At midnight on New Years Eve, I was in New York. But, on the advice of seasoned New Yorkers, I steered clear of Times Square. The city’s simpler (and warmer) pleasures, I was assured, would prove at least as rewarding.
I took this as a source of inspiration for my entire trip, and spent the next few days seeking out the rosier side of The Big Apple. Tucked away between the blinking neon, rumbling streets and bustling pavements, I found little oases of creative kindness and generous design offering a thoughtful way to eat, drink and play.
STAY at 1 Hotel Central Park. This Midtown luxury hotel features reclaimed local wood, bricks and concrete, furniture made by local craftsmen, and lots and lots of plants. A fleet of Teslas provides complimentary rides within a 15-block radius, and valet parking is free for electric vehicles. Run by chef Jonathan Waxman, a veteran of Chez Panisse, the restaurant serves local, seasonal, organic food and offers guests a goodie bag filled with snacks when they check in. It’s not cheap, but find me a nice hotel in New York that is.
RIDE a bike. Rent one for the day from any of the 330 Citibike stations. Take it to Central Park to meander along the six-mile outer drive and the various paths that criss-cross the 843-acre green space. Dock it at the corner of 79th Street and 5th Avenue to do a bit of bird watching in The Ramble and stroll down The Mall and Literary Walk.
EAT at Bareburger. This small, but fast-growing, burger chain serves up tasty, juicy burgers made with organic ingredients and free-range meats like bison, elk, duck, wild boar and, of course, beef.
WALK the High Line. Built on a 1.5-mile stretch of disused elevated railroad on the West Side, this linear park winds its way from 34th Street in the north to Gansevoort in the south. Its sculptures, native plantings and views of the Hudson River make for a great afternoon stroll. Hop off at the south end for some stunning modern and contemporary American art at the Whitney Museum and a snack at Chelsea Market.
SEE Sleep No More. Go way off-Broadway for a very different kind of theatre production. In Chelsea’s gallery district sits ‘The McKittrick Hotel’, the site for an interactive promenade theatre experience that adopts elements of Macbeth, Hitchcock and film noir. For up to three hours, the audience is welcome to move freely amongst the performers and investigate the props spread out over 100 rooms, making everyone’s journey unique.
DINE at Bell Book & Candle. This Slow Food eatery in the West Village does one better than farm-to-table, growing many of its organic ingredients on its own aeroponic rooftop garden. If you’ve got a special occasion or cash to burn, book a table at the Michelin-starred Atera in Tribeca. Its 18-course tasting menu features seasonal and foraged ingredients, some of which hail from a nearby, hidden sub-basement garden.
BRUNCH in Brooklyn, at Smorgasburg. Popping up at a different location on Saturday versus Sunday, summer versus winter, your best bet is to sleep in, check the website mid-morning and head over to wherever it’s appearing that day. There you’ll find 100 local and regional food vendors serving everything from hibiscus doughnuts to paratha tacos to vegan ice cream.
EXPLORE Williamsburg. With a rich history stemming from waves of German, Jewish and Hispanic immigrants, the hipster enclave is every bit as wonderful as haters like to claim it’s horrible. Innumerable quirky shops, cozy cafes and stylish bars make it an entertaining place to wander and check out the street art scene. The City Reliquary is a community museum displaying an eclectic mix of New York artefacts telling a fascinating story of the city’s past. On Sundays, catch the vintage and local designs at the Brooklyn Flea.
TREAT yourself to a slice. An easy conversation starter, asking a couple of New Yorkers where they get their favourite pizza slice will keep everyone entertained for at least 20 minutes. Best Pizza is ambitiously, but accurately, named. Its white pizza is topped with a lemony homemade ricotta and slowly caramelised onions. The crust, made of dough proofed for 48 hours, baked in a century-old, wood-burning oven, and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, is crispy, flaky heaven.
DRINK like a local. A doyenne of craft beer, Brooklyn Brewery offers free tours on Saturdays and Sundays, with samples available in the tasting room. But better to skip the crowds there and head to one of the smaller operations, like Other Half, which is building relationships with New York farmers to create beers with locally-grown hops and malts. If you’re more into wine (or are still thirsty), head to Brooklyn Oenology for wines made with grapes from New York vineyards and labels designed by Brooklyn artists.