So you’re coming for the weekend? And you haven’t ever been, or maybe you’ve been just a few times. You want to eat, right? That’s probably the main reason you’re here. Maybe you want to visit some museums and see some unique neighborhoods? You probably want to catch a show, too. And see some only-in-New York things you can tell your friends about. And you’re obviously too cool for over-the-top touristy things. Then read on, dear traveler.
Check in to your hotel (drop your bags on your friend’s couch) and head to MoMA, which is free from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Fridays. If you’re staying fewer than 20 blocks away, walk. New York City’s main attraction is its unfettered energy. A brisk walk among the evening crowds will get you amped for the weekend. And yes, MoMA will be crowded on a free night, but it will still be totally manageable. The outdoor sculpture garden is nice way to enjoy art in warm weather (it’s called multi-tasking).
After MoMA, walk a few blocks south to Top of the Rock, one of the only super touristy activities I’ll be recommending. If you can catch it at just the right time, and it’s a nice day out, you’ll be treated to a jaw-dropping sunset.
For dinner, I’d recommend a New York classic–either pizza or a pastrami sandwich. For upscale-ish Neapolitan pizza, try Motorino, Co. or Keste. If you only have time for a slice, Joe’s and Bleecker Street Pizza, both in the West Village, are the best slice joints in the city.
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For a pastrami sandwich, go to Katz’s. As far as I’m concerned, there are no other options. Just go. Don’t get waiter service. Instead, stand at the counter and then seat yourself so you can instruct the pastrami slicer on which choice pieces you want (also, a $1 tip goes a long way).
Depending on where you are, grab a post-dinner gelato at either Il Laboratorio del Gelato (featuring standard flavors as well as a rotating roster of cooky standouts like beet and five different varieties of fig) or L’Arte del Gelato (I love classic pistachio). If you happen to be in the East Village post-Motorino, one of my favorite desserts in the city is the chocolate chip cookie-and-soft serve sandwich at Dessert Club, Chikalicious. The cookies are buttery, warm and gooey and the vanilla bean soft serve is divine.
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How about a post-dinner drink? If you’re into fancy cocktail, attempt to make a reservation at PDT at 3 p.m. day-of (I’ve tried this; it’s nearly impossible, but you could be luckier than I was!) or brave the door at Little Branch or Mayahuel. Or, if you just want to show up and not have it be a “thing”, try Elsa, The Summit Bar, Amor y Amargo, Pouring Ribbons or The Beagle (all in the East Village). Getting a nice drink before dinner may also be the way to go if you want a more relaxed vibe.
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There are still plenty of places to unwind if you wouldn’t fathom paying more than $7 for any kind of beverage. I’m not a dive bar person, but there’s just something about International Bar in the East Village, with its eccentric clientele and cheap-ass drinks. They also have a backyard garden to enjoy the newly warm weather. Blind Tiger Ale House, a West Village beer bar, is another great option, though it attracts a bit of a younger crowd.
And, since this is NYC, which means if you can dream it, you can do it, be sure to check out Marie’s Crisis if you’re a musicals junkie. This intimate piano bar is filled with a cadre of regulars who belt out Broadway B-sides. Don’t worry, they’ll get to Les Mis and Rent eventually, after they’re done with Gypsy and Annie Get Your Gun, that is.
How about dim sum for brunch? For a more traditional approach, head to Jing Fong. Get there early for the best selection. Or, for a slightly Americanized take, try Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Nom Wah’s egg roll is delicious and resembles a mini deep fried omelet. Also, the decor hasn’t changed much since the restaurant first opened in 1920.
After brunch, walk the High Line, an elevated track-turned-cultivated park that’s become a symbol of urban renewal. If you haven’t yet gotten your fill of modern art, make a pit-stop in the middle of the park at the Chelsea galleries, in the loft buildings between 23rd and 28th Streets, between 10th and 11th Avenues.
Grab a quick lunch or “linner” at Chelsea Market, the avenue-length gourmet food market on the ground floor of an office building between 15th and 16th Streets and 9th and 10th Avenues. There are endless options, but I always gravitate toward the lobster bisque in a bread bowl at newly expanded Lobster Place.
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You’ve earned a bit of down time. Relax, you’ve got a long night ahead of you. Or, if you’re feeling super energized by spring in the city (Liz Lemon: “I love New York in springtime!”), hop a subway to Central Park, especially if you’ve never seen it. It is really quite lovely this time of year. Take a stroll down The Mall toward Bethesda Terrace. Loop back around toward Conservatory Water, a small pond where you can navigate radio-powered boats, on the east side, or Sheep Meadow, a large lawn with skyscraper views, on the west.
If you’re going to a Broadway show, get dinner after. You don’t want to be rushed. How about a slice of pizza or a Gray’s Papaya dog as a snack? Instead of dinner beforehand, how about a drink? (Sensing a pattern here?) The Rum House, inside the historic Hotel Edison, and Russian Vodka Room are the antithesis of almost every other kitschy pub in Times Square. Both have pianos and the latter features $4 infused vodka shots (horseradish, garlic and dill, pineapple, just to name a few) from 4 to 7 p.m. daily. RVR’s wild mushroom and potatoes with sour cream can also hold you over until after the curtain drops.
As for what shows to see? I consulted a theater friend and she recommended the following Broadway productions: Matilda, Kinky Boots, Lucky Guy, Macbeth and Orphans. I saw Pippin and loved it. It’s high-energy fun with amazing feats of acrobatics and great acting and singing.
If you’re not going to a show, see some music. There’s always something at Village Vanguard or if you make reservations early enough, Jazz at Lincoln Center. If you want to see a touring band, pick up a Time Out to see who’s playing that night.
For dinner, head to a place with late-night buzz, like Blue Ribbon Brasserie. Their skate with cubed bacon and potatoes is one of the first gourmet meals I had in NYC, and I still remember it as one of my favorites. The kitchen is open until 4 a.m., so take your time getting there, and enjoy a real city-that-never-sleeps experience.
Or, make dinner the main event. Stand in line with expertly disheveled young things at Mission Chinese Food, opt for some homemade pasta and wood burning oven-duck at Perla, dig into spruced up Mexican at Empellón Cocina, or head to an NYC classic like Gramercy Tavern.
If you’re into coffee, take the morning to seek out some revelatory espresso. I’m no expert, but people love Ninth Street Espresso, Abraço, Blue Bottle Coffee and Café Grumpy. You also can’t leave without getting an authentic bagel. Depending on where you’re staying, Murray’s, Ess-a-Bagel (East Village location) and Absolute are all choice spots. Follow my tips for getting the best possible bagel. If smoked fish is your calling, a lox sandwich at Russ & Daughter’s is a must. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, a sable sandwich! Sidenote: Don’t judge me, but sometimes I’ll walk into the shop just to inhale all of that smoked fish goodness. Best smell on earth.
After breakfast, take a ride on the 4,5,6/N, R, Q to City Hall. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. Somehow it is still under construction (grrr), but remains one of the best walks in NYC, with lovely views of the harbor, the Lower Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
Take a stroll around ever-expanding Brooklyn Bridge Park, then head to Smorgasburg for lunch. It’s a Candyland of small-batch vendors making everything from gourmet s’mores to fried anchovies. There may be lines for certain items, but I can almost guarantee the wait will be worth it. Smorgasburg DUMBO routinely features upwards of 80 vendors (more for the Williamsburg location on Saturdays), so if you’re someone who suffers from anxiety induced by an abundance of choices, well, get over it.
Phew. That was pretty fun, right? We’ve enjoyed having you. Come back soon!