Four views of Shake Shack burgers in New York City

The line always seems to be long in Madison Square Park. Shake Shack, known for its burgers as well, always draws a crowd, and it isn’t unusual to spend an hour or more waiting to sink your teeth into its greasy delights. I’ve done it, and I know I’m not alone. Well, the stand’s popularity has led to expansion, and there are now four locations across Manhattan, with a fifth in Queens at Citi Field. Since those that follow never compare to the original, I was curious as to how they all compare. Could the concept withstand such rapid growth?

I set out with the noblest of intentions. Fellow travel blogger and friend Laurie DePrete (who took some of the photos) and I planned to hit the four Manhattan Shake Shacks on one Saturday afternoon. Scott Carmichael reached out to me over Twitter just wish me luck and let me know I was nuts (thanks, Scott). With my heroic appetite, I planned to down a double cheeseburger and fries at each location: Upper West Side (Columbus Ave and W. 77th Street), Upper East Side (E. 86th Street between Lexington Ave and Third Ave), Madison Square Park (Madison Ave and E. 23rd Street) and Midtown (Eighth Ave and W. 44th Street) – in that order.

My plan was to start on the Upper West Side, where I live, cut across Central Park to the Upper East Side, shoot down to Madison Square Park and then cut up and over to Midtown. Fatigue and the prospect of getting full never entered my mind. Neither ever does.

Below, you’ll find the results of my excursion, a look at the four Shake Shacks in Manhattan:

Eating all this @shakeshack food will be tough. 4 in all! RT @ScenebyLaurie: Stop #2 on the #NYC @shakeshack crawl http://4sq.com/covAmRless than a minute ago via ÜberTwitter

1. Upper West Side

This was the second Shake Shack to pop up, and I was excited to have an option close to home. The line frequently stretches around the corner onto W. 77th Street, though it’s rarely as intimidating as the original at Madison Square Park. On the Saturday I undertook this endeavor, the line was short, and I was able to order in about 10 minutes. Seating was tight, as expected, by Laurie and I were able to grab a spot on the counter, standing but with some space.

Needless to say, I enjoyed the cheeseburger, a double, but it struck me that I’d have to change course to survive the day. Though the burgers are a bit small (at all locations), they are filling. On the Upper West Side, expect to find the fare a little less greasy but still enjoyable. The taste was a bit flat. You’ll still be happy as you chomp away, but there better Shake Shack options in the city.

Where the Upper West Side restaurant stands out is in seating. There is plenty of it indoors, and don’t forget to look downstairs if you find the street level to be crowded. Also, there’s a bathroom on the premises, which is always helpful when you eat burgers and gulp lemonade.

After this first stop, we agreed to walk to the next location. To make it through four, it seemed like a good idea to move around a bit in between to keep the blood flowing … and the extra pounds at bay.

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2. Upper East Side

Unlike the first stop, I wasn’t hungry when I got to this one – but I wasn’t not hungry. I switched to a single cheeseburger and fries, cognizant of the road ahead. From across E. 86th Street, I saw that the line was out the door, but my concerns receded as I got closer. The stretch up the stairs from the cash registers to the front door isn’t long, so I figured the line would move quickly (it did). To help the process along, there are menus hanging outside, and a Shake Shack staffer walks by periodically to hand them out.

Seating inside is a bit scarce, but there’s plenty outside, perfect on a day like the one we used to tackle the four Shake Shacks. And, like the Upper West Side, there are bathrooms on the premises. The décor is a bit sleeker on the Upper East Side than in the other locations, and the staff was swift: the lines moved quickly because they moved quickly, too.

I was impressed by the burgers on the Upper East Side. They were soft and moist – nice and greasy, which is how a burger from the Shack should be. Hold yours with the wrapper to keep your shirt from getting drenched (learn from mistake I’ve made a number of times on visits to Shake Shack). As for taste, this spot’s burger was bursting. I devoured it shamelessly.

When I tried to stand from the bench in the outdoor dining area, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to. I was three burgers and two orders of fries into the adventure, and I was full … with two more locations to go. I was satisfied – and I definitely wasn’t hungry any longer. I was also tired. I turned to Laurie and saw a look implying the same feeling, but we decided to soldier on, slogging over to the subway for a ride down to Madison Square Park.

This project was becoming work.

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3. Madison Square Park

The original was our third stop simply for logistical reasons. Given the starting point and the way the subways work, it made sense to take this one on third. Also, we’ve both eaten there countless times, so we had a reasonable benchmark against which to compare the Upper East Side and Upper West Side locations.

As we walked through the park, a familiar sight emerged: a long line. We braced ourselves for a wait of at least half an hour before realizing that we needed it. I’d be able to rest my stomach for a while, try earnestly to build up an appetite again and prepare myself for the home stretch. I sat on the ground for a moment to gather my courage.

You’ll find free water at every Shake Shack location, and at this point we needed it. I headed over to pick up a few cups from the urn (the other three have running water) and rehydrated, something I’d been neglecting. Slowly, we advanced to the counter, where I ordered another single and fries. I wasn’t eating to alleviate hunger at this point, I was just looking for the taste.

The original remains the best. Grease dripped from the burger (though not as much as on the Upper East Side), and the familiar flavor erupted in my mouth. The first bite was incredible – everything you’d expect a burger from the Shack to be. It was soft, warm and thoroughly enjoyable. Then, I looked down at my tray and saw that I still had the rest of the burger in front of me. I was only able to make it through half – likewise for my fries – before deciding I had enough information and giving up.

While Madison Square Park wins on taste, the surroundings can be a challenge. There is lots of seating, but it’s all outdoor. Given that the crowds tend to be largest here, they fill up quickly. During the lunch rush, with people spilling out of the nearby office buildings, you may have trouble finding a chair anywhere. Protect your food from the occasional bird (I speak from experience), and bring change for the bathroom (a freestanding public one is your only option, and it’ll set you back a quarter).

After giving up before finishing, groaning and shaking our heads, we decided to keep going. Again figuring it would be a good idea to keep the blood flowing, my burger buddy and I started the trek back uptown, dreading the final stop. It was getting close to 10 PM, leaving us just enough time to get to the Midtown location – our final stop on the Shake Shack tour. My feet felt heavier with each step. My stomach hinted that a mutiny was on the horizon. After swapping knowing glances, Laurie and I decided to leave the Eighth Ave location for another day.

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4. Eighth Ave

We waited a little over a week before resuming the tour, a natural reaction to overloading your body with some of the finest burgers New York City has to offer. Situated on Eighth Ave, I expected this restaurant to have frightening wait and no available seating. It’s close to Times Square and Port Authority, which led me to believe there would be endless tourist traffic. To my surprise, however, the line lasted only about 15 minutes. As on the Upper East Side, Shake Shackers armed with menus came out periodically to help people make their decisions before getting up to the counter to order.

The Midtown Shake Shack offered a tasty burger (I found Madison Square Park and the Upper East Side to be better) that came fairly quickly. It wasn’t terribly greasy but was enjoyable nonetheless. Seating was tough, as people seemed to take a bit more time with their meals while the kitchen was able to turn over orders quickly.

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Like the other indoor locations, the Midtown spot had bathrooms for customers. To use them, though, you needed to enter a code on the door. Unlike most places, which use a token or a key from the counter, Shake Shack was savvy enough to put the code on every receipt, minimizing the time it takes to get where you need to go. The Eighth Ave restaurant also had a more powerful faucet for water, which led to shorter lines for those fighting thirst. It’s clear that the company learned a few lessons before opening its newest space.

Getting the last of the #manhattan @shakeshack stops in!!! (@ Shake Shack w/ @scenebylaurie) http://4sq.com/dhBg7Bless than a minute ago via foursquare


And that was it.

Toiling through four Shake Shacks, even if the last was left for a later date, was far more challenging than I expected, and I learned just how much my stomach can hold. If you’re headed to Manhattan, it’s worth visiting one Shake Shack – but only one. Don’t try to cram them all into a demented burger tour. You really are only hurting yourself if you do.

Steven Slater on airport stunt: I thought about it for 20 years!


Former(?) JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater may not have stepped onto the plane with the intention of grabbing a beer and dropping the emergency chute, but it wasn’t far from his mind. The New York Times got a few moments with the now (in)famous flight attendant in the elevator of the Upper East Side apartment building where Slater was camped out after being released on bail.

In this exclusive – and enviable – interview, Slater told the Times, “I’ve thought about it – for 20 years I’ve thought about it. But, you never think you’re going to do it.”

Daily Pampering: Champagne brunch at Arabelle Restaurant at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée, New York

Arabelle Restaurant
Everyone likes a champagne brunch, but it’s infinitely better when you’ve got champagne surroundings, as well.

Arabelle Restaurant (above) at Hôtel Plaza Athénée in NYC is offering a Sunday brunch you’re likely to treasure well into the following week. The brunch, described as “lavishly presented,” features a buffet with Steamed Lobster, Chilled Gulf Shrimp, Smoked Salmon, and Charcuterie, which you enjoy while you wait for your entrée of Plaza Athénée Eggs Benedict, Roasted Tomato and Asparagus Omelet, Vanilla Brioche French Toast with Fresh Berries, Blueberry Pancakes With Chantilly Cream and Warm Maple Syrup or the Chef’s daily special. A dessert table with pastries, tartlettes, cakes, fruit and, of course, coffee and tea, awaits you at your leisure.

This indulgent, Upper East Side Sunday Champagne Brunch is $69.00 per person and includes a glass of house champagne. The brunch is only served from 11:30 AM to 2:30 PM, so be sure to call ahead (800-447-8800) for reservations.

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Five places to puff in Manhattan: Tips for Smokers

Yes, I know. Every time I write something for the smokers out there, the comments always fill up with an argument over smoking itself. For now, I’m just going to assume that there are some people out there who happen to smoke and travel. I have this sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one. So, for those of you who enjoy a puff on the road, here are five places where you can smoke in Manhattan. At least one of them will surprise you.

1. Tobacco shops
Rather than single out one, I’d like to call your attention to several cigar shops in the city. Rules vary: some allow cigars only, while others also welcome pipe and cigarette smoker. Regardless of what you choose, do have the courtesy to buy something in the establishment before lighting up. In Midtown, you’ll find De La Concha on Sixth Ave at W. 56th Street and Davidoff stores at Columbus Circle and on Madison Ave (at E. 54th Street). There’s a Nat Sherman on 42nd and Fifth and a Barclay Rex across the street from Grand Central Station. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.2. Cigar bars
If you want to light a heater and enjoy a cocktail at the same time, there are a handful of establishments open to the public. On the Upper East Side you can hit Lexington Bar and Books or Club Macanudo. In Midtown, you’ll find the Carnegie Club. Be prepared to pay. Drinks and sticks are a bit pricey, and if you bring your own, you’ll be charged a cutting fee.

3. Private clubs
The best-known is the Grand Havana Room, which sits atop 666 Fifth Ave. It’s a beautiful space and has a fantastic restaurant. The only way you’ll get in, aside from becoming a member, is to convince one to invite you up.

4. Inter-block alleys
Yeah, this is the “when all else fails” alternative. There are alleys that cut through the middle of some blocks in Manhattan, and Midtown has more than a handful. My favorite goes from 5nd to 53rd and is between Sixth Ave and Seventh Ave. It’s covered. In the summer, Moda (the restaurant in Flatotel) runs a bar in there, so you’ll lose some space. This alley is covered, making it great for rainy day.

5. Jury duty
Okay, this one’s really for locals. If you get called for federal jury duty, here’s a good reason not to avoid it: there’s a smoking room just off the big room where the jury pool waits in the courthouse on 500 Pearl Street. Since you can’t leave the building (except for lunch) when you have federal jury duty, this room, I guess, is intended to make your experience more pleasant. The room is dark, sports old furniture and has no windows – it’s hardly a luxury space. After spending several hours waiting to be tapped for that product liability trial, however, it’s hard to complain about the digs.