I’m a regular visitor to New York. I love the shopping, I love the eating out options (no one cooks in New York), I love the cocktail bars and I love the 24-hour vibe. This is the city that never sleeps and every time I visit I feel like I’m constantly running around. Thinking I should probably put my energy to good use, I signed up to run the New York marathon in 2013.
There’s so much to say about the experience that I’m writing up the experience in two parts with the first one about how to rest and fuel up in style. The second part will be about where to practise running so even if you don’t do the marathon you can stay fit on holiday.
PART 1: EATING AND SLEEPING
To leave New York without seeing The Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty in Manhattan would be like going to London and missing out on Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. However, you won’t see any celebrities in the queue for the tourist sights – they have better things to do. So once you have that selfie of yourself in Times Square to plaster over Facebook, please remember that there is more to New York than Manhattan.
If you want to do New York the VIP way, you won’t find it in any of the guidebooks as once a place makes it into a guidebook it gets packed with tourists. Did you go all the way to New York to hang out with other tourists? I may be the Queen of Showbiz in London, but I don’t have as many connections in New York so I put my words into practise and did my own research. I asked my friends for hotel / bar recommendations and I got over Google to find out restaurants / clubs that celebs were seen leaving. Some of it worked (and I’ve listed these places below) and some didn’t (and I’m not going to dwell on the negatives so I’ve forgotten about it and moved on).
1) WHERE TO STAY
AVOID TIMES SQUARE. When I was 21 I went to New York with my friends to celebrate graduating from University. We stayed in Times Square and we ate at chain restaurants like Ruby Tuesday. At the time I didn’t know any better but looking back on it it’s the equivalent of staying in London’s Kings Cross and ‘dining’ at Aberdeen Angus Steak House. I would never do this! In London, I like places with character.
TRY THE JANE.
I found out about The Jane Hotel through Google, typing in ‘New York Travel Budget Hotel’ and seeing that there was a recent article by Time Out (NOTE – always check the date that an article is published). In the Time Out article The Jane got 4 stars and I liked the history involved in the building, which was where the survivors of The Titanic stayed in 1912 when awaiting an inquest into the ship’s sinking. The wood-paneled, 50-square-foot rooms are actually called cabins and were inspired by vintage train sleeper compartments—there’s a single bed with built-in storage and brass hooks for hanging up your clothes, but also iPod docks and wall-mounted 23-inch flat-screen TVs (see above). However, what really sold it for me was the location – in the chic West Village, just round the corner from where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie character had a flat in Sex and The City.
As rooms are approximately $99 a night, depending on the season you visit, I was initially sceptical about what I would be getting, but I was greeted by a doorman in a chic uniform and walked into a lobby that looked like it was full of character. Instead of impersonal plastic room key cards, you get a full blown brass keys.
Should you be feeling peckish the restaurant is an authentic French brasserie, Café Gitane. However, my favourite room by far was the bar, which is so large it is actually a ballroom. Full of mismatched chairs, taxidermy and oriental rugs and lit by candles, it’s a midweek hipster hangout and I wouldn’t have to stumble home after one of their insanely strong cocktails. How lucky was I?
Yes, rooms are small but how much time do you sit on a sofa on a hotel room anyway? Exactly! I found all I needed was a bed and a TV (and that’s all you get at The Jane). There’s no bathroorm – you share a communal one with three showers per floor –but they were immaculately clean and there was never any queuing for the shower. Towels for the shower are provided and there are toiletries inside so it is like staying in a hotel with hostel prices. You even get a fresh bottle of filtered water every day, which is more than what you get in a hotel! I photographed the view of The Hudson River from my window and my parents said it was better than their $250-a-night hotel further uptown. I had the best view, a good TV, friendly staff and a hip bar for next to nothing prices – win, win!
For more details about price and availability, visit The Jane Hotel website.
2) WHERE TO EAT
This is a very important subject for me because I was in New York to run the Marathon. Therefore it was important to get some good hearty and healthy food into my system pre-race and to indulge in a few carbs. However, when I say carbs I don’t mean pancakes with syrup for breakfast and super-size donuts and giant squidgy cookies type of carbs. That was my reward to myself post-race. ..so I’ve divided the food part into a few sections:
(i) Healthy Eats
Crosby Street Hotel
I found out about this through it’s sister hotels in London – The Charlotte Street Hotel, The Covent Garden Hotel, The Haymarket Hotel and The Soho Hotel – which are all great places to spot celebs in. If the Firmdale group which owns them can run four consistently good hotels in the UK, I was pretty convinced they could operate one in New York…and I was right.
The hotel is decorated in a similar style to the ones in the UK – modern, classic and contemporary and full of character. Think bright fabrics, texturised wallpaper and unique sculptures.
However, it manages to be chic yet cosy. And it was the best meal I ate in my entire trip to New York. Three of us runners indulged in a main course and dessert and check out the photos as a partial illustration of how good it was.
Lamb chops with cumin mint scented Satsuma. Tender and moist with a fruity kick from the satsuma
Grilled rib-eye, herbed tomatoes and onions – a perfect image of what medium rare should be. The meat was packed with flavour.
Scallops, polenta, caper raisin sauce – large, succulent scallops, served in an extraordinarily rich sauce. Beats the traditional black pudding / pea serving suggestion by miles!
For sides, we shared sweet potato mash (which we fought over because it was so tasty), hand cut French fries (seasoned with garlic) and fresh spinach. When it came to the table it was so pretty it was like an artwork. We trashed it all quite quickly, which is often the case with delicious food – you can’t get it in your mouth quick enough. But check out how we ended it – three spoons and one of these:
Funnel cake with hard cider caramel sauce and black pepper ice cream.
I ended up running the marathon in the fast time of 3 Hours 36 Minutes and for one of the miles I visualised this cake as a motivation for me to keep going. My thinking was that if I died on the spot, I’d never get another funnel cake, which would have been tragedy!
For details about price and to make a booking, visit The Crosby Street Hotel website.
This was my ‘night-before’ meal and if I was on death row, I woudn’t be sad if I was served something like this as my last meal ever. For the price I paid, it was incredible value. Ok, it’s not as fancy as The Crosby Street hotel but it’s hearty and delicious, homely and most dishes are less than $10 (although the catch is that you do have to pay in cash not by card).
One of my friends and I went for meat ragu with penne while our friend opted for tagliatelle. The portions were huge, making it ideal for pre-marathon carb-loading and the pasta was fresh and perfectly soft, but not too soft.
Its location in Soho, where some of the New York celebs like Maggie Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst own apartments means that you may spot a celeb popping in for a quick bite. But everyone is made to feel like a celeb at Bianca’s as they immediately treat you as part of the family whether it’s your first visit of your 50th. This is why the grin on my face is this big after eating there!
PIC OF ME
The dining room is homely, a white dolls house and the tables are squished close together so the atmosphere is electric and buzzy. I was told about this by a friend who lived in New York for a few years and she told me it was her favourite Italian in the whole of New York. I can definitely understand why.
For more details and to see the menu, visit the Bianca website
(ii) Brunch Treats
Westville is open all day so you can have sweet potato fries with a lunchtime ceasar salad or an evening-time piece of grilled chicken for healthy yet deliciously tasty restaurant food. We visited the one in the West Village, near The Jane Hotel, but there are branches across the city.
The one in the West Village is absolutely tiny, you can see the kitchen from all the tables and if you want the toilet you have to walk through the kitchen! But it’s worth it.
Sweet potato fries with eggs benedict? Apple pancakes with apple sauce? Poached eggs with smoked salmon, avocado and asparagus (for just $13)?
After a visit to Westville your stomach will be thanking you. The portions are huge and I sometimes get bored munching through a full plate of food but every mouthful of my eggs and fries triggered involuntary moans of pleasure.
Visit the Westville website for a full list of locations and a look at the delicious menu
This is one of THE most popular weekend brunch places. Set your alarm for a decent hour as by bagging a table at Pastis, you’re very likely to see someone very famous walk through the door. It’s run by Keith McNally, who also owns the Balthazaar restaurant in New York (which has also just opened in London) and counts USVogue editor Anna Wintour among one of his closest pals.
It’s the food and the general Parisian chic ambience which draw the celebs to these places rather than any freebie meal – the celebs go in and pay because the place is cool in its own right. We all had a vegetable omelette with homecooked potatoes washed down with some fresh orange juice.
If it had been post Marathon I would have tried the pancakes with berries after seeing a plate get taken to the table opposite me. The next time I go to New York I will be returning to Pastis and I will order the pancakes, unless I go in the evening – when I’m told they do a mean steak frites followed by crème brulee.
Check out the full menu and some pics of the gorgeous decor on the Pastis website
(iii) Real Indulgences
Momofuku Milk Bar
The cornflake with marshmallow cookie was mighty tasty but the speciality is a Compost cookie.
This is a mix of graham crackers, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, pretzels and potato chips. Yes, potato chips! This gives it a unique salty and sweet taste, plus it’s crispy and soft in the same mouthful. My only regret is that I only bought one. This is what it looks like, you need to get one to fully appreciate the taste.
Find out more at the Momofuku milk bar website.
Friends in LA keep telling me that Umami is the best burger place ever. So when I heard there was one in New York, I knew it was the place for our post Marathon celebration. After running 26.2 miles, my body craved red meat and quick carbs (in the form of chips).
I went for a medium done classic burger served with a parmesan crisp and in a brioche bun with a martini on the side. Slightly sweeter than what I was expecting but it was reasonably priced and just what the doctor ordered. Plus if you’re going out for fancy food every night, sometimes you just need a burger. You can’t get Umami in England yet, so you’ll be one step ahead of your friends.
Salivate over the menu on the Umami burger website.
Make sure you add all these places to your New York must-visit list. You’ll have a better experience at these places then anywhere you would find in a guidebook. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to see my blog post about the best running routes!