WHAT TO DO
New York is a metropolis, it has an energy like no other place on the planet. There are so many colorful neighborhoods that contain an astonishing variety of cultures. The people, the places, the food and the arts are just some of the reasons why The Big Apple is at the top of every traveler's checklist. It is impossible to see and do everything, therefore I would like to share my personal favorites to help guide you through Gotham.
New York has five boroughs (The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island), each one has its own personality, background and history. I will be focusing mostly on Manhattan, so purchase your subway MetroCard and let's go for a ride. Manhattan can basically be divided into three sections: Downtown, Midtown and Uptown. Each section of town consists of several smaller areas or neighborhoods. It all depends on the individual's personality and interests on where to explore. Some might like the excitement of Wall Street and Lower Manhattan while others might prefer the laid back atmosphere of Greenwich Village or SoHo (south of Houston Street - pronounced "how stun"). For a more quiet experience one might enjoy the Upper East or Upper West Side. Times Square and Midtown are always bustling with people and this area is often many visitor's introduction to the city.
Times Square serves as a nerve center of activity in the city. It's brash and busy, but no trip to New York would be complete without a visit to the site of the annual ball drop on New Year's Eve - a tradition which began on December 31, 1907. This area is also home to the best known Broadway Theaters, such as the Majestic (The Phantom Of The Opera) on W 44th Street. Next, make your way over to the city's most famous skyscraper - The Empire State Building. Opened in 1931, it is an American cultural icon. It has 102 floors and provides an awesome view from the observation deck. If the lines are long, look into the express pass which gets you to the top much quicker. After doing your own King Kong on the ESB head over to Grand Central Station on E 42nd Street. It might be a train station, but it is quite a beautiful one. The Beaux Arts terminal celebrated its centennial in 2013 and is well worth a visit. Be sure to look up at the elaborately decorated astronomical ceiling. It is one of the nation's most historic landmarks and to my knowledge remains the busiest train station in the country.
Escape the crowds (kind of) and make your way up to Central Park. With 840 acres including nearly 50 bridges, fountains, monuments and sculptures this man made wonder might well be the most famous park in the world. It offers art, recreation and traditional activities, such as the carousel and carriage rides in summer and ice skating in winter. Take a break on the Great Lawn, snap a picture in front of Bethesda Fountain or bark with the sea lions at the Zoo. My favorite spot in Central Park is Strawberry Fields. Located just off W 72nd Street, this memorial to John Lennon is often called the "international garden of peace." Sit beside the black and white Imagine mosaic set into the pavement and sing along with others gathered to your favorite Beatles songs. Across the street at the Dakota apartment building is where John lived and where he was tragically murdered on Monday December 8, 1980.
From there jump on the subway (take the 1 train to Christopher Street) and head down to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. This landmark was once a cemetery and the site of public executions. Today it is the spiritual center of The Village where you will find NYU students, street musicians, skateboarders and chess players doing their thing. Chill by the large central fountain and gaze upon the triumphal Washington Memorial Arch. It was erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of George Washington's presidential inauguration. Head west to Gansevoort Street and one of NYC's coolest parks, The High Line. First opened in 2009 and over a mile long, it is built on an elevated section of an abandoned New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. Stroll along The High Line and be sure to visit some of the areas top attractions: the Meatpacking District, Chelsea Market and the newly opened Hudson Yards, home of The Shed and the eye catching Vessel.
Next, make your way east over to the epicenter of activity - Union Square. It has a long history of serving locals as a favorite gathering place. Its Greenmarket offers produce from area farmers and every holiday season the Union Square Holiday Market is a festive experience. Jump on the subway below the square (take the 6 train to Spring Street) and head down to SoHo. This is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, featuring an incredible variety of trendy boutiques, great art galleries and stylish cafes. In addition, there is some wonderful architecture and still a few cobblestone streets left. With its avant-garde atmosphere, SoHo is one of the hippest places in the city.
For a genuine New York experience, hail one of its infamous taxi cabs and head to Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan. No one will ever forget the morning of September 11, 2001 when a terrorist attack brought down The Twin Towers and took away thousands of innocent lives. The 9/11 Memorial which honors the lives of those lost occupies several acres at The World Trade Center and serves as a tribute to the past and hope for the future. The names of every victim are inscribed around the twin memorial pools. Now standing is the Freedom Tower, the largest building in America towering at 1,776 feet.
For the history buffs like myself, take the ferry from the Southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park for a tour of Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Presented to the United States in 1886 as a gift from France (merci) and standing 151 feet high, the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom and democracy. Between 1892 and 1924 approximately 12 million men, women and children first set foot on American soil at the Ellis Island federal immigration facility. In 1990 it reopened as the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which is divided into four major exhibit areas with numerous galleries containing artifacts, photographs and recorded oral histories. The centerpiece of the museum is the Great Hall. At the American Family Immigration Center you can search the records for your own ancestors and outside is the American Immigrant Wall of Honor, which has the names of more than 600,000 immigrant Americans against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline and Lady Liberty. Staying on the water, two other options are the Circle Line Cruise and the Staten Island Ferry. The full island cruise circumnavigates Manhattan island and takes about three hours. You really do get to see a lot in a short amount of time. The other option is the Staten Island Ferry out of Battery Park. It is free and you get fantastic views of Lower Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island during the thirty minute ride across New York Harbor.
If you prefer staying off your feet when returning to land on Manhattan, Gray Line Sightseeing runs several hop on - hop off double decker bus tours. It's another great way to see a lot of the sights while not exhausting yourself. On the other hand, if you're up for a walk get yourself over to explore the East Village and the Lower East Side. There's a cool artistic vibe in the East Village around Tompkins Square Park and along St Marks Place. The Lower East Side (LES) has a rad nightlife scene, especially around Orchard, Ludlow and Rivington Streets. Another essential New York experience is to walk across its most famous bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge. It connects the island of Manhattan to the borough of Brooklyn. Throughout Brooklyn you'll find a distinct culture that features some of New York's most creative restaurants, galleries and activities. Check out the hip vibe in Williamsburg (Rough Trade on 9th Street is a great independent record store) or view the beautiful brownstones in Park Slope.
I have saved the best for last and would now like to discuss my favorite museums in New York. Let's start with the largest art museum in the Western Hemisphere and one of the best in the world - The Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). Located on 5th Avenue (take the 4,5,6 train to 86th Street), it has more than two million works of art representing five thousand years of history. Plan to spend at least half a day exploring the colossal museum; taking a tour with a staff curator can save you time and show you some of the collection's hidden gems. Do not miss the following paintings: Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze and Wheat Field with Cypresses by Vincent van Gogh. Other highlights include the sculpture Perseus with the Head of Medusa and the wall tapestry The Lamentation. One of the most popular destinations in the museum is the Temple of Dendur. Dating back circa 15 BC, the temple is located in a large atrium with a moatlike pool of water to represent its original location near the river Nile in Egypt. Before leaving, check out the American Wing for one of the best collections of American art in the country. Just up the street on 5th Ave is the spectacular Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, this landmark is renowned as much for its famous architecture as for its marvelous collection of art. Opened in 1959, the Guggenheim is acclaimed as one of the greatest buildings of the twentieth century. Inside, under a 92 foot high glass dome, a ramp spirals down past the artworks of Picasso, Chagall and Matisse. Staying on 5th Ave, head south to E 70th Street and the Frick Collection. Housed in Henry Clay Frick's former New York residence, this lovely museum displays masterpieces by Manet, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Next, cross Central Park to the West Side of Manhattan and arrive at the American Museum of Natural History at W 79th Street. The largest natural history museum in the world is also one of the most impressive sights in New York. It holds more than thirty million artifacts from the land, sea and outer space. From dinosaur and mammal fossils to reptiles, primates and ocean life, this place has something for everyone. Be sure to see the African Mammals gallery and the 94 foot model of a blue whale that is suspended from the ceiling. On your way out pass by the statue of the man responsible for it all, Theodore Roosevelt. I highly recommend a visit to the adjoining Rose Center for Earth and Space / Hayden Planetarium - the Space Theater displays a super realistic view of the planets, star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. The map of the cosmos, known as the Digital Universe Atlas is far out. From there, make your way down to W 53rd Street and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Lines are usually long so purchase tickets online before you arrive. There are many famous works here and some of my favorites include: Monet's Water Lilies, Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, van Gogh's Starry Night, Dali's The Persistence of Memory, Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl, Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans and Pollock's One, Number 31, 1950. Finally, head down to the new Whitney Museum of American Art (the Whitney) on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District (end of the High Line). Opened in 2015, this airy new building features greatly expanded galleries and balconies with excellent views.
WHERE TO EAT
Food, food, food - New York literally has hundreds of great places to eat and drink. With its melting pot of nationalities and cultures, along with world class chefs - you can just about find anything and everything. My list could be longer than a five year old's Christmas Wish List - so only the 'king of the hill, top of the heap' will be considered.
I must begin with my favorite restaurant. Every time I visit NYC I head to Blue Ribbon Brasserie on Sullivan Street. Open until 4am, this SoHo hot spot has a top notch raw bar and an exciting, eclectic menu. Must haves are the beef marrow with oxtail marmalade and the fried chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens. Other choice selections include the pu pu platter, pierogies, matzoh ball soup and the roasted duck club sandwich. Blue Ribbon also has a dynamite sushi joint just down the street. Try the Blue Ribbon Roll with your chilled sake. Chef Mario Batali has several places in town, but my two favorites are Babbo and Lupa. Located on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, Babbo is an institution. With excellent homemade pastas and great wines, along with cool music - it's no wonder why reservations are difficult to book. If you get in try the ravioli filled with pureed peas, ricotta, fresh mint and spicy lamb sausage ragout. Lupa on Thompson Street is my go to spot for lunch. The prices are reasonable, the wines are delicious and the bucatini is the best. Nearby on MacDougal Street is Keith McNally's Minetta Tavern. Most people visit this cozy place in The Village for the celebrated Black Label burger, tasty meat with caramelized onions and cheese. You should also visit The Spotted Pig on W 11th Street. It's a chill neighborhood hangout with an English pub feel. The Roquefort cheeseburger is pretty darn good as are the delightful pints. I might as well finish off this burger trend and mention that no one should leave New York without trying a Shake Shack burger. Yes they are expanding outside the city, but nothing compares to the original location in Madison Square Park - next to the famous Flatiron Building. The fries are great, the shakes are greater and it's better than In N Out Burger (sorry LA). You probably would not think the best burger joint in the city would be off the lobby in a fancy hotel, but Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien Hotel on W 57th Street is just that. Hidden behind a red velvet curtain, this no thrills place serves up cheap and delicious, paper wrapped cheeseburgers.
Located deep in the belly of Grand Central Station, the Oyster Bar has been a worthy seafood destination since 1913. Not many things can top slurping down fresh chilled oysters with an ice cold beer. One thing that comes close is Peter Luger Steak House across the East River in Brooklyn - located on Broadway in Williamsburg, Make sure you bring a healthy appetite along with lots of cash as they do not take credit cards. The porterhouse is ridiculous and delicious. Staying in Brooklyn and not needing that much cash, I believe everyone needs to try a Nathan's Famous hot dog in Coney Island - it has been there since 1916. For those back in Manhattan, try DBGB Kitchen & Bar on the Lower East Side. Chef Daniel Boulud's hip gastropub serves French and German inspired pub fare. The name is a nod to the late great legendary rock club CBGB that was located on the Bowery. Try the variety of scrumptious sausages. Another popular spot is Danny Meyer's Gramercy Tavern on E 20th Street. Always a favorite, the food and hospitality is above and beyond, while the craft beers and cocktails are outstanding.
For great pizza go to Joe's Pizza on Carmine Street in the West Village. For tasty meatballs head to Stanton Street on the LES. The Meatball Shop is NYC's first full service meatball restaurant. Choose beef, pork, chicken, veggie or "special" and devour them as is or on a hero roll. Make sure to save room for the yummy ice cream cookie sandwiches. For the best ramen noodles in town make your way over to Ippudo on 4th Avenue in the East Village. There's always a crowd and most of the time you'll have to wait, but it is totally worth it. You must order the chicken wings and the pork buns. Another great spot is David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar on 1st Avenue in the East Village. The music is cool, the pork buns are addictive and the fried Korean style chicken is mouthwatering. Nearby on E 9th Street is the excellent Sushi Kai. This cozy East Village eatery serves high quality fish omakase style.
Now let's talk about two things that are very New York, bagels and delis. The classic spot for a bagel is Ess a Bagel on 3rd Avenue in Midtown. They are big and beautiful and do not need to be toasted because they won't do it. Another place is Sadelle's on W Broadway in SoHo, not far from Washington Square Park. The bagels are baked in a glass kitchen and come out piping hot at this vintage style establishment. Alrighty then, save the best for last? When discussing delis in New York only one place comes to my mind. That one place is the mecca of delis and it is Katz's Delicatessen on E Houston Street on the LES. Opened in 1888, this institution has been putting smiles (and pounds) on patrons for over a century. Grab a ticket, get in line and prepare yourself for the succulent hand carved corned beef / pastrami sandwich and crisp half sour pickles that await you. The soups and hot dogs are also delightful.
Time to discuss some destinations to wet your whistle and catch a show. The first place I usually stop in to is McSorley's Old Ale House on E 7th Street in the East Village. It is one of New York's oldest saloons and a must visit. Step up to the bar (don't slip on the sawdust) and choose either the light or dark ale. Be sure to order the crackers with cheese and raw onions. Another old classic is Ear Inn on Spring Street in SoHo. A great place to drink and be spooked, rumors are it's haunted by a ghost. For some cloak and dagger, go to PDT (Please Don't Tell) on St Marks Place in the East Village. It is attached to the equally impressive hot dog joint Crif Dogs and you enter through a phone booth. Destroy a dog then go enjoy a decent cocktail. (Le) Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village is a cool place to see and show and have some drinks. As far as music halls go, my favorite place to see a show has to be Bowery Ballroom. Located on Delancey Street on the LES, this Art Deco venue holds about five hundred and has a comfortable bar in the basement. Irving Plaza on Irving Place in Gramercy has a cool Gothic vibe with its red walls and chandeliers. If the main floor gets too crowded head to the bar upstairs. Finally, stop by the tiny Mercury Lounge on E Houston Street on the LES. Once you get past the crowded front bar to the stage you will be rewarded with what might be the best sound quality space in Metropolis.
WHERE TO STAY
I think it's safe to say New York is a big town, really big. With so many places to choose from in several different locations, it can sometimes be overwhelming. In my opinion it comes down to personal preference and what you plan to see and do. Some prefer the Upper East Side and some like Midtown, close to all the action. I usually enjoy staying further south below 30th Street, within walking distance to a subway stop. Two hotels that continue to impress me in the city that never sleeps are Hotel Giraffe and Crosby Street Hotel.
Hotel Giraffe is located on Park Avenue S in the Flatiron District. This stylish Art Deco property provides friendly service along with generous rooms that come with private balconies overlooking Park Avenue. The beds are super comfortable, breakfast and WiFi are on the house and the rooftop garden bar is great for drinks during the warmer months. The nearest subway station is just two blocks away at 28th Street.
Crosby Street Hotel is on Crosby Street in SoHo. It has an excellent lobby with the Crosby Bar on one side and the guest only lounge on the other. The bar has oak wood floors and an impressive cocktail menu while the lounge has some seriously cushy couches. The rooms are spacious and colorful, each with a different artsy design. What sets them apart are the warehouse style, floor to ceiling windows that look out toward Soho. You are not far from either the Spring Street or Prince Street subway stops.
I'd like to conclude with a few lines from the Frank Sinatra song that is played over the PA system at Yankee Stadium in The Bronx every time the home team wins a ballgame. "If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere, It's up to you, New York, New York."