You’re Not A Tourist: New York City
At any given moment, NYC is in the midst of unveiling a buzzy new hotel, restaurant, bar, or gallery opening. Needless to say, it can be hard to track down just what to do when you visit. Rather than resort to typical Manhattan tourist traps (sorry, Times Square), why not follow the locals to the city’s coolest, insider offerings? We’re talking mezcal bars hidden behind bodega doors, dining rooms perched 60 stories over FiDi, and tiny museums tucked in Tribeca freight elevators. Below, 13 exceptionally cool experiences you won’t find with a simple Google search. You can thank us later.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
These days, it seems like art galleries are nothing if not Insta-bait. While Mmuseumm does fit your feed quite nicely, there’s a lot more to it than a photo op. The postage stamp-sized museum—it’s tucked into a six-foot-by-six-foot Tribeca freight elevator— from filmmakers Alex Kalman and Josh and Benny Safdie (directors of Robert Pattinson-starred Good Time) explores object journalism. If you’re scratching your head at what that means, in Mmuseumm’s context, it’s simply learning about a time, place, or person through its objects. Current exhibits include world-leader-used tissues, Venezuelan counterfeit goods, and border wall prototypes. Drop by and we’re certain you’ll find more than you might have expected.
Brooklyn is still in the midst of a boutique hotel boom, and the debut of The Hoxton, Williamsburg gave city dwellers and visitors their most tempting reason yet to cross the East River. As the brand’s first North American outpost (you’ll find others in Amsterdam, London, and additional hip hoods across Europe), the hotel had a lot to live up to. Our verdict? It got the job done. Set in the footprint of the former Rosenwach Factory—the manufacturer of Brooklyn’s iconic wooden water towers—the Hoxton’s 175 rooms are appropriately industrial-chic, kitted out with concrete ceilings, bespoke linens from BK-based Dusen and Dusen, brass details, and mohair headboards. Of course, a hotel of this caliber delivers on the food front as well; you’ll find three restaurants and six bars on property, including an all-day lobby eatery called Klein’s and the open-air rooftop Summerly.
Manhattan has no shortage of clandestine drinking dens, but Blue Quarter is an interesting take on the sometimes-indulgent trend—and a sure-fire way to impress even your most plugged-in friends. Tucked behind a Chefchaouen-blue keyhole door in Local92, a Mediterranean kitchen in the East Village, the bar eschews traditional mixers in favor of exotic international teas. On the menu, you’ll find Middle Eastern- and Asian-inspired tipples like the Oolong Island Iced Tea (“many” clear spirits, velvet falernum, and cola) and the Not My Presidenté (white rum, aperol, blanc vermouth, and mint tea).
NYC churns out comedians at a breakneck pace, and while you can find established acts at clubs like Carolines on Broadway, the Comedy Cellar, and even the Upright Citizens Brigade (brought to you in part by Amy Poehler), you’ll find a different kind of set right here on the Lower East Side. The city’s resident home for “intelligent nightlife,” cabaret-esque Caveat hosts all kinds of programs, from comedic acts like Why Your Train is F*cked: A Love/Hate Comedy Show About the History of the MTA and the Ride or Die: Oregon Trail Live Drinking Game (exactly what it sounds like) to more scholastic lectures and interactive chats like The Science of Self Care and Talks Progress Administration (“a mad science experiment on stage”)—all hosted by researchers, scientists, and other card-carrying PhD professionals. The intimate, underground venue serves up craft beer and wine in dimly-lit library digs, so you can cozy up among the bookshelves for a few laughs that’ll also make you think.
We’ll never be too “grown-up” to acknowledge that IKEA is awesome, but if you’re looking for a quality piece of furniture to replace your well-loved EKTORP or POÄNG, Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co. has you covered. The retailer deals in all sorts of classic American home goods like analog clocks, one-of-a-kind pendant lights, woven throw pillows, and upholstered chairs. Even if you don’t have room in your suitcase for a brand-new ottoman or bar cart, it’s worth stopping by to browse smaller office and bedroom items like incense sets, art prints, plant misters, and coffee table books.
Set 60 stories above Lower Manhattan, Manhatta—from Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group—pairs its penthouse views (FiDi, the East River, and Brooklyn) with sophisticated French-American dishes. Guests are zipped up to the sky-high dining room via a private elevator, and once the doors open, they’re greeted by a walnut and marble bar, bronze pendant lights, and blue silk table cloths. On the three-course menu, choose between dishes like tuna tartare with peaches, tarragon, and endive; wagyu bavette; and duck a l’orange before getting lost in a panoramic city sunset.
You can always count on places like La Colombe or Brooklyn Roasting Co. for a quality cup of coffee, but if you’re in the West Village, you’d be mistaken to skip over Porto Rico Importing Co. The surreptitious shop has been on Bleecker Street since 1907, and for good reason: it’s packed to the rafters with burlap sacks of rare, international, and flavored beans ready to be freshly ground. Every itineration of iced coffee or latte is handed over the back counter; feel free to browse the shelves of French presses, hand drippers, and tea kettles while you wait.
Tucked beneath the tiki-inspired Happiest Hour in the West Village, Slowly Shirley is the subterranean watering hole of our Art Deco dreams. What’s more, the cocktail program is headed up by Jim Kearns, whose resumé is graced by stints at Death & Co. and Pegu Club—so you know he’s on top of things. Aperitifs nod to the bar’s Old Hollywood influence with drinks named after Ingrid Bergman, the Pacific Coast Highway, and The Usual Suspects. Bar snacks come courtesy of Shirley’s popular upstairs neighbor; pair your martini (and accompanying live jazz) with cheese and charcuterie, a shrimp cocktail, or a fontina grilled cheese.
If your go-to hotel neighborhood is still Midtown, it’s time to expand your horizons. Not ready to make the jump to Brooklyn? How about just downtown, to Manhattan’s recently revived South Street Seaport? The sumptuous Mr. C Seaport comes courtesy of fourth-generation Ciprianis—the same family behind luxe bars and restaurants like the former Rainbow Room, Harry’s Bar, and a host of eponymous eateries around the world. The brood’s Euro-styled boutique features 66 elegant guest rooms with crisp Italian linens, private furnished terraces, and arresting views of the East River, Brooklyn Bridge, and city skyline. While many attractions can be reached on foot—Wall Street, Battery Park, and One World Trade are all within walking distance—you can also request a ride from the hotel’s Lincoln Navigator or Continental, which are available to take you anywhere within a 20-block radius. Also not to be missed is the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Bellini, which serves up traditional yet approachable dishes like cacio e pepe, chicken Milanese, and scampi carpaccio.
If you love LA’s Egg Slut (or have never been to the West Coast but do religiously follow the restaurant’s IG account), you’ll want to swing by The Usual. The Nolita kitchen, the latest from chef Alvin Cailan, crafts comfort food with an international twist: calamari is dressed in spicy salt, Fresno chilies, and jalapeños; steak is done up with Korean chili, soy bean paste, sesame, and honey; and fried chicken is dressed up Louisiana-style with Cajun herbs and ranch dressing. Like the menu, the restaurant’s aesthetics are also something to be lusted over: a pink granite bar meets airy floor-to-ceiling windows, concrete walls, and gold lighting fixtures.
When it comes to shopping cities, NYC is an undisputed capital. Of course, there are the high-end shops on Fifth Avenue, but there are only so many times you can window-shop Louis Vuitton bags and Tiffany jewels before you’re checking your credit card limit in a trance. Our suggestion: head for Soho’s Canal Street Market instead. Similar to Chelsea Market, the 30-plus retail and food vendors here offer everything from eco-friendly KPOP accessories and vintage skateboards to Japanese shaved ice and Peruvian ceviche. Whether you’re browsing solo or have a BF, kid, or parent in tow, there’s a little bit of something here for everyone.
As if being Williamsburg’s only mezcal speakeasy wasn’t already enough, La Milagrosa had to take its X factor a bit further. Rather than a flashy sign or lengthy line alerting passersby to its existence, the pint-sized agave bar is hidden within an unassuming bodega—right behind a freezer door, in fact. Once you pass the shelves of salsa, dried chilies, and other Mexican pantry items, you’ll run into a clipboard-clad doorman who’ll check your reservation (this is necessary—call ahead). Inside, Felipe Mendez, the man behind WIlliamsburg’s La Superior and Cerveceria Havemeyer, has dressed up the curved, wood-paneled interior with a disco ball, electronic beats, flickering votive candles, and agave-based cocktails that live up to the hype.
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If you’ve been to NYC more than once, you’ve likely roamed the Picasso-, Dali-, and Van Gogh-adorned halls of art icons like the MoMA, The Met, and The Guggenheim. However, if you’re looking for a more underground experience next time you’re in town, make your way to Babycastles, a non-profit art collective and arcade in Chelsea. Here, revolving exhibitions heavily feature DIY games from indie designers and themes run the gamut from games about protest to hypnotic VR landscapes. You’ll also find concerts and lectures on the calendar, so depending on when you drop by, you may run into a scream-pop performance or an enlightening presentation on the history of Armenian art.
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