My city: New York

Our ‘my city’ series puts a new perspective on some of our favourite places, as we catch up with creative residents, asking them to divulge their best kept secrets. From their favourite galleries, to their go-to coffee spot, there are plenty of hints and tips on how to stay like a local.

For the Big Apple, we consult none other than Secret Escapes’ US Editor and New York resident, Gina Volpe.

Gina NOT in New York...

Gina NOT in New York… Image: Jason Harnick

Where do you go for the best coffee in New York?

I stand by my claim that coffee you’ll get from the street coffee carts, scattered about three deep on pretty much every block on weekday mornings, selling cups for $1, is the all-time best. When you order with cream, the coffee is so thick and malty that it’s basically a milkshake. Highly recommend!

"Vendor" by Dave Doe can be reused under the CC BY-ND 2.0 License

“Vendor” by Dave Doe can be reused under the CC BY-ND 2.0 License

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in New York, and why?

When I first moved to the city, my then-boyfriend, who had lived here for years, had never been to Trinity Church Cemetery. We both love old, creepy things, so I convinced him the churchyard, with gravestones dating back to the 1600s, was right up his alley.

We took the train downtown, only to discover the cemetery was closed. Not to be deterred, we shimmied up the locked, wrought-iron spike fence and hopped over, in broad daylight and full view of tourists snapping photos. We did our sightseeing, and all went well until the hop back over, during which one of the spikes stabbed my guy right directly in the butt-cheek – I’m talking pierced skin, the works. We went together to the doctor the next day so he could get a tetanus shot in his butt. Now we’re married!

"Trinity Church Cemetery" by Ken Lund can be reused under the CC BY-ND 2.0 License

“Trinity Church Cemetery” by Ken Lund can be reused under the CC BY-ND 2.0 License

If a friend’s visiting, which is your go-to restaurant to show them a decent New York dinner?

Oh, this might be a long one. Frankies 570 Spuntino is probably my go-to; I’ve gotten many a friend hooked on the cavatelli with spicy sausage and browned sage butter. Before I lived in New York, Frankies would be my first stop when I visited NYC.

For burgers, JG Melon or, if I’m feeling strong and able to handle the scene, Minetta Tavern for the famous Black Label Burger; this buttery goddess is worth all of its $28 dollars (and the undignified jostling while you wait in the jammed bar area).

I know exactly zero people besides me who are super-into German/Austrian food, but Cafe Katja on Orchard Street serves up some of the most delicious food I’ve ever put in my mouth, and I’ll never stop trying to force people to go there. No one has ever been disappointed (on the rare times I’ve succeeded).

Oh, and everyone always loves Balaboosta.

Balaboosta. Image: Balaboosta

Balaboosta. Image: Balaboosta

Can you reveal your best kept New York secret?

The best dive bar in the history of dive bars is Coal Yard. If you like cheap drinks, a solid juke box selection, a dog-friendly backyard patio area, a delightful assortment of weird locals (when there’s anyone in there at all) and an everything-goes type of vibe, this is the place to go to escape the East Village bustle and knock back a vodka soda or four.

True Coal Yard story: I was once there on a Saturday night, chatting with a guy at the bar who was named Chris but went by Tornado. While he was talking, a small white object fell out of his mouth onto the floor, and he just kept talking, unphased. I thought it was a tooth and asked something like, “Did your tooth just fall out?” Turns out nope, it was only his gum.

Where’s your favourite place to experience New York’s art scene?

I’m more of a flea market/knick-knack type of girl – I’d rather ask a stranger to snap a vacation photo than pretend I can sniff out the meaning of a piece of artwork – so the first time my friend dragged me to Chelsea Flea Market was basically my Christmas.

The Market NYC on Bleecker Street is also pretty cool and great for finding weird stuff to decorate your apartment with.

Roberta's Pizza. Image: Roberta's Pizza

Roberta’s Pizza. Image: Roberta’s Pizza

Tell us something only living in New York would allow you to know?

Times Square is a god damn nightmare and best completely avoided, even if you’ve never seen it before. Seriously, it’s not worth the agony. Nothing but slow-moving hoards of tourists, crappy chain restaurants, spooky people in Elmo suits and other terrifying character costumes… ugh, it is the bane of my existence.

When you travel, is there anything you take that you can’t go without?

If I’m being honest – ugh – a selfie stick. My husband bought one as a joke on our honeymoon and I really took to it. In my book, anything that cuts down on the need to flag strangers down with embarrassing requests to snap a photo is a plus for humanity. NO SHAME (okay, some shame).

Mast Brothers Chocolate. Image: Mast Brothers Chocolate

Mast Brothers Chocolate. Image: Mast Brothers

In New York, what’s the most popular neighbourhood to live in at the moment?

Everyone says Brooklyn (Bushwick, East Williamsburg, Park Slope – take your pick) since it’s, like, $1 cheaper than Manhattan rent and full of young people and the type of small ma-and-pa places people can feel good about visiting, but I must say, I don’t really get the appeal. But then again, I live on the Upper East Side, which is basically grandma-ville, so don’t listen to me.

Describe your perfect day in New York…

This is a hard one! Okay: wake up, head straight downtown to Locanda Verde with my husband for a gut-busting brunch and a martini or two, hopefully spot a celebrity or two (Judge Judy is at the top of my wishlist), meet up with friends in Central Park for a leisurely picnic (presumably someone else will have stopped by the liquor store and Citarella for the wine and bread and jams and cured meats), meander home to 94th Street for a nap, wake back up and get all fresh, venture back out for a pasta dinner and the mind-blowing bomboloni at Ristorante Morini on Madison and 86th, head home to watch DVR-ed Dateline episodes and then go to bed before 11. Okay, 10. Oh, and ideally I’d meet a few dogs on the street throughout the day, because there’s nothing like petting a cute dog to push a day from “good” to “perfect.”

Locanda Verde. Image: Locanda Verde

Locanda Verde. Image: Locanda Verde

Where do you go when you need to get away from it all?

Woodstock, New York. It’s only about a two-hour drive from the city, and it’s exactly as weird as you’d expect it to be. My husband and I rented a house there with a friend this past fall and winter, and it was the perfect place to hole up and get cozy and not be sad about how cold it was. The Catskills scenery is beautiful, the main street packed with cute shops and eateries is perfect for bopping around, and the hippie-dippie vibe everywhere makes it so fun.

"Catskill Mountains from the Firetower" by Andy Arthur can be used under the CC BY-ND 2.0 License

“Catskill Mountains from the Firetower” by Andy Arthur can be used under the CC BY-ND 2.0 License

If you didn’t live in New York, what other city would you live in and why?

London, since I have a built-in group of people who would be obligated to be friends with (or at least nice to) me, in the form of my lovely Secret Escapes co-workers. But also I just love the people and the culture and the history. It’s also so clean and well-organized that I feel fancy just being there.

When you leave New York, what do you look forward to most about coming back?

Just being home. Nowhere else feels like New York, so the minute you step off the plane and there’s a crabby TSA agent yelling at you, it’s like, “Ahhh, I’ve missed you.” Then I get into a cab, immediately get car sick, and need a vacation again.

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  1. What about Astoria? I will be bringing my spouse there to see where I spent 0-9 years anf haven’t been back since 1975. Anything I need to know?

    • This is embarrassing to admit, but I’ve never spent any good amount of time in Astoria. I do know people who insist it’s got the best Greek food outside of Greece, though. I’m going to turn this one over to one of my trusted websites that’s never steered me wrong (it’s a bit of a foodie bible to some New Yorkers), Infatuation. They’ve got more insight than I on must-eat spots in Queens:

  2. My wife and I are visiting New York for the first time in September from British Columbia, Canada. Really looking forward to the visit. We are staying just on the north tip of Central Park in Harlem. Any suggestions for great local deli’s, diners etc.?
    Some great tips, will try to find Frankies 570 Spuntino?

    • Well done on basing yourself outside the typical tourist hotel spots in Midtown! You’re already guaranteed to experience way more local authenticity than you would in Times Square. Harlem isn’t my typical stomping grounds, but I can wholeheartedly recommend paying a visit to Red Rooster on Malcolm X Boulevard between 125th and 126th. This is Marcus Samuelsson’s spot serving up some seriously delicious American comfort food. I’ve also heard good things about his newer spot in Harlem, Streetbird, but I haven’t sampled that for myself. Check it out and let us know if it’s as good as they say!

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