My friend had been wanting to take me to Jersey City for years. The conductor of a world-renowned choir and orchestra, he has met artists and benefactors in some of the most extraordinary restaurants in the world. But the one he has talked about the most is the Vu Restaurant at The Hyatt in Jersey City.
Make no mistake, the years of postponement was not because I’m disdainful of New Jersey cities. While working as a writer and editor at The Star-Ledger in Newark in the 1990s, I fell in love with that city’s spectacular history, architecture and sculpture, including Mount Rushmore carver Gutzon Borglum’s “Wars of America,” a colossal, 240-foot long bronze sculpture of two horses and 42 men and women in the throes of conflict.
I spent hundreds of lunch hours strolling Newark’s neighborhoods, nearly all of them including at least a brief visit to Borglum’s epic in Military Park.
Jersey City, too, has much to offer. The Hudson River Waterfront Walkway runs for more than 18 miles–from Hoboken to Bayonne.
The section of the walkway in Jersey City is especially interesting, featuring the massive and historic Colgate Clock that sat atop Colgate’s headquarters building from 1924 until it was moved to Manhattan; views of Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty; and the most macabre sculpture I have ever seen–the 35-foot-high Katyn Memorial, which depicts a bound and gagged soldier being stabbed in the back with a rifle bayonet.
The sculpture memorializes the 1940 massacre of 22,000 Polish military officers, police officers, and intellectual leaders in Russia’s Katyn Forest. The slain had been captured during the 1939 soviet invasion of Poland.
To be honest, as I approached this monument I was appalled by its ghastliness. But when you learn of the anguishing history of that atrocity–soviet responsibility was not even accepted until 1991–you’re left to wonder what other memorial would be appropriate.
I must say, though, it’s nice that you can turn from that recollected inhumanity and walk over to gaze upon the uplifting Lady Liberty, who stands a thousand feet closer to Jersey City than New York City.
Enough learning — let’s eat!
The Vu Restaurant has no Michelin stars–indeed its sleek, minimalist design is rather comfortably lacking in pretension during the day. In the evening, there is a splash of iridescent color reflected on the windows from the nearby cocktail lounge, but for the most part, the Vu’s attraction is its view of Manhattan.
My friend has always described it as spectacular theater. And it is. The spectacle begins on this day in late May, with scores of boat traffic skittering up and down the mile-and a-quarter expanse of the Hudson River, from tiny dayboats to schooners to brilliantly colored, 60-foot-long water taxis rushing back and forth.
As fascinating as it is to watch over one of the busiest ports in the world, the boats are just a prelude to the real show.
As the sun began to set to our left, the Hudson and lower Manhattan’s buildings–especially the glass and stainless steel facade of One World Trade Center, begin to shimmer in reflection.
If you drop your gaze for a minute, the view will be entirely different when you look up again.
That is a pretty fabulous way to spend an evening–alternately nibbling and sipping, then savoring the vivid, ever-changing wash of yellows, oranges and reds that surround you outside.
As dessert approaches, the colors of the sunset yield to twinkling reflections of brightly-lit skyscrapers in the Hudson.
We were celebrating a big birthday and a big wedding anniversary.
With the help of a magnum of very, very, very fine cabernet, The Vu provided an appropriately delectable experience. The chef, made aware of the special occasions, delivered special appetizers and provided counsel on entrees. The food was excellent and, even with the day’s highway travel and long walk along the waterfront, it was easy to linger over after-dinner drinks and the city’s skyline.
The next day, we spent the afternoon at The Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue, because, well, you can’t just see New York. You have to do it a little, too. Right?