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New York: my love affair with the Big Apple

New York: my love affair with the Big Apple

Confession: New York City has stolen a piece of my heart. My love affair with this dynamic city began back in 2009, though truth be told we probably began our courtship much earlier as images of the city are wrapped up in so many of my childhood film and television memories. From the iconic scenes at The Plaza Hotel in Home Alone II to some of my all time favourite romantic comedies; Bride Wars, Twenty Seven Dresses, The Devil Wears Prada and of course Sex and the City, New York's famous landmarks have long played a starring role in my life.

The bright lights of Times Square
Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge
One of my favourite places to admire New York in all its glory- Top of the Rock

I have been fortunate to visit my love, New York, twice so far and it remains my most favourite city anywhere in the world (apart from Melbourne). This could also be due to the fact that one of my best friends has been living out her Carrie Bradshaw dream in New York City for the past few years. Something I am immensely proud of (and just a bit envious of). Since her relocation to the Big Apple I have gotten to know the city on a much deeper level and discovered hidden gems that make New York the dynamic city it is.

I have always thought that the best way to discover any city is to get to its heart. To truly get to know a place you need to get away from all the mass consumerism and find its authenticity. New York is truly a city of iconic images with an amazing and constantly evolving food scene. As the saying goes it is the city that never sleeps....

In my role as a travel advisor, many people ask me how long they should spend in New York and my answer is there is no such thing as too much time. I would always advise a minimum of five nights, but ideally anywhere between eight and twelve nights really gives you the chance to see and experience so much.

For first time visitors I recommend spending at least half your stay in Midtown to tackle all the key sights like Top of The Rock, Empire State Building, major museums and strolling down Fifth Ave and through Central Park; before moving down into the Soho area if you are staying longer. There are so many hotel options in New York, but these are a few of my favourites:

The Crosby Street Hotel

This is my dream hotel and one day I hope to be lucky enough to tick it off my bucket list. Located in groovy Soho, amongst cobblestone streets, iconic brownstones, chic boutiques and fabulous restaurants. With interiors designed by the brilliant Kit Kemp this hotel is truly something special. If money is no object you simply must stay in the Meadow Suite with its private terraced garden, but in all honesty all of the rooms are gorgeous.

An image of the Meadow Suite at the Crosby Street Hotel with the terraced garden and comfortable seating area

The Plaza Hotel

Who doesn't know The Plaza. Immortalised in film with iconic scenes of Macauley Culkin wreaking havoc through the hotel, this is a must visit even if just for high tea! The rooms are a stunning mix of opulent grandeur with all the modern conveniences one expects from a property of this calibre. Not to mention the iconic location with Central Park, FAO Schwarz Toy Store and Bergdorf Goodman literally a hop, skip and jump away.

A photo of the exterior of The Plaza Hotel
The Plaza's tiered stand of high tea delights

The Greenwich

Located in TriBeCa this hotel owned by Robert De Niro has a masculine members club feel. Each of the rooms and suites are slightly different. With its cosy drawing room, inviting courtyard and authentic Italian cuisine served in its restaurant Locanda Verde, this property feels less like a hotel and more like a home.

An image of the sitting room at the Greenwich Hotel

The Mondrian Soho

A great mid range option in a fantastic location this property offers crisp clean white rooms, some with fabulous views and all with splashes of baby blue throughout. Run by the Morgan Hotel Group this is a great choice for the young and young at heart. Modern with a French toile twist.

The deluxe guest room at The Mondrian Soho

The Hudson Hotel

With its fabulous midtown location this hotel is seriously hip. With interiors by design genius Phillippe Starck and some of the coolest public areas in any hotel this is a place to see and be seen. From the beer and burger eatery Hudson Common, to the English country-garden feel of the seasonal Sky Terrace and the first urban ski-resort themed bar the Hudson Lodge this is a great entry-level hotel. Beware of the entry-level rooms though, they are seriously small! (Think shoe box size) Definitely pay the extra to upgrade to a larger room.

One of the hammocks in one of the public spaces at The Hudson Hotel

I also love the Affinia apartments especially Affinia 50 or the Affinia Manhattan for a long stay or for something different and a real New-Yorker experience check out the private rental homes with One Fine Stay.

Trying to choose my top New York restaurants is like asking me to choose my favourite child, but here goes. New York's dining scene is also constantly evolving so before any trip please check the restaurant website or Open Table for up-to-date information. I also recommend making some bookings before you travel through Open Table, so you don't miss out on your favourites.

In the brunch/lunch category try these:

Pastis- located in the cobble-stoned streets of the Meatpacking District this is a seriously cute restaurant serving classic French bistro fare. Try the weekend brunch with classic poached eggs 'Hussard' served with ham, tomatoes, mushrooms and a tangy bordelaise and hollandaise sauce with a Bloody Marie (a Pastis twist on the classic Bloody Mary)

An image of me enjoying brunch at Pastis in New York

Balthazar- located in Soho this is the sister restaurant of Pastis, so expect similar fare. Try the raw seafood bar and the breads and pastries from the bakery. The bright red awning beckons and for a moment you can believe you have been teleported to Paris.

Juice Press- for a liquid breakfast or snack try these juice bars located all over New York including one nestled amongst the boutiques of Nolita. Specialising in cold pressed, raw and organic juices and smoothies these are so tasty you will forget you are being healthy.

Shake Shack- you have not been to New York until you have tasted the mind-blowing burgers, flat-top dogs, shakes and frozen custard at the original Shake Shack amongst the leafy greens in Madison Square Park. Check out the menu here

The Shake Shack stand at Madison Square Park

Meatball Shop- offering a completely customisable menu of meatballs, sliders and meatball sandwiches this is the perfect place to take the man in your life for a nice hearty serving of delicious meatballs. With locations all over New York you can have a meatball fix anytime

The Food Hall at The Plaza- think the David Jones Food Hall on steroids and you have the Food Hall at The Plaza. A perfect place to stop and refuel after a hard day shopping on Fifth Ave or walking through Central Park. Head downstairs and experience a world of culinary delights.

The Central Park Boathouse- an icon from the movies the Central Park Boathouse is one of the most romantic lunch spots in New York City. In the warmer weather dine alfresco under the striped awning looking out on the lake, as couples row across the water in front of you. There is also an express cafe next door, but my advice is to spend the extra and head into the restaurant for a dining experience to be remembered.

The Central Park Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park surrounded by the lake and rowboats

For sweet treats you cannot go past Magnolia Cupcake Bakery, which rose to fame after featuring on an episode of Sex and the City. You will find it hard to stop at just one of these fluffy cupcakes adorned with perfect butter cream icing. The original store is located in Bleeker Street in the West Village, but there are now locations all over New York. For macaron lovers try the Parisian outpost of Ladurée located on Madison Ave. Grab yourself a pretty little box filled with a half dozen and head to Central Park to enjoy them.

A delicious cupcake from Magnolia Bakery with chocolate icing and sprinkles
A must visit in New York macarons from Ladurée

In the dinner category try these: 

Buddakan- if you go to one restaurant in New York make it Buddakan. Fans of Sex and the City will recognise this restaurant as the location for Carrie and Big's rehearsal dinner before their ill-fated wedding in the first movie. Excellent service, fabulous cocktails and delicious modern Asian cuisine for an extremely reasonable price make this a dining experience to remember. Check out the menu here

Looking down on the amazing chandeliers of Buddakan
About to enter the wonders of Buddakan

Mercer Kitchen- located at The Mercer Hotel in Soho this restaurant features the cuisine of chef extraordinaire Jean-Georges. Think industrial overheard lamps, dark wood tables with comfortable bench seating, an open kitchen offering a window into the drama of service and a menu focused on seasonal ingredients presented simply and elegantly. Check out the menu here

Eataly New York- for any serious foodie this is a must visit. Eataly is a diverse marketplace that sells the best in Italian produce and wine, as well as offering a culinary school with six different courses including one combining basic Italian language with specific regional dishes, and seven boutique eateries including La Birreria on the rooftop. Their motto is “we cook what we sell, and we sell what we cook."

Red Rooster Harlem- located in the heart of Harlem, Red Rooster celebrates American comfort food with the culinary traditions of the neighbourhood. Expect fried chicken, mac & greens, fish & grits, Harlem chowder and crab cakes. Music is also a huge part of the Red Rooster experience with nightly entertainment ranging from hip hop, jazz, latin beats, gospel, soul to world-class DJs.

The exterior of Red Rooster Harlem

ABC Kitchen- located in Union Square and another of the many in the Jean-Georges stable, this restaurant focuses on seasonal eco-friendly produce similar to Mercer Kitchen. The design is all white with shabby chic touches including ornate chandeliers and touches of birch wood throughout. Check out the menu here

Daniel- the eponymous restaurant of Daniel Boulud, this three Michelin star Relais Chateau restaurant is perfect for a romantic evening with someone special. Located in the heart of Manhattan's Upper East Side expect contemporary French cuisine that celebrates seasonal produce. In the main restaurant you can choose from a seven course tasting menu or a three course prix fixe menu. The lounge and bar have a casual elegance about them and is the perfect place to stop for late night cocktails and sumptuous desserts.

Amazing chandeliers and white tablecloths inside Daniel New York

Morimoto- the New York outpost for Iron Chef America, Morimoto, this restaurant features a raw bar, an incredible selection of the freshest sushi, sashimi and maki rolls, plus cold and hot appetizers, salads and wagyu beef steaks.

Eleven Madison Park- currently rated no. 5 on the World's 50 Best Restaurants List, Eleven Madison Park is a dining experience in a similar league to Quay in Sydney or Vue De Monde in Melbourne. Headed by Daniel Humm and Chris Flint, expect food that is not only delicious but also aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Modern French with a New York Twist. With its multi course tasting menu this is a dining experience to be remembered.

An image of one of the exquisite dishes at Eleven Madison Park

Looking for the best bars/nightlife? Try these:

Top of the Standard- worth it for the views alone this is a spectacular place to see in a New York City sunset. Top of the Standard is the rooftop bar located at the Standard High Line Hotel. The early evening sees the bar morph into a sophisticated supper lounge with delicious cocktails, small plates and live jazz. Floor to ceiling windows offer a spectacular view over the Hudson and Meatpacking District. In the summer, there is also an al fresco rooftop featuring a traditional Japanese grill. Cocktail attire is required for the evenings.

PDT- one of the many cool NY speakeasy bars, PDT (Please Don't Tell) is a lot of fun. Accessed through Crif Dogs Hot Dog store in St Marks Place East Village, entry to the bar is granted by dialling the phone inside the telephone booth. They are very particular about who they allow in, so don't be surprised if you get knocked back. Inside there are seats around the bar or cosy booths if you are with a larger group. The cocktails are true works of art. Hot tip: Visit the bathroom and read the etiquette for PDT- loved it!

Salon de Ning- after a long day shopping on Fifth Ave I recommend heading to the rooftop bar at the top of The Peninsula New York. A stylish lounge bar with Shanghai Deco influences and spectacular views over Fifth Ave Salon de Ning is extremely popular with the after work crowd.

Enjoying a cocktail at the rooftop bar Salon De Ning at The Peninsula New York

Beauty & Essex- located on the Lower East Side, Beauty & Essex is accessed through a secret door at the back a quirky pawn shop filled with boom-boxes and used guitars. The overall feel is boudoir elegance with pony fur walls, peacock feathers, Chesterfield lounges and a draw dropping two-story crystal chandelier framing the staircase. Featuring a restaurant with four unique dining rooms, two bars with some of the best artisan cocktails and a seriously glam ladies room with a luxurious sofa, vintage perfume bottles and other secret surprises. The menu consists of small sharing plates, a raw bar and larger plates including lobster mac & cheese and a burger with garlic aioli, goats cheese and crispy BBQ fries. They also have a decadent champagne brunch on Sundays. Dress code: upscale casual, no ripped jeans, shorts, tank tops or hats.

The magnificent chandelier  and spiral staircase at Beauty and Essex

Bathtub Gin- based on a 1920's prohibition-era speakeasy, where so-called 'bathtub gin' was created in underground bars in response to the prohibition on alcohol. With exposed brick walls, flocked wallpaper and touches of gold throughout this bar is very Great Gatsby-esque. Here you will find a range of cocktails including a large selection celebrating gin in all its forms and a menu of small plates, cured meats and cheeses.

Decadent fun at Bathtub Gin

Employees Only- behind the glowing neon 'psychic' sign lies Employees Only, another 1920s style speakeasy. Catering to the dinner crowd, as well as pre-theatre and late night patrons looking for somewhere to kick on into the wee hours of the morning, Employees Only is well worth a visit. The bartenders are dapper with parted hair and handlebar moustaches, serving up cocktails from the Golden Age including Manhattans, the Pisco Sour, Bloody Mary and the Hemingway Daiquiri. There is also a good selection of single malt whisky's and tequilas. Don't forget to stop by the small foyer for a tarot card reading.

JIMMY- an all weather rooftop bar located at The James Hotel in Soho, JIMMY, features some of the most spectacular views in New York City, with a 360 degree panorama of Midtown, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge and beyond. In summer JIMMY opens on to the rooftop pool deck, while in winter the fireplaces create a warm and cosy atmosphere. The decor features herringbone floors, a solid wood bar top and a rich blue banquette built along the floor to ceiling windows. With an inspired cocktail menu this is a must visit on any trip to the Big Apple.

Getting around?

I recommend that you embrace life as a New Yorker and purchase the seven day unlimited subway pass. The subway is pretty easy to navigate once you work out which platform goes uptown and downtown, and I found it to be perfectly safe (I didn't use it really late at night though). With its great acoustics the subway is also one of the best places to discover new musical acts and dance troupes. The seven day unlimited pass will set you back only USD$30- bargain!

For sightseeing you really cannot go past the New York City Pass, which at around USD$100 is a steal, allowing you to gain entry to all the major NYC sights including the Empire State Building, Top of the Rock Observation Deck at the Rockefeller Centre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET), the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), the Museum of Natural History and much more! Even better with this pass you can skip lines. Purchase one here

The steps at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
One of the angelic faces in the sculpture court
Amazing statues in the European Sculpture Court at the MET
T-Rex at the Museum of Natural History

For a unique experience try these suggestions:

My girlfriend introduced me to Classic Harbour Line Cruises and I must say it was one of my favourite NY tours. Unlike the overcrowded Circle Line Cruises around Manhattan, Classic Harbour Line gives you an entirely new perspective of the city in an elegant 1920s style yacht. My cruise focused on Architecture and was led by an accredited expert who was extremely knowledgeable. The three-hour cruise also included light canapés and a complimentary beer, wine or champagne. They also offer some terrific brunch, wine tasting and special event themed cruises.

Enjoy the sights of Manhattan by classic yacht with Classic Harbour Line Cruises
A view of Manhattan from the water

New York is the perfect city for budding photographers and there is a great company called New York Photo Safari that leads small groups through iconic NY locations on themed photographic expeditions, with the guidance of a professional photographer. They can also arrange a private tour for a more personalised experience. Check out the available tours here

I loved heading out around East Village and enjoying $1 oysters and a champagne at the bar during happy hour from 5-7pm. There are a number of restaurants to choose from but I loved The Mermaid Inn. Keep the party going with lip-smacking lobster rolls from Ed's Lobster Bar. Another special experience is to admire the grandeur of Grand Central Station and toast your visit to the Big Apple from the Oyster Bar located on the lower level. (Note: Closed for renovations until March 2014)

Another must-do experience is to wander The High Line, which is a 1.6km disused elevated railway track that has been turned into a stunning aerial park. Take in the sights of Chelsea and the Meatpacking Districts from an entirely new vantage point.

The High Line...a unique aerial park
A view of the Meatpacking District and DVF from the High Line

In New York on a Sunday? Head to Ginny's Supper Club, an edgy speakeasy come jazz lounge which is located downstairs from Red Rooster Harlem for their decadent Sunday Gospel Brunch. Indulge in Southern Fried Chicken, grits, waffles and bacon drowned in maple syrup while enjoying the rousing gospel sounds of Vy Higgensen's Gospel for Teens Choir.

Exploring Central Park is a must when in New York City and there are a number of ways to do this. You can hire a bike from Bike and Roll and ride around the outskirts of the park, you can hire a row-boat from the Central Park Boathouse and cruise the lake, wander down The Mall with its towering elm trees and check out the Central Park Zoo, various bridges, lakes, statues and take a ride on the Carousel. If the weather is beautiful and sunny I also love to duck into Whole Foods on Columbus Circle and pick up an array of tasty morsels before heading into the park for a picnic on the Great Lawn.

The Mall at Central Park
Central Park is truly breathtaking
Enjoying a game of chess in one of New York's many parks

Regardless of how you choose to spend your time in the Big Apple I hope that you fall in love with this city, just as I have.

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