Listopedia: Zoë Foster Blake’s New York Bucket List
Tell someone you’re going to New York City and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I must give you my list.’ This is BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS A LIST and they are all supposedly “really good and different”.
So here’s my list. (It’s really good and different.)
I make no apology that 80% of the recommendations are food based. New York IS food.
Get joyful in Harlem
Red Rooster in Harlem is on a lot of people’s lists (their fried chicken is justly famous), but if you can, book Sunday brunch at Ginny’s Supper Club downstairs, and be treated to BRAINBENDINGLY uplifting live gospel music (I may have cried with joy) and a buffet that includes fried chicken on waffles with syrup. Add mimosas and there might not be a better Sunday.
Pig out at Shake Shack.
The ‘shack is said to have the finest cheeseburger and fries on the planet, a claim strenuously backed by me. Ignore the calories. Have a peanut butter shake. Grab a red wine and make a meal of it. Regret nothing!
Buy tickets for something.
Go to a basketball game or concert at Madison Square garden. See a Broadway show. See an off-Broadway show and wish you didn’t. Watch some stand up at The Comedy Store. (Get there EARLY.) See an exhibition uptown at the Met. Even if it’s just one thing and you shop the other five days, do it.
Stay at a great hotel.
I’m not much for the fancy uptown ones. I prefer those that are frequented by people far cooler than me so I can pretend I’m one of them. The NoMad, which also has a terrific restaurant and bar. Ditto The Ace. (These are both midtown.) The Standard meatpacking is party central, while its sister on the LES is a bit more grown up. (They do a peanut butter espresso martini. YESSS.) The Bowery, The Crosby, The Greenwich, The James, The Wythe in Brooklyn, these are all excellent hotels, offering far more than just a place to sleep/stash your shopping. Expedia’s Aussie travellers usually spend 5 nights in NYC so you could always hop between a few!
Drink something strong at a sneaky speakeasy.
There are some wonderful speakeasies in NYC, the best making you feel like it’s 100 years ago. Little Branch is on the corner of 7th and Leroy, offers no signage and doesn’t really want you there, which makes it all the sweeter when you get in and snake a booth. (Go before dinner is my advice.) Order an old fashioned and enjoy the feeling of your socks being firmly blown off. Also good (and close by on Hudson) is Employee’s Only, which has a psychic in the window and is always furiously busy. Bar PDT (Please Don’t Tell), is the king of can’t-get-in-ness, and located behind a phone booth in a (very, very good) hot dog shop called Crif Dogs, on the lower east side. They open for bookings at 3pm each day and they’re done by 3.02. So, do as we do, forget trying to book, get there early and have a dog or two and some beer, and WAIT. Just wait. What you earn for your patience are award-winning, magical cocktails, coupled with ‘chef’ dogs, fancy gourmet hot dogs created by chefs like David Chang (Momofuku) and Wylie Dufresne (wd-50.)
Get some decent eggs.
The perfect place for breakfast/lunch in the perfect area of Soho/the LES is Egg Shop on Elizabeth St. With super virtuous options for the earnest among us, and sloppy, delicious killer BLTs for the rest of us, this place is my breakfast go-to.
Get some decent coffee.
Going from Melbourne, coffee mecca of Australia, to Manhattan is always a shock to the system, for our dear American friends are yet to embrace espresso the way we have (vigorously and obsessively). Lucky then, that we found Everyman Espresso in Tribeca. They’ve embraced it.
Go to the best department store in the USA.
Barney’s is department store done right. I spend at least a full day (solo) here each NYC visit to suck the marrow from what I think is the coolest offering of brands, labels, and wares in the city. It’s such a well-stocked store. The buyers have such fantastic taste. Their shoe floor only just beats out their accessories floor as my favorite, and not just because when they go on sale you can pick up Celine and Chanel for 40% off.
Order the chicken soup at Fred’s.
Fred’s, on the 9th floor at Barney’s, offers stupendous people watching, and offers the succulent options for mid-shopping sustenance. I always order the (light, delicious, famous) chicken soup with a side of fries and a glass of wine because this is pretty much my perfect meal.
Manhattan didn’t get the I Quit Sugar memo. From the fluffy blueberry pancakes at Clinton St Bakery on the LES, to the finest cupcakes on the planet at Sprinkles (uptown), Dylan’s epic candy store (also uptown) and the Snickers icebox pies at the (‘Sex and The City’) Magnolia Bakery on Bleeker, sample all of it. You’ll be walking 20 blocks afterwards to burn it off anyway.
Find your ‘local.’
If you’re a regular to NYC, you’ll find yourself going back to the same places every time, even if there are newer, shinier places. Morandi, a cosy Italian trattoria ‘saved us’ in a blizzard when nothing else was open, and I’m forever loyal. That their bolognaise and burrata salad are exceptional is irrelevant. Just kidding! This is NYC; that is ALL that’s relevant. (Brunch here in summer is a buzzy, glamorous delight.)
It’s hard to find bad pizza in NYC, but it can be just as hard to find the very best pizza too. Don’t worry, I found it for you: Grimaldi’s. Head to the one under the Brooklyn Bridge and wolf down the gold standard of American pie: coal-brick cooked, huge, simple and delicious. Arrive early (and hungry).
Make it count.
If there’s a special occasion while you’re in NYC, (like, REALLY special, cos this is several post codes from a cheap meal) I enthusiastically encourage you to consider Eleven Madison Park in Flatiron. (And, um, book six months out.) Housed in a magnificent deco building, Eleven Madison Park does the kind of creative, brilliant degustation that stays on your mind long after you leave. It never strays from the top 10 restaurants world wide, and nor should it.
Get a game-changing massage.
The Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca is a total celebrity magnet (there are always 20 paps stationed directly out front), owns Locande Verde restaurant, which does the best crostini around (and is frequented by Jay-Z and B, but no biggie), and a superb hotel, it has an extraordinary spa. It’s cool, it’s lo-fi, it’s subtle, it doesn’t rely on Enya and trickling water fountains, it’s dark and moody, Japanese-themed, and features an indoor pool and quirky gift shop. But most vitally, it has the best massage I’ve ever had, and one I keep going back for: the Healing Birch. Try it.
Walk the High Line.
Nice day? Walk the High Line (start near The Standard hotel in the meatpacking district), take a bunch of photos, buy the latest hipster ice confection and look into people’s apartments like it’s a sport.
Put yourself into a movie scene.
Movie buffs gotta dine at the lakeside Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, location of a million movie scenes. Order the crab cakes. Dress fancy. Heck, hire a rowboat.
Balance it out.
You’re gonna indulge in NYC. Daily. Unashamedly. We keep a lid on things by walking everywhere, and buying healthy soups for any meals that aren’t located in a restaurant or café. Gourmet Garage and Dean and DeLuca are my favourites.
Dine in a ratty old diner.
Preferably one that was an old train carriage, like Square diner in Tribeca (buckwheat pancakes with bacon and syrup, please), or The Diner in Williamsburg (get the burger).
Eat some lobster rolls.
My first lobster roll was while seated at the tiny Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village. The New England bun was warm and soft, the lobster was fresh and succulent and life couldn’t get much better. (Especially when there was a glass of champagne involved… and shoestring fries…. and peach cobbler with ice cream followed.) I also like the Red Hook lobster roll (find their truck at the weekend Brooklyn Flea markets) but Pearl wins.
Eat the pizza if you don’t mind queuing, or better still, stand in the hectic food hall and enjoy some sensational meats, cheeses and wine. Then wish that a place like this existed in your city back home.
Walk. Everywhere. Always.
The best thing about NYC is the sense of discovery. Even if you’re so hungover or jetlagged or tired you can barely breathe, pop on some trainers and start walking. You will not regret it. Ever. Have a vague destination if you prefer – MoMA, The Museum of the Moving Image, Rockefeller – they’re all worth a squiz – then just wander and walk. This is a city that deeply rewards the flaneur.
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