I first visited New York in 1991. Wide eyed and innocent I arrived at Port Authority late in the evening with the strict instruction from a native New Yorker of “don’t look at anyone, don’t make eye contact with anyone, just follow me.” Obviously curiosity got the better of me, and I did not heed his advice. A scene out of Taxi Driver followed. There were people openly sticking needles into their arms, others manically staring or howling and I saw at least one gun tucked into a waist band.
New York has changed considerably since then. And my love affair from ’91, accentuated by the cinematic skyline, energy of the streets, architecture, world class museums, quality clothes and record shops and more bars and restaurants then anywhere else, has grown. So much so, that there have been eight visits since then, including five to cover The Secret List. And I jumped on a plane at a fortnight’s notice to see Prince at Madison Square Gardens! On the way I moved from staying in YMCAs to cheap and not cheerful lodgings to fancy boutique hotels. Geographically I moved from mid-town, and all its sights and sounds and hustle and bustle, to the funky but laid back Lower East Side, which is now my home from home and where most of the recommendations are near.
Above all New York has a buzz like no other city. It is relayed through the music the city produces, the graffiti, the people and the street. Here then are some tips on where to go.
For jazz, the best club used to be Sweet Basils which hosted under the radar musicians, had a $10 cover charge including a drink and had many bands playing on any night. Keep a look out if it reappears. Still open and in no danger of closing is The Blue Note 131, West 3rd Street. This is where the big artists play. It is quite touristy but the midnight show is more for the jazz heads and well worth a visit.
Ten minutes away is the much respected Village Vanguard, 178 7th Avenue South (just below West 11th Street), Greenwich Street, probably one of the best jazz clubs in the world. Come here to see the likes of Robert Glasper, Joe Lovano, The Heath Brothers and Chris Potter.
Ed’s Lobster Bar, 222 Layfayette Street does a mean lobster roll.
Clinton Bakery Street Company 4 Clinton Street (between East Houston and Stanton), makes tasty burgers with Black Angus beef, caramelised onions on a fresh baked roll and a very popular Sunday brunch. For the latter get there early. The Diner, 85 Broadway Williamsburg, is at the top end of Willamsburg, and mixes run down cool with hipster chic. It does amongst other things lovely eggs and bacon. For fish there is nothing better than Blue Ribbon 97 Sullivan Street, long queues but worth the wait. This is where off duty chefs go to. Jay Z has a stake in British pub The Spotted Pig 314 West 11th Street, which does super nice food and a highly rated burger. Daniel Boulod has a number of good restos in New York, the downtown branch, Kitchen and Bar, 299 Bowery is excellent and does really good gourmet hot dogs.
Schillers Liqour Bar, 131 Rivington Street, highly rated bar; Spitzers Corner, 101 Rivington Street cool/ ‘rough and ready’ with umpteen beers on draft, though not always expertly poured; Elsa, 217 East 3rd Street behind closed doors ‘speakeasy’ with alcohol served in tea cups. The whole ‘speakeasy’ bar concept was started by Mr Sasha Petraske, a top man and great raconteur. Others have followed and imitated his brilliant Milk and Honey (including the London branch which brought the name and concept but is a separate company). But no one can come close to the long, dark, narrow bar with its tin roof, no drinks menu (cocktails made to order) and the most anonymous facade going. Check online for wherever Sasha’s new secret bar is.
For clothes Bespoken Clothiers (check for stockists) does a good semi-smart range of shirts including some ‘must buy’ collaborations. Freemans Sporting Club, 8 Rivington Street is old school tailoring with a forties slant.
Ale and Ange, 40 Rivington Street does wonderful one-off pieces for the jazz loving hip hop connoisseur.
Flatiron building, 175 5th Avenue
The Breslin, bar and dining room, West 29th Street at the Ace Hotel, a good pre-Madison Square eatery.
The High Line, Meatpacker district.