I’m on a mission to eat my way through the Big Apple, one bite at a time. New Yorkers are forever locked in a debate over the location of the best burger in town, but I know where mine is—at Shake Shack (Shakeshack.com), in leafy Madison Square Park. For a more high-end experience, I head to Megu (www.megurestaurants.com), where servers dish out modern Japanese cuisine in a seductive setting. The tableside preparations—fresh snapper is seared with sesame oil as it’s plated, for example—add a touch of theatre. My weekends don’t begin without the ultimate New York experience: a long, lazy brunch. For a great scene, I make a reservation at Essex (www.essexnyc.com); a DJ presides over the hipsters dining and drinking in the industrial-minimalist space. When I want more of a neighbourhood vibe, I tuck into a Penny Egg Sandwich served up by the friendly staff at Penelope (www.penelopenyc.com), where the faded wood tables and mismatched coffee mugs add a touch of whimsy.
Yankee town: (top) The New Year countdown at Times Square. Hiroko Masuke / Getty Images / AFP; workers put up a Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Pencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP
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Living in New York has been dangerous for my sweet tooth. Hands-down, the top cupcake in town is at the Lower East Side treasure Sugar Sweet Sunshine (www.sugarsweetsunshine.com)—try the Ooey Gooey and you’ll agree. Local staple Carnegie Deli (www.carnegiedeli.com) has my favourite classic New York-style cheesecake, topped with fresh strawberries. The petite Creperie (www.creperienyc.com) can barely fit 10 people at a time, but I always cram my way in after a night out on the town to try one of the 50-plus delectable crêpe combinations.
When it comes to spending, Barneys (Barneys.com), Bergdorf Goodman (Bergdorfgoodman.com), and Bloomingdale’s (Bloomingdales. com)comprise the reigning Bs, but the smaller boutiques are usually more likely to seduce me into emptying my wallet. I get my fill of flirty frocks and baubles at Pookie and Sebastian (Pookieandsebastian.com). When on a serious buying mission, I never go wrong in the hip SoHo district: Operations (www.operationsny.com) showcases edgy, industrial-inspired wear, while Opening Ceremony (www.openingceremony.us) stocks must-have-now labels such as Rodarte and Proenza Schouler. For quirky home goods and kitschy products from around the world, I like to peruse the mini-exhibitions at Kiosk (Kioskkiosk.com) that bring global goodies together under one roof. When I’m in the mood to embark on an ambitious bargain hunt, I roll up my sleeves at the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market (www.hellskitchenfleamarket.com) and scour stalls to score serendipitous finds—think Art Deco paperweights and vintage Gucci sunglasses.
Where’s the party tonight? Chances are, it’s at the Box (www.theboxnyc.com) which, thanks to its over-the-top décor and constant twists and turns, is part-club, part-spectacle. For a dimly lit, speakeasy vibe, head to Decibel (www.sakebardecibel.com), a sake bar in the East Village that’ll transport you to a back alley in Tokyo. When I’m hoping to brush shoulders with paparazzi-prone starlets, the new, uber-exclusive Boom Boom Room (www.standardhotels.com) at André Balazs’s sexy Standard hotel is my best bet—but if you suffer from vertigo, I’d recommend skipping the view from the glass-floored balconies, which will have you looking down 18 storeys.
Nature may not be the first thing that pops into my mind when roaming through this concrete jungle, but Central Park (www.centralparknyc.org), a whopping 843 acres in the heart of the city, is a true urban oasis. In the winter, I head to the Wollman Ice Rink to skate against the backdrop of Midtown skyscrapers; in the summer, my friends and I rent rowboats on the lake. Bikers line up for the free bicycle-lending programme at South Street Seaport (www.nycgo.com)— there’s no better way to take in the picturesque waterfront.
Sarah Khan is a writer and editor based in New York City.
YOU CAN’T GO TO NYC AND SKIP…
u Skiing in the Catskills: Two hours away from the city, this is the perfect place to show off—or hone—your skiing skills. The Hunter Mountain Resort offers daily packages that include a lift ticket, a group lesson and equipment rental for $79 (around Rs6,000). Private lessons are also available. If you are fairly confident of your abilities, you can hit either of the three mountains right away: There’s bound to be one that suits your skill level. Log on to www.huntermtn.com for details.
u Hiking in the Mohonk Preserve: Ninety miles (145km) away from Manhattan, this is a 7,000-acre section of the Shawangunk mountains, with ridges, forests, fields, streams and ponds. The winter’s particularly good for signing up for seven- or eight-mile hikes, graded easy, moderate and strenuous. Reservations are not necessary, but there is a fee. Log on to www.mohonkpreserve.org for details.
u Mystic Seaport: Located about halfway to Boston, this is a first-hand encounter with America’s maritime history—and much more. Take a horse-and-carriage ride through a recreated 19th century village. Watch experts work on restoring antique vessels. Or go on the water in a rented boat. Plus there are shopping and dining options, programmes and classes, museums and exhibits. Visit www.mysticseaport.org to plan a packed day—or three.
PARTY HERE ON 31 DECEMBER…
u Because, quite simply, it’ll be one item off your bucket list. Times Square, where a glittering geodesic ball drops in time to a minute-long countdown to the midnight hour, is a focal point of New Year celebrations across the world: Around a billion television viewers watch the 12ft ball, covered in 2,668 Waterford crystals and powered by around 32,000 LED lights, descend to mark the arrival of the new year. Ahead of the ball drop, try your hand at the Confetti Wishing Wall—collective hopes for renewal and a better future later rain down on revellers as confetti—and the Good Riddance Day, which encourages you to write down your worst or most embarrassing memories of 2009 and feed them into shredders placed on Duffy Street. Details of both events will be available on www.timessquarenyc.org
u Doesn’t sound like your thing? Join the Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises’ New Year’s Eve Party Cruise, which includes a full open bar, hors d’oeuvres, a DJ, party favours and a champagne toast at midnight. Add-ons include the best seats in the city for the fireworks show over the river, and stunning views of the Manhattan skyline, the Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge and Governor’s Island. You board the boat on the Hudson river at 9pm, and sail between 10pm and 1am. Tickets cost $120 and must be booked in advance at www.circleline42.com or by calling +1-212-5633200.
NEED MORE REASONS TO BE IN NYC?
u Holiday train show: Every year the New York Botanical Garden replicates NYC using berries, mushrooms and twigs, with model trains speeding along more than a quarter-mile of track. Visit http://nybg.org/hts09/#your_visit to book your tickets.
u Holiday markets: During December, NYC squares (and circles) convert themselves into north European-styled markets, with Christmas goodies from around the world. Among the renowned ones are the Holiday Markets at Columbus Circle and Union Square (www.urbanspacenyc.com)
u The Nutcracker: George Balanchine’s The Nu tcracker, staged at New York City Ballet, is something NYC awaits every Christmas season. This show, replete with frost fairies, toy soldiers and towering mice, is an absolute must. Visit www.nycballet.com for details.
u Christmas tree lighting ceremonies: These ceremonies happen through December. Choose from the Rockefeller Center tree, the Madison Square Park tree, and the American Museum of Natural History’s origami holiday tree.
u NY400: In December, you can catch the end of the year-long celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city. Visit www.ny400.org to make plans.
u International Motorcycle Show: Cycle World has lined up 500 new models of motorcycles to touch and feel, and to ride. Street bikes, dirt bikes, cruisers, scooters, UTVs, watercrafts—you’ll find them all here. Book tickets for this three-day affair, which starts 22 January, at www.motorcycleshows.com/NewYork