How to Disappear
A brief excerpt from our New York City guide (print issue only)
Chris Middleton and Guy Howley explore how to use your time out if you spend a Sunday in New York before your first Monday engagement. Links to venues and sights appear at the bottom of this article.
UPDATED If you’re tired of the Midtown skyline and over-zealous aircon – or suffering from that creeping alienation that is ever-present in the novels of Paul Auster – then it’s time to head for the Brooklyn Bridge. Not to vanish like a figure from one of Auster’s books, but to stroll across the East River, steering clear of the cyclists. (*See the foot of this article for more on cycling in New York) . This is the place to look back and capture a skyline shot that will make you fall in love with Manhattan again.
But for now, head for the other side and take a right into Brooklyn Heights – home to Auster and other chroniclers of the city before him. Here, you’ll sense a more genteel New York in the shadow of the bridge, with life still lived at a slower pace. Society women chat on the riverfront benches and their Lauren-clad children gossip and skate.
As the afternoon draws on, venture further into the leafy brownstone quarters of Brooklyn. The area around Smith Street is awash with owner-run shops and boutiques to rival Bleecker Street and the West Village, together with fine world cuisine and warm, friendly bars.
There are plenty to choose from. Try the beautiful, high-ceilinged Brooklyn Inn, one of the city’s oldest watering holes (opened in the 1870s) , on the corner of Hoyt and Bergen. This is not a place for texting, but for taking the day slowly and starting a conversation.
Or head to up-and-coming Williamsburg, with its intriguing mix of industrial spaces, brownstone residential blocks, cafes and boutiques – the nearest that New York gets to the Castro or Haight districts of San Francisco. Try hipster hangout the Wythe Hotel: the ground floor for a superb brunch, and then the rooftop bar for drinks, with one of the best views of the Manhattan skyline from Midtown to the Freedom Tower.
But if you prefer your Sunday time out in Manhattan, start by picking up the New York Times at a newsstand – over a kilo of reading material to see you through the day, and probably the return flight. Grab a take-out coffee and a pretzel from the market at the rear of Grand Central Terminal and sit on the lawn in nearby Bryant Park.
Or try sitting at the counter of Neil’s Coffee Shop, on the corner of Lexington Avenue and 70th Street – with maple syrup and bacon on offer, this isn’t a place for calorie-watchers. Neil’s is within easy walking distance from Central Park, the perfect Sunday spot in good weather.
Central Park South is one of the best places in the world just to stand, watch and listen. It soaks up the madness of Midtown and replaces it with something serene and collegiate. First, lose yourself among the skaters at the open-air Wollman Rink – hypnotic by day (and breathtaking by night) as the buildings of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue stand and watch.
Then stroll up the centre of the park to the Reservoir, taking in the views of the Upper West Side apartment blocks, before turning north east towards the Upper East Side of the park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, America’s largest art museum. You can spend an entire weekend here and still not have time to see everything. In good weather, the roof terrace will give you one of the finest views of the city.
Then if you cross Fifth Avenue from the front steps of the museum, walk five blocks north to the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum (the Guggenheim). Take an elevator to the top and then wind your way down through whichever exhibition is on in the main, spiralling central space of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece. (Admirers will also love his room at the Met.) Fans of late 19th – 21st century art will be sure to find something of interest in the side galleries even if the main exhibition is not for you.
Alternatively, jump in a cab to the West Side and visit the legendary weekend flea market (W39th and Ninth Avenue) to sample men’s and women’s vintage clothing, jewellery and accessories, collectables, Mid-century modern pieces, and more. Bliss for some, Hell’s kitsch for others. Open Saturday and Sunday, 9am to 5pm (weather depending). There’s another at W25th between Broadway and Sixth.
But one of the best ways to spend Sunday morning is by exploring one of the greatest renewal projects in the world. The High Line aerial greenway and urban park is a stretch of reclaimed and refurbished railroad on Manhattan’s West Side, a landscaped, elevated walkway of wild flowers and green spaces, often the original self-seeded plants that once flourished on the tracks.
Pick up the High Line on 34th Street on the West Side, just below the Javits Center, and walk south above Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, through the Chelsea Market Building and under the stunning concrete and glass Standard Hotel High Line (at 848 Washington Street, between West 13th and Little West 12th streets). This is one of Manhattan’s best boutique options and built in a vocabulary that is equal parts Le Corbusier/International Style and 60s office block. It opened in 2009.
Walking the High Line affords some exciting views of lower Manhattan and the Hudson, and will lead you above industrial quarters, warehouses, and blocks of boutiques, galleries, bars and restaurants. Make mental notes and walk back through those areas later to lose yourself in a Manhattan that is more provocative, fascinating and rewarding than the more brash and obvious Midtown.
Exit the High Line at Gansevoort, shortly after the Standard Hotel. Sadly, one of the city’s best daytime venues for brunch, lunch, or coffee, Pastis (formerly at Ninth Avenue at Little W12th Street), is currently closed – the building has been demolished, but restaurateur Keith McNally has vowed to recreate the space in the near future. Instead, try the covered Gansevoort Market, or cross over the cobbled street to Bubby’s and order one of their homemade sodas to accompany perhaps the richest burger in all of the US.
For an intimate coffee away from the hustle and bustle, Jack’s Stir-brew Coffee at 138 W10th Street, in the heart of the Village, welcomes regulars and strangers alike with the same good humour.
Better still, get a takeout cookie from the Bird Bath Bakery at 160 Princes Street – it lurks behind one of Manhattan’s iconic shopfronts, the old Vesuvio bakery – just below Washington Square, then stroll into the square itself and listen to some of the best buskers in the world. Afterwards, spot character actors around the university district en route to the western end of Bleecker Street, where you can while away the afternoon nosing around the boutiques and side streets towards Christopher and Gay.
If for some reason you prefer chain cafés to local, owner-run outlets, then New York’s upscale Dean and Deluca stores and cafés are head and shoulders above Starbucks and the rest. They offer a range of meats, cheeses, breads, sandwiches, cakes, teas and coffees for a quality takeout. They originated in SoHo in the rougher, louder New York of the 70s and signalled a new way ahead.
Or try When Harry Met Sally diner Katz’s Delicatessen (205 East Houston Street, on the Lower East Side) for the full-on New York ‘pastrami on rye’ experience. The website (“Send a salami to your boy in the army!”) will raise a smile. Katz’s is open all night on Fridays. TS
*: Cyclists may like to explore the East River, Hudson River, or Harlem River Greenways, a beautiful way of seeing large parts of the island on a sunny afternoon. Go here for advice and maps.
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