Travel Feature: New York, USA
Jon Dean unearths some hidden gems in the Big Apple
New York, New York, the city so nice they not only named it twice, but documented all of its virtues extremely thoroughly. And the place has some stunning sights; the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Broadway and the Brooklyn Bridge, for example, are some of the best known tourist attractions in the world.
But having visited NYC a couple of times, and indulged in any of the city’s more obvious delights, I was determined to get under its skin and, if you’ll pardon the clich�, do New York like a Nu Yoican.
Having decided on this course of action, I had to work out where to stay, and the up and coming lower east side seemed a good bet.
Strictly speaking made up of the LES and the East Village, the bottom right corner of Manhattan between the East River and Bowery has come along way from the tough neighbourhood of the 70s and 80s.
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In a process of gentrification that will be familiar to Londoners, the streets are now full of cool bars, corner cafes and tasty restaurants.
From the bohemian area surrounding New York University, it gets progressively more rough and ready as you head east into Alphabet City.
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In keeping with the native theme of the holiday, we booked an apartment on the corner of Eighth Street (St Marks) and Second Avenue, a bustling area of Asian restaurants, pubs and myriad nightlife. It was in Bagouette, an excellent Vietnamese joint on Eighth, where I had my first experience of Banh Mi (Vietnamese food tucked inside a French baguette).
Having your own place really is a great way to see the city. You can cook, lounge about watching US TV, have guests round and nip out to the 24 hour shops for supplies. You really feel part of the neighbourhood.
The apartment itself was lovely – spacious and welcoming. As the owner lived there for some of the year it had plenty of decorations and character, a real home from home.
From our base we explored the lower east side, breakfasting in cafes and ducking into thrift shops and galleries.
The Moonstruck, on Second Avenue, was a particular favourite - a diner open early enough to coincide with our jet-lag and with a cheap, belly-busting menu.
Strolling down Second Avenue was an experience itself - various cool watering holes offered happy hour cocktails and we spent one very pleasant evening popping into some of them on our way to dinner.
The meal in question was at Freemans, a fantastic little place down an alley off Rivington. Exceptional pre-dinner cocktails, impeccable service and a cracking steak combined for a memorable evening.
Having fallen in love with this patch of Manhattan, our next stop was the southern tip of the LES and the Hotel on Rivington.
A huge glass structure sandwiched between old school tenement blacks, the HOR is surely the best hotel in NY.
Everything about is oozes modern style and convenience – our room featured three glass walls with stunning views over the city and a bathtub so big you could swim in it.
From the Rivington it’s a pleasant ten minute stroll to Chinatown and Little Italy. Both tourist hotspots (and with the latter allegedly a poor cousin of the more authentic Bronx version) there are still plenty of surprises.
Bustle your way into the food shops and see live frogs ready to cook, or sneak down a sidestreet to get a cheap massage or bargain blow-dry.
After a brief stop for the obligatory early-evening cocktail, we repaired uptown to TJ Keane’s, on West 47th Street. One of the city’s oldest pubs, frequented by baseball player Babe Ruth in his pomp, their lamb chops are a speciality not to be missed.
The following day we headed to a dinner party in a warehouse in a corner of Brooklyn called Red Hook. Although slightly isolated form the rest of the borough, the view of the Statue of Liberty across East River was stunning as the sun went down.
Afterwards we went for a few drinks in the area. The paucity of subway stops in Red Hook mean it is unlikely to become a hugely fashionable hood, but the place is full of cute little bars, many of them named after prominent sites from the war of independence.
We stopped for a while in Fort Defiance, on Van Brunt Street, where troops held out against the British in the 1700s, and we whiled away a few hours eating homemade tacos and sipping surprisingly good martinis.
One of my favourite NYC traditions, particular when suffering from the night before, is the all day brunch. Essentially an egg-based meal and unlimited cocktails for about �15, its a practice I wish they would introduce to London.
We headed to a well-known brunch emporium called Essex, on Essex Street. After a delicious steak and eggs with a few bloody Mary’s and bellini’s things were looking up and we felt brave enough to head west to the meat-packing district.
Home to a healthy dollop of destination shopping, it also has a German beer hall housed underneath the elevated train tracks, on Washington Street. It’s well worth a visit, but be warned the wine is significantly less good value than the beer.
No trip to NYC is complete without taking in some local comedy. We went to the Broadway Comedy Club, on West 53rd Street, and while the show wasn’t a classic, something about our American cousins’ bombastic approach to stand up rarely fails to raise a laugh.
On our final day we took the train over the river to the well known hipster hang out Williamsberg.
One of the area’s more famous establishments is Beacon’s Closet - the nearest thing to a vintage superstore I have ever seen.
On an unseasonably hot day we wandered around the leafy streets and visited various boutique shops, before lunching on a classic American burger in a cracking little pubs called Teddy’s, on Berry Street.
While across the river we took a wander round the Brooklyn Museum, which features some impressive exhibits as well as Target First Saturday’s, when the museum is open late and serves booze.
The beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, on Washington Avenue, are also well worth a visit if you are in that part of town.
Then it was time to leave. New York is such a vast city with so much depth its impossible to do the place justice in one visit.
However, with cabs being so cheap compared to our own Hackney carriages, exploring some of the less well trodden areas is pretty straight forward.
Although we only scratched the surface of this great city, I certainly felt we met our remit of digging a little bit deeper into its glorious underbelly.