A locals’ guide to New York City
Last month I spent a whirlwind 3-day weekend in New York City to fête the end of single life for my ex-New Yorker, future step-SIL. Rather than feel guilty that I wasn’t keeping up with my daily work outs or 9-10 hours of sleep a night, I decided that a weekend away eating delicious-but-terrible-for-my-tummy food, not getting enough sleep, and my main form of exercise being dancing at a bar at 3am, was exactly what I needed. This is what they call balance, my friends!
I think I like New York so much because there’s always something to discover. No matter how many times you’ve been, there’s always some cranny, nook, or weird tiki surf bar hidden among the towering buildings and buzzing sidewalks that’s just waiting to be stumbled upon – or into, depending on how many mimosas you had with brunch.
My weekend away was spent with just enough mimosas, barely any sleep, and a crew of locals who gave me a peek into a side of the city you don’t always see as a tourist. Now, I’m sharing those insider tips with you. So, here is my round up of the best ways to experience NYC like someone who lives there.
“No sleep [in] Brooklyn”
Our home base for the weekend was an Air BnB in Williamsburg, or Billyburg as the locals call it. And let me start by saying, Brooklyn is best enjoyed while averaging 4-5 hours of sleep per night. As much magic happens there in the wee hours of twilight, as it does in the brightness of day. I promise. Here is the run down of must-do’s for your best Brooklyn time.
Late dinner at Miss Favela: A Thursday night at this tucked away, hole-in-the-wall, gem of a spot was happening! I’m talking live salsa music, people dancing, amazing energy all around - the tables so squished together to fit as many people as possible that it was impossible not to pick up some of the Portuguese being spoken around us. The food was authentic and so tasty; and of course I ordered a beef dish since it’s what they’re known for. Our server’s accent so thick that you just know this spot is the real deal. And most importantly, they had cheap beer. Take note though: this place is cash only.
Drinks & dancing at The Woods on Thursday for 90s night: The Woods is an eclectic little dance bar where hipster meets hip hop. The bar decor ranges from old skateboard decks to neon sign and twinkle light accents. There was a VICE shoot wrap party happening that night, so while it wasn’t super packed (we went back again Saturday night and it was an entirely different story), the people watching was on point. Single girl pro-tip: post yourself up at the bar anywhere you go, and guaranteed you’ll find a cute New Yorker to have a drink with.
Vintage shopping on Bedford Ave: This is the main drag in Williamsburg full of shops, bodegas, and more street art than the eye – or your Instagram account – can handle. The Mini Mall and Buffalo Exchange should definitely be on your hit-list if a day of shopping is what you’re after. The Mini Mall is full of local vendors, vintage treasures, and even a little tattoo shop. My top pick here was an enamel pin vendor offering unique pins I haven’t seen anywhere else. Buffalo Exchange is a huge vintage/consignment store with both new and used items that look like they’d be perfectly at home in an episode of Broad City.
Bowling at Gutter: Found in the North, much more industrial side of the city, Gutter is a buzzing little dive bar. When I heard we were going bowling, I expected a bowling alley with a bar. I was pleasantly surprised to find a bar that just happens to have a few bowling lanes in it. Insider tip: don’t forget to order your favourite delivery food to the bar, because you can.
Bar hopping in Greenpoint: Bars are open until 4am in New York, so even if you leave one at 2am there is still plenty of time to hit at least two or three others before you call it a night. We headed north to Greenpoint one night, which (I’m told) is what Williamsburg used to be like before it became what it is now. We started at Goldie’s Bar, a Vegas inspired cocktail bar with glitter countertops and tacky accoutrements galore. Side note: I’m consistently blown away by how friendly everyone in New York is. If anyone tells you otherwise, they obviously aren’t doing it right. We quickly made friends with the Goldie’s bouncer who loved talking to us about living in Canada (this is the theme every time). We made our way back to Williamsburg via Sunshine Laundromat, an arcade and pinball bar tucked into, yep, the back of a laundromat.
Brunch at Juliette: I never would have wandered into this place on my own. I actually probably wouldn’t have even noticed it. Like most good things in New York, it’s tucked away and looks like nothing special from the outside. The Parisian garden-like resto was the perfect place for a little hair of the dog and a delicious florentine benedict after a late night and before a day of walking and shopping the Brooklyn streets. If you go in the summer, they have an amazing rooftop patio. If you go any other time of year, you can still enjoy the feeling of an al fresco meal in their atrium surrounded by more live plants and greenery than you can count. I tried.
Rooftop happy hour: A huge selling point of our Air BnB pick was the rooftop patio it boasted. So of course we had to work a rooftop happy hour into our itinerary. If you don’t have a private rooftop in Brooklyn to enjoy, then I highly recommend you find one/make friends with someone who has one. The view of Manhattan from ours was unreal, and there was no better place to sip wine in the afternoon sun on what I was told was the nicest day of the year so far at 18 degrees and sunny. This little afternoon happy hour was spontaneous and low key, with no expectations, but was honestly a highlight of the weekend for me.
“No, nothing good happens above 14th”
We can’t forget about Manhattan on a trip to New York. While most of the weekend was spent wandering around/trying not to get lost in Brooklyn, we did make it over the bridge to soak up our one sunny day of the weekend. Fun fact: I learned from the locals that south of 14th Street is basically the only place you should hang out in Manhattan. Who knew! Personally, there is a lot I really enjoy north of 14th, so hearing this left me with an existential crisis of sorts. If you live in New York, tell me what you think about this opinion. I want to hear from you. Until then, here are all the spots we hit up south of 14th that you should go to too.
Bottomless brunch at Lillie’s Victorian: The second you walk into Lillie’s you feel transported to another era. As the name implies, you are fully immersed in Victorian decor. You half expect to see the Queen sitting in the corner booth sipping on a brunch cocktail. Another restaurant with barely a sign to notice from the street, but by noon it was packed. We had two hours of as many bellinis, mimosas, caesars, or Aperol spritz’s as we could handle. I stuck with mimosas, paired with the gluten free banana pancakes. While I’m usually a savoury breakfast gal, I had zero regrets with this choice.
Iced coffee and bagels at Murray’s Bagels: If there’s one thing I’ve learned about New Yorkers, they love their iced coffee year round. So weird to me. But they also love their bagels. Also year round. Not weird to me. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know since my last trip to NYC I started following a landmine of NYC bagel Instagram accounts so I was really looking forward to this stop on our trip. Murray’s is on 6th Avenue and has been a mainstay for our bride-to-be ever since her first internship when she moved to the city over ten years ago. She was on bagel duty, and Murray’s is what was recommended if she wanted to impress her bosses. These bagels did not disappoint – I went with a salt bagel with a plain cream cheese schmear, a la Sandy Cohen – and the iced coffee was maybe one of the best I’ve ever had.
Union Square Greenmarket & dog run: On a sunny Saturday, there is no better treat than walking through an outdoor market. We hit up Union Square Greenmarket to take in local producers, and of course dog watch. In the market, I met Patrice, an adorable 2-year-old Frenchie who I would have happily taken home with me but instead played with for about 5 minutes. We ended our stroll with a nice long sit on a bench outside the dog run to watch all the furry little friends having a great sunny, Saturday romp in the park.
Dancing at Von Bar on a Saturday: Again, it’s not a night out in New York City if you don’t stay up until 4am and go to at least three bars. On Bleecker Street in the East Village, Von is a sought after little spot. When you walk in, it appears to be a cozy, quiet, date spot with lounge vibes and mood music on the stereo. But if you head around the corner to the back of the bar, you’ll find a staircase that brings you down to another bar and small dance floor, which by midnight will be packed. Fun fact: the Drake song tally here alone was 5. While a New Yorkers’ favourite thing to assume about Canadians is our love of Drake and the Raptors, you actually can’t go anywhere in New York without hearing at least two Drake songs. It’s safe to assume they love him more.
Well, that rounds up my list of must-do’s if you want to experience NYC like a local — at least until I discover a new list on the next trip. Every spot we hit was nothing I would have found on my own. New York is a city of so much choice, so how do you ever begin to choose? Relying on the recommendations of someone who’s lived it is a very different way to experience the city, and honestly is the only way I want to now.
Until the next vacation - or at least patio season - I’ll be hibernating in Toronto catching up on my sleep.