What Are Some Ugly Truths About Living In New York City?

Note: I was originally asked this question by someone on Quora, a Q&A website.  

You get a bit jaded.

I think the same rings true for people living in other big cities, but it’s certainly a trend in New York.

When I first moved here, I would answer questions asked by strangers on the sidewalk, talk to people on the subway, give out money to the homeless, and even be excited by the street performers!

Now, if I see one more freaking mariachi band board the N train, or experience another “showtime showtime” dance performance, etc., I feel like my brain might explode. (Note: I still love the guy with the saxophone in Grand Central.)

I wear headphones more frequently. I watch when people are walking close behind me on the street. I carry mace. If someone approaches me, my first reaction is often, “don’t engage!”

I’ve been sexually assaulted on a walk home, and grabbed by strangers on the subway. I’ve been deceived, hurt, and scared while wondering the streets of this city over the last eight years. I’ve also met incredible people in the back of a cab, and chatted with a stranger at a bar until two in the morning.

So there is a constant inner battle: be the polite and whimsical me, or be the fierce and independent me who has learned to have a good scowl when needed.

But I think the ugly truth is…
All of the above doesn’t change my love for New York City in the slightest.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Park Slope, Brooklyn

Park Slope, Brooklyn


Tips for Traveling to New York

  • When I travel, I love getting a Lonely Planet guide book. The New York edition has information about the top spots to visit, places to eat in each neighborhood, and have opening/closing times for big attractions. It’s helpful, especially if you don’t have internet!

  • Consider getting a SIM card if you’re traveling from another country. I always prefer having Google Maps at my finger tips. Note: Read all of the fine print to make sure your phone is compatible.

  • See the view from the Empire State Building, visit NBC Studios, and watch a Broadway show. But make sure you get out of midtown and experience Lower Manhattan—or the boroughs!


Eleven Madison Park: What to Know Before You Go

I have a pretty average palate.

But I enjoy almost every type of meal, from caviar to Taco Bell. The only food that makes me really angry is unripe (and always prevalent) honeydew and cantaloupe—these should never be the main ingredients in a “fruit salad.” My husband, on the other hand, is more of a foodie and can appreciate the skill that goes into making a great dish or cocktail.

So for his birthday, I saved up some money and made a reservation at three-Michelin-starred restaurant Eleven Madison Park in New York City. It was voted the No. 1 Restaurant in the World in 2017 and was recently featured on Netflix series, “7 Days Out.” They’ve also printed several cookbooks,  recently renovated their kitchen, and have a team of “Dreamweavers”—people who overhear your conversations and try to surprise you with a small personalized gift.

Our review? Worth it—for people who love food, enjoy a long dining experience, and cherish excellent service. I appreciated every minute of sitting in this historic Art Deco building, sipping on cocktails, talking with staff, and spending time with my favorite foodie. I was positioned in the exact middle of the restaurant, facing the rest of the dining room. Waiters whooshed by with colorful plates. A champagne and wine cart clinked over to a nearby table. The Maître D' sat a family of six to my right, and a strange choreography of the server leading and the patron following bled into a memorable performance.  

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Note: It’s damn expensive to eat here, so if tasting menus aren’t your thing, check out the bar—or visit one of NYC’s many other amazing restaurants. I invested in a meal at Eleven Madison Park because I was seeking a birthday experience for a food-loving guy. (And it’s actually not the most expensive chef’s menu in this crazy city we call home; currently that odd superlative goes to Per Se or Masa).

If you’re interested in dining at Eleven Madison Park, or just want to see some fun photos, keep on scrolling to see how the whole experience works. I’ve also sprinkled in some tips for getting the most out of your meal.

Reservations

Online reservations open on the 1st of every month at 9 am EST for the following month. This means all of February’s reservations become available on January 1. They tend to book up quite quickly.

Payment

When you make a reservation, you also pre-pay for your dinner. I actually loved this because when we got the bill after our meal, I only had to pay for the cocktails we’d enjoyed that evening. And because I’d already been paying off my credit card, it made the experience seem less costly.

Tipping

You cannot tip. Don’t even try—they will not accept your cash! Gratuity is built into the pre-paid bill. And even if you order drinks the night of, the same rules apply. There will be no line on your check for tipping.  

Phones

The restaurant gives you the option of putting your phone in a box at the beginning of the meal so you can be in the moment. I obviously did not partake (I needed a photo of my duck!), but my husband went phone-free. However, if you do a kitchen tour—more on that below—they will retrieve your phone for you. Had I’d known this, I may have relinquished my mobile. Maybe.

Eleven Madison Park - duck - new york city

Time

We were at Eleven Madison Park for approximately four hours. Most patrons on Yelp said their experience lasted between three and four hours for the chef’s tasting menu. They will also bring out a bottle of brandy with the bill. You’re encouraged to enjoy as much of it as you would like—this probably added 20 extra minutes onto our meal. I wasn’t ready to go!

Dress Code

There is no dress code; you won’t be turned away for wearing a tee shirt. But the majority of people in the restaurant will be in business attire. The night we visited, most men had on jackets.

eleven madison park kitchen new york city

Kitchen Tour

A few days before your reservation, one of the Maître D’s will email you and see if you have any questions, special requests, etc. I explained we were celebrating my husband’s birthday and asked if they still offered behind-the-scenes tours of their kitchen. She said that the staff would try to meet the request—and they did! Based on our experience and on a few other blogs I read prior to booking, it seems that if you ask several days in advance, there’s a good chance you’ll receive a tour.

Kitchen Tour (cont.)

If you tour the kitchen, they will have some little treat waiting for you in the back. When we visited, they were testing a few spices with fizzy apple-based drinks. We played a game: could we match the right spice to the three sample shots? (I would just like to say, I won—my average palate and I were elated!)

eleven+madison+park+kitchen+tour

Food

Some of the courses will have two options—I highly recommend you and your partner order different dishes so you can sample the full menu. Our favorite dishes were the duck, the halibut, the mushroom presentation, and the cheese course. Our full menu on the night of January 10th was as follows:

  1. Dosa with black truffle and parmesan, potato salad with black truffle and black truffle tea (which was actually some sort of amazing broth)

  2. Caviar and soufflé with clam, leek, and potato

  3. Foie gras seared with beet and horseradish OR scallop cured with kohlrabi (similar to cabbage), sea urchin, and apple

  4. Halibut roasted with black shallot and shiitake mushroom OR lobster, butter-poached with a celery root and apple tart

  5. Golden oyster mushroom roasted with pine and coriander—wheeled to the table on a carving cart, like a steak

  6. Duck, honey and lavender glazed with Napa cabbage and pear OR a steak of some sort. We both went with their signature duck dish.

  7. Leeks with cheddar and parsley and winter squash with brown butter and thyme

  8. Harbison in a washed rind cheese fondue with mustard and pear

  9. Chocolate mousse and dark chocolate sorbet with chai and gingerbread OR pumpkin cake with butternut squash and sarsaparilla

  10. Chocolate-covered pretzel—which actually tasted a lot like chocolate-covered cookie dough ;)

Service

The staff are very warm here; it’s a fine dining restaurant without the stiffness of some other places we’ve eaten. Take the time to hear what they have to say about each dish and ask questions. For us, this rapport was what really made the experience stand out. Also, they were truly listening to us—for dessert, candles were placed on Ryan’s plate. And a T. rex cardboard cutout was served with our chocolate-covered pretzel display because I’d told a member of the staff that I work at the Natural History Museum! All the personal touches are what made our evening so memorable.

My gift from the Dreamweavers!

My gift from the Dreamweavers!


Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.
— Anthony Bourdain

The Coats We Wear

I walk through the bone-chilling cold with a gray scarf tied around my neck and two layers of sweaters under a green, puffy coat that comes down nearly to the knees. My feet are wrapped in Merino wool socks, but they never seem to retain the right amount of heat during the morning commute. A faux-fur hood covers my hair, and the only thing truly left to the elements are my madly blinking eyes.

Circa 2014

Circa 2014

These eyes have grown accustomed to New York City’s frigid months. But not all winters are created equal: some years it rarely dips below 25F during the day; other seasons the wind chill is documented in Central Park at a numbing -11F.

The last time I remember the weather being so unbearable for long stretches of time was in 2014. I’d just met the boy I was going to marry. We were planning romantic dates throughout the city—walks on the Highline, cocktails at fancy bars, first kisses in smoky, old lounges. The whole bit. But much to my dismay, the temperature hovered around 5 degrees for portions of that January. So I was stuck in my shapeless, fluffy parka. Bits of feathers would fall out of the sleeves if I sat down too quickly.

Like I said, romantic.

This year is proving to be another cold winter. I loosen my scarf as I approach the museum, and swipe a key card. My office is through the chilly Grand Gallery, where a massive canoe and a large amethyst geode greet me every morning. As does a security guard, who over the last few days has given up on decorum and dons full winter gear. “Hello, there,” he says while rubbing together his hands.

I walk up a large set of stairs and turn into one of the cultural halls that focuses on the people of Mexico and Central America. I’m the only person in the gallery, and my heels click loudly on the stone floor.

Throughout the museum, hidden doors and subtle staircases house secret passages to the hundreds of employees working on a spectrum of tasks, from discovering new species, to vacuuming the dust off of specimen. On the staff-only fifth floor, there’s a hallway said to be six city blocks long. It’s filled with artifacts in wooden cabinets, bones in large lockers, classrooms, and laboratories. It makes me think back to every New York institution I’ve visited—where does the MOMA keep their artwork? What hidden room does the MET use to refurbish its collection of Colonial furniture?

There is one downside to working in an architecturally fascinating building from the 1800s: That brisk winter wind loves seeping in through invisible means. I’m lucky to be in a turret office, surrounded by massive windows that fill the room with natural sunlight. Because of this, complaining is not an option (but it should be noted that “drafty” is a common adjective from visitors to my work space).  

I wrap a shawl around my shoulders, and keep the gray scarf on for most of the day as heavy winds beat into my glass tower. Later that afternoon, I glance out the window and see a girl lose her knit cap to the wind as she crosses Columbus.

She looks so cold as she chases after it, hands outstretched and gloveless.  

This visual takes me back to another winter. In 2011, I was working as an unpaid intern at Martha Stewart Living magazine. Her offices were off 11th Avenue, and just about as close as you could get to the Hudson River without jumping in. I remember the icy wind that would smack me in the face as I ran by the just-opened art galleries of Chelsea, and the old warehouses with their mysterious stories. It was my first winter in New York, and I was still learning how to layer. My face was often red for at least 30 minutes after I’d arrived to work, and small blood vessels had popped on my cheeks.

It was a hungry and lonely season. My grad school friends and I were trying to figure out what we wanted to be when we grew up—which, was supposed to be happening soon. We would be magazine writers, and journalists, and book editors… and literary agents? And…

And we did just fine. I’m not sure we actually grew up—but we’re all at least pretending to know what the next season will bring. Ivy is working as a digital editor at everyone’s favorite bridal magazine, and Clare has consistently worked up the ranks of one of the largest publishing companies in the world.

And me? I’ve worked in e-books, magazines, advertising, and now at a museum. My words are still my meal ticket, and there is something humbling about that.

So, I’ll cozy up in my drafty old office, and look out the big windows to the New York City that I adore. I get the honor of waking up every day, and observing people from hundreds of countries exploring our town. They come in droves, seeking the best hotdog, the best cocktail—the “best” and most authentic anything! It’s true that many of them never know which way is uptown or downtown on the subway, and that groups of tourists often cause pileups on the sidewalk—but most arrive with stars in their eyes. I admire this vulnerable traveler.

It reminds me of myself, from a New York past.

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London is satisfied, Paris is resigned, but New York is always hopeful. Always it believes that something good is about to come off, and it must hurry to meet it.
— Dorothy Parker

What Was Your Biggest Culture Shock Visiting New York City?

Note: I was originally asked this question by someone on Quora, a Q&A website.  

I came to NYC seven years ago and never left. But I moved here from the South, which is a very different part of the United States—so, believe me, I was shocked 100x over. Here are some of the basics that threw me for a loop.

1. You don't ever hang out in Times Square. You see it in movies, pictures, and read about this iconic neighborhood in books. But in reality, unless you work there or frequent Broadway once a week, you will not spend anytime in this (very crowded) area. I don't know why, but I just assumed Times Square was the social hub of NYC. Wrong. When you're visiting, go downtown!

2. There's a reason no one smiles on the subway. I used to think, "These people look miserable. Why don't they ever smile?" It took me about 2 months to get the vibe. In the South, we greet everyone. You wave at neighbors when you drive by, or make conversation at the grocery store. But here? There's just too much. Too many signs, messages, noises—if you interact with every person you come across, you become overwhelmed. Mentally exhausted. This isn't an excuse to be rude, but it explains the blank stares and headphones on the subway. Everyone just needs a minute to themselves.

3. Bodega is not a word in Virginia. I never heard it until I moved here. Now, it is a life source.

4. Mom and pop shops/restaurants still reign supreme. This may be true for many cities, but if you're a child of the suburbs? This is news to you! When I go home now, I get panicky when we roll into Applebee's. That said, occasionally your errands can take forever in the city. To the Polish bakery, to the laundromat, to the organic juice guy, to Urban Outfitters, to the hardware store. There are not very many malls or "one stop shops."

5. Some buildings need a revamp. The grittiness of the city has never bothered me. I suppose I just expected it. But I'm always shocked at how outdated Port Authority and Penn Station are—WTF? 1970s NYC is alive and well!

6. There are many homeless and mentally ill people sleeping on the streets. Old men, families, and a slew of teens. It's totally heartbreaking and becomes such a common sight that you forget it's actually a huge problem.

7. This city moves fast. Everyone is going somewhere, everyone is fighting to be here, and everyone is walking 100 miles an hour, especially during the commute. I also walk an average of 5 miles a day—so if you're visiting, be prepared. Bring good walking shoes! (I’ve worn these tennis shoes, these nice boots, and these rain boots for years.)

8. You still need green space. This one surprised me, but my love for nature has actually increased while living in the city. Take an afternoon to go to Central Park or Prospect Park. Enjoy a booze cruise on the water. And, most importantly, you need to leave the city at least once a month. You'll come back refreshed, and in better shape to take over the world. Promise.

Local's guide to New york city - nyc culture shock

Have a question about living in or visiting NYC? Leave your thoughts in the comments section!

What Are Some Underrated NYC Attractions?

When people visit NYC, they want to experience "the real deal"—not just the Empire State Building. So here's a pretty specific, localized list of underrated attractions in the East Village of Manhattan. Skip the hop-on, hop-off bus and do you own weird walking tour! 

  1. Get some of the best coffee in the city at Abraco on 7th street and if you're hungry, sample their olive oil cakes. Then walk down 7th and pop your head into thrift stores like punk-themed Trash and Vaudeville, or AuH20.
  2. Keep heading east on 7th, and walk around Tompkins Square Park. There's a lot of history here, including riots in both the 1870s and 1980s. But now visitors stroll through and people watch, listen to music, or check out the dog park on the far side of Tompkins.
  3. If you're hungry, I would recommend Tompkins Square Bagels for the real hand-rolled, water-boiled experience. Or, stop in to Crif Dogs for a tasty hotdog with all the fixings. Note: There's a telephone both at the front of this restaurant, and a speakeasy rests on the other side of the wall. Please don't tell...
  4. Head back west on St. Marks. The Museum of the American Gangster is usually open from 1-6pm, and is a fun little tour.

Other Things to See in the East Village

  • Nuyorican Poets Cafe
  • Community Gardens (my favorite is on 6th between Avenue B and C)
  • The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space
  • Sidewalk Cafe, a hub for the Antifolk music scene
  • STOMP's Off-Broadway show

Places to Eat and Drink

  • McSorley's (the oldest "Irish" tavern in New York City)
  • Ace bar (with arcade games)
  • The Wayland (best garden margarita, tasty brunch)
  • International Bar (total dive with outdoor space)
  • ABC Beer (outdoor space, craft beer)
  • Lois Wine Bar (good snacks, wine on tap)
  • Ten Degrees (good happy hour)
  • Mudspot on 9th (yummy brunch)
  • The Smith (brunch spot that takes reservations)
  • Death and Co. ("speakeasy" that's easier to get into before 8pm)
  • The Mermaid Inn (more expensive, but amazing seafood)
  • Van Leeuwen Ice Cream
  • Big Gay Ice Cream

Walkable Attractions + Neighborhoods

  • Union Square
  • The Strand Book Store
  • Soho and Lower East Side
  • Washington Square Park

Have a question about other underrated attractions? Leave a note in the comments section below! 

Family brunch at Mudspot.

Family brunch at Mudspot.

What is the Climate in NYC by Season?

So you want to visit NYC, but you don't know the best time of year to schedule your visit. Here are some facts to consider: The Big Apple has all four seasons (though our spring is quite fickle!). This image from Weather.com is a helpful visual of our average temperatures by month. Note that July is typically the warmest, and January is the coldest.  

average new york city temperatures by month

Other Considerations

  • In the summer (June - mid September) NYC has some major humidity, like much of the East Coast. We don't have “dry heat” like you might experience in Arizona or parts of California. So you need to stay hydrated because you’re going to sweat—quite a bit! Also, please wear deodorant, especially if you are taking public transportation. 
  • Many large department stores and restaurants blast the AC in the summertime, so if you’re one of those people who gets cold indoors easily, pack a light sweater in your backpack for the day. 
  • In winter, wear layers! I repeat, wear lots of layers. I invested in a knee-length down coat as soon as I moved to NYC, and it was probably one of my best purchases. I wear fleece-lined tights in winter. When it’s really unbearable outside, I also wear tights under my jeans. While New York is not the coldest city in America, it's important to remember walking is one of our main forms of transposition. Be prepared for snow if you’re visiting in December - February.
  • In my opinion, New York was made for fall. Summer is my favorite time of year, but I think autumn is a lovely time to visit. You can see the leaves changing in Central Park, wear a light jacket, and worry less about rain than in the springtime. But honestly, every season has its perks :)
Me and my #1 Dude in Brooklyn during fall. 

Me and my #1 Dude in Brooklyn during fall. 

Have a question about a certain season in NYC? Leave your thoughts below in the comments section!


Double Decker Bus Tour of Downtown Manhattan

Double Decker Bus Tour of Downtown Manhattan

See the best sights in lower Manhattan with a pass valid for 24 hours. This New York tour includes stops to Greenwich Village, Times Square, Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, SoHo, Chinatown, Little Italy and more!