This sounds dumb but I don't know what to do in NYC
April 20, 2016 1:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm taking a four day trip to NYC over Memorial Day weekend (solo). I have plans on Sunday evening but other than that, my time is completely unaccounted for. And aside from a few non-specific ideas, I'm overwhelmed by choices.

The Sunday plans are in Brooklyn but I'm staying near Madison Square Park (not Garden) in Manhattan. I'll have a metro pass to get around and I'm fine with using taxis to fill any gaps. I'm also fine walking fairly long distances if it's not hot/humid.

Something I definitely want to do: go dancing and get sloshed at a gay club. Has to be a gay club (overwhelmingly male), and has to have a dance floor on which people actually dance. I would appreciate suggestions. Also seeking "spas" or whatever they call them now that accept trans men. Please only suggest one if you are a trans man or you personally know a trans man who has been there.

Some other interests:

- fine men's clothes shopping along the lines of Brooks Brothers (we have them here, I'm just using them as a style example)
- architecture, especially interior (obviously there is no shortage of this, just looking for the must-sees)
- restaurants with great atmosphere that wouldn't be too awkward for a solo diner. No restrictions on cuisine. I am not very cost-sensitive so anything short of $100-plate dinners is fair game.
- parks (obviously Central Park, but what part of it is a must see? what other parks are awesome?)
- is it worth it to take a day trip anywhere else? It would have to be Monday, Memorial Day.
- any Memorial Day weekend specific events, besides rah-rah America stuff?

I'm not interested in Broadway, live music, bus tours, or 9/11 related things. Already been to Grand Central Station and NYPL.
posted by AFABulous to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (31 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I enjoyed Cowgirl in Greenwich Village. Cheap and fun and the food was really good.

The ferry to Liberty Island and Ellis Island, fun and interesting. They're open on Monday.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:16 PM on April 20, 2016

Might I suggest you ping this user? Awesome dude, super plugged in to great food, sartorially superb.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:19 PM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Shake Shack is in Madison Square Park, so plan to have a lunch/afternoon snack there.

If you want to travel a little bit on the subway, you could go up to the Cloisters, which is part of the Met Museum.

For interior architecture, I recommend the Public Library. Check their website - they give free tours at certain hours.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 1:20 PM on April 20, 2016

Roosevelt Island is a really nice visit if you want some peace and quiet. Louis Kahn designed the Four Freedoms park and it's a significant architectural piece.
posted by monologish at 1:23 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Eating alone in NYC is pretty common, between business travelers and a much higher-than-typical percentage of folks living alone. There are frequent questions about this from visitors who seem to assume they will be denied a 2 top (uncommon, but not unheard of ).

If you can give an impression of what types of food youre interested in and maybe where are you visiting from we may be able to provide more specific guidance.

Two restaurants near Madison Sq Park that we enjoy quite a lot are the Breslin and Maialino (strangely both inside hotels - the Ace and Gramercy Park Hotel respectively). The breslin is trendy gastro-pub with a twist, famous for their lamb burger just about everything they do they do really well. Maialino is more straight up roman style food although we also love their brunch. They have a large and not terribly crowded bar where ive seen folks dining alone frequently (and where we have enjoyed pleasant conversations with some of the same while we had a drink and waited for our table).

Parks-wise you will be here for opening weekend of Governor's Island, a lovely park located right in the middle of new york harbor. its only accessible by ferry but it has historical architecture, bike rentals, lovely grounds and of course the billion dollar view.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:27 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

For meals near Madison Square Park, I quite like Resto (meat-heavy). And Exceptional Hubris is right--solo dining is super common. The only place it might get a little odd is an extended tasting menu at one of the more formal places, but it sounds like your budget doesn't stretch to Eleven Madison Park (a shame!).

Most people interested in interior architecture would consider Grand Central Terminal a must-see. It's an easy trip on the 6 from MSP.

P.S. There's a dog run in the park itself, if you need a puppy fix.
posted by praemunire at 1:34 PM on April 20, 2016

If you want to be a little spontaneous, this web site posts happenings around the 5 burroughs, but not typically until the day of the event. It might be useful if you find yourself with nothing to do and a few hours to spare around the things you are planning.
The Skint
posted by archimago at 1:34 PM on April 20, 2016

If you go to Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, get there by 11:30 AM, and then basically avoid it until 3:00 PM if you don't want to wait on a massive (and I do mean massive) line. Madison Square Park is lovely to hang out in, and there are usually cool public art exhibits; I'm sure one will be up by Memorial Day.

For interior architecture, come visit us at the Appellate Division, First Department, on 25th between Madison and Park Avenue South (the actual address is 27 Madison Avenue). Most beautiful courtroom in the state, and I'm not kidding. It's an underappreciated gem. The roof sculptures are also primo.

Also near Madison Square Park is the Museum of Sex, which is actually pretty fun even though it sounds cheesy (although I'm pretty sure the exhibit where you can bounce on stuff has ended now). Sorry, can't link to it because I'm at work.

Don't know if you have them where you are, but check out Thomas Pink at the Time Warner Center for gorgeous men's shirts. (I do believe they have some other locations, but that's the one I know.)
posted by holborne at 1:36 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: If you can give an impression of what types of food youre interested in and maybe where are you visiting from we may be able to provide more specific guidance.

I'm white and from the midwest, so nothing spicy ;)

But seriously, I will try almost anything. I suspect the Asian food in flyover land is relatively awful compared to the coasts, so Thai/Viet/Chinese/Japanese recs would be cool. I definitely like sushi.

When I went to Florida I was blown away by the awesomeness of fruit that hadn't spent days on trucks and planes, so I'm interested in whatever NYC does so much better than the midwest. (Bagels? I'm probably pronouncing that wrong.)
posted by AFABulous at 1:39 PM on April 20, 2016

If you happen to be downtown at any point, Brookfield Place has a lot of high-end men's clothing shops. Nice view of the river from the shopping center, or use it as the starting point to walk up the Hudson River Greenway (or down to Battery Park).
posted by cpatterson at 1:45 PM on April 20, 2016

Accent is on the second syllable in "bagel." (Ha ha.)

I meant to add: I dine alone all the time here and it's not a problem, although it's maybe better if you go at hours other than high dinner rush (usually roughly 6-8:30). I often sit at the bar, if the restaurant has one, and they very often do.
posted by holborne at 1:46 PM on April 20, 2016

Take the tram to Roosevelt Island. It's on 59th street and 2nd Ave. It's the cost of a single subway ride or, if you have an unlimited metrocard, it's technically free.

The official NYC website will give you info on special events going on. Also, the Museum of Modern Art is free on Fridays, and the Metropolitan Museum has a pay-what-you-want payment structure. So if you want to you can pay a lot more than their suggested donation or you can pay a lot less or not pay at all.

You might want to visit the Cloisters but for architecture, I suggest you just walk around. I do that a lot. But, uh, I just like to explore.

Also, check out Battery Park and Prospect Park.
posted by I-baLL at 1:58 PM on April 20, 2016

I suspect the Asian food in flyover land is relatively awful compared to the coasts, so Thai/Viet/Chinese/Japanese recs would be cool.

When you're in Brooklyn, take a trip out to Pok Pok. Mind-blowing!
posted by praemunire at 2:02 PM on April 20, 2016

For real real Chinese food, go to Flushing!
posted by monologish at 2:07 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Monologish is absolutely right. Manhattan Chinatown is fine, but Queens' Chinatown kicks its ass soundly.
posted by holborne at 2:15 PM on April 20, 2016

Yeah, lots and lots and lots of people in New York eat alone, so no worries there.

I got a bunch of Manhattan, south-of-Times-Square recs for ethnic food you may be less likely to find in the Midwest recc'd to me here.

The first rec for Thai in that link is now closed, which is a pity because it was SO SO SO SO UNEBLIEVABLY GOOD -- but the mothership is still open in Brooklyn. It will blow your mind, especially the pad thai if you've only ever had strip mall pad thai. And order the chicken wings. I know, Thai food doesn't usually make people think of chicken wings, but these are incredible.

You also mention liking sushi. If so, you might want to consider a reservation at one of the top-line sushi places, especially if the $100 per plate thing means that you don't want to spend $100 for an entree, but are fine spending more than $100 per person per meal. A place like Sushi Nakazawa or Sushi Yasuda was mindbending for me and Mr. Machine, who have eaten a lot of pretty good sushi, but nothing on this level.

If the budget won't stretch to that, Tanoshi and this place are solid bets.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:22 PM on April 20, 2016

My default "what should I do in New York" recommendation is particularly relevant for once! For interior architecture take a free tour of the Grand Lodge of Masons of New York on 23rd at 6th - right near Madison Square Park, actually.

It's been a long time now but I loved loved loved Flor de Mayo the couple of times I ate there in the oughts. (I think I ate at the Amsterdam location, at 83rd -- Really tasty Chino Latino food. ) I had amazing sushi at Tomoe but that was also a long time ago, and every time I've tried to go since there's been a perpetual (like, 90 minute plus) long line to get in.

Seconding the Breslin, and nthing that I've never felt weird dining alone in NYC.
posted by usonian at 2:27 PM on April 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I suspect the Asian food in flyover land is relatively awful compared to the coasts, so Thai/Viet/Chinese/Japanese recs would be cool.

Sooo eating is my main recreational activity in New York City, and I often eat alone, and I love to eat (and cook) Thai food, so I have a lot of thoughts on this! The one difficulty with solo Thai dining is that it is a cuisine that is largely set up for "family style" dining (like Thanksgiving-style), unless all you want to eat is fried rice and fried noodles, so as a solo diner you have to be a bit strategic.

In general, the Manhattan and Brooklyn places have higher price points, are fancier in atmosphere, and tend to cater to a mixed Thai and non-Thai crowd, while the Queens places are less expensive and tend to cater to a more Thai clientele, though that's changing as foodies discover the Queens Thai joints.

- Pok Pok in Brooklyn has already been mentioned but they are excellent. They have bar seating which is great for dining solo. Their khao soi (northern Thai-style curried chicken soup) is excellent and they've helpfully separated out what are called "aahaan jaan diew" or "one plate meals" which are perfectly suitable for the solo diner.
- Ngam at 13rd/Third in the East Village is a "modern" Thai restaurant, AKA trending into fusion territory, but I'm normally skeptical of this and have had good experiences. Bar seating available. I would recommend the "Sai Oor Farang" Thai burger which comes with Chiang Mai fries, aka kabocha squash-sweet potato fries.
- Somtum Der at 6th/Ave A in the EV/Alphabet City offers Isaan-style (northeast Thai) food: papaya salads, spicy meat salads (laab), stuff like that. It's a bit more difficult to eat solo here because it's really geared toward family style, but it's really quite good.
- Uncle Boons is good, has a great "spicy Thai ale," but is really set up for family-style dining (and is a bit expensive).

There are many, many other Thai restaurants in Manhattan, some of which are very good and I just haven't been to so can't recommend, but in most cases -- especially if you're not looking for something fusion/modern/upscale -- I would recommend schlepping to Queens for better options.

Queens (all clustered in the Jackson Heights/Elmhurst area)
- Eim Khao Mun Kai in Elmhurst specializes in exactly one Thai dish, khao mun gai, AKA the Thai take on Hainanese chicken rice. It's delicious poached chicken with rice cooked in chicken fat and soup to wash it all down.
- SriPraPhai, Ayada Thai and Kitchen 79 are wonderful traditional Thai restaurants. Most of their menu, aside from things like Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, etc., are set up for family-style dishes, but I really like the shrimp paste rice at Sri Pra Phai (WARNING: it is not for the un-adventurous diner, but it's my absolute favorite Thai dish ever. Read about it if you're interested.) Kitchen 79 specializes in southern Thai food and has interesting things like a wild boar curry.
- Khao Kang in Elmhurst is a Thai place that is perfectly set up for the solo diner (I go there a lot). It's a steam-table-style place -- basically like Panda Express in terms of how the food is ordered, but obviously the quality of food is much better. The strength of Khao Kang is that you can get small portions of up to 3 different things like a green curry, deep-fried fish and a soup, that would be served in way too large portions for a solo diner if you tried to order them at another restaurant. The weakness is that, well, it's a steam-table-style place, so food quality is dependent on how long it's been sitting out; but keep in mind that given its location, it's largely targeting the local Thai community so the food is still quite delicious.
posted by andrewesque at 2:55 PM on April 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

The most recent NYC architectural achievement to have gotten huge notice is the High Line.

The next may be the Low Line. Not open yet, but they are working on it.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:45 PM on April 20, 2016

Best answer: I live near Central Park and spend an unreasonable amount of time there.

An good way to see the highlights is to take a tour. They have some great ones, link here. If the timing works out, I would recommend the Iconic Views, the Landmarks, or the Heart of the Park tour. Some of the tours are free, and some you need to register and pay for, so check the website closely. [Note: these are all sponsored by Central Park; there are independent vendors who run their own tours, and I don't know anything about them.]

If the tours don't work for you, you could make up your own. Map here (pdf). I think you'd get the best value for your time by going either above or below the Lake (or, if you have time, do a loop). Here's a link to a walk north of the Lake from the Conservancy website. Below the lake is Bethesda Fountain, The Mall/Literary Walk, and Cherry Hill. No official walk for that, but you can just follow the map.

The Loeb Boathouse is a nice place for a drink (outside by the lake) or something to eat. The restaurant has both an expensive white tablecloth section and an informal area. It's on the east side of the Park at around 75th Street. Between the Boathouse and 5th Avenue is Conservatory Water, where you can watch all the model boats sailing around and get something to eat at the cafe. And the Alice statue is right there.
posted by AMyNameIs at 3:46 PM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For dancing - I recommend XL, Therapy or Industry - all in Hell's Kitchen.
posted by rdnnyc at 4:01 PM on April 20, 2016

You might be interested in hunting around for examples of Guastavino tile. There are a whole bunch of places in NYC, and it's all pretty interesting, and beautiful.
posted by gaspode at 4:41 PM on April 20, 2016

I'm going to plug my favorite restaurant - Basta Pasta - a Japanese/Italian fusion restaurant on 17th street between 5th & 6th Ave. They don't do sushi, but I think there's a commitment to sushi-quality in their dishes; I've been a regular for years and I've never had a bad meal there. You'd probably need a reservation to get a table, but there's usually room at the bar.

Also, if you want to do a dim sum or dumpling house, you should feel fee to post an IRL. I'm sure some of us will be free on the holiday weekend, and that way you get to try more dishes than you would going solo.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:28 PM on April 20, 2016

The East Village has a bunch of non-sushi Japanese restaurants, if you'd like to try that as well. These all have bar seating/are conducive to solo dining:
Raku's udon is wonderful.
For yoshoku: Hi-Collar's omurice is one of the best things ever.
The dessert sampler at Cha-An (you can safely skip everything else on the menu though imo...)

For solo-dining Chinese food in Manhattan, there's Xi'An Famous Foods (Northwestern Chinese noodles).

Tompkins Square Bagels
Absolute Bagels
A good bagel doesn't need to be toasted!
posted by airmail at 6:54 PM on April 20, 2016

Best answer: Well, I can answer clothing at least.

NYC has one of the best second hand clothing chains in America, Housing Works. Stores differ (The best for mensware are I think The 9th Ave, Chelsea, and SoHo one, although I do sometimes find good stuff at the UWS Amsterdam Ave store if you're up there visiting Central Park.) You're not going to find a super bargain (think ..a 100 sweater marked down to 35) but it's a fun way to kill a half hour, the items are usually up to date and fashionable and half my chain-quality clothing comes from there, and they seem to carry nice ties half the time. (Fun story I was once running to a meeting ad eating something on the street and squirted ketchup on my dress shirt. I was near a Housing Works and plopped down 20 bucks and got a nearly brand new designer sweater vest to cover the stain.)

(Century 21 is the discount "luxury" chain people have heard of but is not, in my opinion, worth it. If you happen to be near Lincoln Center, check out that location as it is not insanely crowded but it's all bit downmarket.)

Secondly, the US flagship stores of MUJI and UNIQLO are in midtown and shopping at Muji is an experience. Everything so ...nice and simple and high quality. No one leaves without getting a notebook at least. UNQLO is more like a Japanese Old Navy, with high price points and quality, very good if you want fashionable basics or are a slimmer gentleman.

On that same beat SUIT SUPPLY is like a high end Macy's that only does suits. They have on-site tailoring and a fairly dizzying array of options. I can only speak to the SoHo store but if you don't have time for made to measure and/or are really a suit nerd, check them out.

On the other end of the price point, we have ODIN (so hot right now, think 75$ Henley stripped sweatshirts)

If you like Vintage there's What Goes Around Comes Around but it's Vintage with a V, as in Very Expensive, think fancy antique store. Sometimes excellent cuff link deals tho.

Brooks Brothers, your suggestion is but a pale shadow of J. Press, the store that makes Orvis look like ghastly new money. It's like somehow walking inside a Yale diploma and the only store I have an active credit at (And, when you look at the price points, comparable to BB and usually better made)

There are a lot of 300$ hoodie type casual boutiques and international chains like rag & bone, but for my money (and this assumes money is no object) the best menswear store in NYC is Freemans Sporting Club. Timeless, fashion forward, masculine without being pretension, and stalwartly union made in NYC. The last person I brought there was celebrating wiingin an Oscar. Ready to wear suits begin at about $1300.
posted by The Whelk at 9:37 PM on April 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Also, for a very surreal experience, I like having a set lunch at the Restaurant In The Armani store on 5th Avenue. It's quite a deal for midtown, the people watching can't be beat (everyone looks like an AbFab extra) the food is good fancy nouvelle Italian and you can pretend to be a spy. Book in advance by a week (or ask if there's room at the bar there usually is) and then you get to walk down through the Armani store on your way out.
posted by The Whelk at 9:45 PM on April 20, 2016

I travel alone a lot and am pretty good at amusing myself. Things that I like to do whenever I visit NYC:

1. Take the East River Ferry from Manhattan to Brooklyn. Boats are cool!

2. Go to Momofuku and eat shiitake buns and whatever else (I don't think this is "cool" anymore, but I don't care)

3. Get a cocktail and take photos in the photobooth at the Ace Hotel (NYC has a ton of vintage photobooths, but this one is central, and old photobooths are fun)

4. Get a snack and a drink at the Chelsea Market and then walk the High Line.

5. In Brooklyn, go to oyster happy hour at Maison Premiere. It's usually packed, but as one person it is way easier to get a seat and their oysters and cocktails are fantastic.

I also like going to Brighton Beach and pretending I am in Russia, but that is further away.
posted by aaanastasia at 12:18 AM on April 21, 2016

If you end up heading out to the Flushing/Queens area for some sweet, sweet Chinese food, I was just there a few weekends back, and I REALLY enjoyed the Queens Museum in Corona Park. The museum has this amazing NYC miniature panorama model, and the brand new Ramones exhibit might still be there for Memorial Day. They also had a really great William Gropper exhibit going on!

As for the park itself, it's an old World's Fair site, and even though most of the retro futurism stuff is gone, there are still some really neat statues and buildings and things to check out. I would have more specific recs, but it was so cold I didn't actually get to see much of it. Just try not to go when there's a Mets game--they share a subway stop!
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:19 AM on April 21, 2016

re: clothes: Epaulet (my personal favorite); Steven Alan; APC. +1 for Uniqlo. Nepenthes on 38th has Engineered Garments and other fun Japanese stuff. Dover Street Market for fashion.

On Madison between 42nd and 61st you have Barneys, J Press, Paul Stuart, a five story Brooks Brothers, Alden, Allen Edmonds, Kamakura.

For shoe ogling there's Leffot, Crockett & Jones, and John Lobb.
posted by casaubon at 6:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

On a recent trip to NYC, my favorite dining experience was at Joseph Leonard in the West Village. I was there with a friend but we sat at the bar and the bartender was friendly without being obnoxious. My friend used to live near there and she said she loved going there alone. The food and drinks were both great.
posted by lunasol at 2:00 PM on April 21, 2016

Oh and Govenor's island, while lovely, will be crazy busy and full of kids on opening weekend, which takes away from the best part, just wandering around it alone.
posted by The Whelk at 9:58 AM on April 23, 2016

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