Photos and Words: Ellen Morgan + Emma Kate
In early February, less than one year on from our last adventure [read here] my best friend Ellen and I packed up five hefty suitcases (and around ten coats) and hopped on a plane to New York to exhibit at NYNow – a key international tradeshow, and chase that dream for a second time.
This time around, we descended on New York in the middle of winter. Like last year (and like we do best), we booked in some time for adventures after the tradeshow had wrapped, and spent a few days revelling in a very different kind of magic…
It’s the city that never sleeps, and while many cities around the globe go into some sort of hibernation over the cooler months, the Big Apple stays true to her reputation. Streets bustle with people from dawn to dusk, New Yorkers and eager travellers not letting the bitter temperatures and chilly winds ruffle their coat-tails too much (quite literally).
Even in the depths of the famed ‘polar vortex’ from February this year, the city didn’t skip a beat, the pulsing drum of the traffic, lights and crowds never ceasing to amaze two (very) bewildered and chilly Australians.
Arriving to ‘temperatures that could damage the lungs’, we couldn’t have possibly been prepared for the cold to come. Opening the freezer, jumping inside and not leaving for 10 days is about as close as it comes to an accurate description, but we soon forgot the numb fingers for all the ice-covered romanticism and rugged up beauty of New York City at this time of year. After all, the chill is nothing a big woolly scarf, a big bowl of udon in a basement or an extra-salty margarita on a cosy rooftop can’t fix.
Here’s our top picks for winter in the city.
1. Brunch & Banter
It’s an obvious choice at any time of year, but we’re Aussies who love an avo smash and a flat white, so the list wouldn’t be complete without a good ol’ brunch date. The coffee and all-day brunch scene in the Big Apple continues to grow every time we visit, and this time we visited a few favourites as well as some newcomers to the scene.
Charley Street (41 Kenmare Street) in Nolita is a fun, fresh take on the all-day brekky and brunch scene, run by fellow Aussie and popular chef, author and social media sensation Dan Churchill. Meanwhile, further south, Greenwich Village is home to Banter (169 Sullivan Street), another Aussie-inspired cafe. The golden folded eggs with peas, prosciutto and greens was the eggy-meets-healthy breakfast of your dreams. And the coffee! Oh, the coffee! Yummo.
The Butcher’s Daughter is a favourite for us, but this time we visited the bright, airy, holiday-vibes location in Williamsburg (271 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn). The smashed avo with curry powder and mustard seeds is a go-to, but make sure you head on in as early as you can to pop your name at the door. This place is pumping at all times of day, and nobody likes to wait too long for avo.
2. Museum Musing
It seems like something Carrie Bradshaw would do on a rainy day, umbrella in-hand – head out to the museum, grab a ticket for herself and stroll the hallowed halls of the MET for the day. Naturally, we made like Carrie and took ourselves and our New York CityPASS to the MET on a chilly afternoon.
After a stroll through Central Park to see the squirrels and watch the park lights flicker on in the fading afternoon light, we made our way up the expansive staircase to the museum. The stone steps are reason enough to visit this New York City icon; something about them makes you feel as though you’re treading on a little bit of history, and simply sitting and basking in the beauty of the building and the non-stop foot traffic that zig-zags through this place is really quite something. Inside of course, there’s more treasures than you can take in in a single visit, but it’s well worth a try.
3. Bar Hop
You know what they say, a little bit of liquid love’n can keep you warm from the inside out, and there’s arguably no better city to sip a nip than New York. Historically, the city has become known for its watering holes of all sorts and styles. From cocktail bars and dive venues, to breweries and speakeasies, New York’s bars form an endless list that’ll have you sipping into the wee hours.
One of our favourites on this visit became the Refinery Rooftop (63 W 38th St), nestled unassumingly in the Midtown district. Make your way through the lobby and up the elevator (the lovely floor staff will escort you up the lift) and you’ll be met with a cosy, candle-lit space adorned with floor rugs, fires, fairy lights and views out to the Empire State Building which towers impressively close to the hotel. The best part about New York’s rooftop bars in winter? They close them up cleverly so you can soak up the surrounds of the city-scape all year round. Here, we ordered margaritas (with extra salt, of course). Beautiful service, deliciously salty beverages, and tasty snacks if you’re in the mood for a bite.
4. Eat Underground
Leave your lofty rooftop behind and head for an underground eatery for your next stop on a winter’s night out. No matter where you look in the city, there are hidden eateries and restaurants on all sorts of levels, including down little hidden stairways beneath the footpath. Make sure to look every which way when you’re searching for your next spot for dinner, because the next best thing could be right under your feet, quite literally.
We became regulars at Izakaya MEW (53 W 35th Street), a traditional Japanese bar and eatery in the heart of Midtown. Serving up bowls of udon and ramen as big as your face, and as deep as the spoon will go, Izakaya doesn’t do food in halves – just the way we like it. Head on down at any time of night, and the cosy space is packed to the rafters. Pop your name on the iPad and find somewhere nearby for a drink, or squeeze your way to the bar here. There’s a range of drinks, as well as free tea while you wait – perfect for those frosty fingers.
As far as food is concerned, delightfully golden agedashi tofu is oozing with that sweet-meets-salty sauce, while crispy edamame beans make for the perfect hunger-shield until your main course arrives. We couldn’t decide between ramen or udon, so we got both (of course!). If you’re looking for permission to do the same – let this be it. Trust us, you won’t regret it.
5. Explore Exhibitions
While there’s an overdose of culture oozing out of every crevice, crack and paver in New York’s streets, the city is also home to hundreds of exhibitions and gallery spaces, both short-term and long-term, just waiting to be explored. Head on over to NYCGo: The Official Guide To New York City if you want to find out more of what’s going on, and purchase tickets, passes and deals through the comprehensive site – we did!
If you really want to treat your eyeballs, head on over to the Color Factory. It’s like Pantone threw all their swatches into a tumble dryer and out came this cacophony of vibrant rooms, exhibitions and installations that let you experience colour like you never have before. Originally beginning in San Francisco in August 2017 as a temporary exhibition, the concept moved to NYC a year later and has been running ever since. Check it out and let your visual senses run wild.
6. Get Active
When you check the outside temperature while you’re still sitting on your bar heater in the comfort of your hotel room and it’s a number you’ve never even seen on the app before, heading outside for a nice ol’ stroll seems like the last thing you’d want to do. But trust us – getting out and about and exploring the city by foot or by cycle can be the best way to beat the winter blues.
While staying in the historic The James Nomad (22 E 29th Street), we took to the streets every day to see what this bustling part of town has to offer. From boutique furniture and interior design stores to high end bars and beautiful bottle shops (Kessler Liquors), there’s a stack to explore in this mis-match area. Once you get walking and exploring, you’ll forget about your numb little toe (you can warm him up later, there’s a city to see!).
For a change of scenery, while staying in the new Hoxton Hotel in Williamsburg (97 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn), we took to the pavement by bicycle, with the hotel’s complimentary bikes. Get rugged up and wrap your glove-clad fingers around the swish handlebars and soak up the city like a local. Williamsburg is like an entirely different city to Manhattan, but with the same infectious vibe as the island the minute you step out your hotel room. There’s as many dogs wandering the streets as people, and with quieter streets to wander, you’ll be able to cycle until your heart’s content.
7. Lobby Loitering
Between your winter adventures, why not stay in and soak up the comforts of your hotel? Warm up, sit by the fire, grab a negroni or a wine and some nibbles, with the thought of bed just a few floors up. What could be better?
At The James Nomad, they have a generous happy hour with wine, cheese and crackers and plenty of comfy couch space so you can while away the afternoon, French-style. The Hoxton’s gorgeous lobby in their new Williamsburg development is as stylish as they come, and afternoons make way for a bustling hipster crowd of locals, visitors and business-folk. A popular hotspot for morning meetings by the fire (with a side of avocado toast of course), the lobby here is like a home away from home.
8. Tasty treats
Sweet treats are always a welcome occurrence when travelling, in our opinion, especially when it’s chilly. Break up your adventures by planning a few sweet stops along the way. Some of our top picks in the city include Culture Espresso (various locations) for their iconic chocolate chip cookies (these babies come fresh out the oven twice a day, so ask the barista team here for their timely tips so you can get ‘em while they’re hot).
Supermoon Bakehouse (120 Rivington St) in the Lower East Side is another must to add to the list, with the fanciest pastries in town, thanks to two Melbournians – Ry Stephen and Aron Tzimas. Their famous Peanut Butter Jelly Time twice-baked croissant is the stuff of flaky dreams. If you’re in Williamsburg, stop by the famous chocolatiers Mast Brothers to sample yet another cookie, or one of their famed chocolate bars with a variety of special treats on top.
9. Neighbourhood shop & wander
When all else fails – shop…that’s how the saying goes, right? Whether you’re on Manhattan Island or you’re in edgy Brooklyn on the other side of the Hudson, the city has more boutiques, stores and hidden shopping gems than you can poke a stick at. Our top tip – pick an area you want to explore and stay within those blocks to really get behind as many shop doors and hidden laneways as you possibly can. In Manhattan, we loved exploring the boutiques and design stores of Soho and Greenwich Village, the cobbled streets and iconic brick apartment blocks, row-upon-row (complete with fire escapes, of course) easy to peruse for hour upon hour. In Soho, make sure to check out Reformation (39 Bond Street), as well as Glossier (123 Lafayette Street). In Greenwich, check out fellow Aussie designer The Daily Edited (385 Bleecker Street) or Parisian perfume brand Annick Goutal (397 Bleecker Street).
In Brooklyn, the streets make way for a collection of eclectic boutiques, gift stores and vintage havens. We couldn’t go past Dobbin Street Vintage Co-Op (37 Norman Ave, Brooklyn) which was possibly the most incredible vintage cave we have ever ventured into. Textiles sit beside old books, crockery that could tell a story and the most glorious furniture you’ve laid your eyes on. With all the treasures out the front, you can’t miss it. Hours were also spent in Dyphor (146 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn) where homewares, textiles and furniture are made of velvet, come with tassels and make you want to take them all home to your bedroom (quite literally). We also loved Bulletin (although this has now moved into Manhattan in Nolita) – a female-run business which stocks a range of incredible wears and brands (also female-founded). You can feel the powerful feminine energy in this store – it’s infectious and you won’t leave empty-handed. Pink Olive (various locations – we visited 370 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn) was a favourite for stationery and gift goodies but be warned, you might go home with ten cards (go on, we dare you not to).
10. Soak up the skyline
If you’re rugged up and prepared to brave the cold (with coffee in hand), walk over the Brooklyn Bridge, OR opt to stay somewhere with that skyline view and admire it from your window. We were lucky enough to stay in two beautiful hotels on our visit, which we’ve already mentioned. If you want city-scapes in the hustle and bustle of it all, The James Nomad is your place, with views of the towering Empire State building every which way you look. For a bit of a different view, soak up Manhattan Island from the other side of the Hudson at The Hoxton, Williamsburg. We loved seeing the city from this view (it feels just a little bit like Gossip Girl every time we drew the blinds).