Reader Favorites: What To Do In NYC


Katie on ‘collecting’ New York: December tends to bring a certain nostalgia in with it – the urge to take stock and look back at what’s led us to this point. This month, we’re bringing back some of your favorite stories along with some of the anecdotes Helen and I have ‘gathered’ along the way. This piece brings up some fun (and funny!) memories including being politely discouraged from photographing an especially exclusive lobby, getting lost in some of the world’s greatest bookshops, and being serenaded by two truly charming baristas at the unforgettable Blue Hill Farm outside the city. 

As with most things, the sleepless city does the holidays to the nines, so it seems particularly timely to revisit a favorite COLLECT feature on what to do in New York. If you’re one of the lucky ducks headed to the Big Apple this season, here are some holiday happenings for your itinerary:

The Plaza Hotel becomes a festive Fifth Avenue wonderland during the holidays, complete with dramatic decor and treats like an Eloise-inspired tea with Santa, or special gifts from the worldly Plaza Food Hall… The Four Seasons kicks off the holidays this week with a champagne toast and tree lighting extravaganza as well as an impressive six-foot gingerbread mansion… Mandarin Oriental, New York has an exclusive Central Park-inspired Rodarte scarf for the luxe lover on your list as well as a black tie New Year’s Eve gala to ring 2016 in right… Gramercy Park Hotel is a hop, skip and a jump from the annual Christmas Eve caroling and cocoa in their exclusive little namesake of a park… And finally, don’t skip a midtown window shop – the always-epic displays at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barney’s and Bloomingdale’s are at their over-the-top best during the most wonderful time of the year.

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Spoil Your Inner Bookworm

It’s no surprise that a city with 50+ different neighborhoods and infinitely more individualized agendas would also be home to an endearing book shop collective. There is a rhyme for every reader in this land of literary havens, their cognoscenti a remaining vestige of pride in service.

With its miles of books, the East Village’s Strand is New York’s best known book destination with good reason. There’s nothing quite like wandering through its cavernous aisles of controlled chaos, all the while chuckling at the well-placed staff recommendations and cheeky literary quotes. It’s impossible to leave here empty-handed.

By contrast, Nolita mainstay McNally Jackson is thoughtfully curated by local luminary Sarah Jackson. Her consideration shines at this bi-level shop, and if you happen to be in town for one of her in-store author conversations, go – they’re often unforgettable.

Strolling the wonderful West Village is never a tough sell, but it’s even more appealing with the promise of a visit to Three Lives & Company, a sure thing when on a ‘need a great new book’ mission. With minimal signage and a legion of erudite staffers who’d run circles around your college lit TA, this is a true bibliophile’s treat.

The Upper West Side holds an especial place in our hearts, so it naturally holds that Book Culture does too. Bright and inviting, it wears its academic pedigree well (the original location is Columbia-adjacent), and is friendly and infinitely browsable.

Kitchen Arts & Letters is the kind of popular little niche that’s worth planning your day around. Their website claims it’s hard to beat a visit to the store and how true that is – anyone who claims to be a fan of the culinary genre will find their next collector’s item or go-to gastro idea here. The world’s hungriest master chefs rely regularly on the shop, but we too loved trolling the tomes, our literary appetites piqued until we meet again.

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Get A Culture Shot

The Upper East Side is synonymous with many things, but for us, it will forever be designated an aesthete’s paradise. Home to some of the world’s greatest museums, shops and tree-lined streets, it provides a kind of ideal sensory refueling.

Our latest trip to the splendid Frick Collection featured Don Quixote, a worthy exhibit for a place that so clearly reveres the romantic. And the peaceful Garden Court with its playful frog-accented fountain is a gateway to a more meditative state of mind.

A visit to Creel and Gow is the ideal post-Frick companion, its ‘Edith Wharton on Safari’ vibe a cool mini-departure. Filled with coral pieces, assorted taxidermy and a vast variety of rare curios, this former townhouse stable promises to fuel plenty of future decor dreams.

Fortified by your interiors snack, you’ll next want to hit the streets and see the UES as it’s meant to be seen: on foot. The area is an old money stronghold and the site of some of the world’s most stunning (and most expensive) real estate. Sights of note include Jackie O’s 5th Avenue beauty and The Metropolitan Club, and it’s fun to try and catch a glimpse of the area’s Edenic rooftop gardens. The Friends of the Upper East Side Historic District does a wonderful job of cataloging the neighborhood’s many landmarks and factoids, synthesizing them into a walking tour.

Though it’s certainly a foregone conclusion that a trip to The Met is an absolute essential, we’d be remiss in leaving such a beloved destination off of our list. If you have time for nothing else, a quick communion with the European painters or the Costume Institute’s exhibitions will always prove to be worthwhile expenditures of your time.

From The Met, you’ll find yourself at an ideal fork in the road for a Central Park visit. Far removed from Midtown’s more touristy access points, this is your quieter entrée to the city’s purest sanctum. Take a blanket to The Great Lawn and bask in the glow of the day’s restorative ventures.

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Get To Know Thy Farmer

When you think of true culinary innovators, those chefs who push the boundaries of our food imaginations and by extension, the industry at large, Dan Barber stands out as a peerless leader. A passionate purist on a relentless quest for a better way, he rouses interest and admiration for his meticulously built Blue Hill empire. Sign your own permission slip for a field trip out to Pocantico Hills and the Blue Hill Farm, a place where all Barber’s philosophies, talents and passions coalesce into an experiential billet-doux. Feed off of the staff’s infectious energy at The Grain Bar while you wait in line for a farm fresh latte and try to narrow your enormous baked goods wish list. Then wander the pristine grounds and visit Stone Barns Center Farm for a peek at their agricultural innovation (and cute farm animals). The Market offers a methodical selection of “in good company” picks and is a great info source for all things Blue Hill. Finally, Blue Hill at Stone Barns‘ seasonal tasting menu is a feast of epic proportions, and is a splurge to be experienced at least once in a lifetime.

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Make A Grand Entrance

A hotel lobby can be a beautiful thing, enveloping weary travelers in a warm and civilized embrace. There tends to be a lot of emphasis on the next big thing, but the great hotel lobbies of New York City are hallowed homages to a bygone era, large in scale, varied in design and symbolic of welcome. Just because you can only stay in one place doesn’t mean you can’t get a broader feel for the city’s first class hotel scene, or enjoy cocktails or an afternoon tea in their storied lounges. A few favorites:

The Plaza… for its gilded lily pillars and sheafs of sparkling crystal

Mandarin Oriental… for its glossy wave of windows framing a show-stopping view

Waldorf Astoria… for its Art Deco lavishness and myriad marble details

Four Seasons… for its I.M. Pei-perfected symmetry and soaring ceilings

Gramercy Park Hotel… for its lush, textural beauty and Rose Bar-proximity

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Looking for more New York City stories? See the full Gather collection here.

© Explore: Gather’s Guide to What to do In New York City.