Gala’s Guide To NYC Version 1.0

NYC

Here are some of my favourite things about New York City… just a few odds & ends I have discovered in my 3 months here. Hopefully, if you come to the city, this list will provide you with some jumping-off points & ideas to keep you busy! (Of course, there will be more to come when I actually live here… squeal! On that note, sorry if things are a little slow around here — I leave in less than a week & have a ‘to do’ list as long as my arm!)

Ultimate NYC resources
NY Magazine, Village Voice & Time Out New York should be your first online ports of call for finding things to do & events in the city. Craigslist is great for buying or selling furniture, finding a job or an apartment, or just spending hours on the missed connections pages! Yelp.com has saved my life — I don’t know how I would have ever found anything in New York without it. It’s a huge peer review site, where people talk about customer service in shops, food quality at restaurants, whether this or that cafe has wifi, & pretty much anything else you can think of. It is my holy grail. I love it. Another magnificent resource is HopStop, which will help you find your way from A to Z using public transport.

Best neighbourhood: West Village
Yes, I am totally biased, because this is where I stayed… but I adore it. It’s clean & quaint, as well as beautiful & charming, & while it isn’t party central (a total blessing when you’re trying to sleep), there are still plenty of people around — & places open — late at night. It’s the sort of area where, when you say where you live, people always tell you how fortunate you are. I really think it’s the cream of the crop, without the boredom factor of the Upper East Side & the geriatric factor of Gramercy Park (both lovely areas but, in my opinion, suffering from a chronic lack of charisma).

What’s the West Village like? Well, there’s a massive gay population, which means lots of same-sex couples holding hands & kissing in the middle of the street. It makes me very happy & is a definite perk of living here. There are also way, wayyy more sex shops than you could ever possibly visit. There’s a little piazza just off 6th Avenue called Father Demo Square with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by flowers. At about 4pm, this odd man rolls his piano into the middle of the square — I have no idea where he comes from — & plays songs until about 11 at night. People flock to the square with their slices of pizza, hot dogs, bagels or boxes of noodles, sit on the seats & soak up the atmosphere. It’s one of my favourite places in the village.

One of the best things, though, seems minor but really isn’t. The West Village doesn’t appear to suffer from the same olfactory injustices as many other neighbourhoods. You see, a lot of people have the unfortunate belief that New York City is their personal bathroom, which can get pretty disgusting in summer. The West Village, however, for the most part, is delightfully non-pee-scented. Celebrate good times come on!

Essential accommodation asset: Double-glazing
If you’re living on or near a busy street, which, let’s face it, is pretty likely, double-glazed windows will make you a very happy camper. The owners of the place I’m in told me it has double-glazing, but even so, it gets pretty loud in here. Thankfully, I can sleep through anything, but if you can’t, make sure you check it out before you rent it. Don’t just take what they say at face value — actually stand there & listen. Cabs in NYC have absolutely no regard for the sanctity of sleep, & will blare their horns at 3am if they feel the need. You may want to invest in earplugs.

Best way to find a home: Craigslist
The place I am staying in at the moment — which I love & think is gorgeous — is the first place I looked at from Craigslist. Even better, they offered it to me straight off the bat. Pretty good, huh? You can find beautiful places to live on Craigslist. Don’t believe what brokers may tell you about Craigslist being full of scams — they just want you to use their service & pay them a fat commission! — but as with most things in NYC, you have to do the legwork & act quickly.

Hip tourist accessory: NYC Moleskine
(Yes, hip tourist accessories exist!) I love my city Moleskine & carried it around constantly for the first couple of weeks I was here. It’s packed with maps in the front & is great for getting to know the lay of the land. It just looks like a notebook, so you can pretend that you’re deep in thought, composing a sonnet — not trying to work out how to get to Barney’s! It’s so much better than dawdling on a street corner with an enormous map, a baseball cap & white sneakers — there’s nothing cool about that!

Best make-up artist: Regan at MAC Flatiron
You’ve all heard me talk about him before… Regan is the boy wonder who did my make-up for the Patricia Field & Louis Vuitton parties, & to whom I am eternally grateful! He knows what he is doing — he did Richie Rich’s make-up for the MAC/Heatherette launch — & he listens to what you say & will take steps to make sure it looks the way you like it. I cannot recommend him highly enough, I adore him! So go, flee, & let him turn you into a masterpiece!

Best tanning experience: Tamar at Gotham Glow
It’s not every day that a woman strolls into your living room, puts up a tent & then sprays your naked body with an airbrush, but given how good it looks, I almost wish it was! She uses a solution made of beets, brown sugar & DHA which gives you plenty of colour but won’t stain the bedsheets. It’s easy to see why she has a slew of celebrity clients — she puts you totally at ease, she uses an awesome muscle-enhancing technique (which makes you look f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s) & she is in & out of your place in less than 30 minutes. Perfect.

Best tattoo artist: Tim Kern at Tribulation Tattoo
Yes, I am totally biased because he has made my arms look beautiful, but surely that’s the point! Tim works out of Tribulation Tattoo in the East Village (directly opposite a church — awesome, right?), a little red shop made up of three artists. This is not one of those places where you walk in, choose something off the wall & walk out again an hour later with a demented-looking Tweety bird on your shoulder. They only do custom work, which of course means you end up with something amazing & unique. I am completely delighted with all the work Tim has done for me, & after watching him fix up an unsatisfying tattoo by someone in New Zealand, I am also totally devoted! I’ve learned my lesson! I will never go anywhere else!

Best shoe department: Bergdorf Goodman
Expensive? Why, yes! But the range — & the service — cannot be surpassed. Their sale area blows my mind & they are never slow to approach & ask if they can help me with anything. Honestly, I just love Bergdorfs & I am happy to give them all my shoe business for as long as I am in New York. I think all their sales staff are great, but I especially like Thomas — he has an afro, wears glasses, & has his entire back tattooed. He’s also got style & charm for days!

Most valued possession: Foot bath
This city’s made for walking, & that’s just what you’ll do… One of these days this city’s gonna walk all over you. No joke, people walk like mad here. Yeah, the subway is cheap & convenient, & so are cabs, but New York is so fabulous that often you’ll want to be on the street. Or you’ll look at something on a map & think, ‘Oh, it’s not so far!’ Wrong! It is always further than you expect! An estimated 10 minute walk is usually somewhere closer to 20 or 25 minutes, & if you’re not wearing the right shoes, you will suffer! I cannot tell you the number of times I have dragged myself home & had to lie down just to give my feet a rest. I think the ultimate solution to this is a foot bath. One of those vibrating ones. You can buy them for nothing at Duane Reede, & it will make you feel like a new person.

Best place for froofy dresses: Geminola
Notice that I didn’t say cheap froofy dresses… but then, beautiful, frothy, sugar-flower-hued dresses often aren’t. If you have a bit of cash & you want something utterly cupcakey & delightful, Geminola is the place for you. It’s a small shop with some pieces from various designers, but mostly what goes on there is vintage dress mania. The owner takes things from all around the world — a piece of ribbon from Paris, a crinoline from Tennessee, some lace from London — & puts them together to make something utterly unique & exquisitely beautiful. To give you an idea: do you remember the dress Carrie is wearing in the last episode of Sex & The City, where she’s crouching on the floor of the hotel lobby, trying to find something? That dress came from Geminola. So now you know. (You should go there.)

Best pizza: Joe’s Pizza
My closest two pizza places are Joe’s Pizza & Bleecker Street Pizza. Both places have been given ample awards, but I think Joe’s is the best. Their pizza is truly awesome. I adore it. I went through a phase of eating two pieces a day for at least one consecutive week. Yum. While neither joint offers exceptional customer service, the creepy old guy at Bleecker Street looks like he is undressing you with his eyes, while the younger guys at Joe’s instead treat you with terminal indifference. I prefer the latter. The older guy at Joe’s, however, winks at me, calls me “beautiful” & offered to give me a job there so I could stay in the country, so I know where my alliances lie! I’m not silly!

It’s incredibly greasy, but hey, you’re not eating this stuff for your health! If you’ve never eaten New York pizza before, know this: they sell it to you in enormous slices on paper plates. Grab some napkins. The standard way of eating it is to fold it in half across the crust. Tip it backwards so that the excess grease drips off onto your plate… & enjoy!

Best cupcakes: Sugar Sweet Sunshine
I have done the leg-work. Oh yes. New York’s cupcake bakeries have had me on my knees for months now. I have sampled cupcakes from Magnolia (word to the wise: don’t do it), Buttercup, Crumbs, Billy’s Bakery & Sugar Sweet Sunshine, small vegan cafes & markets, as well as eating way, way too many at the annual Cupcakes Take The Cake picnic in Central Park a month or so ago. But I know where the best cupcakes are. Yes, I do. Sugar Sweet Sunshine. Okay, so I don’t like the name. I don’t like the location much, either — it is a pretty decent walk from my place, often a walk I can’t really be bothered making. But their cupcakes… oh their cupcakes… they draw me back. Seriously, their cupcakes are brilliant. They are also — in a shocking twist of fate — cheap. When I bought five (haha, yes, really) & the girl on the other side of the counter said “Seven dollars”, I thought I had misheard her. But I had not. I recommend their Red Velvet (awesomely good), Ooey Gooey & Lemon Yummy. Writing this has made me hungry, maybe I will have to swing by later! Dear Sugar Sweet Sunshine, I love you, always forever! Ahhhh!

Best raw food treats: Pure Juice & Takeaway
Pure Food & Takeaway is a teeny little shop attached to the back of the famous Pure Food & Wine, a huge gourmet raw food restaurant. It’s an incredible place to grab a salad or a juice, snack on a raw mallomar (one of my favourites) or, even better, buy an enormous tub of raw ice-cream & devour it in one sitting. (I like the almond butter cup flavour, if you’re interested.) You also meet the coolest people standing on line. Raw guru & speaker, Matt Monarch, was in front of me the other week — we hugged & talked about a mutual friend — & it’s also where I met my friend Ise, stylist to the stars. Yay!

Best greasy vegetarian food: Red Bamboo
What can I say, other than “yum”? Nubby & I went here for an amazing meal which has completely kept me going back for more. Their roti bread is out of this world & their selection of fake meats & incredible soy concoctions is truly formidable (said in French accent please!). It is cheap & delicious & the staff are super-friendly. We liked it so much that we want them to cater our wedding! (P.S. If Red Bamboo is packed out, go down a couple of doors to Vegetarian Paradise. They share the same kitchen!)

Best coffee: Joe – The Art Of Coffee
Good coffee. Cute staff. Sometimes Amy Sedaris bakes cupcakes & sells them here. It’s small but charming & a local haunt of many writers (or so it seems). I was introduced to this place by No Impact Man, for which I am eternally grateful.

Best place for a midnight snack: French Roast
My friend Ise introduced me to this place after a very long evening in Brooklyn. We showed up at about 4am, ate amazing sandwiches & shared a bowl of fries. (We were also faux-seduced by one of the best magicians I have ever seen.) I have since been back several times, always after midnight. Did you know you can order escargot around the clock? Well, you can. French Roast is fantastic — it’s open 24 hours, the decor is totally European bistro style, the lighting is dim & flattering & they are more than happy to feed you & your friends whatever you might feel like at 2am. The coffee is excellent, & Nubby says their french toast is out of this world, too.

Best place to go for a decadent night out: The Box
The Box is one of my absolute, hands down favourite places in New York City. It is amazing, & even though I’ve been way more than anyone needs to (I think I’ve seen four or five shows in two months), I still adore it & it still makes me coo, my jaw drop & my eyes bug out every time. What happens there? Well, it’s a variety show… a raunchy variety show that will have you by turns delighted & appalled. It’s good for the soul, I think. I recommend the late show — it is more exciting & raucous than the dinner show (which is still, of course, wonderful). If you need any further encouragement, do you remember the episode of Gossip Girl where Blair strips on the stage of a burlesque club, to be later ravaged by Chuck in his limousine? That was shot at The Box.

Best high-end sex store: Kiki de Montparnasse
Hot pink duct tape? Pearl restraints? 24k gold handcuffs? Black leather elbow-length fingerless gloves? Cute underpants printed with lewd French phrases? Oh, Kiki… my heart. Oh Kiki, you have outdone yourself. I love you even more than Agent Provocateur (which is quite a lot). Now, of course, there are a lot of high-end erotic shops selling toys & equipment these days, & many of them do it very well. But while Babeland & its ilk make sex fun, friendly & approachable, Kiki de Montparnasse actually makes sex sexy. There are no fluorescent lights or invitations to eager self-exploratory g-spot workshops here. No, this is a very different beast.

The boutique is dark & smells delicious. The girls in the shop — who tend to be on the gorgeous side — aren’t wearing much, but they look sultry & hot & minxy, like the kind of girls who might just close the shop early & pull you onto the bed at the back of the shop with little warning. The items they sell, which are really more objets d’art than anything else, are laid out with the attention they deserve (& honestly, at these prices, one would hope as much). Their lingerie is amazing, I adore pretty much all of it. It’s a bit edgier than what you’ll find down the road at Agent Provocateur, & much more appealing.

Best thing to find: A rooftop
Yeah, of course, a rooftop in any city is pretty great. I am an ardent fan of the rooftop scene in Melbourne, for example. But New York rooftops are a totally different kettle of fish. I can’t really explain it, but they are basically the best thing ever. My rooftop gives me a lot of joy. If you don’t have a rooftop on your building that you can access, start asking the people you meet. Someone will have one, I promise, & then all you need to do is go up there, take your sunglasses & some drinks, & enjoy yourself. Bliss.

Best view of Manhattan: The Brooklyn Bridge
Drive it, walk it, catch a train across it — it doesn’t matter, just do it. Preferably at night, or at the very least, sunset. The view is exhilirating. Every time I see it, I get really excited!

Having said all this, here are some things to avoid:
Catching a cab from about 9pm on Thursday night (it’s impossible); leaving food around or in a bin without a lid on it (remember: the rats & cockroaches were here first!); expecting exceptional customer service at Duane Reede or CVS (it’s never going to happen); shopping on the weekend (NYC is always busy but the weekend is particularly painful); the Hard Rock Cafe (I shouldn’t have to tell you but just in case, don’t even go for irony’s sake!); Times Square (go once, & never again), & opening your mouth if you feel rain droplets (it is probably an air-conditioning unit above you, dripping!).

So, what are your favourite things to do in NYC? Spill the beans!

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