Offbeat NYC: 7 Things You Won't Find in Any Guidebook
You’ve just landed in New York for the first time. Hopefully you have the window seat as you descend into LaGuardia airport so you can catch a glimpse of that glorious skyline millions call home and snap a pic so you can ‘gram that sucker as soon as the wheels touch the ground to let your friends know you’re in New York, baby, and you’re about to get wasted on bagels, black out on black and white cookies, get hopped up on hot dogs, slashed on street meat, and, oh yeah, see some sights and culture and stuff, too.
A few ground rules before we get started:
1. Don’t stand in the middle of the street looking up and staring at the skyscrapers for a goddamn hour. A pigeon will likely poop in your mouth, while a homeless man steals change from your fanny pack. Don’t let this be you.
2. Walk fast.
3. Walk faster.
4. And for the love of god, bagels, and all that is holy, DON’T call it “The Big Apple”. We don’t even have apples here. Just kidding, it’s New York, we have EVERYTHING.
Alright, time to hit the ground running. Well, walking is fine just as long as it’s the aforementioned New York style walking, ie, FAST. Here are seven things Zagat, the Times, TripAdvisor, Michelin, Timeout, and the rest of the motley crew WON’T tell you.
Visit New York’s Smallest Museum
It could even be the world’s smallest. The mmuseumm is New York’s tiniest treasure, well, except for maybe Kevin Hart. Tucked at the end of an alleyway and housed in an old freight elevator, the 80 square feet of the mmuseumm define “offbeat New York”. The tiny museum accommodates just three guests at a time, and features exhibits that range from the cheeky (“Toothpaste tubes from around the world”) to the grotesque (“Vomit from Around”) to the straight up bizarre (“Children’s Disney Bullet Proof Backpacks”). If you’re in Tribeca, this odd little place is definitely worth a stop for those without the time or patience for the Met.
Go to a Secret Jazz Party in Someone’s Apartment
This is not a club, it’s not a bar… it’s a real person’s apartment. Marjorie Eliot’s apartment, to be exact. If you’re planning on venturing up to Harlem (you should be, unless you want to miss out on a huge part of New York’s history), do it on a Sunday after a chicken and waffles brunch at famed Harlem hot spot the Red Rooster, and make the walk or cab it to Harlem’s historic Sugar Hill district to the “Triple Nickel” Studio on Edgecombe Ave. Every Sunday, rain or shine, holiday or plain old Sunday, for more than a decade, Ms. Eliot has hosted a bopping jazz party in her parlor, which by the way, is located in a building that has a pretty jazzy (don’t hate me for that) history itself – it housed many famous Harlem residents, like Joe Louis, Count Basie, and Sonny Rollins, so you’ll feel like you’re back in the day dancing and jiving with the greats.
Venture Below 14th Street
Alright, alright, you can break the one cardinal rule here – when walking the winding cobblestone streets of the West and Greenwich Village, you have permission to mosey along at your own pace – so feel free to stop and smell the roses (really though, this is the only part of New York that doesn’t smell like garbage or pee). Often first time visitors miss out on exploring New York’s historic West Village neighborhood, since most of the big name attractions are in midtown or uptown. Maybe I’m biased, since this is my neighborhood, but if you really want to see the real New York, and a scene totally different from the skyscrapers and kitsch of midtown, come to the Village. It’s easy to get lost here, since unlike the rest of New York, the streets aren’t laid out in a grid system, which is great…so GET LOST. No no, not in that way! Allow yourself to get lost among the tree and brownstone-lined streets of the Village. Particularly charming streets not to miss are Commerce Street and Barrow Street, and you can pick up a one of a kind souvenir on Christopher Street and Greenwich Street, which are lined with tiny, cheery boutiques. Stop for a coffee and avocado toast at The Elk or taste the famous burger and people celebrity watch at The Spotted Pig, while you’re at it.
Catch a Show…Not a Broadway Show
I’m not saying don’t go to a Broadway show – they’re pretty great – but switch it up a little and have a laugh at another of New York’s famed comedy clubs. The city is known for its numerous excellent improv and sketch comedy programs – this is after all, the birthplace of SNL – and arguably one of the best places to see the up and coming stars shine is in Chelsea’s famed Upright Citizen’s Brigade. Go see a show during the week or show up early on the weekends – shows often sell out!
Go on a Street Art Tour
There’s plenty of fine art to be seen hanging on the walls of the great museums of NYC, but we also have some fantastic outdoor artistry with equal grandeur, but also it’s fo’ free. See the artists of New York using a somewhat unconventional canvas – the city itself – and get a taste of the true character of New York. There are numerous great places to see street art all over the city, so I’ll let this map of the best places to see street art do the talking for me.
Get a Slice of History…And Steak
You’ll learn a lot at MOMA and the Met, but not necessarily much about the lively city you’re visiting. So why not add one more museum to your list? The New York City Reliquary is a tiny museum housed in what looks like a Bodega, and holds artifacts and tokens of NYC life from the days of yore. This odd little treasure nestled in Brooklyn hosts collections of subway tokens, trinkets from the World’s Fair, Statue of Liberty postcards, and other unusual private collections of NYC oddities. A short walk away is the very famous Peter Luger Steakhouse, so grab a friend and split their legendary porterhouse, which is dry aged and served in a pool of butter. Or if you’re there in the afternoon, try the burger, which is only available at lunch.
Take Home a Souvenir That’s Not the I HEART NYC Mug
Brooklyn’s Williamsburg was recently dubbed by GQ as America’s best shopping hood. So, ditch the high price tags of Madison Ave, the tchotchke of 6th Ave, and the crowds of Soho, and head over to the hipper borough to the East. Stroll along the main drag of Bedford Ave and be sure to check out the cross streets as well. Don’t miss Pink Olive, which has handmade bibs and baubles, Sunday market Williamsburg Flea, where you never know what you’ll find, and Mast Brothers Chocolate for a sweet treat handmade in Brooklyn. You’re sure to find a unique souvenir to bring home that’s way cooler than the kitsch you’ll find at the Times Square gift shops.
Well, there you have it. Seven things to do in the city that aren’t the Empire State Building or Times Square (*shudder*).
Hugs, kisses, and pastrami on rye,
The Downtown Fox