A locals' guide to New York City

April 21, 2019

New York City: the city that never sleeps, the city so nice they named it twice, the Big Apple, the concrete jungle, etc etc… The city also known as my favourite city in North America. 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 the buzzing sidewalks that’s just waiting to be stumbled upon – or into, depending on how many mimosas you had with brunch. My latest visit to this city where dreams are made of was no exception.

A few weeks ago I landed back in NYC for a whirlwind 3-day weekend to fête the end of single life for my ex-New Yorker, future step-SIL. The weekend was spent with just enough mimosas, not enough 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 are my best hits and tips if you want 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 the night, 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: This tucked away, hole-in-the-wall, gem of a spot was our first stop after arriving from the airport. We went for a late dinner (9pm) on a Thursday, and it. was. happening! I’m talking live salsa music, people dancing, amazing energy all around… the tables 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 delicious; of course I ordered a beef dish since it’s what they’re known for. Our server was so sweet and his accent so thick, 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: From dinner, we strolled the few blocks over to The Woods, an eclectic little dance bar where hipster meets hip hop. The bar decor ranges from old skateboard decks to dancing Hawaiian bobble heads 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. We sat at the bar to take in the local beer and 90s pop and hip hop blasting through the space, while watching the way cooler looking than us VICE people dance. Single girl pro-tip: post yourself up at the bar anywhere you go, and guaranteed you’ll find a cute New Yorker to buy you shots.

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 restaurant 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, I’m told 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 I can count. I tried.

Vintage shopping on Bedford Ave: This is the main drag in Williamsburg full of shops, bodegas, and more street graffiti 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 in Williamsburg is what you’re after. The Mini Mall is full of local vendors, vintage treasures, and even a little tattoo shop which our bride-to-be sprung for. My top pick here was an enamel pin vendor offering unique pins I hadn’t seen anywhere else. Buffalo Exchange is a massive consignment/vintage store with both new and used items that looked like they’d be perfectly at home in an episode of Broad City.

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 an afternoon of rooftop drinking 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 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. We met a few guys who live in the building, and made promises to be in touch next time we’re in each other’s cities. God I love New Yorkers. This little afternoon happy hour was spontaneous and low key, with no expectations, but was honestly the highlight of the weekend for me.

Bowling at Gutter: Night #2 in Brooklyn brought us to the North, much more industrial side of the city, to a spot called Gutter. Expecting 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. While we waited over an hour for our lane, we passed the time with a few rounds of gin and sodas… and tequila shots. Insider tip: don’t forget to order your favourite delivery food to the bar, because you can.

[oops, I took no photos]

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 today. 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 and hospitable 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 and some rando on the street who loved talking to us about living in Canada (this is the theme every time), and I was sad when our Uber arrived to take us South bound. We made our way back to Williamsburg via Sunshine Laundromat, an arcade and pinball bar tucked into, yep, the back of a laundromat.

[oops, I took no photos]

“Ew, 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 of stuff 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, by noon it was packed. While I didn’t get the hype or appeal of an all-you-can-drink brunch before, I get it now. We had two hours of as many bellinis, mimosas, caesars, or Aperol spritz’s as we could handle. After one spritz, I stuck with mimosas to get in those fruit servings. While I’m usually more of a savoury breakfast gal, I paired it with gluten free banana pancakes and had zero regrets with this choice. We left the restaurant feeling so warm and fuzzy as we headed into the sun and a glorious New York day, and what’s not to love about that?

Union Square Greenmarket & dog run: After all that food and drink there is no better after-brunch treat than walking through an outdoor market in the sunshine. 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 – both to let the sun soak up the morning’s alcohol and to watch all the furry little friends having a great sunny, Saturday romp in the park.

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. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know since my last trip to NYC I started following a landmine of NYC bagel accounts so I was very much looking forward to this stop on the itinerary. Murray’s is over 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 did not disappoint – I went for a salt bagel with a plain cream cheese schmear, a la Sandy Cohen – and their iced coffee was maybe one of the best I’ve ever had.

[oops, I took no photos]

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; I probably would have left immediately, but if you know what you’re looking for, you’re in for a treat. 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 five. 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.

[oops, I took no photos]

Writing about these top picks was almost as much fun as re-living them. I am ready to go back again now, please. I think every spot we hit was nothing I ever would have found on my own – mainly because New York is a city of so much damn choice, so how do you ever begin to choose? Every day would be like a choose your own adventure, but with no idea what you are even choosing between. Relying on recommendations from someone who’s lived it is a very different way to experience the city, and honestly is the only way I want to now.

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