December 5, 2011

Christmastime in the City: A Holiday Guide

No place is simultaneously more magical and maddening than NYC in December. The city's decked out in it's holiday finest, and tourists and residents alike are out en masse to take it all in. With the lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, midtown goes on pedestrian gridlock alert for the duration of the year, making our skill of weaving through crowds with ease obsolete. But look! The 3D snowflakes on the Saks Fifth Avenue facade are dancing! To music! And the light snow falling over the Bryant Park holiday market slightly quiets the city and turns exhausted adults into playful kids. And just like that, it's magical again.

Coming up are locations for holiday store windows, gift markets, ice skating, and hot chocolate. But first, some tips for visiting:
1. Be aware of your surroundings. Before visiting New York I was told, "Remember, people live there." True. And easy to forget when on vacation. It's good to keep in mind that this is a crowded, fast-paced city and our family sprawling space is limited. Walk staggered, like we do, and move out of the flow of traffic when looking at pictures, maps or anything else requiring prolonged attention.
2. Ask a New Yorker. If you're lost, want to know where to get good Italian or need to locate the nearest pub, just ask us. Most of us are pretty nice (despite the myths) and will gladly help you. But then we're done. Don't take offense, it's just not a stop and chat city. We're direct, helpful, and then gone.
3. Step aside. When you're done paying for hot chocolate, pizza, Band-Aids, roasted chestnuts from a street vendor or anything else involving a line, step aside. With 8.2 million residents alone, the city moves at a "next!" pace, so grab your goods, and your change, and keep on truckin'.
4. Hold on to your bags. The city's much safer than it used to be, but some of us will still try to steal things. Your things. So keep an eye on them. Don't put purses on the backs of chairs and don't assume the shopping bag you set down while taking pictures of ice skaters will still be there when you're done.
5. Skip the chain restaurants. You're in New York. We have endless food options. Explore, try a new cuisine. Or try a favorite cuisine, but made by a guy using his great-grandmother's recipes. Look on Yelp, Chowhound and Citysearch for restaurant suggestions. Or better yet, ask a local.

Holiday Windows
• Barneys (660 Madison Avenue at 61st Street)
• Bergdorf (754 5th Avenue at 58th Street)
• Bloomingdale's (1000 3rd Avenue at 59th Street)
• Lord & Taylor (424 5th Avenue at 38th Street)
• Macy's (151 W. 34th Street, between Broadway and 7th Avenue)
• Saks Fifth Avenue (611 5th Avenue, between 49th and 50th Street)

Holiday Markets
• Bryant Park (40th-42nd Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue)
• Columbus Circle (59th Street and 8th Avenue)
• Grand Central (87 E. 42nd Street at Park Avenue)
• Union Square (14th Street at Broadway)

Ice skating
• Bryant Park (Entrance closest to 42nd Street and 6th Avenue)
• Rockefeller Center (Enter 5th Avenue at 49th or 50th Street. Walk one block.)
• Standard Hotel (848 Washington at W. 13th Street)
• Wollman Rink (Enter Central Park at 59th Street and 6th Avenue. It's a 2-minute walk.)

Hot chocolate
• La Maison du Chocolat (30 Rockfeller Plaza: W. 49th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue)
• Bouchon Bakery (Columbus Circle, Time Warner Building, 3rd Floor)
• City Bakery (3 W. 18th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue)
• Jacques Torres (350 Hudson Street at King Street)
• Max Brenner's (841 Broadway, between 13th and 14th Street)

My friends and I like to end our annual Christmastime in the City Day at Burger Joint. Nothing beats tradition. And after all is said and done - the sights are visited, the crowds are waded through, and copious amounts of photos are taken - nothing beats Christmastime in New York. It truly is magical and maddening, just like the city itself. And we wouldn't have it any other way. Happy holidays!

July 28, 2011

So You Want to Move to New York? Tips and Advice.

Over the years I've been asked why I live in New York. For starters: the people, the food, the activities - add about 187 more things and you have my list. But mostly I live here for moments like that picture. The odd, candid moment of a woman and her parrot, recapping the day on a public bench. These types of occurrences tend to be the norm and often a draw for newcomers who yearn for the unexpected.
I've also been asked how to go about moving to New York, as the thought is "exciting, but daunting." True, not everyone arrives with a job, an apartment or a network of friends. You just need an adventurous spirit and a few tips to get you started. So here we go:

Reach out to everyone you know.
Friends, cousins, friends of cousins. You never know who knows someone. I visited New York in March 2000 before moving that June. My aunt's friend was a travel agent and helped me plan the March trip. Her son lived in New York, when I moved she gave me his number. I ended up staying on his couch for 2 weeks, after a 9-day hotel stay. She also gave me the number of a family friend who had "been here for 10 years, not sure what he does, but call him." He turned out to be a recruiter and helped me find a job. I also posted on my college alumni message board that I was "moving to New York, I don't have a job, place to live or know anyone. Any help?" Out of that I got a new friend (that I'm still in contact with), another couch stay, and a date.
So you never know. It's all about networking so don't be shy: email, text, Twitter, Facebook. Mention to anyone and everyone you're moving. May as well start practicing your assertiveness. You're going to need it here.

Save money.
Often easier said than done. But if possible, do it. New York is expensive. Space is at a premium and you'll pay for it: in rent, food, drinks, entertainment - and much more. But don't let that discourage you. There are plenty of things to do here on a budget, you just have to find them. However, cash flow equals more freedom and New Yorkers, for the most part, meet out to socialize, not at our space-challenged apartments. Plus, depending on what kind of living situation you find, you may need to be ready to hand over first month's rent, last month's rent, and security deposit (equal to one month's rent) before moving in. Not always, but it's a good rule to go by. More on apartments later. For now, think: SAVE.

If you need to know how to get from the airport to the city look here.
As for your stuff, unless you have your own apartment bring as little as possible, for mobility's sake. If you don't have friends to stay with, book a cheap(er) hotel while you look for more permanent housing. And last, if you do have a room lined up I'd still stick to the less is more theory, as landlords certainly stuck to it when dreaming up apartment square footage. Think tiny. And then go smaller.

Finding an apartment.
The first thing to know is even if you only have a week or a few days to find a place, it can be done. Things move so fast here that in one day you can find a listing online, see it, and put down a deposit. Chances are there will be other people there at the same time so whoever speaks up first (and then qualifies via paperwork) gets it. Remember when I suggested practicing your assertiveness? Yep, get to it.
The second thing to know is that most of your questions on how to find an apartment can be answered here. However, you're always welcome to contact me with additional questions.

Meeting people.
You're in a new city and maybe you have a few friends, but you'd like more. What do you do? Get out and mingle! To find out what's going on around town grab a Time Out NY, NY Magazine or The New Yorker. Also, check out Yelp, Brooklyn Based and Brokelyn. Yes, the suggestions are Brooklyn-heavy, but even if you live in Manhattan there's so much fun (and cheap!) stuff to do in Brooklyn. Regardless of where you go just get out there, make new friends and of course, network.
More ideas: volunteer (NY Cares), similar interests (, bars (Yelp). New York has a big drinking culture and it's not weird to go a bar (or anywhere, really) by yourself. Granted, many will drink with friends, but if you're trying to meet people head out solo and don't be afraid to strike up a conversation. Despite the myths, most New Yorkers aren't rude and really, what do you have to lose?

Finding a job.
If you arrive without a job there are several things you can do. The first is tell everyone you meet you're looking for a job. Again, networking is key. To go the I-need-money-until-I-find-something-permanent route you can do office temp work (Google "NY temp agencies")--which sometimes turn into fulltime jobs; bartend/waiter, be a dog walker (big business here), nanny and look on Craigslist. There you'll find countless part time (and full-time) jobs.
Also, post what you're looking for on Facebook and Twitter and reach out to new contacts. And finally, the go-to sites: HotJobs, CareerBuilder, Monster, LinkedIn and Craigslist. Don't forget specialized sites like Mediabistro and StyleCareers (among others), depending on your profession.

The final piece of advice: embrace the adventure and make the move. And soon, you'll have your own New York story.

June 28, 2011

NYC's Oldest Bars

The year is 1891. You've been crammed aboard a ship from Europe to Ellis Island for 40 days. After you dock and locate your new home, what's next? A refreshing pint, of course! 120 years later you can take refuge from the bustling streets of Manhattan and enjoy a cold one at the same pubs those celebrating their New World arrival imbibed in. Here's a guide:

Fraunces Tavern--1762
No doubt many a glass was raised when George Washington bid farewell to his officers here in 1783. Originally built as a home in 1719, Fraunces Tavern is the oldest building in New York. In addition to a pint, you can enjoy a meal and/or a stroll through the upstairs museum to view historic relics and recreations of 18th century rooms.

Ear Inn--1817
Welcome to New York's "oldest working bar." When it opened, this federal-style building sat just 5 feet from the original Hudson River shoreline (now it's a 5 minute walk). The apartment above the bar was used as a smuggler's den, then a brothel, and fun fact: ghosts are periodically spotted. Marked only by a neon "Bar" sign, the Ear was known as The Green Door until 1977 when new owners took over. To avoid the lengthy Landmark Commission's review of a new sign, part of the "B" was painted over, thus becoming "Ear." A glorious no cellphone policy is enforced, which means you can enjoy a drink at the bar or a meal at your table in peace.

Fanelli's Cafe--1847
Fanelli's didn't technically open until 1922, but the space has been a site for alcohol distribution since 1847, when a grocer and spirits dealer occupied the location. That was followed by a porterhouse storefront with an upscale brothel upstairs, and finally, a saloon. The saloon was owned by Nicolas Gerdes, whose name is etched in glass above the entryway. Michael Fanelli was smart to call his bar a "cafe" during the start of Prohibition. Even smarter? A secret room in the cellar housing bathtub gin and bootlegged booze that can still be accessed from a hidden entrance. Enjoy a burger, the gruff bartenders, and a break from the upscale mini-mall that is Soho.

You'll drink the same brew as Abe Lincoln and John Lennon since the offerings remain only light or dark ale. They're served two at a time, and don't worry if you spill, the sawdust on the floor will soak that right up. Old photographs and dusty memorabilia line the walls and if you look up you'll notice a gas lamp adorned with wishbones. The bones have been hung by soldiers heading off to war (as far back as the Civil War), hoping for a safe return. And while many bars admitted women at the end of Prohibition, McSorley's adhered to "Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies" until 1970. Even the former owner, Dorothy O'Connell Kirwan, wasn't allowed in during the 100th anniversary. 1970, I'll drink to that.

Pete's Tavern--1864
In the ongoing we-were-here-first battle, Pete's bills itself as the "longest continually operating bar and restaurant in New York." It survived Prohibition by disguising itself as a flower shop while operating as a speakeasy. O' Henry, Pete's most famous imbiber, wrote "Gift of the Magi" in his favorite booth in 1902 after a 3-year jail sentence in Austin, TX for embezzlement. Not much has changed as evident from the original 30-foot rosewood bar and tin ceiling. Kick back with some of Pete's own 1864 Original House Ale while indulging in Italian-American grub.

P.J. Clarke's--1884
Frank Sinatra, burgers and enormous urinals are what this joint is known for. Patrick J. Clarke, an Irish immigrant, bought the place in the early 1900s after a 10-year bartending stint. Back in the day, you could find Frank Sinatra, a generous tipper, at Table 20. And Johnny Mercer wrote "One For My Baby (and One More For the Road)," a song made famous by Sinatra, on a napkin here.
Originally 4 stories, Clarke's lost 2 when the neighboring 47-story skyscraper went up in the late 60s. In 2002 a year-long renovation resulted in the opening of Sidecar, a "sophisticated dining venue" on the second floor. The first floor was refurbished (goal was to retain the original look) and all bar contents--except for the infamous urinals--were stored in a warehouse in Long Island City until completion. The urinals were too heavy.
Long known for their burgers, P.J. Clarke's regular, Jackie O, would pair hers with a spinach salad. The "beer window" remains, used during Prohibition when wives and kids would bring buckets to be filled. And also to serve women, who weren't allowed inside until the 60s.

White Horse Tavern--1880
Like it's neighbor, the Ear Inn, the White Horse Tavern was originally a destination for longshoremen. In the 50s and 60s it was a haven for writers of the Beat variety: Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac; and the song variety: Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison. Today mention White Horse and people may say "That's where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death." Yes, it was. 18 shots of whiskey, 3 doctor visits to the Chelsea Hotel, 1 coma at St. Vincent's Hospital later, and he was dead at 39. But you can still toast the Welsh poet next to his life-sized painting in the Dylan Thomas room, adjacent the bar.
White horses are scattered throughout in the form of figurines, light fixture adornments and wall hangings. The one that watches customers from above the bar was originally placed there to advertise White Horse Scotch Whiskey, still served there today. But watch your alcohol-induced rowdiness or you'll be thrown out, just like Jack Kerouac. In fact, he was booted so many times a patron wrote "GO HOME JACK!!" on the bathroom wall. It's still there today.

Well, it's now time to get off the computer and onto a bar stool. And raise a glass to the immigrants who made this country what it is, and the patrons who made the bars what they are. Cheers!

April 19, 2011

Visiting New York: Instead of This...Do This

Today's post is my article on New York travel tips, as seen on CheapOair's great travel site.
New Yorkers are all about being in the know. While visiting, you should be too! Here are some insider tips that revise the usual tourist suggestions. So, instead of doing this.

Empire State Building...Top of the Rock
Instead of standing in the famed long lines at the Empire State Building, go 16 blocks north for equally stunning views of the city at the Top of the Rock - for a fraction of the wait. Don't forget to wave to the Empire State Building while you're there.

The Met...The Frick
The Met is spectacular (and crowded!), but how often can you marvel at a museum within a museum? Henry Clay Frick's early 1900s mansion accomplishes this by housing European art surrounded by original furnishings, his leather bound books, and a romantic Garden Court.

Statue of Liberty boat tour...Staten Island Ferry
How does free sound? While we'll gladly take your hard-earned money on a Statue of Liberty boat tour, we'll also throw you a bone and offer a free voyage passing right by Lady Liberty. Twice. Board the right side going to Staten Island and the left side coming back for great pictures of the Lady and the city.

Advance Broadway tickets...same day TKTS tickets
If your heart's not set on a particular show then head to TKTS the day of for often half-price tickets. You'll be at the mercy of what's available, but you'll be surprised at the selection and seat choices.

Sure, you can brag you stood in an hour-long line at Lombardi's for some great pizza. Even more impressive? Bragging you stood in line at Grimaldi's in Brooklyn because: 1) it's amazing pizza, 2) it has beautiful views of Manhattan 3) you found Brooklyn.
After dinner, head to the water to further indulge at the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory while taking in those beautiful Manhattan views.

Top of the Rock: 30 Rockefeller Plaza
The Frick: 1 East 70th Street
Staten Island Ferry: R to Whitehall
TKTS: various locations, see link
Grimaldi's: 1 Front Street

February 23, 2011

Dating in NYC

New Yorkers are in love. With fashion, food, art, travel, music, baseball and coffee. With each other? Eh...not so much. Yes, love happens here, but oftentimes it's as rare as the heart-shaped egg yolk I recently came across.
The thing is, people don't move to New York to fall in love and get married. If it happens, cool. Mostly they come for adventure, career, and a completely different lifestyle than they're used to. A spouse, kids, and white picket fence don't always mesh with 9pm dinner reservations, 4am last calls, and 350 sq ft apartments.
Now don't worry, people do find love (some get married, some have kids), it's just not a priority. I attribute it to the "what's new and hot" culture here. New Yorkers are always in the know. We have several weekly magazines, blogs, sites, friends, e-newsletters to tell us what's new and hot. There's a new restaurant, new bar, new store - new guy, new girl - seemingly everyday. And when your mind is constantly working on what's "new" then it starts to apply to all aspects of your life, including dating.
So how does dating work in NYC? Usually like this: you meet someone, exchange numbers, emails or become Facebook friends. If they follow up it will be around 3 days later. If it's via phone it will be a text, inviting you for a drink on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Those are non-committal, non-serious date nights. If it goes well then the fake plans you both had after drinks are suddenly non-existent and you go to dinner. If that goes well then you follow up with each other and make dinner, not just drink plans. However, if you're unsure then drink plans are made again - and still on a Tuesday or Wednesday. So when does it become serious? Oh, who the heck knows...
A friend of mine was dating a guy for 10 months and when I asked, "He's your boyfriend, right?" she said, "I don't think so. I mean we haven't had that talk." 10 months!
A roommate met a guy who said he'd call her the next day. He did (?!) An actual phone call and actually when he said. Then he invited her for dinner on a Saturday night. (Again, ?!) I asked what was wrong with him. She said, "He just moved here." Well, that explains it.
I've always said the most unrealistic thing about "Sex and the City" is that the girls found so much time to get together. Dating-wise, it's pretty accurate. I once stood in line with a date outside a jazz club and watched, as after 15 minutes of both of us talking to the girl in front of us, my date got her phone number. We had only been out a few times so I laughed it off as another "New York story." After I was done laughing I asked him to pay for my $20 cab ride home, which he did. Go me.
Dating isn't hopeless in NYC, it's just very different than other places, and without a doubt, VERY amusing. And when you're ready to settle down a little bit here just remember to look for someone who's on the same page. But beware, that page can be turned very quick--

August 16, 2010

Day Trip: Governors Island

On Governors Island in 1812 you may have heard, "Ready the cannons, the ships are approaching!" but today you'll hear "Check out the cool art near Water Taxi Beach!" A lot has changed on the former military island, once vital in defending New York's inner harbor from intruders. Now, a five minute (free!) ferry ride from Lower Manhattan, the island is anything but hostile. In fact, tranquil, idyllic, and picturesque come to mind.

Prepare to stroll, picnic, bike, marvel at art, and take in gorgeous 360-degree views of the New York harbor on your visit. Governors Island also has a great lineup of bands at Water Taxi Beach, an array of sporting events and fun programs for kids. And where else can you enjoy the Statue of Liberty as a picnic backdrop or meander through beautiful 19th century homes, originally built for commanding officers that now house art and handmade goods for sale? So hop on the ferry and spend the day enjoying this tiny island, steeped in history, now filled with happy, relaxed New Yorkers. Want to join them? Here's how, plus tips and info:

• The island is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday from June 5 - October 10 (2010)
• Ferry: from Manhattan: the terminal is next to the Staten Island Ferry terminal in Lower Manhattan (near the R train). The first ferry departs at 10am. From Brooklyn: the ferry runs Saturday/Sunday only. The terminal is at Pier 6, in the Brooklyn Bridge Park, at the end of Atlantic Avenue (take 2/3, 4/5, R trains or B63 bus). The first ferry departs at 11am.
• Bicycles are permitted on the ferry or you can rent one on the island
• Alcohol can not be brought onto the island, but is served at Water Taxi Beach
• There are many opportunities to purchase food and drinks around the island

• The island perimeter is 2.2 miles, great for biking or walking
• The island is 20 city blocks (1 mile) long and 5 city blocks wide
• If you need cash there's an ATM upon exiting the ferry
• Restrooms are located around the island, the first one off the ferry is in Building 110
• Bike rentals: A two-minute walk from the Manhattan ferry, up the hill to the right, at Colonels Row. A minute walk from the Brooklyn ferry, straight up the hill.

I recommend picking up a self-guided tour map from Building 140, to the left of the Manhattan ferry
• Water Taxi Beach (food, beer, concerts)
• Castle Williams (point of defense for the harbor, housed prisoners)
• Fort Jay (point of defense, housed officers, oldest structure on island, gates date to 1796)
• Colonels Row (bike rentals, art in houses, sporting events, Jazz Age dance parties)
• FIGMENT Mini-Golf (art + golf, through the tall arch at Liggett Hall)
• Parade Grounds (circus demonstrations, Civil War reenactments, bake sales)
• Nolan Park (Etsy house, Children's Museum of the Arts, church, officer housing)
• Picnic Point (food, rest areas, hammocks)

For up-to-date information, along with ferry schedules, event and concert schedules, visit the official Governors Island site. Happy exploring!

August 1, 2010

Cheap(er) Hotels in New York

While New York ranks high on the list of fun and exciting things to do, it ranks (very) low on the plethora of affordable places to stay. But don't despair, there are options. Especially if you embrace the attitude New Yorkers do: think of your accommodations as merely a place to sleep and get go do more fun and exciting things!
So don't be shocked if your hotel room is the size of your bathroom back home, space is at a premium here. Thankfully the city specializes in "shiny things/hey, look over here" distractions to keep you fully entertained - and out of your hotel room.
Below is a list of more affordable hotel options (in no particular order), without going the hostel route. Enjoy your stay, but more importantly, enjoy New York!

Hotel East Houston
151 East Houston St. (at Eldridge St.)
$152-$291 per night
--Stylish, yet small rooms; great city views from the roof terrace. Located on the border of the Lower East Side and the East Village.

East Village Bed & Coffee
110 Avenue C (between 7th/8th St.)
$80-$130 per night
--Rooms are funky and quirky, just like the neighborhood. Located in the East Village.

The Pod Hotel

230 E. 51st. (between 2nd/3rd Ave.)
$133-$303 per night
--Tiny rooms (hence "pod"), simplistic decor, very popular with budget travelers. Located in Midtown.

Cosmopolitan Hotel--Tribeca
125 Chambers St. (at West Broadway)
$175-$215 per night
--Possibly New York City's oldest hotel structure (1845), it's gone through many name changes and many guests (including Abraham Lincoln). Small rooms, very basic amenities. Located in Tribeca.

Chelsea Pines Inn
317 W. 14th St. (between 8th/9th Ave.)
$159 to $310 per night
--Built as a private home in 1850, each room is "dedicated to a 'Celluloid Hero' from the Golden Age of Hollywood." Located on border of Chelsea and Greenwich Village.

The Hotel Wolcott
4 W. 31st St. (between 5th Ave./Broadway)
$150-$260 per night
--Furniture looks a bit dated, but rooms are clean and comfortable. Close to the Empire State Building, Macy's and Times Square. Located near Midtown.

Hotel Deauville
103 E. 29th St. (between Park Ave. S. and Lexington Ave.)
$135-$175 per night
--The rooms are clean, but nothing fancy. Great for a low maintenance traveler. Guests enjoy the original hand-operated elevator and the friendly and attentive staff. Located near Midtown.
61-63 Chrystie St. (between Hester St. and Canal St.)
$149-$278 per night
--Built in 2009, in a grittier area where you get a taste of "real" New Yorkers (Chinatown and Little Italy are close by). Rooms are decent-size with nice amenities. Located on the Lower East Side.

(Note: All information was correct at time of posting. Please check hotel websites for the most up-to-date information.)