I’ll Take Manhattan
Visiting Hamilton’s New York
Posted on November 30, 2018
Recently, I realized that Hamilton changed the way I look at New York. In the past, I’ve focused on Central Park, ethnic eateries, and botanical gardens, but on my last trip, motivated by the musical, I shifted my gaze to Lower Manhattan. This is where Alexander Hamilton rose to the world stage, shaped the city in his own image, and created our nation.
My escort in this adventure was Jimmy Napoli, an “A. Ham” expert who appeared in the PBS documentary The American Experience: Alexander Hamilton. He also lectures at Morris-Jumel Mansion, George Washington’s 1776 headquarters in Harlem. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote part of the show here and sometimes sat in on Napoli’s talks. hamiltonsnewyork.com
Our tour group assembled in the Staten Island Ferry Building, and it quickly became apparent that if the guiding gig hadn’t worked out for him, Napoli could have had a great career in stand-up.
One of our first stops was Fraunces Tavern, which opened in 1762 and was a favorite of the Founding Fathers. Here, we settled in at the back bar and enjoyed some jokes, and then listened with rapt attention as Napoli recounted Washington’s raid across the Delaware River and crucial victory at the Battle of Trenton.
We also walked to Trinity Church, just steps from Wall Street, where Hamilton, his wife Eliza, and her sister are buried. Other stops included Federal Hall, where Washington delivered the first State of the Union Address in 1790, and Bowling Green, where Hamilton practiced law and wrote the Federalist Papers during his lunch hour.
Until this tour, I hadn’t realized how many 18th-century historical sites remain in New York City. To find them preserved among the concrete canyons of Wall Street added to their emotional impact. This was especially true in “the room where it happens,” the spot in which Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson struck the bargain that resulted in our Federal Government.
Old and New Manhattan
I’ve always enjoyed walking on The High Line, a trail built on an abandoned rail line above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. This public park starts below 14th Street on the Lower West Side and, I recently discovered, has now been extended all the way up to the Javits Center at 34th Street. The new section overlooks the Hudson Rail Yards, where some of the city’s most interesting new buildings have been built on platforms above 30 active train tracks.
Happily, some favorite old NYC things haven’t changed. The Circle Line Tour has been plying the rivers that ring the island of Manhattan for over 70 years. I think I first took this boat cruise when I was in high school (definitely not yesterday), but I enjoyed it just as much on our recent trip. The two-and-a-half-hour Best of NYC Cruise, which is personally narrated, is the very best way to see the city’s amazing architecture and beautiful bridges.
On the dining front, Via Carota in the West Village remains an immensely popular place to experience some of the city’s most interesting food. It’s open from morning to late night, doesn’t accept reservations, and is almost always busy. I love the rustic Italian farmhouse décor and the creative menu. My husband and I shared plates of carote (wild carrots, spiced yogurt, and pistachios), fagioli all’uccelletto (Tuscan beans, tomatoes, and sausage), and an amazing risotto made with Meyer lemon and olive oil.
Several years ago, after trying many different places to stay, I discovered the Library Hotel. It continues to be my first choice in the Big Apple. The boutique property occupies a convenient Midtown location within walking distance of the theater district and good shopping. I also like the exceptionally helpful staff, who have been known to spend considerable time hailing a cab or answering questions. Having said that, my favorite feature is the gracious living room where a complimentary breakfast is served with fresh copies of The New York Times. Hotels guests also enjoy pre-theater wine and cheese here, and pastries, fruit, and hot drinks are available around the clock.
Each of the ten guestroom floors is named for one of the ten categories of the Dewey Decimal System, and all 60 rooms are stocked with books befitting its category. Alexander Hamilton, who was a voracious reader, would have loved it. Elizabeth Hansen
Photography courtesy of Adams/Hansen Stock Photos