An unconventional tour of NYC

This past week has been a complete whirlwind with my friend @_btsk_ in town. He had done the whole touristy NYC circuit before, so I wanted to give him a very different curated experience full of things that had the same mysterious moody theme.

The result was a phenomenal time. It was full of visits to secret places and underground dwellings…proving that, if you try to search for things outside the norm in this city, you will be rewarded.

Koneko Cafe

Before btsk touched down in New York, my two other friends from Hong Kong and Singapore flew in the night before and wanted to catch up. We hit up Koneko, which is a peaceful cafe on the Lower East Side entirely devoted to cats. When you walk in, there’s a bar and dining area that is separated from the cat area in case you want a snack before going in.

Inside the cat area, there’s two areas an upstairs and then a more secluded downstairs where you can hang out with your new furry friends to your heart’s content.

The Roxy Hotel

I chose this hotel because my boyfriend and I had wandered in after an excellent dinner at Kori and I fell in love with the vibe. Stepping in here is like stepping back in time, with a huge beautiful lounge/lobby area that often has live jazz music and a fully stocked oyster bar. They also have a movie theater downstairs along with a jazz club. Not to mention that I love the restrooms downstairs because they come complete with vanity mirrors that make you feel like a flapper girl fixing your hair. This is definitely a destination hotel with the neighborhood and cobblestone streets around it only adding to the atmosphere.

MoMA

Yes, this choice was a bit mainstream to start, but if you don’t have early check-in for your hotel (ours was at 3pm), MoMA is the perfect place to hang out if its a weekday. You can check your bags at the coatcheck downstairs and then head up to peruse the art. MoMA also has a bit of something for everyone, from well-known pieces such as Monet’s Water Lilies to Bruce Nauman’s extremely abstract Disappearing Acts. We were also lucky enough to come across live performance art involving a series of ropes, which was mesmerizing to say the least.

We also took a trip to the Design Store because, let’s face it – who doesn’t want a gift from there? I am personally still obsessed with their book lamps.

The sculpture garden was seasonally closed but I would love to explore it in the spring.

Bocce Ball at Jack and Fanny’s

After a trip to the hotel oyster bar and then dinner at Aunt Jake’s in Little Italy, we had ended up being a group of 7 that really just wanted to do some sort of activity to burn off all that pasta. Hence, bocce ball on the Upper East Side at Jack and Fanny’s.

We reviewed the plaque on the wall for a bit of guidance on the rules by ended up botching the rules later in favor of all out bocce ball war:

This was followed by wild dancing at Ethyl’s down the street, which was still surprisingly hoppin’ for a weekday. Obviously dancing took priority here because I didn’t get a chance to snap a pic. 😉

Aire Ancient Baths

We had decided when planning the trip that we wanted one day to be a spa day. Hence, I picked a place my coworker had been raving about and I was not disappointed. Aire is like stepping back into Ancient Rome which its stone decor and candlelit rooms. They also offer a wine bath experience which I’m now considering for my boyfriend and I (Valentine’s Day, anyone?). The whole place has an incredibly meditative back-to-basics vibe.

I booked both the baths and a 45 min massage. I really liked the logistics because as you wait for your massage, you change into your bathing suit and experience the baths. No waiting around awkwardly at all. Plus, there are enough baths to keep yourself separated from the other guests along with little nooks to tuck away in. Overall, there are two cold baths, a sauna (with delicious cucumber water outside), a whirlpool bath, a salt bath, a hot bath, and a mid-temperature bath. They are all about the size of a large jacuzzi/small pool with the mid-temperature bath being the exception as it wraps around the back end of the room. Guests are encouraged to speak in whispers which made this whole experience equal parts mysterious and relaxing. I am already dying to go back here.

Sleep No More

After dinner at Calle Dao in Chelsea (which was very good by the way), we headed over to Sleep No More -an immersive theater production in Chelsea. This had been on my radar for a while. The entire experience is based off of Macbeth (I definitely recommend brushing up on Macbeth before you go so you get the most out of it), but the big difference between this and a traditional Shakespeare production is that you are running around after the characters for 3 hours instead of sitting and watching sequential scenes. They’ve also given Macbeth a twist in basing this version within the 1920s/30s era, with the set offering more clues into this world if you stop and look around.

Also, the best things to do here is to just split up and have your own experience. We had so much fun meeting at the end and comparing notes. Plus the rooftop bar, Gallow Green is definitely worth a visit.

Therapy

No, we didn’t go to group therapy after seeing Sleep No More. ;p Therapy is actually a gay bar in Hell’s Kitchen with an absolutely hilarious drag show. It was the perfect way to lighten up the night. It had such a crazy combination of acts, including a “Home Alone/Feed the Birds number involving a lot of feathers. Pro-tip – find a spot overlooking the stairs so you can get a ‘front-row seat’ from afar.

Brunch at Sarabeth’s Tribeca

The next day we had a delicious brunch at Sarabeth’s Tribeca, which is less crowded than its Central Park counterpart. Let’s just say we ordered so much that the food was no longer fitting on the table – granola with strawberries and banana, the four flowers juice, lemon ricotta pancakes, eggs Benedict, the popover, and the lovely muffin basket with preserves. Seriously though, don’t miss out on the muffin basket.

This massive brunch was followed by strolling around Tribeca to make ourselves feel less guilty about having so much food. We discovered Room – a beautiful interior design shop with absolutely gorgeous light fixtures.

We spent the afternoon walking from Tribeca into Soho and stopping in a ton of stores. I ended up getting sucked into Zara (the place is like a black hole where I inevitably walk out with something), but I am proud to say that I spruced up my sock collection with a black and golden glitter pair from a smaller shop Steven Alan.

Then we headed out to the place I had fought tooth and nail to get reservations for…

Air’s and The Tokyo Record Bar

I had Tokyo Record Bar on my radar for a while. Just look at their logo! The whole idea is that this is a 16 seat speakeasy style restaurant serving a 7 course Izakaya-inspired meal while playing your requested tunes from an old recordplayer. Honestly it was more than I could have ever hoped it would be and was by far my most favorite experience of the trip. But more on that in a moment.

Being the hungry people that we are, we were in the area an hour early and had read on TRB’s website that Air’s was the place to wait. We hadn’t yet realized that TRB was accessed through Air’s ;). So we found seats at the bar and casually ordered crab legs, a bottle of wine, and a charcuterie board at Air’s, not expecting much as we waited for 10:30. Instead we were blown away. The crab legs came with an extremely tasty creamy green dipping sauce and the charcuterie board was by far the best I ever had.

They even let us take the remnants of our bottle of wine with us as the time came around for our reservation at TRB.

Upon descending the narrow staircase at the back of Air’s, we were greeted by the TRB logo (which I want desperately on some sort of jacket) and came to a wooden sliding door that welcomed us to the Japanese den of record-playing.

What ensured was magical. There’s DJ Kate, who takes your requests and orders them into the perfect playlist, another girl to serve your 7 course meal, and a third girl to serve up your drinks.

Their sake menu cleverly comes with a record divided up into different flavor profiles so you can select the sake you would really prefer. We went with Buttermilk, an unfiltered slightly sweet sake that pair amazingly with our 7-course meal.

They encourage you to get up and dance, which a few couples did in the middle of the floor. We grooved in our seats and sang along to the ones we knew while taking a fork to the deliciousness below:

First course – crabmeat with roe Second course – Fried oystersThird course – salmon sashimi with hazelnuts Fourth course – shrimp gyoza Fifth course – tuna tartare with foie gras rice Sixth course – mandarin orange crème brûléeSeventh course – pizza!

The checks were hand-written using calligraphy, which was a really nice added touch. Plus, i discovered quite a lot of new music using SoundHound as the tracks played on. Also, given that it was Christmastime, DJ Kate ended the night with a crowd favorite – All I Want for Christmas is You.

As you can probably see, we had an absolute blast. The couple next to us were celebrating their anniversary which just tipped the whole night off with an air of celebration.

Brunch at Jane’s

The next day we ventured over to Jane’s for some brunch. They had a prefix menu for $27, which was certainly a steal because everything was delicious. I had the calm chowder, the salmon, and the apple cake dessert.

Museum of Sex

We then ventured to the Museum of Sex, which, to say the least, was very risqué. My favorite floor had to be the 2nd, where they showcased an artist by the name of Leonor Fini, who is my spirit animal. She was such an independent soul and her drawings had tinges of darkness in them as she took on forbidden themes.

We then encountered bouncy room full of boobs, which is exactly what it sounds like. It was a close second favorite, mostly because you could projectile launch yourself across the room and fear no injury.

Protip – go on a weekday to avoid lines. We basically got to run through the place.

Eataly

We then perused Eataly, which is every food-lover’s dream paradise. They have a massive selection of cheese, cured meats, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, pasta, slices, seafood, meats, restaurants…Everything basically. We accomplished some Christmas shopping and left before the dinner rush, though I do actually want to eat here someday…

The Raines Law Room

After some more shopping at Club Monaco, we decided that it was time for a cocktail. And, if it isn’t already apparent, I have an obsession with speakeasies. Being close to 17th street, The Raines Law Room was the optimal choice.

There’s a buzzer outside to ring for service. After waiting a moment or two, the host appears and takes you in, leading you to the coat check area before you’re handed off to a member of staff who guides you to your seat.

The place is very dimly lit, making it an ideal date spot (ironically enough my friend and I ended up in a lot of good date spots during his stay ;p). The cocktails are definitely worthwhile as well. I had the piña colada one, which arrived very ornate with two tropical leaves sticking out of it. We also had their nibble tray, which held Gouda cheese, green and black olives along with prosciutto. Luckily we had a little nook which was perfect for conversation so we caught up on life and ambitions until it was time to make our 9:30 dinner reservations.

Tang HotPot

Having lived in Hong Kong for almost 3 years, I am obsessed with hotpot. When I first moved to New York, I was so sad that I couldn’t find a good hotpot place, but recently I have discovering several great options. Enter Tang, the go-to place for an elevated hotpot experience. They offer a ying-yang pot with half spicy and half non-spicy broth, which I love because I am still a spice wimp and my friends don’t have to sacrifice their flavor. We ended up going with ordering things a la carte because the sets had some things in them that were not our preference (goat leg or pork Brian’s anyone?) and everything was absolutely delicious. So glad I ordered the sesame paste sauce as well.

Plus, the check came in a cute little red box to top it all off.

ARC records

The next day we came across ARC records, which offers ridiculously cheap records (I scored a $2 Charles Aznavour one) in a pretty spacious store.

I was wondering why it was actually that cheap and did a little bit of research afterwards. Turns out ARC is short for Archive of Contemporary music, a non-profit organization with an interesting history that was doing this sale as a holiday pop up. Given that I bought my boyfriend a record player last year, I will definitely be on the lookout for their next shindig. 😉

Tea at the Williamsburg Hotel

We then headed over to Brooklyn to enjoy the rest of the day over there. Our first stop was to have tea at The Williamsburg Hotel. Come hungry, because you receive three tiers – two being sweets and the other being savory sandwiches. Plus, the variétés of tea they offer are really interesting. I had the smoked earl grey, which tastes almost like a whiskey in a barrel but it’s tea. I really loved it and I’m curious now on if I can find tealeaves somewhere for it.

My friend had the matcha infused tea, which almost the complete opposite of mine and was uniquely tasty as well.

Plus the waitstaff were so nice and your teatime comes with live jazz. Arrive here early so you can have the place to yourself 😉

The avocado toast, monkey bread, and carrot cakes were our favorites.

Afterwards, we headed over a few streets to take in the view of Manhattan by the shore. Honestly this is one of my favorite places to see the skyline, and even though it was a bit windy, it was totally worth it.

We then walked over to Bedford Avenue for some shopping. The small shops are so cute and offer a good selection of gifts. I really like the Mini Mall which has a few tiny clothing stores, a bookshop, and a tattoo parlor all under one roof.

The Water Tower Bar

After a filling Italian dinner at Fiore, we headed back to the Williamsburg Hotel for some cocktails at their new dimly-lit Water Tower Bar. The views are phenomenal from it and the place turns into a club after 10pm. They also have an outdoor viewing deck and are working on a pool arena beneath the water tower, which is going to be amazing in the summer. They also offer a very special $150 cocktail if you really want to impress your date.

Pinball at the Sunshine Laundromat

Afterwards, we got off our high horse and ventured north to visit another place that had been on my list for a while – The Sunshine Laundromat. It fronts as a fully functioning laundromat (there were even a few people tending to their socks as we entered), but if you go all the way to the back, you’ll discover two machines that aren’t exactly functioning. In fact, it’s a door!

Pull on the handle and you’ll enter pinball paradise with a fully functioning bar.

Make sure you have a stash of $5s or $1s to feed the machine that dispenses quarters. The bar staff will point you in that direction if you ask for change. Also make sure you play a variety of machine because they all differ in themes and difficulty! I managed to get the high score on the Star Wars machine (go figure), but got my butt kicked on the Tron one.

Needless to say, we used all of our quarters in these babies. Afterwards we visited the McDonald’s around the corner (classy, I know), and called it a night in favor of my friend actually making his flight the next day. Overall we had an absolute blast and I can’t wait to curate the next set of experiences. 😉