On three layovers and six proper stays in NYC, I’ve marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, herded students from Central Park to the Statue of Liberty, had tea at The Plaza, took an elevator to the top of the Twin Towers, volunteered after 9/11, celebrated my sis’s birthday in Times Square, found writing mojo at the Creativity Workshop, introduced Manhattan to my daughter when our connecting flight was cancelled, and dashed in an Uber to Queens’ Don Peppe restaurant on a long wait for a connecting flight.
Whether I have just a New York minute or several days, the island’s eclectic energy always recharges me. I love the city for its icons, like the Empire State Building and Broadway, and for its diversity. I love traveling in Europe, Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean, but when I don’t have the money or time to go abroad, a quick trip to the Big Apple IS a global getaway.
“I love New York because within its borders you can travel the world.” —Dennis Gonzalez
This fall I experienced NYC in a way I’ve wanted to for years–a stay in the Soho area to relax like a local. I met my friend, Kate, who’d flown in from Morocco. Unlike our previous annual reunions since I moved home from Marrakesh, this one was short– only 48 hours-– so our agenda was no agenda, my favorite way to catch up with old friends.
We sauntered, savored, and (as Kate calls it in her Australian accent) popped into boutiques to “have a snoop.” We enjoyed slow travel and serendipity in a town that never sleeps and found, truly, that less is more. Here’s how we kept it simple and you can, too.
We decided to venture no farther than Chelsea. (Carrie Bradshaw’s apartment–should you want to stalk the fictional character on Sex and the City and her girls as I’ve done for years— is at 66 Perry Street between Bleecker and West 4th.) Kate enjoyed scouting the neighborhood while staying in this Airbnb before I arrived. She then joined me at an apartment in Nolita, “North of Little Italy,” owned by my friend and former student, a graduate of NYU who became a resident. As she headed out of town, Cayce graciously handed over her keys to her fabulous studio apartment with a list of what to do and where to eat in the area. Laughing, she wished us luck with the crowds at the Feast of San Gennaro just around the corner in Little Italy and gave us alternatives if we wanted to avoid Mulberry Street and the line at Prince Street Pizza. She also pointed us to places to roam and dream… McNally Jackson , Sezanne, and Elizabeth Street Garden. Local hosts are the best!
Cayce’s list included La Mercerie for French cuisine, Baz Bakery, run by a local Italian/Jewish family, Osteria Morini, Rubirosa, Aunt Jake’s Pepe’s Cellar (Italian) and YN Bar (Italian-influenced); La Esquina (Mexican), and Sel Rose (beautiful oyster bar in the tradition of artist salons in early 20th century Paris) for drinks. She also suggested Two Hands, a local favorite for coffee.
Friday night we did join the celebration on Mulberry Street at the Feast of San Gennaro, but as warned, by Saturday we were ready to escape the crowd for a more relaxing Italian dinner. We found it on Mott Street at Pepe Rosso Social.
Discovering two hubs of Spanish food —one like Madrid’s food halls and the other an intimate family-owned restaurant–was a treat. We exited the High Line (see below) at Hudson Yards and checked out Mercado Little Spain, which The New York Times raves “offers more delicious things to eat per square foot than anywhere else in New York.” Chef José Andrés, named twice on their “100 Most Influential People” list and awarded “Outstanding Chef” and “Humanitarian of the Year” by the James Beard Foundation, has created a delicious gathering space. Inside the connecting mall are cellphone lockers for recharging while you eat or shop.
Serendipity led me to another Spanish haven when I had only an hour before heading to the airport. While Kate packed, I decided to enjoy music at the Italian Fest one last time and hopefully find an Aperol Spritz as delicious as the Spritz Veneziano I’d had New Year’s Eve in Venice . Instead a discovery transported me to another one of my favorite places on earth, Galicia, Spain— seafood capital of the world, final destination of pilgrims on the the Camino de Santiago , and home of my friend, Moni. My only regret of discovering Tomino Taberna Gallega, owned by a family from that region, was that I had no time or room left after brunch (see below) for their Pulpo á Feira (Galician-style octopus ), my very favorite dish on earth. I did enjoy their sangria and tapas and hope to try their octopus on a future trip one day.
Silverware clanging in the kitchen, mahogany floors creaking as waiters weave around guests, coffee gurgling from silver pots into china cups, crystal mimosa glasses toasting to jazz, sunlight streaming through the windows, friends laughing. Sunday Brunch is my favorite meal out, especially in NYC.
It was hard choosing between craft cocktails, cheese plates, oysters, and omelets. We decided on the Nicoise salad with rare tuna, anchovies, and eggs so we wouldn’t feel so guilty about also ordering the Bananas Foster French Toast with Vanilla Ice Cream, Rum, Caramel, and Almonds. About that dessert…no words.
We had a coffee at Balthazar, a beloved French cafe in Soho just to see the gorgeous interior. I found more delicious, diverse options for brunch, like Cafe Clover in the East Village and The Butcher’s Daughter in Nolita for vegans like my son. In the West Village, Seinfeld fans can eat at legendary Katz Delicatessen, loved long by locals and featured by Anthony Bourdain.
I saved Shoo Shoo , an Israeli restaurant in Nolita serving Mediterranean cuisine on a gorgeous marble bar and tables on the terrace, for a return visit. I hope to try their Octopus Alla Plancha (grilled on a metal plate like I had enjoyed here) and Moroccan Cigars, beef and lamb with dry mint and pine nuts served on grated tomatoes, tahini, and tatbila sauce someday.
Ok, locals we saw Saturday along the Hudson River on our way to the The High Line, a 1.45 mile greenway built along a former New York Central Railroad train track , were sprinting –not strolling. Guess this explains how they stay fit despite Sunday brunches and amazing food available everyday, everywhere in Lower Manhattan. Getting there was a hike, but we took our time through the Village and Chelsea, stopping in boutiques and at farmers’ markets along the way.
Atop the High Line, the pace slowed even more. We passed weekend readers and nappers on loungers as we photographed our way to Hudson Yards.
Sunday after brunch we did more of the same, wandering down shady streets… stopping by Li-Lac Chocolates, NYC’s finest since 1923, where I won their monthly box of chocolates giveaway…and enjoying a very cherished, almost-secret garden.
On another visit I hope to get to this Soho art gallery where Charlotte on Sex and the City worked. What else did I miss? I’d love to hear your favorite places and experiences in Lower Manhattan or any other area that’s a must-stay, savor, and stroll.