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ryan
January 14th, 2005, 12:28 PM
From themorningnews.org (http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/how_to/the_nonexpert_when_in_manhattan.php). It's much better read on their site for all the links.

14 January 2005
The Non-Expert: When in Manhattan...

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week, Rosecrans Baldwin uses a thousand links to address the most frequently sent letter in the Non-Expert’s mailbag: I’m coming to New York City, please help!


Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send your questions via email. The Non-Expert’s Desk handles all subjects and is updated every Friday, and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.

Question: I’m coming over to New York from England next month for a few days and wondered if you could recommend any restaurants/bars for me and me chums to visit? We’re staying on the Upper West Side. Any help would be much appreciated!—JG

Answer: We receive a similar question about once or twice a week—I’m coming to New York, what should I do?—and decided it’s time for a non-snarky answer. This guide is for the second-time tourist, the person who perhaps has been here many times before but is looking for something new, or the stranger who’s a virgin to the Big Apple. One note: we decided to concentrate solely on Manhattan, since it’s the destination of choice, but being Brooklyn residents and Brooklyn-proud we can’t help but mention that no trip to New York is complete (nor as fun) without a stop in some of the other boroughs. So, please, if you’re visiting and adventurous enough to leave midtown, why not try a stroll along the Brooklyn Heights promenade, or an afternoon in Prospect Park, or a gallery tour of Williamsburg, or a baseball game in Staten Island, or a swing through the Bronx Zoo, or a quick trip to Coney Island? All are amazing, beautiful, and strange, and it would be a shame to miss the “other” New York that most New Yorkers call home.

In any case, welcome to New York. Sorry that our airports are so terrible, but we promise the rest of the city is a jewel.


What to Know

Your first task upon arrival (most likely by cab, but perhaps by bus, or even AirTrain), after memorizing this guide and TMN’s New York Jargon (because no one wants to be a Metrotard), is to buy a fresh copy of Time Out NY, New York, and The New Yorker, and a copy of one of the daily papers. All will have good listings for shows to skip, hot restaurants to avoid, and so forth. Hopefully you have a place to stay; if not, we’d recommend Manhattan User’s Guide’s “Hotels Under $200.” We’d also recommend MUG for a variety of New York info, same with Flavor Pill, and TMNer Choire Sicha’s weekly guide to good stuff, available in the Sunday Times Arts section. Then hit your closest subway station (look for the green-globed lampposts) and buy a MetroCard, paying with a credit card so it can be reimbursed in case you lose it (New Yorkers take the subway everywhere since it runs all night and it’s usually faster than a car. New Yorks also constantly lose their monthly MetroCards), and ask the clerk in the booth for a subway and bus map—it’s free, and you’ll need it. (You can, of course, rely entirely on cabs for your stay, but that money’s better spent on pizza. Remember, if the roof bar’s center light’s on, the cab’s free; if the light’s off, it’s taken. If you lose something in a cab, call 311.) Pick up a wallet-sized map of Manhattan in most delis (we call them bodegas), particularly necessary if you’re going downtown. If you find yourself fiending for email, and your laptop has a wireless card, head to one of many hot spots in the city, or if it’s nice out try Bryant or Battery Parks (you can also log on at any Starbucks for a one-time $6 pass; note: many Starbucks have tons of free wireless streaming out of nearby apartments.) If you don’t have a laptop, hit up the Apple Store display models, or try the public libraries. New York does not have public restrooms; it does, however, have a million Barnes & Noble stores, though of course we do our book shopping at Three Lives & Co. (Other notable public toilets include the secret public bathrooms in Grand Central’s stationmaster’s office; the bathrooms in most hotel lobbies, assuming you can pass as a probable guest; the Metropolitan Museum, assuming you’re cheap enough to pass on paying; the Bryant Park restrooms with the nice floral display; the basement of Rockefeller Center; Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, Barney’s, and both Bloomingdale’s; police stations; Old Navy outlets; NYU buildings without front-desk security; and the Meatpacking District around two a.m., which deserves to be pissed on.)


What to Digest

Bars and restaurants are New York’s playgrounds. Unfortunately, there are lots of them. We recommend using the Zagat Guide for its only redeeming value: restaurants organized by neighborhood (if you eat someplace nice, try to talk your waiter into giving you one of the house’s gold-leafed copies they save for loyal customers). We put a lot more love into recommending Chowhound’s database of message threads for good eats, particularly outside Manhattan. A general tip: almost all restaurants can seat a small party without a reservation in half an hour, assuming you’re not showing up at some hot spot on Friday at eight. For reservations, if you haven’t called months ahead, try calling the morning of, as soon as the reservation line opens—restaurants block tables ahead of time for anticipated guests, and free them up the morning before dinner. Here’s the list we send when people ask for restaurant recommendations—some are cheap, some are unbelievably expensive, but all serve extraordinary food in pleasant settings with an emphasis on character, charm, and good ingredients with not much trendyness: Blue Hill, Jefferson, Gramercy Tavern, Casa Mono, Jean-Georges, Prune, Grand Central Oyster Bar (though only for the oysters, and only at the bar). If you want a great cheeseburger, find McHale’s. If you want a great breakfast special, hit Gray’s Papaya. If you want the best slice of pizza, try Joe’s. For casual Italian, try La Focaccia. If you want a great tuna melt, try Old Town or Eisenbergs nearby. If you want to impress a food nut, wait in line at the Spotted Pig, then go to Il Mulino. If you want a fancy meal by yourself, order dinner at the bar at Gotham Bar & Grill. If you want to have a quiet lunch with the crossword, eat in the front at Beppe. If you need to please your children, withstand America. If you want to blow money on an anniversary, indulge at Daniel. If you want to pretend you have retired in Paris, order the sole meuniere at L'Absinthe. If you want to seem in-the-know, track down Chumley’s or Freeman’s. If you only like dessert, do Chickalicious. If you want to see dirty celebrities, have breakfast at Balthazar.

Unfortunately, our bar picks are less informed since we do the majority of our drinking in Brooklyn, and tend to prefer bars that seem like they should belong in Paris or Chicago. But a few notes on going out: the East Village and the Lower East Side are the best areas for pub crawls, unless you like faux-Irish Bars (in which case try Murray Hill around third avenue), or frat parties (the upper east and west sides). Wild generalizations that are mostly true about popular destinations: the Union Square area is a wasteland when it comes to drinking; SoHo is a dead zone; TriBeCa is hard to navigate; the Meatpacking District should be destroyed; Canal street is blowing up; NoLiTa is pretentious; the West Village has few places worth pursuing after sunset; and Chelsea is fun for boys unlike ourselves. If we had to choose our favorite bar for special occasions, it would be Bemelman’s; if we had to pick the number one for afternoon beers and people watching (though never after four), it would be The Shark Bar; if we wanted to smoke while drinking, we’d try the Oyster Bar (or any place in Brooklyn after eleven).


What to Do

There is so much to do, we’re overwhelmed just thinking about it. So a few tips: unless it’s mandatory that you hit the biggies, you’ll have more fun in the smaller museums. Try the Tenement Museum, the Center for Jewish History, PS1, the Museum of the City of New York, the Folk Art Museum, the Frick, the Japan Society, Cooper-Hewitt, or the Cloisters. Avoid the new MoMA for at least a year; they’ve got a parking lot outside to handle the giant line, and though the architecture inside is stunning, the once-gorgeous park was handled atrociously, and Monet’s “Water Lilies” is now to be enjoyed sublimely with a noisy crowd of thousands. Tourists generally go to midtown, and we have no idea why. For charming strolls, get lost in the West Village; meander around northern Central Park; rent bikes and ride the west-side trail from Battery City to Riverside Park (stopping for beers and burgers at the Boat Basin); sample northern Chinatown; meander through western Harlem, or up through Morningside Heights; peruse the Chelsea galleries. If you want to see Ground Zero, try the audio walk, available on MP3. Rock climbers can enjoy a cheap session at City Climbers Club. Play bocce. The Empire State Building is better in the evening. Who doesn’t love the batting cages? And most nights, unless Yo-Yo’s performing, almost every classical music performance will still have cheap tickets available. If you want to see theater, try an off-off-Broadway performance: you’ll have a great chance at getting tickets, and as anyone will tell you, they haven’t done theater on Broadway for a long time. But if we had to pick our most frequent recommendation for how to enjoy New York, it’s to walk around: New York’s never been safer, and every street is incredibly alive. Plus, if you get bored, there’s always a subway stop nearby and you can come visit Brooklyn.

Rosecrans Baldwin is a co-publisher of The Morning News, and lives in Brooklyn. Click here to read his other stories on TMN. (http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/rosecrans_baldwin/)