By: Winona Young, Staff Writer
“You know, my boyfriend says you can tell someone’s a tourist when all they do is look up.”
I look at my cousin in the driver’s seat and try to laugh off the shade. They’ve been living in the Big Apple for a while now. I turn my gaze to outside my window, shrug and say, “Well, they’re not wrong.”
Here’s how being a total tourist in New York City worked out for me, and what I recommend from that experience.
Note: the budget ranking system ($, $$, and $$$) is based on the scale of what I spent: my least expensive activities versus my most expensive ones, as opposed to fixed dollar amounts per symbol.
NYC’s three major food groups: Carbs are a New Yorker’s Best Friend
- Pizza: Joe’s Pizza ($)
Any New Yorker will tell you that either Gotham Pizza or Joe’s Pizza is the best in town. For me, Joe’s won easy. The plain cheese slice had the perfect sauce-to-cheese ratio, had hand-tossed dough with air bubbles on it, and oil dripping on it. God, was it good. Don’t miss out on this inexpensive and classic NYC experience.
- Bagels: Tompkin’s Bagel Square ($$)
While my friend Stephannie would disagree and say Bagel Bob’s is the best place for price and bagels overall, Tompkins by far was my favourite. Inside the store is a busy atmosphere with warm staff and a list of bagel options so long it could make your head spin. I got the smoked salmon bagel, toasted and scooped, with tomatoes and scallion cream cheese, making for a wonderfully dense and savoury sandwich. I ended my meal on a high note with a sweet French toast bagel topped with a mix of peanut butter, Nutella, and cream cheese, which was indulgent, but not overly sweet.
- Cultural Food: Xi’an Famous Foods ($–$$)
Xi’an was a small shop tucked away along the L train line that had traditional handmade noodles: I tried the Pork “Zha Jiang” Hand-Ripped Noodles. Even as someone with a low spice tolerance, the spiciness of the peppers and saltiness of the beef mixed with the noodles made for a flavourful lunch.
Arts and Culture in NYC (Pt. 1) Aesthetics Are Everything
Even though I had already gone to the MoMA before, it was easily one of my favourite afternoons. Entry was $14 for students, and once we got in Steph and I worked our way from the top floor down. Even though it was packed (as it usually is), it’s so easy to get lost looking into the frames of the many, many famous pieces the MoMA owns. That, and it’s a great place to score some pics.
- Vintage Thrifting at Tokio7 ($$$)
For hypebeasts, hypebaes, and anyone who likes a good luxury brand, Tokio7 is the place for you. The store was chock full of pre-owned and/or vintage luxury pieces, with brands ranging from Ralph Lauren to Y-3 to collabs you didn’t even know happened (Adidas x Brooks Brothers anyone?). All around, it was great for finding cool, sometimes bizarre, overall unique, and very, very pricey pieces.
Arts and Culture in NYC (Pt. 2) All the City’s a Stage
- Drag Shows ($)
Walking into the Hardware bar at 10ish p.m. on a Sunday, I could tell straight away that I was one of the very few heterosexual people in this bar. I watched the drag act “Turn It On!” featuring two replacement queens who ended up being one of the highlights of my entire NYC trip. Izzy Uncut was more of a dancing queen, doing death drops, splits, and tripping (purposefully) all over that tiny bar room — making us gag and laugh all the same. Miss Sogyny was a charismatic, creative and comedic queen who could lip sync her ass off. She was, by far, my favourite act. While tipping was optional, I felt it was necessary to tip these fierce performers.
- Broadway ($$$)
The hottest ticket on Broadway as of now (aside from Hamilton, of course) is Spongebob the Musical. I paid $155, and after the first act, I left the theatre. The actors were energetic, the set was bright and just a tad disorienting, and in theory, the show should’ve been great. It had a team of over twenty pop artists writing the songs, and Spongebob is arguably the most hilarious show from all our childhoods, and yet. The songs weren’t catchy, were disjointed, and acted more as transition sequences rather than music I’d belt out in my room like the musical theatre kid I am. I spent the rest of my last night in NYC wandering around Times Square, looking at all the other award-winning shows I could have spent my money on . . .
Would’ve, could’ve, should’ve: Places I didn’t get to and other regrets
It’s TED talks but for storytelling. Each week or so, The Moth has a storytelling theme. This week’s theme was Betrayal, and since Broadway was a bust, I wish I could have gone. From the videos available on their Youtube channel, stories told range from poignant, inspirational, tragic, hilarious, and more, all in under 15 minutes.
Babycastles is a small art gallery famous for its interactive video game exhibits. It’s tucked away in the basement of a NYC apartment building. Even though my friend and I had gone there, we were met with two interns on their computers with the news that they had no current exhibits, and barely had a permanent collection.
It was closed. Oops.
(They do give out tours twice a day, six days a week, though).
New York City is the city that never sleeps. It’s bright, rowdy, smells vaguely of burning trash at times, which when combined with the hordes of people can be very overwhelming. If you’re attempting to do New York City in one weekend or one week, I’ll tell you right now that you won’t be able to do it. Or rather, you’ll have seen as many tourist traps as possible, but with not as much fun. At times, I forgot to savour the wildly artistic atmosphere that New York had because I was too busy finding a Great Place To Eat/Experience.
My advice is: don’t try to do it all, and pick your experience. I came into this trip knowing that you can’t do NYC in a day/a weekend/a week, etc., And even though I couldn’t see every sight, I knew I had an authentic New Yorker experience — full of yelling, tourist traps, the city’s best-kept secrets and all. To be in a historic place, either with your friends or by yourself, is such a gift. There’s no better time than summer to take it easy and revel in the life teeming in this city that is NYC.