The backdrop to countless classic movies, iconic TV shows, and the home of a large percentage of music’s greatest acts over the last 60-odd years, New York is a dream destination that’s just as good in real life as it is in the imagination. Want to get to know it better? Check out our picks of the best bars, restaurants, shops, and, of course, music venues to make any visit to the city, whether you’re a first-timer or a hardened local, a winner.
Best bars in New York
Williamsburg’s Rocka Rolla is exactly how you expect a dive bar in America to look – full of neon signs, decades of graffiti on the bathroom walls, and home to a killer jukebox. It also boasts a side room where you can play shuffleboard, a good beer garden, and $3 goblets of Budweiser any time, any day.
Like drinking and bowling, and wanna show off your strike-scoring abilities on some sweet vintage lanes? Look no further than Williamsburg’s The Gutter where you can knock down pins while knocking back pints until the early hours. A guaranteed good time.
If you want to feel sand beneath your feet but don’t have time to head all the way out to any of New York’s beaches, get down to Surf Bar instead. The Williamsburg tiki bar’s floors are lined with the golden stuff so you can feel a little more like you’re at the seaside while you sip on their delicious frozen cocktails.
Black And White
Tucked just below street level, East Village haunt Black And White is an unfussy, low-key place – and that’s what makes it great. DJs sometimes lift the vibe to something more party-oriented but otherwise, it’s a great, chill bar. It’s also, according to Fab Moretti, the bar that “taught The Strokes to drink.”
Shopping in New York
New York is home to Rough Trade’s only non-UK outpost so far and it’s just as good as the stores back home, if not better. Pick up new and old vinyl and CDs here, along with merch, books, magazines, and more. There’s a coffee bar for you to rest up at once you’re done splashing all your cash, and the store regularly holds listening parties and signings that’ll you want to be at – Calpurnia, Albert Hammond Jr., and Sunflower Bean have all dropped by recently.
Williamsburg isn’t just home to Rough Trade – Earwax has been in the area much longer. In fact, it’s Williamsburg’s oldest record store. What’s made it last so long? It’s selective but good choice of records and CDs, from more mainstream indie to obscure curios in all manner of genres.
Vintage stores are ten a penny in New York and especially in Brooklyn, but Urban Jungle is probably the pick of the lot. Head out to the store in Bushwick where you can pick up clothes you’ll want to live in for actually affordable prices – a rarity for NYC vintage stores. Dresses, jeans, t-shirts and the like fall between $6 and $10, and expect to pay a little more for leather jackets and coats.
You don’t come to Strand for new books – those are quite pricey, but there is an extensive selection if you’re feeling flush. Instead, rifle through the stacks outside to pick up a bargain. Books on these stands range from $0.48 to $5, with most only setting you back $1. You’ll have to sort through the Sotheby’s art catalogues and motherhood handbooks to get to the good stuff, but with a little patience, you can really find some gems.
Coolest restaurants in New York
The Happiest Hour
Head to this West Village restaurant if you want to taste one of the best burgers in town. The Happiest Burger will make you feel just as the name suggests and there’s a veggie version too, so no one has to miss out. Not in the mood for burgers? Snack on salt and pepper broccoli or grab an avocado grande sandwich and wash them down with one of the flawless cocktails on offer (our fave is the Strawberry Fields).
Lower East Side taqueria Los Feliz is a little on the pricey side, but once you’ve tasted the calamari tacos you’ll be willing to drop all kinds of money to get some more. Seriously – we can’t even recommend anything else because they’re that addictively great. The bar also has over 150 varieties of tequila so there’s plenty to work your way through.
Come here for gluttonous but delicious desserts, including the cereal milk soft serve ice cream, and the much-lauded crack pie (toasted oat crust with a gooey butter filling). If you’re feeling adventurous, try the compost cookie, which combines pretzels, crisps, coffee, oats, graham crackers, butterscotch, and chocolate chips.
This Mexican cantina in the East Village is good without being flashy (and also not too expensive). Make sure you get a frozen margarita to accompany your food – our go-to is the La Vampirita, which combines sangria and margarita – while you can’t go wrong with a veggie quesadilla, the enchiladas, or the beer-battered cod tacos.
The debate over who has the best pizza in New York will likely never be settled but, if you’re looking for something a bit fancier than a good old dollar slice, you could do much worse than heading to Artichoke Basille. The titular artichoke pizza is our fave – rich, creamy and flavourful – but the whole menu will have your mouth-watering.
Vegans, don’t despair. America might be famed for its love of meat, meat, and more meat, but By Chloe is going some way to rectify things with a 100% vegan menu. The pesto meatball sandwich is filling and tasty, while the mac and cheese with shiitake bacon is a smoky delight. They’ve also got a Sweets By Chloe store where you can satisfy your sweet tooth with cakes, cookies, push pops, pastries and more.
Best venues in New York
Baby’s All Right
If you’re expecting Baby’s, as it’s colloquially known around town, to be another squalid small venue, think again. From the pink neon sign in the window to the back wall of ashtray lights, Baby’s is one of New York’s better looking live spaces. Come here for quality indie bands, delicious slushies, and pretending you’re in that Master Of None episode that begins at a Father John Misty show (that episode was filmed here).
It’s hard to believe Bushwick’s Elsewhere hasn’t even been open a year. Since last November, it’s become a fixture in New York’s live music scene and boasts three spaces. Zone One is your go-to for getting extra sweaty, while The Hall hosts bigger shows, like The Voidz’s recent month-long residency. In May, owners also opened up The Rooftop, meaning in the warmer months you can watch your fave bands in the summer breeze and with a view of the Manhattan skyline in the distance.
New York doesn’t really have many venues in the gap between 2,000 and 10,000 capacities. The just-over-a-year-old Brooklyn Steel has recently offered a solution to that problem – by hosting days-long residencies for bands who could fill more than its 1,800 people limits. MGMT, Phoenix and more have all briefly called the former warehouse home, while the likes of Wolf Alice, Albert Hammond Jr, Superorganism, and Sunflower Bean have also played recently.
Oh yeah, did we forget to mention the Brooklyn Rough Trade also has its own proper venue? Well, it does and it’s one of the best small venues in the city. Whether you’re looking for big bands doing tiny underplays or up-and-comers taking the next step up, Rough Trade has a constantly packed calendar of treats.
Forest Hills Stadium
America, it seems, has a thing for amphitheater-style outdoor venues. Forest Hills Stadium fits that bill, with a semi-circle of rising seats facing the lawn and stage. The venue attracts big names – Arctic Monkeys, Alt-J, David Byrne and The National have all played here recently – but it still manages to feel surprisingly intimate for a 13,000 capacity space. Plus, it’s also one of the early homes of the US Open and sometimes you can squeeze in a spot of tennis before hitting the show. Game, set, and match.
The 575-capacity Bowery Ballroom is an iconic New York venue that’s played host to Patti Smith, R.E.M., Arcade Fire, Kanye West, Tame Impala, and James Bay since it opened in 1998. There’s a little balcony and an upstairs bar for when the queues downstairs get too long but don’t expect to see much from up high – the best spots are usually reserved for VIPs.
No city’s music scene would be complete without a few DIY venues and Alphaville is one of Brooklyn’s best. Expect local and touring bands that you mostly won’t hear on the radio in a friendly setting.