What must I see/do in NYC?
March 22, 2005 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm in New York City until Sunday. I've been exploring mostly without direction so far, but I thought I'd throw it out to you guys. What should I see or do before I leave?

Details: I'm 20 years old, staying in Brooklyn Heights. If you know a good restaurant or two around that area, that would be great. The same goes for great bagel places, cafes, or restaurants in Manhattan, as I'll be around there a lot during the day. I've been following some advice from this thread, and any location-specific advice for clothes shopping would be great.

The Mefi archives proved to be a little too specific when I checked them, so I'd like to leave this as broad as possible. Any suggestions or advice would be much appreciated, so throw it out there even if you don't think it's right for me. Thanks.
posted by rfordh to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (47 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
La Mella on Mulberry St. has the BEST italian food in the world. Any cab driver can get you there. You MUST eat there.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 9:16 AM on March 22, 2005

here's a list of the places I visited during a lovely one-week conference earlier in the month:

central park
grand central station
ground zero and battery park
ny public library
museum of modern art (moma)
frick museum
whitney museum
metropolitan museum of fine arts (that's a few days if you want to do it well)
guggenheim museum
brooklyn bridge

as for food - the Carnegie Deli has fantastic sandwiches and cheesecake. Very spendy - but the sandwich will last you for a day or two (can't eat it all in one sitting) and the cheesecake is absolutely heavenly (esp strawberry)
posted by seawallrunner at 9:19 AM on March 22, 2005

If a 20$ ticket doesn't dissuade you, go to MoMA for the art and to see the new building.

If you're looking for something close to Brooklyn Heights I'd recommend that you go to Grimaldi's for some excellent pizza (they don't sell slices), or if you're willing to make a longer journey, go to No. 28 (at 28 Carmine Street in Manhattan) for a truly awesome experience.
posted by bshort at 9:22 AM on March 22, 2005

You can't go wrong with Henry's End, a tiny place with an open kitchen and great service. Beyond that, my advice would be to walk the city. Right where you are staying are little enclaves of Italian, Middle Eastern and Irish communities (Atlantic Ave., Court Street) with fascinating people. See the museums, landmarks and shops, but spend an afternoon walking too and you will experience the true NYC. .
posted by terrier319 at 9:26 AM on March 22, 2005

any location-specific advice for clothes shopping

Your profile doesn't mention your gender, so I can't be specific on clothes shopping advice, but check out Pearl River for fun, funky, unusual (for me, anyway) clothing.
posted by darsh at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2005

Hmm. I think of the Carnegie Deli as a tourist trap. Better you should go to Katz's, corner Ludlow & Houston (pronounced "house ton"), for a "real New York experience." Then, if you can still walk after you've eaten, there's good shopping around there. N.B.: Katz's is wholly unaware of the concept of vegetarianism. Send a salami to your boy in the army.
posted by scratch at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2005

If you're staying in Brooklyn, I'd recommend stopping by Brooklyn Brewery Friday night for their happy hour. $2.50 drinks and a good place to hang out. Bring your own food and stay a while.
posted by bDiddy at 9:27 AM on March 22, 2005

The thing I most enjoyed during my long weekend in New York City was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge, though I had the advantage of a warm August day (it may not be as pleasant in March!). The architecture is amazing, and very inspiring to see up close/from below, and the views give you a whole new perspective on how the city is laid out. Plus, it's free and you get some exercise!

A close runner-up was riding the ferry to Staten Island. Also free, with excellent views including the Statue of Liberty.
posted by handful of rain at 9:30 AM on March 22, 2005

Oh, and as a non-New Yorker, I was skeptical before I tried it, but Grimaldi's Pizza really should be in the running for the best pizza in the world. And it's in Brooklyn, close to the Brooklyn Bridge
posted by darsh at 9:31 AM on March 22, 2005

Katz's is good! Very good food.

Carnegie is an experience - and yes, a tourist oriented one. It's near Carnegie Hall, and this small hole-in-the-wall deli features autographed photos of current and has-been celebrities (Broadway and film). It's a mood - not for everyone, but if you like that kind of kitsch, that's the place to see it. And the portions are HUGE - be prepared.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:31 AM on March 22, 2005

MOMA and Whitney are open free on Friday nights, starting at 6pm iirc.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:32 AM on March 22, 2005

In Brooklyn: The Botanical Gardens are nice and so is Park Slope for restaurants and coffee shops. Williamsburg has some good bars and restuarants: personal favorites are (bars) The Brooklyn Ale House and Spuyten Duyvil and (restaurants) Aurora, Dumont and Zipi Zape (stupid name, great tapas).

In Manhattan: Central Park is always worth a few hours of aimless wandering. The East Village is good for wandering, shopping and people watching as well as eats and drinks. I tend to like my bars dark and disreputable-looking, so I hang out at Sophie's on 5th between Avenues A and B. Cafe Mogador on 8th between 1st and A makes a good brunch. For clothing: If you want to spend money go to SoHo. If you want to wander for hours and save money go to Century 21 downtown.
posted by idest at 9:33 AM on March 22, 2005

Your timing is such that you could go watch the elephants come through the midtown tunnel tonight, around midnight. Ringling Brothers Circus is at Madison Sq. Garden and there is no other feasible way to get the elephants into midtown, so they parade them all through the midtown tunnel. Surrealism ensues.
posted by dirtdirt at 9:38 AM on March 22, 2005

La Mella on Mulberry St. has the BEST italian food in the world. Any cab driver can get you there. You MUST eat there.

I'm going to say this as gently as I can, but if you think La Mella is the best italian in the world, you haven't gotten out much. This is a tourist trap, as are the majority of restaurants in this area.

For real Italian, try Al Di La, which is a short walk or train ride from Brooklyn Heights, at the corner of Carroll St. and 5th Avenue. You can take the R to Union St, walk up one block on Union to 5th, take a right, and go two blocks.
posted by spicynuts at 9:44 AM on March 22, 2005

For a Brooklyn day, if you haven't had one: the Transit Museum is pretty neat, and near Brooklyn Heights. From there, you could go see a first run or a rep film at BAM's Rose Cinemas and have the yummiest Cambodian food.

More broadly, I've the Met, the Natural History Museum and the Frick are great museums. The Whitney has a decent collection, but I hate its building. There's also this show, Ashes and Snow, that looks neat. Or for a park/museum combination, the Cloisters/Fort Tryon park are worth the subway ride to the northern tip of Manhattan.

There's H&M for clothes, one is at the northeast corner of Penn Station and another is across from St. Patrick's. Cheap and fashionable.
posted by dame at 9:47 AM on March 22, 2005

Listen, have to say it twice LA MELLA is an old world Italian joint... it's out of the way and usually has a zero tourist factor. It's authentic Italian; and the food is nearly orgasmic. Everyone I send there thanks me over and over again. You will not reget it.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 9:49 AM on March 22, 2005

I'm going to say this as gently as I can, but if you think La Mella is the best italian in the world, you haven't gotten out much. This is a tourist trap, as are the majority of restaurants in this area.

For real Italian, try Al Di La, which is a short walk or train ride from Brooklyn Heights, at the corner of Carroll St. and 5th Avenue. You can take the R to Union St, walk up one block on Union to 5th, take a right, and go two blocks.

Um. No. I ate at La Mella at least once a month when I was living in New York and I hardly ever saw tourist in there.
posted by Livewire Confusion at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2005

And of course, terrier319 is totally right. Just going for a walk is the ultimate New York experience.
posted by dame at 9:52 AM on March 22, 2005

The observation deck of the empire state building is open until midnight and on a clear night the view can't be beat.

Labyrinth books is an amazing academic bookstore, for some worth the trip to NYC.

Cafe La Fortuna (69 West 71st St) is a great place for a coffee near the park.

If wanna get medieval try the cloisters.
posted by shothotbot at 9:53 AM on March 22, 2005

I was in New York a few weeks ago, and had a gorgeous meal at Bread in Tribeca. Probably not much use to you, but there you are.
posted by ascullion at 9:54 AM on March 22, 2005

BTW, how can it be a tourist trap when it's not even LISTED with Zagat?
posted by Livewire Confusion at 9:55 AM on March 22, 2005

I third or fourth Katz's. A pilgrimage to CBGB's before it's gone is in order, too.
posted by jonmc at 9:57 AM on March 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Okay, let's settle this Italian restaurant dispute and keep it in Brooklyn. Two Toms outshines any if you're in for southern Italian. A firehouse kitchen atmosphere with no menus, serve your own drinks and no dessert (no room when you're done). I once wanted the veal chop when they had sold out. No problem - they sent someone on a quick trip to their Manhattan butcher to pick up some more. Hard to get a reservation -- best with groups of 3 or more.
posted by terrier319 at 10:09 AM on March 22, 2005

Everyone who visited me when I lived in NYC really enjoyed the Staten Island Ferry. It's my favorite place to take people in NYC.
I guess Coney Island is mostly still barred up at this time of year. . .
I always eat at Dojo when I go into the city; it's sort of bland, but I find it remarkably comforting. I like the one on St. Mark's better than the other.
I Prospect Park is neat; it rivals (surpasses, IMHO) Central Park in most respects. I miss Prospect Park a lot.
Just wander around the West Village and wish you could afford to live there. Stop into Corner Bistro for a burger and then have a beer at the Blind Tiger Ale house--they've got a hell of a selection.
posted by willpie at 10:11 AM on March 22, 2005

the Brooklyn Museum has a great Basquiat show on, and it's a very underrated place in general. Walk along the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights. Go gallery hopping in Chelsea. Go shopping everywhere. : >

should we have a meetup?
posted by amberglow at 10:14 AM on March 22, 2005

Response by poster: By all means, don't let my starting location dissuade you all from recommending things outside of Brooklyn. I'm quite close to the train.

amberglow: I don't know if a member as quiet as myself warrants a get-together, but if there's interest...
posted by rfordh at 10:21 AM on March 22, 2005

Suggestions already made in this thread that I wholeheartily second:

- Brooklyn Bridge/Grimaldi's
- West Village (Blind Tiger if you like beer)
- Staten Island Ferry/Statue of Liberty views
- Central Park/The Met


- Walking. Get a good map, a decent pair of sneakers, and just explore the city. Good areas for doing this include almost all of lower manhattan, the village, the west side (beautiful park with a bike path going), and the lower east side (great food and history, including the Tenement Museum and Guss' Pickles), the UN/Tudor City (a quiet residential neighborhood right next to the center of global politics). If you see an interesting place, stop, and go in. It's the best way to experience the city -- probably better if you have a NYer with you to point things out, but it's fun to explore alone too.
- Go to a really $$$$ restaurant once, if you can afford it. Most will be impossible to get a reservation at, but some take walk-ins. Call the day of to see if there has been a cancellation, or else see if you can sit at the bar. If you want suggestions for particular places to eat, chowhound.com is a great resource.
- Stay away from midtown. No fun.
posted by thirdparty at 10:50 AM on March 22, 2005

Sorry, Livewire, you sound like a shill: La Mella is barely above ketchup and macaroni. Not worth the money, not worth the time, not a fruitful experience. I've eaten there and hated it. It's where people go who don't know better.
posted by Mo Nickels at 11:48 AM on March 22, 2005

There's so much to second and third from the above: BAM, a walk over the bridge, chinatown, and more...

Did I miss the bagel recommendations? Or are people too tired of bagel talk from the other thread? I'll take a stab, but first some qualifiers: I am not a native new yorker nor am I a bagel aficionado. (But I play one on TV). I like to take out of towners to Ess-a-Bagel on 1st Ave (and 21st?) for an am bite. Part of what I like is that you can then walk up to 23rd and take a crosstown bus over to the chelsea galleries for the afternoon.

On Midtown: I think people have given you sound advice on generally staying away from midtown, but I'll fess up to still marvelling at the view from the Empire State building (and Jim Hanley's Universe is close by should you like a good comic book).

Additional Notes: Grimaldi's Pizza, Yes! How about pizza in the village? I recommend John's Pizzeria. And, I certainly can't settle the great Italian food debate here especially since I haven't had food from Two Toms (though I'll be trying that) or La Mella (no thanks) but Al Di La is excellent!
posted by safetyfork at 12:37 PM on March 22, 2005

have lunch at the Union Square Cafe. You can sit at the bar and eat, too.
posted by amberglow at 12:56 PM on March 22, 2005

I thought Livewire could be a shill, too, but s/he isn't even spelling it right. La Mela is indeed listed in Zagat, and the Citysearch member reviews are split between positive and negative. There's plenty of great Italian food in New York, but very little of it is still in Little Italy.

All the other restaurant recommendations in this thread are excellent. Since everyone is mentioning pizza and Jewish deli, let's not forget Lombardi's (descendants of the first pizza maker in America, in a newly expanded space) and the Second Avenue Deli (cleaner than Katz's, lower key than the Carnegie, and kosher, though frankly all three have their charms).
posted by werty at 2:25 PM on March 22, 2005

I think we need a NYC Italian Restaurant Eat-Off. [Of course, the results would be of little use to me personally but do I love me some competition...]
posted by sexymofo at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2005

Livewire Confusion is right, La Mela is the shit. You must eat there- if not for the food, then for the light-up penis (ok, only the balls light up) that hangs from the ceiling.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:38 PM on March 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: It turns out I'm staying four blocks from Grimaldi's, so I just phoned in a pizza and picked it up. It was excellent squared.

I can't wait to check out some of the other food recommendations tomorrow, but nobody's mentioned any Chinese places. Have a good one? Thanks for catching the bagels query, safetyfork, that'll be my first stop tomorrow.

Also, what about some things to do at night? I've been coming back and staying in, which seems a little antisocial. I skimmed the music scene for the week, but it looks pretty quiet except for the Go Team at Canal Room tomorrow, which is 21+. Are there any worthwhile 18+ clubs, or some hip cafe that I can haunt for a bit, browsing on wifi and chatting up a few random NY gals? Something else entirely? Location doesn't matter. I haven't made it up towards NYU and Columbia yet, but I'm guessing that would be a worthwhile place to start.

Thanks again for all your help, mefites.
posted by rfordh at 5:32 PM on March 22, 2005

If you're even a little inclined, don't miss the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Excellent New York history, a real preserved tenement building with recreated immigrants' apartments, good guides, a slice of New York history, and you'll get choked up realizing what our forebears went through -- and how things today ain't so different.

It's near enough to katz's and other good walking neighborhoods to make a good morning or afternoon of it. Their bookstore is pretty great, as well.
posted by Miko at 6:02 PM on March 22, 2005

I think we need a NYC Italian Restaurant Eat-Off. [Of course, the results would be of little use to me personally but do I love me some competition...

Great idea. I'd love to see MeFi start moving beyond the basic boozy meetup and into this kind of territory...
posted by Miko at 6:03 PM on March 22, 2005

16 Mott St. for Chinese--cheap and good--it's downstairs. There are also pretty good Dim Sum places on Mott.
posted by amberglow at 6:27 PM on March 22, 2005

I'm in for the eat-off. (Have wanted to try 16 Mott St. since I read about it here somewhere.)
Also, for bagels, try H&H. It's a block or so from Zabars and Fairways and Citarella, the uber groceries on the Upper West Side, which if you are into that sort of thing, can be great fun to wander. Though the UWS is sort of a boring neighborhood for a tourist.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:48 PM on March 22, 2005

I've been exploring mostly without direction so far

May I suggest, rfordh, that you continue "exploring without direction" a bit more? It always works for me in a strange city. Back in '85 I spent a great afternoon wandering Central Park and the Upper West side, stumbling by pure chance onto the dedication ceremony for Strawberry Fields Park and winding up not 20 feet from Koch and Ono as they opened the city's memorial to John Lennon.

And that's only one example of how "exploring without direction" has paid off in my traveling life. Sure, a little direction is useful, so first thing tomorrow, buy an NYC walking tour book that includes detailed historical information about things like the late-1800s cast-iron facades that dot buildings in Soho. Then, just start walking. Be aimless. Decide on a whim to turn at this street, to cross that street, to go inside this empty gallery, to eat at that 3-foot-wide hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Having a general goal or two for the day is great - say, wandering Wall Street and visiting Alexander Hamilton's grave in the morning, then catching the Tenement Museum and random Chelsea galleries in the afternoon - but be sure to also leave plenty of time for just plain strolling.

No amount of advice can compare with the joy of slowly and randomly walking around a city as rich and dense as New York (maybe with an eye to taking pictures, if you like that sort of thing). If you open yourself to it, the city will show you things that no one here has *ever* seen before.
posted by mediareport at 6:55 PM on March 22, 2005 [2 favorites]

Um. No. I ate at La Mella at least once a month when I was living in New York and I hardly ever saw tourist in there.

Livewire, you don't have an email address listed, otherwise I would have contacted you that way. Question - when did you live in NY? Because La Mela now is a terrible red sauce, quantity over quality tourist dive right in the middle of Little Italy's worst strip of divey tourist traps. Perhaps La Mela used to be great, I've only lived here for about 9 years, but the several times I've been there I couldn't believe anyone from NYC would consider that to be authentic Italian food. I mean, they don't even serve osso bucco. It's the worst sort of overcooked ravioli, bad antipasti, limp mushrooms kinda joint.
posted by spicynuts at 7:04 PM on March 22, 2005

mediareport has it exactly right.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:45 PM on March 22, 2005

I nominate Il Mulino for the Italian Eatoff. Also, check out Sammy's Roumanian Steaks on Chrystie Street for garlic-soaked steaks as long as your arm.
posted by pokeydonut at 12:12 AM on March 23, 2005

I second safetyfork's recommendation, definitely go to Ess-A-Bagel for your bagel. I'm pretty certain there's no better bagel in the world.

One thing no one suggested is Chelsea Market. It's on 9th between 15th and 16th, definitely worth a visit. It's an old Nabisco warehouse that has since been converted and contains some great bakeries, little markets (a fresh fruit/veggie and an Italian) and some great places to get some lunch.

If you don't feel like eating there you could always swing down to the Corner Bistro for a great burger and a cheap beer ($2 I believe).
posted by nbrier at 7:17 AM on March 23, 2005

Unless you want to go to Chinatown (which I would recommend, especially Sweet and Tart), I'd suggest Ollie's Noodle Shop for American-style Chinese food. There are several, but I'd recommend the one on Broadway and 68th.
posted by bshort at 7:33 AM on March 23, 2005

Also, I think the italian eat-off is an inspired idea.
posted by bshort at 7:42 AM on March 23, 2005

Nightlife? Here's one for tonight in Williamsburg, Brooklyn:
WEDNESDAY 3/23 - @ GLASSHOUSE GALLERY: EX-MODELS and TOUCHDOWN + grilled cheese sandwiches from the Glasshouse kitchen - STARTS 9:30PM (Come early for movie nite @ the Glasshouse).

[ GLASSHOUSE GALLERY ] 38 S 1st btwn Wythe & Kent | Williamsburg, Brooklyn | $5 cover donation L-Bedford/G-Metropolitan/JM-Marcy | 9:30PM | all ages + booze - bring ID

I'll vouch for the Ex Models's style of punk. I got this from Todd P who organizes Williamsburg/Greenpoint-centric shows.
posted by safetyfork at 11:29 AM on March 23, 2005

Not sure if you're still there, but I just remembered something: Go find a Jamaican bakery (Flatbush Ave should be a good starting point) and get a beef patty (or veggie, if you must, but the beef is better) and have them heat it up for you, then put it between two pieces of coco bread. You'll thank me.
posted by willpie at 6:54 AM on March 25, 2005

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