Once upon a time, in a kingdom far far away, there lived a girl who worked as an attorney in Manhattan. She lived in a beautiful apartment in Tribeca. After working long hours during the week at her law firm, she spent the weekends visiting fancy restaurants and dancing at night clubs until all hours. Her cousins accompanied her on this journey, consuming too much duck salad at Buddakhan and too much sangria at Son Cubanos in the Meat Packing District. They’d make their way home at 4:00 a.m., stopping to get pizza along the way. They laughed. They drank. They were happy. Then the “girl” moved to Florida, and had three children, who she loved more than anything and whose care and well-being consumed every ounce of her. She wasn’t a girl anymore. Now she was a “woman” with all that encompassed—perpetual obligations and responsibilities.
There were no more moments of being care-free. The yoke of domesticity squeezed her neck so tight that she couldn’t sleep most nights. Instead, she lay in bed wondering about whether she was making the best choices for her children and for herself. She knew the choices she made filtered down to her family—her children were a reflection of her, and she was a reflection of them. Her late nights now involved responding to low blood sugar alerts and bed wetting incidents. Life wasn’t about her anymore. It was about providing her children with security and love as they grew. When she hit forty, her body also began to rebel. Her waist thickened. (Okay that happened at thirty.) She couldn’t read her phone without glasses. She smelled like a dirty Dorito after climbing one flight of stairs. She was at the crossroads of middle-life, too old to be young, too young to be old. And then one day, while drifting along on the monotonous river of life, her thirty-year-old sister invited her for a Girl’s Night in New York City. . .
Surprise, I’m actually the girl turned woman! And when my sister, Andrea, said she’d be in NYC, I did not hesitate to run away from my grown-up responsibilities and pretend I was that twenty-year old again in the city. Andrea got us a room at the Moxy, a boutique hotel in Chelsea. She made reservations at Buddakhan, with drinks to follow in the Moxy’s rooftop bar, The Fleur Room. In my mind, I was reliving my youth, recapturing a part of my spirit that had been relinquished when I pushed three children out of my body. But no matter how much I wanted it to be the same, it wasn’t. I had changed. The city had changed. But I learned that while we can’t relive our past. It is still nice to revisit it every once in a while.
We met at Penn Station on a June Friday afternoon, walked to our hotel and unpacked. My sister brought a hair wand, curling iron, a Dyson blow dryer, and a dress that barely covered her rear end. I packed two bottles of BioFreeze to ice my neck and shoulder, a bottle of Loreal root touch up spray to cover my greys, my Lume deodorant to rub all over my body lest I smell like an arm pit. I also brought shorts to wear under my dress to protect my bottom from public display. She did not bring said shorts. After checking into our hotel, we walked from Midtown to Tribeca. I easily fell back into city life, enamored with the enormity and majesty of the views from the High Line and the smells from the street vendors, but noticeably less tolerable of the congestion surrounding us at every corner. Was New York City always so crowded? I remember it as my own playground, the streets and avenues my backyard of adventure. I was annoyed at the strangers sight-seeing, only to realize I now was one.
After pampering and primping, we arrived at Buddakhan for our 6:45 reservation, having to forego the Subway for an Uber when the Subway took too long. (I forgot the trains run less frequently on the weekends.) The sun was still out, and light filtered in from the windows. I had never seen the restaurant during the day, generally frequenting it at 9:00/10:00 p.m. in my prior life. As we waited for our table, I tried to make out the print on the bar menu to order my first cocktail without kids in forever. But I had left my reading glasses behind because they clashed with the posh exterior I was cultivating for the night, and couldn’t read it. My sister mocked me for using my phone flashlight to see it. Her eyes still work. Having dinner early, we were seated by a family with small children, and a little kid kept playing peek-a-boo with me with her dinner napkin. I played back because that's what moms do. My sister and I stuffed ourselves with duck salad, lobster rolls, and pork buns, and cocktails. Dinner was amazing, just like I remembered. (Although they really should bring back the Charm. It was their best cocktail.)
We walked back to our hotel and went up to the roof top bar, taking our jackets at my insistence because it was chilly. The bouncer gave me a once over. I remembered how many times the bouncer at Son Cubanos pulled the rope and let us in just by sight, letting others linger out there for hours. Now I was on the other side. I had no pull here. No way in. I did not like being the outsider, and I wasn’t going to let my city reject me. Determined to reclaim my playground, I tossed my hair over my forehead to cover my wrinkles and sucked my cheeks in to appear thinner. Eventually he let us in, noting that my sister and I could be twins—which I took as a compliment. She did not. The bar was stunning with views overlooking the Empire State Building. When my sister saw a man using his phone to read the menu, she whispered, “Look there’s another one of you.” He and I nodded in solidarity before awkwardly blending back into our youthful environment.
Andrea and I got cocktails, and then sat at an empty-reserved table near the bar and DJ to have a place to put our jackets down. Although a rooftop bar, it was closed in, and we did not need the jackets I insisted we bring. The DJ played a mellow mix of 90s/2000s songs. A group of women my age wearing sequined dresses sat at a reserved table with bottle service. Two of them got up and momentarily danced by themselves in front of the DJ station, before the group eventually called it a night around 10:00. But I knew that the action didn’t get going until midnight. I was not going anywhere. By 12:30, the place was full from wall to wall. The DJ blasted club mixes and reggaetón. My sister and I bobbed along to the music, but unlike in my early years, I did not get up to join the crowd of twenty-year olds dancing. I was not twenty anymore, and I did not want to lose my table, and end up standing all night. In my early years, my husband always kept my seat warm while I danced. I missed him.
I also noticed the ambiance of the club had changed vastly since I left thirteen years ago. Everyone was wearing Air Force1 shoes. Sneakers were never appropriate in clubs before. Everyone was also vaping, which living in my suburban bubble, I hadn’t realized had become a thing. I also noticed I had changed from my clubbing days of yesteryear. While I used to once be the young and drunk kid in the club, I now felt protective of the young and drunk kids in the club. One sat down next to us and could barely keep his head up. I wanted to get him water and put him in a cab home. But even though he was not feeling well, at the behest of his friends, he eventually jumped back up and had another shot. Peer pressure is still a potent weapon to overcome. I also had to take a Tums after every cocktail to keep heartburn at bay, and I almost peed my pants after waiting forty minutes to use the bathroom.
Despite how different things felt, things also felt the same. Dresses were still very short, like I used to wear back in the day. And early 2000s fashion is back in style so I felt like I was in college again. I also loved how the music, the energy, and the vibe of the night club radiated through me. Much like my mother, I’m always going to be a person who wants to keep a finger on the pulse of her past. It doesn’t make me feel old to be surrounded by younger people. It makes me feel alive. Even though we didn’t dance, being a part of the energy of the night, fist pumping, singing along to the music, and sharing cocktails with my sister was enough. I also enjoyed making this memory with my sister who was too young to ever visit me in the city.
I realized it's okay that a Girl’s Night Out in my forties is different than in my twenties. Everything doesn’t have to be the same for it to be magical. Nostalgia can bring you back to a familiar feeling, but our experiences help us grow into different people, and that’s reflected in our interactions and how we view the world. I appreciated this Girl’s Night because I hadn’t had one in so long, getting glammed up with make-up, getting my hair done, and wearing high heels; having my ID checked; and having someone buy us drinks. I felt like a girl again, but with a woman’s sensibilities—we did not engage with the man who bought us drinks, I remained extremely hydrated rotating water and cocktails and felt great the next day, and we went to a bar in our hotel to minimize having to maneuver Manhattan alone at night. (Sadly, there was no 4 a.m. pizza.)
A friend told me the next morning that I had to move on and accept that I was old AF (that means “As Fuck” in modern lingo). Maybe on most days that is true, when I am driving around my kids in my mini-van and hot gluing flowers on my daughter’s school project, but when it comes to NYC nightlife, I will forever be a “girl.” To quote Marc Anthony, “Si hay una fiesta pa’llá voy.”