No wonder they say it's so nice you have to say it twice: New York, New York. Everything people have told me about New York City? They lied; it's so much more.
That said, the first of my many to-come Wanderlust Guides is based solely on my experience while I'm there. I've gone to places people have recommended and loathed it [i.e.: Magnolia's, and Serendipity = Bloody waste of time], so here's an honest-to-God places that I loved. Maybe you wouldn't like it as much when you haul your ass there, because something fab in the city doesn't stay as fab for too long, and I had amazing company with me all the time [myself included!], so experience may differ!
Best Must Visit/ Completely Free/ Quintessentially-NYC Spot: Grand Central Station
One of my former assistants will disagree and replace this with worshipping at the foot of the Conde Nast Building, and a former intern will say that it's visiting the Marc Jacobs store on Bleeker St in the West Village [more about that later!], but during my last two-week-stay in New York City in summer 2009, I found myself in Grand Central thrice, and all three times I was completely enchanted by the place. Being someone who gets bored of something within a span of three minutes and needs to constantly be on the move when I travel, I tend to fall in love with places that lets me sit down and watch people at hours at end, and Grand Central lets me do that.
A lot of times when I people watch in New York, I feel like I should get up and go because I'm missing out on another New York Moment, but the Grand Central is bustling with activity, so full of life, people, and personality, you feel like you need more of you to completely absorb the whole energy of the place.
What you can do in Grand Central other than people-watching, even though you have to shell out some greens is pop into the Oyster Bar, a sprawling labyrinth of Byzantine-influenced vaults decorated with glittering mosaics. Being a big fan of oysters, and a firm believer of eating those babies, on ice, straight from the shell with a dash of Tabasco or a squeeze of lemon, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Oyster heaven.
Because I was unfamiliar with American oysters, I asked for some help, and the lady who attended to me dished up four of the best and freshest oysters I've ever had in a restaurant, my favourite being something fished from Long Island.
I also wanted to try something else, so I ordered a plate of calamari, that came piping hot, and fresh from the kitchen. Again, to die for. The best calamari I've had in the world. And I've had calamari in a lot of places in the world!
Must Do Cheesy Touristy Bit: Go Up the Empire State Building
I wasn't big about going up the Empire State when I was there in Summer 2009 because I heard about the painful queues, but I decided it was something I had to do. It was definitely worth the twenty dollars I forked out to go up - and best thing about going in winter = no 2-hour long queues. Make sure you call in advance to find out how long the queues will be, especially if you're there during the warmer months. Bring a book, or a lover. ;o) We went at the perfect time - just before sunset so we caught the incredible city in light, during sunset and when it's dark. So, so incredible and worth the trouble of making your way up. If you are going in the summer months though, make sure you purchase your tickets online first. That way, you don't have to queue up for tickets before joining the other queue to go up the elevators [yes, there are multiple before you get to the top!].
Best Poofy Dresses: Geminola 41 Perry St, New York NY 10014
I died over and over again in this store in the West Village. Every dress I tried on was a princess’ dream come true and it made me want to escape into my Manhattanite lovah’s arms and not succumb to reality and come back to Earth. Unfortunately, a quick check at the price tag got me stumbling back to Mud Planet. Pretty? Very. Cheap? Not. Worth the visit? Fo’ shizzle.
Best Ceviche: La Esquina 106 Kenmare Street, at Cleveland Place www.esquinanyc.com, Subway 6 to Spring Street
Until my visit to New York, I’ve never had ceviche, and it is officially one of my favourite foods in the world. Ceviche, for the oblivious, is a delightful concoction made of citrus-marinated seafood dish, popular in mainly Latin American countries. Both finfish and shellfish are used; finfish is typically used raw while shellfish is typically cooked.
So obviously, when I like something, I end up ordering up a storm of it as I did with ceviches, and La Esquina had the best! We had lunch there after shopping in Soho and this cabbit-pit-stop-turned-taco stand was packed like crazy, even on a random weekday. It was impossible to get a seat in the alfresco area, as there were about a dozen people in line waiting for one, so we popped into the 30-seat café just around the corner.
Wait for a bit if you can’t get a seat, because it’s worth the hassle: a world of Mexican murals, fine tequilas huitlocoche quesadillas and crab tostadas await!
Best Burger: The Park 118 10th Ave, New York NY 10011 www.theparknyc.com
A quick Google will make you realise that this place has its fair share of sloppy service and less-than-appetising food. I, however, had the best evening here.
My medium rare Park Beef Burger topped with fresh onions and tomatoes, crunchy lettuce, gooey cheddar cheese and avocado was served piping hot with a side of salad and herbed fries – and it was, by far, the most delectable burger I’ve ever had my entire life. The slab of meat was juicy and succulent, and just the right size. And considering the fact that I didn’t ask for hot sauce or ketchup for my burger, it goes to show that it was bursting with enough flavour that I didn’t need for anymore.
The restaurant also has a bar area which plays Top 40 mixes of pop and hip hop [even though it was playing a medley of Michael Jackson the night we were there], but The Park has been has popular with Mahattanites for dinner as the restaurant has been packing the bridge and tunnel crowds. Still good for lunches and brunches though!
Best Place to Shop for the Broke: Jacobs for Marc Jacobs for Marc by Marc Jacobs Neighbourhood: West Village 385 Bleecker St (between 11th St & Perry St) New York, NY 10014 (212) 924-6126
I won't deny it - New York is an expensive place, even to visit, but if you yearn to own something from the famous American designer, this is the place to buy them - key chains for $5, purses for $20, canvas bags for $28, t-shirts for $40. This diffusion line of Marc Jacobs is only available in New York City and is home to a cornucopia of little knick knacks perfect for stocking stuffers for Xmas, or as souvenirs for friends back home. Be warned though - it's a tiny store that will have you crammed wall-to-wall jostling for space!
Favourite Museum: The Met! 1000 Fifth Avenue. New York, New York 10028 http://www.metmuseum.org/
One of the best museums I’ve ever visited my whole life – I spent half a day there checking of exhibits, people watching, falling in love, travelling through time – it was impeccable. My favourite area is the American Wing, and for those who are wondering, the Model as Muse exhibition by Marc Jacobs and Conde Nast was more “fun”, than anything else. It’s not an exhibit I would visit over and over again, had I the chance, but nevertheless, it was worthwhile a look through.
The second time I went to the Met, I went on an evening, maybe an hour shy of their closing time, and it was amazing how empty the museum is. So beautiful and so empty, I loved it so much.
A tip for those visiting the museum: whilst suggested admission to the museum is $20, it is, as it says, suggested. I paid $2 for entry for two.
Best Designer for Less Outlet in the city: Century 21 22 Cortlandt Street, between Church and Broadway
Smack right downtown, a couple of blocks from Wall St, and right next to the hole where the twin towers used to be is a where hunting season goes on all year round. Fashion hunting that is. With a tagline that goes, "Fashion worth fighting for", you know Century 21's not going to be battleground for pussies. Hit the store when it opens because tourists pour into the building all day, and you jostle for the best buys. I've gotten an Oscar de la Renta gown for $69, a pair of Marc by Marc Jacobs wedges for $70, a D&G t-shirt for $14. It's heaven on earth for die-hard bargain hunters, but it can also be hell on earth for those who have claustrophobia, those who can't deal with crowds, and simply - pussies. ;o)
Best Pastrami Sandwich: Katz's Deli Lower East Side: 205 East Houston Street New York, NY 10002-1098, (212) 254-2246
I had many bests and worsts on my Winter 2010 trip to New York, and one of the bests I've had, was this too-good-to-be-true, a little-slice-of-heaven beef pastrami sandwich. I'm drooling just writing about it - it's that good. For $14.95, it's going to be the best pastrami sandwich you ever had in your life. Trust me.
Best Nightspot: Kiss And Fly (Summer 2009) 409 W. 13th St. http://www.kissandflyclub.com/
Kiss & Fly rides the exclusive train. Getting into this Meatpacking club (formerly Aer) takes bargaining, name-dropping, and schematic ploys, but lucky for me, I was invited to a movie wrap party.
Once inside, you can see what all the hoo-ha is about. Old-school sounds like Biggie Smalls and the Jackson Five play to a bumping bass, creating energy too forceful to refuse to dance. DJs hold court, go-gos and their “cheeks” provide eye candy, and a crowd of both the beautiful and hangers-on get down. It’s a scene that reminds you of why you live [or like me, why you want to live] in New York.
The wrap party, in case you were wondering, was for the upcoming movie, Trophy Kids, to be released next year. And I met Ryan Eggold, who was stuffing his face with pizza outside the club and Natham Lee Graham, who thought I looked fabulous. Yes, yes, I’m a sucker for compliments from people who live in Tinseltown.
Best Secret Bar: The Back Room 102 Norfolk Street, near Delancey Street
I love this place! Open secret bars are the key to a rockin’ nightlife, I reckon.
Veronica Cooper writes up The Back Room’s profile for New York Magazine perfectly: “Don’t even think about getting access to the hidden back room of gorgeous copper ceilings and Art Nouveau knick-knacks unless you’re friends with the owners. Instead, simply enjoy the main room, a speakeasy of sorts with the faux façade of a toy store. The giant fireplace and mirrored bar are leftovers from former occupant Lansky Lounge, but co-owner Johnny B. has added period-perfect chandeliers, velvet paisley wallpaper, tin ceilings, a candlestick phone, and sundry Victoriana.
Booze is served in teacups, a throwback to clandestine drinking during Prohibition. As a blast from the more recent past, this hot spot bypasses super-cool D.J.s for simple CDs by stand-bys like the Cars and newer favorites like the Killers.”
My choice of beverage for the night [the morning, rather, I remember it being 3.30am] was Coke Zero, and it too, was served in a tea cup! Too cute!
Beacon’s Closet 88 N. 11th St. Brooklyn, New York NY 11211 New York’s favourite, but probably most expensive, vintage store.
Catbird 390 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11211 @ Havemeyer St. Teeny tiny boutique selling cute one-offs and handmade bits and bobs.
Deco Etc. 122 W. 25th St., New York NY 10001 @ Seventh Ave. Fairly expensive, but definitely worth it. Gorgeous array of mid-century design Lucite jewels, purses, and accessories. Tonnes of brilliant antiques too.
Eleven 15 Prince St., New York, NY 10012 @ Elizabeth St. Discrete, kinda secret vintage store. It has to be secret, there’s no other reason foR the $5 cowboy boots and $2 dresses. Surely?
Opening Ceremony 35 Howard St., New York, NY 10013 @ Broadway Hippedy happening boutique that you’ve all heard of by now. Kind of a New York version of Colette.
Patricia Field 302 Bowery, New York, NY 10012 @ 1st St. Home of the stylist extraordinaire, this store stocks every possible item of clothing you might have dreamed of. False eyelashes, hooker shoes, leopard print, spangle, glitter.
Screaming Mimi’s 382 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10003 @ 4th St. There’s a reason this vintage store is so famous. So it’s not the cheapest second-hand store you’ll visit, but it’s pretty special all the same.