New York's not the greatest if you can't get someone to pay the rent.
July 1, 2013 12:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving to Manhattan in a month from DC. What are your tips, tricks, and Manhattan-specific information?

My boyfriend and I are moving to Manhattan in a month-ish. (We'd theoretically like to move August 15.) I'm going to school in Washington Heights. He's got friends and family in Brooklyn.

What do I need to know about apartment hunting in New York that every terrifying article hasn't already told me?
We're going up to look at places this weekend, focusing on the UWS, Morningside, Harlem, and Wash Heights. Our main concerns are price (<>What do you wish you had known before moving to Manhattan?
I've lived in DC and Chicago; I've never particularly dreamed of New York, and have spent much more time in Brooklyn than Manhattan.

Is everyone going to be mean / why can't I rock climb anywhere / how the fuck do you even buy a couch in this city, let alone get it to your place / where can I run? / what is your favorite restaurant / will you come meet up with me / how do I work the subway / etc.
posted by quadrilaterals to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
New Yorkers are not mean, but they are very busy. There is excellent rock climbing in the Gunks and cool climbing loving people at Brooklyn boulders. People run everywhere. Central park and riverside park come to mind. There are lots of meetups. I will pass over in silence the subway as a million people use it every day and you can too!

Yes, New York is expensive. If I was moving to NYC today I would look in Harlem, but my life is oriented to the north of NYC and I like being partway out already. Specifically I would look say between 116th street and manhattan avenue and 125th street and fifth. But why dont you live in brooklyn? You get more for the money.
posted by shothotbot at 12:07 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

* Proximity to a good subway stop will impact your quality of life.

* You may want to think about hiring movers (particularly if you have a walk-up), also paying folks to move furniture for you when you buy it.

* You will get more fit (particularly if you have a walk-up).

* People are more friendly than you would imagine. I'm not sure if NYC has changed, or if the 'attitude' has been a myth. People are friendlier here than in LA or other major cities.

* Google maps is your friend for navigating the subways. Buy a monthly pass.

* Some neighborhoods (particularly in Washington Heights) can be noisy at night. Visit your perspective block at midnight to check out the scene.

* While housing is expensive, some neighborhoods (eg: Washington Heights) are filled with cheap food and groceries. There are great bargains in the city if you hunt for them. And yeah, you can find the most expensive food/furniture/anything in the city than nearly anywhere elsewhere on the planet if you want to.

* Your friends in brooklyn may hesitate to visit you, but you can play games/read/etc on the subway, which makes hour long trips pass by really quickly.

Disclaimer: I've only been here a month, so I'm pretty much a noob.
posted by el io at 12:10 PM on July 1, 2013

New Yorkers aren't mean. They move quickly.

There's rock climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, various gyms.

You can run in Central Park. Some people run in the streets. If you move to Washington Heights, check out the Track & Field Armory.

Finding an apartment is tough. There is very little inventory and very high demand. Landlords can afford to be picky. Make sure you have all your paperwork (income, credit check, etc.) ready before you see apartments, and be prepared to make a quick decision.
posted by dfriedman at 12:11 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I say this ALL THE TIME and I bet no one listens but HEY it is okay to take a 3-6 month suboptimal sublet and look for something else during that time. Yeah, it's a hassle to move twice but is it worse than being stuck for 1 year in a place that turns out to be terrible? No it is not.
posted by elizardbits at 12:13 PM on July 1, 2013 [12 favorites]

Agree about the sublet. We meet up every week, sometimes more.
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2013

Is everyone going to be mean
No? Some out of towners see us as mean if they come from the South or something. Others see us as the most massively friendly city on the planet, if they come from London or the like.

why can't I rock climb anywhere
There are a few rock climbing places, like Brooklyn Bolders. The Gunks is great. Also, There's a trail about an hour and a half north of here that has great bouldering, and is pretty scary steep.

how the fuck do you even buy a couch in this city, let alone get it to your place
Crate & Barrel, CB2, Room & Board, or some vintage place with a hired van.

where can I run?
Literally anywhere. iPod and shoes, out the door, and go anywhere you want.

what is your favorite restaurant
Mine are all over the place, but the best thing about New York is the amazing food everywhere.

will you come meet up with me

how do I work the subway
Get an app! There are tons—some better than others. Also, hopstop. No bigs.

Honestly, New York isn't that scary. It's just life as usual, and you'll get used to it. People haven the tendency to overthink moving here quite often.

But sure! I'll hang.
posted by functionequalsform at 12:16 PM on July 1, 2013

Husbunny used to live in New York, and I'd visit frequently.

If we were to move there, I think we'd look at Washington Heights. Lots of large places, more space, but the neighborhood is Hispanic. I lived in Miami for 15 years, so I'd feel at home, check it out and assess for yourself.

That said, the further out you live, the cheaper things are. Husbunny had a lovely one-bedroom flat in Queens on a very suburban looking street. He was 3 blocks to the Bus Stop and a 15 minute bus ride to the 7 train. Is that ideal? It would make me bat-shit. He paid $900 a month, 12 years ago. YMMV.

He also lived on Roosevelt Island, you might want to check that out too.

Using the Subway is easy. Here's a tutorial on how to read a subway map. (I used to teach this skill in my English class!) Download an app for your phone, you can put in your start place, your end place and it will tell you exactly what to do to get there.

Get a monthly Metrocard.

As for transporting stuff, you can ask for delivery, or you can hire a "man with a van" as advertised on Craigslist. As with anything on Craigslist, your experiences will be...interesting.

I nth getting a sublet and putting your stuff in storage for a bit until you get a feel and have the time to really see where it is you want to live.

There is an Ikea in Long Island and one in New Jersey. There is a Target in Harlem.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:27 PM on July 1, 2013

It's expensive so you need to have tonnes of money on hand to get an apartment- first, last, security, sometimes another month's worth. Look around. Subway is easy. People are all over the map, New York is aggressive, sometimes aggressively friendly, aggressively mean and/or aggressively crazy, you never know! All problems can pretty much be solved with money, especially ones involving moving couches around.

It's fun but the first year is a shock to the system. You can run anywhere and eat anywhere, don't worry about those things. Chelsea Piers for rock climbing, see money comment again.

Once you get here you will half hate it and half love it and probably never leave so there's that too.
posted by bquarters at 12:30 PM on July 1, 2013

Ruthless Bunny: "There is an Ikea in Long Island and one in New Jersey."

There are two Ikeas in NJ and one in Brooklyn now, too.
posted by Grither at 12:30 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try Inwood, if your boyfriend doesn't need to be too near Brooklyn. It is inexpensive and nice.
posted by mlle valentine at 12:34 PM on July 1, 2013

You can run by the Hudson River Greenway if you are near Morningside.

DC and Chicago people take to NY like fish to water. You'll be fine.
posted by cazoo at 12:42 PM on July 1, 2013

New York has invisible lines and it's very good to know where they are:

Harlem is much better than before, but still dangerous (esp evening time), and has many quality of life issues. East Harlem, even more dangerous in many parts.

Midtown east: residential, restaurants, but no close subway

Washington Heights: more affordable. But, not the nyc you see and read about on tv/books. It's Hispanic, with little diversity beyond that. English and restaurant scene is limited, Latin restaurants, Spanish and Latin culture dominates.

LES: many restaurants, younger, diverse crowd. Lots of nightlife. A lot of what you see on tv as "new york city" without the corporate side.

Be honest with yourself about the environment you like and love the most, then choose your neighborhood - makes for a more lasting, happy choice.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:23 PM on July 1, 2013

Many places deliver. Not only nearly every restaurant (ahh, Seamlessweb) but also Ikea, Bed Bath and Beyond, etc. So you can buy a couch and have it delivered, along with the end tables, lamps, etc.

Being close to a good subway line is very important. Even then Washington Heights to Brooklyn is a trek.

The subways are easier than D.C. in that there is a fixed price no matter how far you go, no matter how many (underground) transfers you make. There is no exit swipe. Also there is no central hub but an interconnected grid. As others have mentioned Google Maps can help you navigate. There are also numerous smart phone apps so that you can have the subway map and bus routes offline on your phone.

As mentioned the west side along the Hudson River has some great long parks, running and biking paths.

There are a lot of MeFites in NYC and there are frequent meetups; many are in Brooklyn or Manhattan but they are all over.

My favorite restaurant is probably Totto Ramen but there are so many I don't even.
posted by mountmccabe at 1:36 PM on July 1, 2013

The subway has a LOT of signs inside to explain to you what is going on. Don't just rush down the nearest set of stairs and assume you're OK. There will always be a sign saying which train(s) stop(s) at that platform and which direction it goes and all of that. Don't be scared!

New Yorkers aren't mean -- also, so many New Yorkers are transplants yearning to feel like natives, so they'll usually be delighted and flattered if you ask for directions or help. Usually. Don't ask people for help who are obviously in a rush, listening to headphones, exercising, talking to someone else... This is common sense, I think, except I get stopped all the time in those states so who knows.

Likewise, there's some basic etiquette stuff for sharing space on the island of Manhattan. It's kind of a small place for so many people. Never stop in the middle of the sidewalk. If you need to stop, move to the side or enter a shop. Never, ever stop on a set of stairs. Finish the stairs, and then find an out of the way place to stand. If you need to turn around, do so in a way that shows that you are cognizant of how many people are behind you. Always walk on the right side of a path or sidewalk, and never walk alongside someone if it's going to block the egress of other people.

When the doors of a subway car open, always let people get out first before boarding, and never stand right in the middle of the car doors -- stand off to the side so people CAN get out. When you're on an escalator, if you're going to just stand there, stand to the right; if you want to walk, either walk with the crowd or pass standers on the left. If you're on a "single lane" escalator and you're just standing there, for the love of God make yourself as small as possible so people can pass on your left (e.g. don't hold both railings). If you have to stand in a subway car, hold the pole or hook with one hand. Under no circumstances should you ever "hug" or lean on a subway pole -- it's gross and also you are preventing everyone else from using the pole. Under no circumstances should you ever occupy more than one seat on a crowded subway. Stand up for pregnant women, the elderly, the disabled, small children, and anyone who might have an invisible disability who asks for a seat.

I'll freely admit this is kind of a scary laundry list of things, but what I'm saying is even if you're confused, please be considerate. People in New York are cramped and crowded and in a rush. We can't afford to live here unless we're on time to miserable jobs that are far away from our homes. I am so happy to welcome you to our awesome city but if you stand in front of me on the escalator and make me miss my train, I will wish ill upon you and your descendants for generations to come!

posted by telegraph at 1:42 PM on July 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

I lived on the UWS when I moved to NYC a few years ago and found it fine. There's kind of a dead zone between 72nd-ish and 100th-ish.

Try Macy's for a couch. They actually run much cheaper than Room & Board et al. and are reasonably well made. Delivery was not so expensive.

Live close to a subway line that goes to the places you'll be going most often. Switching trains is a hassle and compounds the opportunities for the always-inefficient MTA to screw up your trip. Relatedly, and you probably already have this sorted out, but if you're going to need to be in Washington Heights regularly, absolutely do not live in Brooklyn unless you want to spend the rest of your natural life on the train. Within a short time of living here, you'll have a pretty good handle on where the various subway lines go.
posted by sinfony at 3:09 PM on July 1, 2013

I live in DC and on the rare occasions when I have had to figure out the subway on my own, I've been okay and I'm the type of person who can get turned around in her own neighborhood. I think with practice, you'll be totally fine.

I'd find a group to run with so you can meet people and explore the city at the same time. NY Road Runners seems like The Group but I'm sure there are tons of others. A lot of running shops will have them, as well as Lululemon and Athleta.
posted by kat518 at 3:23 PM on July 1, 2013

When the doors of a subway car open, always let people get out first before boarding, and never stand right in the middle of the car doors -- stand off to the side so people CAN get out.

Also, when riding the subway, be aware that you usually have plenty of time to get off the train when the doors open. I have never once seen someone not get off the train in time. Never once. Therefore, if the train is crowded and there is someone standing between you and the door, wait until the train has stopped completely before you start "excuse me"ing them and trying to push past. They need to hold onto that pole while the train is braking so they don't go flying into all the other people, and you still have plenty of time to get off after the train has actually stopped. Sorry, couldn't resist; that's my absolute least favorite subway thing and there are still plenty of people who have probably lived here for years who do it.
posted by pravit at 5:54 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

New Yorkers are not mean. We just don't have any time for nonsense. We are famously direct and to the point.

If somebody asks for directions, I will always give directions. I get asked on a regular basis, so maybe I have that kind of face. I have even stopped to help people who look like they are totally lost.

The subway is easy to figure out, but you will need to read announcements for the inevitable track work to your regular line. Buy a weekly or monthly MetroCard if you will be riding every day. Have it out of your wallet and learn to swipe it quickly through the turnstile. When you're on the train, don't block the subway doors. Wait for others to get off before you get on. Don't take up more than one seat, and do not put your feet on the pole. Do not call the train lines by their color on the map; call them by their actual numbered or lettered lines. For extra credit, learn their original names to impress the natives (IRT, BMT, etc.).

When you get your new couch delivered (you can get everything delivered here!), you will need to tip your delivery guys, especially if you live in a walk-up.

You can rock climb. There is a bit of overhang in the north end of Central Park. You can also take a bus up to the Gunks (near the town of New Paltz) for real climbing.

It is an expensive town. You will get over the initial sticker shock eventually. There are ways to live here on the "cheap." Ride bikes on nice days to save on subway fare. There are tons of free concerts and free days for museums and stuff. Stay out of midtown, mostly just to save your sanity.

Go to Metafilter meetups!

Also, it's pronounced "How-stuhn" Street.

Also, what Telegraph said, times a thousand.

posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:04 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If going to school in Washington Heights means you just got into a grad program at Columbia, check with student services. They answer all of these questions a few hundred times every year.

Note that Washington Heights has a bit of a divide now, around Broadway. The western half is gentrifying. You may or may not like that, but do keep it in mind when receiving advice from people who lived there in previous years.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:12 PM on July 1, 2013

Hi! I was you a few years back. Got into grad school and moved up to the UWS from DC.

So, I LOVED the UWS. I lived around 104th St and Amsterdam and it was great. Cheaper than downtown, lots of good food, pretty lively. I walked by myself pretty much everywhere and I wasn't scared, just kept an eye out for things going on around me.

Central Park was pretty much the best place ever to run, so awesome to see all those iconic sights as you're logging your miles. Also, the West Side highway (9A) has a jogging/biking path by it. That's good for long runs, it's a nice view of the river.

Go get a cookie from Levain's on 72nd (across the street from Trader Joe's btw). You will not be disappointed.

If you can do the metro in DC, you'll be fine on the subway in NYC. Just watch out for the express trains.

Feel free to memail me anytime you want if you have questions! I moved away a couple years ago and I'm so jealous of you right now!!
posted by whitetigereyes at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2013

I recently got a couch from JC Penney online. It's very nice, sturdy, soft, and bright (turquoise). I used a link from Ebates to get some percent of cash back, and found a coupon on That offset the sales tax. The $50 delivery fee included hauling the thing up the two flights of stairs, setting it all up, and taking the packing material away. Very worth it.
posted by houseofdanie at 9:52 AM on July 2, 2013

Oh! And re: meanness. I'm a sensitive person who takes things personally and is prone to retreating into corners in a little huff and I don't find this city mean in the slightest. From conversations with friends who grew up elsewhere, I gather that this impression is a matter of time spent on things. Elsewhere, spending more time with people is considered polite. Here, not so much.

When I visit places like Berkeley, California, there's more chat at the counter before you order something. Here, you really shouldn't get in line before you know exactly what you want. I don't need for a stranger to ask, "How are you?" They mostly don't want an answer, anyhow, and skipping that part of things allows everyone to show more regard for people's valuable time.

When you're in trouble, New York folks have you covered. I had a meeting a bit ago in a part of town with a street that VIOLATED THE GRID, OMG. I got off the train, walked a bit, realized I might be going the wrong way, stepped aside, looked confused. Some guy crossed the street just to find out if he could steer me right. And as soon as he was there, he was gone. Time, you know.
posted by houseofdanie at 10:13 AM on July 2, 2013

FreshDirect will have quality produce* and groceries that will be delivered to your house. It is not too much more expensive than the nearest grocery store. Though there are cheaper grocery stores in Manhattan (Western Meat & Grocery in the Meatpacking District for instance)

*Produce is so fresh that it will take a week for the bananas to even be close to ripe

Get some rugs. Your neighbors downstairs will thank you (and possibly your lease may require a certain % of the hardwood floors covered)

Don't stop walking on busy sidewalks! This is the number one complaint of locals.

Apartment brokers are the scum of the earth. "Good ones" will have exclusives in good buildings because the landlords get a kickback. Hustler ones will scour no-fee listings on craigslist and flip them with a commission.

People throw out all kinds of awesome stuff onto the sidewalk but don't take anything that has any amount of fabric/fluff to it. Bed bugs are real and if your neighbors discover you as the vector into the building you will be looked like a leper.

If you have a bike, it will get stolen. You can reduce that by making it look like shit (paint/scuffing it), locking it correctly, etc....

Washington Heights to Brooklyn will probably take about an hour by subway, maybe 45 min if you don't have to transfer and you live near an ACE /1 train.

Depending on where you live will very much determine the 'cheap' food that you will eat two-three times a week: Roti, Falafel, Knish...
posted by wcfields at 10:43 AM on July 2, 2013

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