New York is vast. The city’s grid layout makes it feel even bigger due to the size and scale of a block, which can sometimes stretch for as long as 10km.
What might look like a short walk on Google maps turns into a 30-minute escapade 5 blocks down from your original location. Just when you think you’ve made it, there’s a whole two blocks ahead. There’s also an immense range of sights to see, from Times Square to the Empire State Building, and a whole bunch of restaurants you’ve saved in your archives on Instagram, or pinned in a Pinterest board you’ve titled “NYC Restaurants”.
There’s just… so much. And you want to do it all – from the warehouse parties in Bushwick you saw in that one episode of HBO’s Girls – when Shosh loses her mind and runs away from the party whilst poor Ray attempts to sprint after her, to the exhibitions you’ve been scheduling in your diary from the moment they were announced on Twitter months before even booking your flights.
If you’re in New York City for a city break, then it’s unlikely you’ll be able to cover all of the things, unless you’re Blair Waldorf and have a personal chauffeur. Even then, you’ll still miss something out. So, the best way to approach your short stay is to highlight the absolute must-dos you’ve been dreaming about since forever.
I did this by area: if you’re heading to Brooklyn for the day, organise your visit into the absolute musts. Perhaps there’s an exhibition you want to see, a vintage shop you want to check out and a restaurant you’ve been recommended by a close friend. Brooklyn is bigger than I thought and a lot of the activities I wanted to do were spread across Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Bushwick – often a few subway stops from each other. The same strategy applies to NoLita, Lower East Side and Greenwich Village. If you arrange your days by area, then you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money and energy.
For those who know London relatively well, just imagine going out for a meal in Covent Garden, then heading all the way to Deptford for a drink followed by a trip to Hampstead for a gig. In the words of a Londoner, that’s “just long”.
Here are the 5 alternative must-dos I discovered during my time in the Big Apple – some slightly touristy, others not so obvious. Enjoy!
New Museum of Contemporary Art
Immediately beginning your trip with a bit of culture can set the tone for the rest of your time venturing around a new city. If you happen to be staying in or around Lower East Side, then the New Museum is the perfect spot for a creative and educational look at the contemporary New York art scene. The museum is devoted to urgent and topical issues particularly regarding gender and sexuality, currently Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon exhibition ending on the 21st January 2018.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is another extraordinary museum that you’ve probably seen in a film or read about in a travel guide. The museum features over 5,000 years of art so you’re bound to find something that suits you. The Delirious: Art at the Limits of Reason 1950-1980 exhibition at The Met Breuer, which looks at absurdity, nonsense, noise and incessant repetition in post-war art particularly stood out. The collection aims to simulate and stimulate delirium; I remember feeling almost hallucinatory after watching a distorted black and white clip of a man tapping away on a calculator over and over and over…
Roberta’s, located in Bushwick, is known for its delicious wood-fired pizza and beer. This is the sort of restaurant you accidentally stumble upon: buzzing, industrial and bursting at the seams with young artistic folk. Entering through this (now) iconic red door is like a trip through the looking glass and into Bushwick’s foodie wonderland. Everything from the style to the underground Bohemian vibe epitomizes Brooklyn-chic. Carlo Mirarchi (from Queens) leads a talented kitchen. Beat the queue which can get pretty hefty later in the evening, and head there for an early evening pizza – you won’t be disappointed.
The Meatball Shop
The Meatball Shop was recommended by just about everyone and is truly American. Lots of meatballs plus Italian comfort food in a no-frills setting on Williamsburg’s main drag. Flavours are distinct and the portions are just right. The look is Old New York, with reclaimed wood and antique milk bottles. The cumulative effect: a retro vibe for a thoroughly modern meatball. Fear not veggies! Their vegetarian meatballs were exceptionally delicious – I’ve been dreaming about them since. For dessert, try the ice cream sandwiches. The restaurants are scattered around various parts of the city including Greenwich Village and Brooklyn, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled.
I discovered The Break in a feature by Pond Magazine and fell in love with their branding and vintage items straight away. Their studio, located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, at first feels like a cosy living room in a studio flat – spacious, clean and unintimidating. Garments hang neatly on clothes rails, there’s a sofa located in the middle of the room should you wish to take a quick breather from the shock of how great everything is. Expect to stumble upon metallic berets, shoulder pads and oversized jackets. Expect to chat away with the stylish staff decked in exceptional vintage attire. Also expect to walk away with at least two new items to your name and live in them for the rest of your stay (and beyond).
Note: they’re bringing a pop-up to London in March so make sure to follow them on their Instagram @shopthebreak for updates.
Similar to The Break, The Line infuses an immersive shopping experience with an intimate and comfortable setting. Upon arrival, you’ll find a normal front door that leads you into an elevator rather than a standard hallway. The elevator takes you up into a modern apartment space filled with shiny trinkets and clothes by brands such as KHAITE and JW Anderson. You’re invited to sit, read, wander and enjoy the homely domestic interiors at your own leisure, which is more than needed after roaming around SoHo’s bustling streets all afternoon.
If you’re on the hunt for a trendy bar in Lower East Side, then Pianos is the place to be. You’re bound to dance, chat to locals and feel pumped for the gig or event you have planned ahead. The former piano store houses comedy nights, DJ events and live music and is handily situated on a road brimming with other restaurants and bars, so you can move from one venue to the next without worrying about transport. They’ve also got a relatively lengthy happy hour running between 2-8pm all week – meaning frozen margaritas galore!
This is a seriously sophisticated rooftop bar worth every penny for its tremendous view of Manhattan at night called the Ides. Despite being fully booked, the staff went out of their way to find us a table with a glorious window seat overlooking the city, sending shudders down my spine. In a turn-of-the-century Williamsburg industrial building, settle in and order a strong cocktail and watch as the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Empire State Building turn to silhouette. Make sure you go early in the weekdays since doors close around 10pm (although the party can start as early as 12PM on weekends).