New York City Travel Guide for Returning Tourists After Many Changes
Welcome to all of you hungry foreign tourists and Big Apple spenders! There is so much new to see and do in the world’s largest city since the last time you dropped off your books, francs and remnimbi at our top hotels, shops and restaurants.
A lot has changed – for good and for bad – in the 18 months you were away. Here’s a hands-on primer on what to expect.
The new must-haves
Since March 2020, the city has seen an explosion of restaurants, parks and other public-friendly attractions that have just been launched. They are almost too numerous to count.
- Manhattan West, an office / restaurant / shopping / residential complex between Ninth and Tenth Avenues in the 1930s West. It has a nice park, a hotel and a large Italian restaurant, Ci Siamo, by Danny Meyer. An ice rink in the colors of the NHL will soon be available. It sure beats the exposed submerged yard that preceded it.
- Celestial Observatories – Summit at One Vanderbilt, a 1,000-foot-high office skyscraper next to Grand Central Terminal which is also home to Daniel Boulud’s new grand restaurant, Le Pavillon. You can also enjoy the view from Saga, an expensive restaurant at the top of 70 Pine Street, where brave guests can step out onto spindly terraces.
- Little Island, a 2.4-acre hilly landscaped park on the Hudson River near West 14th Street, which is actually a jetty in disguise as an island. Mainly paid for by Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, it has been an audience favorite since it opened last spring.
- Pier 17 at the South Street Seaport which partially opened before the pandemic but has since added good restaurants from Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Andrew Carmellini.
- A luxurious 14-screen Alamo Drafthouse cinema complex in the iconic 28 Liberty Street office tower.
- The world’s largest Harry Potter store on Broadway and East 22nd Street.
- New waterfront hotels – The Graduate on once sleepy Roosevelt Island and the Rockaway in Far Rockaway, Queens, both with rooftop lounges and excellent views.
Your eyes might jump at the sight of a zillion outdoor restaurants on the sidewalks and on the street. They arose in the darkest days of 2020, when indoor dining was off-limits and quickly became part of the landscape – for better or for worse. The 10,000+ sites are loved by many, hated by others. But there’s no doubt that they’ve changed our dining scene for good. Check out Second Avenue in the 70s East, Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues in the 70s and 80s West, Koreatown on 32nd Street or almost anywhere in Greenwich Village or the Lower East Side.
Meanwhile, inside …
Proof of vaccination gives diners inside a greater sense of security. The pent-up demand to go out to party makes the mood more festive than before. But beware of sticker shock: the dishes priced at $ 30 could be in the $ 40 range, and $ 500 is the new $ 400 for four people having a quintessentially American, French, or modern Italian meal. And in the steakhouses? First check your credit card balance.
Back from the dead
Times Square was the world’s media favorite “ghost town” during the worst months of 2020. But the bright lights remained on even when theaters and hotels were closed. Today, the legendary Entertainment District is once again teeming with spectators, visitors and those annoying characters of Elmos and Big Bird. The reborn “crossroads of the world” is the most dramatic symbol of the resilience of the Big Apple.
Our large art and culture repositories have reached the sweet spot between almost desolate (as they were last spring) and crowded (as they will soon be again). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, Whitney, Frick (temporarily at 945 Madison Ave.) are currently at their nicest density despite unnecessary mask rules. The Met’s great Surrealism Beyond Borders show was a pleasure to sail but not the least lonely. Go now before the holiday season crowds come down.
Walk-in emergency care centers, once rare in the city, have become commonplace during the pandemic. They’re great for those little aches, pains, and stomach aches that can ruin a vacation. Facilities such as CityMD and MedRite arrived in time to fill the storefronts vacated by drugstores and bank branches. Their friendly, fully accredited staff can save you a trip to a hospital emergency room and potential exposure to Covid or other illnesses.
Getting around is more difficult: Look at the doors closing – and the strangers around you.
- Subways – usually the fastest way to get anywhere – rallied from the spring 2020 nadir when ridership plummeted 90%. But an increase in crime includes horrific cases of wandering psychotics pushing passengers onto rails and assaulting Asian-looking people without provocation.
- Buses, we’re sorry to say, move slower than molasses. An Uber ride can cost as much as it took to build the Second Avenue subway, if the driver doesn’t cancel the ride first.
- Yellow taxis are more difficult to find. But don’t think about getting behind the wheel yourself. Vehicle congestion has never been worse thanks to the proliferation of cycle lanes, “squares”, mid-street parking lanes and no-turn rules. The entire city can feel like a dead end and cluttered labyrinth.
Gone but not forgotten
Do not seek out those beloved institutions that we have lost:
- The hotel’s track record includes the atmospheric Roosevelt, the once-hip Hudson, the cozy Omni Berkshire, and the Pennsylvania basement.
- The imposing Four Seasons Hotel on East 57th Street has closed since early last year and may or may not reopen.
- The Reaper swept through giant department stores – Barney’s on Madison Avenue, Neiman Marcus in Hudson Yards, and Century 21 discount heaven downtown.
- So many other big names are gone, including the Brooks Brothers flagship on Madison Avenue, that “shop till you drop” could be replaced with “shop wherever it’s still open”.
- The restaurant’s graveyard has engulfed the 21 Club (where even the famous jockeys outside have been taken out), the TAK Room, the Aquagrill, the Esca, the Mission Chinese, the Gem Spa in Egg Heaven and the huge Jing Fong of Chinatown.
Dirt in the square
Beloved Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village took a nosedive last year. The leafy retreat for families, NYU students, artists and musicians has given way to crime and night decay. The Post uncovered a wave of “drugs, lawlessness and night raves.” Still worth a visit, but during the day. And don’t let your children out of your sight.
While the situation is not as bad as in US cities like Seattle and San Francisco, New York City has more homeless people living on the streets than it did two years ago. Many sleep in makeshift camps in and around Penn Station and the Port Authority bus station. But don’t be surprised to see them all over Manhattan, especially under the unsightly “sidewalk bridges” that darken storefronts and scare shoppers away.
Whey, you have to go …
You are unlucky. Past fears of the virus spreading through contact with the surface have resulted in closed toilets across the city – not just at metro stations but in posh stores such as Polo Ralph Lauren. Relieve yourself before going out to avoid accidents.