9am – Idea Coffee, just off Fifth Ave.
My method for finding breakfast spots on holiday:
- decide which attraction I want to see first
- walk in that direction, hoping I pass an attractive cafe or restaurant.
Today, en route to Union Park/ Greenwich/ Chelsea, I walked past a hipster coffee shop called Idea Coffee. It looked pretty nice, so I popped in for a warm drink and a bite to eat.
Their USP is serving Instagram-worthy juices and smoothies in lightbulb-shaped vessels – but it was their huge selection of pastries that caught my eye! They’ve been featured in a few ‘hidden gems of NYC’ listicles (post-breakfast Googling), so it’s worth walking past and seeing if there’s a free table if you’re in the area.
10am – am I in Paris?
The first thing on today’s agenda was the Christmas Market in Union Square. Guess what I forgot to check? The opening times. Yep, I’m an hourly early. So, slight change of schedule – let’s go to Washington Square Park!
I put this straight on my to-do list for two reasons: to see Washington Square Arch (it looks just like the Arc de Triomphe!) and because it’s in the movie When Harry Met Sally – which, as you’ll probably have picked up by now, I love.
Thanks to a sudden onslaught of rain and grey skies, it’s not quite as photogenic as I’d imagined. But at least I’m here, right? Before I circle back to Union Square, there’s one more famous spot I need to visit…
10.45am – The Village
Guess where I am? Here’s a clue: so no-one told you life was gonna be this way *clapclapclapclap*
I’m at the Friends building! I looked like a complete tourist navigating my way down Grove Street with Google Maps in hand, peering up at the redbrick apartment buildings. A couple of teenaged tourists were doing the same thing, so I knew I must be near!
Eventually I saw it. Even though there’s no bottle-green Central Perk on the ground floor (it’s been swapped for a scarlet restaurant called The Little Owl), I recognised it immediately. I dashed through the rain to get a photo – this would make teenage Nikki’s life!
11am – the 1940s
I just walked past a pet shop with a window of puppies. It was a mixture of absolutely adorable and utterly heartbreaking. Selling dogs like this is certainly cruel and unethical, but the puppies were so cute, I couldn’t help but ‘awww’. I just wanted to adopt them all. Stupid pet shop.
12pm – Max Brenner
At least Union Square Market made me feel like a better human being. Winding rows of festive stalls where I could support small, local businesses. The market was practically empty too, thanks to the torrential rain, so we had as long as we wanted to browse.
I met a nice man selling chocolate (you weren’t allowed to chew it, you had to let it melt), several lovely illustrators (one of whom sold stickers of icons – I got my sister a Lin-Manual Miranda one, as she loves Hamilton) and jewellers, bakers, candlestick makers. There were so many brilliant Christmas present ideas!
After getting entirely sodden (but pretty damn inspired), we headed to the next thing on my NYC wishlist: Max Brenners.
Max Brenners is a chocolate restaurant (yep, you heard me) that I first learned about in I Heart New York, a brilliant book by Lindsey Kelk. I was so relieved to find that this magical sounding haunt wasn’t fictional – their hot chocolate sounded divine!
I went for the classic hot chocolate, complete with marshmallows. It was delicious and creamy and came in a ‘hug mug’ – which was more of a tear-shaped bowl you grasp with both hands.
4pm – Pret a Manger, again
Fuelled by warm fuzzy feelings and hot chocolate, we stepped back out into the rain and took the subway to Grand Central Station. Unsurprisingly, it was pretty busy – but it was worth dodging the crowds to catch a glimpse of the iconic constellation-clad ceiling. It was by far the fanciest train station I’ve ever seen: Beaux-Arts architecture, chandeliers and a fancy Christmas market.
I didn’t realise the station had its own food gallery, so obviously we had to take a stroll through. I found a giant pretzel to gnaw on, ticking something else off my wishlist!
If I thought Grand Central was crowded, Times Square was something else entirely. However, it was surprisingly photogenic for a rainy, grey day, with the bright lights reflecting in the puddle-spotted roads. Huge billboards, yellow taxis and more shops than I could get my head around. This is classic New York.
To avoid the rain, I did a spot of browsing: admiring the bursting bookcases in Barnes and Noble, skipping around the Disney Store, and making good use of the low prices in Forever 21.
Before heading back to the hotel to get out of my very wet boots, we stopped at Pret. I’m only mentioning this for the funny exchange I had with the cashier as he handed me my change:
Cashier #1: So are you from out of town? Where are you from?
Me: *Confused, but intrigued* where do you think I’m from?
Cashier #1: Um, Australia?
Cashier #1: Am I right?
Cashier #2: She’s from New Zealand!
Me: Nope, I’m from England. I thought I had a pretty strong English accent, but apparently not… Cashier #1: Oh. Well, I guess now that you say that, yeah, I can kinda hear that you’re English. But you definitely have an Australian twang.
Whut? It made me laugh, so I fired off a quick tweet about the incident.
10pm – in bed, watching Comedy Central
I went back to the hotel, fell asleep, and woke up just in time for dinner.
A pub/restaurant called the Heartland Brewery had caught our eye when we visited the Empire State Building on Sunday, so we decided to give it a whirl. The five minute walk there was pretty eery, as the tops of the buildings were obscured by fog. Major Gotham City vibes.
The pub wasn’t very glam for something attached to the fancy Empire State Building, but it was friendly, cosy and served up a delicious dish of spaghetti and meatballs. Their chocolate lava cake was also pretty heavenly!
Now we’re full, happy and back at the hotel watching the Hamilton-themed Drunk History (in honour of my sister Kate, who can’t watch it back in the UK).