Travel Guide: New York City
Oh, New York. I have had a love affair with THE city my entire adult life. The food, the people, the culture, the art. Swoon. Just when I think I have explored every nook and cranny of this thriving metropolis I stumble upon a new restaurant, shop or most recently a secret garden. New York City is so unique because it feels familiar and gritty but fresh (remember I grew up in The Rustbelt). It is like opening my closet door to find a new wardrobe comprised of all of my favorite brands... every single day. There is always something new to see and I never get tired of it.
Since our twice-annual trade show Shoppe Object is coming up next weekend in the city (Little Korboose booth below!), I put together a little guide of my most frequented spots. Disclaimer: This guide is the tip of the iceberg. NYC is vast and there are many neighborhoods. I will be posting a more detailed guide segmented by neighborhood soon!
R Y T H M & R O U T E
NYC is very much a second home to me (or 3rd or 4th depending on where my work takes me throughout the year). I am in the city several times a year for work, to get inspired and to have a little fun of course. Lower Manhattan, namely the Lower East Side is the area in which I feel most at home as it is full of art and various subcultures. Years ago it was super gritty, dangerous even, which I liked even more, but times have changed. With gentrification comes bigger box concepts. I always smile when I pass by the old CBGBs—an infamous old biker bar that closed as is now a John Varvatos. Here's a playlist reflective of the city then and now. Gritty, fresh and powerful with a touch of emotional nostalgia.
NYC is not exactly a road trip destination. It can be challenging to bring a car into the city although I did drive a Uhaul from Brooklyn to Midtown four times in one weekend once. I usually fly into Laguardia and take the train when I am in town. If you don't have the subway system memorized or are unfamiliar with how to use it, a great app to use is Moovit. The main thing to know when taking the train is if you are going uptown or downtown. Start by studying a map of the city to get a feel for the geography so you know what direction you are traveling. For example, if I am going from the Lower East Side to Midtown I would be traveling "uptown". If you're more of a black car traveler, you can take Uber but the train is about 75% faster and 90% more inexpensive. Taxies are still everywhere, of course, but they are all fairly well coated with years of grime and are super overpriced so I avoid them at all costs.
S L E E P & S T A Y
My home away from home, The Bowery Hotel. This hotel is owned by a friend of mine who also happens to have started The Turtle Conservancy in Ojai, California. Ojai is another place I lay my head quite often (guide coming soon!). Everything about this hotel says, New York. As a designer, it hits all of the reward zones in my brain. The typeface used for the name on the vestibule rug, the luxe finishings throughout the famous lobby and bar, even the smell. It's like pine mixed with whiskey and maybe a little tobacco. All of my favorite smells combined. The interior is old world meets bohemian with a touch of Great Gatsby. Each room has smooth wood flooring, a wall of mirrors and hand-selected marble slabs throughout the bathroom. Turquoise pencil tile lines each shower wall, a detail I adore. The color palette throughout is luxe. Deep greens, reds, and touches of gold and black. Velvet EVERYWHERE. The materials are opulent but not so lavish it feels unlivable. There are Bowery bicycles out front available for guests to take out for the day and the bellhops wear old-style uniforms. It's like going back in time to the best time. I don't necessarily like this hotel because of its opulence (remember I dirt camp in very remote areas of the world too). More, I appreciate all of the design details and understand the attention and skill required to create such a beautiful experience.
E A T S & T R E A T S
One of the main things I look forward to when going to the city is the food. Literally, anything you have a taste for you can find. My heavy rotation is The Smile for breakfast, The Butcher's Daughter for lunch and Gemma at the Bowery Hotel for dinner. The Smile is a cozy cafe nestled in a garden apartment with a teeny tiny patio out front. Located in an 1830's federal townhouse it is one of the hidden gems of Bond St. I love the food at The Smile because it's fresh and healthy but still unique. There are plenty of options if you are vegan as well. I once ate next to David Schwimmer on this patio for an hour only realizing it was him when he got up and said to have a great day. Sorry, David.
The Butcher's Daughter is a plant-based juice bar and restaurant in Nolita. There are several locations in NYC and LA, but this is the original and the location I have been going to in NY since it opened in 2012. I really like the juxtaposition of this cafe. The vibe is west coast, bright and airy but it is situated on a busy east coast city block. I recommend the Zucchini Pasta with an egg on top and a Water Flower Juice. YUM. When I am on the west coast I make sure to visit The Butcher's Daughter on Abbott Kinney in Venice as it is super beautiful as well and has a slightly different menu.
Sooo Gemma. Gemma is next door to The Bowery and there's a secret passage through the kitchen for hotel guests. It is an Italian restaurant with Keith Haring originals lining the walls, tile floors and candles lit at each table. It is a visual extension of the Bowery, the same moody lighting, just with more leather than velvet. I love the food here and recommend the bouillabaisse when it is on the menu. Also, I don't normally drink anything with caffeine but when I am at Gemma, I can't help but order a decaf at least. The coffee here is SO good and my family owns a coffee roasting company so that's saying something. Lastly, let's just stop and take a moment to admire the subtle ombre of jadeite to turquoise on the facade of the building. Swoon.
E X P L O R A T I O N & E N T E R T A I N M E N T
There are so many things to do in NYC. Being an artist and designer, I am naturally drawn to art museums. Many of the buildings are like being INSIDE art. Sometimes I go and just draw in the lobby of The Guggenheim because it is so gorgeous. Designed by one of my favorite architects Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1952, this upper east side structure is the permanent home of a continuously expanding collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, early Modern, and contemporary art and also features special exhibitions throughout the year.
Remember to stop by Blue Stem Lane for a coffee or hot tea very near the museum. This cafe is inside an old gothic church. Look up at the vaulted ceilings when you go in. The 5th Ave entrance to Central Park is also directly across the street from the Guggenheim, and I mean, it's Central Park. It is magnificent, specifically in the Fall.
I also like to go see live music or shows when I am in town. New exhibits and productions are always coming through the city so check online to see what is happening to get tickets before you arrive. I like Barclay's Center in Brooklyn for live music or even a dingy dive bar (this is when I really miss CBGBs). There's always something to see on Broadway if that's your thing too. One of my most memorable experiences was seeing the live production of Sleep No More. Sleep No More is a production that tells Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth, through a film noir lens. It's a site-specific, interactive performance at the pseudo hotel The McKittrick and the audience moves through it physically instead of sitting as onlookers stationary in chairs. Oh, also attendees have to wear masks ala Eyes Wide Shut. I have had friends attend Sleep No More over ten times because there are overlapping performances happening on each floor so the audience is bound to miss something. There are also secret passages to discover. FUN.
G I F T S & G O O D S
A list of my favorite shops in NYC is nearly impossible to put together because there are SO many. I am a bit of a creature of habit however and there are certain neighborhoods I prefer to shop over others. The areas I frequent the most are 1st-7th Ave in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, mainly the Lower East Side, Nolita and Soho. Mociun in Williamsburg is a shop I can live in. The jewelry is very unique and the curated selection of home goods is absolutely stunning. Definitely a place I would want my engagement ring to be purchased from. Ulla Johnson, a women's clothing store on Bleecker is another favorite. All of the wares are locally designed and have a sophisticated Bohemian vibe. The color palettes are always spot on as well. I received this sweater for Christmas and I can't take it off. If you like plants (and please stop reading this if you do not because we can't be friends anymore ;) Sprout Home, also in Williamsburg, is like being in a magical oasis of aliveness. The planter selection is something to take note of as it is full of geometric ceramics in every size WITH drainage holes in the bottom (see photo below)! Something all succulents need. Don't let anyone fool you into thinking your succulents will survive without drainage. The roots will rot... for another post.
H U S T L E & B U S T L E
The hustle and bustle of NYC is something I miss when I am away for too long. It is stimulating in the best way. I was once offered a job in a remote area and I didn't take it because it was "too far away from the epicenter, New York City". Being a designer and artist, that was the deciding factor. I have spent lots of time in many other big cities east coast, west coast and abroad. Most things I have found meaningful in the American design and art world were birthed in New York. I can't forget to mention the people. I love New Yorkers. They have a way and I love their way. You may have heard me say that nature is medicine for me, but the city is also medicine. Like any good medicine, both are good in doses.
• Breakfast: The Smile // Post
• Lunch: The Butcher's Daughter // Cocoron Soba
• Dinner: Gemma // Beauty & Essex
• Desert: Supermoon Bakehouse
• Drinks: Le Coucou
Guggenheim // The Whitney Museum of American Art // MOMA // Tenement Museum // Museum at Eldridge // Sleep No More // The High Line
All images © Little Korboose and April Nemeth - use without consent with result in legal action.