“What are your favorite places in NY? I made a vow to do one “touristy thing” each week this summer, but I also have my appreciation for those little, unheard-of places.”
I was just talking to somebody the other day about the difference between living in New York and visiting New York, a conversation which stemmed from my often talked about general disliking of Times Square during the day…Particularly in summer…It’s ACTUALLY like being stuck stationary in a car while a herd of 8,000 cows takes three hours to cross the road. It’s what I imagine Hell to be like. Hell, with Elmo, Spiderman, and Buzz Light-year. Except It’s not really Elmo, Spiderman, and Buzz Light-year, but rather sweaty people dressed as Elmo, Spiderman, and Buzz Light-year trying to take five bucks from you for a picture.
Seriously. It’s my personal Hell. I’ll admit (reluctantly) that there IS something magical about Times Square at night when everything is lit up and the temperature drops below 80 degrees.
I have a sincere appreciation for the tourist attractions of New York City. Seeing the city from the top of the Rainbow Room, Rockefeller Center, or the Empire State Building WILL take your breath away. I’ve never felt smaller. You’ll see this grand skyline before you and wonder how you ever thought you mattered. I’ve been in the Financial District countless times for client meetings, and every time I know I’m going to be in the area, I’ll arrive 20 minutes early so I can take a walk by St Paul’s Chapel just next to Ground Zero. Not once have I stood outside of that building and not cried. And every time I pass the Flat Iron building, I stop in my tracks and look up. I’ve waited in line at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park at least ten times.
There is something to be said for the parts of New York that are exposed to the every day tourists. There is also something to be said for allowing yourself to feel like an every day tourist, even in the town you’re living in.
I truly fell in love with New York (A feeling that has taken a long time to grow deep inside of me. You may remember a time when I thought that I hated New York) because there are so many parts of this city that go unnoticed by people who don’t take the time to discover them. There are vulnerable parts of this city that whisper so quietly, you wouldn’t know they were there if you were too busy following Googlemap directions on your phone.
I wouldn’t necessarily say ALL of these places are “hole-in-the-wall”, or “off the beaten path”. but I would say that I discovered them through nights spent talking with good friends for five hours in the company of candle light, made momentous life discoveries, changed career paths, poured my heart out, and have been forever changed by some of them. They are places I have laughed so hard I’ve almost spit my drink out, places I’ve had tipsy conversations, places I’ve danced, places I’ve chowwed down at, places I’ve casually and often accidentally strolled through with my Nikon, and places I’ll keep going back to as long as I live in this city.
Pouring Ribbons – Between the bartenders wearing vintage vests and bowties and the swanky circular wooden tabletops, it would be a shame to miss out on this hidden gem of a bar in the East Village. (Though marked only by a small green awning, easy to physically miss, so keep your eyes peeled). I only recently discovered this place after it was recommended to me by a coworker. BONUS – One of the best Manhattans I’ve ever sipped on.
Smorgasburg/Brooklyn Flea – When all else fails in the spring/summer, Smorgasburg on a Saturday and the Brooklyn Flea Market on a Sunday are a few of my go-to spots. Located on Kent in Williamsurg, Smorgasburg is an outdoor flea market of sorts, where all of the best local vendors come and set up stands. I think I could actually eat ALL the food at Smorgasburg. I highly recommend Milktruck Grilled Cheese and S’more Bakery, where they actually TORCH your marshmallow. You can also stroll down to the park on the water where you’ll find beautiful waterfront views of the skyline!
Walk the Brooklyn Bridge: This hands down is my favorite thing to do with friends and family come to visit, and while it isn’t off the beaten path, it’s a path all on it’s own. The Brooklyn Bridge offers stunning views of the city, while also being an awesome outdoor option for exercise that never seems to get old. If my running route is feeling a little stale, once in a while I’ll jog the bridge for a refreshing change up. Just make sure to respect the bike lines so you don’t get run over! My favorite way to run / walk the bridge is to go from the City Hall side, and walk across Brooklyn to Dumbo.
Rocco’s – I grew up in the Boston area, and coming from a small town I’m a huge fan of family owned businesses. If you’ve been around for a while, you’ve probably heard me swoon over the Cannolis at Mikes Pasty in the Italian North End of Boston. Rocco’s is the Mike’s Pastry of New York. Skip the expensive cupcakes and take a trip to the West Village for a black & white cannoli or a slice of fruit topped cheesecake.
Odd Fellows Ice Cream Co – If you’re in Brooklyn and you haven’t stopped in Odd Fellows for two scoops, you’re simply not doing it right. With flavors like Miso Butterscotch Cherry, PBJ with Toast, Maple-Bacon Pecan, and Blueberry Buttermilk, you have NO excuse not to go.
Toby’s Estate Coffee – By far my favorite place to fuel up in the morning. I thrive in busy environments, and coffee shops are pretty much giant white noise machines. There’s something about the buzz of Toby’s, the big bright windows, the scattered about seating areas, the people coming and going, that I find both stirring and calming at the same time. Added bonus: Its Australian roots bring me back to the days of living down under. My only complaint is that there are no outlets, so bring a charged laptop!
Elsa – As you can probably tell, I sneaky mad love affair with the Lower East Side. Don’t tell Brooklyn. I’ve probably laughed the hardest I’ve ever laughed in Elsa, which I think says something about its intimate environment. Part of you wants to whisper to the person you’re sitting across from, yet its vibe is both comfortable and welcoming. Most noticeably, the Elsa bartenders are friendly, accommodating, and no strangers to five-hour-long catch-ups. Like a good friend, Elsa never rushes you out the door, even long after you’ve finished ordering.
Rue B – Located on Ave B, I highly recommend Rue B. If you’re a fan of Live Jazz music and huge portraits of your favorite classic actors and musicians (so a less tacky Hard Rock Café), check this place out. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was hanging picture of James Dean. It’s a great spot if you’re looking for somewhere casual, but not too all divey.
The High Line – I guess some people could consider this a little touristy, but I had no idea what The High Line was prior to living in New York. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, The High Line is an old elevated freight line turned walk through park/garden in the Meatpacking District. It’s a gorgeous one mile walk filled with parts of the old train tracks, along with sculptures, greenery, and art displays. Since it IS a path, I’m definitely hesitant to say it’s “off the beaten path” but still worth checking out!
Night Hawk Cinema – Without a doubt the coolest cinema I’ve ever been to. Situated in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, they serve specialty cocktails that go along with the movie you’re viewing. I most recently saw The Bling Ring at the Night Hawk, and the service was awesome. I was even more surprised that the servers were able to navigate up and down the dark aisles without falling over/blocking your view. It has a super laid back vibe and offers a great mix of new and old movies.
If you’re a New York City dweller like myself, or you’ve been here a handful of times to have hidden gems of your own, please feel free to share! Thanks, Kelly, for a fantastic question! I’m planning on doing another installment like this in a few months.