Wednesday, 20 May 2009

NY Tips and Advice

Since I’ve been living in the UK, people who are visiting NY often ask me for advice on where to go and what to do. Of course it totally depends on what you’re into and what kind of experience you’re looking for, as NY literally has everything and anything you can think of, and 40 versions of it. I usually try to tailor my advice to the interests of the person asking and how much time they have.

Over time, this has evolved into a pretty decent list of my favorite places to eat, drink, see art, bands and generally hang out in NY. This centers around Manhattan and Brooklyn because those were the areas I lived and worked and where I hung out. Of course there’s tons to do in all the other Boroughs, but I don’t know them well enough to recommend places.

So here's my NY advice. It’s not comprehensive and I’ll probably want to add to this over time, but if you’ve never been to NY and you’re looking for some tips, hope this helps!


In terms of Manhattan neighborhoods, the Lower East Side / Chinatown area is pretty happening. The East Village scene is quieter these days but there is some stuff here & there. Uptown is great for Central Park and museums and shopping.

I mostly hung out in Brooklyn – in Williamsburg and Greenpoint - the last few years I was living there. Williamsburg is super easy to get to on the subway, just take the L train to Bedford Ave. It's only 1 stop into Brooklyn from the 14th St & 1st Ave L train stop in the East Village.

Lower East Side (LES) – An easy way to get to the Lower East Side is the 2nd Avenue stop on the F train. Walk East down Houston until you get to Ludlow St, which you'll know because Katz's Deli is on the corner.

If you haven't eaten there, you should really go to Katz's Deli and get a pastrami sandwich on rye with mustard. They're pricey because it's famous but they're huge and SO GOOD. I was a vegetarian for 8 years and when I started eating meat again pretty much the first thing I did was I went straight to Katz’s and ate a pastrami sandwich. They’re really that good. Everything else at Katz’s is delicious as well, the matzoh balls are huge, the pickles are yummy, and you should definitely get some Dr. Brown’s soda to wash it all down!

Nearby Katz’s on Ludlow is Paladar – they have nice food for reasonable prices and good mojitos and pina coladas.

LES bars / clubs -- I recommend Motor City (at 127 Ludlow St) - This is where I used to have my monthly DJ night, Motor Inn. It's laid back and it's a great little rock n' roll bar. It gets really crowded on weekends and is usually a lot of fun.
Pianos is decent, the people in there can be a snobby and scenester though. I don’t love to hang there, but other people may like it and they do have good shows. Also decent for people watching hipsters in idiotic outfits. Arlene's Grocery has good shows sometimes (although unfortunately no more Punk Rock Karaoke), as does Cake Shop.

Bowery Ballroom is a big venue and always has good bands:

The Annex has a lot of parties: The crowd is a bit young though, but depending on the night, it’s worth checking out.

The Delancey is a cool bar and they often have good DJs and parties. The rooftop bar there is really nice, with trees and wooden benches to lounge on.

If you're out late in the LES and you've been drinking and you want really good greasy snack food, my favorite place to go is San Loco, which is a tex-mex place on Stanton St. between Essex and Ludlow. All the food there is good, from the nachos to the burritos and tacos. Mmmm. I miss San Loco. They have Queso Loco tacos which consist of a regular hardshell taco (filled with the usual fillings) which is then wrapped in a soft tortilla layered in melted cheese. So it’s like a meat - taco –cheese – taco layer effect. It’s pretty awesome. And the nachos are all kinds of melted cheesy fattening happiness. Drunk food score = 100. And they serve margaritas.

If you want a nice sit down style dinner in the area, then you should go to 'inoteca, which is an amazing Italian spot that has tapas-style food and a great wine list. The truffle egg toast is to die for and basically everything there is super yummy. It's at: 98 Rivington Street (between Ludlow St & Orchard St).

Congee Village (on the outskirts of China Town, closer to LES) is great, just go for the basics – all the different variations of congee are delicious.

In China Town - Wo Hop is my favorite Chinese food restaurant. It's super cheap and no frills, and it's really good & filling. Just make sure you go to the one that is downstairs, that's the famous one. My family’s been going there since I was a kid. It’s actually where I learned to use chopsticks! The waiters used to tie rubber bands around the chopsticks and show me how to use them. It still looks exactly the same as it was when I was little and NY was all kinds of crazy.

Meatpacking District - This used to be grungy and cool and full of transvestite hookers but now it's all cleaned up and fancy with a whole bunch of fashion stores and boutique hotels. I wouldn't recommend much here anymore but they do have good shopping, there's an Alexander McQueen store there (he's one of my favorite designers).

East Village – If you want to go see what happened to CBGB's - there's a John Varvatos store there now. It's worth going if you've ever been to CB's (or even if you haven't) just because it's so weird to see it. It's partly a tribute to CBGBs and partly a clothing store. It's filled with gold records and music equipment and pictures and clothing. They still have some of the walls with all the posters and graffiti visible, it’s a strange mix of the old space and new.

Beauty Bar - We used to hang there a lot, usually fun. I’d check to see what music they have there, but it’s usually a punk / rockabilly kind of crowd.

Lit Lounge – It was great for like 2 months when it first opened, then it got really fashionista and cheesy and horrible. I’m not sure what it's like these days. They usually have DJs downstairs, so it might be worth peeking in. They also have a gallery attached to the bar called Fuse Gallery that’s had some cool exhibitions like HR Giger, Paul Booth, Mark Mothersbaugh, Juxtapoz stuff.

Grassroots Tavern - Great dive bar on St. Marks. Perfect place to just chill and have a cold beer and talk shit with your friends. Or just take a break from walking around for an hour.

St. Marks Place is the famous strip where all the punks and rockers used to hang out and the punk club Coney Island High used to be there. A lot of that stuff is gone now but it's still worth going to check out and see where it all used to be.
Trash in Vaudeville is a punk store on St Marks that has been there since the 70s and is very famous:
There's 2 stores, top & bottom.

KGB bar - Cool spot, they have good poetry readings there as well

Manitoba's – Cozy, chill punk bar owned by Dick Manitoba from the Dictators. My friend Chris bartends here.

McSorley's Old Ale House - classic old Irish bar, been around for ages, sawdust on the floor

Mona's - good local dive bar. They used to have cheap Guinness on Wednesdays but I’m not sure if they still do that.

Niagara - Used to be a cool place to hang out and see bands downstairs. Got a bit trendy but still decent (depending on the night I guess). They sometimes have good art exhibits downstairs.

Niagara is right next to Tompkin's Square Park which is where all the punks used to hang out (and me when I was a teenager) It's a famous park and always good for people watching.

Some info here:

There was a punk & skinhead vs. police riot here at some point which is pretty interesting to read about:

Pyramid Club - This place was way cool when I was a kid, but was pretty dead for a long time. Recently I heard that they still have some good nights, mostly a gay crowd.

Meatpacking District - APT had a good scene a few years ago, not sure what it's like now, but worth popping in for a drink.

The Tribeca Grand Hotel in the West Village has a great bar in the lobby and also they often have DJs in the downstairs club area.

Santos Party House on 100 Lafayette St. is a new spot that I haven’t been to but my friends have said its really cool. Every Friday Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest DJs there, so a good night to go.

Happy Ending in the Chinatown area - it's on 302 Broome St. I think their big night is Tuesdays, probably still a fun place to go. I used to go there a lot.

For parties, I would strongly recommend checking out this site: - This is my friend Andy Shaw's promotion company and he reps all the best current parties in the downtown scene.

The ones that he’s currently repping that I know are:

Tiswas - used to be a famous and great NY party, but it's been around a long time and I don't know how good it is these days.

Rated X - is run by Michael T and is a very gay-friendly party and always kind of wild and fun.

Nacotheque - is my good friend Amylu's party and is really great. From their
website: ‘Nacotheque is a dance party in NYC that highlights new and old, popular and obscure music from all over Latin America and Spain of rock n' roll, new wave, indie rock, baile-funk, nouveau-eighties, electropop, disco, cumbia, punk, and some hip-hop. The party happens every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month at Fontana's in the Lower East Side/Chinatown area.

Trash is another classic party that used to be lots of fun, no sure how it is nowadays but probably worth checking out.

Best to check out Andy's site for more details on the exact locations, cover prices, etc.

Also something to note - Thursday is probably the biggest night out in the city and the best night for going out. On Fri & Saturdays the 'bridge & tunnel' crowds come in so the regular scene usually avoids going out as much those nights. Often the best nights to go out are during the weekdays.

I’ve lived in different areas of Brooklyn and they each have their own cool thing going on, but I know the Williamsburg / Greenpoint area the best and I think it’s the best bet for someone to visit because everything is very accessible and there’s always lots of people out.

The best thing to do in Brooklyn is just bar hop and go to like 8 bars in one night, always super fun.

Here a list of my favorite bars - I'll just list the names, but you can get full descriptions and location info here:

Barcade - Has tons of old arcade games you can play, beer + arcade games = awesome

Bushwick Country Club - Rick loves this place. They have drinks like the Frozen Jim Beam and coke slushie, how could you not like it?

The Charleston - Chill place to hang and you get free pizza with every drink!

East River Bar - Kind of a rock bar, they often have bands play - it's hit or miss, could be really fun, could be crap, depends on the night

Enids - Classic local Greenpoint hangout, good food too

The Gutter - Bowling alley in Bklyn - It opened after I left but Rick and some friends have all been and say it's fun

Hope Lounge

Huckleberry Bar - This opened after I left, but heard they have good cocktails

K & M

Larry Lawrence - A bit hidden but if you can find the door it's a fun spot

Duff's - An awesome metal bar. We love this place!

The Levee - This is a really fun place, just a laid back southern-style bar, we used to hang here a lot. They have a pool table and games to play and good music

Knitting Factory – famous club that used to be one of my main hangouts in the city. They always have good shows and my friends worked there. Now they’ve moved to Williamsburg and I haven’t been to the new space and I also heard they replaced all the staff, but if it’s anything like what it used to be, it will be worth checking out

Music Hall of Williamsburg - This used to be a great venue called Northsix. They reopened it since I left and I've heard it's really good - bands play there all the time, so check the listings.

Pete's Candy Store - Fun place to just chill out, they have a nice outside area in the back and good mixed drinks

Radegast Hall & Biergarten - Great new spot - opened last year. It's a big German beer hall in the middle of Brooklyn!

Royal Oak - We used to hang here all the time, but I'm not sure what the crowd is like these days, probably still fun

Savalas - Great on the weekends, good music. They have fab frozen margaritas in the summer

Spuyten Duyvil - Great beer selection and snacks

Studio B - Lots of big parties and club stuff going on here, I'd check their website

Sweet Ups - Another local hang. This is where Rick and I first met - while both very drunk :)

Supreme Trading - We used to hang here all the time. Our friends used to bartend here but don't know anyone there anymore. Probably still fun though, the space is huge and they have bands play sometimes. They used to have the Warriors party there on Halloween, if they still do it and you’re in NY over Halloween, definitely check it out.

Trash bar - hang out here a lot, great dirty rock bar. This used to be Luxx where Larry T had Berliniamsburg

Turkey's Nest - Great dive bar, lots of the real Brooklyn locals hang out here and they can be a bit ornery so don't get in a fight with anyone here. Really cheap beer and pool.

Union Pool - One of the best bars in Brooklyn, used to hang out there all the time. Great on weekends. Usually packed – good crowd, great music. They also have cool events like the Kustom Kills & Hot-Rod Thrills Rumblers Car Show.

Other things to do outside Manhattan

These are a bit outside the city but if you're up for it, both of these are really great: the Bronx Zoo ( and the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (

Museums –

The Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art) is amazing and huge and has tons of good art. Leave at least a few hours to see it because it's a massive museum.
The MOMA ( is the Museum of Modern Art and was just completely re-designed. They usually have good new exhibits and the permanent collection alone is worth seeing.

The Museum of Natural History ( is my favorite museum and is really fun. The Rose Center / Hayden Planetarium is attached to the museum and they have really cool IMAX movies and movies about how the universe began and stuff like that in this giant domed planetarium. It's just basically super cool. Kids will love it.

Sightseeing / shopping:

If you want to go check out the Empire State Building, you could either just go to it and look around, or if the wait isn't too long, I think it is worth it to go to the top, just see how long the wait is 'cause you also don't want to waste half a day there.

Statue of Liberty – SO NOT worth going to the actual Island and going to the top. It takes forever, it's crowded and lame and when you get to the top, all you can see is this little dirty window that you have about 30 seconds to look out because everyone behind is pushing you. Huge waste of time and money. However. If you want to see the Statue of Liberty, the best way to do it, and this is especially cool at sunset, is to take the Staten Island ferry round-trip. The ferry is a commuter ferry and it's free ( It goes past the Statue of Liberty, and you get a really great view of both the Statue and the city skyline. It's very romantic and fun and you can go round-trip in about an hour. Totally better than doing the Statue tourist thing.

You can either go to Staten Island and walk around for a bit, or you could just turn around and go right back on the next ferry. Staten Island is mostly residential though so there's not a lot to see, but Rick said there's a cool Irish pub that when you get out of the ferry exit, you just keep walking straight up the road, and take the 1st left and you'll see the pub.

Ground Zero -- I think it's really kind of weird and fucked up that now it's a tourist attraction. I wouldn't recommend wasting time going to see it, as there's not much else down there to see and it's honestly pretty depressing. There's so much better stuff to do in NY.

But if you decide to go down there, make sure to check out Century 21, which is an amazing store right next to Ground Zero. It's on 22 Cortlandt St between Church & Broadway). They offer all kinds of designer stuff at really discounted rates and the deals there are amazing. The downside is you have to brave a lot of insane pushy NY shoppers but if you can deal with it, it's worth a visit.

Central Park – Always worth a walk through Central Park. A stroll through the park in the late afternoon / evening is just a classic NY thing to do. It's not dangerous but I wouldn't go there too late because then it gets sketchy. Probably best to go between 5 – 7pm. The light is nice and the park is quiet and pretty. People take the coach rides on horses through the Park sometimes, which is nice but it's a little expensive. Stuff to look at in the Park (you might want to look at a Park map for where these are because the park is big):

Strawberry Fields - this is a tribute to John Lennon and it's on the West side of the Park. It's a cool little spot, it has a mosaic in the floor that says IMAGINE. There's also an awesome bronze Alice in Wonderland statue of Alice sitting on a giant mushroom surrounded by all the animals from the book. It's so big you can climb up and sit in Alice's lap.

There's two lakes in the park (one is by the SouthEast entrance near the big uptown Apple store, which is on 767 5th Avenue) and they're both nice to go sit by. The Apple store itself is actually a cool thing to check out, it is a big glass cube coming out of the sidewalk, and you take a clear glass elevator down underground into the store. It's just kind of futuristic and cool looking.

Saks 5th Avenue (611 5th Avenue) / Macy's / Bloomingdale's (59th Street & Lexington Avenue) / Bergdorf Goodman's (754 5th Ave & 57th St) / Henri Bendel (712 5th Avenue near 56th Street) – We have some amazing department stores in NY. All of these are totally worth a visit, but just know that they are SUPER expensive, even with the exchange rate. Macy's is the most affordable of them all, and it is the largest store in the world, so always fun to go check out. I love spending hours on the weekends just window shopping at these stores, they are beautiful and have such yummy looking clothes and shoes and bags. Really anything on 5th Avenue is great for shopping.

St. Patrick's Cathedral (14 East 51st Street) – probably not as impressive after you've seen cathedrals in Europe, but it's a gorgeous church and it's very famous. It's free to go in and although I've seen even bigger ones since I've been to Europe, it's still my favourite church.

Rockefeller Center (between 47th and 50th Streets and 5th and 7th Avenues) – during Christmas, this is where they put the giant Xmas tree and they turn the open area below it into a skating rink. Just a classic tourist spot.

FAO Schwarz (767 5th Ave & 58th St) – Really cool and fun toy store with giant stuffed animals and just tons of awesome stuff. If you ever saw the movie Big, but the scene with Tom Hanks on a giant piano keyboard was filmed at this store.

Times Square – Just go and see it. It's a crazy big place with lots of neon. Other than that, it's a crowded, loud tourist trap, so just check it out and leave. Don't eat or drink anything there, the food is gross and the prices are so inflated it's insane. But definitely go and look at it.

Soho – The best place to actually go shopping. Soho is awesome, there's tons and tons of great stores, both chains and little boutiques, and there's also always a lot of people selling stuff on the streets, some of which is good quality for cheap prices.

If you get out at the Prince St. subway stop on the N/R or the Spring St. stop on the C/E train, those are both pretty much right in Soho and then you can walk around from there. There's a downtown Bloomingdale's there which is cool, and Sephora, and just tons of stores. On Broadway there's lots of shops where you can get great sneakers very cheap. They have every possible brand and colour you could ever want.
There's also so many nice shoe stores and clothing stores. Something to note that's a bit confusing though - there's two different streets down there called Broadway.

One is the main avenue, just called Broadway, which runs through the whole city. This is the one where there are a lot of sneaker stores in Soho. The other is a smaller street that only exists down in Soho called West Broadway. That also has a lot of good shopping, but just thought I'd mention that they are two different streets, which gets a lot of people confused. They aren't linked in any way, they just have similar names.


Here's some of my favorite places to eat. They range in price, but they're all worth it!

In Manhattan:

Katz's Deli - 205 E. Houston St at Ludlow - - Pastrami sandwiches!

S'Mac - 345 E. 12th St. between 1st & 2nd Ave. in the East Village. Specialises in Mac n' cheese - that's all they do, and they are so good at it!

San Loco - There's a couple locations, but the best one by far is on the LES at 111 Stanton St between Essex & Ludlow. The Williamsburg location is pretty good too.

Veselka - 2nd Avenue & 9th St in the East Village. Ukranian food - really good pierogies & blintzes, potato pancakes, goulash and kielbasa. Total comfort food and filling and not expensive either.

Sushi Samba - There's two locations, but the one I like better is on: 245 Park Ave South b/w 19th & 20th St. This is more on the pricey side, but it's a nice place for an evening meal. They mix sushi with Latin dishes like ceviche, or with mango and calamari and they have really good drinks. It gets super crowded on the weekends and sometimes you have to wait, so I would get there a bit early in the evening and maybe go on a weeknight.

Otto - Located at One Fifth Avenue, near 8th st. Otto is a cool mid-priced Italian food spot. It's owned by a famous chef called Mario Batali and they have really good pizzas there. My friends used to work there, so I spent a lot of time there and the food is generally pretty good. They also have a lot of good wines.

Casa Mono - 52 Irving Place - This is also a Mario Batali restaurant, but this one is more fancy and expensive. Rick and I ate there once though and it was SO good.

Momofuku Ssam - 207 2nd Ave. & 13th St - There's a couple of Momofuku restaurants, but the one called Momofuku Ssam is our favourite. They have these pork buns that are to die for. But really all the food there is good. I would go for lunch because it's a small place and it gets super crowded for dinner and can be uncomfortable. Better to relax for lunch.

Ben's - 209 W. 38th Street - Super classic NY Jewish deli food. The portions are huge and the food is great. Not too expensive, either, although it's way pricier than when I was a kid, but I guess everything is!

'inoteca - The Italian place on the LES I mentioned earlier - 98 Rivington St at Ludlow

Blue Ribbon - There's a bunch of Blue Ribbon restaurants and they're all supposed to be good, but we went to the Blue Ribbon Brasserie once and it was amazing. It is pretty expensive, but the food is incredible. It's in Soho at 97 Sullivan Street (bet. Spring and Prince streets)

Taisha - - 5 St. Marks Place b/w 2nd & 3rd Aves. A really good Japanese food joint in the East Village, on St. Marks Place. This place doesn't do sushi really, more yakitori style - like breaded & fried Japanese food on skewers.

I would definitely recommend going to Little Italy to walk around and have a cannoli. But I would never eat a meal in Little Italy – the food is gross, it's a total tourist trap. There's so much good Italian food in NY and none of it is actually in Little Italy! But they do have good desserts and also a good place for Irish coffee, or really any coffee with liquor in it, most places have a lot of spiked coffee options.

You should of course also eat as much NY pizza & bagels as you can! For bagels I would say H&H is the best, but really any place that is just a bagel place is probably good. Look for places that specialise in bagels, not just like a deli that also has bagels. Good pizza is pretty easy to find around the city, maybe just ask locally where you're staying for what's a good pizza spot in the neighbourhood. There's a new pizza place on 14th St. between 1st & 2nd Avenue called Artichoke that everyone was raving about when we were home. Rick got the Sicilian slice and said that was really good, and the Spinach one is also good.

In Williamsburg:

I'll list our favorite restaurants here and you can check out descriptions & location info at this site:

Teddy's - a pub with good brunch and hearty sandwiches and burgers.

Robertas - Our friends own this place and it's a little off the beaten path, but totally worth it, it's amazing. Great Italian food & brick oven pizza. Even the NY Times raves about it!

Anytime - good for really late night food - mac n' cheese, stuff like that.

Aurora - Really nice Italian food. Good for a date.

Black Betty - Good Mediterranean and not too expensive. Also a cool bar that has some good local bands on weekends.

Bonita - Good Mexican

Bozu - Japanese tapas, always nice and good drinks

DOC wine bar - nice for wine and little bites, really cozy

Diner - Good brunch, often super crowded with long lines but good people watching and food

Relish - Good diner food, good brunch, big portions

Egg - Great classic American-style breakfasts

Dokebi - Korean BBQ

Dumont - Good food, but lately it's gotten really expensive so might not be worth it

Le Barricou - French bistro - really nice food. We actually had our wedding reception here!

Marlow & Sons - Hard to describe, but good food

N. 6 - Good Italian

Roebling Tea Room - Cool spot, good teas and drinks

Samurai - Decent sushi for cheap

So that's all my NY advice for now. It's good to plot things on a map before you go, but NY is on a grid system so once you get the hang of it, it's pretty easy to get around. If you need to know how to get somewhere on the subway, I always use this site: It's really helpful for which train to take.

Some general advice - cops are pretty mean so just try not to get involved with them or piss them off. There's laws against drinking in the street or public transportation, so you can't drink alcohol outside at all, unless it's in the garden of a restaurant. In Manhattan always take yellow cabs. Those are the only cabs that are legit. Use the cab stands at the airport and wait for the yellow cabs- don't go with the random people who might approach you and say they're cheaper - they're pretty shady.

In Brooklyn you can use a car service, there's not as many yellow cabs there. But you should use services where they have a stand or someone has a number of a service they trust. Northside car service is the best one in Williamsburg and there's a stand right on Bedford Ave, which is the main street.

The subway is pretty safe and really easy to use, so I would suggest using the subway as much as you can, but cabs are also relatively affordable, so it's more up to your budget. Also, be warned that cabdrivers drive like maniacs! You can buy a Metrocard for the subway (which is just like an Oystercard in London), but you only swipe once - when you enter. It charges you the same flat rate no matter where you go. You don't need to swipe on exit.

I would recommend as much walking around and eating as possible! We have great museums, great food and great nightlife, but the best thing in NY to do is literally just walk around and people watch! People in NY are crazy and fun. Sometimes a bit rough (and always crazy) but that’s the best part! :)

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