“There’s what behind the curtain?”
I’m in New York City – you know the place, so good they named it twice – with a colleague who reckons he’s about to show me the best burger joint in town.
It was some years ago now, but it’s still one of my top travel memory highlights.
We’re standing amidst the designer luxury of a swanky hotel on West 56th Street. For those who know this magnificent city, it’s a pretty desirable pad in a rather nifty neighbourhood.
Now I’m lucky enough to have visited New York on business several times. Enough to know that it’s my very favourite city in the world.
That’s not quite as glamorous as it all sounds. Business trips are often soulless experiences. Being so far away from home and family in a city, even as vibrant as New York, isn’t always fun, although I know how incredibly lucky I have been to visit such places.
Meals can be the loneliest, but it’s a real bonus if you’re with a colleague, especially one who knows the ropes – or in this case, the curtains.
In one of the most diverse foodie destinations in the world, there’s plenty of choice. But this is the land of the Big Mac, home to the beef patty, so a good old American burger surely has to be top of the list doesn’t it?
So that’s how I ended up in a very posh, elegant but very minimalist hotel atrium lobby one October. Walking past the immaculately turned-out doorman to come face-to-face with… a great big curtain. My PR chappy colleague promises that I’m literally feet away from Burger Heaven.
I’m not convinced. There’s no sign. No apparent entrance. Just a wall of red velvet.
Like a scene from Morecombe and Wise, there follows a comedy moment of curtain fumbling before we’re through to the other side. My cheerful PR chappy was right. It really was just a matter of feet – albeit a short stroll down a dimly lit corridor and through a side door – but it might well have been a whole world away.
This cupboard of a wood-panelled room with graffiti-strewn walls was crammed with old wooden tables and packed with people. Counter service, cash only, no fancy frills. Just great burgers.
It’s probably New York’s worst kept secret now. But back in the day, when I first visited… well, it felt very much like the city’s very best kept secret.