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Perfect New York City Weekends for $250 or Less

This notoriously expensive city has bargains if you know where to look. Sylvan Goldberg and Christine Muhlke create two inexpensive weekend itineraries.

1. Beer, Sausages & Bowling

When I moved to New York City from Portland, Oregon, last fall, I seemed to be going in the reverse direction of every other young musician. But laid-back Portland didn’t have the energy I needed—so I quit my band, updated my résumé (I once edited the food section at Portland Monthly) and headed east. Now that my rent has tripled, I spend my weekends hunting for stellar but affordable meals in downtown Manhattan and Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and searching for ways to enjoy my adopted city without going broke—whether window shopping or checking out the retro bowling trend.

Friday

8 p.m.: Drinks at Dell’Anima. Joe Campanale seems too young to have been a sommelier at Babbo—he’s 24—but his smart Italian wine list and herbal-infused cocktails at this always-packed new restaurant prove otherwise. 9:30 p.m.: Dinner at Bar Blanc. I love the pristine, market-driven food, like the crispy sweetbread and roasted-rabbit salad, even though I’m not a fan of the huge metal lamp shades and curved banquettes—like a 1970s imagining of 2010.

Saturday

10 a.m.: Coffee at Ninth Street Espresso in the Chelsea Market, which brews beans from North Carolina roaster Counter Culture to dark perfection. At the market’s Ronnybrook Milk Bar, I eat raisin-walnut toast with farmer’s cheese, honey and pomegranate seeds. 11 a.m.: After renting a two-wheeler at Chelsea Bicycles (130 W. 26th St.; 646-230-7715), it’s an easy ride along the Hudson River to take in views of the Statue of Liberty ($12 for two hours). 2 p.m.: Lunch at Barbuto, Jonathan Waxman’s locally driven Italian spot in the West Village. The grilled skirt steak is spiced up with a chile salsa that has an addictively smoky kick ($35). 4 p.m.: I hop on the L subway line to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for a free tour of the Brooklyn Brewery and its vats of microbrews (79 N. 11th St.; 718-486-7422). Afterward, I browse vintage clothing stores Beacon’s Closet, with its seemingly endless racks of button-downs (88 N. 11th St.; 718-486-0816), Houndstooth, for blazers (485 Driggs Ave.; 718-384-8705), and the new A.P.C. Surplus store (33 Grand St.; 347-381-3193), where last season’s clothes are about half-price. 7 p.m.: Dinner at Marlow & Sons. I pass through its general store into the busy dining room and feel like I’ve been let into some backroom hipsterdom. I order the earthy sliced beef heart on heavily salted toast to start, then lemony brick chicken ($45). 9 p.m.: Bowling at The Gutter (200 N. 14th St.; 718-387-3585). The place is new but high on nostalgia, with old-school scoring machines. I’m convinced from my low score that the lanes are slanted, but an employee insists a laser-sight was used to level them. Another culprit: my Michter’s rye ($17).

Sunday

12 p.m.: Brunch with excellent house-made pork sausage at the East Village’s Back Forty, a new spot from Savoy’s Peter Hoffman. The horseradish-heavy Bloody Mary kills any lingering bowling bitterness. 2 p.m.: The New Museum (235 Bowery; 212-219-1222), a new art center, looks like a stack of shiny boxes ($12). 4 p.m.: A tour of the awe-inspiringly ornate Eldridge Street Synagogue (12 Eldridge St.; 212-219-0888), a National Historic Landmark built in 1887. Its 20-year renovation was completed last winter ($10). 5 p.m.: Crunchy pickles at the Pickle Guys ($5), fittingly, are made with a rabbi’s supervision (49 Essex St.; 888-474-2553).

Sylvan Goldberg is a former editor at Portland Monthly.

2. Champagne & Crêpes

Working for a luxury style magazine requires exploring the best (and newest) that New York City has to offer on a nightly basis. But when it comes to enjoying the city on my own dime, I like to stay downtown, especially on the edge of the Lower East Side where it bumps up against Chinatown. When I want a treat, I visit the Upper East Side, which provides that classic only-in-New-York feeling I love—not to mention great people-watching and an excuse to dress up.

Friday

7 p.m.: Dinner at Mia Dona, chef Michael Psilakis and restaurateur Donatella Arpaia’s affordable new Italian venture on the Upper East Side. He takes care of the superb pastas and meat loaf filled with a six-minute egg; she handles the high-maintenance guests. 9 p.m.: The drinks menu at Bemelmans Bar always tempts, but I’m faithful to its Champagne cocktails, which pair well with the potato chips and nuts served on a silver caddy. Most nights there’s a piano player in residence.

Saturday

10 a.m.: Breakfast at Shopsin’s. The stall has six tables in the revitalized Essex Street Market, where Latino produce stalls share space with specialty-food retailers. Here the forever-grumpy proprietor, Kenny Shopsin, and his kids whip up crazy but surprisingly delicious dishes like sausage-and-cheese bread-pudding French toast. Afterward, I browse the neighboring purveyors checking out offerings like the Jasper Hill Farm Cabot cheddar and fresh Alleva Dairy ricotta at Saxelby Cheesemongers (Stall No. 17; $10) and decadent chocolate-covered figs at Formaggio Kitchen (Stall No. 21; $5 for two), an outpost of the famed original in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1 p.m.: Just a few blocks south, near Chinatown, Project No. 8 (138 Division St.; 212-925-5599) has an international, avant-garde mix of clothing, accessories and odd knickknacks, from Martin Margiela shoes to German fountain pens. On the Lower East Side, the well-edited, mint-condition vintage clothing at Peggy Pardon (153 Ludlow St.; 212-529-3686) always feels just right, particularly her garden-party frocks from the ’40s and ’50s. Next door, newcomer Fig (153 Ludlow St., 212-228-2665) is a 19th-century cabinet of curiosities, with European antiques and packable objets for the home, like a French nutcracker or a Syrian chess set. I also stop by my favorite designer, Zero Maria Cornejo (225 Mott St.; 212-925-3849), whose cerebral, architectural clothes are (almost) all I wear. I could move into John Derian (6 E. Second St.; 212-677-3917) for his incredible taste in tabletop, antiques and bedding and his own whimsical découpage platters. 5 p.m.: I get a 30-minute massage at the basement spot Wu Lim Qi Gong Master (145 Grand St.; 212-925-1276; $21). 8 p.m.: Dinner at the refined Japanese restaurant Kyo Ya. The place serves a 10-course kaiseki meal for $120, but with appetizers starting at $8, you can put together a pretty and less expensive à la carte feast, with lightly fried sea eel with tofu in a hot dashi broth, and the excellent fluke sashimi pressed in kombu seaweed and sprinkled with shiso blossoms.

Sunday

12 p.m.: Morandi has the best brunch in the West Village. I have to be forced to share the chestnut crêpes with ricotta and honey or the bread basket filled with dried-fruit-and-walnut focaccia, pistachio bread and other goodies. Beware: The tiny cups of cappuccini can add up. 2 p.m.: Film Forum (209 W. Houston St.; 212-727-8110) is a downtown institution. Where else can you see remastered prints and new cutting-edge documentaries? Plus, the amazing snack bar has fresh-baked cookies and brownies and rich chocolate bars by Jacques Torres. The city’s best popcorn goes down well with an authentic chocolate egg cream ($20 for ticket and snacks).

Christine Muhlke is an editor at T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

Published June 2008
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