An insider’s guide to New York by Dan Rookwood, US editor of Mr Porter.
My oldest friend – the man who was best man at my wedding and with whom I travelled the world in our youth – now lives in Oslo where he is an academic. This is inconvenient: I rarely see him. But last year he cleverly managed to wangle a short-term posting at Columbia University on the Upper West Side and we struck upon a neat idea: every Friday afternoon at 5pm we would meet at a different location in New York, look around it for an hour or so, then grab a drink nearby – either an expensive cocktail in a ritzy hotel bar or a cheap beer in the dive-iest of dive bars we could find. We’ve always gravitated towards both the highbrow and the low – it’s the mediocre middle of the road we avoid.
We took it in turns to choose the weekly meeting point – some were New York classics I’d never been to (because who does the tourist traps on their own doorstep?); others were deliberately obscure. It was enlightening to see my adopted city through a visitor’s eyes. I saw more of New York and of my best friend in those two months than I had in the preceding three years.
Here are some of the highlights:
You don’t need me to tell you to go the Met, MoMA, the Frick, the Guggenheim or the Whitney (although obviously you should, and in that order – and actually, before you go to the Met, you should read Donna Tart’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch, which starts there.) But I will tell you to go to the Morgan Library, an easily missed and little-visited but wonderful building on Madison Avenue whose vast mansion rooms house a stunning collection of original manuscripts – the mesmerising handwritten sheet music of Mozart and Beethoven, for example, and the original jottings of Oscar Wilde and William Wordsworth.
Have you ever heard of The Explorers Club on the Upper East Side? It’s a remarkable treasure trove of trinkets, trophies and taxidermy brought back from the far corners of the world by intrepid old-timey adventurers. You will see mammoth tusks, a dinosaur skeleton, Napoleon’s journal of his trip to Egypt, a flag that was taken to the moon and signed by Neil and Buzz (it’s cool, everyone calls them Neil and Buzz around here), an eight-foot polar bear named Percy and a sperm whale’s penis.
The main concourse at Grand Central is quite something, but it’s no longer the fairest train station of them all. The new Oculus train station at the World Trade Center is a modern masterpiece. And so it damn well should be: it was $2bn over budget and seven years late.
You will, of course, meander through Central Park and walk the newly extended High Line. But I would encourage you to sit awhile on a bench in New York’s green(ish) squares – Washington Square Park, Union Square and most especially Madison Square Park – grab a hotdog from a cart and then sit in the narrow shadow of the Flatiron. To walk through these squares is to experience of cross-section of Manhattan life – a New York slice – from the green market stallers to the chess players to the jazz buskers to the Hare Krishnas to the ‘show time’ breakdancers.
When it comes to food, if the place has got ‘Joe’ in the name, it’s a safe bet. Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown boasts some of the best soup dumplings and rudest service you will ever experience. And you’ve not lived a full life until you’ve had a New York slice of Joe’s Pizza. (Different Joe.) Local’s tip: you fold the slice, you do not ever use a knife and fork.
There are at least a half-dozen bars that lay claim to being New York’s oldest: The Ear Inn, The White Horse Tavern, McSorley’s, Old Town Bar… it makes for a pretty good pub crawl. But there are two bars I always take visitors to these days. One is Westlight, the rooftop bar at the new William Vale hotel in Williamsburg that has unbroken 270-degree views of Manhattan. The other is a hidden-away speakeasy called PDT on St Marks Place. It’s a little theatrical: you have to call ahead to make a reservation (I’ll let you find the number – PDT stands for Please Don’t Tell) and then enter via a phone booth in Crif Dogs, a fast-food joint that serves deep-fried frankfurters. You can down a dirty dog while you sup your fancy-ass cocktail. How’s that for high and low?
Dan Rookwood moved to New York City from London in 2014. He’s previously worked for GQ Australia and Men’s Health UK and is now the US editor of Mr Porter.