12 November 2018

Autumn Snapshots from New York City

In addition to checking out various speciality coffee spots on my recent visit to New York, I had a little time to explore the city once I'd finished my days in our company's Financial District office. October is one of my favourite months to visit New York — as the constant stream of Facebook 'memories' suggest — and I was really lucky with the weather. It was crisp and sunny most of the time — perhaps a little too crisp on my last day — which was perfect for wandering around the city.

After working for eight days straight, I decided to do all of my favourite NYC things (including some from this long weekend guide) on my day off. First off was a morning run from my Lower East Side hotel over Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and back via the Brooklyn Bridge — with a stop-off at the gorgeous new Cobble Hill branch of Stumptown Coffee. It was a beautifully clear morning and the views were fantastic. No matter how many times I cross Brooklyn Bridge, I still get a little thrill each time I step out onto the walkway.

As I'd done two of the three 'BMW bridges (a helpful mnemonic to remember the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges from south to north), I decided to walk over the Williamsburg Bridge from the LES to downtown Williamsburg, which took about 30 minutes. The weather wasn't quite as good as the day before but I still enjoyed the views.

After indulging in a little retail therapy, including at Baggu, Catbird, and Artists & Fleas, I wandered down to the riverfront for some street food at Smorgasburg. I don't know if it's always incredibly windy there or just when I go, but I did get a little chilly while I made the rounds of the food trucks, trying to narrow down my food choices. In the end, I went for some Mao's Baos, plus a massive dulce de leche almond doughnut from Dough, which I ate with a wonderful view of the Manhattan skyline.

One night after work, two colleagues and I went for cocktails at Elsa, a cool and beautiful cocktail bar in Cobble Hill. I'd actually visited Elsa's now-defunct East Village location some years ago and was happy to be back. As well as a cool neon sign, well-stocked bar and famously selfie-worthy bathrooms, Elsa's cocktails are spot on. I had the gin-heavy 'Hemp Ascot' and although I was a little sad the 'rainbow peppercorn' didn't translate into a rainbow-coloured cocktail, it was potent and very well mixed. In need of sustenance, we then hopped over the road to Table 87, sharing a massive coal-oven pizza with soppressata, which more than fit the bill.

Financial District
I spent the first couple of days of my trip in the Financial District, arriving from DC a couple of minutes too late to catch the sunset from Battery Park, although its aftermath was still pretty stunning.

Not wanting to travel too far or to wait in line for dinner, I decided to go to a new opening nearby called Pastagram. Although its name references Instagram, it isn't actually particularly Instagram friendly, mainly because the lighting isn't great. The pasta at the small eatery was pretty good, however. You can choose your noodle style and your sauce — or opt for one of their set dishes. I went for the 'don't touch my protein': chunky fusilloni pasta with ragù, which was tasty and filling.

After dinner, I went for a walk over to the Westfield mall inside the 'Oculus' World Trade Center transport hub. I took a few photos and did a little window shopping.

In the morning, I got up early to go for a run — and for coffee — snapping a quick photo of the old and new architecture on Trinity Street. And then I arrived at the office, where every visitor has to spend at least five minutes taking photos of the views of Lower Manhattan skyline and Liberty Island.

Lower East Side
For my last three nights, I moved to the Orchard Street Hotel in the heart of Lower East Side. October is a pretty expensive time to visit NYC, and even booking 3–4 months in advance didn't really yield any bargains. My room at the Orchard Street Hotel was tiny but had a great view, down to Lower Manhattan and up to the Empire State Building. It was also comfortable and quiet, and the hotel's location was ideal: in walking distance of or a short subway ride from most of the neighbourhoods I wanted to visit.

It definitely didn't hurt that my hotel was just one block down from new pizzeria Una Pizza Napoletana. I went one evening — try to go early if you don't have a booking — and ordered the margherita. Although expensive — the margherita was $22 plus tax and tip — it was absolutely delicious, with a puffy crust, creamy mozzarella and tasty tomato sauce, and the décor, ambiance and service were great too. Sometimes I forget how spoiled we are in London to be able to get world-class Neapolitan pizzas for under £10.

Soho & Nolita
It only took ten minutes to walk to Nolita from my hotel and I spent quite a bit of time there, shopping, coffee-shop hopping and wandering. I stopped into one of my favourite book stores, McNally Jackson (which is relocating but not closing, thankfully), a number of the clothing chains I like, and also the Amazon four-star shop, which stocks only items that have a four-star rating or higher on the Amazon website. I didn't buy anything but it was busy and there were plenty of tech, travel and kitchen items I could have bought.

On my last morning in the city, I went for breakfast at Egg Shop, which has been on my list for a long time. It was busy even at 9 am, but as I was dining solo I soon nabbed a spot at the bar. I had an excellent Egg Shop B.E.C. (bacon, egg, cheese) sandwich, with Vermont white cheddar, Black Forest bacon, tomato jam and pickled jalapeño. The coffee, which was good, is from Café Integral, which is located right next door.

West Village, Greenwich Village & East Village
Arriving in the city shortly before Halloween meant that the decorations and pumpkins were already out in full force. As I felt like doing a seasonal activity, I took a Boroughs of the Dead walking tour, one night. This entailed a two-hour wander through the East Village and Greenwich Village, ending near Washington Square. It wasn't supposed to be a 'scary' ghost walk, but there were lots of good historical stories — some rather tragic — and ghostly lore. Another time, I would like to take the 'forgotten dark histories of Lower Manhattan' tour.

It was 9.30 pm when the ghost tour finished and I was ravenous. I decided to go to Greenwich Village favourite, J. G. Melon, for a quick dinner. My no-frills bacon cheeseburger was juicy and perfectly medium rare. I probably didn't need a whole side of 'cottage fries', but they were tasty too.

Over in the West Village, I ate one of the best burgers I've ever had at Emily. Primarily a Detroit-style pizza restaurant, Emily also serves a limited number of burgers per day. With a double patty, American cheese, caramelised onions and 'Emmy sauce' on a pretzel bun, and curly fries on the side, this burger was immense and utterly delicious. At $26, it wasn't cheap, but I will definitely make a beeline to Emily on my next trip to New York.

For my last brunch of the trip, I went to Joseph Leonard in the West Village. I didn't book and had to wait about an hour for a spot to open up at the bar in the small, cosy restaurant, but I was able to leave my name and visit a few of my favourite shops in the area, like stationery store Greenwich Letterpress and travel book store Idlewild. Back at Joseph Leonard, I had a buttermilk fried chicken sandwich, which tasted great. Ahead of my flight home, I'd switched to mocktails, but like at their sister restaurant Jeffrey's Grocery, these are great too.

On this trip, I made my first visit to David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village, which has long been on my to-visit list. The signature pork belly ramen was comforting and delicious — just what I needed after a long day in the office and faced with a chilly evening. I arrived early and there was a seat available at the bar — by the time I left, closer to 7 pm, a line was starting to form at the bar. Speaking of David Chang, I binge-watched his excellent Netflix series Ugly Delicious, where each episode explores the culture and history underlying eight different popular foods. The first episode on pizza was particularly good.

I met an old friend for drinks at East Village bar Mace early one evening. Earning a place on the World's 50 Best Bars list, Mace has really excellent cocktails, each based around a different spice. Although the pink peppercorn listed on the menu wasn't available, the two drinks I tried (one acacia-based and one that invoked fragrant south-east Asian flavours and spices) were impeccable. We also got to sit by the window and watch the East Village stroll by.

Chelsea & Flatiron
I didn't spend much time above 20th Street on this trip but I did head up to see the Empire State Building lit up in blue and orange to celebrate the New York Knicks on my first night in the city. The stretch of Fifth Avenue and Broadway between 16th and 23rd Streets is one of my favourite places in the city to shop, so after I'd taken a few photos, I indulged in a spot of retail therapy too.

Further west, I also did my usual walk along the High Line one afternoon, which was busier than ever.

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