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How to stay in Manhattan for only $106/night

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Manhattan . . . Kansas that is. Or 30 Hours in Manhattan, Kansas in the company of two Subscribers.


Sunday

11:45 am

I buy a $5.00 cup of coffee at a coffee shop, not for the coffee, but for the experience. Most coffee shops don't realize this, but then again more than a few can't even deliver a hot cup of joe. Well, Flight Crew Coffee delivered me a hot cup of coffee, that I enjoyed while sitting in a comfortably modern armchair with a globe on the adjacent table, which made my subsequent discussion with Mrs. AAR, over a delicious quiche, about the border between Sudan and South Sudan that much more interesting. The place is filled with flight memorabilia and other aviatory touches that really work. So much so that this is one of the few places that meet all the criteria of the AAR Coffee Rating Exemplar (ACRE) and is therefore an AAR Must Coffee.


12:01 pm

The Flint Hills are a 9,936 sq mi section of Kansas that contains the abundant and eponymous quartz. It is a region of shallow outcroppings of limestone and chert that lay just underneath the soil surface - therefore making corn and wheat farming impractical since plowing the land wasn't feasible. For this reason, cattle ranching became the main agricultural activity in the region. Never having been ploughed over and being sparsely developed, the Flint Hills represent the last expanse of intact tallgrass prairie on the continent.


The Flint Hills Discovery Center is located in downtown Manhattan and for $10 it does a good job reviewing the culture, history, flora, fauna and geology of the region. It's the logical place for an amateur naturalist to initiate his exploration of the area.


1:51 pm

Though before any actual exploration could commence, sustenance was required (the quiche while quite tasty, just didn't get the job done). Mrs. AAR and I were traveling with two lucky Subscribers, and since one of whom was from NY (Manhasset in da house!), an authentic NY pizza was in order . . .


So therefore AJ's NY Pizzeria was in order. It didn't hurt that it was only a block away. Once inside though I quickly realized that this joint might just not toss an authentic NY pizza:

  • I knew going in that any pizzeria that includes NY in the name is suspect, but I had mistakenly thought that it was Al's NY Pizzeria. By the time I realized it was A.J's it was too late. My inner optimist thought, "I guess it's better than Sven's NY Pizzeria," but . . ?

  • Hawaiian pizza was on the too extensive pizza menu.

  • The place was full of inauthentic authentic New York City props: the back end of a checker cab, NY street signs, a photo of McSorley's Ale House, etc.

  • There is a plaque on the wall, recognizing the efforts of a man called "The Dough Doctor," whose real name is . . . Tom Lehman.

  • Each pizza on the menu had a too cute name. I'm sorry, "Chicken Bacon Ranch" and "The John Stamos" don't say "Mangia!"

  • Each too cutely named pizza was also numbered via a number inside a colored circle, "like dey wuz a subway train." And it should be noted that there is no such thing as "the ⑱ Train."

  • My pizza was served with a fork!

It was all confirmed by the actual pizza: banal sauce and crisp crust. My NY Subscriber travel companion mentioned that the most authentic part of the whole experience was the napkin.


2:30 pm

The Konza Prairie Biological Station is run by Kansas State University to provide a natural laboratory for the study of ecological patterns and processes in native tallgrass prairie ecosystems. The Nature Trail allowed me to complete an hour or so hike, and with the exception of all the cell phone towers, observing what the prairie looked like before the advent of the pioneers: plenty of rocky outcroppings and wildflowers. The springy rope bridge right out of an Indiana Jones movie was an added bonus (it had a three person maximum sign that is either a warning or a dare).

The Bridge of Instability

4:30 pm

After some 12,000 steps, refreshments were in order, so we all rendezvoused in the lobby of our hotel at Goolsby's for a beer, French fries and the Chief's game. As Jimmy Breslin once said, "Beer is not exactly a subject that is unknown to me," as in the past I have purchased it by the bottle, the can, the pitcher, the flight, and the keg. Well at this place you purchase it by the dollar. You basically link your credit card to a magnetic card, which is then placed on a beer tap. You then fill your glass and are charged by the volume you draw, with exactly $6.06 being the perfect amount.


Oh yeah, the Chiefs pulled one out and beat a struggling Vikings 27-20. A win's a win, but still a little concerning. The ladies weren't that interested, as you know who wasn't at the game.


7:30 pm

The So Long Saloon for some country music and some moderately friendly service. For a Sunday night the place was packed, though after a brief wait in the "lounge" an economical dinner was served. If you sense I was a little underwhelmed by the place, you may be right, you see while waiting: the Yuengling I ordered came in a plastic cup while the margarita the Missus ordered came in a glass. I mean what's up with that!?


9:00 pm

It may have been getting late, but hey, this was downtown Manhattan. So we swung by Auntie Mae's Parlor for an after-dinner drink. This place looked so promising online: "The best bar in Manhattan, KS," "The best cocktails in the area," and "I didn't expect to find a bar this cool in this town." So much so that I was really looking forward to having a Manhattan in Manhattan (get it!?💪).


You enter a well appointed room with a pool table, then take the stairs down to a dark, low ceilinged bar that has personality. The place has rustic vibe which when combined with the extensive liquor inventory that is displayed under a mounted gar says "Salud!"

A Dream Just Out of Reach

And it went down hill from there and fast. I didn't get a good mixology vibe when the "bartender" mentioned under her breath that this was "the first Manhattan I've ever made." I might not have heard her except I was focused on her technique when I noticed she was haltingly making my cocktail . . . off an index card. The crushed ice and orange curacao didn't help.


The Subscriber who was accompanying me on this Great Plains adventure wisely ordered Old Forrester on the rocks, but the bourbon to glass to rock ratio was so out of whack, his drink looked a giant sphere of ice resting in a splash of bourbon.


The fact that I couldn't review the bill without first paying and that Mrs. AAR's Baileys on the rocks was actually made with a Bailey's facsimile (Schmaileys?) made it all so surreal. If you must visit . . . under threat of violence, order bourbon . . . neat.


10:00 pm

Whilst returning to my hotel I noticed that Manhattan, KS (home of Kansas State University), is much like every other college town I've ever visited: Ann Arbor, MI (University of Michigan), Boulder, CO (University of Colorado), Lawrence, KS (University of Kansas), Columbia, MO (University of Missouri). A city with a small town feel that emphasizes amateur male athletics, and cut-rate alchohol.

Apparently even grad students appreciate a bargain

Monday

9:00 am

An included breakfast at the hotel, that included unlimited cranberry juice. As far as breakfasts go, not bad at all (in fact almost South American in breadth and quality).


11:30 am

The lower section of the Flints Hills was inspected via the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Another 12,000 or so steps in the bag as well as more grasshoppers than any New Yorker can see in a lifetime and more than a few bison¹. They say you should stay a football field away, but I'd say we got within 30 yards. Oh yeah, an added benefit of the visit: seeing my first bisonpie!


4:30 pm

The Ad Astra Steakhouse² in Strong City is under the new and enthusiastic management of Jared Roberts. He is also the owner of Jim Roberts & Son Western apparel store and the grandson of Gerald Roberts, the two time national All-Around Rodeo Champion and member of the National Rodeo Hall of Fame. As his photograph and story are featured at the aforementioned Flint Hills Discovery Center, I felt that dining here completed the Tallgrass Prairie circle.


Roberts shared the ups and down of being a restaurateur in a post covid Kansas. He said he has trouble keeping staff and therefore has to wait on tables himself, reciting the menu as he's just too busy to write it down. Though methinks he likes talking with diners about Gen Z's lack of work ethic as well as the selectivity and value of an 8 oz. prime steak with Texas toast and steak fries³ selling for only $19.99.


And just when you think it can't get any better: The place also chills its bottled beer to 28° F.


The place only serves prime⁴ steak, which was quite tasty. Unfortunately the word "prime" makes me think of Coach prime, Dion Sanders. Thirty years ago after he retired from the NFL without ever having made a tackle, I was hopeful it would be the last I heard of the conceitedly gilded windbag, but it appears Colorado's higher education needs were too great.


Lodgings

My fellow New York pizza lover traveler Subscriber recommended the Bluemont Hotel ($106/night, tax inc.) and she didn't steer me wrong. A seamless and friendly check in that included numerous nose rings and smiles, that led to the largest hotel room I ever lodged in. I mean "that room is huuuuuuge!"


The $10 lobby bar credit didn't hurt either. In a hundred years, when I visit Manhattan . . . Kansas again, I will definitely stay here.



Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details which while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.


¹ The some 60 million animals that used to roam the Great Plains, that were called "tatanka" in the movie Dances with Wolves, are actually bison, or more accurately American bison (species Bison bison). Buffalo (species Bubalus bubalis) are only found naturally in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia.


² Ad Astra is a common (in Kansas at least) abbreviation of "Ad astra per aspera" which is Latin for "To the stars through difficulties." It is the motto of both Kansas and Starfleet.

³ Steak fries are a variant of French fries that are healthier as they are cut into larger pieces and then baked.


⁴ USDA Prime is the highest grade that a meat can be ranked by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Followed by Choice and then Select.

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