My New York Obsession

Heaven Is a Place on West 79th Street That Serves Margaritas

And you don’t have to be *that good* to get past the metaphorical pearly gates of the Upper West Side’s Boat Basin Cafe.

Photo courtesy of Boat Basin Cafe/Facebook

What if I told you there’s a secret Oz in New York. And it’s easier to get to than you’d think.

Just follow 79th Street west until you’ve reached the end of the yellow brick road—well, the sidewalk anyway. Head toward the trees and down a circular embankment and you’ll see lights, margaritas, and beers, oh my! You’ve entered the magical, secret garden party—complete with outdoor seating, beautiful views of the Hudson River, Old Bay–seasoned fries, and dogs (actual dogs!)—that is the Boat Basin Cafe. Pull up a chair: You’ve arrived.

boat basin cafe
Photo courtesy of Boat Basin Cafe/Facebook

Until a few years ago, I too had no idea an oasis like this existed in Manhattan. I was just going about my life, feeling like a human animal, stressed and landlocked in this city zoo. On the verge of a full-blown meltdown, an ex-girlfriend introduced me to this waterside place of bliss. We walked from her apartment in Spanish Harlem west through Central Park, and before I knew it, we were following the sounds of clinking glasses, laughter, and a sea breeze. It was a whimsical meet-cute with a spot destined to be my anchor.

Before I knew it, we were following the sounds of clinking glasses, laughter, and a sea breeze.

I think I’ve always been drawn to the water for its inherently therapeutic and literally reflective qualities. Whenever I’m in a creative pinch—trying to crack an idea or brainstorm a new set; I’m a comedian and comedy writer—I find myself seaside, mesmerized by the tide. I like to imagine an aquatic life that’s overly informed by watching Titanic over and over at a young age. Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, though, being by the water always meant at least an hour’s drive to the nearest beach. But now? It’s almost too easy to find the water’s edge, considering Manhattan is an island, something I forget on a daily basis. Remembering the Boat Basin exists is like waking up from a beautiful dream and then living it. With a margarita on the rocks.

While the relationship with my ex (spoiler!) ended, the Boat Basin became my port in every storm. Watching the tide ebb and flow is the too-on-the-nose way I’ve been able to weather the highs and lows of my life in New York. It’s where I’ve met friends to lament a layoff; to celebrate new life chapters; or to just be outside after hibernating for the winter (or the workday). As soon as the weather perks up—and, along with it, my mood—the Boat Basin becomes my after-work and weekend go-to.

boat basin cafe
Photo by Edward D./Yelp

There’s nothing quite like sitting under an umbrella, letting porous metal chairs dimple your legs for hours while you watch the water and sky change. 

It was meant to be: my long-term, monogamous relationship with the Boat Basin. In true full-circle serendipity, my now-girlfriend’s mother uses an Instagram handle that shares a name with this heaven on earth. Double-coincidence, my girlfriend’s favorite song happens to be Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” It’s wonderfully cinematic, no? Just imagine:

EXT. BOAT BASIN. EVENING.

The late-afternoon sun is starting to set. NIKKI has drained her pitcher
of margaritas and scratched out the outline for her next set/pilot/feature 
on a napkin, and the DOG from the table nearby has fallen asleep at her 
feet. She looks out at the Hudson and watches the boats ripple in the 
tide.

She sighs, content.

NIKKI

(softly, to no one but the water)

When I feel alone, I reach for you

And you bring me home

When I’m lost at sea, I hear your voice

And it carries me

CUE: “HEAVEN IS A PLACE ON EARTH”

DOG hops into NIKKI’s lap; hanging on his collar is the HEART OF THE OCEAN
DIAMOND from TITANIC.

SLOW FADE as CREDITS roll.

SUPERIMPOSE TITLE: THE BOAT BASIN

Nikki Palumbo is a writer and comedian in New York. She’s also obsessed with parks and—if you couldn’t tell—puns.