New York. They say that if you can make it in here, you can make it anywhere. But how hard can it be? The streets are numbered, there is fantastic food and drink around every corner, fabulous clothing and home and hearth stores and it’s all 24-7! (Or 24-6, if you keep kosher) Jackson Hole in February? That’s hard. New York? Easy!
However, New York for all its bounty of food, shopping, culture and even outdoorsy fun, can be intimidating. There are so many choices that it’s easy to lose focus and wander into mediocre tourist traps. Suddenly you find yourself in Times Square at a Bubba Gumps wondering where it all went wrong.
Do not let this happen to you.
For a trip to see what’s new in the Big Apple, we’re recommending you avoid Midtown altogether and stick in three of the city’s coolest areas—The West Side, The East Village and, gasp, Williamsburg across the East River in Brooklyn. (OK, OK we’ve included one foray to the Upper East Side to check out the new subway line, which is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.)
Get Your Art and Architecture On (Manhattan’s West Side)
Take a walk along The High Line, a 1.45-mile-long linear park above the (increasingly former) meat packing district on Manhattan’s West side. The park, created by a grassroots group called the Friends of the Highline (thehighline.org), is a triumph of urban renewal. Thoughtfully landscaped with native plants and designed with quiet reflection in mind, the easement, built atop an old elevated train line, offers a unique train-level views into Manhattan to the East and the Hudson River to the west. Plan your Highline ramble to include a lunchtime visit to the Chelsea Market (75 9th Avenue, 212/652-2121 chelseamarket.com). Primarily a food hall featuring a range of delicious options from Australian meat pies to full-on lobster meals, the old brick biscuit factory, is also a permanent home for Artists and Fleas, an ever-changing selling space for artists, designers, collectors and makers from around the city. You may even catch a designer sample sale in one of the market’s rotating spaces. Since you’re on the west side, head to the new home of The Whitney Museum of American Art (99 Gansevoort Street, 212/570-3600, whitney.org), with its reassuring Helvetica logos. The new Whitney building is capital “G” Gorgeous and the art contained within is on the bloody edge of the American contemporary scene. Be sure to take in the views of the city and waterfront from the patio levels. Although the garishly named Freedom Tower, alas, isn’t one of America’s architectural treasures, the two installations at its base—the haunting 9-11 Memorial and The Oculus are interesting footnotes to a tragic chapter in American history. The Oculus is an overblown or stunning (depending on your critical eye) winged dove sculpture soaring above the PATH Train station, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The interior, surprisingly, is a high-end mall. Finally, make time in your visit to ride the new Second Avenue Subway Line (mta.org). The upper-east-side line, which extends the Q line from 63rd to 96th Streets, was envisioned in 1919 and now nearly 100 years later is finally up and running. How’s that for efficiency? The new stations are filled with lovely mosaics that represent life in New York. The beautiful artworks are almost as amazing as the thrill of passing through a shiny and clean subway station. Hurry! All these new-station thrills will be soon enough worn down by the more than 200,000 New Yorkers who ride the line every day.
Bring it Home (from Williamsburg)
Brooklyn Reclamation (676 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn, 712/218-8012, brooklynreclamation.com) is a family-run custom mid-century industrial and vintage furniture store. Think 1950s bowling alley, which is where the design store gathers much of its reclaimed wood for its retro-styled creations. The store front in Williamsburg has a mix of both vintage finds and custom creations. The custom creations can be shipped anywhere in the U.S. from BR’s workshop in West Virginia. For a less curated, but still-thrilling dive, visit nearby Mother of Junk (567 Driggs Avenue, Brooklyn) a giant pile of unorganized estate sale bric-a-brac at fire sale prices. Men will love the custom designed deliciousness at Robert James (193 Grand Street, Brooklyn, 347/529-6392, byrobertjames.com) and women will enjoy a stop into one of Brooklyn’s most fabulous boutiques, Bird (220 Smith Street Brooklyn, 718/797–3774, birdbrooklyn.com), which features a collection of independently design clothing curated by Jen Mankins, a former big time retail buyer gone rogue. The Quality Mending Company (705 Driggs Ave. 212/334.5339, qualitymending.co) rehabs vintage clothing into classic and new and playful designs. Check out the killer old school sunglasses behind the counter.
Play (Around the Island)
See the city via Citibike. The bike share system, prominently sponsored by Citibank, hence the name, has stations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. They are designed as transportation, not tourist bike rentals so you can only “rent” a Citibike for 30 minutes at a time. The trick is to ride from station to station, and change bikes every 20 to 30 minutes. This leapfrogging technique provides a scavenger hunt adventure as you plot your path to the next station (using the bikeshare’s killer smartphone app) and a good work out (as well as a some pulse-pounding riding moments in NYC traffic). The best routes run alongside the rivers. For example, you can pick up a bike near The Whitney, (consider making a stop at the home of the cronut, Dominique Ansel Bakery, 189 Spring Street, 212/219-2773, dominiqueansel.com, if they haven’t sold out for the day) and then head from bike station to bike station through Battery Park (wave at Lady Liberty!). Continue past the Staten Island Ferry and ride underneath the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Williamsburg Bridges to the east village (about 6th and D Street), mostly on riverside trails without cars. Citibikes are also a great way to enjoy Central Park. There are no stations inside the park but they are located just outside the famous green space and go all the way up to 110th Street. Finally, try riding across the Williamsburg Bridge, with its dedicated bike lane and weave station-to-station through Williamsburg and Brooklyn to attend Smorgasburg, a weekly foodie paradise on the waterfront (90 Kent Ave. Brooklyn, smorgasburg.com) or Brooklyn Flea, an also weekly hipster flea market (80 Pearl St. brooklynflea.com). (Note: The Brooklyn Bridge is not fun to ride a bike across, too many slow-walking tourists). For another off-the beaten path excursion: Take the Tramway to Roosevelt Island (59th Street and 2nd Avenue, mta.org). The tramway is a part of the MTA system so the trip costs a mere Metrocard swipe. You’ll soar out across the east river to a teeny island with great views back at the city and the United Nations Building while you enjoy wandering around a quiet riverside memorial to Franklyn Delano Roosevelt.
Eat (and Drinking) well (in the East Village and Willamsburg)
OK so Vannessa’s Dumpling House in Williamsburg (310 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, 718/218-8809, vanessas.com) isn’t a five-star, restaurant with an excellent wine list but those gooey starchy dumplings are the perfect reminder that good food in NYC doesn’t have to break the bank. For something also inexpensive but with a little more style, find a seat at the bar for happy hour at Marlowe and Sons (81 Broadway, Brooklyn, 718/384-144, marlowandsons.com) to enjoy craft cocktails and tray after tray of $1 to $2 oysters. While you’re on Bedford Avenue, stop into the Bedford Cheese Shop (265 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, 718/599-7588, bedfordcheeseshop.com) and spend some time reading the cheeky cheese descriptions and nibbling on a few samples (they ship!).
In the East Village, it’s a fried chicken battle royal between Root and Bone (200 E. 3rd Street, 646/ 682-7076, rootnbone.com) and Bob White Counter (bobwhitecounter.com/). You’ll also need to save a key meal for Porchetta (110 E. 7th Street, 212/777-2151, porchettany.com) a walk up and take out Italian pork joint. Finally, the best burger (really the best burger) in NYC (perhaps anywhere) is at The Brindle Room, (277 E. 10th Street, (212/529-9702, brindleroom.com). Call ahead for reservations. Craft Beer Lovers can stop into nearby Proletariat (102 St Marks Place, (212/ 777-6707, proletariatny.com) to quaff a pint from the ever-changing menu. Dress up a little and venture into the Gramercy Area for a craft cocktail from (and in) another era at Dear Irving (55 Irving Place, NO PHONE dearirving.com).
On the highest end of funky: The Wythe Hotel (80 Wythe Ave. at N. 11th Williamsburg, 718-460-8000, wythehotel.com). You’ll have killer views back across the river to Manhattan along with damned civilized rooftop bar and ground floor restaurant (Reynard). Bonus: The Wythe is located across the street from the famed Brooklyn Bowl (Music venue + bowling alley, naturally) in the heart of what’s hot Williamsburg. The Ludlow, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side (180 Ludlow St, 212/ 432-1818 ludlowhotel.com) is a mashup of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining and something that would resemble the Chelsea Hotel Circa 1978. Basically, spooky cool. It’s located in the heart of the LES and East Village’s thumping nightlife scene. The fact that the SIXTY LES (190 Allen Street, 877/460.8888, sixtyhotels.com/lower-east-side) has an original Warhol design at the bottom of its rooftop pool, should clue you into the pedigree of style you’ll find at the swanky LES location of the ultra-luxury hotel chain.
Originally published in RANGE magazine, Issue Six. 2017.