The “I’d Actually Want This” NYC-Themed Gift Guide

I’m by no means a minimalist, but unnecessary tchotchkes do tend to make me anxious. I’d never buy an item without first imagining where in my home I’d place it. All of the below are gifts I either already own–and think you should own, too–or things I’d happily own. Each represents the city in a specific, unique way.

1. TWA vintage NYC poster: I’ve had a mild obsession with vintage airline posters recently, and this David Klein creation (from $26 for 16 x 20) is one of my favorites. The vibrant colors, the cubist reimagining of Times Square–the design is a work of art. Which is exactly why it’s part of MoMA’s collection, with prints sold at the MoMA Design Store.


David Klein: New York Fly TWA print; courtesy of MoMA Design Store

2. Good Morning Asshole mug: Okay, this mug ($14.95) from cheeky New York-based tableware purveyor Fishs Eddy isn’t explicitly NYC-themed, but it reads like something one New Yorker might say to another. We don’t mince words around here, and insults can actually be used affectionately. This mug is wishing you a good–versus bad–morning, right?  Give to friends or family members who need to be reminded they are, in fact, assholes before their first sip of caffeine. I’ll even forgive the missing comma.


courtesy of Fishs Eddy

3. Serenity Now clock: Seinfeld is the archetypal New York show. More so than its story arcs, the sitcom had an overarching NYC ethos–biting, nihilistic, sarcastic–that’s difficult to properly articulate. Channel your inner Frank Costanza (possibly the show’s funniest character) with this modern, attractive “serenity now” wall clock ($30), and hope to avoid Lloyd Braun’s “insanity later” fate.


courtesy of Society6

4. Juilliard T-shirt: When I was younger, a local college t-shirt or sweatshirt was one of my favorite souvenirs when I visited a new city. I used to focus on Ivys or the bigger state schools–Dartmouth, Berkeley–but apparel from small, niche institutions seems a bit more memorable. I adore this vintage-inspired T-shirt ($30) from NYC’s own Juilliard, the nation’s best performing arts conservatory.


courtesy of The Juilliard Store

5. Katz’s Delicatessen chocolate egg cream candle: Have you ever had a chocolate egg cream? If not, you’ll be shocked to learn there is, in fact, no egg and no cream. It’s actually a fizzy concoction of chocolate syrup and seltzer. Sounds strange, but I highly recommend it! The drink was, for a long time, a staple of NYC delis and soda shops. Get it in candle form ($28) from NYC pastrami kings Katz’s Delicatessen.


courtesy of UncommonGoods

6. Levain Bakery cookies: I have a dear friend who lives on the Upper West Side. Whenever she arrives for a party in Brooklyn, she brings cookies from Levain, a bakery in her neighborhood. Why? Because she’s smart. She knows the cookies are an NYC mainstay and that people are obsessed with them. Levain’s cookies are huge, gooey, under-baked and somehow stay fresh for days. People swoon over the chocolate chip, but I’m gaga over the chocolate with peanut butter chips. The 8-pack assortment ($49) is ideal for an NYC expat.


courtesy of Levain Bakery

7. The Light of New York book: There is a beautiful, moody quality to the ghostly black-and-white images of New York City in The Light of New York ($75, Assouline). Jean-Michel Berts captures a city at dawn, empty of its citizens and sparking with a just-under-the surface energy. My husband and I used it as a sign-in book at our wedding.


courtesy of Assouline

8. Hamilton cast recording: It may well be one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time, and you still don’t own it? I can speak for hours about my love of Hamilton, but you won’t understand until you listen (from $18.99). Set in New York City (“history is happenin’ in Manhattan, and we just happen to be, in the greatest city in the world, in the GREATEST CITY IN THE WORLD…”) this multi-genre-infused musical follows the dramatic rise and sudden fall of one of our more-overlooked founding fathers.


courtesy of Atlantic Records


We Came, We Saw, We Waited in Line*


The line for Ample Hills Creamery, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, April 2013

If you’ve been to New York City lately, you might have noticed a disconcerting sight reminiscent of Soviet Russia. There are lines for food–lots of them: block-long lines for kooky, Insta-ready milkshakes; lines for Play-Doh-esque rainbow bagels; lines for pizza; more lines for pizza. Wait times for well-reviewed items have been a mainstay for years–think Di Fara, Shake Shack and Katz’s–proving that we want to be seen as  “connoisseurs among connoisseurs,” according to New York magazine. Now, however, there seem to be altogether separate motives for wasting, I mean waiting three hours for a milkshake made from supermarket Blue Bunny ice cream and Chips Ahoy! cookies. (But if that’s your thing, you do you.)

I think the explanation is four-fold. First, photo-sharing apps like Instagram have given us the newfound ability to tempt family and friends, in real-time, with photographic evidence of our food adventures. Who cares if the taste was mediocre? The pictures are beautiful! And on that note, which memory is more likely to last–the taste-bud related one or the visual one, which you can revisit any time?

Second, there’s a shared-experience element to the misery of waiting hours for something. You and your fellow line waiters survived that misery together. “Can you believe we did that?” you’ll giddily say to one another once the whole thing is over. “I waited five hours in the cold rain,” you’ll recount to family and friends. The subtext here is: I’m determined and I’m patient and I don’t give up easily. And aren’t those prized virtues in a world where human attention spans have fallen to an average of eight seconds thanks to smartphones?

Third, everyone seems to have FOMO, as the kids call it; the acronym stands for “fear of missing out.” The line itself is reason enough to stand in it, the thinking goes. Why would people wait if there was nothing worth waiting for? My mother used to tell me about an oft-repeated directive in the U.S.S.R.: If you see a line, join first, then ask about what’s at the other end. In a country with constant scarcity, this was smart. In modern-day NYC, it doesn’t make much sense.

Fourth, it’s about making the most of every vacation or outing. Who knows when you’ll be here again? This sentiment points to another acronym, YOLO, “you only live once.” (Is now a good time to start a countdown to a dystopian future where all our communication will be reduced to acronyms?)

I try not to judge all the those waiting in interminable lines around the city. They’re enjoying themselves, I’m sure, and they’re creating lasting memories. I just hope those hours-long waits don’t keep them from experiencing some of the city’s true gems.

My rules for waiting:

-Never in bad weather

-Almost never for brunch

-Not more than 30 minutes or so

-Maybe for the taste, never for the photo, sometimes for the view (ahem, Grand Banks)

-Long restaurant waits are fine if I can leave, and they’ll call or text me when my table’s ready.

What I’ll wait for:

Ample Hills Creamery ice cream. The line moves fairly fast and it’s usually warm out when I crave ice cream.

Katz’s Delicatessen. It’s an institution–a delicious, delectable institution.

Totonno’s. It’s worth a wait, but I’m still only up for it if the line is shorter than four or so parties.

Absolute Bagels. The line is rarely longer than about 15 minutes, and the bagels, my god.

Clinton Street Baking Company. Only during Pancake Month and only for dinnertime pancakes. It’s a years-long tradition with a friend, and I make no excuses.

What foods would you wait for?

*New Yorkers generally use “on line,” but even after nearly a dozen years in the city, I still can’t bring myself to say it. The New York Times wades into the debate.

The Official Weekend City Guide, Spring 2013

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.

Friday afternoon/evening

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.

MoMA interior

MoMA interior

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.

Motorino Pizzaria NYC June 2012 - 2

Motorino’s famous pancetta and brussels sprout pie

(Image via andynash,; made available under Creative Commons license)

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.

Gelato at L'Arte del Gelato

Gelato at L’Arte del Gelato

(Image via stu_spivack,; made available under Creative Commons license)

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 BarAmor 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.


A cocktail at PDT

(Image via jmh’s random shots,; made available under Creative Commons license)

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.

Exterior of Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Exterior of Nom Wah Tea Parlor

Or if you’re into a fancy be-seen brunch, try Buvette (French), The Dutch (New American), Locanda Verde (Italian) or Peels (Comfort).

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.

Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market

(Image via Marc_Smith,; made available under Creative Commons license)

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.

Boats at the Conservatory Waterway

Boats at Conservatory Water

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.


Infused vodkas at Russian Vodka Room

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.

For off-Broadway, she recommends Here Lies Love and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.

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.

Sunday morning/afternoon

If you’re into coffee, take the morning to seek out some revelatory espresso. I’m no expert, but people love Ninth Street Espresso, AbraçoBlue 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.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge

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!

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