The words “cheap” and “New York” aren’t often paired, but as a native New Yorker, I can assure you that my city can be a bargain, if you know where to look.
I’ve designed a $250 (or less) weekend for two people who refuse to sacrifice style or taste, but are willing to embrace an insider’s Manhattan. You don’t have to be an extreme hipster, but you need a spirit of adventure for these two days in lower Manhattan on the cheap.
One Night at the Jane Hotel (113 Jane Street; 212-924-6700;thejanenyc.com)
This chic little hotel is big on little. Some of the rooms are literally 50 square feet. If you only plan to sleep there and think of it as a Euro rail sleeping car, you won’t be disappointed. In fact, with a flat screen TV and plush robe and slippers, this is a notch up. (Bigger rooms are available.)
Don’t let shared baths scare you off. Baths here are far from the slobby, stank shared baths you remember from your hostel days. These are spa-like with white subways tiles, private stalls, and hyper-clean floors.
A loungey bar with comfy velvet sofas and a massive disco ball provides guests a common living room when they want to escape their cramped quarters and is a great place for people watching. Locals flock to this nouveau-boho den. And if you happen to have some artistic talent, let the bartender know. The bar is famous for bartering away bar tabs for decent art.
One of the beauties of staying at The Jane is that it’s in walking distance to other fun, cheap spots.
DAY ONEHigh Line (from Gansevoort to 30th Street; 212-206-9922;thehighline.org)
You can’t beat the newly opened (summer 2009) High Line for views of the Statue of Liberty. Formerly an abandoned elevated rail line that ran along the west side, this park space, which spans about a mile and a half, is the epitome of smart urban landscape. The rail line is now a modern walkway used by area students, tourists, artists, walkers, runners, dads with strollers, just about everyone is attracted here by the zen-like calm and great Hudson views. Modern sculptural benches, lounging chairs and clever nooks, not to mention interesting native plantings that soften the retained rails, make this a must-see.
Chelsea Market (75 9th Ave b/w 15th & 16th; 212-243-5005; chelseamarket.com
With a million-square-feet of retail space dedicated to food, the Chelsea Market is a foodie’s dream. The building is the former NASBISCO factory, birthplace of the Oreo cookie. Its restoration includes plenty of nods to its industrial past—from steel girder sculptures to a water fountain featuring drill bits. Since the Food Network studios are above the market, Rachel Ray and Bobby Flay fans are often trawling the corridors hoping for a glimpse of the cooking stars.
You can spend a full day poking around the Chelsea Market. I know because I’ve done it. Browse Bowery Kitchen Supplies for cool gadgets like Kikuichi Japanese cutlery, Jacques Torres, the renown chocolatier, for small truffles presented like gems in cases befitting jewelry, and Lucy’s Whey, an inspired little cheese shop dedicated to artisanal cheese made in America.
Lunch at Hale & Hearty (Inside Chelsea Market; 212-255-2400; haleandhearty.com)
Cost for Two People: $20
Yes, pricey restaurants like Buddakan and Morimoto are housed here, but for this cheap visit head to Hale & Hearty, where you can get a vegetarian chili (made with meaty portabellas), served with rice and salad for $7.95 or a classic chicken vegetable soup with a chunky veggie-loaded salad for $6.95.
Chelsea Piers (From 17th St to 23rd St. along the Hudson River; 212-336-6666; chelseapiers.com)
Cost: From 75-cents for an arcade game to $50 for two to hit balls at Golf Club
Work off your food steps away at Chelsea Piers, a 30-acre sports complex. You can splurge on rock climbing at the largest indoor facility on the East Coast ($22 per person, includes equipment) or at the driving range of the Golf Club (147 balls for $25).
For cheaper thrills, bowl at the sleek 300 New York for $8 during the day and $10 at night. (Tip: Bowl during happy Hour Monday through Friday and you’ll not only meet locals, but you’ll get $3 well drinks.)
Adjacent to the bowling alley is an arcade with a huge variety of games from Guitar Hero to skee ball. Most games start at 75 cents. Prizes aren’t just plastic dolls. You can win Xbox accessories and iPods for high scores.
Dinner at the Café Gitane inside The Jane (212-255-4113)
Cost for Two $50 with drinks
Café Gitane, a funky French-Moroccan bistro, has opened within the hotel. Stylish, irreverent (i.e. a mounted alligator, Tonka toy trucks and rudely-posed formal portraits) draws a young, artsy crowd. While not dirt cheap, you can get a filling bowl of couscous or salad for under $10.
Breakfast Bagels at Bagels On The Square (7 Carmine St., 212-691-3041; no website)
Cost: $7 for two people, bagels with cream cheese and coffee
In the morning, wander a few blocks to get authentic New York bagels at Bagels on the Square. There are 18 kinds of bagels and more than two-dozen flavors of cream cheese, including tofu options for vegans. While the everything bagel, sun-dried tomato and black Russian (pumpernickel with caraway and sprinkled with sesame seeds) are favorites, order a plain bagel so you can taste what a bagel is really meant to be.
The Annex Antique Fair & Flea Markets (125 W. 18th St., 212-243-5343; hellskitchenfleamarket.com)
Cost: Admission FREE
Shuttle to Hell’s Kitchen Market $1 per person
If you love antiques, bargaining for deals of any kind or just like looking at interesting stuff, you have to check out the Annex. More than 100 vendors span two floors. Booths are as varied as the people who run them. From mid 20th century lighting to Tibetan clothing to Deco jewelry to Depression-era glass to Victorian dressers to vintage vinyl, no matter what you’re interested in, it’s probably here. The market runs a shuttle—cost $1 – to its companion market in Hell’s Kitchen on 39th between 9th & 10th.
The Forbes Galleries (62 Fifth Ave. @ 12th St.; 212-206-5548; forbesgalleries.com)
Make your way down Fifth Avenue until you reach The Forbes Building on 12th Street. This is one of New York’s best-kept secrets — many locals don’t even know about it. The Forbes Building offers free admission into its galleries, which are filled with family treasures, including Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, one of the world’s most impressive collections of Faberge eggs and a huge array of vintage toys (from wooden boats to 10,000 toy soldiers to early versions of Monopoly).
East Village (Boundaries from Houston St. to 14th St., East River to Fourth Ave.)
Next head down to the East Village to wander a bit. This is a funky neighborhood that has spent the better part of the last three decades gentrifying. Although the artistic, alternative vibe is retained with lots of quirky small shops, art galleries and hole-in-the-wall nightclubs, this neighborhood (thanks to the escalating rental prices) is filled with NYU students, movie directors and quasi-rock stars. Still, there’s an authenticity to tap into, as well as great dining bargains.
Odessa (119 Avenue A; 212-253-1470)
Cost: Lunch for 2: $20
Take-out Egg Creams: $4
For authentic Eastern European dishes served on Formica under fluorescent lights try lunch at Odessa. Although there’s a large diner-like menu, you’ll be happiest if you order classics like stuffed cabbage, latkes and pierogis (order with the latter two with sides of sour cream and applesauce). Take egg creams (a New York classic made neither with egg nor cream, but seltzer, syrups and milk) across the street to Tompkins Square Park.
Tompkins Square Park (Spans E. 10th St to E. 7th St., Ave. A to Ave. B)
People-watching doesn’t get more interesting than this. And since the park is carved up into little “rooms,” move yourself from bench to bench to pick up different flavors. Once known as Tent City because of the number of homeless and heroine addicts that populated it, this park has undergone a major transformation in the past decade. Today, the dog park is buzzy social scene, the playground is filled with kids, and neighbors come together to play chess, hacky sack and even the bongos.
Taj Mahal (318 East 6th St, near 2nd, 212-529-2217)
Cost Dinner for Two with Taj Mahal Beer: $35
One of the best things about New York is its diversity. And with that comes a great diversity of food. There are lots of choices along Little India’s restaurant row on East 6th Street, but the Taj Mahal is among the best. At this cozy spot you can order a huge bowl of mulligatawny soup for $2.25, a classic sag paneer for $6.95, a shrimp vindaloo hot enough to bring tears to your eyes for $9.95 and a side of papadum for $1.95.
If you follow my plan, you’ll have seen an authentic slice of New York that few visitors get to see — and you may even go home with a few bucks in your pocket.
An inveterate traveler, Andrea Poe writes frequently about travel for national and international publications. The title of her column, Raven’s Eye, is a nod to her spirited and quirky relation Edgar Allan Poe, who knew a thing or two about discovering the unusual. You can email Andrea at andcpoe at gmail dot com or follow her travel notes as andpoe on Twitter.
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