Aussies are back globetrotting and in recent months have graced our NYC doorstop. Locals are left wondering what unique hip places survived the pandemic and what cool local sights can we show our friends and family that they wouldn’t find in a guide book? To help ease the frantic searching, read our quick tips below!
Old Historic Bars
Pete’s Tavern: Not only will this bar appear on the list of oldest running establishments in NYC, having operated since 1864, but it will also feature on the ‘bars that appear on TV shows’ list, known as the place Miranda proposed to Steve in Sex and the City. It is also known for its celebrity sightings with endless picture frames covering the walls. Actors, directors and sporting stars adorn the walls, and with its dimly lit old school charm inside and al fresco dinning for summer days, you can’t help but see why. It’s a delight. Busy on weekends but usually able to get a table somewhere.
McSorley’s Old Ale House: Sawdust on the ground and only two types of draft ale – light or dark – this is another old bar worth popping into with travelers for the Irish-American history and time warp. Cash only and busy, but large enough to manage large groups.
Old Town Bar: It’s in the name isn’t it! Old Town Bar is a perfect Manhattan pitstop with a bit more on offer. Existing in it’s original form; marble & mahogany bar, tin ceiling and I’ve been told the most historic bathrooms in NYC. Odd but true fact: Apparently the urinal is over 110 years old!
Smalls Jazz Club: Conveniently located in West Village, in walking distance to great restaurants and bars, Smalls is easily spotted by its line. Often busy on weekends, the bar hosts live jazz jam sessions in a small underground space. Cover charge and two drink minimum. Standing likely.
Sing-a-long Karaoke Bars
The Duplex: There is a title for oldest and longest running everything in NYC and this bar claims to be the longest running cabaret and piano bar. Regardless of who claims the longest running title, this West Village bar has to be my favorite! The piano bar offers sing-a-longs usually performed by the pianist, the waiters, and there is open mic to those who dare. Upstairs often hosts dance parties and cabaret events, and there is outdoor seating post pandemic, which is a nice reprieve from the squishiness inside. Highly recommended place for visitors – there is nothing quite like it in Australia.
Marie’s Crisis Café: Another piano bar in West Village, Marie’s is a lot older, dating back to the late 1800s and a historical landmark for American history buffs as it is the site of the death of Thomas Paine who authored the crisis papers sparking the American Revolution. Offering showtunes but no food, Marie’s is popular Monday through to Sunday. Cash only and standing likely.
Ellen’s Stardust Diner: Since 1987, this 1950’s themed diner has been pumping out fries and Broadway hits for hungry diners. Located at 1650 Broadway on the southeast corner of 51st Street in Theater District, this spot is great for tourists who want to check out Times Square, get tickets to a Broadway show and then check out those that just haven’t quite made it…yet. Queues likely – try and go outside normal meal times for a shorter line.
Up Stairs: Located in a bizarre residential-like building in the LES, this bar is perhaps one of the least stylish ‘speakeasies’ in the city with many preferring to take on an old fashion style or class. Up Stairs is a very no-fuss bar, located at 59 Canal Street. Song selection is $1 a song and two microphones are handed around but mainly you’re here for the group sing-a-long that ensues. There is no website to be found so you’ll just have to trust us – it’s a lot of fun.
For TV and Movie Fans
The Campbell: Located in Grand Central Station, this is an easy one to tick off for those Gossip Girl fans but also anyone else who wants to picture themselves in a scene set in 1920s NYC. A restored bar that is very Instagram worthy but there is a dress code (i.e. no thongs/flip flops) and cocktails are on the steeper side. Live Jazz every Saturday. Enter through the Campbell Terrace.
Tom’s Restaurant: Adding here because I have a lot of friends who are Seinfeld fans, as am I, and we always end up on the Upper West Side, or on the corner of 1st and 1st quoting Kramer. There are many places that will trigger Seinfeld thoughts (and even fire trucks can set me off) but the classic still from the opening credits brings us to Tom’s Restaurant on the UWS. Pop in for a black and white cookie, but remember the inside doesn’t look anything like the set they used – they just borrowed the outside for the show. Also special shout out to the real Soup ‘Nazi’, the Original Soup Man on 56th Street and 8th Avenue, which has really, really good soup.
Rooms (or non-rooms) With a View
Grand Banks or Pilot: What’s better than a spectacular bar serving up oysters and cocktails seaside? One that’s on a boat of course! These fabulous restaurants operating through summer have amazing views (particularly Pilot which looks back towards the financial district). However, if you get seasick please be warned, this is a proper boat so it can get rocky at times.
Harriet’s Rooftop: After you’ve walked the FULL LENGTH of the Brooklyn Bridge, none of this stopping halfway and turning around again, you will be rewarded with a gorgeous view back to Manhattan. I recommend going into the 1 Hotel’s, Harriet’s Rooftop for the best photo op. Designed to manage all seasons with a rooftop and a lounge, it’s a large space but it does get busy, especially at peak periods.
Panorama Room: I haven’t been to this bar, it only opened earlier this year but I do enjoy getting the ‘tram’ to the island as a bit of a novelty and this bar looks a good excuse to venture back again. The Roosevelt Island Tramway runs every 7-15 minutes from 59th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan to Tramway Plaza on Roosevelt Island and is one of the more unusual sites of the city.
The Whitney Studio Bar: Of course this museum would appear in guide books and many of your traveling friends will have it listed as a must-see, but I’m featuring here as a lookout spot so your friends and family plan enough time to check out the beautiful views across the Hudson River and back across the meatpacking district. Bar is on the eighth floor, open every day, 12pm till close.
The Met Rooftop: Again, not an unusual option to see on a NYC travelers list but the rooftop boasts one of the best views of the park, and given you’re already paying for the price of entry to the Met, why not check out a free-ish rooftop while you’re there! Check out AWNY’s recent drinks to see the view from the top!
Bar Sixty Five, The Rainbow Room: This one seems to be private events only space now, but I’m including it as I’m ever hopeful that the Rockefeller Center will reopen it’s bar to the public on the sixty fifth floor because it’s by far my favorite view of the city (bonus: sans crowds and ridiculous entry price!). From memory the public bar did have a minimum spend but it was still cheaper than going to the Top of the Rock, and you get a cocktail!
For the Active Friend
Wednesday Night Skate: Rollerblade Meetups: Ok, so admittedly I have not been on one of these but I have heard from a bunch of locals that they are a lot of fun but be wary of those pesky NYC potholes. There a few different meetups but the recommended one linked above has been running each Wednesday in the summer months since 1996! The group meet on the south side of Union Square, 8pm, Wednesdays, April-October.
Run & Chug – Running Club: A very casual running meetup that meets every Wednesday at a bar at 7pm, mainly in Manhattan but occasionally in Brooklyn. The group starts at the bar, runs 4-5 miles on a coordinated route and then back to the bar where most pop in for a drink afterwards.
Kayaking: An AWNY fan favorite, kayaking is a very popular activity for locals and tourists alike. The free kayaking option on the Hudson attracts a crowd but there are more options off the beaten track, or if you fancy paying. Other locations include the Brooklyn Bridge Park Boathouse, The Downtown Boathouse, and for environmentally minded more. You need to register in advance for most locations, and it is generally on a first come, first served basis.
Quintessential NYC Dining
I think I am biased by old school American dining; dimly lit, steak and burgers on the menu and a feeling like I’m in a TV show. So perhaps this list is only applicable to my traveling friends, but I know much of the hipper dining scene is covered in all of the Instagram posts.
JG Melon: Known for a few things, including its old world charm (and in some cases rude waitstaff – just go with it, I think it’s part of the appeal), and being Gigi Hadid’s favorite burger in the city, this restaurant has classic old-school NYC down pat. People usually opt for the famous burger but there are a few other options on the menu. Cash only.
Hillstone: Put simply, this is one of THE best burgers I have had, not just in NYC but ever! Not only is the food actually incredible, the décor, ambience and low lighting gives you Mad Men vibes. Maybe it’s just me, but I get an instant urge to order a dry martini when I sit down in their booths. A true delight for an Aussie that loves the old American charm aesthetic and good food.
Keens Steakhouse: Founded in 1885, this is a classic New York steakhouse located in mid town with many historic artefacts. Definitely on the pricier end and only recommended for those who are hell bent on experiencing a NYC steakhouse.
Sevilla: Another old school charmer but this time a different cuisine. This Spanish restaurant in West Village is similar to JG Melon in the sense that the menu seems stuck in the early 2000s, both on options and price, with a special call out for $9 cocktails. Portions are huge. Usually no wait.
What have we missed?
Have we missed anything? Please comment below where you love to take friends and family when they are visiting the Big Apple!
For tips on free activities read our AWNY Guide to Free Summer Activities in New York City. We also compiled a list of the AWNY volunteers Favorite Summer Activities in NYC so check it out too!
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