Where should I live in New York?
May 1, 2013 6:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to New York and don't know a lot about neighborhoods. Where should I live?

My boyfriend just got a new job, we are moving in together in New York - he is moving in June and I am following some time in the next several months (September-ish?). I currently live in DC (U Street area) and he lives in Cambridge, MA (between Harvard and Central Squares) (we both really like our current neighborhoods a lot, fwiw). His new office is around 5th Ave and 34th Street.

Things we don't care about at all:
- Doorman
- Fancy in-building facilities like a gym. Washer and dryer in the building would be nice but that's about it.
- Shiny perfect new appliances

Things we do care about
- Near a subway stop and a not horribly long commute for him to get to work
- Feels like a "neighborhood" - an area with some personality and character, has affordable bars and restaurants and culture-y things to do (movie theaters? funky bookstores? live music? I don't know exactly, but that sort of thing), and where other young-ish people live (we are both 28). It doesn't have to be the hippest area, just somewhere that's not boring commercial wasteland. Basically we want to give ourselves the best possible shot at falling in love with New York.

Based on the 40xrent=salary rule that I've seen in other threads about NYC apartment hunting, our budget is around $2500 (note: this only takes into account his salary. I am currently in a (low-paid, but paid) internship in DC and do not have a job lined up in New York yet). I don't really have a great idea of what different neighborhoods are like and what that amount of money gets us. My sister (who lives in the West Village) is pretty convinced that what we want is Williamsburg, and from what she says it sounds appealing, but I'd love to hear other opinions. I floated East Village/Lower East Side and she said I might find it a bit on the noisy side but that it might be an option. Other ideas appreciated too! Boyfriend and I are headed to New York this weekend to take a look around and get a better idea of what's what, so any guidance going into that would be much appreciated!

Question Part B:
Since my boyfriend will be moving there several months before me, does it make sense for him to get a sublet until we can move into our real apartment together? Or will the hassle of finding a sublet and moving in and then finding a permanent apartment and then moving again outweigh saving some money by having a smaller place until I get there? I hear so many horror stories about New York apartment hunting that I wonder if the peace of mind and less drawn-out process of only having to find a place once might be worth it. Then again, that puts a lot of pressure on us to find that more permanent apartment really soon. Also, if I can find a job before I move then our budget can be bigger. I've been mentally going around in circles on this and I just don't know.
posted by naoko to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I worked in that neighborhood, I was commuting from Astoria (on what is now the M train), and with your budget you could DEFINITELY find something nice out there, near all the fun stuff (somewhere in range of the Steinway Blvd MRG stop and the 30th Ave NQ stop). That said, given that you don't have a job yet, a sublet might be a good idea until you know where you're going to be working so you can plan around that. It would suck to move into the perfect apartment and get stuck with a horrendous commute.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:51 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You have every reason to sublet first, and here's another: NYC apartment hunting from out of town is near-impossible. Plus, as newcomers, you won't really know what you want until you live here for a little while. Sublet, sublet, sublet. Just don't unpack all of your boxes. Or better yet, get a furnished sublet and wait until later to move your stuff if that's an option.
posted by the_blizz at 6:53 PM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Yes to 6mo subletting, always, always.

You neglected to mention what size apartment you'd prefer. For $2,500 you could get a studio or 5th-6th floor 1BR walkup in the West Village or Chelsea.

The East Village is indeed noisy and it smells like wee more than most other neighborhoods. (all of which smell like wee to some extent)
posted by elizardbits at 7:03 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok you guys are definitely selling me on this subletting thing. I'd like a 1BR rather than a studio - my boyfriend and I love each other to bits and all, but I think it's nice to be able to sit in separate rooms every once in awhile.
posted by naoko at 7:06 PM on May 1, 2013

Best answer: A lot of your happiness with your location will be dependent on your commute (assuming you work within Manhattan). I agree with your sister's suggestions, and would definitely opt for East Village if I could afford it. It gets quieter as you move into alphabet city (near avenues A, B, C).

Williamsburg is definitely good for that neighborhood feel. The only minus is that you would be dependent on the L train, which is reliable for the most part save for the random moments when it is nowhere to be found and you are stranded on the isle of Manhattan at 3 am. Regardless, L train is totally doable and Williamsburg is worth it given all the local stores and hangouts there.

I totally agree with the idea of getting a sublet, and it's best if your boyfriend doesn't fully "move" all his stuff to New York until you both find the right apartment. Hiring movers is an easy $300+ loss so if he is light on his feet and lives out of a few boxes to fit inside a van, you guys can quickly relocate to the apartment and save money that would be wasted on moving. I totally lived out of a suitcase for 4 months before finding my real apartment.

Sublets are super easy to find and having those extra months to find the right place will really give you guys peace of mind. There's nothing worse than the pressure of finding a place quickly and not really knowing the area first. BTW the smell of pee is not a real reason to avoid a neighborhood. You will smell that pee smell no matter where you go. I think the smell of unwashed sidewalk baking in the sun, where trash juice has permeated the cement, is worse than anything.
posted by hellomina at 7:10 PM on May 1, 2013

I lived in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn for several years and loved it. There are cute shops, independent bookstores, great restaurants, and fun bars (divey, fancy, and everything in between) within easy walking distance. Also within 7 blocks of my apartment, I had access to the A, C, G, N, Q, R, F, 2, 3, 4, and 5 trains. The combination of those meant that I could easily get anywhere in Manhattan without transferring trains and to most places in Brooklyn as well (plus, there were plenty of bus lines to supplement that for other areas in Brooklyn).

It's a good mix of young people and families and has a nice, neighborhoody feel to it. You should be able to get something within your price range—many streets are mostly brownstones, but there are also plenty of apartments around.
posted by cheerwine at 8:02 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You guys live close enough that you could easily plan a special reccie trip to check out neighborhoods.


What would he consider a "horribly long" commute to work?

What do you do for a living, and where are you likely to be working? If you do something generically corporate, probably Midtown. If you work in finance, likely Financial District. If you work in design or tech, likely somewhere Downtown-ish like Chelsea, Flatiron, MeatPacking, or SoHo. If you have a sales or community-facing career (teacher, social worker, physician), you could theoretically work anywhere in the city. Depending on what you do, I wouldn't peg the neighborhood you choose to your boyfriend's commute, as it's very easy to get to 34th and 5th from almost anywhere, whereas if you're a schoolteacher on the Upper West Side, you probably need to live on the Upper West Side.

Feels like a "neighborhood" - an area with some personality and character, has affordable bars and restaurants and culture-y things to do (movie theaters? funky bookstores? live music? I don't know exactly, but that sort of thing), and where other young-ish people live (we are both 28). It doesn't have to be the hippest area, just somewhere that's not boring commercial wasteland. Basically we want to give ourselves the best possible shot at falling in love with New York.

So, most of the city, then, discounting Midtown and the Financial District.

Yes on the sublet. You'll want the flexibility of being able to move to your preferred neighborhood once you decide where that is. Not that I think you'd make a bad choice the first time out, but it's just so much easier to figure out what you like when you can spend time getting to know different areas.

A shortlist of neighborhoods to look at that you may not be familiar with:

Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, and Cobble Hill in Brooklyn
Greenpoint, Brooklyn (near Williamsburg, but feels much more like a real neighborhood)
Fort Greene, Brooklyn
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
Astoria and Sunnyside in Queens
Possibly DUMBO in Brooklyn?
Murray Hill, Manhattan (the young attorney or Wall Streeter version of Williamsburg)
Upper East Side, Manhattan (ditto)

You also might want to look at these neighborhoods, though I think they verge on not being 100% shoe-ins for you guys:

Red Hook, Brooklyn -- I'm not sure it would meet the non-hellish commute requirement

Long Island City, Queens -- A little gritty industrial, though you are looking at Williamsburg so same diff really

Park Slope, Brooklyn -- known for families and not quite as young as you're looking for, but might be up your alley. IME the "South Slope" skews a little younger

Upper Manhattan -- this includes Harlem, the parts of the UWS around Columbia, Washington Heights, and Inwood. Commute might be longer than the boyfriend would like, and downright hellish if you think you're likely to work "Downtown" (AKA south of 24th street but not the Financial District). But you might really love it.
posted by Sara C. at 8:03 PM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Honestly the East Village/LES is like one big frat party on the weekends, so if you at all value serenity from Thursday-Sunday, I'd head to Brooklyn (which I'm very partial to). You might be well-suited to Chelsea (if you want to stay downtown) or the Upper East Side in the 80's-110's where the younger/newly established people (aka yuppies) also sometimes like to settle.

But yes, do the sublet thing first absolutely.

And on preview, everything Sara C. said.
posted by greta simone at 8:05 PM on May 1, 2013

A thought -- on the off chance that you and boyfriend are law/corporate/finance types and interested in Murray Hill, your boyfriend would be able to walk to work. The vibe in that area doesn't appeal to everyone, but it's got all your neighborhood bonafides, would be an easy commute for him, an OK commute for almost anywhere you could possibly work, and I think is in your price range.

Not that young law/corporate/finance types don't live all over the city, but in addition to all the above pros, most likely you will have coworkers/friends/connections in Murray Hill, hang out at places in Murray Hill, etc. Even if it's not your Forever Neighborhood, it might be an easy place to figure out what New York is about. It's a lot like certain parts of Boston and DC (I'm not sure if it's anything like your parts of Boston and DC).

I say all of the above as someone who absolutely HATES Murray Hill personally and would never live there. But there's nothing wrong with it as a neighborhood, it would be a soft landing, and hey, you might really like it.
posted by Sara C. at 8:12 PM on May 1, 2013

Best answer: Definitely check out the Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill area--it's really pretty, and quiet compared to a lot of places, but with a lot going on. (BookCourt is an awesome bookstore and there are tons of restaurants and bars etc on Smith and Court Streets.) Caveat: the F train can be a bit slow, but will get your boyfriend right to 34th Street.

I'd also second Chelsea and the West Village if you're looking for Manhattan. The East Village is pretty cool (I grew up thereabouts) but probably really noisy/fratty on the weekends--seems like every other building is an NYU dorm these days over towards 3rd Avenue, whereas if you're really far east then it's a pain to get to the subway.

My 2 cents on Williamsburg: nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there--tons of events going on and a lot of delicious (if pretentious) food and drink, but also noisy and getting more corporate-feeling by the day.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:21 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What do you do for a living, and where are you likely to be working?
I do international NGO stuff - I would have guessed offhand that a lot of these organizations would maybe be close to the UN, but doing some googling of places I would theoretically like to work, they're kind of spread out (although there's a cluster right around the same area as my boyfriend's office, and the organization I currently intern for has its New York office in the Financial District - huh).

A thought -- on the off chance that you and boyfriend are law/corporate/finance types and interested in Murray Hill...
From what I've heard about Murray Hill, I think it's not quite my scene. Seems like it's a lot of kids just out of college/law school hoping to maintain a frat party sort of lifestyle. I don't know if any of this is helpful at all in terms of matching a neighborhood "personality," but: My boyfriend is a software engineer with a serious photography hobby. DC feeds my cravings for politics and pub trivia, but the city I love the most is San Francisco (I briefly lived in the Mission and I'm still "homesick" for it). I used to be really into staying on top of the latest in indie movies and music, but as I get older I don't care as much any more. We both read a lot. My idea of a good night is hanging out with friends in a cozy dive bar; my boyfriend is up for either that or somewhere he can dance (but where no one cares if you dance awkwardly). Basically I think we are average MeFites in terms of very broad notions about what is cool and what sucks.
posted by naoko at 9:13 PM on May 1, 2013

I've been in Williamsburg for six years. It's great. Lots of activity. Good restaurants, bars, music venues, parks, etc. Very easy access to Manhattan. Getting more expensive, but $2500 could get you a good 2BR.

There's a hipster element and there's a newer upscale condo element, but there's a lot more going on than just that. It's a very diverse, fun part of the city.
posted by chasing at 9:54 PM on May 1, 2013

Husbunny and I occasionally discuss moving to NY. He's lived on Roosevelt Island and in Bayside, Queens. I liked his flat in Queens, but the commute on the 7 was kind of hellish.

Washington Heights interests me. Not that I've been there, but it's a Hispanic neighborhood with neat buildings. It's still technically in Manhattan.

Brooklyn is pretty cool as well, but there are parts that are so hipster it's painful.

Hoboken is adorable and a hop, skip and a jump to Manhattan on the PATH.

FWIW, Husbunny's Ex works for the UN, which is what brought him to NY in the first place, and she kept the joint on Roosevelt Island. YMMV.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:12 AM on May 2, 2013

Washington Heights is not going to be a great commute to 34th & 5th (though not a nightmare, either), and could easily fail the "easy commute for boyfriend" test depending on his commute standards. If his current commute is a 10 minute drive or 3 stops on one DC Metro line, he'll be apoplectic. But if his current commute is within typical NYC standards (half an hour to 45 minutes, possibly involving a transfer or a lot of walking), it could work.

I would not move to Hoboken if you were planning to move to New York City. There's nothing wrong with Hoboken, and a lot of people really like living there. You might like living there. But it's not a great starting point for New York. It certainly won't fulfill your criteria of "an easy place to fall in love with New York City."

Bayside is absolutely out of the question.
posted by Sara C. at 10:02 AM on May 2, 2013

I live in Washignton Heights, and will agree that commuting to 34th and 5th could be a pain- I suppose I would take the A to the 7 train (the transfer at Times Square is a 3-4 minute walk), get off at 42nd and 5th and walk down to 34th. On cold, rainy, snowy days, you are going to hate life. Or you transfer from the 7 to M for one stop, but then you've taken 3 trains in one morning and that's gross.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:57 AM on May 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. This was a very helpful and reassuring thread - NYC MeFites are great!

For long complicated reasons I won't go into, we didn't go with a sublet, despite all of your very reasonable advice on that front. Our new place is on the eastern edge of the West Village, and while it's tiny and there's a lot of stairs to climb, we are in super in love with the apartment and the neighborhood and couldn't be happier.
posted by naoko at 5:41 PM on July 12, 2013

« Older Recessed ceiling lights, no attic: Ridiculous...   |   Voices to hook to Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.