New York City is is a city like no place else. It’s a concrete metropolis full of life and energy – a place of frenetic chaos, and nourishing calm, where possibility always lingers in the air, palpable.
Partnering with NYC Go and Cathay Pacific, my long-time friend Ellen and I were so excited to experience the city this year in the spring. Although we were officially in town for almost two weeks, most of it was spent taking on the National Stationery Show – fulfilling a long-held dream of mine, in life and business (full report on that, soon!)
After the show wrapped, we had 48 hours FREE in New York to eat, drink, sleep and wander. From torrential rain, to blistering sun, we had it all! By day, we checked out the obvious (and necessary) touristy must do’s, and then wandered far beyond the guidebook. By night, we clinked cheers into pink sunsets from soaring rooftop bars, then dined alongside New York locals at chic Italian establishments in the heart of Greenwich Village.
We walked most places, hopped on the subway like we were locals, and hailed yellow cabs everywhere else… west to east, downtown to uptown, we photographed, twirled, and explored the city inside out. Awed and exhausted, challenged and inspired, we squeezed ALL the joy from every single minute. New York, you were magical.
After living in London together and travelling all over this beautiful little globe of ours together (and apart), Em and I have experienced our fair share of travel highs (and lows). We’ve learnt a few little things along the way.
Our top tip? With just 48 hours, the best way to really sink yourself into a city – dive into all the really good bits – is to WALK. Go, get out, walk (hail a yellow cab if you get weary feet), ask a stranger, talk to a shopkeeper, natter with your barista over your morning brew…These people know the city best.
It’s also good to have a little hit-list, to get you started. Write it on a cafe napkin (we did), keep it in your notes, or even keep snapshots in your phone of that dream breakfast spread, that bridge view, those cobbled streets, and tick a few off as you go.
Here’s a few of our favourites to get you started…where we ate, drank, stayed and played – and where you should too, on your next trip to the city that never sleeps.
[Emma ] Luckily for us, the magic of our adventure started long before touching down in Newark international airport. From the very moment we stepped up to the Cathay Pacific check-in counter at Sydney airport, all we knew was joy.
Having flown in the Business Cabin earlier in the year, I had already experienced this elevated way to travel. Only this time, the journey to New York was more than double the duration. With two long haul legs connecting via Hong Kong, flying had never felt so effortless. In the business cabin, with all the privacy and space we could wish for at our feet, we had ample time to catch up on work in comfort, catch up with each other with coffee followed by champagne, sleep on the fully reclining seats (beds), eat and be looked after beautifully by the attentive airline staff.
[ Ellen ] There’s even a cheese trolley, folks This really is airline heaven.
[Emma] We checked into The Towers at Lotte New York Palace. A hotel within a hotel, with its own separate check-in and dedicated concierge, the Towers is a collection of private and bespoke guest rooms on the hotel’s top 14 floors – and an unrivalled oasis of luxury. We rested our heads fifty-two stories high over Madison Avenue, with Rockefeller centre at eye level, St Patrick’s Cathedral far below our windowsill, and skyscrapers in every other direction. Lotte New York Palace sits in the very heartbeat of Manhattan, staking its claim as the city’s most iconic hotel, and for all Gossip Girl devotees, also affectionately known as Serena Van der Woodson’s family residence (le sigh).
We were also lucky to experience breakfast in Villard restaurant – the hotel’s signature restaurant and New York city’s definitive “Breakfast Room”, which serves a la carte breakfast and weekend brunch in the stunning Villard Mansion space.
[Ellen] What an absolute dream to stay in Serena’s pad (if you’ve not watched Gossip Girl, you should probably step away now). Whisked into the hotel by the beautiful staff as soon as we arrived, I’ve never quite felt so much like a princess. Having worked for years in hospitality, both in Australia and London, it really is rare to find somewhere that treats you with such care, consideration and also fun.
Enormous shout-out to the team of Bellmen here, who made us feel so loved every time we twirled through those golden revolving doors. Gary, Matt, Tom, Miles and Bell Captain Mike were all beautiful, and after only a two-day stay, we were all on first-name buddy-basis.
Upon arrival, we were told they’d sort us out tiaras, which we thought was surely just a laugh. To our delight, we arrived to our room with teddy-bears and sparkly tiaras, later that day, for us ‘princesses’ – an example of the truly above-and-beyond service here at the Lotte.
After saying our goodbyes, Mike informed us that we should come back soon (don’t worry, we’re already planning) and that he’s got “Tim Tams and Twisties waiting for us” Aussies. A stunningly classic and world-class hotel is one thing, but when beautiful staff that become friends – making you feel at home 10,353 miles from home – that is a rare find. We’ll be back.
Lotte New York Palace Hotel has over 800 rooms and 87 suites, with rates ranging from USD $445 to $25,000 per night.
Lotte New York Palace
455 Madison Ave
164 Mott St, and 251 Church St
[Ellen] With two locations – Nolita and Tribeca, you can take your pick, but Nolita is the original recipe. It’s one of those institutions that’s garnered an Aussie following, both travellers and locals, since opening in 2014. Started by two Sydney lads, Henry Roberts and Giles Russell, the cafe is light, bright and airy, with stunning prints by Aussie photographer Nicolas Potts adorning the walls. Why go to an Aussie cafe when you’re in another country? There’s just something magical about experiencing what you’re used to and love, in a different environment…something heartwarming about seeing avo toast and flat whites on a menu, and hearing kiwi and Aussie accents in the background. The food is great here – fresh, quick and delightful. The avocado toast comes with all the right trimmings – coriander, pickled shallots, sesame, chilli and lime – and the Acai bowl will transport you right back to a beachside haunt. Sit at the windowsill, take in the bustling streets of Nolita and nestle in between the hanging plants. Oh yeah.
The Butcher’s Daughter
19 Kenmare St
[Ellen] The yellow bar stools are recognisable all over Instagram, and once you take a bite of the curried avocado toast, you’ll see why it keeps people coming back. It sounds a bit out of the ordinary, but fret-not avo smash-lovers. The hint of curry is yum scrum. While they’ve got two locations in NYC and one in Los Angeles, the Nolita cafe is one of our favourites. The awning out the front shades the quaint little outdoor tables, filled with a bustling crowd every day of the week. There’s fresh juices (and they’re a hefty serving, too) and a different menu for each time of day – morning, brunch, afternoon, evening, dessert & wine. That’s at least five reasons to visit this little hotspot.
Various locations (see here)
Our local – 435 W 31st Street
[Emma] Melbourne export and former AFL footballer turned investment banker, turned hospitality magnate, Nick Stone was working as a director for ANZ in New York when he started Bluestone Lane in 2013, inspired by a gap in the market – rather than a passion for coffee. Here you can order a magic, a milo, a matcha latte or Melbourne-themed cold-pressed juices, but definitely not a frappuccino. And the name, Bluestone? A fitting reference to the laneways of Melbourne CBD, made out of cobblestone – or bluestone slate. Thank you for looking after us, Matt!
51 Grove St
[Ellen] We were gratefully given the recommendation for Via Carota from fellow Australian designer friend Anna Coroneo, who lives part time in the city. Boy, are we glad we made the trip at 10:30pm to visit. This place was one of the best restaurant experiences of my life, and they didn’t blink an eye at us sitting down for a feed at 11pm (gotta love this city). There were lines out the door and a scattering of stylish people sipping wines by the front desk, clearly regulars waiting for their tables. It’s the sort of entry-way where the minute you step inside, you can’t help but grin – the loud chattering, clinking of glasses, bustling of waiters, all the yummy smells, and no sign of it subsiding at near-midnight. Welcome to New York.
We started with red wine, cheese and prosciutto (big chunks of parmesan were just sat on the plate like golden nuggets – we knew this was our kind of place). And this was only for starters by the door! We eventually made our way to the table, for the most delicious tonnarelli cacio pepe (traditional Italian pasta of just parmesan and pepper). All at 11:45pm. When we left, people were still swinging in and out that front door. We dreamt Italian dreams that night.
Can’t get enough? Co-owners Rita Sodi and Jody Williams also have other ventures of their own including I Sodi and Buvette, if you want more.
47 Bond St
[Ellen] Tucked away on the famous Greenwich/Noho cobbles, in a beautiful cottage-style space is Il Buco. It’s well known in these parts, and while it’s cosy inside, the vibes are electric, and the food is to die for. It’s Italian-Spanish fusion and it’s a level of delicious that cannot be explained. There are also bread baskets for every table – yes please!
775 Washington Street
[Ellen] On a balmy summer night, sitting alfresco at Barbuto will have you feeling like a local in no time. Overlook the cobbled streets, leafy sidewalks and yellow cabs whizzing past, as you share antipasto (best kale salad of all time), pasta or more substantial mains. We even got papped as some celebrities left the restaurant to leap into their awaiting SUV. The waitress was sufficiently nonplussed. “Must be the place to be,” we uttered, star-struck as we munched our crispy roasted potatoes.
Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 1st St
[Ellen] There’s something about Momofuku Noodle Bar that is outrageously addictive. It’s buzzing all the time, the interior is understated and cramped, the food is quick, and you fall in love with it the minute you take a seat. It’s the first restaurant from the now famous Momofuku brand, and it’s a must when visiting the city. A bowl of this steaming, salty ramen and a pint of Brooklyn-made lager is the bee’s knees, the golden ticket, the pièce de résistance, of NYC dining. There’s a host of other Momofuku’s now too, if you feel so inclined.
75 9th Ave
[Ellen] Another bucket-list NYC dining experience, Buddakan was made famous from its feature in the Sex & the CIty film. It’s as grand as it looked on screen in real life too, with several levels, exquisite chandeliers, moody lighting and an almost ancient, palatial feel to it, with giant marble walls and dark rooms. The dumplings are incredible – you can’t go wrong – and everything we ate was divine. There were a heck of a lot of “oh my gosh this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted” happening at the table, that’s for sure.
[Emma] To balance out all of that avocado on toast, Magnolia Bakery red velvet cake and incredible Italian, we made sure to frequent our forever favourite Pret A Manger, for all the simple good stuff. Hello Americanos-to-go with a dash of cream, and cream cheese laden everything bagels.
We also stumbled on Brooklyn Fare – a veritable mecca of groceries. We stocked up on fresh blackberries by the punnet, organic apples and avocado oil salted Kettle crisps (yes, really!) – it was all we could have wished for between main meals.
The Standard, High Line
848 Washington Street
[Emma] Scurrying to a rooftop bar in New York for sundown became a non-negotiable daily ritual. There just isn’t a better way to take in the cityscape, and remember where you are. Our steadfast favourite was Le Bain – a grass-covered rooftop bar nestled on the top floor of The Standard, High Line (hotel) in the Meatpacking District. For those inclined, there’s also a plunge pool on the dance floor in summer.
Not the bar type? The rooftop at The Whitney also boasts a spectacular panoramic view spanning over the Highline, the Manhattan cityscape and over the Hudson River to New Jersey.
Also on our list, but we didn’t make it this time: Gallow Green and Ophelia
[Emma] On our first morning of exploring, after our first stop (avocado toast), the very next place we ventured was to pick up our CITY PASS. This pass gives you access to the main, iconic attractions of New York, with significant saving (that is The Empire State Building, American Museum of Natural History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and then your pick between Top of the Rock Observation Deck OR Guggenheim Museum, Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island OR Circle Line Sightseeing Cruises, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum OR Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. Cost: USD $126 for Adults, $104 for youth.
Top of the Rock
[Emma] Arguably the best view of the New York skyline, Top of The Rock observation deck is a six-level observatory atop the Art Deco 30 Rockefeller Plaza. With the upper decks sitting 850 feet above street level, and offers sweeping, unobstructed 360-degree views, from Manhattan’s midtown and downtown skyscrapers to uptown and Central Park. As an added bonus, there’s a history tour to begin, while you wait for your elevator ride up for that all-important photo opportunity.
Grand Central Terminal
[Ellen] Just stepping inside here and being surrounded by the hubbub is enough to make you never want to leave this city. A word of warning – you must be a people person. This is a building that throbs with humans all day long. Don’t forget to look up, the ceiling is one of the best parts.
[Ellen] Great for a wander after a day in the concrete jungle out there, Central Park is like a breath of fresh air. Enter at any of the many entrances around the 843-acre park, and you’ll find yourself in a natural wonderland. There’s a few famous spots in here, one of our favourites being the Gapstow Bridge, which overlooks the skyline on the southern end of the park. The twinkly lights of the Plaza Hotel at dusk here, as the ducks scoot by on the water, is magic in a moment.
[Ellen] At sunrise, with beautiful light (and a lot of cyclists commuting into Manhattan), this is a beautiful spot to visit. Pop the alarm on and make this happen, if time permits, because the golden light as the sun rises above Manhattan on one side, and Brooklyn on the other, is a sight to behold.
[Ellen] You might have noticed we love Greenwich. A quieter side of town, this area is full of cobbled streets and beautiful little shopfronts and apartment buildings. Well worth a solid wander, take your time walking these streets (and pretend you live here, like we did). It’s also a hop, skip and a jump to the Hudson river, which is a dream to soak up of an evening or by dusk.
[Ellen] Another glorious cobbled stretch, Soho makes up part of Lower Manhattan. It’s nestled between Noho and Greenwich to make up the addictively charming side of the city. Not only is it stacked with cliche photo opportunities and stunning architecture, but it’s also home to some stellar shopping. Beautiful boutiques for days, folks. So bring the piggy bank (or perhaps don’t). You can forgo the avocado toast investment/mortgage today for a couple of keepsakes (we said so).
So, New York, THANK YOU for having us. Thank you from the bottom of our city-smitten hearts.
We love you (and we’ll be back)…
Em and Els xx