New York, New York, the city so nice, they named it twice.
New York City is the third city I have officially lived in (following Auckland, New Zealand, and Sydney, Australia), and it is truly a world of its own. There is nothing quite like it; nothing quite absurd. Although my first trip to New York (and America, in general), was the day I moved to The Big Apple (Sunday November 18th, 2012) – meaning that I’ve never quite been a “tourist on vacation”, I believe there is a huge difference when you are a tourist versus when you are a resident of the city.
I’ll admit, when I moved here, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had no job, I had no friends. I totally winged it. Everyone kept telling me how brave I was for packing up my life (into only two suitcases) and moving to the other side of the world. At the time, I was so blasé to that fact, but in hindsight, I can now agree. Although I would definitely be game enough to pack up and start fresh elsewhere (London calling?), my thought process would be prolonged, as opposed to the spontaneous decision I made, one weekend, three years ago.
New York is a way of life. Sometimes, living here, I forget that people that don’t live here have to save their hard-earned disposable income, just to make a special trip to visit this city. We, who live here, take it for granted. We are so busy hustling; trying to build successful careers; trying to catch a break; trying to catch up with friends; trying to schedule in that first date; trying to make time for errands; trying not to miss subways; trying to remember to check the weather app every morning to ensure we dress accordingly; trying to live instead of just exist; that we forget what a beautiful city it is that we live in. We are constantly running. If not physically, emotionally — in our minds. It’s a love/hate relationship. They say that when you’re in New York City, you can’t wait to get away, but when you’re away, you miss it, and can’t wait to get back. [I recommend the book Goodbye to All That – Writers on Loving and Leaving New York – Sari Botton]. I feel that it is only when friends visiting ask for recommendations on where to go and what to see, that I really take a few days to think about it, so that I can give them a genuine answer on where and what I would suggest, becoming nostalgic for the places I was so excited about, the first time I visited, and the ones I still get excited for.
With businesses closing down and new businesses popping up, everyday, there are too many destinations – restaurants, bars, nightclubs, museums, etc – to name or even know, that you’d never need to go to the same place twice. Evidently, there are apps such as Yelp, Trip Advisor, Zagat, for ratings and reviews, and of course, you’ll always happen to stumble across a hole-in-the-wall-Chinese restaurant, cheap and cheerful thrift store, $1 oysters happy hour spot, or underground speakeasy, but as a New Zealander-turned-New Yorker, I love giving recommendations to people and receiving feedback on what a great time they had at a suggested place. In fact, a friend recently sent me a message asking for some recommendations, for a romantic weekend in the city. New York is a beautiful city to fall in love, so of course, that really got me thinking about the places I would recommend, to fulfil your New York City dream…
I love picnic dates, and what more romantic than a picnic at Central Park? Squeal at the variety of dogs, people-watch, read a book, circle the Jackie Onassis reservoir, and walk through the lower passage of Bethesda Terrace (my personal favourite).
Following your picnic, head to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, for a beautiful afternoon of Monet, Manet, and Cézanne. There is so much to see at The MET that it is physically impossible to get through the whole museum in a day. After touring the art and exhibitions, whilst on the upper east side, enjoy dinner at Cafe d’Alsace, a date-night favourite that offers a delectable selection of French cuisine.
For a more touristy date, and for one with a view, visit the Top of the Rock, at the Rockefeller Center. People always ask if they should do Top of the Rock or the Empire State. I would suggest the former, so that when you are at the top of the observatory, you have the Empire State in view. In terms of time, it depends if you want a day or night view, but I would suggest that the best time to go is right before the sun is about to set.
If you want to do some designer shopping but want to avoid the crowds in SoHo, Dover Street Market in Murray Hill is the place to go. There are seven eclectically merchandised floors at DSM, where you can shop to your heart’s content. Shopping also works up an appetite, so fortunately, the Rose Bakery on the ground floor offers a delicious selection. I would recommend the Breakfast Sandwich, followed with a carrot cake to share (or not).
For a charming date night spot, Gemma at the Bowery Hotel is a classic. The rustic interior is very unique, and there is so much to see, every corner you turn. It is a great place for people-watching, as well as celebrity-spotting. Choose to go for brunch or dinner, or both. Following this, head to Mulberry Project, to invent some of your own cocktails.
The Lower East Side is one of the wilder neighbourhoods to frequent. For a cheap and cheerful eat, I would recommend Panna II. The chilli-pepper lights hang low from the ceiling, making for a delightful occasion. A tip: Instead of ordering off the menu, tell the server you will do the $17 per person meal ($20, if it’s more than two people) where, for that price, they bring out many shared plates for you, until you can eat no more. Panna II is also BYO.
Call it a dinner theatre, a burlesque show, a freak show, if you will, but The Box is definitely not for the conservative. This risque cabaret nightclub located in the Lower East Side of Manhattan is scandalously entertaining. It is no wonder Blair Waldorf surrendered her virtue to Chuck Bass in the back of his limousine, shortly after her performance on the exact stage.
There is a reason why Carrie wanted to marry Big, here. The New York Public Library is breathtakingly beautiful. Even if you aren’t here to study, the interior is a must-see. A few avenues over is Grand Central station, which is another landmark of New York City that must be seen. For a delightful cheap Japanese eat nearby, my go-to is Izakaya Mew on 35th Street. Tip: Try to go earlier in the day, as they do not take reservations, and the wait can be as long as 1.5 hours.
Spend a day walking the Highline, an overground park that has been built on top of old railroad tracks, and then visit the new Whitney Museum, for some modern art. If you are in the mood for Mexican at what I call a “Burger King joint on acid”, try Tortilla Flats.
On Sunday night, they offer trivia, and on Monday and Tuesday nights, they play bingo. If someone at your table wins, the table wins a round of tequila shots. By the time you leave Tortilla Flats, if you’re not filled with enough tequila, the Standard Hotel is down the street. The Boom Boom room or Le Bain are both good options to frequent.
I Sodi is a hidden gem in the West Village that someone recently showed me. Everything from food to service is impeccable, and I would highly recommend this Italian restaurant for date night. A tip would be to make a reservation, even on a school night, as it does get crowded. Walk through the neighborhood, following dinner, and stop off at Magnolia Bakery, to grab some red velvet cupcakes and Harney & Sons tea, for the road.
If you’re staying in Manhattan, take the L train from Union Square into Brooklyn. Over on that side of town, you can spend a whole day wandering the streets. Williamsburg has some really cute boutique stores, good coffee shops, and an abundance of great restaurants to visit. If you’re visiting on a summer weekend, the Smorgasburg markets are a must-do. A good place to watch the sun set over the Manhattan skyline is on the rooftop of the Wythe Hotel. If you want to venture a little more down the L line, a NY favourite for pizza is Roberta’s, in Bushwick. The brunch is great, or cozying up by the fire on a winter night is also a good option.
If you are into sports, and are looking to treat your significant other, look into what seasonal sports are on, while you are in the city. It’s always more fun watching the game live, drawing in the atmosphere, and waving the massive foam finger around when your team scores.
These are only a few of my suggested places, compared to many, many more places to see, eat, drink, and enjoy. Create your own memories by picking a random spot and figuring out if it is somewhere you would put on your recommendations list. Remember, as Frank Sinatra sang, “It’s up to you, New York, New York”.