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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

Category Archives: Neighborhoods in NYC

I have recently spent some time across the East River, more so than normal, and it has me thinking about Brooklyn. What a fantastic place, composed of many diverse neighborhoods and microcosms of society. There are few places in the world that compare to that borough.
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For the first 5 months of my adventure in New York City, I lived in Prospect Heights. It’s really one of those little neighborhoods the real estate industry made up. Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant (part of New York’s most dangerous precinct) meet Park Slope, one of Brooklyn’s most charming (and expensive) neighborhoods. That intersection has transformed over time, and as Park Slope became a yuppie-turned-parent safe haven, Prospect Heights became an inexpensive, hip neighborhood with its own name. Named in part after the gorgeous park on its southern border, the neighborhood has unfortunately become expensive like Park Slope.

My friends Alan and Dan lived on Dean Street just east of Bedford Avenue. When I came to New York on January 1, 2010, I took up residency on their floor. Eventually Dan moved out, and it was just me and Alan (No, not Alan and I).

Helping Alan move out of that tiny apartment is what makes me think of those cherished months living there. It was not safe. It still isn’t safe. But I think back to times when I felt more alive than I ever had before just walking home late at night. As we carried boxes down the stairs, Alan and I recounted moments of terror when we fell asleep on the train (independently) and woke up at Far Rockaway (near JFK airport) at 4 a.m. Move to New York – it will happen to you. There were days when I would go up to see my friends Scott and Lena in the Upper West Side at Columbia University – traveling home by subway on the late night or weekend schedule meant 2 hours underground. There were timid trips from our stop on the A-C (Nostrand) to our place that felt like an eternity. I’ll never forget one night I passed a couple of guys around 2am. They just watched me and talked to each other in hushed tones. Later that week, I read a crime report in our district that detailed a rash of serial muggings. Those men matched the description perfectly, and the perpetrators acted in the range of 1 to 4 a.m.

Even if I didn’t always feel safe out there, I always felt alive. I firmly believe that we afford ourselves way too much comfort – Brooklyn helped me step out of my comfort zone in many respects. And for that I will always be grateful.

If you aren’t interested in stretching yourself in that way, there are still plenty of places to consider. Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope are great if you can afford them. You will spend just as much there as you will in many neighborhoods in Manhattan. On a budget, you can check out Bay Ridge. It’s a jaunt, for sure, but apparently a vibrant, safe area. Finding a place in New York is all about compromise. What do you want? What can you afford? Make a list, and figure out where you can get those things on your list in your budget. You won’t win them all, but there is something for everyone in a borough this big.

For the true budgeteer, you should probably start out in Queens (I recommend Astoria or Long Island City). But I’ll save that for another post. Or I’ll just ignore it entirely.

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If you have a 3-hour layover at JFK, I am sorry to say it’s not enough time to squeeze in much more than a piece of pizza. But if you find yourself in the city with a little time on your hands, you can pull off quite a bit in 24 hours. Next time you schedule a trip through one of our airports, opt for some extra layover time and try out my itinerary.

1. Visit Top of the Rock (twice)
There is nothing quite like seeing New York City’s urban sprawl from the 70th floor. You can buy one ticket for $30 that will let you go to the top of the GE Building twice in one day. Stop by in the morning, and head back after sundown. You can buy tickets at the building or online here. If you’re wondering if the view is better than the Empire State Building, it is.

2. Grab a Bagel and Eat it in Central Park
For the tastiest bagel I have had in Manhattan, head to H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side. Order your favorite flavor or something plain and bag it into the park. Don’t bother asking them to toast it, though. They don’t have toasters, and the bagels are perfect as they come. Note that there are other locations, and this is my favorite. Don’t eat at the one on the Upper East Side, unless you enjoy being disappointed. As you walk through the park, head east and make sure you check out the Central Park Zoo. You don’t need to go in, just look at the seals for free. If you happen upon the zoo at the turn of the hour, you can see the famous clock in action, too.

3. Experience Manhattan Shopping & Landmarks
Now that you’re done with your bagel and you have the park out of your system, you are in prime, classic NYC shopping territory. Stop by Bloomingdale’s first. It is at East 59th Street and 3rd Avenue. From there, you can head southwest and see an array of shops most people could never afford to buy anything from. You will catch Bergdorf Goodman’s famous window displays where 5th avenue meets the bottom of the park, as well as the beautiful Plaza Hotel. If you head further down 5th, you will also run in to the original Tiffany’s. It’s definitely worth a browse. All of this gazing should only take you about 2 hours.

4. Ride the Subway
Manhattan’s subway system is running on some sort of undisclosed schedule, so just go under ground and get on one. Don’t be afraid of how big the maps make the city look. If you’re lost, just get off and walk. It’s never that far, and you can always grab a cab.

5. Grab a Pizza for Lunch
You can not, in good conscience, come to this city without eating pizza. This not because of some cliche. It is because the pizza here is truly the best in the world. I have to warn you, though, that some of the worst pizza ever conceived by man can be found in Midtown. My recommendation is to just skip the neighborhood entirely (Yes, that means you won’t get to see the original Macy’s.) Picking a place to recommend here is really hard, because there are lots of good places. Since you are on a strict timeline, head down to the village to get the best slice in town. You can take the A/C/E to get there. Joe’s Pizza serves outstanding pizza by the slice for $2.50. Try it with an imported Mexican Coke, and don’t go overboard (this is just an appetizer). If you just can’t wait until stop #7, swing by Mamoun’s Falafel on MacDougal Street. Their falafel is good, and it’s only $2.50 as well.

6. Explore Greenwich Village
The creativity and energy sparked by this neighborhood makes it worth your while. I want you to walk through it and stop by Washingston Square Park to look at the fountain. You can also head down through SoHo to see one of the most beautiful shopping districts in the world. This takes us to our next stop – Chinatown.

7. Brave Chinatown
I normally wouldn’t recommend this, but anyone giving this city a shot needs to know what Chinatown is all about. Go there, try to buy a knock-off Omega for $10 and grab some dumplings for the road. They are cheap and delicious. Don’t bother trying to find the “best place.” Just duck in somewhere and order.

8. See the Financial District
The buildings in south Manhattan are beautiful and impressive. Make sure you stop by the September 11 Memorial and see the massive hole the buildings left. The New York Stock Exchange is also worth standing beneath.

9. See New York from the Water – There is something that happens when you see Manhattan from one of the rivers. Personally, I would choose the East River over the Hudson, partly because I don’t like the sight of Jersey. Brooklyn has a beautiful character, anyway. You can take a water taxi from Pier 11, just a short walk from the NYSE.

10. Take a Break for a Good Brew
It’s late afternoon at this point, and you must be tired. Whether you’re into coffee or beer, a brewed beverage is in order. For coffee, try Think Coffee in Manhattan. Or, if you want to jump the gun and head over to Brooklyn, go to Gorrilla Coffee in Park Slope. For beer, let your nose and your eyes be your guide. There is no shortage of places to drink in this city, but finding one that doesn’t stink is tough. There are several wonderul beer gardens that boast a wide selection of German ales. In Manhattan, it’s Zum Schneider in the East Village.

11. Take a Cab -They are dangerous and thrilling, sometimes smelly, and always fun. Jump into the street with a hand in the air, and several people will fight over you. It’s pretty fun, and they take credit cards, so your dwindling cash isn’t an issue here. Ride the cab across town to stop #12.

12. See Some Impressive Art
Skip the museums. There are two options here, both with the weary tourist in mind. If you love the theater, a trip to this city would not be complete without seeing a show on Broadway. Don’t bother with discount tickets – they’re a pain, and you’re on a timeline. Drop some serious cash on the show of your choice. When you come out, you will get to see Times Square at night, and you will be close to the Top of the Rock again. If you’re not into the theater, catch an IMAX movie at Times Square. You’ll get the same much-needed rest.

13. Visit Lincoln Center at Night
Lincoln Center is the cultural art megacenter of New York City. head up to 65th and Broadway and behold the complex at night. The light and the impressive fountain make it a breathtaking sight.

14. Eat a Nice Dinner
Ok. You’ve been to the Top of the Rock twice. You’ve run around Manhattan like a crazy person. Depending on your constitution, you may be hagard and road weary at this point. That’s nothing a steak won’t fix. Get on a train to Brooklyn and try out Peter Luger. I have never been there, but it’s supposed to be the best. Plus, you will be near Williamsburg. It’s the perfect place to spend your last few hours experiencing some New York nightlife. Eat too much meat and get a cab up to Willliamsburg. When you’re there, I want you to find a speakeasy and get a drink you can’t pronounce. You’ll need to do your own recon on that, but if you’re in the area give me a call and I’ll help you out.

15. Wave Goodbye from Brooklyn Heights
The view of Manhattan from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights is breathtaking, especially at night. Go over there in a car service (I’ll tell you why in a minute) and put your eyes on that skyline. Snap a picture or two and head back to your car. If you trust a cab to get you there, I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to catch another one to get to the airport. Don’t come crying to me if you miss your flight. Have your car service take you to the airport. It should cost about the same amount to JFK or LGA from Brooklyn Heights. If your flight is out of Newark, change it.

I hope you enjoy your full day in New York. Follow this itinerary and you’re bound to get some sleep on the plane. Any questions? I’d love to hear them.

Important Travel Notes:

Bring Cash – Lots of places just don’t accept the fact that we are a plastic society. Somehow New York missed the memo. With the taxes here, it doesn’t surprise me that half the places you will go are cash only. Make sure you have some.

Ask For Help – New Yorkers do not mind helping tourists out. If you’re lost, don’t stand in everyone’s way with a puzzled look on your face. Just ask the person closest to you.

The Bus Only Takes Quarters – If you plan on taking the bus back to La Guardia, or at any point in the trip, you will need exact change unless you have a metro card. That’s 10 quarters per ride. Bring a change purse, I guess.

I have recently spent some time across the East River, more so than normal, and it has me thinking about Brooklyn. What a fantastic place, composed of many diverse neighborhoods and microcosms of society. There are few places in the world that compare to that borough.

For the first 5 months of my adventure in New York City, I lived in Prospect Heights. It’s really one of those little neighborhoods the real estate industry made up. Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant (part of New York’s most dangerous precinct) meet Park Slope, one of Brooklyn’s most charming (and expensive) neighborhoods. That intersection has transformed over time, and as Park Slope became a yuppie-turned-parent safe haven, Prospect Heights became an inexpensive, hip neighborhood with its own name. Named in part after the gorgeous park on its southern border, the neighborhood has unfortunately become expensive like Park Slope.

My friends Alan and Dan lived on Dean Street just east of Bedford Avenue. When I came to New York on January 1, 2010, I took up residency on their floor. Eventually Dan moved out, and it was just me and Alan (No, not Alan and I).

Helping Alan move out of that tiny apartment is what makes me think of those cherished months living there. It was not safe. It still isn’t safe. But I think back to times when I felt more alive than I ever had before just walking home late at night. As we carried boxes down the stairs, Alan and I recounted moments of terror when we fell asleep on the train (independently) and woke up at Far Rockaway (near JFK airport) at 4 a.m. Move to New York – it will happen to you. There were days when I would go up to see my friends Scott and Lena in the Upper West Side at Columbia University – traveling home by subway on the late night or weekend schedule meant 2 hours underground. There were timid trips from our stop on the A-C (Nostrand) to our place that felt like an eternity. I’ll never forget one night I passed a couple of guys around 2am. They just watched me and talked to each other in hushed tones. Later that week, I read a crime report in our district that detailed a rash of serial muggings. Those men matched the description perfectly, and the perpetrators acted in the range of 1 to 4 a.m.

Even if I didn’t always feel safe out there, I always felt alive. I firmly believe that we afford ourselves way too much comfort – Brooklyn helped me step out of my comfort zone in many respects. And for that I will always be grateful.

If you aren’t interested in stretching yourself in that way, there are still plenty of places to consider. Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope are great if you can afford them. You will spend just as much there as you will in many neighborhoods in Manhattan. On a budget, you can check out Bay Ridge. It’s a jaunt, for sure, but apparently a vibrant, safe area. Finding a place in New York is all about compromise. What do you want? What can you afford? Make a list, and figure out where you can get those things on your list in your budget. You won’t win them all, but there is something for everyone in a borough this big.

For the true budgeteer, you should probably start out in Queens (I recommend Astoria or Long Island City). But I’ll save that for another post. Or I’ll just ignore it entirely.

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My wife and I watched “You’ve Got Mail” a couple of nights ago. Beyond giving me an odd sense of nostalgia for the lost days of AOL (dare I say, a simpler time?), the movie almost made me wish I had found us a place on the Upper West Side. The film casts a warm, amber hue on that side of town, and I have found myself gazing at those apparently greener pastures, just across the park and out of view. We live in the Upper East Side, in a beautiful neighborhood called Lenox Hill. East 76th at 2nd Avenue, to be precise.

Clearly I’m a sucker for movies, and I know that every neighborhood has its ups and downs. So rather than wish our life was like a mid-nineties dramedy, I have decided to look for the some more “ups” on our uptown digs. 

1. The people. Every time I walk to and from the subway, I am surrounded by people that I like. Many of them are old, most are professional, they dress well (but not too well), and they make eye contact with you. People are courteous on the train, and they are not in a hurry. The culture up here is very different from Brooklyn, and it is even distinct from residents downtown.

2. No tourists. I had never visited this neighborhood before I came to preview the apartment. As far as I can see, few people make it up here who don’t have a destination in mind. Given the lack of touristy destinations, we seem to end up with a feeling of community that is uninterrupted by the influx of visitors to the city this spring.

3. Convenience. Everything we need is within walking distance of our apartment. There is a fantastic hardware and houseware store on the corner called Rainbow. Restaurants and cafes line the avenues on either side of us. A park on the East River is only two avenues away, and Central Park is only four.  Bed Bath & Beyond has a huge store ten blocks south of us, and that is particularly handy when you have lots of gift cards from there.

4. Atmosphere. UES is clean, relatively quiet and relaxed. We both feel comfortable walking there at night. I’ll admit I was uncomfortable at times while living in Crown Heights.  

As I think of more, I will post them. Look for some pictures of our neighborhood soon, too.
I hope you are having a wonderful day.