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50 things to do in New York: An Irish insiders' travel guide

Independent.ie logo Independent.ie 05/10/2019 Nicola Brady
a car parked on a city street: New York taxi New York taxi

No matter how many times you visit; no matter how well you think you know the city, New York never fails to surprise.

Whether you're travelling for the first time and taking in the big tourist sights, or returning for a tenth visit with a list of favourite bistros and bars, you'll always find something to make you fall in love with the city all over again.

For the past two years, you've voted New York as Ireland's Favourite City Break in our Reader Travel Awards. "There's always something on... always something new," as one reader said last year. "I could go 1,000 times and never tire of it."

While there's no doubt that New York is a city that we all adore, it can also be a little overwhelming. With thousands of restaurants, how do you pick the place that will really wow? When there are pizza joints on every corner, how do you know where to get the best slice?

That's where our Irish insiders come in. So many Irish people have decided to call New York City home, and whether they've been there for two years or two decades, they know the coolest spots to eat, drink and play.

a bench in front of a building: Picture: Annie Schlechter © Annie Schlechter Picture: Annie Schlechter

We asked six of them to share the places they love.

The bar owners' tips

a large body of water with a city in the background: NEW YORK: in The Statue of Liberty stands in the foreground as Lower Manhattan is viewed at dusk, September 8, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images © 2016 Getty Images NEW YORK: in The Statue of Liberty stands in the foreground as Lower Manhattan is viewed at dusk, September 8, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

a man sitting at a table in a restaurant: Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon  

Jack McGarry (left) and Sean Muldoon (right) are from Belfast, and moved to New York to open The Dead Rabbit (deadrabbitnyc.com). It has previously been voted the world's best bar. Their third book, From Barley to Blarney, A Whiskey Lover's Guide to Ireland, is out now. Jack speaks here.

When we were starting The Dead Rabbit, there was an awesome little Mexican joint called Downtown Bakery (downtownbakerycocinamexicana.com) in the East Village that we ate in pretty much every day. It was our only meal of the day, because we were so broke. We both ordered chicken mole burritos and if one of us had slightly more money than anticipated we got some guacamole and chips. It kept us going all day.

Another place back then was a pub called Swift (swift nycbar.com), which is where we conducted a lot of meetings and tastings, but it's also where we relaxed, argued, and had storming fights addressing the finer details of the bar.

A great addition to the neighbourhood is the recently opened Crown Shy (crownshy.nyc), which is from James Kent. They serve fantastic food in a minimal setting in one of the historic buildings of the area, 70 Pine Street. They also do very good drinks, as our old bartender, Harrison Ginsberg, moved there to oversee the programme. It's great to see places like this open in the area.

a bench in front of a building: Pod 39 rooftop. © �Annie Schlechter Pod 39 rooftop.

I definitely love getting the feel for proper old New York, so I take visitors to places like McSorley's, Katz's Deli, Russ & Daughters, PJ Clarke's, Keens Steakhouse, Joe's Pizza & Ear Inn. You get a genuine feel for what the city is about with these institutions.

We're very grateful to New York. While it's very hard, and we had some of the toughest years of our lives here, it's been very rewarding, and nothing in the city is impossible if you put the work in and stay focused. In that regard, it's unlike any other city in the world.

Our Tips: The Dead Rabbit is close to Seaport District NYC (previously South Street Seaport), a once touristy spot that's undergone a bit of a transformation. It's now home to hot new restaurants like Malibu Farm and Bar Wayo (seaportdistrict.nyc).

How: Stay at Mr C Seaport (mrchotels.com), a new hotel from the Cipriani family. Rooms from €210.

The influencer's tips

a woman wearing sunglasses: Stephanie O'Quigley Stephanie O'Quigley

Stephanie O'Quigley is an influencer and beauty publicist. She moved to New York in 2016.

I always dreamed of New York. I've always been tremendously career-focused and New York is the pinnacle of every industry. You can really do anything you want from here, and anything goes. I always wanted to be in the middle of all that.

I love the Gramercy area the most. It's the perfect combination of uptown and downtown and has a real touch of class. The streets are a little quieter around there, with some great restaurants.

Friend of a Farmer (friendofafarmer.com) is one of my favourites. It's family-owned, and opened in 1986. It has a 'farm-to-table' style of dining in a cosy, traditional atmosphere. It reminds me of home.

I love The Rag Trader (ragtradernyc.com) - it's suitable for every occasion and I use it for a lot of dinner meetings. We typically order a bunch of 'share-ables' and just try everything. They have some great dishes like cauliflower and feta fritters and stuffed squash.

I live above the sweetest, most authentic French café - Le Petit Parisien (lepetitparisienusa.com). Their coffee and homemade food is the best I've had in New York.

The energy is my favourite thing about the city - there is no shortage of anything you could ever want here. There's so many people, so much to do and so many opportunities. It's gritty and dirty, but it's also honest and legendary. In my eyes, there is nothing that will ever compare to New York City.

Our Tips: There are free walking tours of the Flatiron District every Sunday at 11am (flatirondistrict.nyc) - head to Eataly (eataly.com) for a good feed afterwards.

How: Stay in Freehand New York, a stylish boutique hotel right by Gramercy Park (freehandhotels.com). Rooms from €225.

More: New York on a budget: 10 top tips for the Big Apple on a shoestring

The Hostess's tips

a young girl talking on a cell phone: Kate Monahan Kate Monahan  

Kate Monahan moved to New York in 2014, and works in the hospitality industry. She lives in Queens.

I love Washington Square Park, it's so pretty and romantic. There's plenty to keep you entertained between musical performances and art displays. It's just a few blocks away from the Joe's Pizza on Carmine and Bleecker (joespizzanyc.com), which is hands down the best slice in the city. People-watching and pizza in this park is a must.

If you're in the area, a perfect New York night is catching a show at the Comedy Cellar (comedycellar.com) and dinner next door at Minetta Tavern (minettatavernny.com), where they serve the best burger I've had in New York. It feels like what I imagine old New York to be, and you never know which comedian you'll catch performing.

There's a great Italian trattoria called Malatesta (no website, cash only) on Washington and Christopher Street which I recommend, followed by cocktails in one of the neighbouring bars - quaint and dimly lit vibes in Wilfie & Nell (wilfieandnell.com), craft cocktails and burlesque shows in Employees Only (employeesonlynyc.com) or a lively pub atmosphere in chic surroundings at The Spaniard (pictured below, thespaniardnyc.com).

I live in Queens, so I always like to show my friends around the neighbouring boroughs. I take them to Williamsburg to enjoy some views of the Manhattan skyline from a rooftop bar called Westlight (westlightnyc.com) in the William Vale hotel, and then to a New Orleans-style oyster bar called Maison Premiere (maisonpremiere.com) for dinner. There's a charming little garden, which is always a plus in the concrete jungle of NYC, and an experimental cocktail menu.

a dining room table: The Spaniard The Spaniard

In the indie movie theatre Nitehawk (nitehawkcinema.com) you can order from the full bar and kitchen menu. Visiting New York can be exhausting, so sometimes it's nice to just sit down with a bucket of gourmet truffle popcorn at the end of the day and watch a film.

Our Tips: If you're a comedy fan, check out the Upright Citizens Brigade (ucbtheatre.com) in Hell's Kitchen. Founded by a group that includes Amy Poehler, their nightly improv shows are hilarious and never cost more than $14.

How: Explore Queens from a base at the Boro hotel (borohotel.com), with incredible views of the Manhattan skyline. Rooms from €180.

The Journalist's tips

a couple of people posing for the camera: Siobhan Brett Siobhan Brett  

Siobhan Brett is a journalist who moved to New York in 2015 "to sidle closer" to the journalistic outlets she admires. She has lived in Brooklyn ever since.

The city is too dynamic to hold anything too close. I love to order a 'bacon-egg-and-cheese', on a roll, from any moderately busy deli or bodega (corner shop), alongside an iced coffee. All the better if that can be done in Brooklyn with a sunny view of the East River.

As for free pursuits that I would pay hundreds of dollars for, I am happy reading in the Rose Room of the New York Public Library in Manhattan and, in the summer, swimming at Hamilton Fish Park on the Lower East Side. Despite the times we live in, neither of these places seem likely to vanish before my eyes.

My friends run a jewel of a record store in Williamsburg, Blue Sun Records (bluesun.nyc). My friendly neighbourhood mezcal negroni is availed of at Saraghina (saraghina.com) in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and there's also nightly jazz just across the street at Bar Lunaticó (barlunatico.com).

My most enjoyable dinner so far this year was at a two-year-old Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn, Claro (clarobk.com). It specialises in Oaxacan plates and mescals.

a bridge over a body of water with a city in the background: New York City sunset. Photo: Deposit New York City sunset. Photo: Deposit

I love to walk over the Williamsburg or Manhattan Bridges at an interesting time of day; from Dumbo to Red Hook in Brooklyn by CitiBike for a gander around Pioneer Works (pioneerworks.org), a veggie burger at the Brooklyn Ice House and a bottle of Miller High Life - the self-professed 'Champagne of Beers' at Sunny's (sunnysredhook.com), preferably amid live bluegrass.

Our Tips: Public transport can be a little bit tricky between Brooklyn neighbourhoods, so stick to Uber or Lyft. Better yet, take the NYC Ferry - the Brooklyn routes nip you between districts, with the added bonus of gorgeous views of the skyline ($2.75, ferry.nyc).

How: Stay at the 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, for incredible city views and a cool, eco vibe. 1hotels.com; rooms from €300.

More: Bite the Big Apple: Katy McGuinness's 10 best places to eat in New York

The student's tips

a group of people walking in front of a building: Carmel McMahon. Photo by Kevin McGann. Carmel McMahon. Photo by Kevin McGann.

Carmel McMahon is a writer and student who moved to New York in 1993.

I hadn't a clue what was going on when I moved here. I didn't even know Manhattan was an island. I planned to stay a year or so, but I fell in with other immigrant kids who worked in East Village cafés and bars. I was happy to be there.

My favourite place in the city is The Strand Bookstore (strandbooks.com). I discovered it shortly after I arrived. It hasn't changed much over the years, so there are still plenty of its old ghosts wandering about.

One of my favourite places is the CUNY Graduate Center (m.gc.cuny.edu), where I study biography and memoir. I don't know if visitors think to check the event listings at local universities, but they are often free and open to the public. Sometimes there's wine and cheese!

The Ferry to Rockaway Beach is a hit with everyone I have taken. Being on the water in the New York harbour is an exceptional experience. You pass the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Then you turn around and see the skyline in all its glory, and you are reminded of the countless immigrants who built this city, and the countless others who are running it or living precariously today.

Rockaway beach is a short walk from the ferry, and you pass clusters of surfers' shacks. Little Irish flags wave from their windows. On the boardwalk there is an excellent restaurant called Caracas that sells frozen drinks and arepas. You can look across the vast and sparkling Atlantic Ocean and think, this is the same body of water that rolls up on the shores of my homeland.

Our Tips: Head to the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe & Bar (housingworks.org), a volunteer-run space selling second- hand books and coffee, where you can pick up a novel, tuck into a pastry or enjoy a special reading or event. Bookworms will adore the Morgan Library & Museum (themorgan.org), and entrance is free every Friday between 7-9pm.

How: Stay at Pod 39 (thepodhotel.com; left), a funky hotel near CUNY with a great rooftop bar. Rooms from €90.

More: The New York Bucket List: 25 things to do in the Big Apple before you die!

The musician's tips

a group of people standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera: Picture: The Scratcher/Patrick Glennon Picture: The Scratcher/Patrick Glennon  

Brendan O'Shea moved from Killarney to New York 21 years ago. He runs the Scratcher Sessions in The Scratcher, a bar in the East Village.

The Scratcher (209 E 5th St) is kind of my home territory. We have a lot of acts coming in from Ireland, whether it's Glen Hansard wanting to practise some new stuff, or songwriters passing through New York, looking to promote their music in an intimate space. It's kind of taken on a life of its own.

The Scratcher is a small bar, but with the attentive audience it has built, it's become a beautiful, intimate situation. For the Irish, it's become a little bit of a home.

What I love about the Lower East Side is it's definitely still kind of a community. I still love those streets, even though they're quickly changing. There's so much poetry and rock 'n' roll history - you can be walking down the street and Patti Smith's having a coffee sitting outside somewhere. I love it when people come to St Mark's Square, and I go, 'Hey, look up there, you recognise that, that's Led Zeppelin's album cover'.

I love the Nuyorican Poetry Café (nuyorican.org). That's a pretty famous place that's been on the go since the mid-70s, and people come and rap slam poetry.

Odessa Café (odessanyc.com) is a 24-hour diner on Avenue A, and the same guys have been working that diner and the night shift since the top of the '80s.

a bedroom with a large bed in a hotel room: Ludlow © Annie Schlechter 2016 Ludlow

There's this beautiful little Nepalese restaurant called Café Himalaya (cafehimalaya.weebly.com). Lovely, cheap and cheerful, it's run by Nepalese folks down in the East Village. I love that little place because it's got a lot of culture within the walls, and the food is beautiful and simple.

The Independent Film Center (ifccenter.com) is a brilliant, brilliant cinema. And it's been there since the '70s. They're very independent, and they show very old movies that never got a commercial release.

Our Tips: Grab a massive tuna melt and a milkshake at B&H Dairy (127 2nd Ave), a kosher diner on the Lower East Side that's been around for years. Then hit the Holiday Cocktail Lounge (holidaycocktaillounge.nyc), an old dive bar that makes a killer Old Fashioned.

How: Stay at the Ludlow Hotel (pictured above, ludlowhotel.com), a sleek property in the Lower East Side. Rooms from €265. See also nycgo.com for more info.

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