In Britain I never drink cocktails, but on arrival in New York it has become a ritual that my first drink is a Manhattan. Sipping this year’s drink, I realised that my regular two-day forays to the Big Apple have become one long ritual. We stay on Fifth Avenue to allow for a saunter among the brown baggers in Central Park, with delicatessen lunches from Zabar’s. Day one starts in Barnes & Noble to browse the latest US political biographies and pick up the new Alan Furst espionage paperback — after a diversion for Mrs Oakley to update her holiday wardrobe at Tommy Bahama.
Among New York’s formidable art collections we take our pick on day one from the Metropolitan, the Guggenheim or our favourite MOMA, where this year the splendid clusters of Cézannes and Picassos were accompanied by Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. Sadly the view was impeded by streams of selfie-takers; people spend so much time filming on their phones these days that they don’t actually see the sights. MOMA’s fifth floor has an airy restaurant where you can enjoy a root beer and an elegant salad, although even American portions are daunting. You must eat early to avoid queues — but that suits jet-lagged Brits.
We like to find new breakfast venues and this time chose the Sullivan Street Bakery on W.47th Street. The utilitarian café was unexciting but the bomboloni custard doughnuts were irresistible. So were the mini bacon and egg brioches served from a display topped by a metre-long focaccia. They fortified us for the next ritual — walking the High Line. This leafy elevated walkway weaving in and out of skyscrapers and riverside apartment blocks along the defunct railway track which once served the Meat-Packing District has since 2009 become a reclamatory triumph: lilies and herbs, astilbes and heucheras bloom among trees big enough to attract nesting mockingbirds.
We buy our second day lunch from a French patisserie beside the Central Library and sit in the shade of Bryant Park for people-watching: New Yorkers with dogs in every shape and size, an earnest pair of nine-year-old Asian-Americans fastidiously consuming cheesecake from folded napkins, clusters of supporters peering over the shoulders of chess-players at tables thoughtfully provided by the park authorities.
Dinner on day two follows at our favourite venue, the basement tapas bar beneath the Andaz Hotel. Its cuts of serrano ham, its croquettas, its shrimps in garlic sauce are addictive. We were lucky enough to sit at the counter where Michael, the pony-tailed mixologist, deftly and entertainingly assembles Martinis, Negronis and Cosmopolitans. Try the Magic Bullet he concocted for Mrs Oakley. I enjoyed a Senezac made of rye whisky, Park cognac, demerara syrup, Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, absinthe and Applewood smoke — but I’ll still stick to my Manhattan ritual.