Life World/USA

Thursday 21 August 2014

Insider's NYC guide

This time of year is popular with the Irish in New York, but stepping outside your comfort zone isn't always easy in a city offering so much choice. Vicki Notaro narrows it down for those who want to go off the beaten track

Vicki Notaro

Published 15/03/2014 | 02:30

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Vicki in New York
The unmistakable New York skyline.
New York

New York is arguably one of the world's best-loved cities, but as a travel destination it's a tricky one, simply because of the sheer number of things to see and do. The city is different things to different people; for some it's all about discount shopping and sightseeing, while for others it's a seasonal must-do at Christmas. Many visit New York several times without even poking their nose outside of Midtown.

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This weekend is a prime time for Irish tourists to descend on NYC thanks to the city's affection for St Patrick's Day and the famous parade down 5th Avenue. However, stepping off the beaten track can only be a good thing in the city that never sleeps.

It's true that you could spend months wandering around and still not see everything that Manhattan (let alone the boroughs) has to offer.

If you've been there, bought the I Heart New York T-shirt and want to go back for a deeper, wider look around, this is the guide to help you look beyond Macy's and Ray's Pizza and get a slice of the real New York.

With that mission in mind, I jumped on United Airlines flight 22 from Dublin right in the middle of the polar vortex. Think I would let snow stop me from fully exploring my favourite place on Earth? Think again.

Where to stay

The beating heart of New York City is still where it's at for tourists, and there's nothing like being in the centre of it all in Manhattan. However, in this writer's opinion, Midtown hotels are over-priced and over-rated and the seasoned New York aficionado should look farther afield when booking accommodation. My requirements were simple. I wanted somewhere with good subway connections to the outer boroughs, somewhere below 14th Street (as any resident will tell you, it's the place to be) and somewhere with a bit of character.

My search led me just off Sixth Avenue at 13th to the Jade Hotel, a 1920s Art Deco-inspired boutique hotel nestled between Greenwich Village and Union Square. Oozing charm thanks to its classy decor (rotary phones and Regency-style furniture are cute features), you descend marble steps from busy streets into a vintage-tinged oasis of calm.

There's a romantic air to the place, and the attached Grape and Vine restaurant is good for drinks, sumptuous dinners or Sunday brunch.

With rooms from $246.50 (€178) a night in March, the hotel is on the L Subway line which takes you directly to Brooklyn 24 hours a day (thejadenyc.com).

If you want to stay across the water, the Wythe Hotel on the avenue of the same name in Brooklyn is a winner. It's a hip hotel filled with beautiful people and has a rooftop bar with views of the Manhattan skyline across the east river. Located near the heart of Williamsburg, Bedford Avenue, there's enough to do in Brooklyn these days to warrant a trip there alone. The prices are kinder and Manhattan's a mere boat or subway ride away.

A trip on the East River Ferry will drop you at your choice of a couple of stops in the city for $4 a pop, with breathtaking scenery thrown in for free (wythehotel.com, eastriverferry.com).

Where to eat

One of the main attractions for many visiting the States is the food, and New York is famed for its pizza in particular. However, I'd recommend avoiding the tourist traps around the Empire State building and Little Italy and head for an authentic slice downtown.

The establishment stuck in my mind is Joe's Pizza on Father Demo Square (not to be confused with Father Damo from 'Father Ted'). It has some famous patrons and was recently the location for an A-list selfie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Bradley Cooper and Lenny Kravitz.

Besides the celebrity clientele, the pizza speaks for itself – thick crusts, juicy mozzarella and delicious pepperoni (joes- pizzanyc.com).

Fancy some more upmarket Italian? Gemma at the Bowery Hotel is situated in the original Irish stomping ground downtown around 2nd Street, but its flavour is distinctly Mediterranean.

This five-star hotel is popular with hipster celebrities, but the attached restaurant is fairly casual and the food and wine are simply delicious.

Try the broccoli and sausage pasta with a nice Chianti and you won't be disappointed (theboweryhotel.com/dining).

Want to get off the island? Head to Smorgasburg, which this month is housed within the Brooklyn Flea in Williamsburg. Vendors sell all sorts of delicious treats from 10am to 6pm at the weekend, and all cuisines are covered.

I took a fancy to the Bruffin, a savoury meal in brioche pastry shaped like a muffin (thebruffin.com). I was also taken with Sunday Gravy, S'more Bakery and Ramen Burger – basically, there's something for every taste.

Oh, and while you're at it, have a browse for treasures in the market (brooklyn-flea.com).

Where to drink

We all like to feel like we're at home when we're abroad, with the distinct advantage of not actually being there.

Irish bars are so hit-and-miss though, so if you don't plan you'll end up in a tourist trap with hokey live music and bad draught beer.

Using the genius invention that is Yelp, we came across Rattle 'n' Hum, a dive bar with an Irish edge (yet mercifully lacking in all the tack). A stone's throw from the Empire State, the craft brew selection is awesome and, to my delight, they served 'Irish' curry chips. Delightful (rattlenhumbarnyc.com).

Slightly cooler for those who like their kitsch kept to a minimum, The Malt House in Greenwich Village is chock-a-block with Irish people. We thought we'd stepped into the Twilight Zone when every member of staff greeted us with a familiar brogue.

Fairy lights, bare brick walls and wooden furniture decorate the moody, low-lit establishment. Craft beers and cocktails abound, and there's pulled pork and chicken and waffles on the menu if you're peckish (themalthousenyc.com).

If you want to visit an authentic brewery (something American tourists usually do on these here shores), take a trip to Williamsburg. The Brooklyn Brewery offers tours, or you can just pitch up for a pint.

Then take a trip next door to the Brooklyn Bowl for drinks in a dark, buzzy setting surrounded by lanes, and if you're lucky there will be a band or two playing.

We spent a couple of nights in this hybrid bar/restaurant/bowling alley with nightclubby vibes, and also had a couple in Whiskey Bar around the corner on Berry – good for sports fans (brooklynbrewery.com, brooklynbowl.com).

What to do

My recommendation with New York is always just to walk around – it's the type of place where you come across exciting things to do and see and where magic just seems to happen.

A walk along the Highline Park which runs the length of 10th Avenue downtown is recommended. Gorgeous views of the city abound from this former subway platform reclaimed and turned into a cool Meatpacking district feature (the-highline.org).

Shopping is always a must-do activity in the city, but for those who are allergic to the madness of Midtown or the sameness of Fifth Avenue, try heading downtown to Soho.

Most of the familiar brands have smaller boutiques in this area – even Bloomingdale's has a more intimate branch (sohonyc.com).

Broadway shows are famed for glitz, glam and high kicks, but for a distinctly Irish take on a classic, take yourself along to see 'Once the Musical' at the Bernard B. Jacobs theatre. Based on the movie of the same name with songs by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, it's like Broadway for those who aren't into Broadway. Haunting melodies, set in a bar (of course) and with attempts at accents that won't offend, this Tony Award winner has been a deserved massive hit (oncemusical.com).

GETTING THERE

United Airlines offers a non-stop service from Dublin, Shannon and Belfast to New York-Newark Liberty International Airport for €485 (including all taxes and surcharges) from now until June 24 and from August 23 to December 17.

A second daily non-stop service from Dublin to New York-Newark will operate from June 6 to August 19.

See united.com or call 1890 925 252.

Tid bit

New York is famed for pizza, but avoid the tourist traps around the Empire State Building and Little Italy. Instead, head downtown for a slice of the action

Take Five

Take a bite out of the big apple by indulging in the latest food trends.

The Bruffin

(thebruffin.com)

This is the new Cronut. Thin layers of brioche pastry filled with either meat and cheese or sugar confections, wrapped up in a muffin case. A delicious meal in a mouthful.

Foccaccia Robiola

(theboweryhotel.com/menus/dinner)

Like no pizza I've ever tasted, in Italy or anywhere on the planet. Two layers of foccaccia stuffed with Robiolo cheese and truffle oil. Smooth, sweet, juicy and distinctly odd, yet delicious.

Meatball in a cup

(meatballobsession.com)

Pretty self-explanatory really. Choose your meatball (pork, chicken, beef, turkey) and topping (cheese, scamorza, sautéed veg, etc) and dig in. Good food on the go downtown on 6th.

Ramen Burger

(ramenburger.com)

Super hyped in Brooklyn in 2013 and now spreading to LA and even Hawaii, this is a beefburger sandwiched between a bun made not of bread, but of Ramen noodles.

Frrrozen Hot Chocolate

(serendipity3.com)

This oxymoronic dessert is a must-try on any trip to NYC. Serendipity is the place to go for sweet treats, and while it doesn't have a liquor licence (boo!), it does have a curiosity shop (yay!).

Neighbourhood is an ongoing campaign designed to increase visitation, support local businesses and encourage exploration in areas outside traditional tourist locations across the five boroughs of the City. For more information about exploring the Neighbourhoods of New York City, go to nycgo.com/neighborhoods

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