The Insider's Guide to New York City


Ever wish you could text the most stylish people in the world to ask them for their lists of things to do in the places they know best? Here are insider travel tips for those who would never be caught dead in a tourist trap. Bon voyage!

Who

Five New York City insiders give us their go-tos across the glittering, gritty metropolis: Nicolas Heller, the internet personality and documentary film director better known by his moniker New York Nico; Hillary Taymour, creative director of fashion brand Collina Strada; Chefs Fabian von Hauske Valtierra and Jeremiah Stone of Wildair and Bar Contra; and Hannah Traore, founder and director of her namesake gallery. Bonus? A few beloved spots from yours truly, a native Manhattanite myself.

What

What to Bring

New York is a compendium of treasures. As such, a bag to contain all your findings is key. “Always bring a reusable tote in your handbag,” says Taymour. “You will acquire things throughout the day.”

Von Hauske Valtierra is partial to backpacks, along with a good pair of headphones. “Nothing better than walking around NYC listening to your favorite tunes.” Stone recommend elevating your usual outfits with a chic jacket and nice pair of shoes, because “you never know where you’ll end up.”

But everyone agrees that footwear should be comfortable enough to walk long distances in. “You will be getting your steps in!” says Taymour.

What to Leave Behind

More footwear hot takes: “Don’t bring stilettos,” warms Traore. “Don’t bring flip flops!” adds von Hauske Valtierra. “You don’t want to know what these streets have seen.” And a note on authenticity: “Don’t bring the clothes that you ‘think’ New Yorkers would wear,” says Traore. “Wear what you normally would… real New Yorkers wear all kinds of things that are true to their authentic selves!”

What to Keep in Mind

“Don’t make direct eye contact with strangers,” advises Heller, “AKA mind your own business. Let people off the train before you get on. Avoid Times Square. Especially if you are easily manipulated. Don’t hold up traffic. This goes for on the street, in the subway, ordering food, etc.” Taymour hammers in these road rules: “Treat the sidewalks like your local highways. If you are lost on the sidewalk, simply step to the side to look for where you are going. And I take the train everywhere throughout the day and after 10pm I take cars if I’m alone.” On the topic of cars, von Hauske Valtierra notes that the Uber app allows you to hail yellow cabs, as does the Taxi app Curb, which is often a little bit cheaper. “So go and support the yellow cabs. Always be nice to your driver and tip them well.” While it’s vital to have your wits about you, especially in high traffic, high octane neighborhoods, Traore reminds us of the city’s softer side: “Don’t believe the stereotypes that New Yorkers are mean. Ask for help when you need it!” And if you find yourself in need of essentials while out and about—from snacks to Advil to iced coffee—keep your eyes out for “a Duane Reade [the city’s drug store chain], a bodega, or a deli,” notes Stone.

Where

Where to Stay

For space to stretch out, Stone recommends the Wythe in Williamsburg. For convenience, he points to the Lower East Side or Soho as good neighborhoods for lodging. Taymour likes Nine Orchard on the Lower East Side, noting its freshness — ”new hotels are always better.”

Also in Manhattan, von Hauske Valtierra plugs The Evelyn, an Art Deco structure where he and Stone run a grand, sexy bar called The Tusk Bar on the ground floor. He also lists the Mandarin Oriental uptown for its classic luxury, the Standard East Village for its prime location (with both Manhattan and Brooklyn easily accessible), and The Ludlow for its “fantastic lobby, good for a cozy cocktail on a Sunday.”

Traore loves the 1 Hotel in Brooklyn Heights for the “perfection” of its “vibes and river views,” as well as the Public Hotel on the Lower East Side for its rich cultural programming—“there’s always something fun and chic happening in one of their spaces.”

As for me? A past staycation at Fouquet’s in Tribeca proved a plush oasis, with a hushed subterranean spa and a jewel box bar and bistro to boot. As for stays a bit farther uptown, the recently opened Fifth Avenue Hotel in Flatiron, set in a Gilded Age landmark, and Ritz Carlton Nomad (whose rooftop bar features the most breathtaking views of the city) are both sumptuous, sizable options for classic luxury.

Courtesy of Ritz Carlton NoMad

Where to Start the Day

Heller thinks the city’s best brew—and excellent iced tea—can be found at Porto Rico Coffee in the East Village. In the West Village, La Bonbonniere, “a greasy spoon vibe,” serves his favorite breakfast, even offering his namesake sandwich: the New York Nico Turkey Club.

“It’s also right next to Casa Magazines,” he notes, “the best magazine store in the city.”

Courtesy of Casa Magazines

Bubby’s in Tribeca is Traore’s preferred breakfast spot. “I always get chocolate chip pancakes on the side. They are my favorite in the city!” Given its popularity, she recommends going on a weekday to avoid a long wait. Taymour likes Marlow & Sons in Williamsburg for its coffee and stylish interiors, and Dimes Deli on the Lower East Side for their fresh offerings.

Courtesy of Marlow & Sons

Per the chef duo: the iced coffee at C&B, by Tompkins Square Park, is delicious, as are their pastries and sandwiches, especially their pork sandwich and tomato focaccia. Stone also likes Shopsins in Essex Street Market for breakfast, old school diner Landmark Coffee Shop in Soho for lingering, and tea or coffee at Davelle or Caffe Vita, both on the Lower East Side.

Where to Eat

“Fish Cheeks is at the top of my list,” says Traore. “They serve authentic Thai food with so much flavor.”

Evan Sung/Bangkok Supper Club

She also loves the steakhouse St. Anselm in Williamsburg for its old school Brooklyn spirit. “Make sure to go with at least two people so you can get the ax-handle rib eye, served with a huge pat of butter,” she suggests. Her final recommendation is New Ivoire in Harlem, “like an aunt’s living room in the Ivory Coast or Mali. You will be the only non West African, and you will taste the food I grew up with my father making.”

There are thousands of amazing restaurants, admits Heller, but a recent first time visit comes to mind for him: Red Hook Tavern. “Their burger was probably the best I’ve ever had,” he states. For the chefs, while any visitor would be remiss not to experience their signature Lower East Side restaurant Wildair (small inventive plates to share, an exceptional wine list, and artisanal donuts on the weekends), they recommend spots like 4 Charles Prime Rib for simple food with depth of flavor, Torishin for its “amazing” yakitori, Kafana for the pork chop, Hawskmoor for negronis and the veal chop, and the steakhouse Peter Luger “for the entire experience.”

Taymour is partial to abcV for its vegan food, great drinks, and tapas; Planta Queen for take out; Cafe Himalaya for an affordable option, and for something iconic, Lucien, a cozy French bistro known for its great people watching. “You haven’t visited NY unless you go to Lucien,” she states of the East Village haunt.

For awe-inspiring interiors and inventive woodfired cuisine, I recommend Greenpoint newcomer Ilis. For gorgeous nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian fusion) dishes, the West Village’s Llama San is a delight. Two great ways to finish off a day wandering around Brooklyn’s charming, leafy neighborhoods: the exquisite seafood at Saint Julivert (in Cobble Hill) and bright, seasonal fare at Margot (in Fort Greene).

Courtesy of Saint Julivert

For traditional Korean, Cho Dang Gol and Han Bat in Koreatown warm the soul, while a modern twist on the category can be found at opulent Oiji Mi in the Flatiron.

And for a counter-style tasting menu of the highest execution, consider Restaurant Yuu and HOUSE Brooklyn (both in Greenpoint).

Where to Shop

New York has an expansive vintage scene. For pre-loved treasures, Traore likes Seven Wonders Collective for clothes and Dobbins St. Vintage Co-Op for furniture.

Dobbin Street Vintage Co-Op

Courtesy of Dobbin Street Vintage Co-Op

Fantasy Explosion is a favorite of Hellers, “for NY-centric vintage clothing.” Stop by all three on a jaunt through Greenpoint, they’re walking distance from one another. Further up, Heller loves Third Eye Throwbacks in the Bronx, for vintage toys, and Village Revival Records in the West Village for vinyl.

For new clothing and accessories, Traore visits Sincerely Tommy, a concept store in Bed Stuy featuring the work of emerging designers.

For eyewear she likes Atelier Mira, Fabulous Fanny’s and Selima Optique. For contemporary menswear, Von Hauske Valtierra loves 3sixteen for denim and t-shirts, Corridor for clothes made to last, and Extra Butter for cool shoes. Consider a visit to iconic New York jeweler Ted Muehling’s studio in Tribeca (open by appointment) for an elevated gift.

Lolo and Friends are great fun to explore, says Traore, for homeware and specialty items—think playful ceramics and novelty candles shaped like martinis or baguettes. The quirk continues at Casey Rubber Stamps in the East Village, a purveyor of handmade custom stamps that Heller adores, and nearby Enchantments — “New York’s oldest occult store.”

Courtesy Casey Rubber Stamps

For food, our locals love the markets: Taymour is “addicted” to Eataly, the Italian specialty goods mecca whose second location just opened in Soho, while the chef duo loves Chelsea Market and Essex Market (with a recommended stop at Los Mariscos and Formaggio Essex in each, respectively). For something sweet, consider Myzel’s Chocolates around Columbus Circle, shares Heller, for old world charm. Speaking of old world charm, Paisanos Butcher is another favorite, a Boerum Hill purveyor selling “the most wild meats” since 1960—of which Traore is a big fan.

Where to Look at Art

Traore invites visitors to stop by her gallery on the Lower East Side, where she spotlights work by historically marginalized artists. She also advocates for making the gallery rounds downtown and in Chelsea — at the top of her list are Nicola Vassell, Marinaro, Kapp Kapp, Karma, Jeffrey Deitch, and Yosi Milo.

Courtesy of Nicola Vassell

In terms of museums, she recommends the Brooklyn Museum, MoMA, The Noguchi Museum, and The Frick Collection (the latter’s gilded age HQ is under renovation, but re-opening in late 2024). Everyone loves The Met and The Guggenheim. The chefs both recommend a Sunday morning visit to either followed by a walk in Central Park. Taymour recommends starting with the Guggenheim, furthest uptown, and then working your way down to the Met and the MoMA in one day.

Courtesy of Guggenheim Museum

In terms of galleries, she likes David Zwirner, a contemporary art powerhouse with two locations in Chelsea and one on the Upper East Side. Heller adds some nicher spots to the list: City Reliquary in Williamsburg, known for its NYC ephemera, Mmuseumm (the smallest museum in NYC) nestled in Tribeca’s Cortlandt Alley, the Museum of Moving Image, and the Museum of the City of New York up near East Harlem. “Also,” he caveats, “Big Mike Saviello, the owner of Astor Place Hairstylists (the oldest barber shop in Manhattan) has an art gallery in the back of the shop where he displays all the paintings he creates on his lunch break.”

Museum of the City of New York

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

Where to Unwind

Taymour, a self-described “spa girl” recommends Epi.logic or Raquel New York for facials and AIRE Ancient Baths for thermal baths in dramatic, candlelit spaces.

Courtesy of Aire Ancient Baths

Traore likes Ställe Studios and Crystal Greene Studio for facials, owned by “two fabulous women who know how to heal skin.”

Courtesy Crystal Greene Studio

She’s also devoted to Solidcore workout classes: “I’ve dropped every other form of exercise and go about 4 times a week. My body has never felt or looked better.” For something a little grittier but utterly iconic, the Russian and Turkish Baths, an East Village mainstay since 1892, features a sauna, steam room, and cold plunge known for attracting a cast of loyal, local characters for a no-frills shvitz. For a less historic but no less satisfying option, try lesser known Wall Street Bath & Spa 88 down in FiDi, a subterranean compound with more space to stretch out.

Where to Get Some Fresh Air

Central Park is iconic for good reason, but the city is filled with green spaces. Heller’s favorite park in the city is Washington Square Park.

For fewer crowds, he recommends making it out to Corona Park in Queens or Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx. Taymour loves Battery Park. “Go find the Labyrinth of Contemplation there,” she urges, of the park’s mysteriously manicured grassy expanse. Traore adores Fort Greene Park in the Summer: “It’s beautiful and the energy is always so special. There are also tons of amazing restaurants near the park,” she adds. East River Park does it for von Hauske Valtierra. “Where I can take a moment and sit down, hear the river, just take it all in,” he says. “There’s that moment where you see the magnitude of the bridges. It’s something so special.” Stone enjoys walking his dog in Prospect Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park. McGolrick Park in Greenpoint has a romantic, old world feel, perfect for a roam and a picnic.

Where to Have a Cocktail

Taymour suggests The Four Horsemen in Williamsburg for a glass of wine. Stone likes the warm, glowy Lower East Side Gem Wine for a (natural) glass and their simple, elevated dishes.

For cocktails, he suggests Attaboy nearby, a speakeasy-inspired space without a menu—your order is informed by a conversation with the bartender. Traore takes people to Maison Premiere for their excellent cocktails and oysters. “In the summer, the outdoor area is so whimsical! I feel like I’m on the set of ‘The Secret Garden,’” she raves.

Courtesy of Maison Premiere

Come winter, the Williamsburg gem’s holiday decorations make things just as enchanting. In the outer boroughs, Heller’s partial to Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven, Queens. “It’s arguably the oldest bar in NYC and Goodfellas was filmed there. They have really good bar food and cold drinks. Great vibe.” He also likes Lee’s Tavern in Staten Island. “Again, great old school vibe and the best clam pizza I’ve ever had.”

Von Hauske Valtierra suggests Jac’s on Bond, Bond Street’s buzzy weekend watering hole for the downtown set, though he prefers it on Sundays and Mondays, “when you can have the place for yourself — pretty cozy vibe and the drinks are incredible.” He loves The Cabinet for their mezcal selection. “I always go there with friends who are visiting from Mexico City and it turns into a very dangerous night.”

Where to Stay Up Late

Traore’s favorite night time spots are Lovers Rock for Caribbean music and Cafe Erzulie for afro beats, amapiano, hip hop, soca, and dance hall. “I can dance all night at either spot,” she says. Stone recommends Nightmoves in Williamsburg for its “great soundsystem and DJs” or nearby Gabriela which is owned by the DJ and local nightlife legend Eli Escobar. A nocturnal animal, I’ve spent many an eve dancing until the wee hours at Public Records (big and sleek), Black Flamingo (subterranean and trancey), Basement (Berlin club vibes for a late night scene), Jupiter Disco (smokey and intimate), or Baby’s All Right (disco lights on a roomier dance floor).

For shows, I recommend checking the concert lineups at the Knockdown Center, in the same complex as Basement. For something a bit more civilized, I hear the burlesque shows at The Red Pavilion, an Asian neo-noir cabaret and nightclub, are transfixing.

Courtesy of The Red Pavillion

When

Heller thinks fall is the best time to visit, October especially, for “the best weather, and the most activities.” Traore adores every season: “In the winter, the Christmas lights and festive energy are so exciting. In the spring and the fall the weather is beautiful. In the summer, the energy in the city is unmatched.” Taymour loves late spring — “As soon as it starts to warm up, the city becomes alive again and the energy can’t be beat.” Stone is aligned on springtime magic, but ultimately finds fall to be most electric.

Central Park West in the Springtime

Getty

Why

“I’ve been to other cities and I get bored,” says Heller. “In NYC, you have no excuses. I’ve been here my whole life and keep uncovering new and exciting things to do.” For Traore, NYC is synonymous with freedom. “Freedom to be whoever you want to be. Freedom to dress however you want to dress. Freedom to love whoever you want to love” Stone thinks there’s not one place in the world that compares to this city, noting its particular draw for gourmands and those wishing to meet interesting people. “There’s something for everyone,” he muses, “especially those who love a little quirk.”

It’s also a tough place, describes von Hauske Valtierra, “filled with a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense.” Which, when he thinks about it, is like “all cool things in life.” While it might take a few bad experiences to find the good ones, New York City is simply where “the coolest, most exciting, and most relevant things are always happening.” Taymour echoes this nature of extremes, of paradoxes. “There is nothing like the smell of fish and garbage in Lower Manhattan. Everyone loves New York,” she says.





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