January 7, 2009

Uncensored Traveler's "Must-Do" for New York City

There are no foreigners in New York City; you can't get any more international than NYC. The city is like a spider-web, it ties you with thousands of invisible webs and in years after you visit the city, you remember even a smallest detail of your trip: from very old women who don’t speak English in Chinatown, miles and piles of book stands at Strand Bookstore on Union Square, Sunday Baptist mess at a Harlem church, dubbed signs in Spanish (for Spanish-speaking populations of NYC), gay flags in and around the Christopher Street, street vendor stands with vintage film posters near the Canal street, numerous nuts4nuts and hot dog vendors, no-English speaking populations in Brooklyn, overwhelmingly many beautiful women and men, Rockefeller Center's Christmas tree and ice-skating rink near the Empire State Building.

And you can’t get out of these webs. Many poets, writers, film directors, composers have expressed their love for New York through their creative outlets, and still, love to this city cannot be expressed in words. If you ask anyone who loves the city, why they love it – they could list many reasons, but there is always one they can’t explain – it’s the “vibe” of the city that mesmerizes everyone about New York.

The main principle that everyone should have when visiting the city is to take the best out of everything and everywhere in the city, not limiting yourself to guidebooks and to Manhattan district (or Manhattan Island, as locals call it) only.

If you are to visit NYC, you have the options to stay at a hotel, motel, hostel or rent out an apartment (for a longer stay). In addition, there is always an option to sublet a place, but it is, again, if you are in NYC for a longer stay.

Activities and Places that are absolutely a "must to see": spoken like a true “New Yorker”, or someone who spent wonderful 5 years of being young, single and fabulous in NYC.

1. Have a drink like in the movies...or like a local:

Bemelmans Bar (featured in Sex and the City) is an ideal place for a cocktail and a hot hook-up in a classy ‘Charlotte’ way, 35 East 76th Street, New York, NY 10021, 212-744-1600.

The Ginger Man Irish bar is a place that many New Yorkers love for after-hours and happy-hours drinks, especially because of the beer selection they offer. Newsday called Gingerman “A beer lover’s Paradise”, 11 E 36th St, New York, NY 10016, 212-532-3740.

The Living Room. Every other Saturday at 11:00 PM a guy named Aldo Perez plays there. His show is a brilliant combination of comedy and indie-style rock. Usually he plays to about 50 or 60 people, so it's great if you want a break from the crowds that you find at most other LES (Low East Side) bars on Saturday nights, 154 Ludlow St., New York, NY 10002, 212-533-7235.

Shalel Lounge, 65 W 70th St., New York, NY 10023-4542, 212-873-2300

2. Dine with the Locals, avoid the Tourists (even if you are one yourself):

There is much more to what you might find in luxury magazines or in guidebooks. Luxury Magazines would say – dine at Baltazar, Per Se, Sushi Samba or Nobu – those are the places that are mentioned in every single magazine and book. It is not even funny anymore how over-used these recommendations are. Even though these places are nice, some of them are over-rated for the price you pay and some of them have become more touristy than The Empire State Building. There are “local” alternatives that are popular with the locals, at great prices and that offer true authentic experience of the NY vibe and people watch.

Geisha Restaurant, 33 E 61st St, New York, NY 10065, 212-813-1112

Orsay, 1057 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10021, (212) 517-6400

Noodle Republic, 37 Union Sq W, New York, NY 10003, (212) 627-7172

Zen Palate, at two locations: 663 Ninth Ave. (at 46th St), New York, NY 10036, (212) 582-1669 and 104 John Street, New York, NY 10038, (212) 962-4208

The Coffee Shop (restaurant and bar), 29 Union Sq. West, New York, NY 10003 at 16th St., 212-243-7969

Russian Vodka Room, 265 W 52nd Str., New York, NY 10019, 212-307-5835

Butter Restaurant, 415 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10003, 212-253-2828‎

Sammy's Roumanian Steakhouse, 157 Chrystie St., New York, NY 10002, 212-673-0330.

The East Village Ukranian Restaurant, 140 Second Ave., New York, NY 10003 (near 9th St.), 212-614-3283. The restaurant has a very decent buckwheat kasha and blintzis (sweet and sour pancakes). Its major appeal is a Friday night tango. It has a rather poor floor for dancing, but it regularly has best tango performances in the US.

DB Bistro Moderne for great wine and deserts , 55 W 44th St., New York, NY 10036-6609, 212-391-2400

The Spotted Pig, 314 W. 11th Street (at Greenwich St.), New York, NY 10014, 212-620-0393

Blue Ribbon Brasserie, 97 Sullivan Street (bet. Spring and Prince streets), New York, NY 10012, 212-274-0404

And don’t overestimate the street hot dog, it’s the best hotdog in the world!

3. Fun, funky, chicky, flashy Dance Places:

Party like a celebrity, drink & dance (but beware of fierce face-control)

Marquee, 289 10th Ave, New York, NY 10001, 646-473-0202

Pink Elephant, 527 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001, 212-463-0000

Bungalow 8, 515 W 27th St, New York, NY 10001, 212-629-3333

Mehanata Bulgarian bar & club, 113 Ludlow St, New York, NY 10002, 212-625-0981

Chaos lounge and club, 225 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002-1007, 212-475-2500
Le Jazz Au Bar, 41 E 58th St., New York, NY 10022, 212-308-9455

4. Ice-Skating (that is if you are visiting NY in winter):

There are closed locations in NY and around for ice-skating, but there is nothing more authentic and winter-loving than skating at open air ice-rinks.

Rockefeller Center Skating Rink, Rockefeller Center, 5th Ave. between 49th and 50th streets, New York, NY 10020, 212-332-7654 - General Info and Status, 212-332-7655 - Skating Lessons

Wollman Skating Rink, New York City’s Central Park, 830 5th Ave, New York, NY 10065, 212-439-6900

Chelsea Piers, Chelsea Piers - Pier 61, 23rd St. & the Hudson River, New York, NY 10011, 212-336-6100

5. Woody Allen walk tour:

Visit the places that settle in your memory from Woody Allen’s favorite movies: from "Annie Hall" to "Zelig," reserve a spot with the Woody Allen Walking Tour of New York City.

6. Hot Spas:

There are no natural springs in New York, for that one needs to head somewhere to Oregon, Virginia, Arizona or California, but there are more than enough of spas to choose from: Turkish baths, Russian “banyas”, Swedish spas or Korean steam rooms.

Okeanos Club Spa Banya (Russian-style spa), 211 E 51st St, New York, NY 10022, 212-223-6773 "First Caviar & Vodka, then leggy Slavic Supermodels. Now, the hot Russian import in Manhattan is Okeanos Club Spa. Tucked away on East 51st Street, 'it feels like a swank cruise ship.' --Conde Nast Traveler, 2006. Russian treatments once fit for ancient czars now are used to lavish the modern midtown executive. Okeanos brings traditional Russian spa therapies to Americans to de-stress in a simple but elegant style.

Turkish Baths, 268 E 10th St., Ste. 1, New York, NY 10009, 212-473-8806. Having served New York since 1892, it made its name with the locals for its authentic Russian-influenced massages and other spa treatments at a price that is too moderate for a location in Manhattan (even an entry-level can afford this Turkish baths). One should try Platza Oak Leaf treatment, which is described as “Jewish acupuncture” by some – a platza specialist will beat you with a broom made of fresh oak leaves, sopping with olive oil soap. The oak leaves contain a natural astringent, which will open your pores, remove toxins and take off layers of dead skin. Don’t swear it off until you try. Other services include: Swedish/Russian massage, Dead Sea Salt Scrub, Black Mud Treatment and Soap Wash (a professional will wash you with lavender, eucalyptus or peppermint soup like you haven’t been bathed in months.)

Juvenex Spa, 25 W 32nd St, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10001, 914- 401-4594. In South Korea, the good life is a full-service bathhouse. They make it a full-day family affair. Juvenex Spa might be a disappointment for men as this 24/7 Asian-inspired spa keeps its services and signature igloo sauna mostly for the ladies. Five floors above bustling Midtown, women run the show at a relaxing mid-size spa, where flowing water and the open space decorated in wood, stone and tiles make for a naturally peaceful milieu. All paths lead to the spa nucleus, where the signature igloo sauna (made of semi-precious stones), herbal steam room and juice bar are clustered alongside three soaking tubs infused with noni, sake, ginseng and tea tree. However, men are welcome too, only men may enter only in the evenings.

Inspa World, 131-10 11th Ave., Queens, NY 11356, 718-939-6300. That was quite a challenge to recommend a true-to-core Korean spa, which would challenge your understanding of traditional Korean spa treatments and atmosphere. However, there is one traditional Korean 24-hour bathhouse where families soak, steam and eat together, and sometimes even sleep over. According to New York Times: “This crazy, flashy, 60,000-square-foot monster spa opened in 2006 in the College Point neighborhood next to Flushing. There, tackiness and technology become one in a fantasyland of wacky saunas and bubbling hot pools of all shapes and sizes. A watch-like electronic gizmo opens your two lockers (one for shoes, one for everything else), and allows you to pay for anything extra, like a massage or a piña colada at the Caribbean-style in-pool bar. Everyone — Korean families and a sizable number of outsiders — prances around in Inspa uniforms, orange for women and blue-gray for men, sort of like an ultra-low-security prison.”

7. Shop like a local Fashionista does:

Top Shop – set to open in Spring 2009, get not only a preview of the best new British import, but get the latest from Kate Moss’ collection at a cheap (no shipping and handling now required). Ridiculously famous British chick store has finally arrived to the states. Check it out online for now, and make a list before heading to New York.

Century 21, 22 Cortland Street, New York, NY 10007 (between Church and Broadway) – for decades this store downtown Manhattan, just across the World Trade Center Memorial, has been the dig land for many local fashionistas before it was discovered by Germans, Italians, Japanese, Spanish, French, Russians and the other ‘aliens’, who discovered the best-kept-secret and now every time around stock up on one-of-a-kinds top brand cloths, shoes and accessories. It’s all about setting a clock to go, dig at your own life threat (to be knocked up by another fierce fashionista who would fight for that one-of-a-kind Gucci skirt.)

Get Bitten by Sarah Jessica Parker, exclusively at Steve & Berry’s, Manhattan Mall, 6th Ave. & 33rd St., New York,NY, 1000, 212-564-9801

They also offer some authentic Sex and the City merchandise, not the widest assortment I’ve seen (there is more variety on the Times Square at Indian-owned gift & souvenirs stores, but the quality is not the same.)

Noisette, 54 North 6th Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 718-388-5188 – a French charme in bohemian Williamsburg offers a very small assortment of cloths, shoes, accessories – almost as if “made to order” – but it’s so damn charming.

Uniqlo, 546 Broadway, New York, NY 10012 USA, 917-237-8811 – UNIQLO introduces a unique, distinctly modern Japanese clothing brand to the Americans.

Jumelle, 148 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718-388-9525. Even though Jumelle is not in Manhattan, but located in Brooklyn, its sales make Manhattan fab crowd take that long subway ride in style.

Odin New York, 328 E 11th St, New York, 212-475-0666. The store features a dozen very talented both up-and-coming and established-on-a-local-scene designers who either came from abroad to study fashion design in NY or are New York natives who are graduates from local fashion schools.

Pas de Deux (French name for a ballet reference for when a man assists a woman), 330 East 11th St, New York, NY 10003, 212-475-0075 Eddy Chai and Paul Birardi, the duo behind menswear store Odin are the owners of this women’s boutique in the East Village. It’s a new kid on the block since it’s only opened in August 15. Pas de Deux is decked in the style of a chichi French boutique and the covetable lineup of designers includes Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Diana Orving, Rag & Bone, and Shipley & Halmos for apparel, Boyy handbags, and shoes from Repetto and Loeffler Randall.

And of course, there is always shopping at the malls and boutiques in Soho, 34th and Broadway (the home of Macy’s) and Columbus Circle.

8. Central Park (the oasis of New York City):

Gorgeous all year around. During winters you can see upper east, upper west and midtown in great deal thanks to bare trees. During summers, go to Central Park SummerStage, to see if you might be able to get down with the locals, literally – get a blanket, wine and cheese and watch classic music concert or Broadway-Under-Stars, on small and big lawns in the park.

Boathouse, 72 Central Park W, New York, NY 10023, 212-517-2233

Tavern on the Green, Central Park at West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023, 212-873-3200

Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10028

Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th Street), New York, NY 10128-0173

The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, New York, NY 10021, 212-288-0700

Bike, walk, run, rollerblade, horse-ride or rollerblade – see what you can rent in Central Park.

If you are traveling with kids, or you are a still a kid-at-heart yourself, you might get a kick out of very small, but adorable Central Park Zoo, 830 5th Ave, New York, NY 10065, 212-439-6500

9. Broadway:

Visit to NY cannot be completed without a Broadway musical / show. There are more than 35 Broadway shows, not including many off- and off-off-Broadway shows (off-Broadway shows are shows that are not played in Broadway district theatres, but rather are staged at small theatres around the city. But don’t under-estimate these shows, you might be surprised to find out that Ethan Hawke, often does plays in off-Broadway.)

Ethan Hawke’s, off-Broadway credits to date:
Killer’s Head, Signature Theatre (1997)
The Late Henry Moss, Signature Theatre (2001)
Hurlyburly, Acorn Theatre (2005)
Things We Want, Acorn Theatre (2007)

For Broadway shows and tickets, go to Broadway.com, however, always know that you can get a 50-percent discount ticket on the same night of a show on Times Square at a Tickets Booth on 47th and Broadway (you can’t miss it.)

10. Flea and Farmer's Markets:

Visit 42nd Street’s Sunday flea market for vintage goodies, Union Square Farmer’s Market for fresh veggies, fruits, homemade cookies, honey and jam. Cheese, bread, cider are worth to check out as well. New Yorkers especially like to stock on some fresh flowers.

42nd Street’s Sunday flea market, 140 West 42nd Street, Manhattan, NY 10036, 212-840-1500

Union Square Farmer’s Market, 14th Street and Broadway, opened throughout the year on Mon, Wed, Fri and Saturdays, between 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., the market offers a great range of organic and traditional foodstuffs and some great home cooked pies,

11. Once on Upper West Side, stop by Zabar's, 2245 Broadway, New York, 212-787-2000. An ideal store, which offers best food products from around the world.

12. Visit Gay liberation monument in Christopher park, Greenwich village and check out Stonewall Bar, the birthplace of the famous "Stonewall Riots", 53 Christopher Str., New York, NY 10014, 212-488-2705.

13. Be a witness to Woody Allen playing jazz live at Café Carlyle, or at 92nd Y Street Community Center. (When I lived on the corner of 92nd and Lexington, in a very old pre-war building, often enough on my way to subway station at 86th and Lexington Avenue, I would run into Woody Allen, once stumbled over by accident, causing some little distress to the old man.)

14. And if you are a really big fan of movies and TV series that were shot in New York, take one of the “location” tours that will ride you through Sex and the City hotspots, Soprano Sites in NY and New Jersey and other favorites with On Location Tours, New York City's only TV and movie tour company.

Visit Daily Candy for more information on shopping and sample sales and more, and visit NYCVisit.com, for more other ideas. I suggested just a few things that are of interest to and popular among the New Yorkers, but you might be wanting to know where to go for touristy things and places, like World Trade Center, The Empire Building and New York Exchange. This information is available in any guidebooks.

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