A Local’s Guide to New York City is part of a series collaboration with Spotted by Locals.
New York is constantly-changing, yet more than ever, locals and travelers alike are seeking authentic spots that serve as reminders of the past. Whether it’s a working-class dive bar or a far-flung pizza joint that has stood the test of time, across the five boroughs what’s tried and true is often the best in its class. Skip Times Square and the tourist highlights and explore old New York with the locals.
Leave Manhattan for the best Italian food in New York.
Opened in 1939 as an ice cream counter in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, L&B Spumoni Gardens is now famous for its Sicilian square pizza. On nearby 86th Street, Saturday Night Fever fans will recognize Lenny’s Pizza where John Travolta eats a double slice on the sidewalk underneath the subway tracks in the 1977 film. For a quicker trip, Arthur Avenue, the main thoroughfare of the Little Italy in the Bronx, is just 22 minutes from Grand Central Terminal. Don’t miss the raw bar at Cosenza’s Fish Market or the pistachio cream-filled cannoli at Artuso Pastry Shop, which has been serving the neighborhood since 1946.
Experience a New York deli.
Now a New York institution, Katz’s Deli has been around since 1888—almost as long as the word delicatessen itself. Both originated in the 19th century, long before glass condominiums and chains like Whole Foods lined Houston Street. Locals go for the pastrami or corned beef sandwich, which are famously known as the largest in New York. Sit at the table where Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal brought the saying “I’ll have what she’s having” into popular culture during filming of the 1989 movie When Harry Met Sally.
Venture off the grid in the village.
In West Village, cobbled streets are set at an angle to the other streets in Manhattan, pre-dating the 1811 grid system that organized the city into numbered streets and avenues. Explore legendary jazz spots like the Village Vanguard, open in its current location since 1935, where locals lined up to see the likes of John Coltrane in the 1960s. Or, head up to the High Line, an elevated park built atop a circa-1934 elevated railroad track that went out of use in 1980. Locals fought demolition of the historic railroad for nearly 25 years before it was reimagined as one of the best spots to spend a sunny afternoon in New York.
Skip Starbucks for the best coffee and New York cheesecake.
AOL may no longer be the locals’ email provider of choice, but Cafe Lalo is always packed out with tourists who know the cafe as a filming location in the 1997 movie You’ve Got Mail and locals who know it for its wide selection of cakes and coffee. In Downtown Brooklyn, the original Junior’s Cheesecake on Flatbush Avenue has been serving world-famous New York cheesecake since 1950. The cheesecakes are still baked in small batches with ingredients mixed by hand.
Explore every New York neighborhood in one afternoon.
Originally built for the 1964 World’s Fair, the Panorama of the City of New York includes miniatures of every single building and bridge across the five boroughs of New York, updated to include all structures that existed prior to 1992. The massive model is located in the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, easily accessible via the 7 express train from Manhattan.
Drink with the locals.
From the Warhol superstars to writer Jack Kerouac to film director Stanley Kubrick, a long list of New York legends once called the legendary Chelsea Hotel home. The Spanish restaurant El Quijote opened at the hotel in 1930, and has remained unchanged since Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe were regulars there in the 1970s. The menu is pricey, but a trip to the bar for beer, wine and croquettes is a must. Further downtown, Ear Inn is New York’s oldest bar that has continuously served alcohol since 1817. The 18th-century building has been a brewery, brothel, speakeasy, restaurant and more, and is one of the last old-school bars where locals gather for cocktails on the cheap.
Stay in the heart of New York.
Completed in 1908 as a hotel for sailors, the Jane Hotel housed the Titanic survivors who made it to New York in 1912. The hotel became a part of New York’s bohemian downtown culture in the 1980s and 1990s, hosting Hedwig and the Angry Inch and the Million Dollar Club. In 2008, one century after opening, hoteliers Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson transformed the hotel into tiny yet affordable rooms that resemble luxury train cabins or captain’s cabins. The landmark building offers free WiFi, a French-Moroccan restaurant Cafe Gitane and an unbeatable location overlooking the Hudson River in the West Village.
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