New York lights with two broke girls

The fab life on New York’s Upper East Side demands that you have main character energy, like Blair and Serena in Gossip Girl

Emmanuel Tjiya S Mag Editor-in-chief
Emmanuel Tjiya paints the town red in New York.
Emmanuel Tjiya paints the town red in New York.
Image: Getty/supplied  

Hey Upper East Siders, Gossip Girl here, your best source into the scandalous lives of Manhattan’s high society.

There are two new troublemakers in town — who are they? Only time will tell…  I’ve always been a wannabe Upper East Sider à la Gossip Girl, so, landing at Newark Liberty International Airport after 7am with a black Cadillac Escalade Luxury SUV as my pickup vehicle, the scene is set. My fellow traveller — the editor of The Edit, Sharon Armstrong — is strutting two steps ahead of me, with my shadow creeping behind. No kidding, we don’t travel light and making a style statement at the airport is the first assignment.

At -1°C, the weather and fashion gods have aligned. Door 5, terminal B becomes our runway, cuddled up in floor-length coats — mine a tartan-wool blend and hers a puffer.  Off we go on a fancy one-hour drive, stuck in morning traffic like true New Yorkers.

Suffice to say, we enter Manhattan as Blair and Serena in Gossip Girl and exit as Caroline and Max in 2 Broke Girls. The reality of our weaker currency’s performance against the US dollar makes living in the fab lane in NYC a tussle.

There are no regrets. I’ve always had a penchant for high spending and posh aesthetics. Once you’ve nibbled on caviar, you are not settling for catfish. What’s that famous line in Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean? “Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce.”  

Loews Regency New York, located on Park Avenue — greatly associated with wealth and prestige — is my nest box. A short walk from Central Park and surrounded by lofty apartments, top-notch restaurants, and high-end stores, it’s perfect. We waste no time getting into the groove of NYC.

Image: Supplied.

After dropping off our luggage at the lobby (check-in is at 4pm), our first stop is the most touristy pursuit, Central Park. A short stroll later we rest on a bench overlooking an ice-skating rink.

Two hours later, the strong smell coming from the zoo is enough to chase us back to our hotel.   After some negotiation, we are granted early check-in. Welcoming to an extent, the staff could be warmer.

My room, one of 379 spacious guest rooms, offers a panoramic view. It has all the basics such as an iron, free wi-fi (lightning fast), smart TV, personalised temperature control, and mini-bar — not that I’m touching it (the snacks and Fiji bottled water cost as much as rent in SA).

Before long, the skyline dusky, it’s time to explore NYC nightlife and show off those winter sartorial layers. I do look exceptional in faux fur. First stop, a cocktail party hosted by Puma at Madame George, a cocktail lounge where the champagne is flowing stronger than the Hudson River.

Inside, the atmosphere is sweet and cosy. But once you step outside, the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple hits you like a bang. Our next stop doesn’t need much convincing — shopping at 9pm. There is more culture at the two-floor Puma NYC flagship store.

Image: Supplied.  

The cool kids are lit, plus dope music is playing and just chilled vibez, so, we sip and shop.   The next day, walking into breakfast at The Regency Bar & Grill, the room carries weight and power. All the heavy hitters are here. It’s a hotspot for breakfast meetings, so probably best to make a reservation for ideal sitting.

The real party is on the menu: my top choice is The American, a full breakfast with fresh juice; eggs (any style); a choice of bacon, sausage or ham; herb roasted potatoes; and a selection of pastries, toast or bagel, along with coffee or tea. The smoked-maple Canadian bacon tastes like heaven.  Lunchtime belongs to Sant Ambroeus Coffee Bar, which has hearty sandwiches and pastries.

The decadent Princess Cake has my taste buds drooling, while the traditional Swedish sponge cake is equally Instagramable.    At nightfall, New York Fashion Week kicks off at the gothic-revival-style locale Park Avenue Armory with Puma’s “Welcome to the Amazing Mostro Show” (read my review on Sowetan Live).

Image: Supplied.  
Image: Supplied.  

A highlight is making my debut on Getty Images alongside A-list guests such as Nigerian musician Davido, models Ashley Graham and Emily Ratajkowski, and actor Caleb McLaughlin. Heading to the after-party at Nebula nightclub — in a Tesla, nonetheless — I’m the embodiment of Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York. “I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps and find I’m a number one, top of the list...”

Quick drip check? I’m fitted in head-to-toe florals by Puma x Liberty. We dance the night away with actors Rickey Thompson and Hari Nef while the DJ drops fire amapiano and Afrobeat bangers.  New Yorkers do walk everywhere and by the end of the third day I have shuffled 8.2km, totalling 18 150 steps. A serene stroll across Central Park turns into a photoshoot, first at the Gossip Girl steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then in front of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum’s iconic sculptural exterior. 

After a quick nap, I discover that there is a thin line between Upper and Lower Manhattan — and I am that line. Still intoxicated with the euphoria of the night before, I put on black fur to explore the SoHo grid. Armstrong suggests that it would be cheaper to take the subway, to which I respond, with great dismay: “Not in this fab fur.”

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Her comeback is flavourful; amused by my newfound elite status, she references Puma’s refashioned 1999 sneaker named after the Italian word for monster: “Getty has created a second Mostro.”

Touché!  At R400, we take an expensive single Uber trip for a short 8km drive. Nothing a shopping spree can’t fix. The chic boutiques and trendy coffee shops are invigorating, while more daring fashion crowds occupy every corner of SoHo Broadway’s cobblestoned streets.

Then, boom, we are slapped with the biggest culture shock. We enter a grocery store in search of cigarettes and, to our surprise, are met with contempt, as though the space invasion has arrived.

We later learn that, in the US, tobacco products are sold at the pharmacy. Oops!  Then we end up in just the worst eatery, La Pecora Bianca. Upon arrival, I ask for a coat check and Armstrong whispers: “Mister, we are not in the Upper East.” The tight sideways seating leaves no room for freedom of movement.

Next to us is a couple on a date and I can hear every word of their conversation – they skip dinner and go straight to dessert, at his place. On the menu, we opt for small plates. While the potions are generous, the food is awful. I wouldn’t recommend the crispy calamari (rubbery and overcooked). The first time I taste zucchini fries is also probably the last.

Image: Supplied.  

The Brussels sprouts are more burnt than lightly charred. I miss the Upper East, so we take another expensive trip back, savouring every moment of our final night in NYC as we drive across the scenic Manhattan Bridge and laugh at how we are “bad and boujee”.

As redemption for the night before, an Italian restaurant on Madison Avenue, Serafina, is the saving grace. Its stunning yellow awnings are inviting, but the name carries a nostalgic familiarity with Leleti Khumalo’s Sarafina.

We indulge in homemade pasta (Paglia e Fieno) and VIP pizza and finish off with a tender-moist tiramisu. It’s time to say goodbye to NYC, but first a date with Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, and Thomas Kaminsky at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibitions on the fourth floor are magical. You know you adore me.  XOXO, Gossip Girl!

Tjiya was a guest of Puma SA   

Image: Supplied.  
Image: Getty/supplied.