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27 January 2009

New York Condensed

Following on from my 'London Condensed' guide, it's probably time to unveil my Idiot's Guide to NYC, Bexquisite-style. I have probably already mentioned most of these suggestions at least once in the past (Joe alone getting over a dozen plugs, even if some just in passing), which probably isn't surprising given the 64 NYC-themed posts over the past two years (65 including this one), which is more attention than London has received and almost as much as Nowheresville, movies, music and shopping!

Still, I did discover some new places on my last trip and as this was four whole months ago now, I think that's enough time to have reflected upon whether my fickle favour was just in passing or whether they are really worthy of the top 10.

So, in no particular order (given that this list is so much more than the sum of its parts, ranking would be inappropriate, even for a typical first-born, listophile like me; however, because even after two years I still haven't mastered using bullet points in this retarded blogging software (at least, not without messing up the font and line spacing of all the ensuing paragraphs; even trying to learn HTML didn't solve this problem), I am going to use arbitrary numbers).

Food & Drink
1. Joe--The Art of Coffee. Did I mention how much I love Joe? I'm just sad that they aren't holding one of their milk steaming classes while I am there as I'm desperate to learn the tricks of the trade for making a heart (or a leaf or a rose) appear in my froth (from what I've observed, it's all in the angle and the wrist action). Also, last time I went, I didn't have any cash on me and they don't take cards so the lovely guy in the Chelsea branch told me I could pay next time. I don't care if it's been four months, I am definitely going to pay back the $4 (although back then, $4 was worth about £2.30, while now it's more like £17).

2. Corner Bistro. When one is in NYC, one must have a burger and Corner Bistro's are great: juicy, meaty and cheap. Fine dining, it ain't, and the service is a little unpredictable (ranging from sullen the first time I went and took up a whole table for two by my lonesome self; the second time, I sat at the bar and chatted away to the barman who was trying valiantly to explain the rules of American football to me (it was on in the background), while I valiantly tried to read my Pynchon). CB is very New Yorky, though, even if its West Village location has, in the past, caused me severe navigational challenges--especially problematic when I was starving and it was pouring with rain.

3. Employees Only. I love to sit at the bar in Employees Only, drinking gorgeous cocktails (the ginger smash is particularly good, although I've had a spot-on mojito there too). I'm not sure whether I was annoyed or flattered when I started spotting it on various lists of NYC's best purveyors of cocktails--it's kind of nice to share these secrets only with friends but equally, it's quite nice to have some confirmation that the place you are drinking in really is one of New York's finest. They even have a psychic at the entrance, just in case you can't make up your mind which cocktail to have ("I see a Billionaire in your future...").


4. Ess-a-Bagel. Ess-a-Bagel's bagels are big, soft, tasty and cheap, which is everything that English bagels are not. The range of fillings is pretty staggering in this Austrian bakery, but if I go at lunchtime, a toasted poppy bagel with a little bit of butter is big enough to keep me going until cocktail hour (or, at least, until coffee time). I also like Absolute Bagels but as they are on Broadway and about 107th Street, I only visit when I'm staying at one of the two hostels up there. Ess-a-Bagel have a midtown location on 3rd Avenue, which is pretty close to the hotel on my next trip so it's entirely possible that I will be breakfasting there on at least one occasion.

Retail Therapy
5. J. Crew. I don't care if J. Crew is boring and I don't care if the first family wear their clothes. I don't even care (much) if the shocking exchange rate means that their cute, colourful cardigans, sparkly tops and pretty skirts aren't quite as good value as they were last May or even last October. I find more clothes I like after a good one-day cruise of the various branches than in a whole year of winding my way through the depths of Top Shop. Also, I like the little steps up to the SoHo store and the fact that they give you little bottles of water while you wait for the fitting rooms. Easily pleased? Moi? Jamais...

6. Housing Works and Shakespeare & Co. It's cheating really to include both of these indie bookshops in the same entry (yes, it's still cheating, even if I make up the rules) but I couldn't really choose between them. Housing Works was a recent discovery and is like the Oxfam Bookshop in Oxford except a million times more awesome and with free wifi, a cafe with good coffee and great cakes, a really good selection of cheap, used fiction and celebrity customers! So, it's not at all similar to charity bookstores in the UK. Shakespeare and Co. isn't quite so cheap, given that it sells mainly new books. It also has a smaller selection (with a big focus on theatre and the movies) but is equally fun to browse, certainly compared to the Bookstore at the End of the Universe (the planet's biggest book shop). Also, they have a really fat, cute cat, which is tame enough not to abandon ship when approached by over-caffeinated, English cat nutters.

7. Bedford Ave. and Beyond. I discovered Brooklyn on my last trip to NYC. Well, a very small, once cool but now so passe part of it: Williamsburg. Previously, though, my only experience had been getting the subway to High Street Brooklyn so that I could run straight over the Bridge to Manhattan so I felt like I was really branching out. On and off the main drag, Bedford Avenue, there is a bounty of boutiques of the kind I like (specialising in clothes by small, indie designers, tasteful jewellery, pretty handbags and girlie stationery), including Catbird (of the nautical necklace), Jumelle and Sodafine. Comme refreshment, there are more cooler-than-thou independent coffee shops than you can shake a pair of skinny jeans at. I picked Verb, natch, though hopefully, Verb hasn't been verbalised yet ("so, I Verbed last night with Clive").

Other Diversions
8. Brooklyn Bridge. I went running over Brooklyn Bridge even before I did running outdoors, back in my gym bunny days. The view is quite stunning, although why some of the guidebooks suggest people walk away from Manhattan is beyond me. I've got hundreds of photos of the bridge and of a View from the Bridge but somehow, there hasn't been a photo of me leaping there yet, so I hope my knees will be in a leaping state by then (and that snow doesn't stop play).

9. Top of the Rock. Everyone goes up the Empire State Building on their first trip to New York. Well, actually, I went up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty on my first trip to New York but that was 1995 and they did things differently there. On the second trip, though, we went up the Empire State and I have since done it on many occasions, in various temperatures, with various people and at various times of day. The Top of the Rock is now my favourite Ascendable Tall Building, though. It's less crowded than the ESB, there is room to leap and to be photographed leaping, you get a great view of the ESB and, best of all, you can take photos without annoying glass or fences in the way, unlike up the ESB. So, Top of the Rock rocks.

10. Bloomie Nails. Given that I don't really like people touching my hands, having manicures or beauty treatments of any kind, it's perhaps odd that this little chain of nail bars makes my top 10. However, getting a manicure is a very NYC thing to do and the technicians do a great job of making even my grubby mitts look dainty and elegant, even if they do tell me my skin is too dry ("look, lady, you try living in Nowheresville when there are no mountains between there and Siberia!") and, when you pay before they apply the polish (so you don't smudge the varnish getting your credit card out), they point meaningfully at the little card that says, "We take Amex, oh and by the way the price doesn't include a tip; we suggest at least 20%," and you know that if you don't tip them, they will probably turn those sharp and shiny nail tools into instruments of torture. Nonetheless, they use the OPI varnishes I like and their manicures are really, really cheap compared to England and, for a week or two, my hands feel really soft and my nails look pretty. Our hotel on the next trip is next to the Bliss Spa so I'm also optimistic that at least one parent will offer to get me a massage or a posh hand treatment/manicure there.

Apart from the Williamsburg excursion (too time consuming when you only have three-and-a-half days) and the Top of the Rock, which I did last time, I hope to do all of my required-experiences on my next visit. Then again, the choice between a really good burger in a divey restau-bar and a posh dinner in a swanky but cool restaurant is a pretty tough one to make, so it's conceivable that I might cheat on Corner Bistro with a smarter alternative. On verra!


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