Lauren's Guide to New York

Since RWA is coming up, this week’s Teaser Tuesday is being replaced by a one time special feature: my guide to New York.

Next week, a wave of romance writers will arrive in my city. Having been a conference attendee in other cities, I know that there’s enough to occupy one without ever leaving the hotel. However, for those who do wish to roam farther afield, here is my highly ideosyncratic guide to my favorite bits of New York.

I. Caffeination (You knew that was coming first, right?)

Alice’s Tea Cup

There are three Alice’s Tea Cups, but all have the same wonderful mismatched china, extensive tea menus, warm scones, and sparkly fairy wings. Make a meal of it by getting the multi-tiered “Mad Hatter”– their sandwiches are as good as their scones.

Where: 64th & Lex, 81st between 2nd & 3rd, or that other one on the West Side.

— Le Pain Quotidien

You can find these scattered all across the city. This bakery/eatery makes an incredibly strong pot of coffee.

Where: all over the place.

— Cafe Sabarsky

Hidden away in the Neue Galerie on 86th & 5th, this is well worth the hike from the conference hotel in midtown. The Sarbarsky is a Viennese cafe, complete with coffee mit schlag and the best tortes you’ll find this side of Vienna. I highly recommend the Klimttorte.

Where: In that huge mansion on 86th & 5th.

71 Irving

A fun independent coffee house near Union Square. They actually do that whole “leaf drawn in foam” thing in your latte.

Where: 19th & Irving.

— And, of course, Starbucks. If you go more than four blocks without hitting one, you’re accidentally in the wrong city.

II. Cocktails (Trust me, I’ve researched this thoroughly.)

— The Campbell Apartment

My favorite hidden bar, the Campbell Apartment is tucked away in a corner of Grand Central. A secret staircase leads you to an opulent Gothic apartment, all dark wood and red velvet. There’s even a minstrels’ gallery. Try the Prohibition Punch– but only if you don’t have to be coherent later.

Where: 43rd & Vanderbilt.


There’s nothing like bubbly. And this one is even (sort of) walkable from the conference hotel! A champagne bar with neat little alcoves, Flute has a champagne happy hour on Tuesday, with half-priced drinks.

Where: 205 West 54th

— Le Colonial

This restaurant lives up to its name with teak and palm fronds. Go straight up the narrow stairs to the second floor bar for cozy, ill-lit tables and the biggest, fruitiest martinis you’ve ever seen (my favorite is the passion fruit). It’s a fabulous place for a clandestine gossip session.

Where: 57th between Lex and 3rd.

— The Metropolitan Museum

Yes, the Met now serves cocktails! On a Friday evening, you can try out the elegance of the second floor balcony or the less formal Petrie Court downstairs.

Where: Somewhere in the 80s on 5th. You really can’t miss it.

III. Food

My advice to the conference attendees? Stay away from all the faux French bistros/faux Irish pubs around Times Square. Take a stroll down 9th Avenue. As you start getting into the 50’s, away from the tourist madness, you’ll find excellent– and often reasonably priced– food at little hole in the wall places. Check the menu and the prices before going in, though. Sometimes the hole-in-the-wall look can be deceptive.

Some suggestions:

— Haru, for reasonably priced sushi (there’s a branch right on 43rd and Broadway).
— La Bonne Soupe, for casual, filling French food (55th between 5th and 6th).
— Rosa Mexicano, for excellent guacamole (62nd & Columbus)

There are also lots and lots of chains for a quick, cheap bite. You’ll find Chipotle, Goodburger, Cosi, and, of course, every form of frozen yogurt and diet ice cream known to man (hello, Tasti D!). But if you really want to be decadent, find a Mr. Softie truck (they’re scattered all over) and treat yourself to a chocolate and vanilla twist cone. With sprinkles.

One more thing to consider: pret a manger from the grocery store. (There’s also the store, Pret a Manger, that sells a good, pre-fab sandwich.) If what you want is just a sandwich or salad to go, try the ready made food aisle at Citarella ($5.99 for most of their sandwiches) or Trader Joe’s (even cheaper, but in fewer locations). Other supermarkets and drug stores now also sell wrapped sandwiches and salads, but I’m particularly attached to the Citarella ones.

For everything else, there’s Menupages. Menupages is your best friend in finding a restaurant. They index them by name, cuisine, area of the city, and all sorts of filters for special features. See that map on the home page? Just click on the part of the city you’re interested in, and then narrow your search by price, cuisine, or whatever else. We will not discuss the hours I have wasted recreationally reading menus on this site.

For a much more comprehensive– and conference area oriented– food and restaurant guide, check out this one from Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

IV. Sights

The Metropolitan Museumo is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, but everyone knows about that already. Sadly, my pet museum, the New York Historical Society, is closed for renovation until November, but here are some other great New York institutions:

The Frick Collection, an amazing European art collection in situ in Henry Clay Frick’s old home on 70th & 5th.
The Morgan Library & Museum: check out the gilded age opulence of J.P. Morgan’s study, the rare book collection in his massive library, and the special exhibits up in the more modern portion of the museum. Current exhibitions include “The Age of Elegance” and medieval fashion.
The Museum of the City of New York: one of my favorite hidden treasures and a boon to writers of historical fiction. Check out the amazingly detailed gilded age and art deco dollhouses!

V. Transportation

— Foot.

There’s a reason we all carry such large shoulder bags– they contain shoes. You can get pretty much everywhere in New York on foot. I’ve done in in three inch heels, but the real trick is to throw a thin pair of flip flops or your comfiest, most broken down flats into your shoulder bag, then change into your real shoes whenever you get when you’re going. While walking, treat it as if you were driving. Stay in your lane, don’t randomly stop in the middle of the street (if you have to check a map, or your phone, retreat into the lea of a building, out of peoples’ way), and maintain a speed commensurate with the flow of pedestrian traffic around you. You get places very quickly this way.

— Subway.

Quick and convenient. Aside from foot (above), this is the most reliable way to get around. Study the subway map before you get to the city to figure out which lines will get you where and be careful not to get on an express if you want a local. Although it’s been cleaned up a lot, the subway isn’t the most pleasant place in the world– but it makes up for it by being fast. There’s no other way I could get from the Upper East Side to Union Square in fifteen minutes flat. Here’s a link to the official subway map, conveniently color-coded.

— Buses.

Ubiquitous and more pleasant than the subway, but often mired in traffic.

— Taxi.

To be used judiciously. A taxi at rush hours can be slower than taking the subway, and you’ll sit and fume while the meter clicks. On the other hand, if you’re going someplace later in the evening or someplace that would require multiple subway line changes, the taxi is your friend (and now they’re required to take credit cards). Just press the button to turn off the annoying little television.

Does anyone else have any suggestions for the attendees? If you are an attendee, and want more specific recommendations, ask away!


  1. Jessica S. on June 21, 2011 at 12:21 pm

    I visited Haru the last time I was in New York and it was amazing, so I support that suggestion.

    I don’t know where your conference hotel is, but I really like a little place by Washington Square Park, Caffe Reggio,

    Best cappuccino I’ve had, outside of Italy.

    Lauren, where did I meet you last spring? That was a pretty tasty latte (or maybe it was the amazing company???) I want to say it was at 38th and 6th…?

    I am also a big fan of wandering along 7th Avenue and stopping in random pizza places for a slice and a pistachio ice cream cone…

  2. Tipsy Reader on June 21, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Sniff sniff. Where my beloved and eccentric Jekyle & Hyde Club? They serve a stiff drink!

    (nudge nudge, get it? get it?)

    Seriously though, I know it’s a touristy place and its kind of expensive but I adore the actors and the vibe of the place. Plus, they really do make some strong drinks, which is always my favorite!

  3. Christine on June 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    My all-time pet peeve re: the subway: stand to the right, pass to the left. If you’re leisurely enjoying the escalator ride/climb up the stairs, stay to the right. Those in a rush need to run past you on the left and dodging people on an incline is not fun.

    My favorite tourist-stop restaurants in NYC: Morimoto in Chelsea (you may even catch a sighting of the Iron Chef himself, especially if you’re seated at the sushi bar) and the Sunday brunch at the Waldorf. Both pricey but well worth the money.

  4. Elizabeth aka Miss Eliza on June 21, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    I concure with Alice’s Teacup, though I’ve only been to “that other one on the West Side.”

  5. Christy on June 21, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    I just printed this. Visiting NYC has been on my bucket list for the past 25 years, since I’ve been about 11 years old, and I have no upcoming plans to get there, but some day I will. Keep the tips coming, I’m taking notes. 😀

  6. Alyson on June 21, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    I’ll def have to try some of these places. But Rosa Mexicano definitely does have the best guacamole. Now, I’m craving that.

  7. zanny on June 21, 2011 at 8:37 pm

    Via Quadronno on 73rd between Madison and 5th. Small as heck and totally crowded but the cappucinos are to die for!

  8. Ashley on June 21, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    My favorite chain restaurants are Chopt for the perfect chopped salad. And when I am in the mood for some falafel and fries like those you can get in Amsterdam, I head to Maoz. Cheap food and plenty of it!

  9. Jane F on June 22, 2011 at 6:20 am is useful for finding transport routes with estimated times.

  10. Pam on June 22, 2011 at 8:11 am

    FYI- M. Rohrs is now gone. (And, prior to disappearing, they had instituted all kinds of rules like no “loitering” for more than 20 minutes if you get only a coffee, 30-40 mins if you get food, and a 10-dollar minimum during the evenings, and they would actually send someone around to kick you out! Crazy). There’s a pretty decent coffee place called Julianna’s (I think that’s its name) on 92nd and Lexington if you’re looking for a non-chain store, but they lack armchairs and such.

    Lauren, you’re absolutely right about 9th Avenue in the 50s, really great and very reasonably priced stuff. Thai, Italian, you name it. Carnivores: my brother swears by Island Burger (but veggies be warned, not a lot of options for us). Maison (54th and Broadway) has great mussels.

    If you want really amazing Mexican food and don’t mind a haul uptown, I recommend El Paso Taqueria on 97th between Park and Madison.

    If Indian is your thing, you might want to hit up 6th Street (around 1st and 2nd Aves). Some of the restaurants there are not so good (usually those are the ones with people outside promising free wine) but I’ve had some great meals there. I also recommend checking out Chinatown.

  11. Lauren on June 22, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Ooops. Thanks, Pam! Last time I was at M. Rohrs, they had that annoying rule about plug-in time in place, but they hadn’t come up with their loitering code yet. That’s just crazy!

  12. cas on June 22, 2011 at 9:28 am

    If in Little Italy…
    Da Nico’s.
    Small establishment.
    Inside and outside seating.
    All male servers.
    The food is great.
    They’ll serve you these little Italian beignets for dessert with your Cafe Ole.
    And best of all, the owner, an old Italian man, will sometimes come and sit at your table and sing.
    Hope everyone enjoys RWA!

  13. Leslie Carroll on June 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    As another native NYer, I second everything Lauren said — especially her caution not to stand in the middle of the street, blocking pedestrian traffic.

    If the weather is great, take a stroll through Central Park (it starts at 59th street and runs up to 110th street and is bordered by Fifth Ave. on the East and Central Park West on the west). Do it in daylight. You’re not it in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Enjoy the Shakespeare garden and Belvedere Castle (where the NYC weather is taken), at 83rd Street or so; ride the Edwardian-era carousel (dating from 1908) in the park around 65th Street; visit the zoo (enter at 59th St. and Fifth Ave. and follow the signs) and say hi to the penguins and polar bears; walk across Bow Bridge, scene of countless movies, including just about every romantic comedy set in NYC; stroll by the lake, in the lower 70s and maybe rent a rowboat or grab a drink at the Boathouse Cafe overlooking the lake; visit the sailboat pond (east 74th St) where Stuart Little sailed in E.B. White’s classic.

    Favorite restaurants: For dessert, head up to W. 83rd between Amsterdam & Broadway to Cafe Lalo. For Pizza, if you like thin crust, go to John’s Pizzaria on W. 44th Street between Broadway and Eighth Ave. For exotic Russian cuisine, head over to West 46th St. between Eighth and Ninth Aves. (known as Restaurant Row) and splurge at The Firebird; they make their own chilled vodka with honey in it and the interior decor will make you feel like you just stepped inside a Faberge Egg.

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