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Judy Crowell: New York City’s Times Square and Its Round Table

From Broadway and other touristy hot spots to its 24/7 digital signage and towering skycrapers, this crazy destination should be on everyone’s bucket list

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Times Square in New York City, with more than 330,000 pedestrian visitors every day, is the most visited place in the entire world. The 24/7 onslaught of digital signage; towering skyscrapers; inescapable souvenir shops; ads for Budweiser, Chevrolet and Coca-Cola, to name a few; Broadway ticket scalpers; annoying costume characters at every corner (and no, you do not have to tip them!); blaring taxi horns; neon lights; and bullhorn brandishing tour guides is enough to make you wonder why you ever came.

Yet, with the proper Zen mindset, a well-thought-out plan of what to see and what not to see, a good street map, earplugs, a list of non-franchise restaurants (and there are many good ones) and, most importantly, a reservation at a hotel oasis within the Square, this crazy destination should be on everyone’s bucket list. It’s truly a blast, and I can’t wait to return.

Let’s talk about things to see first. Broadway shows, Broadway shows, Broadway shows. Buy tickets online in advance for the best seats, and remember: Mondays are dark. The Madame Tussauds Wax Museum is as touristy as it gets and so darned much fun. Where else can you rub shoulders with Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton and sing for Simon Cowell in the interactive American Idol exhibit? Also wonderfully touristy is Ripley’s Believe It or Not, with incredible exhibits and interactive multimedia.

Distinctive and one-of-a-kind restaurants within easy walking distance are Chez Josephine, since 1986 a bubbly return to the joie de vivre of Paris with red velvet walls and chandeliers lighting up portraits of Josephine Baker, and Gallaghers Steakhouse, for carnivores with a legendary bar that started serving hooch at the onset of Prohibition. Hunks of prime, dry-aged beef greet you in the windows of the meat locker as you enter. Vegans beware. There's also Barbetta, the oldest, most romantic dining room and garden in New York City with mouthwatering Italian; Café Edison, for pancakes, matzo balls and deli sandwiches; Sushi Zen, the height of Japanese culinary art; and Estiatorio Milos, for fresh fish a la Greece and superb pre-theater dining.

Now for the oases. The Millenium Premier Hotel, the Renaissance New York Times Square Hotel and Hotel Sofitel are all grand and quiet and rather "cookie-cutter" in my estimation when compared to The Algonquin Hotel, an Autograph Collection Hotel, on West 44th Street.

Opening in 1902, it soon became renowned for a group of writers and critics who lunched at a round table every single day for 10 years beginning in 1919. Their wisecracks, personal barbs and wordplay was reported in the national press, giving them notoriety and impetus. Acid-tongued wits all, this group (also known as The Vicious Circle) included Robert Benchley (“Let’s get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini”), Alexander Woollcott (“Nothing risqué, nothing gained”) and, my favorite, Dorothy Parker (“You can take a horticulture but you can’t make her think”). Called “the greatest collection of unsalable wit in America,” they were self-absorbed, self-congratulatory, alcoholic and mean, but most everyone loved them — New York’s version of the Lost Generation in Paris.

This hotel, which always reminds me of The Little Engine That Could, recently underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation, miraculously maintaining its extraordinary history while adding luxurious amenities. “It thought it could, it thought it could” — and it did. Oh, and it has a cat, Matilda, No. 10 in a long line of felines manning the front desk. With the Round Table Restaurant and boozy Blue Bar (home of the $10,000 martini, served with a single ice cube and a diamond), this hotel has personality.

Again, Parker on martinis: “I like to have a martini/Two at the very most/After three I’m under the table/After four I’m under my host.”

And last but not least, President John F. Kennedy had this to say: “When I was growing up, I had three wishes. I wanted to be a Lindbergh-type hero, learn Chinese and become a member of The Algonquin Round Table.”

— Judy Crowell is a Noozhawk contributing writer, author, freelance travel writer and Santa Barbara resident. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). The opinions expressed are her own.

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