10 hidden treasures of New York City

By Caitlin Kelly

 

Now this is how to sell clothes!
Now this is how to sell clothes! Baby in the window at 9th Street Haberdashery, one of the city’s best-edited vintage clothing stores

I moved to New York in 1989. Although I live in a lovely town 25 miles north of Manhattan, I can clearly see its southernmost towers from my street.

I love heading into the city — and that’s what locals call it, The City, (as if there were no other!) — to explore.

There are many treasures to discover, even after you’ve lived here for decades, many of them simply by walking slowly and by heading far away from the official sights.

Yes, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and Statue of Liberty, (to name only three), are worth a visit for the first-time visitor,  but my favorite spots are much quieter and have few tourists.

Everyone heads to midtown: Fifth Avenue, Times Square, etc. — but I avoid midtown whenever possible, and feel sorry for the millions of tourists who wander there, dazed and crushed, buying junk from every mass-market store they have at home in Iowa or, worse, all the shops whose Going Out of Business!!! signs have been there for decades.

Why come to New York City to eat at tedious chain restaurants and look at the same boring made-in-China stuff you can buy at home?

Head (far) off the beaten path — yes, it’s safe!

A great doorway on East 9th Street, NYC
A great doorway on East 9th Street, NYC

East 9th Street

I love this street; here’s a story that calls it the Fifth Avenue of small business. I like its intimate scale, its battered metal fences and indie stores, the few holdouts of quirk and individuality in a city whose rents skyrocket so insanely that decades-established places disappear overnight as landlords demand fees only possible for large corporations offering…the same old things.

People actually live here, too.

Here you’ll find well-curated vintage, one of my favorite home stores, (14 years and counting), a few cafes and a quiet, affordable streetscape that reminds us that New York isn’t, (for the moment!), just an Uber-studded playground of the 1 percent.

Start at the street’s eastern end and allow at least an hour or more to really explore. When you reach Veselka, on Second Avenue, collapse at the counter for their fab home-made pea soup or pierogies. It’s an institution, serving yummy food since 1954.

Tugboats!

It’s easy to forget — or not even realize — that the island of Manhattan is surrounded by water. It’s a busy working harbor, with enormous cruise ships docking in the Hudson River and barges of coal, cement and other materials being towed or pushed along our waterways by tugboats.

Those cruise ships only get in and out of here thanks to the amazing skill of tugboat operators, one of whom allowed me to spend a day aboard for a Daily News story. Best day in New York, ever! I had no idea how shallow and treacherous the waters here are nor how much power these little boats actually possess.

Take a seat on one of the many benches along the Hudson and watch these wondrous watery workhorses do their thing, day or night.

Cafe Sabarsky

If you’ve been to a Viennese cafe, this is how it looks, sounds, feels and tastes — from the long wooden rods holding newspapers to the coffee with whipped cream. This bastion of old-world elegance, available for lunch or dinner, is in the Beaux Arts mansion of the Neue Galerie, one of my favorite NYC museums, devoted to the work of the Viennese Secessionists, Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele.

Peridance Capezio Center

I just discovered them — by accident, of course! This huge dance studio offers dozens of classes open to adults, and has lockers, showers and a small cafe in the lobby.

If you’re sick of your hotel gym and don’t feel like walking one.more.block, why not try a class? They sell clothes and shoes in the downstairs shop. It’s on East 13th., a few minutes’ walk southeast from the Union Square subway stop.

One of my happiest travel memories ever was taking a ballet class in Paris. We stared up at 18th century painted beams and stared out the windows at the brightly colored facade of the Pompidou Center. Merveilleux!

Morris-Jumel Mansion

Built in 1765, this home sits in a part of Manhattan — Harlem — that few tourists might normally choose to visit. It’s the oldest house in the city and filled with art and artifacts relating to the city’s history. I knew it existed but only saw it when we went to visit friends living a block away.

It’s gorgeous — and the setting is lovely.

Looking through the window of The Upper Rust, East 9th. One of the city's best
Looking through the window of The Upper Rust, East 9th. One of the city’s best shops

Japan Society

Have you ever been to East 47th street? Likely not. But it’s well worth a detour to this small museum, founded in 1907, with a lovely indoor garden.

Some of the best shows I’ve even seen in this city have been here, from hair combs to ceramics. Their current exhibition offers photos from 1968 to 1979. (Take a look at the exquisite modern church next door.)

 

Another great vintage store on East 9th. Tiny but lots of great things at not-too-bad prices
Another great vintage store on East 9th. Tiny but lots of great things at not-too-bad prices

Hairhoppers

OK, shameless plug for my hairdresser, Alex. He’s been in business for decades and his three-chair salon, now on the south side of Grove Street, (right at the Christopher Street 1/9 subway station), is about the size of our (not very big!) bedroom.

I love the variety of his clients, from little old ladies who arrive with their home care aides to Wall Street machers to museum curators. I once sat beside a career musician who would be playing that evening on the Grammy broadcast.

You won’t go home bragging about some Big Name haircut or color. But you’ll get a great cut and/or color, for men and women, for a fair price and enjoy some lively conversation with some of the city’s most interesting and creative people.

If you go, tell him I sent you!

Landmark Tavern

A place many tourists will never visit or even hear of, even though it’s been in existence since 1868. Located on 12th Avenue, (i.e. the outermost western edge of Manhattan), it’s like stepping back a century.

I discovered it years ago attending an office Christmas party held upstairs and enjoy its timeless quality. Flee those exhausting midtown crowds and settle in with a Guinness and shepherd’s pie.

Tinsel Trading Company/M & J Trimming

If you, like me, love beautiful ribbons, beads and other elements of crafting and design, this 86-year-old shop is it.

If you can’t find a ribbon here, give up! This store, frequented by everyone from FIT design students to Browadway costume designers, is stocked floor to ceiling with every color, style, fabric and width imaginable. They also sell badges, buttons, leather and suede cording and upholstery trim.

IMG_20150609_083057556(1)

Aedes de Venustas

If you’re as crazy about delicious and unusual fragrance as I am — whether for men or women, in candle form, perfume, soap or men’s fragrance — this is not to be missed. It’s on the south side of Christopher Street, (about four blocks east of Hairhoppers), and offers a fantastic array of choice.

Here’s a recent book filled with more cool suggestions as well.

I haven’t read it — but he mentions two sites — The Ford Foundation’s indoor jungle and the Daily News’ Art Deco globe — I’ve seen on business visits to each place. Both are well worth seeing.

Do you have a favorite and lesser-known spot worth visiting in New York?

7 thoughts on “10 hidden treasures of New York City

  1. while in ny, my brother, who lives in hell’s kitchen, takes me to his little neighborhood spots and beyond, i love the unique places that have been in place for years, not flashy but always interesting .

  2. The Morris-Jumel Mansion is a great choice for an off-the-beaten-path list of NYC treasures! I wrote an article about it for Preservation Magazine (online) a few years ago. I bet many lifelong NYC residents don’t know about this mansion or its significance. A must-see for history buffs. 🙂

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