The ultimate travel guide to New York City
nce upon a time Agatha Christie said, "It is ridiculous to set a detective story in New York City. New York City is itself a detective story." That said, we're here to tell you where you should be dining, drinking and, yes, even sleeping in the city that never does.
Sure NYC has a plethora of tourist hotspots, from Times Square and Central Park to the Statue Of Liberty and Empire State Building, but there's a hell of a lot more to it than that. From quirky diners in Brooklyn and Michelin-star restaurants in Grand Central Station, New York is a place well worth exploring.
With that in mind, we're here to show you where the GQ team go when in the Big Apple. And when we say the city never sleeps, we mean it – it's just as lively at 3am as it is at 9am when Saks launches its winter sale.
Where to eat
Le Bernardin is hands down one of New York's best kept secrets, despite its extremely convenient location. Situated just yards away from Times Square, it is a nugget of luxury. Le Bernardin in New York opened in 1986, after the Parisian outpost had much success. With fish sitting at the heart of the menu, Le Bernardin earned four stars from the New York Times three months after its opening (it is the only restaurant to have never dropped a star in any review). It is now a three-star Michelin restaurant with what can only be described as one of the most exquisite menus west of the Atlantic Ocean. The menu consists of dishes such as caviar tartare and grilled walu and seared wagyu, but our top tip is to go for the chef's tasting menu if you really want to make the most of your visit.
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Agern is a Danish restaurant in a slightly unusual location. Sitting inside the walls of Grand Central Station it's under the same ownership as Copenhagen's famous restaurant Noma. Icelandic head chef Gunnar Gíslason and his team prepare food using the finest ingredients from New York State and you can get everything from tender venison to succulent and fresh lobster. Again what we recommend you do is visit in the evening and embark on the tasting menu (and if you're feeling frivolous definitely add the wine pairing option to your evening).
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BY BILL PRINCE
If you've been to New York and haven't been to Dumbo, then we thoroughly recommend doing so. The location of Soho House's latest outpost in the city that never sleeps, you won't be disappointed by Brooklyn's neighbour. With cobbled streets with a certain New England feel about them, there's something for everyone (and a photo op at every street corner thanks to the low-rise buildings and spectacular views on Manhattan). The menu down at Atrium is made up of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients that are prepared with a focused simplicity and elegance prepared by partner and Maitre Cuisinier De France Laurent Kalkotour. The food is fresh, filling and just what you want, whether you go for brunch, lunch or dinner.
If you find yourself in Downtown Manhattan, then you need to visit Estela. With one of the most unique menus we've come across, you're in for a good time (and good feeding). It takes familiar ideas such as tartare, ricotta dumplings, burrata on toast, fried rice and steak, and presents them in new, satisfying ways. Ignacio Mattos, owner and chef of the restaurant, really puts the fun and energy into cooking. Our top pick on the menu? The lunchtime treat that is burrata with salsa verde and charred bread – the salsa verde was good enough to drink.
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You've probably heard of the restaurants Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones. Well, Legacy Records is the next venture from the team behind them and it's just as good as its sister outposts. Located at 517 W. 38th Street (that's just a few minutes walk from newly built skyscraper-central Hudson Yard), Legacy Records is home to an 85-seat restaurant with two private dining rooms, Easy Victor Cafe and Ada's Place, and a wine and cocktail bar. The menu is best conquered when food is shared (that way you get to try a hell of a lot more). For us there were two standout dishes on the menu: the wood-roasted octopus and honey-lacquered duck. Do not even think about leaving without having tried both.
If you're after a restaurant that is fun and offers a seriously fuss-free menu, then this is your best bet. Legasea is located at the Moxy in Times Square and is the perfect pre-theatre spot for a bite to eat. The seafood-centric brasserie is perfect for those with a taste for the delights of the sea and you can feast upon the likes of wild black sea bass, diver sea scallops and yellowtail sashimi. Don't worry if you're a meat-lover, as there's plenty for you too.
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For Asian cuisine like no other, head to Hanoi House. That's not a suggestion; that's an order. Situated close to Little Italy, this small restaurant does the best Vietnamese food that we have ever tried. The menu is an exploration of tastes and the menu features everything from spicy octopus to charred filet mignon with roasted bone marrow. Seriously good and not at break-the-bank prices.
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This basement addition to Red Rooster (famous for its comfort food and fried chicken from celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson) is renowned for its Sunday Gospel Brunch. Arrive from ten am to gorge on an unlimited buffet spread for $45 a person, which includes creamy pasta, cornbread, waffles, cakes and, of course, mountains of succulent, crispy fried chicken with just the right amount of chew. Nab a table facing the front of the stage area, where you’ll have the best view of the gospel groups and solo artists that take it in turns to belt out joyous renditions of well-known gospel anthems, with powerful voices that shake the roof, as well as uplifting speeches on unity, happiness and love. It may sound cheesy, but it’s what we need in 2018 and performed with such authenticity. Prepare yourselves to be given the mic as the singers sometimes pass through the room and if it’s your birthday, you’ll be called up to the stage for a special “birthday dance”.
What to do
If you're after a once-in-a-lifetime experience that is, well, pretty unbeatable, then we can't recommend New York On Air enough. Being the only helicopter company in NYC to have a licence to fly over Manhattan, you won't be disappointed by what is on offer. Fancy hanging out of a helicopter hundreds of feet above the Freedom Tower? Well, you can. What's more, you can completely customise your ride, meaning if you want to get some stellar photographs of the Empire State Building, you will.
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Where to stay
As regulars to New York City, the GQ team is quite well-versed in when is good to stay, which areas to stay in and what hotels have the best beds. With that in mind, check out our guide to the best hotels in New York that you need to visit right now.
Where to spa
Aire Ancient Baths
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more peaceful escape amidst New York’s chaotic energy than the Aire Baths downtown in Tribeca. A candlelit collection of pools occupy a dark and intimate basement, housed in a former textile factory built in 1883, and guests follow a 90-minute bathing circuit, beginning with a salt scrub before a dip in the salt bath, followed by the jacuzzi, the bath at room temperature, cold plunge pools and an almost unbearably hot bath. A steam room and lounge area for mint tea allow time for momentary pit-stops from the water and soothing jazz and classical music induces a trance-like state if you float for long enough. Reservations are hard to come by as Aire keeps the number of guests following the circuit at a minimum to avoid overcrowding. In the changing rooms, expect five-star service from cheerful staff, who will even spin-dry your bathing suit while you shower.
Where to drink
Westlight, The William Vale
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This Brooklyn-based hotel may look rather imposing and industrial from the outset, with its giant structure jostling the skyline from enormous stilts, but inside the Westlight bar, with its charming low-hanging spherical lamps and soft yellow furnishings on the top floor, is full of warmth and character. And, of course, its sparkling views from the floor-to-ceiling windows are legendary. The host, Matthew, strolls around the room introducing himself to guests and will even show you up to the roof for stupendous views across the city if you ask nicely and it’s not too windy. A short but sweet list of cocktails includes a Fall Pimm’s Cup, an unusual and wintery mix of Pimm’s, Scotch, honey, figs, lemon and sage, served long. Accompany your drinks with a moreish bowl of coconut fried cashews, before heading back downstairs for a Southern Italian feast at Leuca. Begin indulgently with a pasta dish (although you may want to share one between two), such as the beautifully cooked and presented squash agnolotti: delicate parcels of ravioli served on a bed of shredded duck and mushroom. To avoid a glutton’s discomfort, keep mains light by choosing the sea bass with Franca’s beans and preserved tomato: simple but packed with flavour. Oh, and, after hearing Leuca’s killer playlist of hip hop and RnB, you might well skip dessert in favour of a nightcap back up at Westlight. And then you have the whole of Brooklyn’s buzzing nightlife to choose from.
The Aviary NYC, Mandarin Oriental
On the 35th floor of the majestic Mandarin Oriental hotel flanking Central Park, the Aviary NYC bar – opened last year – has some of the best views in Uptown New York, as well as one of the city’s most innovative cocktail concepts. From famed Chicago chef Grant Achatz comes a three- or five-course cocktail menu paired with off-menu snacks ($110 per person), which aims to offer guests the quality and attention they might expect of a Michelin-starred restaurant. A menu of three cocktail lists mimics the sense of occasion you revel in when enjoying a three-course menu, with each drink starting light and finishing creamy. Begin with a gentle take on the Kir Royale, before launching into a boozy In The Rocks and finishing off with a creamy, pudding-like Carrot Cake Ramos, which tastes just like a liquid carrot cake. The food begins with a course nothing short of spectacular: a tower of crispy salt and vinegar pork skin at least three-feet high, which sits as precariously as the Leaning Tower Of Pisa, threatening to topple as soon as you tug off a corner. Trust us, you won’t need a dinner reservation after this.
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Having just recovered from a significant fire, Dead Rabbit, dubbed the best bar in the world, might be expected to be rough around the edges. But this speakeasy-style bar is as thriving as ever. Two experienced and unobtrusive bartenders man the upstairs bar, preferring to let you make your own mind up about the drinks without boring you to death about their “creative vision” (London, take note) and without even juggling a cocktail shaker to show off (again, London...) Sit at the bar so you can watch the mixology and spend the first five minutes reading the carefully written comic book (volume four, issue six) about Dead Rabbit’s heroic conquests, which influences each of the three cocktail lists. From the first, GQ tried the Dawn Control, a refreshing, lightly sparkling long drink with gin, bergamot, green chilli, lemongrass, thai, absinthe, basil, lemon, pineapple and tonic, paired with a couple of oysters. From the last chapter, we highly recommend the sweet and fortifying Red Alert, with scotch, rhubarb amaro, lychee, bitter aperitif, Peychaud’s bitters and cherry and feel your limbs turn heavy as the bar’s motown and blues playlist ramps up for the evening.