It’s summer and you’re looking to do a day trip to New York City, one of the top tourist destinations in the world and also my backyard. You’ve already done the biggies: Statue of Liberty, a Broadway show, Times Square, but what’s New York City really like once you start mingling with the locals? Starting from uptown to downtown, allow me.
Native New York
Grab breakfast the way I used to before heading into the office with a buttery bagel (or with cream cheese) from Bagel Express on 2nd Avenue between 94th and 93rd Streets. The bagel selection lines the back wall and you’ll get a true taste of how New Yorkers start their day as you stand in a long line that goes out to the construction work zone while the city builds the new 2nd Avenue subway line. You’ll hear every language spoken and the wait is long enough that you may become fluent in a new language by the time your order is hot in your hand. There is a rainbow of cream cheese spreads options, from vegetable to strawberry. The wait is long, the service is ok, the coffee often tepid…and the bagels are out of this world. You’ll spend about $3 and won’t need another bite until lunch. There’s also the more famous Murray’s Bagels, but I like Bagel Express because it’s a neighborhood dive that is as authentic as it gets.
Knowledgeable New York
Not far from Bagel Express is a strip of museums big and small; 10 museums along Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 105th Streets that have been officially designated by New York City as Museum Mile. The museums typically open around 10 am, so walk off that caloric bagel into the Guggenheim Museum or the Metropolitan Museum of Art or Neue Galerie of New York, which has a fantastic exhibit about Gustav Klimt running throughout the summer. Many of the museums are closed on Mondays so time your bagel and visit for later in the week. The Guggenheim has a new exhibit featuring the collection of art lover Justin Thannhauser who bought multiple 20th century masterpieces, including (in alphabetical order) Cezanne, Gauguin, Manet, Monet, Picasso, Pissaro, Renoir and Van Gogh. I was at the Metropolitan Museum of New York a few weeks ago where I enjoyed the fantastic Egyptian exhibit. If you get hungry hoofing it around the cavernous Met, there are plenty of iconic New York hot dog and pretzel carts hovering around those grand front steps, but if you’re willing to hold out for a pinkilicious lunch downtown, weather the stomach growls and keep your eyes on the prize. If you’re in town the evening of Tuesday, June 12, skip admission and come back at 6 pm when Museum Mile opens its doors for free thanks to the Museum Mile Festival.
Natural New York
Who says New York is botanically challenged? Ok, maybe a good chunk of New York’s greenery is confined to a landscaped rectangle in the middle of the city, but there are also beautiful gardens high above. Where, you ask? From Museum Mile, grab a crosstown bus to the Upper West Side to see the lovely Lotus Garden 20 feet above West 97th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. This crosstown adventure will give you bragging rights as to how you managed to get from the East Side to the West Side especially if you hit all the green lights and get across the width of Manhattan in under 15 minutes (which I did once cruising 52nd street). The Lotus Garden is one-sixth of an acre community garden maintained by residents, an urban oasis open free to the public every Sunday from 1 to 4 pm, April through November. Visitors get a real appreciation of how to garden without the earth directly beneath your feet, and all are welcome to tip toe through the tulips, just don’t pick anything. A lovely, quiet respite above the din of the concrete jungle.
Nifty New York
Ok, by now you must be starving. You’ve taken in art, crossed town, and walked through an elevated Eden. Time for lunch! True, you could take in a slice or two of pizza anywhere (remember to fold your slice if you do), and claim yourself to have enjoyed a true taste of the Big Apple, but for a slightly different experience, hop the 1, 2 or 3 subway train to the West Village and make your way to Sweetie Pie on Greenwich Avenue between Christopher Street and 10th Avenue. With hot pink seats, a mirrored ceiling, and lollipops the size of taxi wheels, Sweetie Pie delivers on all things girlie, glittery and giddy, but don’t think for a moment it’s a hot spot for the ladies who lunch crowd. This is Greenwich Village, after all, so grab your pink boa, grab a seat and grab some pink lemonade as you mull over the menu. I strongly recommend the surprisingly good fish –n- chips. If you get a chance to sit in one of the giant gilded bird cages by the window, please do. It’s a fantastic perch for people-watching.
Natty New York
Keeping with our trek towards downtown, hop the subway to Brooklyn, New York’s coolest borough, and the site of a cultural and gastronomical renaissance with craft breweries sprouting up like daisies. The mother hen of this new flock of breweries is Brooklyn Brewery, which has sat in the vibrant Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods since 1988. Brewmaster Garrett Oliver has been telling people how to pair beer with cheese long before it became trendy, and nearly a quarter century later, the lines for Brooklyn Brewery’s beer tours attract residents and tourists, and go down the block. The brewery offers guides all week now, so come thirsty and make sure you remember how to get back to your hotel. Reservations are not necessary, and tours run from noon to 8 pm.
Entrepreneurial New York
Looking for that perfect party frock? What about a chic tote? Look no further than Himane designs where every discarded item is magically reincarnated into haute couture. That cute cocktail dress? Someone’s old umbrella. That funky button on a shirt? Could be a turkey bone from a Thanksgiving dinner or perhaps an old coffee filter, depending on what was in the garbage. Based in Prospect Park, and with a new shop opening up in the other hip Brooklyn neighborhood Dumbo, Haitian designer Catherine Edouard Charlot jokes she is a “junkie” because whatever she finds on the street or in a garbage can, she sees amazing possibilities. And her clients, which include eco-conscious individuals across the country, are willing to pay for custom-made upcycled fashion. You can buy her designs online while she prepares for her move to Dumbo. Meanwhile, her current studio is filled with a rainbow of spools, hundreds of umbrellas, including vintage umbrellas from the 1950s, as well as many other materials waiting to be cleaned, dissected and transformed into raincoats, cocktail party dresses and totes. Charlot even takes tents used to shield displaced Haitians after the 2010 earthquake and reinvents them into dapper bags; proceeds from the sales go toward rebuilding Haiti. I bought a gorgeous green tote that once had a former life as an umbrella. It accompanies me everywhere now, from the airport to the town pool.
Nectarous New York
The Brooklyn Flea is a huge flea market with four locations in Brooklyn, including the Smorgasburg market, which happens every Saturday on the Williamsburg waterfront between North 6th and North 7th Street on the East River. More than 75 vendors sell a cornucopia of packaged and prepared foods from 11 am to 6 pm. It’s the perfect spot to grab what you need for a nighttime picnic. Buttermilk Channel is a new Brooklyn restaurant in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood that just this month announced its arrival to the Smorgasburg Flea; stop by the stand and get some its famous buttermilk chicken and waffles to go. Want some sides just in case? Try the maple and bacon roasted almonds and homemade pickles. Take your picnic and head to Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 1, Harbor View Lawn in Dumbo and enjoy your delectable chicken and waffles with a dreamy view of the famous Brooklyn Bridge. Once the sun disappears, it’s show time! Free movies are shown every Thursday beginning July 7 through September. Lawn seating is limited, so claim a spot on the ground as soon as you can.
And that, my friends, is your day in New York. Exhausted? We’re the city that never sleeps, so if you’ve got the energy to dance til dawn, try Webster Hall, back in Manhattan on East 11th Street. Although it sounds like a library from an elementary school, it’s actually New York City’s biggest nightclub. Besides, you can sleep on the bus, train or plane ride home the following morning. Come on back when you’re up for doing it all over again.