A month ago I returned from my first, three-week jaunt to New York, a city I’ve been dreaming about since childhood. Recently, a friend whose sister is traveling there soon asked me if I could recommend some sights to see in the city that never sleeps. What follows are my favourite neighbourhoods, shops, restaurants and tourist attractions.
I stayed on the Upper East Side on 82nd Street between 1st and York Avenues in what can also pass for Yorkville. I wanted to be in a safe, central location that I knew well from pop culture (Gossip Girl, I’m looking at you). It’s only five or so blocks from Central Park, where I jogged to most mornings.
I also loved Chelsea, and the East and Greenwich Villages. They’ve got much more of a European or even Melbournian vibe than some other parts of Manhattan and there are plenty of unique, vintage stores that won’t necessarily break the bank. Next time I visit the island I want to stay in one of those neighbourhoods.
View from the Highline.
One attraction that will take you through Chelsea, the Meatpacking District and drop you off in the West Village is the Highline park, a repurposed walking track on an old freight train line.
You can’t go to the Big Apple and not see a Broadway show. I had my heart set on Wicked, Book of Mormon, Matilda, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark and Sleep No More, all of which I was lucky enough to see. Broadway lotteries are the way to go if you don’t want to spend exorbitant amounts of money for tickets to the hottest shows. And while hundreds of people can enter their name into the lottery on any given night (Broadway goes dark on Mondays and there are matinee performances in addition to evening ones on weekends), take it from me: it’s easier than it may initially seem. On our first try, my friend April and I won tickets to Matilda, followed by Wicked a few tries later, and Book of Mormon after four entries, the most amount of times we had to enter before we won tickets. You still have to pay if you win the lottery, but at $32 versus $200+, it’s a no brainer. Having spent three weeks in New York, we had ample nights to enter, but we managed to see everything within a week and a half! Our failsafe system saw April and I splitting up and putting one entry for each show we wanted to see; when we’d seen everything except Book of Mormon, we put two entries in the barrel to up our odds. Lotteries open two and a half hours before curtain, and are drawn two hours before curtain; that means you need to get to the theatre between 4:30 and 5pm for a 7pm show, for example, put your name in the barrel, and be present for the drawing from 5pm. Some theatres take credit cards for payment of lottery tickets, but it’s best to have cash just in case, along with photo ID. If you’re splitting up to enter multiple lotteries like us, it’s best to stay in contact via phone so you don’t end up winning multiple shows! Find out more about lotteries here.*
Souvenirs from Sleep No More.
Sleep No More is not your typical Broadway fare. Instead of sitting down to watch a performance on a stage, Sleep No More takes place at the McKittrick Hotel, a fictional hotel spanning six floors of a warehouse in Chelsea. Attendees wear masks and are sworn to silence upon entering, while the cast members are differentiated by being maskless. The audience is encouraged to split up from their parties and explore, touching sets and props as they follow the actors around the hotel in an attempt to piece together the storyline, based on Macbeth and Hitchcock, amongst others. It is a very popular show not for the faint hearted but for theatre-goers interested in something different. Tickets aren’t always available, but my friend Marilyn and I managed to get tickets for about $80 a few days beforehand via the show’s website.
To be honest, my trip to New York wasn’t a gastronomical one. I have a pretty ordinary palate, so reliably Western chains were my eating-place of choice. I did find a wickedly good Mexican restaurant just near my apartment on the Upper East Side: Cascabel Taqueria. (They also have a venue on the Upper West Side.) If you ever have the pleasure of eating there, I recommend the chorizo burrito served with sweet potato fries. I can’t speak of anything else ’cause that was the only thing I ordered during the four times I ate there!
The Heavenly Rest Stop café at the Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue in the centre of Museum Mile does lovely cakes and sandwiches at a reasonable price.
In terms of coffee, I never really found anything of the calibre of Aussie caffeine but Starbucks is a fairly reliable source. I frequented a store on the Upper East Side on 81st Street and 2nd Avenue.
The Meatball Shop has locations all over Manhattan and one in Brooklyn that’re worth checking out.
Another chain for lunch or snacks is Au Bon Pain, which does really nice soups and salads.
My main motivation in New York wasn’t to shop, but having said that I do have some recommendations. The Strand bookstore in the East Village is a book lovers’ heaven and somewhere I definitely wanted to visit. I managed to get $100 worth of rare and out of print books I’d been salivating over for years on my second day. This also meant I had to carry them around for the next four weeks… If you do have some hard-to-find titles on your list, I suggest you scout those first as many new releases you can purchase at home. Bluestockings Books is a feminist and intersectional bookstore on the Lower East Side where I got a book by Jessica Valenti and a “Feminist Killjoy” necklace that’s worth checking out, as is Housingworks Bookstore and Café in NoLiTa.
Bond No. 9 perfumery in NoHo is another place I spent up big. If you’re looking for a personalised perfume experience different from your typical celebrity and designer scents, Bond No. 9 is Mecca. I spent about an hour being catered to by the Bond Street store manager Jeanette, who hooked me up with three scents—Manhattan, Scent of Peace and Highline—after sampling possibly the whole collection! The cool thing about Bond No. 9 is that the scents are inspired by New York, they’re vegan and their bottles are like artwork.
Not too far away is Stella Dallas vintage, in Greenwich Village. I’d been to a few other vintage stores whose prices were astronomical, but Stella Dallas has a superb range of items on the dressier side for under or around $100. I was umming and ahhing over a turquoise beaded top for around $50, a midnight blue, long-sleeved beaded dress that was reminiscent of something Nicole Richie would wear for about $80 or $90 and don’t even get me started on their ample selection of skirts and sweaters. They also have stores in Brooklyn if you’re in the area.
I visited most museums in Manhattan, including the Museum of Natural History, the Jewish Museum and the Biblical Museum. The ones I recommend, however, are more on the artsy side of things. You could spend days in the Met and not see everything, and the Whitney and MoMA were standouts also. It’s worth checking out the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s website to see what’s on when you’re in town as the two that I saw, RetroSpective and the Queer History of Fashion, were some of the best exhibitions I’ve attended. The Museum of the City of New York was stellar and really gives you a taste of NYC life. The Superstorm Sandy photographic exhibition is particularly affecting.
What I Missed Out On But Will Be Ticking Off My List Next Time…
Two things I didn’t manage to fit in were New York City’s last remaining lighthouse, Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse in Fort Washington Park and the Elevator Shaft museum on Cortland Alley in Lower Manhattan. Both are free of charge, and the museum is open weekends but is available to view through windows at all other times.
In Central Park on my birthday.
If you’ve been to NYC, what else do you think should be included on this list?
*Edited to reflect that Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark has finished on Broadway as of Saturday 4th January, 2014.