Tuesday, June 23, 2009

10 Things NOT to do in the Big Apple - NYC - New York City

  1. Eat at Tavern on the Green

    New York City is full of historic restaurants, restaurants with great views, and restaurants with amazing food. But visitors keep on flockin' to Tavern on the Green: It's the highest-grossing restaurant in New York City, for reasons that mystify the locals. Is it the obscured views of Central Park? The overwrought, faded decor? The gift shop that looks like it was attacked by BeDazzlers? Just what is it that keeps this joint so busy? One thing we know for sure: It isn't the food. Before you tackle the overpriced, underwhelming prix fixe, we urge you to consider: If you want one splendid, special meal with a view of New York City, is this really where you want to go?

    Instead ...

    Eat at the River Café

    It is not cheap, but it's the real deal: The River Café (One Water Street, 718-522-5200) offers a creative, new American prix-fixe menu prepared by chefs who know their way around a shallot. The kitchen helped launch the careers of Charlie Palmer and Larry Forgione, among others, and is known for showcasing up-and-coming culinary talent. And the only thing better than what's on your plate is what's outside your window: The restaurant's dining room floats—literally—over the East River, with spectacular views of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan. Oh, wait, was that a cat we just let out of that bag? Yes, Virginia, the restaurant with the best view in New York is in Brooklyn—DUMBO, to be specific—and it's worth the taxi fare across the Brooklyn Bridge. Better yet, take the $3 water taxi straight across the harbor from Pier 11 at Wall Street. — Siobhan Adcock

  2. Take a Pedi-Cab

    Pause on any street corner near Times Square or Herald Square and an insistent pedal-pusher will attempt to take your wallet for a ride—quoting as much as $25 to tow you 20 blocks. Since no self-respecting New Yorker will stand for the price-gouging, hopping aboard will flag you as a tourist faster than strapping on a fanny pack or donning a Red Sox cap. And skip the taxis, too: expensive, often terrifying, and bad for the planet.

    Instead ...

    Take the subway

    On an average weekday, straphangers take over 5 million trips on the NYC subway system. That's because it's safe, fast, easy to navigate, environmentally friendly, in operation 24/7, and cheap. Savvy visitors also know that subway cars offer better people-watching than Greenwich Village and more cultural immersion than the United Nations: Board any car and you'll be surrounded by a cross section of city dwellers, from artists to bankers to just-off-the-boat immigrants. (Just try not to stare.) Remember, too, that NYC is a great walking city. At the fast clip favored by locals, you can hoof it from Times Square to Central Park in less than 20 minutes. — Lynn Suhrie

  3. Eat anything from a hot dog cart

    Like yellow cabs and the Empire State Building, street-corner hot dog carts shaded by colorful umbrellas are iconic symbols of New York City. The vendors do a brisk business, thanks to famished tourists tempted by the promise of quick sustenance. But let's be real for a second: Limp frankfurters stewed for hours in a metal box, accompanied by cardboardlike pretzels and gristly shish kebabs�well, that just ain't lunch. Of course, not all street meat is bad news (check out our picks for New York City's best food carts), but if it's a hot dog you're after, consider your options before forking over $2 for a "dirty-water dog" and reaching for the crusty mustard bottle.

    Instead ...

    Get your gourmet dog on

    There's no better venue than Katz's Delicatessen for a classic, all-beef deli dog ($3.10), but here in the country's gastronomic capital, even the lowly hot dog gets a gourmet makeover. Located just north of Union Square, Dogmatic (26 E. 17th Street, 212-414-0600) sources grass-fed or free-range beef, chicken, pork, turkey, and lamb from sustainable regional farms, folds their handmade sausages ($4.50) into fresh-baked rolls, and tops them with sauces such as truffle Gruy�re, mint yogurt, and cheddar jalape�o. In the East Village, Crif Dogs (113 St. Marks Place, 212-614-2728) deep-fries homemade, naturally smoked wieners (giving the casing a satisfying snap) and offers a range of unorthodox toppings such as avocado, coleslaw, and cream cheese. For an even more decadent taste of NYC, make a reservation at PDT, a speakeasy accessed through a phone booth in Crif Dogs, and pair the "Good Morning," a bacon-wrapped dog crowned with melted cheese and a fried egg ($5) with a perfect Manhattan. — Lynn Suhrie

  4. Go to the top of the Empire State Building

    You know those amusement park rides where you and wailing mobs of children wait two hours and wind through four gift shops and a restaurant just to go on a four-minute ride? Visiting the Empire State Building is something—no, wait: exactly—like that. The view is great, but you'll be in no mood to see it by the time you get there. You'll wait in no fewer than five separate lines: the sidewalk line, the lobby elevator line, the ticket purchase line, the second elevator line, and the line to get off the elevator and onto the observation deck. While you wait, you'll endure aggressive up-sells for an express ticket, a lame "3-D ride over the city," and a picture of your own infuriated face superimposed on a green-screen version of the skyline. Oh, and then you'll wait in no fewer than three lines to get back downstairs, getting herded through a gift shop on your way. Hands down, one of the worst tourism experiences in any city, anywhere.

    Instead ...

    Go to the Rainbow Room

    True New Yorkers know that any experience is better with a cocktail in your hand. So take the $20 that you would have spent to see the Empire State Building, and buy yourself a Manhattan while you take in views of Manhattan 65 floors up at the Rainbow Room (30 Rockefeller Plaza, 65th floor, 212-632-5000). The bartenders are as highly trained and attentive as you'd expect in a storied New York bar, and the Art Deco glamour of the room is enjoyable eye candy in itself. Yes, it's touristy, but this is one tourist spot that even locals get sappy for. For a booze-free option, head up to the Top of the Rock (212-698-2000), the 70th-floor observation deck that towers over Rockefeller Center and has views of all those suckers over at the Empire State Building. The vantage point is just as good, but the wait times are shorter, and the whole experience infinitely more pleasant. — Doug Wright and Colleen Clark

  5. Get cupcakes at Magnolia Bakery

    Ever since its cameo appearance in an episode of Sex and the City, the tiny storefront bakery on the corner of Bleecker and West 11th streets has been overrun by Carrie wannabes and their bored boyfriends, forming lines around the block on weekends and littering the West Village neighborhood with cupcake wrappers. The truth? The cupcakes are floury and bland, with overly sweet icing; the staff is surly; and the founders sold out years ago. Magnolia cupcakes are to New York what Café du Monde beignets are to New Orleans: a cavity-inducing cliché.

    Instead ...

    Get cannolis at Rocco's

    For some real New York history, head a few blocks down to 243 Bleecker Street and pick up some excellent, authentic cannolis and an espresso at Rocco's Pastry Shop (243 Bleecker Street, 212-242-6031), one of the few vestiges of when this part of the Village was populated by Italian immigrants. If you've got your heart set on cupcakes, hail a cab to Cupcake Café (545 Ninth Avenue, 212-465-1530), which has been baking them a lot longer than Magnolia and still gets them right—moist, huge, and with real buttercream frosting. The main location on Ninth Avenue, near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, isn't too convenient, but there's an outpost nestled in the charming children's bookstore Books of Wonder (18 W. 18th Street) in Chelsea. — Peter J. Frank

  6. Take a twilight carriage ride in Central Park

    You may recall the scene in Manhattan where Woody Allen and Mariel Hemingway take a romantic, private, horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park, quipping their way through the leafy quiet. We regret to inform you that your carriage ride will be nothing like that experience. The horse will seem tired, the driver's patter will be even less entertaining than Mia Farrow's memoirs, and you'll spend the entire ride crawling along the park's main drives, staring at the back of another carriage, and enduring dirty looks from locals and animal lovers.

    Instead ...

    Get up early and walk through Central Park

    The park is at its most magical in the morning, when the crowds are thin and the green lawns are fresh, and you'll want to wander off the main roads and explore its 843 acres at your own pace. You might even want to, you know, stop and smell some flowers—or at least something more aromatic than horse poo. So get up early one morning, grab a cup of joe and a roll from a street cart, and eat your breakfast walking some of the park's woodsier byways. Enter the park from either Fifth Avenue or Central Park West in the mid-Seventies, and head toward the center: This latitude offers easy access to some of the park's best features. You can drift around the marshy shores of the lake, climb Pilgrim Hill near the Conservatory Water, or stand still with a view to the east and watch for Pale Male and Lola, the famous red-tailed hawks who use an apartment building on Fifth Avenue as a launchpad for their own Central Park explorations. — Siobhan Adcock

  7. Eat at a restaurant in Times Square

    We understand the slickster appeal of Times Square, with its gaudy neon, its aura of history, its unbridled commercialism. But we don't understand why anyone bothers to eat there. The Giuliani-era campaign to make Times Square safe for families and visitors had the side effect of attracting faceless national chains: Red Lobster, Applebee's, and Chevy's Fresh Mex hadn't set foot in New York City until they marched up 42nd Street. And guess what? The chains are exactly the same as the ones in the 'burbs—just more expensive.

    Instead ...

    Eat in Hell's Kitchen

    Two blocks west of Times Square is Hell's Kitchen, a gentrified neighborhood of former tenements now populated by young actors, writers, and other up-and-comers. These people need reliable, inexpensive places to chow down, and Ninth Avenue is lined with obliging eateries that run the ethnic gamut from Vietnamese to Puerto Rican to Greek to Italian—ideal for a quick, affordable lunch between sightseeing stops, or for a pre- or post-theater bite. Try Pam Real Thai (404 W. 49th St., 212-333-7500) for an authentic taste of Bangkok, Chimichurri Grill (606 9th Ave., 212-586-8655) for Argentine-style steak, Meskerem (468 W 47th St., 212-664-0520) for savory Ethiopian food, or Esca(402 W. 43rd St., 212-564-7272) for first-rate Italian seafood—or just walk up and down the avenue till you find something that appeals. Times Square may be called the Crossroads of the World, but the real U.N. of cooking is two avenues away. — Peter J. Frank

  8. See a Times Square comedy show

    If someone on the street asks "Do you like comedy?" your response should always be a blank stare of confusion or, for the more hardened among us, "What I'd like is for you to get out of my way." Times Square comedy clubs hire aspiring comedians to canvass the streets, luring unsuspecting visitors into not-particularly-funny stand-up shows with several-drink minimums. Equally unfunny are the crowds of people shivering in line before dawn to get standby tickets that don't even guarantee entrance into tapings of "Saturday Night Live".

    Instead ...

    See the Upright Citizens Brigade

    Save yourself the trouble (and the cash) and head downtown to the Upright Citizens Brigade (307 W. 26th St., 212-366-9176) in Chelsea. Robin Williams, Mike Myers, Will Ferrell, and Tina Fey have appeared in shows at UCB, which cost no more than $8 per ticket. Megawatt stars regularly drop in to try out new material, you can indulge in your friend-crush on UCB regular Amy Poehler (or, um, Horatio Sanz), and you can catch up-and-comers before they make their big SNL debuts. The best part? UCB has some of the cheapest beer in town: $2 bottles will make even a rare "off" night go down a little easier. — Colleen Clark

  9. Shop at Macy's

    There's no nice way to put this: Herald Square is a zoo. The whole area around 34th Street is overcrowded and uninteresting, and Macy's gets so much foot traffic that there's no way the beleaguered (or, put another way, bored) staff can keep up: The place typically looks like a merch-bomb just exploded all over the floor. The shoes, clothes, and housewares are similar to what you'll find at Macy's all over the country—except they're often on the floor instead of on a rack. Did you really come all this way to buy the same stuff they've got at home? And visiting at Christmastime to relive Miracle on 34th Street is enough of a kid-screaming, camera-clicking nightmare to make you flee to Gimbels, if it hadn't been turned into the dreadful Manhattan Mall.

    Instead ...

    Shop at Lord & Taylor

    As department stores in New York go, Lord & Taylor's flagship on Fifth Avenue at 38th Street (212-391-3344) is an elegant alternative to big-city retail madness. Its hushed, dignified interior always seems impeccably neat, the sales staff is leaps and bounds less pushy than the clerks at Bloomie's or Bergdorf's, and the cosmetics counters are well staffed and crowd-free. Even if the store is not actually full of genteel older ladies browsing for gloves and hat pins, the old-school atmosphere can make you believe that a civilized shopping experience can still be had in New York: The store sets out chairs for early-bird shoppers, and the retail day still begins every morning with a piped-in rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Locals in the know make a beeline for the dress floor (on four) whenever a wedding invitation drops. — Siobhan Adcock

  10. Have a night out in the Meatpacking District

    Once the haunt of New York's legendary tranny streetwalkers, not to mention some seriously debauched bars and clubs—we'll draw a veil over the Manhole, shall we?—the Meatpacking District now echoes with the weekend din of tottering, giggling girls; gauche bars and clubs; and drunken "dudes" in striped button-downs. In the daytime, it's another story: We're more than happy to explore the Nabe's excellent shopping thankyouverymuch (including Diane von Furstenberg's beautiful store), and we're excited to see how the High Line park will turn out. At least there's a trace of the real meat-processing industry left: An unwary step off the curb, and you could be ankle deep in the old NYC.

    Instead ...

    Head to the Lower East Side, and keep going

    The L.E.S. was once as obnoxious as the M.P.D., attracting its own share of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd. But now the neighborhood, bound by Chinatown to the south, the East Village to the north, and Soho to the West, is as upmarket (luxe Chloe 81, 81 Ludlow St., 212-677-0067) or as downmarket (dive Home Sweet Home, 131 Chrystie St., 212-226-5708) as you want it to be. For those not averse to exploring further afield, get thee to Brooklyn: Kings County has been crowned the new ruler of nightlife in this town. Grab a cab (yes, they have to take you), start on Smith Street in Boerum Hill or Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, and who knows where you might end up—eating barbecue and drinking beer at 4 a.m. in the Brooklyn Ice House (318 Van Brunt St., Red Hook, 718-222-1865) or making out with some hipster in an Art Deco nook at the K&M bar (225 N. 8th St., Williamsburg, 718-388-3088). — Nicola McCormack

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