New York: food, drink and general tips

by Wiggy

New York throws up so many options that a visitor can be swamped with the endless possibilities of the place. Read my guide to help you decide where to stay, eat and drink, and what to see

After six visits I could live in New York but if it’s just a holiday you’re after then a week is fine to fit everything in.

Where to stay

We’d stayed before in mid town near Madison Square Garden but we’ll never stay anywhere other than the Theatre District on any future trips. Our hotel was called the Ameritania Hotel and, although it was fairly basic, it was affordable (around £900 for a week), clean and its location was just perfect. A couple of blocks to Central Park and ten blocks to Times Square with the only drawback being the need for a taxi ride down to Greenwich Village in the evenings (less than $12 from times Square).

Where to eat and drink

I could write a hundred pages but the places we dined at during this visit were:

Porto-Bello (208 Thompson St - between 3rd Street and Bleecker Street) serves wonderful, inexpensive food with brilliant service without having to break the bank. The ravioli is the best we've ever had and at around $60 - $70 for the meal and wine there really is no better place to eat Italian in NYC.

However, if it's pizza you're after then look no further than Lazzara's at 38th Street between 7th and 8th (www.lazzaraspizza.com) for huge and fantastic thin crust pizza at $17 a throw.

Ted’s Steak House is on 51st and 6th (www.tedsmontanagrill.com) and the bison burger is a real experience (in a good way). The steaks are large and cooked to perfection and there's a lovely, friendly, cowboy feel to the place.

Frankie and Johnnie’s on 37th and 6th (www.frankieandjohnnies.com) is the perfect venue for a romantic night. Give them a couple of day's notice and they’ll pick you up and drop you back off at your hotel in a complimentary stretch limousine. The prices are a little steep so expect to break the $100 barrier for a meal for two but we found it worth every cent.

As far as pre-dinner drinking goes then there was a bar (usually Irish) on every corner around the Theatre District. There are quite a few called The Playwright. We settled on a couple of favourites called Mcghee’s which was on 55th and The Old Castle (www.oldcastlepub.com) on West 54th. A good pub down at Greenwich Village is The Red Lion (www.redlionnyc.com) on Thompson and Bleaker which is a bit hit and miss with the quality of its live bands but it’s always friendly with lots going on (there’s a cover charge on Thursday, Friday and Saturday). If the wallet feels a little too heavy then The Flute Champagne Speakeasy (www.flutebar.com/en; Midtown 54th and Broadway) is a nice place for a glass of bubbly to begin or end the evening.

Things to do

I guess if you don’t know about the sights of New York you probably wouldn’t have any intention of going so here’s just a few tips and short cuts to consider.

The ferry out to The Statue of Liberty runs from Battery Park but we didn’t bother with it, as the queues were all so huge. We found a better option was to get on either the Centre Line Cruiser or catch the Water Taxi (both from the South Port Sea Port Wharf). Both are available at prices around $20 per person and both take you on a terrific narrated tour up the Hudson River and back without having to stand in a queue for two hours.

The Empire State Building is spectacular and the views are dazzling from the top. People will line up for miles to get in there so the best tip is to get up early and get down for around 8:15am as you’ll probably be up at the top by 9am. It’s also worth paying a few dollars extra for the audio tour as it’s really interesting.

If you fancy taking in a Broadway Show but don’t want to pay the full ticket price then there’s a ticket booth in the middle of Times Square which sells them at heavily discounted prices. The queues can very long, however, and more often than not it’s a case of what’s available rather than what you’d like to see.

The Ed Sullivan Theatre is on Broadway and 54th and, if you’d like to be in the audience for a recording of The David Letterman Show then get in the queue for free tickets around 8:30am and you’ll have a good chance of getting one.

How to get around

Every second car is a cab so you’ll never have any trouble hailing one so long as you do some enthusiastic arm waving. Roads can be busy and progress can be slow but the taxi fares are surprisingly low.

Internet access

There are places called Fed Ex Kinko’s all over town and most have computers available to surf the web. Find a self-service machine, get a card and follow the instructions to put some dollars on it then stroll over to a PC and log on. The charges were 30 cents a minute while we were there and if you log off with credit still on your card then have a word with a member of staff and they’ll swap the cash for your card.

Prices

I think Manhattan is one of the most expensive places on the planet and even the roughest of bars will charge between $12 and $15 a round. Of course it’s possible to eat cheap but a man cannot survive on $2 hot dogs from street vendors alone. As this was the last place on our trip we found we had a little more to spend than usual as we’d controlled the cash tightly over the previous 14 weeks. As a result, we ate in more expensive places than we would normally on the trip so some of the meals broke the $100 mark when drinks and tips were added. Manhattan is a difficult place to do things on the cheap but we could have done it a lot cheaper had we eaten dinner in any of the Irish pubs or spent more time down at Greenwich Village rather than splash out just because we could.

General tips

Due to the way the streets are numbered and cross each other in a huge grid it’s pretty much impossible to get lost in Manhattan and it’s a real experience to walk around rather than sit in traffic locked cabs. Get a map and plan days of sightseeing on foot, as it’s the best way to explore any city. Try not to be put off the place by the hustle and bustle and sheer weight of numbers around places like Times Square and 5th Avenue and don’t be mislead by the stereotypical myth that all New Yorkers are street wise, short tempered bullies as it’s just not true.

Finally, should you decide to see in the New Year in the Big Apple then forget Times Square as you’ll be boxed in for up to ten hours with nothing to drink and nowhere to go to the toilet. You’d be far better partying in one of the Irish bars and watching the big count down on TV.