About a month after we moved to Hong Kong, my long-time hesitation about relocating to the other side of the planet from my beloved New York City vaporized. When people asked me if I missed NYC, my immediate response became a flat ‘no’. With a few exceptions – of course, I missed my family and close friends, some of my favorite restaurants, the museums. But otherwise, my ‘no’ felt quite genuine.
Believe me, no one was more surprised than me that I didn’t miss NYC more. Overall, I adored living in NYC. It’s an incredible city. Some people aspire to live there their entire lives, and I had the great fortune of residing there for a decade. But once anyone has lived anywhere for that long, its figurative shininess can subjectively dull.
Alas, the old adage ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ often holds true. And when I recently returned to my old hometown 2 years after moving, I unintentionally fell back in love with NYC.
I saw New York with fresh eyes. I photographed. A lot. Something I rarely did when I lived there, a source of some shame for me. Maybe I took NYC for granted, at least visually. New York is a feast for the eyes, and now I cannot believe I almost never photographed there..so I made sure I made amends this time.
Ambling about the city in the balmy early summer days of June, I felt strangely liberated. I could revel in being a tourist in my ex-hometown. I set about re-experiencing and capturing this glorious metropolis. It was in a word, awesome.
I’ve always been more of a downtown girl, so this is where I (re)started my adventure. Downtown Manhattan’s slight grittiness, street art, casual coolness, edgy boutiques, and laid-back restaurants churning out great food all just resonate the most with me.
Downtown also has an equally enjoyable, glossier side, now refreshed with a few recent additions to its already extensive draws and several options for taking in incredible cityscape views.
As I joined old and new friends on a harbor cruise departing Chelsea Piers, I took in the skyline like a deep breath of fresh air. As the sun set, it cast its amber glow over the city’s skyscrapers, now updated with the gleaming, 104-story One World Trade Center. The tallest building in the Western hemisphere is polarizing and seems to have created its fair share of both admirers and haters. Alongside classics like the striking Brooklyn Bridge, it is now an icon of NYC, and I personally enjoy seeing it, at the very least for its towering symbolism (finally, after 10 years of politically charged design and construction).
100 floors up, the One World Observatory is an unabashed tourist spot complete with unnaturally happy guides, overdramatic welcome exhibits, and a (kinda cool) ‘sky pod elevator’ that catapults you to the top in less than a minute with virtual time-lapse imagery recreating the city’s skyline development. The crowds it expectedly draws can test anyone’s patience. But…it offers bird’s-eye views that stretch over Manhattan to the outer boroughs and Jersey City. Even amidst the screaming kids planting fingerprints on the glass windows and pushy tourists angling endlessly for the perfect selfie, it’s tough not to wax a little poetic.
Tip: Buy your ticket online well in advance and visit mid-week at sunrise or sunset on a clear day for the best-lit views and slightly sparser crowds. And if you go late in the day, do what I didn’t have time to do, and stay past twilight to watch the city lights sparkle. Sure to be magical.
NYC takes its markets seriously. One of my favorites is still the Union Square Greenmarket that takes over the eponymous park and supplies both food-conscious consumers and many of the city’s top restaurants with fresh fruits and vegetables, heritage meats, farmstead cheeses, artisanal breads, homemade jams, and even warm apple cider come autumn. I’ve never paid so much damn money for summer heirloom tomatoes. I’ve also never since made a gazpacho that tasted so damn good.
Tip: The Greenmarket is also a great place to pick up flowers and lovely plants to freshen up your pad.
One of the city’s latest and greatest is Gansevoort Market in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District (or MePa, as it is now known). The neighborhood’s name reflects part of its actual, if less glamorous, history. It unexpectedly morphed into a bit of a ‘scene’ over recent years past, becoming dotted with glam boutiques, wine bars, velvet-rope lounges, and hot spot restaurants (not necessarily the city’s finest). Those remain, but the area has evolved somewhat once more – and is now drawing tourists and locals, couples and families, art lovers and scene-sters alike. Gansevoort Market is just one of the reasons – but an ample one.
With its hybrid industrial-brick architecture and open-air entrance, Gansevoort Market is cool without trying to be, casual, and a perfect spot to chill with your entourage over a quality bite and bev. The communal dining space, sunlight-dappled courtesy of strategically placed skylights, is further enhanced by peppy signs, spiraling vines, and the nearby converted Volkswagen bus that doles out Tacombi‘s tacos and quesadillas. Champion Coffee helps fuel your food mini-adventure, and the baristas are lovely guys, even replacing the iced coffee I managed to spill all over myself, gratis and with a smile (who says New Yorkers aren’t nice?). Palenque crafts belly-filling arepas, corn-based griddled flatbreads smothered in the likes of cotija cheese, avocado, and spicy vegetarian chorizo. Whether your cravings lean toward crepes or cured meats, lobster rolls or Neapolitan pizza, gelato or Greek yogurt, Gansevoort Market offers something for everyone.
A half-block away, the shiny new iteration of the Whitney Museum of American Art beckons. Sure, its galleries showcase some of America’s finest modern and contemporary art. But arguably one of the stars of the show is the Renzo-Piano designed building itself. Perhaps its most outstanding features are the upper-floor, outdoor exhibition spaces and terraces, with vistas stretching north, east and south; voyeur-indulgent spots to spy on passersby below and on the incredible High Line city park (more on that in a moment); and glimpses of the Hudson River to the west.
Tip: Experiencing the Whitney downtown is an atmospheric way to while away an art-filled afternoon, beginning or ending with lunch or dinner at Untitled. The light-and-airy, perpetually mobbed, seasonal American restaurant is helmed by Chef Michael Anthony, the superstar behind NYC’s legacy landmark restaurant, Gramercy Tavern. Book early!
Right next door, ascend the stairs to the High Line, my favorite spot in all of NYC and one of the most genius executions of urban planning and preservation I’ve ever encountered. Once an elevated freight rail line from the 1930s and abandoned for decades, the High Line is now an elegantly designed, pedestrian-only, urban park that stretches from Gansevoort Street up to 34th Street. This truly unique take on a public urban space features gorgeous views especially at sunset, cleverly manicured horticultural displays, art installations, open-air food stalls, enterprising characters – and of course, incredible people-watching. This is New York at its best and a must for any NYC itinerary.
Tip: Be sure to rest your gams at the amphitheater-like overlook that lets you view 10th Avenue’s comings and goings as if it were a stage.
Speaking of stages, on the southern end of the High Line, gaze up and see if you can spot any exhibitionist guests at the oh-so-hip, modern boutique hotel, The Standard, which suggestively straddles the park. While you’re at it, consider grabbing a drink at its Biergarten – or even better, at Le Bain or The Top of the Standard.
Tip: For the latter options, you’ll have to brave the velvet rope to bargain for a chance to get access, so dress to impress and bring a small group at most. And don’t forget your camera, the views are fab!
Truth be told, I really do love NYC…and yes, maybe I do miss it after all.
Stay tuned for my next posts on Brooklyn, the latest on NYC’s restaurant scene, and why diversity will always be one of NYC’s greatest assets.
All images © 2015 deb fong photography