If you want to know more about how to do New York the locals’ way I can only assume you’ve either already done everything on the Classics List, you’re with someone that doesn’t like to play tourist, or you’re a seasoned traveler. Either way, of course you want to spend time living like those cool New Yorkers, even for just a New York minute.
As opposed to our ‘How to Do Classic NY in Under $100’ article which is mostly about tourist attractions to visit, the locals’ list is much more about the food and drink scene in the city.
Where to start?
Let’s start with the definition of a local in New York. Very few people you meet in the city are actually from the city, most people are from all over the state and other countries. Even when they’ve been living in the city for over a decade, they’re still hesitant to say “I’m a New Yorker”. This means there’s a great mix of people in the city at all times.
For the purpose of this article I assume you know how the Subway works and have sorted out and already bought the type of card you want for your time in NY. If not, check out our Classics List.
See and do
This amazing venue could almost sit in its own category because although it’s a food and drinks option, it’s also a destination. There are a few of them, but I spent most of my time at the original Eataly Flatiron.
Let’s start with the downstairs of this gorgeous Italian establishment. Here you can buy lots of local and international Italian produce, there are numerous bars, cafés and restaurants or you can just wander around and review the goods. I indulged late one night in a single slice from Alla Pala Pizza & Enoteca which was perfectly crispy, oily (in a good way) and rich in flavour.
On another occasion (ok fine, on another few occasions) I came back to enjoy the rooftop bar. Serra by Birreria is actually surprisingly unknown, so it attracts a cool ‘in the know’ kind of crowd. Here you can load up on your fresh fruit intake with locally squeezed lemonade from the Limonata stand, mixed with fresh herbs and the alcohol of your choice. They also have something on the menu I couldn’t resist, a frozen Aperol Spritz. Aperol and Frozé are so on-trend in Australia at the moment, and this was a zesty blend of the two.
Insiders Tip: During the week they have a happy hour from 3-6pm with $10 cocktails. And they have a Farmers Market the first Sunday of every month. Told you it was a destination!
Cost: $4.90 Slice of Margherita pizza, $15 Frozen Aperol on the roof
There are lots of options to catch some great comedy, from The Upright Citizens Brigade in Hells Kitchen to Gotham Comedy in Flatiron to the famous Comedy Cellar in The West Village. Most places have cheap tickets with the catch that you may have a two drink minimum. I love that it’s a rotation of comedians so there will always be at least one who offends you, one who bores you and one who makes your sides hurt.
Insiders Tip: There are a few Meet Ups that get offers on group bookings, and sometimes even have free comedy. Join forces!
Cost: Upright Citizens Brigade is $7 on weekdays with no minimum drinks and on Mondays you can find a free 11pm show.
We all know and love the Brooklyn Bridge, but running parallel to it is another bridge, not as Insta famous, but still really beautiful. The Manhattan Bridge is a great way to get to the uber cool hipster area of Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass). If you time it right with the sunset, it’s pretty spesh.
Insiders Tip: Walk over the bridge to dinner in Dumbo to snap some pics and have the bridge experience but then jump on the Subway home. The subway will be quicker, easier and cheaper than Uber.
Museums in NY are great, especially in the winter when you seek to escape the cold, but what about during summer? There is one museum that gives you the best of both worlds, The Whitney. It’s known to have one of the most renowned collections of 20th-century American art.
There’s a rooftop restaurant with cracker views of the Meatpacking District and an outdoor staircase to go from level to level, so it’s a perfect way to get some art with a side of Vitamin D. For those with short attention spans, you’ll be happy to know it’s a relatively small museum that you can zip through should you choose to.
Insiders Tip: The Met Rooftop is also a new favourite place of mine, with a rotating collection. When I was there, it was an installation by Pakistani artist Huma Bhabha.
Cost: $22 but go on Friday’s from 7-9:30 pm and Pay-What-You-Wish ($5 or $10 is ok)
The Highline is greatly appreciated by both locals and tourists alike because it’s such a nice slice of nature in and amongst the concrete jungle. You can either just sit, and people watch on deck chairs, slowly wander from one side of the city to another or sit at Terroir at The Porch and have a beer in the sun. It’s a lovely way to stay in the city but feel like you’ve escaped it, just a little.
Insiders Tip: If you need a snack during your walk, I recommend the coconut curry chicken empanada from La Sonrisa and yep, it’s as yum as it sounds.
Movies in Bryant Park
This is a great free activity that is also really chilled because sometimes, just sometimes, you want to stop(ish). Just bring a blanket and whatever you want to snack on and you’re set.
Insiders Tip: I don’t think you’re meant to bring drinks, but everyone does, just FYI.
Day trip to Coney Island
If you have more time up your sleeve and feel like doing a day trip, and you also want to do something unique (and dare I say, a little weird), head to Coney Island. It’s majorly cheesy but worth it for the pics. It’s the birthplace of the amusement park, but if rides aren’t your thang, I’m tipping the beach may be. My hot tip is to bring a sarong or blanket with you to sit on the sand. But before you do, head to Paul’s Daughter for their lobster roll and ‘secret’ Boardwalk Paloma – a Sanpellegrino can half poured out and replaced with tequila so you can drink it, secretly, on the beach.
Insiders Tip: There are two key times to come to Coney Island. One is for the Mermaid Parade which signifies the start of summer, and the second is for Nathan’s Famous hotdog eating comp. You can also enjoy fireworks on the beach every Friday in summer.
Cost: $12 Lobster roll and $9 Boardwalk Paloma
If you are looking to splurge, here is an experience you may want to consider:
Sleep No More
I had heard about Sleep No More for years but this trip I finally went to see what all the fuss is about. Oh.M.G it was the sexiest, most inappropriate and unexpected thing I’ve ever done. It’s impossible to properly explain other than it’s a immersive theatre production based on or inspired by Macbeth. I will say it’s not for everyone. You need to be very open if you choose to go. I don’t want to give anything else away, but if you’re game and happy to part with $100, go!
Eat and drink
For a country that’s renowned for their fried food, they’re doing a good job of fooling us you can get a chopped salad wherever you turn. And they are the best! Where is this concept in Australia? I will dream of them when I’m back home. The short version is, you choose your lettuce base, you pick x number of ingredients for free, then you add x number of premium ingredients for a price and decide if you want to add some protein. You now choose if you want light, medium or heavy amount of dressing and then your salad goes through a hectic chop dance and is shoved into a bowl for you to slam down at lunch.
The prices start at some places at $9.99 but can start getting pretty pricey if you want to add fancy things like olives and avo.
Insiders Tip: Don’t go anywhere near lunchtime unless you aren’t fussed about a twenty minute plus line. Just Salad allows you to buy a reusable bowl for $1 which gets you free toppings with every visit and helps the environment, obvs.
Cost: Starting at $9.99
I think burgers used to be more of a thing than they are in New York today. This is just my perception, but I found it harder to find good burgers. It may be that there are so many other great cuisines in the city, or that people are eating a bit healthier or they just aren’t on trend anymore. Either way, I had to hunt but BareBurger ended up being the best find for a healthy burger.
Their ethos is all about sharing the stories where their ingredients are sourced and ensuring they use quality ingredients from around the country.
Vegans rejoice, the burger they are most famous for is the ‘impossible burger’ which is essentially a plant-based burger masquerading as a meat burger.
Insiders Tip: I also found a tiny burger place in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn that has terrific reviews called Gnarly Eats, and there I got to try tater tots (potato gems for us Aussies) and hush puppies which are fried bits of corn, both American classics.
Cost: $9.95 for The Standard Burger, and I couldn’t resist some sweet potato fries too for $5.25
Bagels are a big part of your New York experience, and while you can get them on every corner, the best ones are hidden behind lines of people. But, if you’re willing to put your bagel and crème cheese together yourself, the lines are often quicker. The Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company is my pick to stand in line for. You have a choice of around 20 bagels, a heck of a lot of cream cheeses and tofu dips (which are for vegans and apparently taste exactly like cream cheese). I went to the one in Chelsea, and the line significantly differed at various times of the day. Seriously don’t even bother on a Sunday morning unless you have an hour to kill as the line goes down 8th Street. I went on a Friday around 11am, and it only took me about 25 minutes. The bagel was super chewy (this is a good thing), and the cream cheese was crazy fluffy. Yum!
Insiders Tip: Get the bagels and crème cheese separately and go to a local park or somewhere with a pinch of greenery and put it together for yourself. Also, grab a few spares to enjoy later, there is no way you want to stand in that line more than once a week. This is one of the places to get those cute rainbow twist bagels.
Cost: $1.25 bagel, $ 2.75 cream cheese
If you’re like me, the first thought in your head when you land in NY (despite it being 8am) is, get me to a rooftop bar! While I love the cocktails, I also love the city views they sometimes offer. There are so many to explore during summer that I need an entirely different list to get through them all. In the meantime, here are the top three I visited this time.
Refinery Rooftop have a seriously good Insta drink called Baby Doll which is served in a gold goblet. The atmosphere of this open-air bar is really cool and the food there is good too. If you can get a table.
The dream in New York is to find a true Speakeasy, and the new Patent Pending is your gal. Located behind a hidden door in Patent Coffee means that when the café is closed you need to know the code on the left of the sidewalk door to even get into the building. It would be cheating if I handed it over so easily, so I’ll make you work a little harder for it. I highly recommend you try the Mr. Muir, it comes with a little tag you sniff to help heighten the flavours. Weird but cool, right!
Castelle Rooftop Bar only opened a few months ago and is in the AC Hotel New York Times Square. It has great views of the Garment District, is super stylish and has a delish snack menu. Get there quickly before everyone finds it!
Insiders Tip: Happy Hour is a real thing in this country and in this city! The drinks list is small but heaps cheaper. Do some research, and you’ll save some pennies. (PS: The Patent Pending code at the time I went was 4927, I don’t know how often they update it, if it gets you in you owe me a cocktail, ha!)
Cost: Various! Depending on how fancy you want to get. This time, I chose the $18 Baby Doll from Refinery.
A few other food and drink venues you may want to consider:
Taco Cina is a new little Mexican café/bar that’s popped up in the brand new Williamsburg waterfront. The tacos are ridiculously good! I went during the week and was served quickly, but I’m guessing on a hot summer day this place goes off and getting a snack or bevvie might take some time.
I’m about to make a big call. I think I ate one of the best pizzas of my life at L’amico. I also love that they have seating right on the street, perfect for people watching.
GET THE CORN at Tacombi. The end.
If you love trying a range of different, cool and super weird foods get to Smorgusburg each weekend in Brooklyn.
I didn’t make it to 1 Rooftop Garden & Bar, but this swanky venue was high on my list the whole time. I charge you with the mission to check it out and report back.
The Broken Shaker is a relatively new bar also and is inside the Freehand Hotel. The bar food is as good as their cocktails, so you can semi turn it into dinner too.
The Polynesian is also new (seeing a trend here?) and they make amazingly good cocktails with names I couldn’t pronounce, which is fine because they have pretty pictures in their menus.
For the purpose of this article, tip and tax hasn’t always been taken into account, mostly because everyone chooses their tip amount and it can vary depending on how generous you feel or what kind of change you get. Count on 15% minimum being a ballpark, and only at restaurants and venues, not when you just grab a coffee on the go.