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By The Way
Detours with locals. Travel tips you can trust.
A pretzel at a food stand outside the American Museum of Natural History.

A local’s guide to Manhattan

A pretzel at a food stand outside the American Museum of Natural History.
  • By Adrienne Jordan
  • Photos by Phillip Reed

In a city with more than 8 million people, it’s easy to get jostled while walking down the crowded streets of Manhattan. But the borough can also feel very small: Those moments when you run into an old friend at a coffee shop or see someone you know get on your subway car remind you of the magic of New York.

With rents skyrocketing over the past couple of decades, it’s no wonder that millennials flock to free live music events in Central Park or complimentary yoga classes in Madison Square Park. Hop into a cab and head uptown to Harlem for a look at the historic brownstones that lay the backdrop for the Harlem Renaissance, or subway your way to the Lower East Side, where the buildings that used to house squatters in the 1960s and ’70s have been transformed into tattoo parlors, thrift stores and boutiques, with bright murals adorning their sides. Whatever your style, Manhattan will find a place for you.

Meet Adrienne Jordan

Adrienne has lived in New York City since 2015. She’s a Maryland native who went to Los Angeles after college and then moved back east. She loves New York's culture, speakeasies and pop-up art and fashion exhibitions on any given day.

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Read more about Adrienne


East Village
The East Village used to be a place to find cheap housing and punk culture. Today, millennials flock to live in the East Village to be close to bars, restaurants, entertainment and jobs. The neighborhood is a stay-and-play destination with grungy tattoo shops, record stores, dive bars, brunch spots that play club music while you eat, and drag shows on weekends. Find the neighborhood.
Upper East Side
Known for wealthy residents with their meticulously groomed dogs, the tree-lined blocks of the Upper East Side are home to quiet brownstones, upscale restaurants and Museum Row, which includes the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim and the Frick Collection. The Upper East Side is bordered by Central Park to the west and the East River. Find the neighborhood.

Explore more of Manhattan


Hole in the Wall Cafe
If you have a dog, then you and your pet can plop down on the casual outdoor seating at Hole in the Wall Cafe. Inside, the restaurant decor is shabby-chic, with exposed Edison bulbs, a neon sign welcoming guests with “Hello Gorgeous,” abstract framed photos and pothos plants dangling from a peg board. The venue serves favorites including avocado toast, a pulled pork Benedict, chili scrambled eggs and whipped waffles with salted caramel.
BTW: If you go for breakfast on the weekends, try to arrive before 9:30 a.m., as the neighborhood starts to wake up around then and tables can book up fast.
Hole in the Wall Cafe, 15 Cliff St. New York, N.Y. 10038
Bar 314
A casual, music-themed spot with old trombones and record players mounted on the walls, this Morningside Heights venue serves brunch on the weekends with fun items like huevos pizza and waffles with Nutella and vanilla ice cream. On a sunny day, the entire restaurant storefront is open and you can catch a breeze and people watch. Much of the staff is from Italy, and you may hear your waiter’s accent.
BTW: To burn off some of those calories, take a stroll around the corner to the 30-acre Morningside Park, which has craggy rock outcroppings thought to be around 30 million years old.
Bar 314, 1260 Amsterdam Ave. New York, N.Y. 10027
Bourke Street Bakery
Jessica Grynberg opened Bourke Street Bakery to bring a fusion of cuisines into a warmly lit 50-seat venue. Grynberg was inspired by the multiculturalism of the people from her hometown of Sydney, and because of the diversity in the menu, you’ll often see locals in line outside waiting to take away items like lox sandwiches, fennel-infused pork shoulder sandwiches and fattoush salads. If you return for the after-4 p.m. menu, you’ll find natural wines.
BTW: A couple of blocks away, the Ace Hotel is a great spot to sip a coffee in the design-focused lobby, popular with locals getting things done on their laptops or catching up after work.
Bourke Street Bakery, 15 E. 28th St. New York, N.Y. 10016
Upside Pizza
Find this standing-room-only corner storefront for a cheap slice of pizza ($3-$5) but with higher-end ingredients than the usual New York pizza joint. The place is owned by Noam Grossman, who partnered with Eli and Oren Halali, the guys behind the 2 Bros. Pizza chain known for its $1 slices around New York. The organic ingredients include sourdough wild yeast starter and mozzarella stretched from curd every day.
BTW: There is always one seasonally rotating pie.
Upside Pizza, 598 Eighth Ave. New York, N.Y. 10018
Ed’s Lobster Bar
A 35-foot-long bar takes up most of the New England-style oyster bar, with a few seats in the back of the narrow, railroad-style restaurant. The decor is mostly white brick and white walls, evoking a seaside restaurant rather than a city joint. The long, communal bar invites conversation between locals and owner Ed McFarland, who is usually behind the bar overseeing the oyster-shucking and lobster-roll-making, while fish plates come from the kitchen.
BTW: The staff share responsibilities in bartending, serving food and playing host. Make eye contact with someone behind the bar so that you get seated quickly.
Ed’s Lobster Bar, 222 Lafayette St., New York N.Y. 10012
Tsion Cafe
Located on the ground floor of an apartment building in Sugar Hill, you can eat and drink Ethiopian food and beer inside the cozy restaurant or in the little backyard. Pick from dishes that longtime Harlem residents love, like doro wat, mushroom tibs, and the smoked salmon and avocado salad. Be sure to try the injera, a flatbread commonly served with Ethiopian dishes, and tej, an Ethiopian honey wine that is popular at North African weddings.
BTW: A few doors down, visit the Harlem Natural Hair Salon on the second floor of a brownstone. It specializes in locs, twists and blowouts in a historical architectural setting.
Tsion Cafe, 763 St. Nicholas Ave. New York, N.Y. 10031
Dublin House
Dublin House is a classic dive bar. The Irish-owned Dublin House was a popular spot frequented by sailors docking at the 79th Street Boat Basin in the 1930s. Now, it’s a hangout for Upper West Side residents. It attracts those looking for cheap drinks, like the Dublin House ale or a standard selection of beers from Coors to Bud Light. Catching an NFL game here is a normal occurrence, as are the bros playing darts.
BTW: If the bar looks familiar, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” filmed scenes here for its period setting.
Dublin House, 225 W. 79th St. New York, N.Y. 10024
Patent Pending
In the Radio Wave Building, where Nikola Tesla lived and did experiments, there is now a coffee shop. At night, a hidden door disguised as a large menu opens into a hallway lit by candles to reveal a speakeasy. Seating is first come, first served in the Tesla-themed bar, where you sip cocktails called “The ’Twain,” “Light Me Up” and “Hit By a Taxi.” There is even a taxidermy pigeon hanging from the ceiling; Tesla had an obsession with the bird.
BTW: Seating is limited and reservations are not accepted, so your best strategy is to go with a small group or on a date.
Patent Pending, 49 W. 27th St. New York, N.Y. 10001
(Manhattan illustrator John Sampson for The Washington Post)
  1. If you are riding the subway during rush hour, take your backpack off to make room in the crowded trains.
  2. Although New Yorkers move a mile a minute, we are happy to slow down for out-of-towners who need directions.
  3. Many of the thrift and consignment shops in the city (Buffalo Exchange, Beacon’s Closet and A Second Chance, to name a few) have designer gems for much less than the big department stores like Barneys and Bloomingdale’s.
(Manhattan illustrator John Sampson for The Washington Post)


The Cage
Watch a pickup basketball game on the iconic West Fourth Street Courts, called “the Cage,” where NBA players like Anthony Mason, Smush Parker and Stephon Marbury played before entering the league. You can find players from sunup to sundown challenging each other — from the 15-year-old neighborhood kid hoping to cut his teeth in a match to an NBA coach from the San Antonio Spurs just passing through.
BTW: You’ll find food trucks and fresh fruit vendors parked around the courts on a nice day.
The Cage, 320 Sixth Ave. New York, N.Y. 10014
Library Way
East 41st Street between Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue is known as “Library Way,” where you can look down at the sidewalk to read inscriptions on 100 bronze plaques with famous literary quotes from authors including E.B. White and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. “The knowledge of different literatures frees one from the tyranny of a few,” attributed to José Martí, is inscribed on one of the plaques. After reading a few, visit the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, the city’s main public library, to take in the sweeping architecture whose construction was finished in 1911.
BTW: Check the library website at to see the schedule of free events, which range from toddler story time to docent tours and rotating artist talks.
East 41st Street and Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018
Chelsea Music Hall
In the basement of the Chelsea Market, dance parties, drag shows, comedy sets and various types of theater performances unfold in an intimate space that’s on a mission to revive what some say has gone missing from the Chelsea neighborhood: a raw, underground nightlife scene. There’s a little something in this venue for everyone: Events in 2019 have included regular appearances of the Glenn Crytzer Orchestra, beloved for blasting big-band music to lindy-hopping dancers, and an Instagram-centric blind-dating show that puts two strangers in front of a live audience.
BTW: If you are hungry before the show, visit the ground-level Chelsea Market, where you’ll find outposts from shops like Los Tacos, the Lobster Place and Very Fresh Noodles.
Chelsea Music Hall, 407 W. 15th St. New York, N.Y. 10011
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
The Leslie-Lohman Museum in Chelsea is the only art museum in the world wholly dedicated to exhibiting and preserving artwork focused on the LGBTQ experience. The first museum space in 1969 was in the SoHo loft of couple Charles Leslie and “Fritz” Lohman. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the couple rescued work of dying artists that might have been destroyed. Now the museum displays erotic and LGBT art in several mediums, including sculptures, black-and-white photographs and portraits of LGBT icons. They have six major rotating exhibits per year.
BTW: A donation of $9 is suggested, but admission is free.
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, 26 Wooster St. New York, N.Y. 10013
Madison Square Park
Named after President James Madison, the park is between East 23rd and 26th streets near the Flatiron Building. If you like just doing nothing, then set up a picnic blanket or grab a table and people-watch. The park is popular for art installations and rollerblading, and was where the first public Christmas tree in the United States was displayed in 1912. You’ll find food vendors around the edges of the park (not to mention the first Shake Shack, inside it) and a dog run area. Kids can take part in the Madison Square Kids concert series that happens every summer.
BTW: Check the park’s website daily to see whether the various lawns are open.
Madison Square Park, Fifth Avenue and East 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10010
Adrienne Jordan
Adrienne has lived in New York City since 2015. She’s a Maryland native who went to Los Angeles after college and then moved back east. She loves New York's culture, speakeasies and pop-up art and fashion exhibitions on any given day.
Phillip Reed
Phillip is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in New York City.