By Becky Hughes Photographs by Karsten Moran
Friday – 3:30 p.m. Get a bird’s eye view of the city
Pack in 400 years of history at the Museum of the City of New York in East Harlem ($20 suggested admission), opposite Central Park at the top end of Museum Mile. Its ongoing exhibition, “New York at Its Core,” will give you a glimpse of the neighborhoods you’ll encounter this weekend, and an overview of the many eras of the city’s development, including its few decades as the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam, its 19th-century shift to an immigrant hub, the growth of the city’s park program after the New Deal and the birth of the punk and hip-hop subcultures of the 1970s and 1980s.
6 p.m. – Go grand in Midtown
To the dismay of the too-cool-for-school set, Midtown is having a moment. Rockefeller Center is enticing popular restaurateurs with real-estate deals, aiming to draw locals and tourists alike. One glamorous newcomer is Le Rock, a French brasserie (from the owners of the popular TriBeCa restaurant Frenchette) with a sleek Art Deco design and a pricey (around $200 for two without drinks) menu of chilled oysters ($24 for a half dozen), bison au poivre ($60) and a long list of natural wines. For a night of grand Manhattan opulence, you’re in good hands. Other notable arrivals in the area: Detroit-style slices at Ace’s Pizza, Italian dining with outdoor seating at Lodi (a Times food critic’s favorite) and the 11-seat Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar.
Saturday – 10 a.m. Have a morning nosh
The real breakfast of champions is a pastrami, egg and cheese sandwich ($12.50) at Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. There may be no better representation of New York deli cuisine than the happy marriage between the Jewish staple meat, and the bodega and coffee-cart hero, the bacon, egg and cheese. If securing a window seat is a bust, the benches of McCarren Park across the street are calling your name. And for breakfast dessert (you’re on vacation!): Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop. You might recognize the bakery from the 2021 movie “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” but regulars know it for the unparalleled blueberry buttermilk doughnuts ($1.75).
11 a.m. Shop by the skyline
From Greenpoint, the northernmost neighborhood in Brooklyn, the views of the East River are unbeatable. Follow Noble Street all the way to the end, and you’ll find Greenpoint Terminal Market, a marketplace of vendors, every Saturday and Sunday, rain or shine. You’ll get a top-tier view of the Manhattan skyline while you sift through racks of vintage clothes, tables of art and jewelry, and maybe get a really bad portrait made ($5) to commemorate the day. For a little more shopping, try Big Night, a “shop for dinner, parties and dinner parties”; Dobbin St. Vintage Co-op for vintage furniture; and the mini-Japanese market at 50 Norman for housewares by Cibone and customized dashi packs from Dashi Okume.
1:30 p.m. – Dive into NYC ephemera
Hidden away from Williamsburg’s chain coffee shops and boutique gyms is City Reliquary ($7 entry) a tiny, colorful storefront wedged between buildings on Metropolitan Avenue. Inside is a quirky and fascinating collection of New York artifacts curated by this not-for-profit community museum and civic organization. Packed (really packed) into two small rooms, you’ll find defunct subway signage, souvenirs from New York World’s Fairs, samples of rocks from far below the city and an astonishing amount more. Look for the many iterations of paper deli cups, including the iconic Anthora cup (designed by Leslie Buck in the 1960s), which you’ll still see at diners and bodegas today.
6 p.m. – Dine in the heart of the Village
Greenwich Village cynics will complain about its restaurants: Lines everywhere, many cash-only and littered with celebrities and the rubberneckers that follow. For first-time Village diners, though, Bar Pitti unfailingly delivers an entertaining night out. Get there around 6 p.m. (with cash — no cards accepted) and there should be a short wait. Order the eggplant Parmesan if it’s on the chalkboard of specials ($14.50), pappardelle in a pink cream sauce ($23.50) and a bottle of Lambrusco ($50). The best Italian food in New York? It’s probably not the best on its block. But the brash-yet-somehow-charming service, prime location and killer people-watching makes Bar Pitti a true New York affair. For a more relaxed alternative, Malatesta Trattoria has an excellent tagliatelle ragu ($17, cash-only) and a lower-key ambience.
To state the obvious: You can’t see New York City in 36 hours. You could easily fill a couple of days eating your way down one street in Jackson Heights, Queens, or spend an entire weekend uncovering corners of Central Park. This guide is not designed to check landmarks off a list, but rather to offer visitors one slice of life in New York (minus the laundry schlepping and skyrocketing rent). Below you’ll find a subterranean piano bar, a hidden garden, market shopping against the backdrop of an unbeatable skyline and some big-picture and hyperlocal history to bring you a little closer to feeling the gestalt of the city.