Author Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “One belongs to New York instantly; one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” Indeed, in a city of transients, visitors who are in the know can blend into Manhattan’s hustle and bustle in a matter of minutes. So for your next visit, why not forgo the traditional guidebook go-tos and spend a few days living like a local? While you shouldn’t bypass Broadway’s best—just see it at a discount with reduced-rate tickets bought the day of the show from the TKTS booth at 47th and Broadway (tdf.org/TKTS)—you can skip the glare of Times Square in favor of fabulous finds that have enticed nearly eight million of us to call New York City home.
Though Midtown’s grande dame hotels are decadent, some of the hottest lodgings are downtown, most notably Robert De Niro’s new Greenwich Hotel (thegreenwichhotel.com). This unassuming TriBeCa masterpiece is a hidden hotel treasure (there’s not even a sign out front). For the ultimate star treatment, sip an afternoon sake at the indoor pool, get a heavenly Sake Ki Massage at Japanese-style Shibui Spa Other downtown digs with a high hip quotient include the Soho Grand (sohogrand.com), the Tribeca Grand (tribecagrand.com), 60 Thompson (60thompson.com) and the Hotel on Rivington (hotelonrivington.com).
The city has recently seen an influx of healing havens at its most historic hotels. The Plaza (theplaza.com) is now home to Caudalie Vinothérapie Spa at the Plaza, a de-stressing sanctuary for lovers of wine and other delights. The Upper East Side’s Carlyle (thecarlyle.com), recently debuted Sense, a Rosewood Spa, featuring the likes of high-end treatments by Sisley. Guerlain Spa at the Waldorf Astoria (waldorfastoria.hilton.com) is a lavish 14,000-square-foot retreat from the makers of one of the world’s oldest perfume houses. And the Peninsula (peninsula.com) just opened Peninsula Spa by ESPA, a three-floor, 35,000-square-foot facility whose glass-enclosed pool provides panoramic views.
If you've ever been to New York to shop, you know Fifth Avenue in the Fifties, Canal Street in Chinatown and the main thoroughfares of SoHo can draw quite a crowd. Head off the beaten path instead to obscure boutique gems in the West Village, NoLita, the East Village and the Lower East Side. Don’t miss Albertine (albertine-nyc.com), Castor & Pollux (castorandpolluxstore.com) on West 10th Street Trunkt (trunkt.org), Edon Manor (edonmanor.com), on Greenwich Street, Otte (otteny.com) on Greenwich Avenue, Foley + Corinna (foleyandcorinna.com) on Stanton Street and Honey in the Rough (honeyintherough.com).
New York City has long been a mecca for culture vultures, and artsy options still abound. Visit the New Museum (newmuseum.org) in the formerly gritty Bowery for some of the world’s most cutting-edge and noteworthy contemporary art. Take a leisurely stroll through Chelsea, which has displaced SoHo as the gallery-hopping hot spot. From 16th to 27th Street between 10th and 11th Avenue, you’ll find more than 200 galleries. Check the exhibition schedules of Cheim & Reid (cheimread.com), Gagosian Gallery (gagosian.com) and PaceWildenstein (pacewildenstein.com). For a uniquely New York view of life as an immigrant at the turn of the century, check out the Tenement Museum (tenement.org).
When it comes to restaurants, you can rarely go wrong in New York City. The following are a few favorites. The wine cellar at Il Buco (ilbuco.com) on Bond Street, said to have once been a hangout of Edgar Allan Poe that served as inspiration for “The Cask of Amontillado,” is simply divine, both for its ambience and its food. Do try the hummus and Turkish meatballs at Antique Garage (antiquegaragesoho.com) in SoHo. And if you can find it, Freeman’s (freemansrestaurant.com), hidden in a tiny alley on the Lower East Side, has amazing comfort food and eclectic decor. The food and the feel of Craft (craftrestaurant.com) in Chelsea, Top Chef judge Tom Coliccio’s award-winning masterpiece, are beyond compare, as is pretty much anything from Mario Batalli (mariobatali.com), from the super-high-end Del Posto to the charming Otto for gourmet pizza. And the burgers, brussels sprouts and gnudi at the Spotted Pig (thespottedpig.com) in the West Village are delightful. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations, so put in your name, give them your cell phone number and cross the street to have a drink at Turks & Frogs (turksandfrogs.com) while you wait.
Manhattan looks best from a very high perch. For a look at the Statue of Liberty that doesn’t involve a schlep on the Staten Island Ferry, head to Rise Bar at the Ritz-Carlton New York, Battery Park (ritzcarlton.com/batterypark), which has gorgeous views of New York Harbor and a wonderful terrace for alfresco imbibing. Another great outdoor spot is the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org), where, starting in May at the cafe, you can sip, snack and enjoy spectacular views of Central Park. And for an Empire State Building alternative, check out the Top of the Rock (topoftherocknyc.com), which has equally breathtaking views of Midtown and somewhat smaller crowds.
Manhattan didn’t get that “City That Never Sleeps” moniker for nothing; it is indeed possible to find fun here at any hour. For a vintage New York City encounter, toast each other with martinis in the Oak Bar at the Plaza. For a chic experience, head to Smith & Mills (smithandmills.com) in TriBeCa or Von (212.473.3039) or Madam Geneva (madamgeneva-nyc.com) near Bowery Street. And to eyeball one of those almost-impossible-to-get-into celebrity haunts, see if you can talk your way into the Beatrice Inn (212.243.4626) or the Waverly Inn (no phone/website), both in the West Village. There is also some major buzz surrounding the Standard (standardhotels.com), a trendy outpost of hotelier Andre Balazs’s empire and part of the much-hyped High Line development project near the Meatpacking District. Visit the hotel bar to see and be seen.