NEW YORK — I could no longer fight the rip current of the holiday market crowd. I was swimming against waves of shoppers in Bryant Park who were eagerly opening their wallets and snatching up holiday bric-a-brac, ornaments, food, clothes, and any seasonal trinket in sight.
I intended to take a quick peek at the Bryant Park Holiday Market. Instead, I was quickly dragged into the throng. I fought the tides of tourists, grumbling under my breath at the slow pace of the crowd until I spotted the perfect gift: a T-shirt with an illustration of kittens popping out of a prescription pill bottle.
“I call it cat-amine,” said the woman working the booth for a shop called Paste. I called it “Merry Christmas to me” and handed over my credit card. My mood was lifted (that cat-amine did the trick), and I remembered that New York at Christmas is pretty fantastic despite the tourists. Walking by the elaborately adorned exterior of Macy’s is enough to melt any Grinchly icicles clinging to the cockles of your heart.
But if you’re not a fan of crowds, the holidays, or the higher price tags accompanying the season, just wait a month. The city will be colder, but also less costly and less crowded. Either way, pre- or post-Christmas is an excellent time to visit, depending on your state of mind and the size of your pocketbook. Post-holidays, restaurant reservations are easier to come by. Hotel prices dip to reasonable levels, and Broadway shows are on sale. Let’s start with some holiday options before moving to the post-Christmas bargains.
With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, “These are a few of my favorite things.”
Where to shop
FISHS EDDY Any store where you can find strippers on juice glasses, a tea towel with a squirrel saying “Don’t touch my nuts,” and classic discontinued plates and platters from the 1960s and 1970s is a win. Fishs Eddy in the Flatiron District is an eclectic classic. Currently, among the Star of David pasta and serving trays adorned with illustrations of the greats of country music, you can find artist Ben Lenovitz taking commissions for paintings of your beloved fur babies. His paintings start at $250, and he works from photos, not live sittings. Lenovitz is allergic to animals. 889 Broadway, 212-420-9020.
E.A.T. GIFTS I despise the phrase “last-minute gifts,” because one man’s last-minute gift grab is another’s early holiday shopping spree. But I would put E.A.T. in the category of a store for procrastinators, primarily because they have a bit of everything, and it’s the kind of place where you find things you didn’t know you needed (hello dog toy that looks like a beer can and reads “Barkweiser”). It’s a must-stop for cards, toys, ornaments, and candy. 1062 Madison Ave., 212-861-2544, www.eatgiftsnyc.com.
UNION SQUARE HOLIDAY MARKET You’ll find many of the same vendors here as the Bryant Park Holiday Market, but with a fraction of the crowds. An advantage to hitting the holiday markets is that you’ll discover small vendors and artists who you would otherwise miss walking around Hudson Yards or Fifth Avenue. I bought ornaments (so many ornaments), chocolate, and cozy socks. If your fingers are freezing from all of that al fresco retail, I highly recommend a waffle to warm up. While in the neighborhood, take a gander at the large-scale art installation Control No Control. Through Dec. 24. Union Square, 201 Park Ave. South, www.kewlstreet.com.
BONNIE SLOTNICK COOKBOOKS When you enter a store with roughly 5,000 cookbooks, you will inevitably find something for the gourmet on your holiday list. Also the antique book collector, the food snob, and yourself. (Natch!) Along with books that date back to the 1800s, you can find essential tchotchkes such as vintage cookie cutters and matchbooks from restaurants that no longer exist, or antique spoons. I recommend setting about an hour aside to browse. Make sure you eat before you go. 28 East Second St., 212-989-8962, www.bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com
I promised you after-Christmas deals, and I’m a man of my word. In January, New York goes into “Everything’s on sale!” mode. Let’s start with hotels. New York Hotel Week, which isn’t really a week, runs from Jan. 3 to Feb. 4., 2024. Here are a few examples of the bargains. If you were to book a room at the Sanctuary Hotel in December, you’d shell out appropriately $400 a night. Book during Hotel Week, and you can get a rate as low as $108 a night. Luxury lovers would pay $1,800 a night at the Langham New York in December. That same room is $530 a night during hotel week. Search and book hotels through the New York City Tourism and Convention website (www.nyctourism.com). If you’re looking for year-round deals, try booking through BJ’s Wholesale Club or the Hotel Tonight app.
Broadway shows go on sale from Jan. 16 to Feb. 4 with two-for-one tickets. Participating shows won’t be announced until Jan. 9. The list will be published on the NYC Tourism website. New York Restaurant Week also runs from Jan. 16 to Feb. 4. Hundreds of restaurants will offer prix fixe menus. But much like Broadway Week, restaurant week deals won’t be released until Jan. 16 on the NYC Tourism website.
Where to eat
Over the summer I spent an inordinate amount of time dining my way through New York City. I have one of those friends (we all have one), who goes out to eat so often that servers and bartenders know him by name. He was determined to show me where to get the best kabobs, crullers, French toast, duck, tacos, etc., throughout the city. He even produced a spreadsheet with 150 dining options. He will be crestfallen that all 150 won’t be listed here (sorry, Josh), but, here are a few that stood out.
BREADS BAKERY Have you ever consumed a carbohydrate that changed your life? I took a bite of the chocolate babka at Breads Bakery, and it felt like a tornado of deliciousness was tearing across my tongue. Breads Bakery makes its version with Nutella and dark chocolate. I couldn’t decide if I should have it for breakfast or dessert, so I came to the conclusion that it’s well suited for both. Multiple locations in New York, 212-633-2253. www.breadsbakery.com.
VIA CAROTA The West Village trattoria Via Carota was inspired by a 17th-century Italian villa, so I decided to order the hearty wild boar pappardelle, which sounded like a dish that would have been served at a 17th-century banquet. If you come with a group, fill up on small plates such as charred leeks, bruschetta, or spuntini. If you want a dish of your own, the grilled octopus should be at the top of your list. 51 Grove St., 212-255-1962, www.viacarota.com.
LASER WOLF The Middle Eastern cuisine at Laser Wolf is worth trying any time you’re in Brooklyn. But during the summer the restaurant, which sits atop the Hoxton hotel, opens up the windows, retracts the roof, and serves up some of the best views of Manhattan. When you’re here you’ll have the salatim, which is a catch-all term for spreads, dips, slaws, and salads that open the meal. It’s substantial. You may not have room for any of the kabobs on the menu after the salatim, but don’t let that stop you from trying them. 97 Wythe Ave., Brooklyn, 718-215-7150, www.laserwolfbrooklyn.com.
BUVETTE When ordering French toast, I prefer it come from the kitchen of a French restaurant. Who am I kidding, I love French toast from anywhere. But the French toast at chef Jody Williams’s Buvette Gastrothèque is quite special. Made with brioche, créme anglaise, and topped with berries, it’s the thickest, most flavorful French toast I consumed during my NYC eatathon. It was a perfect balance of not too eggy and not too treacly. While Buvette serves all day, brunch is the most relaxed time to linger here. 42 Grove St., 212-255-3590, ilovebuvette.com.
THE BAR ROOM AT THE MODERN Until this year, I had never cracked the code of where to have dinner before seeing a Broadway show, and then I stepped into the chic Bar Room at the Modern. It’s the less formal, less expensive little sister to the Michelin-starred Modern restaurant. It’s at 53rd St., so not terribly far from theaters, but just far enough from Times Square. I recommend the caviar hot dog (yes, it’s real, and it’s wonderful), or the pork belly. 9 West 53rd St., 212-333-1220, www.themodernnyc.com.
HONORABLE MENTIONS Because New York has unlimited restaurants and I have limited space, here are a few other notable places to try. Cathedralé for the French-Mediterranean cuisine, Shinji’s for the outrageously wonderful cocktails, Francie for the duck, Los Tacos No. 1 for the carne asada, and Jua for the most artistic Korean tasting menu in the city.
Where to stay
VIRGIN HOTEL It’s not often that I walk into a hotel room and think, “I’ve never seen a floor plan like this before.” Usually I’m thinking “I can’t believe I paid so much for this room.” But the recently opened Virgin Hotel in the NoMad neighborhood is smartly designed and has incredible views. I was on the 29th floor and could see the Empire State Building. With 40 stories, you’re bound to get a decent view. The headboard of my bed extended into a sofa. I liked how the room was split: the front is called “the dressing room” (that’s where the bathroom, shower, and closets are located). The bedroom portion of the room is called the lounge. A massive sliding door separates the two spaces. In January, room prices drop to under $200 a night, so you can draw your own conclusions. 1227 Broadway, 844-556-7597, virginhotels.com/nyc.
PARK LANE NEW YORK I stayed at the Park Lane in the dead of summer, when it felt as if I had the city to myself, and I could float into the whimsical lobby of the hotel and continue the fantasy that New York was a peaceful adult playground. It continued when I went up to my room and had a bird’s eye view of Central Park. Even if you don’t stay at the Park Lane (it’s a four-star luxury property), you need to head to the 47th floor and check out the rooftop bar, called Darling. It’s otherworldly. When you walk by the hotel on the street, stop and drink in the incredible 1968 post-modern facade of the building. It’s unlike anything else on Central Park. 36 Central Park South, 212-371-4000, www.parklanenewyork.com.
THE CLOUD ONE NEW YORK Compared with other NYC offerings, the Cloud One is a downright bargain (under $200 a night depending the season). The three-star property has views of the 9/11 Memorial and is within walking distance of the the Oculus. It may not be as posh as some of its counterparts, but it’s clean, has a friendly staff, and there’s a cocktail party for guests every evening at 6. Cheers to that. 33 Greenwich St., 646-434-4649, www.the-cloud-one.com.
What to see
TAYLOR SWIFT: Storyteller The Museum of Arts and Design pays tribute to Time Magazine’s Person of the Year with a collection of Taylorabilia such as the red wedding dress and bellhop uniform from “I Bet You Think About Me,” the sparkling couture from “Bejeweled,” plus essential props, jewelry, ephemera, and projections of music videos. Side note: It was the first time I’d seen a museum filled with teens who weren’t required to be there on a field trip. Through Feb. 24, 2 Columbus Circle, 212-299-7777, madmuseum.org.
SPIKE LEE: CREATIVE SOURCES The Brooklyn Museum’s Spike Lee retrospective is like taking a deep dive into the director’s mind. There are 450 (!) works from his personal collection, including everything from sports jerseys, a signed letter from Kamala Harris, and movie posters that influenced his work. It’s a whirlwind puzzle of Black pop culture that, when fully assembled gives a deep picture of what drives the director’s vision. Through Feb. 4, 200 Eastern Parkway, www.brooklynmuseum.org.