want to rest up instead.
Bryan Williams has worked as an editor at NBA.com and AOL Sports, and has spent nine years living in New York.
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