tips for your first visit to NYC, transit review

So after a week in New York city for work, people keep asking me what did I do? Where did I go?  I didn’t have the daytime availability to do many of the classic NYC attractions, but I did take home some new impressions of the place.

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First, top practical tips for everybody: Download an offline version/pdf of the subway maps; maps are not conveniently placed in the stations, service is not reliable in the stations. Look up a few routes in advance to get a feel for subway vs taxis vs walking – I found both lower Manhattan and Brooklyn quite walkable but I didn’t get to see many cool neighborhoods because it is slower. Other boroughs actually can be quite far, and places within Brooklyn are not necessarily close together.

Transportation:

The subway is super convenient with more destinations where you need to go, but also dirtier than BART here in the SF Bay.  Miles of subway, used by more people, and not just more, but more types of people as well. More languages spoken, more artists, laborers, hipsters, musicians, businesswomen, yuppies, preppies, retired, elderly, moms, all mashed onto a swinging rattling train. Loved the sign showing which stops were coming over the doors facing the train occupants. So much easier than trying to understand any accent in a new city! Oh, JFK has some sort of shuttle bus on weekends so no direct subway service to Manhattan. With luggage I found that annoying, and also unclear, although plenty of locals helped.  I’d advise pay as you go MetroCards over the 7 day pass for cost, but there is a certain ease to the pass. Cabs were good, cheap to my Californian sensibilities, and when I figured out how much of a discount it was to pay with American Express points, very very cheap. I did have one very very bad experience with a cab driver drunk at 4am, which will be a separate post because it’s a total downer. As with any situation, remember your situational awareness and know how to handle yourself if drunk alone late at night in strange cities. Citibikes!  Great quick solution to getting around lower Manhattan, make sure to have plenty of phone battery for pulling up Google Maps with Bike layer and Citibikes App for finding a place to return it.  30 minutes will get you most locations where the bikes are, and by constantly returning them you don’t need a separate bike lock. I did the day rental and used them extensively one afternoon and the next morning for bagel pilgrimage + getting to work.

People:

Asked for directions, I shrug, still finding my own way. Locals overhear and begin a friendly, loud, contentious debate on the best route.
People are not as fashionable as expected, and the weather isn’t as cold. There are more yoga pants, sweats, hoodies, college t-shirts, athletic pants casual walking about the day folks than I expected.  Everyone was much nicer, but also louder. Arguing over the best directions to give a tourist, rather than letting the tourist be misled type of nice.

Coffee:

disappointing.  Where were the good coffee shops?  I should have done more research, but I just expected more coffee shops.  I think bagels & delis replace some of this niche.

Drinking:

The bar scene was amazing, but that 4am close is a tricky one! You have to know your own limits, and not depend on the bar kicking you out.  Craft beer scene was great, jazz was great and available in both fancy and divey atmospheres.  I went to beer bars with locals sipping American megabrand beer despite menus covering 30 states, beer bars with techies drinking Hoptastic Californian IPAs, beer bars where I sipped a few new Belgian sours with a writer in town to shop his manuscript around,  a loud meat market of banker types, sports screens, with beer so good I forgave them all that, a subdued and upscale bar where I wrote in a journal and tasted a few new beers, a tasty… Well, it seems like I’m going to have to do a post solely on the beer bars of Manhattan, so more on that here.

Eating:

No amazing meals, but I wasn’t trying that hard, several disappointments this time. I did have an excellent experience at 2nd Avenue Deli hungover one day for lunch.  The Jewish Penicillin to the rescue, with a nice side plate of pickles, eaten at the counter and tended by a very nice staff.  This place was a lifesaver – in fact I didn’t get the cold that’s been going around despite multiple airplane trips and coworkers dropping like flies, which I will also credit to them.  I also tried a bunch of bagels, and they were good, but maybe you have to be raised with them to really taste the differences?  The bagels were high quality, but not much better than I can get here, and the quantity of cream cheese/schmear was overwhelming.  I’m more picky on the spread quality and quantity and I couldn’t seem to figure out how to order less than an inch of cream cheese. The availability of late night pizza was nice.  Also late night everything else, and bars that serve food! Amazing, and I love it, and all bars need to have food there or nearby to help prevent hangovers. I had some good cheesecake and some good potato pancakes also. Mmm, also the food markets – Eataly and Chelsea Market were both fun in a ‘how will I taste it all?’ way.

Entertainment:

Here is where I was blown away.

  • Broadway, I mean, it’s Broadway.  I saw two shows, Book of Mormon (BoM) & Pippin. BoM was on my must-do list and was hilarious.  I got the ticket far in advance, and payed full-price, and I am totally fine with that $200.  Pippin was a last minute addition, on the recommendation of a local coworker and also great, and since I was able to stop by the box office the morning of the show, about a fifth of the face value.  Great plan if you don’t know which show to see, and also an experience to stop by the box offices in the early morning without all the bustle of the shows going on (long lines are normal however). There are also sites like Broadway Box and stands in several Manhattan parks with cheap short notice tickets.
  • Jazz! I stopped by Birdland for some jazz after my conference got out in Times Square.  I went for the earlier, cheaper show, but was quite tempted to go late.  Luckily, there were more jazz options!  I also headed out to Barbès in Brooklyn for more jazz – the divier jazz I mentioned earlier.  Funny, nice bartenders, cool scene.  Jazz in a back room with a small separate cover, and it was packed back there, but I could hear the music quite well from my spot at the end of the bar.  Diverse tap list and full bar, and I enjoyed the fact I was drinking from a pint glass from my neighborhood brewery. Village Vanguard, pretty cool, but the crowd when I went on a Thursday night was young. ‘Are they legally allowed to drink?’ young and loud.
  • Comedy Etc What do you do immediately after getting out of a Sunday matinee Broadway show? Go directly to Upright Citizens Brigade Chelsea for Assscat 3000! Probably a better idea with a less comic show, because the improv was not blowing me away after the hilarious singing and dancing.  Floating Kabarette was cool, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it in the context again.  Hot Burlesque, but the girls were super skinny, some other good variety acts, and a hilarious MC Bastard Keith made it quite good, but if it’s your only Saturday night it’s gotta be awesome not just great.

fall colors

November 2013, Tompkins Square Park

Outdoors:

The High Line was indeed a great park. The park itself is great, with a lot of people strolling and checking it out, nicely placed benches and interesting foliage, but street artists have also noticed the good vantage points. Tompkins Square Park was another favorite in full fall colors, with a few interesting scenes going on.  A farmer’s market type of thing, a dog run, a film shoot, assorted men (some apparently homeless, but not all) playing chess. Hudson River Park and it’s bike lane provided a nice way to get up and down Manhattan without the stress of city streets, as well as pretty views and a calming atmosphere.  I imagine it’s very busy on a nice summer day, but it was calm, easy, and nearly deserted on a misting autumn evening.

 

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