U.S.A.

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.

meatpacking-district

Meatpacking District’s Nightlife – New York

This once-seedy area, where gay bondage clubs and drug dealing dens rubbed shoulders with slaughterhouses and meatpackaging plants, has been fully transformed into a high-end fashionista’s paradise. Designer boutiques line the streets, and at night the stylish hop in and out of cabs, expensive high heels clicking on cobblestones.

The main draw is the new Standard Hotel (848 Washington St, tel: 212-645-4646), straddled over the southern end of the popular High Line park. If you can’t get into the Standard Grill restaurant, throw back a pint or play ping-pong in the ground-floor Biergarten, or sip a cocktail in the quiet lobby bar looking out over the street. Eighteen floors up is the (pricey) penthouse Boom Boom Bar, with panoramic views of the city and the Hudson River.

Still going strong after more than a decade is Keith McNally’s atmospheric Pastis (9 Ninth Ave, tel: 212 929-4844). Modeled after a French bistro circa 1958, it is full most nights. An equally successful themed restaurant is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market (430 W. 13th St, tel: 212-675-2322), with its mouthwatering dishes inspired by Asian street food.

A more intimate atmosphere is a block away at Monte’s (97 Macdougal St, tel: 212-228-9194), a rustic Italian restaurant with outdoor tables in warm weather, or a fun place for an outdoor drink is the terrace of Batali (363 W. 16th St, tel: 212-243-8400), in the still-trendy Maritime Hotel (363 West 16th St, tel: 212-242-4300).

faicco’s-pork-store

Try Special Cheeses and Fresh Salami in The Pure Italian Style – New York

Sadly, all that’s left of the city’s ‘official’ Little Italy located just north of Chinatown is an abundance of mediocre Italian restaurants and cafes geared at tourists. Manhattan’s ‘real’ Little Italy is now confined to a stretch of Bleecker Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, a hub of Italian immigration around the turn of the 20th century. Today, an authentic Italian feel remains thanks to an active Catholic church on the block, several Italian bakeries, butchers, and food shops, and one of the best pizzerias in the city. And with new gourmet shops opening up, the street is transforming itself into a downtown food destination.

Italian delicacies abound at Faicco’s Pork Store: fresh mozzarella, dozens of varieties of homemade sausage, prosciutto, and meats of all kinds sold at an old-fashioned counter, plus sandwiches and packaged heat-and-go meals like eggplant parmigiana or lasagna. Next door, Murray’s is one of the best cheese shops in the city. The informed staff lets you taste-test a wide selection of cheeses from Italy, France, and many other countries. They hold cheese classes too. Traditional family butcher Ottomanelli & Sons has been in business for more than 80 years. Even if you don’t want to buy a steak or a leg of lamb, it’s fun to check out the old-style ambiente. For mouthwatering cannoli (pastries filled with sweet ricotta cream) or tiramisu along with a satisfying cup of espresso, take a seat at Pasticceria Rocco. Some argue the best pizza in town is at John’s Pizzeria (no. 278, tel: 212-243-1680). Make sure you’re hungry – pizzas are made to order and sold by the pie, not the slice.

battle-of-the-choirs-and-organists

Be a Judge In The unofficial ‘Battle of the Choirs and Organists’ – New York

Within just a few blocks, three of the city’s most active churches offer music events, often free of charge. There’s no real competition here of course, just a blessing for the music-loving public.

The Gothic Revival Grace Church, at the corner of Broadway and 11th Street, was built in 1843 by James Renwick Jr, later the architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral uptown. The Episcopalian church is a national landmark – free tours take place Sundays at 1pm. But it’s the music that makes Grace a draw for New Yorkers. It’s famous for its men and boys choir, which sings during services and performs concerts in respected venues such as Carnegie Hall. Free organ meditations take place daily at noon. For a full music schedule, see the website.

A few blocks on, is the Church of the Ascension, also Episcopalian, which houses the Manton Memorial Organ, one of the premier organs in the world. The church is home to the Voices of Ascension, the Grammy Award-nominated professional choir who give concerts here, as well as at other venues around the city such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. The beautiful main sanctuary was recently restored; go bask in its pristine beauty for an afternoon.

One block north, the First Presbyterian Church of New York was built in 1846 after originating near Wall Street in 1716. The church is home to the Guilmant Organ School, one of the first accredited schools in America devoted to teaching organists and church musicians. Organ and choral recitals take place here throughout the year.

18-miles-of-books

Embark on a Literary Tour in New York City

It may be small, but many New Yorkers say Three Lives (154 W. 10th St) is the best bookstore in the city. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours, writer Michael Cunningham calls it ‘the most civilized place on earth.’ There’s a good selection of noteworthy new non-fiction and fiction, and a thorough choice of respected titles on the shelves. The staff are friendly and informed, and the atmosphere cozy. Browsing here is a book-lover’s dream.

The Strand (828 Broadway) and its ‘18 Miles of Books’ is one of the biggest and best-used bookstores in America. Negotiating your way among browsers and big tables piled high with books can try your patience, but most find it hard to leave without making a purchase.

The literary pedigree of Greenwich Village is undisputed. Over the last two centuries, the neighborhood has played a key role in American literature and is peppered with literary landmarks. Here are some to look out for:

The New School for Social Research (66 W. 12th St) opened in 1919 as a place for professors considered too liberal for the then-stiflingly traditional Columbia University. In the 1930s, it became a sort of university-in-exile for intellectuals fleeing Nazi Germany. Writers who have taught here include Joseph Heller, Edward Albee, WH Auden, Robert Frost, Joyce Carol Oates, Arthur Miller, and Susan Sontag.

Patchin Place is a pretty mews where e. e. cummings lived from 1923–62, entertaining the likes of TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas. Djuna Barnes spent the last 40 years of her somewhat reclusive life here. In the early 1960s Edward Albee bought a converted carriage house at 50 West 10th Street where he wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning plays including A Delicate Balance. Historic watering hole The White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St), where Dylan Thomas had his infamous drinking spree a couple of days before he went most un-gentle into that good night, is today a favorite among students and assorted literati. At 9½ft in width, 75½ Bedford Street is the narrowest house in the Village, and was home to poet Edna St Vincent Malley from 1923–25. She also founded the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St) just around the corner, where Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was first staged. A little further east at no. 11, Washington Irving wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1931.

Other literary landmarks in the neighborhood include 7 Washington Square North home to Edith Wharton in 1882, while no. 19 was the home of Henry James’s grandmother and a setting of his novel Washington Square; Louisa May Alcott lived at 130−132 MacDougal Street and penned Little Women here in 1880. In the 1930s and ’40s, the nearby Minetta Tavern (113 MacDougal St), which began as a speakeasy became a favorite haunt among local luminaries. Following a Keith ‘Midas Touch’ McNally revamp, the picture-perfect brasserie is now a buzzing, fashionable (and hard to get into) restaurant.

waverly-place

Looking For Celebrities In And Around Waverly Place – New York

There are perhaps more well-known actors, celebrities, and writers living in the leafy, peaceful West Village than in any other enclave in the city. So it can be easy to spot one if you keep your eyes peeled. Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler, Julia Robert, and Rosie O’Donnell are a few of the well-known people who live in the beautiful townhouses lining Greenwich Village streets.

If you’d like to increase your odds of spotting a celebrity, try to get a table at the exclusive Waverly Inn (pictured). Owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, this uber-hip restaurant has pulled in media moguls, Hollywood stars, and other assorted A-listers since it opened several years ago. It can be tough to get a reservation – there’s no phone, and front-of-house management is discerning. Instead, try getting a seat at the small bar when the restaurant opens at 6pm, or past 11pm when the dinner crowds begin to thin. Be warned, the drinks are not cheap. You’ll always know the celebrity power inside by the number of paparazzi hanging around outside.

Another place to spot celebrities, fashionistas, and power-players, is Keith McNally’s Morandi, just a few blocks away. In the warmer months, the terrace of this rustic Italian restaurant overflows with the tanned and beautiful, and a quick scan often produces a celebrity sighting. Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Modine, and Cameron Diaz have all been spotted having breakfast or lunch here during the day when things are quieter.

French Roast nearby is also a favorite among celebrities for its relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. Recent sightings include David Byrne, Sean Lennon, an Olsen Twin, and Gabriel Byrne.

Village Folk Scene

Live The ’60s and The Village Folk Scene

The last cultural hey-day of Greenwich Village was the folk era of the early 1960s, when Bob Dylan crashed onto the international stage, getting his start in small clubs and writing songs in his Village walk-up apartment. Today, most of the traces of that era are gone, but a few remain more or less intact.

The corner of Jones and West 4th Street is a bit like the Abbey Road of Dylan’s career: this is where the cover photo of Freewheelin’ was taken one wintry February afternoon in 1963 with then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo. The two shared an apartment on the top floor of 161 West 4th Street a block away. Dylan and other folkies such as Peter, Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez would pop into The Music Inn a few doors down at no. 169. Here they’d buy or borrow guitars, violins, and rhythm instruments from the owner who is still there today, tucked in the basement repairing and hand-making instruments. The upstairs is jammed-packed with mandolins, guitars, bongos, sitars, and world instruments of all kinds. The window display looks like it hasn’t been touched since the ’60s, and the place is not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Big names in folk music and rock have bought new and used guitars at Matt Umanov for decades. The selection is impressive, and the sales help highly informed. Suze Rotolo’s son works here.

Everyone from Woody Allen to George Carlin, Janis Joplin, Dylan, and even Frank Zappa have played at some point at The Bitter End. It’s the last club of the folk era still going strong, programming six acts a night.

Village Jazz Joint

Village Jazz Joint Will Put You On The Good Vibe – New York

These days, Greenwich Village is more upscale enclave than bohemian mecca, but many jazz clubs that opened in the 1960s and even in the ’20s are still going strong, largely thanks to dedicated owners who believe passionately in the cause.

The jazz club that many jazz fans call the greatest in the world is The Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave South, tel: 212-255-4037) where Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk all played and recorded. The low ceilings and shape of the room make for great acoustics, and its high professional standards have been kept intact since 1935. The space is cramped and a little dingy, but the $30-or-so ticket price (including two drinks) is lower than other high-end jazz clubs like the Blue Note (131 W. 3rd St, tel: 212-475-8592) nearby, which also hosts top-of-the-line shows but with a feel that’s more nightclub than jazz joint.

Originally a speakeasy in the 1920s, the unpretentious 55 Bar (55 Christopher St, tel: 212-929-9883) is one of the best-kept music secrets in the city. The cover charge ranges from free to $12 for two sets, the drinks are cheap, and musicians love to play here. The up-and-coming jazz, R&B, and jazz-world-folk crossover bands rarely disappoint thanks to the high standards of the owner who runs the club more for creative satisfaction than for profits.

Other authentic places include Smalls (183 West 10th St, tel: 212-252-5091, map C4), known for its jams into the wee hours, or Cornelia Street Café (29 Cornelia St, tel: 212-989-9319). For top-end experimental jazz, check out Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St, tel: 212-505-3474). And for a great traditional jazz brunch go to North Square (103 Waverly Place, tel: 212-254-1200) at the Washington Square Hotel, to hear seasoned New York jazz vocalists such as Roz Corral.

st-luke’s-gardens

Watch Butterflies and Birds at St Luke’s Gardens – NYC

Tucked away off Hudson Street around the historic Church of St Luke in the Fields is St Luke’s Gardens, a warren of small green spaces linked by paths which is home to dozens of species of migrating birds and butterflies, blossoming cherry trees in spring, a rose garden, century-old maple trees, and wooden benches for contemplating it all.

These 3 acres of walkways, lawns, and rare plants form one of the more distinctive gardens in the city, in part thanks to the warm microclimate created by the gardens’ southwest orientation and the heat-retaining brick walls surrounding them. Over the years 100 types of birds have been spotted here, as well as 24 types of moths and butterflies, drawn to the berries and flowers planted here.

Enter by the south gate adjacent to the church and follow the paths to secluded areas. One is a small lawn, surrounded by trees and shrubs selected to attract the birds and butterflies. Around the corner from there is an alleyway, planted with 22 cherry trees that blossom in pink and white in mid-April. There are benches throughout, the perfect place to contemplate the greenery and enjoy a coffee or a book.

The gardens are part of the Episcopal St Luke’s School and Church, built in 1820 and the third-oldest church in New York, dedicated to the physician evangelist, in recognition of the Village’s role as a refuge from yellow-fever epidemics. One of the founding wardens of the church was Clement Clarke Moore, a gentleman scholar of biblical Hebrew and Greek who also penned Twas the Night before Christmas.

downtown-boathouse

Check Out The Craft Products in the ‘Paper District’ on West 18th Street – New York

The digital world seems far way on West 18th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues: three shops here specialize in paper for invitations, projects, presentations, wrapping, and letters, and tucked in the middle of the block is the city’s best children’s bookstore.

Paper Presentation (23 W 18th St) and Print Icon (125 W 21st St) are both paradise for graphic designers and creative types, selling paper and envelopes in all colors, sizes, and textures, along with services for printing stationery, invitations, or business cards. Print Icon is the printer of choice for ad agencies and graphic designers working in the area, and you can watch the presses roll at the back of the shop. Paper Presentation has everything for the scrap-booker and card-designer: watch you don’t get lost in a creative fog going through the huge choice of stickers, glitter, ribbons, pens, markers, and rubber stamp pads. A. I. Friedman (no. 44) runs the width of a city block, and sells paper, agendas, picture frames and albums, art portfolios, interesting messenger bags, and office furniture.

For a great selection of classic and new children’s books, pop into Books of Wonder (no. 19), the oldest and largest independent children’s bookstore in the city, specializing in children’s literature, with its own cute cafe serving brightly decorated cakes and cookies. Classical music fans will love Academy Records and CDs a couple of doors down (no. 12), the city’s best source for used classical, jazz, and showtune LPs and CDs.

museum-of-sex

Museum of Sex For Your Dirty Mind – New York

The Museum of Sex takes the subject seriously: its board of advisers is filled with historians and scholars, and the museum’s goal is to show the best in current thinking about human sexuality. Academic purpose aside, the exhibits are fun and informative, such as ‘Rubbers: the Life, History, and Struggle of the Condom’, ‘Graphic Sex in Japan,’ and ‘Sex and the Moving Image.’ The museum has more than 15,000 artifacts related to subjects of human sexuality, and houses a research and multimedia library. The explicit nature of the material, however, means admittance is restricted to those 18 and older.

To see the human mating game in real life on a warm day, head to the Frying Pan, a 1929 lightship tethered to Pier 66 at West 26th Street and the West Side Highway. The boat and the pier have been converted into a large bustling bar and casual eating spot, where buckets of Corona, burgers, and clams are served up with a fabulous view of the Hudson River. Plastic chairs are on deck, the interior is barnacle-encrusted with worn couches, an exposed engine room, and bands or DJs playing on occasion in the belly of the boat. Those prone to seasickness are counseled to remain on dry land and enjoy the Tiki Bar.

In winter months, the artistic crowd in the neighborhood packs The Breslin Bar in the trendy Ace Hotel. Wood flooring, high ceilings, and a vintage mahogany bar give this gastro pub an old-world, gentleman’s club feel, respectful of the hotel’s 1904 origins.