Travel

An insider’s guide to NYC — from a know-it-all millennial

The Warwick New York hotel in Midtown was built by William Randolph Hearst.
Warwick New York hotel
The Warwick New York hotel in Midtown was built by William Randolph Hearst.

If you’ve sent a child off to college, or a job, in New York City, your first impulse might be to sob, sniff their pillow, and turn that vacant kiddie bedroom into a shrine. But consider the upside: you now have access to insider knowledge of NYC, via your kid. Think of it, folks! An entrée into the New York City scene from an actual local — someone who knows better than to hit MoMA on a rainy Saturday.

As we discovered thanks to Diane’s daughter Charlotte, a weekend with a newly minted New Yorker can reveal a wonderful side of this often-overwhelming locale. No $16 bagels or exorbitantly priced Broadway shows, but the everyday charms of one of the most fascinating cities in the world. So pack up the inflatable mattress, assuming there’s room in their (astonishingly small and wildly expensive) apartment, and get ready to explore. It’s payback time, kids!

After several visits, here are a few things we’ve discovered.

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Even cool kids love the High Line. This elevated park is no secret, but locals love it, too. Plus, it offers access to a couple of great places: the Whitney Museum of American Art (fantastic, and free Friday nights from 7 to 9:30 p.m.; www.whitney.org) and the Standard, High Line Hotel in the Meatpacking District (www.standardhotels.com). This buzzy hotel is a great place to grab a drink (although we’d skip the Standard Biergarten, unless you want to wait in line with 500 thirsty 20-somethings). Plus, it’s an easy walk from the High Line to Hudson River Park, the longest waterfront park in the United States. “Tourists go to Central Park. Locals go to Hudson River Park,” our tuned-in millennial noted. Borrow a bike from your kid, or put on your running shoes and hoof it along the five-mile path that traces the river. On a sunny day, it will feel like all of Lower Manhattan is out here. If you’re really ambitious (and your feet don’t hurt), keep walking to the National September 11 Memorial Museum (www.911memorial.org). Another green space worthy of a visit, especially if you like street performers, is Washington Square Park, near NYU.

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Doing NYC millennial-style involves a lot of walking. Upon arrival in the city, we typically park the car and leave it, eschewing (expensive) cabs and the (stinky) subway for getting everyplace on foot. How did all those young swans become a size 0? Hint: It’s not just Soul Cycle; it’s walking. And for that reason . . .

Stick to one zone. Manhattan Island alone — never mind the Outer Boroughs — is 26 miles long, so if you plan to hit, say, Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem, and then visit a speakeasy in Alphabet City, you’ll spend a lot of time getting from Point A to Point B. We’ve discovered it’s more fun to just stick to an area — say, the West Village or the Lower East Side — and learn it well. The West Village, by the way, is fun to explore, and full of miniature restaurants and cool shops. And you may run into a celebrity who lives there. (Yep, that was Julianne Moore, sipping coffee with her husband and kid, at a local café. Happily, we resisted the impulse to approach her and say, “My friends say I look exactly like you! Need a stand-in for your next movie?”)

A couple of up-and-coming neighborhoods worth checking out include the Lower East Side and Alphabet City (located within the East Village). The former has a spot you’ll instantly recognize: Katz’s Deli (www.katzsdelicatessen.com), made famous by “When Harry Met Sally” (then) and the “Saturday Night Live” opening credits (now.) The lines are awfully long for a pastrami sandwich, just saying, but it’s a lively scene. Also tucked into this ’hood are the Ludlow Hotel (www.ludlowhotel.com; stylish, with a great bar) and the Tenement Museum (www.tenement.org), a helpful introduction to the LES and its rich history as a touchstone for immigrants arriving into the United States.

Meanwhile, the formerly gritty Alphabet City (where the streets are named A, B, C, D) is a go-to destination for popular speakeasy clubs like the Blind Barber and Garfunkel’s. It’s also seeing a burgeoning crop of good restaurants, like Root & Bone (www.rootnbone.com), featuring Southern comfort food from Top Chef contestants Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth. Speaking of food . . .

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You will challenge your taste buds (in a good way). Our millennial offspring may not know what a checkbook is, or how to handle a stick shift, but they sure know their restaurants! Which is how we found ourselves at Kopitiam, a hole-in-the-wall Malay-Chinese cafe in Chinatown on a Sunday morning, devouring blue coconut-rice balls wrapped in banana leaves (a.k.a. pulutinti) for breakfast. The blue hue is due to an overnight soaking in morning glories. Come lunchtime, we ducked into a Charlotte-recommended Thai place called Fish Cheeks (www.fishcheeksnyc.com), a storefront spot in NoHo with a handful of tables and a sign that warns you this is a “No pad Thai zone”! True: Chicken liver confit with basil was the daily special.

Thanks to recommendations from Charlotte and company, we’ve sampled Korean barbecue, Ecuadorian goat stew, Peruvian pig’s ears, durian milk shakes — the list (of inexpensive, ethnic eats) goes on. Even a dessert run becomes a search for the best in the city. Now, as semi-locals, we shun better-known places like Momofuku Milk Bar (“So touristy now!” Charlotte said, the ultimate thumbs-down) for a trip to the Upper West Side for a chocolate chip cookie from Levain Bakery (www.levainbakery.com; three locations in the city). Cupcakes are officially over, dontcha know. Ditto macarons and cronuts. Dessert trends may come and go, but the humble cookie perseveres.

“We’re waiting in line — for a cookie?” We were skeptical, but Levain was worth it. (The “cookie cam” on their website shows how long the lines are.) These thick, six-ounce cookies — $4 each — are truly remarkable, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, densely packed with chips and walnuts. And the line moves fast.

Discount shopping? Meh. Sample sales? Maybe. There’s so much shopping in NYC, it’s tempting to have a go at it. Just remember you’ll have to add an extra 8.875 percent sales and use tax for most goods; clothing and footwear that costs less than $110 is exempt. We took a look at the discounted designer-name mecca Century 21 and found it to be a lot like TJ Maxx, but extremely crowded, so you might want to try your luck with sample sales. And no, you don’t have to be a sample size to shop there. For a list of sample sales by brand, go to www.racked.com; try www.260samplesale.com for pop-up sample sales. For interesting shopping, though, our favorite spot is the Brooklyn Flea (www.brooklynflea.com), worth making the trip to Brooklyn to comb through the wares of 100-plus vendors.

No couch to surf, or not keen to bed down on a well-used Ikea? We feel you. After driving the five-plus hours from Boston to New York — it is never just a four-hour trip — we really want/need a cushy bed. To that end, we’ve tried several hotels, all over the city. Our current favorite is the Warwick New York (www.warwickhotels.com) in Midtown. Built as a love nest by media tycoon William Randolph Hearst for actress Marion Davies, the hotel marries old-school glamour (Art Deco accents, movie star photos) and modern amenities (good WiFi and bathrooms). When you’re feeling a bit of urban overload, clubby Randolph’s Bar is a comfy place to hole up for dinner. (Bonus: they put Cape Cod Potato Chips on the table.) Rates start at around $229 per night.

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How to score cheap tickets? This is a tough one to crack; even off-Broadway shows can set you back 200 bills or more. For now, we’ll focus on cajoling the kids to stand in line for tickets to the Tonight Show or the hip-again “Saturday Night Live.” Fair’s fair! We sat through a lot of soccer games.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com.