Looking to take a bite out of The Big Apple but not sure where to start?
I’m sure you adore our lovely campus just as much as the next student, especially during the Springtime when it’s in bloom. But it’s okay to crave a break from 9 a.m. classes, flip flops in dorm bathrooms, dining hall fruit and every other mundane college reality. If you’re craving an escape, we’ve got you covered.
Hi. My name is Eliza, and I’m a New York City local, born and raised. For the first weekend of spring break, I invited my good friend Josie to come home with me. We decided we wanted to explore what NYC has to offer: an amalgamation of showing her my favorite spots and checking off items from our collective bucket list.
Here’s our log of everything we did, every place we visited, every delicacy we devoured and, of course, everything we learned along the way.
Friday: Greeted by Grand Central
Standing on the New Haven Union Station platform on a Friday evening is utterly electric. We hopped on the Metro North and immediately grabbed one of the four seat alcoves. We’d checked the MTA TrainTime app and bought tickets in the evening when the train would be less full, the off-off-peak hours, so we could kick up our Dr. Martens onto the leather padded seats and relax.
Maybe “relax” isn’t the best descriptor. Josie was typing furiously away on our shared Google doc to consolidate every location and activity we could think of, and I was on Google Maps using the bookmark, flag and heart features to triangulate where would be most convenient to go on what day. All the while, we had the I ♥ New York Spotify playlist on shuffle. The suburbs of Connecticut started shifting into metropolitan skyscrapers, and after a two hour and seven minute trip, we had arrived.
Grand Central is a flurry of beautiful commotion, a modern hustle and bustle against an art deco backdrop. Everyone loves the celestial ceiling of constellations in the heart of the terminal. Ignoring the fact that the iconic Gossip Girl balcony is now an Apple Storefront, of course. As Josie’s local guide, I felt it necessary to show her The Whispering Gallery. It’s on the lower level by the Oyster Bar near the Vanderbilt Ave exit. Two people can stand on diagonal corners of the curved arches, and sound will travel along the ceiling passageway. I recommend searching for this secret secret-sharing spot!
Saturday: Setting the Bar High in Lower Manhattan
After a night full of travel and anticipation, our dynamic duo was anxious to get out onto the city streets and take on NYC! But we were also hungry. That’ll be a common theme. So we made our way to Houston Street (pronounced HOW-sten in New Yorker phonetics) to grab breakfast from Russ & Daughters, a famed family-run deli. In 1914, it was a humble herring cart, and today, they have multiple locations and a global reputation for delicious Eastern-European Jewish cuisine. The herring, by the way, is a must-try if you’re adventurous.
The interior is stunning and steeped in history, with oddities like Turkish figs and pickled lox lining the walls. Part of its charm are the conscientious employees who help manage the long lines. We each went with bagels that were ready-made configurations from the menu. As for specifications: always get everything bagels because they’re the best, the Nova Scotia lox and salmon roe combo is a must, the scallion cream cheese is delicious and if you’re a fan of tomatoes/onions/capers, don’t hesitate to add those for a dynamic bite and a schmear of heaven.
Since the store doesn’t have any tables, Josie and I subway-ed our way over to the heart of Washington Square Park to enjoy our late brunch in a fun location. On the way over, we ate some of the rich chocolate babka as a dessert-before-breakfast rebellion. We arrived by the stunning archway, which serves as a landmark meeting place for downtown city kids and out-of-town NYU-ers alike. And of course, there’s always a performance of some sort going on in the park. We were only there for 20 minutes max, but in that time, a live fashion exhibit, a hula hoop show, and a marching band all competed for our attention.
The park is a hub for young people, college students and tourists alike, so there’s a lot to do in the surrounding Greenwich Village. We chose to step into Generation Records and then quickly chose to step out. Neither of us have vinyl players, and everyone in the store looked SO cool and intimidating. Help.
Instead, we went thrifting nearby. If you stumble into a store like Hamlet’s Vintage, don’t be freaked out by the high NYC prices; window shopping can be just as fun as purchasing. We tried on some sunglasses and extravagant fur hats just because, and then made our way over to the more approachable Goodwill NYNJ Store. One piece of advice: don’t be afraid to go the androgynous route. We both ventured into the men’s section and each snagged relaxed printed button downs. After getting distracted by the hilarious graphic tees, Josie found a stunning DKNY teal dress for $20 that we bought with the intention of sharing.
Then we headed over to The Uncommons. They have an immense selection beyond just the usual Monopoly or Settlers of Catan, we were honestly a little overwhelmed. Before you go, research their unique games online and familiarize yourself with the rules. Maybe then you won’t get absolutely destroyed in every game you play against your friend who won’t even let you have one pity victory (ahem, Josie). And also, I recommend going with a larger group to have the best time, since it allows you to access the 4 or more player games that are always the most boisterous and memorable.
Then, it was time to head back to eat dinner with my parents — but the day was not over yet. Jo and Elz still had to dip their toes into NYC nightlife. Independent of one another, we realized our favorite TikTok comedians all performed at the same club. And not only does SESH Comedy have recognizable faces, there’s no drink minimum (it’s BYOB) and the early-bird prices are as low as $12. For New York comedy, any one of those three things would make this worth it, but all together? We were completely and utterly sold.
We nabbed tickets and headed back down to the Lower East Side for our 10 p.m. show. We were five minutes early, hoping to grab seats in the front so we could get the crowd work experience, but the line was already wrapped around the corner. After settling into our seats in the fifth row, Josie squeezed my hand. The comedy was polished, yet edgier than we’d expected. These were no amateurs. We laughed (a ton), we oohed, we aahed and we booed one guy. And then we Uber-ed home. I’d highly recommend going here for the New York comedy club experience.
Sunday: You Can Run, but You Can’t Escape the Sunday Scaries
Nothing was going to beat the busyness of our Saturday. However, we did get an early start at Bubby’s, a weekend brunch hotspot known for their exceptional pancakes and their delicious buttermilk biscuits. There’s nothing quite like a runny egg, whole wheat bread slice and sausage medallions in the morning after an exciting night out.
I need to amend what I said about escaping Yale responsibilities. Josie and I had big plans for our Sunday. I wanted to take her to The Strand, known for its 18 miles of books, which is ironic since we ended up hitting the books in my room and writing our Directed Studies Literature essays about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” instead. It was a bummer that we missed it, because in my book *wink, wink* this store is a must-see for bookworms who love to wander. I also thought we could stop by Levain Bakery, known for their oversized, decadent, buttery cookies. But because they’re so popular, you can buy them frozen at your local Whole Foods for a half-baked version of the real thing, so it’s not a serious loss.
After we finished our essays, we had a signature Jo and Elz dance party to “orange show speedway” by Lizzy McAlpine to celebrate, and then we collapsed. You don’t always have to be in go-go-go mode. I really enjoyed the chill essay-writing and the good company. Even though it’s New York City, and every minute counts, I give you permission to take a beat.
Monday: Our Last Hurrah, Roll the Credits!
After a much-needed night of sleep, Josie and I were back up and running. We arrived in Morningside Heights, which surrounds Columbia University. It wouldn’t be a New York trip without a breakfast at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, an Upper Manhattan gem with infinite charm. The café and bakery famously attracts writers of all kinds, and you can do some of the best people watching while enjoying poppy seed strudel, cappuccinos and cheesy bread rolls.
Then we made our way over to The Angelika Village East, my favorite movie theater in the city. We saw “Aftersun,” a Scottish indie movie where Paul Mescal plays a young father. The cinematography was stunning. The plot was somewhat ambiguous. But that was screened in a regular room, so after the credits started rolling, we snuck into the center theater. The bright red velvet seats and the gold paneled ceiling, complete with a crystal chandelier, transport you to another era.
The movie was about two hours, so we were ready for our next, and sadly last, city meal. And what better way to send Josie off than with some New York pizza? Motorino has multiple locations in the city, but there’s one right by the Angelika. So, just like senior citizens, we sat down for a 4:30 dinner and shared a margarita red pie and a burrata/broccoli rabe white pie. After such an amazing week, these pizzas hit the spot.
Then, it was back to Grand Central and time for Josie to make her way over to the airport. She had big plans in Montreal, and I had a Vermont ski trip lined up for a couple days later. We waved at each other as the bus pulled away, and in that moment, I knew we’d done what we set out to do. It had been a frenzied three days of navigating the subway, splitting bagels, sneaking into historical landmarks, laughing at how unfunny the comedy host was and skipping in the rain to “Cigarette Daydreams” by Cage the Elephant.
In that time, we indulged in our fantasies of being intrepid travelers, a dynamic duo, taking on the world. So next semester, when you have a free weekend, get on that Metro North train to New York. Take a day trip. Bring a friend or two. You can’t use the excuse of not knowing what to do or where to go. And if you liked this article, check out the video Josie filmed along the way. Don’t hesitate — the city is waiting for you!
Jo and Elz