There is so much already written and published about New York, it’s hard to feel like one has anything new to say. But, being such a diverse place, it creates as many different travel experiences as it has coffee shops or hot dog stands. After a recent trip, this writer felt compelled to have her say.
It’s hard to sum up New York without resorting to clichés. It really is a city in which anything can happen, where (some people’s) dreams are made… and I even found myself proclaiming from the Staten Island ferry, ‘It really is a concrete jungle’. One can be forgiven for thinking NYC consists of just a few easy blocks: Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Lower East and Lower West, with Central Park sitting daintily in the middle. In reality, the city is immense (but not sprawling), and Central Park is hardly dainty. Every pocket of Manhattan, and then some across the Brooklyn Bridge, has something worth seeing, as well as its own distinct vibe.
To give yourself a chance at seeing the best New York has to offer, you must have your walking shoes on and be prepared to wear them out. The subway may take you directly to the destination (and becomes a saviour when blisters rule), but what you’ve missed en route can be the magic for which we’re all searching. From down in the grungy Lower East Side where Little Italy has been overrun by Chinatown, you can wander slightly north and end up in the East Village – still edgy, but with more of a neighbourhood vibe. Clinton St Baking Company is the place to go for breakfast, but be sure to get there at 9am when they open or be prepared to wait an hour for a table. For lunch, drinks or dinner, head to St Mark’s Place. The two blocks between 2nd Ave and Ave A offer a peaceful, tree-lined stroll on which you’ll find a great little bar (Ten Degrees), a café with a lovely outdoor eating area (Café Orlin) and a popular hot dog joint (Criff Dogs) for a late night snack. If you are still raring to go after a ’dog and foil basket of waffle fries, just pop through the phone booth in Criff, lift the receiver and ask for a spot within fabulous hidden bar, PDT, or Please Don’t Tell – sorry, I’m telling! Good shopping in this area can be found when you start heading north-west, into the Prince/Spring/Mott Streets sideways H formation before hitting Broadway.
For a new day, and a new vibe, head west. Greenwich, Meatpacking District and West Village are contained in a very walkable cluster and provide myriad of options to eat and drink. West Village is great for shopping (while pretending you’re Carrie Bradshaw – the whole area is very SATC ) and dining at Buddakan (75, 9th Ave) is a must when in the area. Book ahead or risk disappointment.
To get off your burning feet for a while, one subway journey I recommend is the L line from the top of the East Village to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A real neighbourhood with space to breathe, it’s very enjoyable – and the hipsters agree. A game at Gutter Bar – a traditional bowling alley (untouched since the ’70s – no disco lights or DJs here), followed by sunset on Berry Park’s rooftop (treat yourself to the Huckleberry lemonade, sipped from jam jars) is a fine way to spend some time.
From the guy drawing smiley faces in chalk around Union Square’s perimeter, to the tipsy (drunk) artist on crutches who greeted us at our East Village guesthouse and the couple gettin’ jiggy in the community garden out back, New York is, if nothing else, full of surprises.
A few clues…
For a bit of nature:
Walk The High Line (above 10th Ave), an urban park and path built on an old railway line, with views down the mid-town roads.
For a $10 sandwich that’ll feed three:
Katz’s Deli (205, East Houston St) is on every list. Request your sandwich packaged separately for assembly later to receive enough wrapped gherkins, meat (pastrami is the popular choice) and mustard to share.
For some New York hospitality:
East Village Bed and Coffee isn’t luxurious – shared bathroom, resident dog, lively host – but it’s homely, cheap, superbly located and a real introduction to the city.