Disclaimer: the following text is my personal experience and therefore cannot be replicated. The author accepts no responsibility for anyone acting on the following advice and somehow managing to have a shit time anyway.
You talkin’ to me?
“You’re alright man, take your time.”
Jet lagged and sleep deprived, I briefly wonder if I’m in Cali or one of the more relaxed states of America. After all, New Yorkers are notoriously impatient, aren’t they? I check my surroundings: yellow paint job, check; in-taxi TV advertising Broadway shows, check; outside the cab, a city well past the witching hour showing no desire whatsoever to sleep, check. Yeah, I’m in New York alright. And as it turns out, I needn’t be rooting around in my purse with the urgency of a malnourished truffle hog.
Top tip: At the time of writing, the fare to and from JFK to pretty much anywhere in Manhatten is a flat 55 bucks. Take 60 to allow for the tip.
Thanks man, I appreciate it.
My anxiety carries me into the hotel lobby, as I hand out awkward English apologies like tips.
We’d had a bad experience in LA some years back, fleeing from a Tex Mex joint in a cloud of abuse (from both sides) over our refusal to tip our surly and somewhat unhygienic waiter, so I was worried about my inability to tip the doormen, and I didn’t want to have to do a runner whilst screaming “fuck you!” – not on our first night, anyways.
The next morning, I asked our French waiter at breakfast about the rules. Lonely Planet needn’t have dedicated a whole section to tipping, it’s really quite simple:
“Zee way zay do eet is very niiice”, said Jean-Luc*. He showed me the receipt. “You just write zee amount here you want to tip, et voila!”.
*at this juncture I’d like to point out that I didn’t really get the waiter’s name. I made it up. In fact, the conversation probably wasn’t like that at all, but he was French, so in my memory all of this actually happened. He was also wearing a beret and a string of onions.
So if you’re worried about the whole tip situation, fret not. No machete baring Mexican waiters will chase you into the night, I promise. Tipping is subtle and discretionary, and needn’t be more trying than a simple “keep the change”. To which the response will always be a very graceful “thanks man, I appreciate it”.
Top tip: When you’re presented with the bill, there will be tip suggestions at the bottom to the tune of 10, 15 & 20%. Unless you want to start doing long arithmetic when you should be heading out for after dinner drinks, don’t be a tight ass. Rounding up is easy and you won’t look like a dick.
Paper or plastic?
In the UK, one can only make purchases of twenty quid or so without entering one’s PIN number. Not so here – they swipe your card, you add a tip (if someone is waiting on you in some way) to the receipt, and then you just have to trust that they aren’t going to add an extra decimal point using a biro and a bit of tippex.
Sometimes you’re asked for a signature, and very occasionally you’re asked for photo ID, but usually the sordid topic of coin operates on a trust basis. Which I find rather charming (probably because I was never knowingly ripped off).
Top tip: it’s a good idea to carry a bit of non-essential photo ID with you at all times, and not just to pay for stuff. M and I were ID’d to get into a bar one night, on the eve of my 39th birthday. I won’t say I wasn’t delighted, but that would have faded into rage pretty quickly had the bouncer not taken a closer look and granted us access to the Bloody Mary I so craved.
Ordering coffee like a boss
There’s an art to ordering coffee in New York, which took me a few days to master. You know how I said New Yorkers weren’t impatient? Well, there’s an exception to every rule, and this is it. Waiting in line, you’ll sweat like a contestant on The Weakest Link, knowing that any minute now it’s going to be your turn, and you’d better have your answer ready. Here’s some helpful advice:
If you buy your coffee in a joint frequented by workers, or anywhere with pictures of food on the menu, they add the sugar for you. Much like they do in a greasy spoon in England.
Also, the barista needs to know how much of the good stuff (caffeine) you’ll be requiring. You have to ask for a Red Eye if you want one shot, a Black Eye if you want two shots, and a Dead Eye if you never want to sleep again. Master the art of ordering a ‘Ghetto Coffee’ to feel like a real New Yorker. Say it with me:
“One black eye, sweet, hold the cream”.
Now honestly, how badass do you feel right now? You’re welcome.
Top tip: Fuck Starbucks. Fuck ’em in the ass. Their coffee’s shit and they don’t pay their taxes. Instead, try one of the prolific indie coffee shops that litter the city. I liked Konditori. The coffee is awesome and they do a lovely range of unpronounceable Swedish pastries that taste like heaven.
You just have to visit New York at Christmas.
A friend of a friend (who lives in New York) exclaimed once “why do they come in the summer? It’s so fucking hot!!” My question is this: with so much to do outside, why would you not go to New York in the summer?
Think about it, what would you rather?
Walk the high line under a deep blue sky, coconut ice lolly in one hand, your lover’s hand in the other; make new friends as you dance the night away at one of the many music events in Central Park; watch a classic 80s movie lounging on a blanket under a warm summer sky, sipping on some cold Brooklyn suds; go on a tapas crawl on the Lower East Side, sampling small plates from Spain, Jamaica, Colombia, while the sounds of soca music blend with punk rock from dive bars and that easy New York banter…
…or join the throngs of tourists (alongside regular New Yorkers) in the freezing cold, all trying to simultaneously buy shit.
No wonder the majority of the population mistakenly believe New Yorkers are bad tempered. Imagine going to Westfield Shopping Centre for a festive break. Would you love it? Yeah, thought not.
Top tip: If you’re heading to NYC between June and September, check out Summer Stage. They hold non stop gigs in Central Park, some of which are free, but even the biggies aren’t expensive. We saw Basement Jaxx, and they threw house music legends Masters at Work in too, for the bargain price of $30.
Yes, but is it art?
Weaving amongst a display of tangled leather whips and gaudy images generated using Microsoft Paint by a human who is clearly mentally ill, I concede that it is not.
I like to think that I am quite progressive when it comes to modern art, but the exhibitions on display in the clean, angular gallery space of The New Museum reminded me too much of the chancers at art college who had plenty of bullshit and very little talent.
Stepping out of the cool foyer I am greeted by the comforting humidity of the street. New York’s all about the street. It’s where all the life is. And when the art is so beautiful on the street – made with love, for no gains other than sharing ideas with the world, and maybe a little ghetto kudos – why would you pay to line the pockets of the purveyors of poop?
Top tip: There are tons of maps available with guides to where the more famous works of street art reside (for now), or you can book numerous tours. But to be honest, just remembering to look around you as you meander is a sure fire way to get some real culture. And it’s free.
“We like it this way. Anytime a shiny new building goes up, we hate it. This neighborhood is real.”
M and I are sitting drinking some cold Brooklyn Summer Seasonal at our local, Cheese Grille. Chatting with the owner over a buttery grilled cheese, we discuss the merits of the Lower East Side.
We like it here. Deciding where to eat next and browsing the beautiful artwork in the local longboard shops is way more fun than avoiding Disney characters and having fifty foot adverts forced into your retinas uptown. Being downtown makes you feel as cool as fuck 89% of the time, and most of all… You’re having so much fun, you might even forget to buy any shit at all.
Maybe I was lucky, who knows. Maybe the warm weather put everyone in a good mood, but the impression I’ve come away with is that downtown New Yorkers are a chatty, laid back bunch of folks who enjoy drinking beer, eating gourmet snacks, and being cool. Just like everybody else.
And while I’m not about to tell you that crime never happens in New York, I can tell you that it has some of the lowest crime rates of any US city. In fact, the only violence I witnessed was when two elderly Cuban gentlemen decided to flap at each other with their man bags at a stop sign.
Top tip: If you decide to do the right thing and avoid the more obvious parts of Manhatten in favour of a place with more character, you’d do worse than staying at SIXTY LES. Book well in advance to get the best deal, and ask for a corner balcony room for breathtaking views from the financial district all the way to the Empire State.
All good things must come to an end, and you will probably have to leave at some point. Your feet will be thankful that it’s all over, but you’ll be sad to leave all the same.
But leave you will, satisfied in the knowledge that you’ll bring a little of New York City’s spirit home with you. Alesha Keys sang that “these streets will make you feel brand new”, and she was right.
So, whilst a trip to the big apple is by no means restful, it does refresh your mind, leaving you with a curious internal cocktail of exhaustion and awe. And happy, so so happy.
This leads me to my final top tip…
Don’t, what ever you do, plan to buy all of your gifts at the airport. I have been in third world airports with better provision than JFK terminal one. Eat a good meal before you get there (unless you really, really, really like panini), and get all your gifts in Manhatten. Unless your friends and family genuinely enjoy ‘chocolate’ that tastes like vomit.