Ever wanted a New Yorker’s opinion on something? Where to go? What to do? Where to eat? How to get away from everyone? This week, founder of the legendary NYC-based off-beat online magazine, Untapped Cities, Michelle Young, takes us on a tour of New York’s more unusual, hidden sights.
Are you a native? If not, how did you end up in NY?
I grew up on Long Island, and my parents bought an apartment in New York City when I was 12 because I was in training at the Juilliard School for Music Pre-College Division for cello. We lived on Long Island during the week and New York City on the weekends, a kind of reverse commute.
What neighbourhood do you live in and why?
I live in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. For a decade, I lived in Manhattan – first downtown near the World Trade Center and then next to Lincoln Center. When my husband and I were looking to buy an apartment, we wanted something not only affordable but that still had a neighborhood, community feel. It can be hard to get that in some areas of Manhattan now.
Favourite time of year in the city?
Fall – gives me a nostalgic feeling of growing up and going to school here as a teenager.
Where do you pick up your morning coffee?
I love my local coffee shop Tinto’s. They have great brunch, pastries and ice cream.
Favourite building or piece of architecture in the city?
This changes all the time, since its my job to write about the city’s architecture. The place I go back to again and again is the Woolworth Building – has the perfect mix of history, beautiful architecture, off-limits feel and new details that emerge on every visit.
The city’s best-kept secret spot?
You could read my book, New York: Hidden Bars and Restaurants! I love the rooftop gardens at Rockefeller Centre, although access is rare as they’re only usually open during events hosted at the real estate firm, Tishman Speyer offices, which are in the Rockefeller Centre.
Best place for people watching?
For true New York City people watching, the subway is the best. If you ride a line for long enough, you get a real sense of demographic change and the pulse of the city.
Favourite museum and why?
The Museum of the City of New York. If you’re into New York City history and its current development, there are always multiple exhibitions here I want to see. The new permanent exhibit, New York At its Core, explores 400 years of NYC history and is a wonderfully curated look and past, present and future. Plus the building is beautiful.
What secret spot would you head for to hide out at for an afternoon?
I’d definitely check out a quaint area called Vinegar Hill, just next to DUMBO in Brooklyn. It’s a close hop over the river from Manhattan but a sudden reprieve from the city and a true step back in time.
Which curious activity would you recommend a visitor take part in – one they definitely would not have thought of doing?
Either a parrot safari in Brooklyn or kayaking along a river in the Bronx in search of beavers! Most people definitely don’t know these activities exist in such a concrete jungle of a city, but they’re actually really popular events with the locals.
What’s your favourite hidden bar in New York City?
There are different types of hidden bars in NYC, but for the classic Prohibition-style speakeasy, I would visit Please Don’t Tell. Even though it’s the worst-kept secret in NYC, for a first time visitor, entering through an old-school phone booth is a fun thing to do. For the more savvy visitor that wants to avoid the crowds, I would recommend somewhere like Little Branch, Attaboy or Angel’s Share. My particular favourite for decor is The Lodge at the McKittrick Hotel (pictured) but it’s only open during the winter.
Which hidden restaurant would you recommend?
I would go to a Japanese restaurant on the Lower East Side called Bohemian. It has an element of exclusivity in that you can only get the phone number by knowing someone who went before and you have to give their name call when you make a reservation. But once inside, it’s not pretentious at all. It’s also located in the building where the famous American artist Basquiat died, behind a meat shop.
Most recent off-beat discovery in the city?
This old-school grocery in Marine Park, Brooklyn called Golden Gate Fancy Fruit & Vegetables. It looks like it’s from 1939 and still run by a WWII veteran of the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge.
What’s the most surprising thing about New York you’ve discovered so far?
One of things that spurred me to create Untapped Cities was learning that mail used to be delivered through pneumatic tubes underneath NYC!
If you were to be a tourist in NYC for a day, what would you do?
I was a huge fan of The Ride at one point. It’s an interactive bus tour through the city. It would be easy to see the bus and think it might be tacky, but as a New Yorker, I thought it was really entertaining, full of fun facts, and not dumbed down for tourists.
What would you do as Mayor?
Push for more daring architecture, encourage and keep small businesses running, focus on neighbourhoods and communities, and retain diversity and artists.
What inspires you about New York City?
It’s always changing and there are always more places to discover, on every plane of the city – above ground, below ground, above the streets, on the streets, on the facades of buildings. And the people are always pushing for greater things – it’s really inspiring to work here.
Most annoying thing about living in NYC?
Having to bike through the busy areas, particularly near Penn Station and Times Square – it’s nearly impossible!
A word of advice for tourists…
On that note, I’d say stay away from Times Square. Get out to the outer boroughs and get off the beaten path. It’s a huge city in terms of population and size, and the diversity is incredible – if you go and look for it.
Visit Untapped Cities, here.