Cheap & Chic in New York City
Author: GEORGE EPAMINONDAS
Photography: JUSTIN BERNHAUT
As the apex of consumer temptation, NYC is a destination that can burn a hole in your pocket. Each time a New Yorker exits their apartment, as the famous adage goes, they inexplicably shed $20 - even if they're just heading out for a copy of the New York Times or a cup of joe. Given these bizarre odds, how is the unwitting tourist expected to navigate this costly city? How can one avoid spending a small fortune on their next jaunt? With our penny pincher's guide to the Big Apple, that's how. From elegant tapas bars to cheap 'n' chic retailers and delightful B&Bs that won't leave you feeling like a prisoner in a gilded cage, we left no stone unturned in our quest for fashionable frugality.
Cheap is a relative term in a metropolis where the $50 main course is almost ubiquitous, where the average charge for a so-so hotel room is $270 a night, and where it's frightfully easy to extinguish a credit card in a single swipe at a store like Bergdorf Goodman or Barneys. So we set some parameters to our guide. We only included restaurants where the price of a main course does not exceed $25. We explored the affordable satellite eateries of the city's leading chefs, as opposed to their lavish, better-known motherships. We moved beyond the obvious and over-rated markdown meccas (read: Century 21) to discover fabulous alternative shopping destinations where a rakish pair of pumps won't cost you both arms and legs. And in the hotel conundrum we focused on downtown inns with a residential vibe and reasonable rates. Bring the Amex by all means, but don't leave home without our insider's guide.
DINING ON A DIME (ALMOST)
Forget Trumpian excess. Eating inexpensively is a breeze in New York if you know where to go. We limited our survey to Manhattan eateries with mains for less than $25. Don't expect Christofle silver - these places are far more humble than their glitzy counterparts but no less delicious.
Decked out in bamboo and faux foliage, this Lower East Side hub is a Cantonese temple serving some 200 dishes including rice porridge, as the name suggests.100 Allen Street, +1 212 941 1818.
Rai Rai Ken
A ramen bar offering luscious broths studded with ingredients like spinach and pork.214 East 10th Street, +1 212 477 7030.
Arrive early to snag a spot at this tantalising tapas bar in West Chelsea, where gallery-hoppers clamber for a plate of fried chickpeas, chorizo with sherry and tortilla española.205 10th Avenue, +1 212 675 8805.
Degustation Wine & Tasting Bar
This East Village boîte specialises in small plates with big flavours, priced from $5 to $20. Typical is the grilled squid stuffed with braised short ribs.239 East 5th Street, +1 212 979 1012.
Una Pizza Napoletana
No fancy toppings like raw tuna and black truffles here. This cult East Village pizzeria prepares only classic Neapolitan-style pizze. Have the filetti, a tasty margherita with cherry tomatoes.349 East 12th Street, +1 212 477 9950.
Expect lines at this Madison Square Park food stand lauded for its seriously great burgers, hot dogs and frozen custard.Southeast corner near 23rd Street, +1 212 889 6600.
Tulcingo Del Valle
Mexican delis are everywhere in New York but this glorified Hell's Kitchen one has its own modest little restaurant turning out hearty meals.665 10th Avenue, +1 212 262 5510.
Charles' Southern Style Kitchen
What this Harlem institution lacks in ambience it makes up for in unbeatable prices. The all-you-can-eat buffet is $12 for weekday lunch and $14 for dinner and weekends. The fried chicken, collard greens and cornbread are legendary.2841 8th Avenue, +1 212 926 4313.
This petite Indian-themed West Village takeaway bar turns out frothy yoghurt drinks, vegetable parathas and mouthwatering mainstays such as butter chicken for a pittance. If the fig parfait is on, order it.28 Greenwich Avenue, +1 212 675 2688.
Chef Zak Pelaccio dishes up neo-Malaysian delicacies with a twist, like pork and watermelon salad. A sardine-can at dinner, lunch is a better option at this West Village eatery.643 Hudson Street, +1 212 352 3590.
A casual Italian trattoria in a sea of pricier restaurants in Gramercy. The pumpkin and sage tortelloni, just $15, are heavenly.47 East 21st Street, +1 212 505 3072.
Yes, it's a café in a Nicole Farhi store in Chelsea but don't let that dissuade you from sampling the Caesar salad with steak.75 9th Avenue, +1 646 638 0115.
Authentic Basque-flavoured tapas like charred pork caramelised with juniper sugar draws patrons to this East Village canteen.175 2nd Avenue, +1 212 375 1555.
Stop by for Aussie-style meat pies and sauce, sausage rolls and lamingtons at this late-night home away from home in the East Village.68 East 1st Street, +1 212 979 5200.
We told you about panini masters 'ino last year. 'inoteca is its larger offshoot on the Lower East Side, with stellar antipasti and an all-Italian wine list.98 Rivington Street, +1 212 614 0473.
Situated down a Lower East Side alley, with a wacky collection of taxidermy, Freemans boasts raffish charm and cheap eats including macaroni and cheese and baked artichoke dip.Freeman Alley off Rivington Street, +1 212 420 0012.
May's BBQ USA
A well-known Hell's Kitchen rib joint with a honky-tonk vibe and cut-price offerings.623 11th Avenue, +1 212 977 1500.
Diffusion not fusion
Calvin Klein has CK, Donna Karan has DKNY and now many of New York's most illustrious chefs have spawned secondary restaurants with more accessible prices. Gourmands would be advised to sniff out these diffusion satellites that preserve the DNA of the culinary bigwig. Dining at Per Se (4th floor, 10 Columbus Circle, +1 212 823 9335), Thomas Keller's venerable restaurant close to Central Park, will set you back $150 for five courses. But also located in the Time Warner Center is Bouchon Bakery (10 Columbus Circle, 3rd floor, +1 212 823 9366), Keller's exceptional café with offerings such as tuna Niçoise tartine for $15, less if you have it to go. Sure, it's still not exactly cheap, but this is the Bentley of tuna sandwiches. Go there when you're hanging around the Upper West Side. Similarly, Mario Batali is one of the city's most esteemed chefs with a top-notch portfolio of swanky restaurants. His most affordable? Casa Mono (52 Irving Pl, +1 212 253 2773), a rambunctious tapas bar near Union Square, with an adjacent wine bar, Bar Jamón. Go there before an East Village bar crawl. Also by Batali, Lupa (170 Thompson St, +1 212 982 5089) is a superb Italian ostería where I'd feast every week if I could. Go there after zipping around SoHo's stores at sale time. And lastly from Batali is Otto Enoteca Pizzeria (1 5th Ave, +1 212 995 9559), his take on a bustling pizzeria. Tom Colicchio of Craft fame begat Craft Bar (900 Broadway, +1 212 461 4300) and the even cheaper still 'wichcraft (60 East 8th St, near Broadway, +1 212 780 0577; plus six other locations), with tasty sandwiches and desserts. Go there when you're exploring lower Fifth Avenue.
THE INN CROWD
You could book a characterless little hotel room at a harried midtown location but why not opt for a charming suite at a downtown inn with a residential vibe? These cosy B&Bs are on brownstone-lined streets with neighbourhood cafés that offer Wi-Fi access and all-day people-watching. From a pied à terre in Greenwich Village, for example, you can explore Chelsea, SoHo and the East Village on foot, ride the subway to the Met and Central Park, or go downtown to Tribeca and the South Street Seaport.
Appealing apartments in a stately West Village townhouse. A double room starts at $266 but if three people shared the El Greco suite it would cost about $120 a head. Book way ahead - they go fast. 278 West 11th, between West 4th and Bleecker, +1 212 675 7897, www.west-eleventh.com.
Incentra Village House
Working fireplaces, antique furniture and a plum Greenwich Village address make this worth considering. Doubles from $235. 32 8th Avenue, between 12th and Jane Street, +1 212 206 0007, www.incentravillage.com.
Chelsea Savoy Hotel
A new building outfitted with new furniture and reasonable rates is a rarity in NYC - the parlour even has a 1930s baby grand piano. Doubles from $275. 204 West 23rd Street, near 7th Avenue, +1 212 929 9353, www.chelseasavoynyc.com.
The Maritime Hotel
With rates from $235-$470, this is the costliest hotel on our list but it's also the buzziest and the only one that resembles a ship. The Maritime, on the fringe of the Meatpacking District, boasts sleek nautical fittings, cool al fresco bars and sexy restaurants including La Bottega. 363 West 16th Street, +1 212 242 4300, www.themaritimehotel.com.
Abingdon Guest House
Choose from nine well-appointed and individually designed rooms at this handsome inn that's a short stroll from the bustling Meatpacking District for those inclined to burn the candle at both ends. Doubles from $210. 13 8th Avenue, +1 212 243 5384, www.abingdonguesthouse.com.
Washington Square Hotel
More like a conventional hotel than the aforementioned. It still boasts a Greenwich Village address though - it's located opposite the recognisable park archway - and reasonably priced rooms. Doubles from $210. 103 Waverly Place, at MacDougal Street, +1 212 777 9515, www.washingtonsquarehotel.com.
The Hotel Chelsea
This famously louche residence on 23rd Street has a crumbling elegance and a creative legacy. Andy Warhol shot Chelsea Girls here. Sid and Nancy shot other things here. Rooms from $230. 222 West 23rd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, +1 212 243 3700; www.hotelchelsea.com.
Inn on 23rd
The surprisingly inviting rooms at this family-owned B&B are equipped with satellite TV, internet access and blackout window shades. Doubles from $320. 131 West 23rd Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, +1 212 463 0330, www.innon23rd.com.
For a comprehensive list of hotels listed under budget, location and facility, check out www.nytimes.com.
THE BEAT IS ONLINE
Surf your way to super-cheap hotel bargains by checking the online discounters. Quikbook.com is one of the most reliable booking agencies on the internet. It also has one of the better cancellation policies, charging nothing at hotels where bills are settled at checkout. Other online agencies worth perusing before you go include hotels.com, expedia.com, travelocity.com and orbitz.com. Hotels.com charges for rooms at the time of reservation, while the others offer some prepaid rooms at great discounts. Aggregator sites like kayak.com and sidestep.com collate information on hundreds of hotels from the cyber sphere. Naturally, booking early is better but if you're running short on time, lastminute.com has plenty of last-minutes deals that include hotels/car/flight combos.
DEALS AND STEALS
There exists in New York a breed of shopper who refuses to pay the full retail value of any item. Crafty, stealthy and frequently wealthy, they haunt lower-priced stores for chic bargains, religiously monitor the sales for reduced designer wares and befriend store clerks for whispers of impending markdowns. Use these intrepid people as your inspiration when exploring NYC's material delights.
H&M and Zara
Swedish giant H&M offers fast fashion to be worn for a season. Example: an ethereal little black dress worthy of a black-tie event for $40. Designer collaborations include a collection with Madonna.H&M has eight stores in NYC, +1 212 564 9922.
Spanish store Zara pounces on trends with equal fervour though the result is a little more sober and work-appropriate than its rival.Zara has five stores in Manhattan, +1 212 868 6551.
Calypso is the glittering empire of Christiane Celle, whose bourgeois bohemian aesthetic (think beaded silk skirts and metallic leather sandals) evokes tropical enclaves like St Barts and Bali.424 Broome Street, near LaFayette, +1 212 274 0449.
SoHo's newest arrival has women's shoes for about $230, which puts them way below a pair of Manolos. The Barcelona-based company is known for its trendy, whimsical and limited-edition designs.382 West Broadway, near Broome Street, +1 212 584 8000.
The newest kid on the block, Uniqlo hails from Japan and offers cheap cashmere sweaters, T-shirts, snappy jackets and everything else one needs to stave wardrobe ennui. There's just a SoHo flagship for now, but it's the size of an aircraft hanger.546 Broadway, between Prince and Spring Streets, +1 917 237 8800.
Bargain hunters flock here for markdowns of mostly American lines including Earnest Sewn, Alice + Olivia and Cynthia Steffe. The merch changes often.361 West 17th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, +1 212 243 3177; 229 Mott Street, between Prince and Spring Streets, +1 212 226 5167.
This East Village retailer offers designer overstock for men and women from stores such as Henri Bendel at up to 80 per cent off retail. Labels include Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Chloé.225 First Avenue between 13th and 14th Streets, +1 212 254 3180.
Sizing up the sales
New York is famous for its sales, so why not book your trip to coincide with them? Memorial Day (the official kick-off to summer in the last week of May) is also the start of spring clearances, and the ideal time to snag bikinis, flip-flops and casual gear. Haute houses like Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana and Balenciaga all have sales in June. As for cashmere cardies, fur vests and suede boots, they're marked down later in the year. While many large stores offer discounted wares on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in late November, the choice buys can be had the week after Christmas. If you're in the market for a coat, they go on sale in January and disappear fast. If you're in town over a non-sale period, consult magazines such as New York and Time Out for weekly updates on various stores.
Qantas operates five services a week from Sydney to New York, via Los Angeles. From 14 August, this will increase to a daily service. For further information and bookings, contact your travel agent, call 13 13 13 or go to
Ride itInstead of taking a taxi or car service to and from the airport, which will set you back about $55, use the New York Airport Service Express Bus, $15, or Express Shuttle USA, $17. Or, if your luggage is manageable, climb aboard the AirTrain that connects to the New York subway (www.airtrainjfk.com). Sub it Make the New York City subway your friend. Buy a week-long MetroCard ($28) and ride all day and all night. Maps are posted at every stop and on subways. The subway delivers you within a short stroll of most of the things you'll want to see.
Another money (and time) saver is the CityPass, a booklet of
prepaid admissions to attractions including The Museum of Modern
Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Empire State
Building. $77 adults, $58 for children, www.citypass.com.
You don't need to pay full price for many Broadway and off-Broadway
shows. Same-day tickets to popular productions that are not sold
out can be bought at a discount, often 50 per cent, at the TKTS
booth in Duffy Square at 47th Street between Broadway and 7th
Avenue. The booth has temporarily moved to the Marriott Marquis
Hotel on 46th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue, www.tdf.org/tkts.
Brooklyn, across the river from Manhattan, is a parallel universe
of affordable and enjoyable retail and restaurant diversions: from
the hip stores of Williamsburg, clustered around Bedford Avenue, to
the multi-cultural delis of Atlantic Avenue.
Don't miss touring the free galleries of West Chelsea in the 20s
between 10th and 11th Avenues. The Chelsea flea market unfolds
every weekend on 6th Avenue between 24th and 27th Streets, with
stall after stall of vintage clothes, trinkets and collectables.
Additionally, Central Park offers many inexpensive diversions, from
blading to picnics.