11 November 2019

An Autumnal Week in New York City

If you've been following my Instagram, you'll know that I spent a week in New York last month. I was there to work in my company's Financial District office but did get three weekend days and a public holiday free to explore in the city, and was blessed with crisp but sunny weather for most of the week. I'm lucky enough to visited New York about once or twice a year for the past quarter-century, which takes off the pressure and means coffee shops, restaurants and things to do can sometimes remain on my to-do list for a couple of years. I've already written about my most recent speciality coffee experiences here, but here's how I spent the rest of my trip.

I took an early flight from Heathrow on the Sunday, and made it to my Financial District hotel just after 2 pm local time. I headed straight out into the sunshine, and walked up Broadway to SoHo for a spot of shopping, before cutting over to Washington Square Park. As usual, there was a lively atmosphere, music, art and poetry. I try to visit the High Line at least once each trip and although it was very busy late on Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed the art and the views as always.

Speaking of views, the following day, I took the opportunity to visit the shiny, honeycomb-like structure known as The Vessel, which is located in the Hudson Yards development, way over on the west side of Manhattan, around 30th Street. It's free to climb to the top of the structure, but you need to book a ticket online — possible only from one of the screens at its base. As it was a sunny holiday Monday afternoon when I arrived, my entry slot wasn't for another 90 minutes, although the opening of the 7 subway line meant I was able to zip up to Central Park to kill some of the time. When I returned, I spent about an hour climbing up and down the many steps of the 16-storey structure, photographing it from all angles.

As I was staying in the Financial District, I spent some time visiting some of its sights from the old — the graves of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton in Trinity Church — to the new — the ultra-modern Oculus centre — and even caught a lovely sunset over the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park. My office view remains as stunning as always!

Over the week, I spent a fair amount of time crossing the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges. My standard running route goes over the Manhattan Bridge to Brooklyn and then back over the Brooklyn Bridge. I managed this twice, plus another shorter run to the middle of Brooklyn Bridge and back. Early mornings are the best time to do this, as the bridge is much quieter; later in the week, when I walked across on a sunny Saturday afternoon the bridge was completely packed. I also stopped by Washington Street in DUMBO, which offers a great view of the Manhattan Bridge between the buildings, and enjoyed an autumnal stroll through Brooklyn Heights, where I always enjoy playing a game of dream house hunting.

On Saturday, I walked over the Williamsburg Bridge from my new Nolita hotel to Williamsburg, where I brunched, shopped, visited Smorgasburg and then took the NYC Ferry down to DUMBO and the Time Out Market New York, whose rooftop offers great views of Lower Manhattan and the bridges . The following day, I took the subway to Prospect Heights to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was in full harvest festival mode.

As usual, I ate out a lot while in New York and this trip, I made particular efforts to visit some of the eateries and bars that had been on my list for some time.

Breakfast and brunch: I had weekend brunch at two reputed Brooklyn brunch spots while I was there: Sunday in Brooklyn (Williamsburg) and MeMe's Diner (Prospect Heights). I managed to score a seat the bar at the former by arriving soon after opening, and had the cheddar scramble with bacon and home fries, which was filling and tasty. At MeMe's, I put my name down and was able to return an hour later to take my seat at the bar, where I enjoyed a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, with a spicy twist. The food and service were great at both places. For a lighter breakfast, I always like bagels from Black Seed (Nolita), the B.E.C. (bacon, egg, cheese) being my particular favourite.

Dessert: While in Berlin in May, I ate at an excellent dessert bar, Coda. When I heard that a high-end dessert bar had just opened in New York's West Village, I was keen to visit. And as I had to head to JFK at around 5:30 pm on my last day, a dessert tasting menu was the perfect way to say goodbye to the city. At Marble Dessert Bar, you can pick a 'main' dessert from the short, creative menu, and you also get an amuse-bouche, a palate cleanser and petits fours. My main, which included pineapple, basil, lemon, mint and olive oil, was superb but the whole experience, sitting at the marble counter with exquisite service was greatly enjoyable. For rather less formal sweet treats, I stopped by Dough (Flatiron) for doughnuts and Dōmi @ Smorgasburg (Williamsburg) for a profiterole with Asian flavours.

Lunch and dinner: Last time I was in New York, I finally went to Emily (West Village) for a burger, which immediately joined the ranks of my all-time favourite burgers. Although Emily is most famous for its pizza, I had the burger again, and a portion of garlic-cheese bites (incredibly garlicky, incredibly moreish strips of pizza dough). Yes, I was very full for a long time. Yes, the vampires did stay away. I had another evening of carb overload in the West Village at Via Carota, where I beat the line by arriving early and alone. The 'nduja arancini, cacio e pepe and negronis were all spot on. During my trip, I also enjoyed some excellent Mexican food (tacos, enchiladas and a spicy margarita) at Rosie's (East Village), barbecue at Randall's Barbecue (Lower East Side) and fried chicken at Pat LaFrieda at Time Out Market (DUMBO). As a small atonement to these excesses, I ate at The Butcher's Daughter, a vegetarian restaurant in the Lower East Side, one night, and had a quinoa, broccoli and peanut salad, which a gorgeous dressing.

Cocktails: During my trip to Malaysia and Singapore, I reacquainted myself with the World's 50 Best Bars list. This encouraged me to fill a few gaps in my New York cocktail bar map. I started with Attaboy (#7), a Lower East Side speakeasy where there's no menu and the talented bartenders ask a few questions before surprising you with a drink. My Two Step — tequila, Cocchi, lime and muddled strawberries — was not something I'd have ordered myself but was superbly mixed. Meeting a good friend for drinks at the sleek NoMad Bar (#4) in the Flatiron district, was a rather different experience, although the cocktails were just as impeccable. The Nod to Nothing was fruity and tart but with enough creative pairings to create some very unique flavours.

The Dead Rabbit (FiDi; #22) is only two minutes' walk from my office, so of course my colleague and I headed there one evening when the wind and rain were out in full force. We sat in the Irish-pub-style downstairs bar, rather than the smarter upstairs lounge, which meant I got to enjoy a burger with my cocktail. The other bar I visited, Last Light, is located on the rooftop of Sister City, the Nolita hotel to which I moved for the end of my trip. With panoramic views up to the Empire State Building and down to Brooklyn Bridge, this is a great place to watch the sun go down with a drink in hand. I did exactly that and loved watching the lights come on. My cocktail was very good too.

Despite the continued slump of the pound against the dollar, I did quite a bit of shopping on this trip, taking advantage of some of the holidays sales to shop at some of my favourite US chains like J. Crew and LOFT. I also bought some black boots from Thursday Boots, which fit perfectly and have required no breaking-in period, which is really unusual for me. There is a store in SoHo and a showroom in the Flatiron (where I had to go because they were out of my size in SoHo). I've bought a few skincare and makeup products from Glossier, but as I prefer to try before buying, I decided to visit their SoHo bricks-and-mortar store (hint: go late in the evening to avoid a queue to get in). There's a curious new department store in NoHo called Showfields, which offers a home to various online-only brands, like S'well. They also have an 'experience' (culminating in a special slide of some kind) that you can book on to. The lift was quite fun too.

I've visited New York in mid-October two years in a row and have found hotel rates to be especially expensive, even for this city. For most of my trip, my company paid for my room at the DoubleTree by Hilton, Financial District, which is only a few minutes' walk from the office. The rooms are small but quiet and comfortable, and if you can get a high floor, as I did, there are good skyline views of Lower Manhattan.

For the last three nights, I moved to Sister City, a new 'little sister' in the Ace Hotel family, located on the Bowery, near Prince Street, on the borders of Nolita and the Lower East Side. The location was ideal for me, and although my room was small, it was well thought out, with minimalist décor, and a very comfortable bed. There's also a utility cupboard on each floor that contained a kettle, which made me very happy. The Last Light bar, as I mentioned above, is worth a visit even if you're not staying in the hotel.

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