With only 2 days until the first sessions at NWAV 47, I thought I would do a mitzvah, and put together a partial, highly biased guide to NYC for visiting linguists. I’ve lived here for over a decade — longer than anywhere else in my life. My wife’s family is from here. I know NYC. This not intended as a complete guide, but rather, some tips, tricks, and suggestions to make visiting for NWAV at NYU easier and more fun. I wrote this with help and input from my wife, who is a sociologist at NYU. I’ll be updating this with photos over the next few days, but I wanted to get this out (and then get back to finishing my slides!)
Getting here and getting around:
It may be tempting to take an uber or lyft, and if that works for you, so much the better, but surge pricing is unpredictable and insane (a normally $20 cab ride was once estimated at $64 from uber). The best way to do things is subway, then black cab, then yellow or green cab, and then uber/lyft. Black cabs are independently operated car companies, licensed by the TLC (usually with names like “day and night”). In Harlem, most trips are $7, even when a green cab would be $20. However, if you’re getting a black cab in midtown or downtown, make sure you always ask the price beforehand. You can haggle. Open the door, say “how much to X” and then “nah, man, I’ve only got $20 [or whatever].” The driver will think it over and either say yes or no. Yellow Cabs are exactly what you expect — but be forewarned: for some reason, a majority of yellow cab drivers seem to have been trained that your foot must be fully depressed on either the brake or the gas at all times. If you’re in traffic, you’re gonna be accelerating HARD to go 2 feet before braking HARD. No idea why. Green Cabs are yellow cabs, but the are required to pick people up in the outer boroughs (which somehow includes upper manhattan, above 96th). The are not allowed to pick people up in midtown or downtown, so be aware. For yellow or green cabs, they are available if the light on top is on, and they are taken if the light is off. At roughly 4:30 shifts change over, meaning it is impossible to get a cab from 4:00 to 5:00.
From any of the airports, the subway is the cheapest option, by a long shot. It's also about the same amount of time as -- or faster than -- a cab. Especially if there's traffic on the Van Wyck or BQE or Deegan or on 125th or Broadway or wherever. And there is. So take the airtrain to the subway. If you're coming from Newark, there's one extra step: take the New Jersey Transit (NJT) to Penn station (for $13). Then take the subway.
WE STRONGLY RECOMMEND A $32 UNLIMITED (1 WEEK) METROCARD.
An unlimited lets you use the subway or bus as many times as you want, and you should be taking advantage of this! You will make back the expenditure by saving money on better, cheaper food, and seeing more interesting neighborhoods -- especially if you're visiting for LSA later and not NWAV.
If you're here for NWAV, you'll be right by a lot of subway lines that go to fun places in a short amount of time. If you want to get away from the conference for a bit, there's nothing wrong with MacDougal Street or the places we recommend below, but you probably won't be fully away from the conference. You can get to downtown Brooklyn, eat, and get back in under an hour.
Avoid Times Square, and midtown more broadly, unless you have a compelling reason to be there. Times Square is awful, and there is no excuse for going there. You didn't come to NYC to get jostled by other tourists, look at ads for all the stores you have at home, and eat at the Olive Garden, did you? Any New Yorker worth their salt avoids Times Square like the plague, unless they work there. The only exception for midtown is Grand Central, which has a pretty ceiling, but that’s about it. (Full disclosure: I worked in Grand Central for about 5 years. It’s a commuter train station with a pretty ceiling. The hallway I worked in is mildly radioactive, and I’m still upset).
Eat a bagel. Preferably not from a bodega. In fact, more broadly, eat food from local places and not national chains, if you can avoid it.
Get the MTA app.
Here’s how the subway works: there are multiple trains that go to different destinations that all run on the same lines. They are grouped by colors. Do not refer to them by colors; no one will know what you’re talking about. So for instance, you can take the A or the C to get to Dekalb market in Brooklyn from NYU, but you can’t “take the blue line.” (in part because the E doesn’t go there!). This also means you can’t just get on whatever comes, but you should probably look at what the train is. If you need to take the A train uptown, and you hop on the E train because they both have blue letters, you will end up in Queens and have no idea why.
BIG HUGE SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT WEEKENDS: Due to track work, emergency maintenance, repair after hurricane Sandy, and a million other factors, the trains all basically scramble on the weekends. It is not uncommon to hear announcements like “due to track maintenance, the D is running local on the C line, the C is running express on the A line, the A is running express, and the B train does not run on weekends. Below 59th street, the D is running on the F line and the F is not running. For skipped stations, busses are available with a free transfer…” The MTA app will tell you all that, and map you to your destination. Finally, “express” means it skips a lot of stops, and “local” means it stops at each stop. If you want to go to Harlem, it’s 5 stops from NYU on the A train. It’s 12 on the C train. (it’s not entirely clear to me that one is actually faster, since the A sometimes sits between stops for no apparent reason, but it’s rumored to be faster in theory).
Things near NYU
Stumptown: excellent coffee in a beautiful space, but often extremely crowded, with limited seating.
Joe: an NYC local small chain that just got picked up by Danny Myer food group. My usual hang is a different location of the same shop.
Third Rail: In our opinion the best macchiato of the three, but also the smallest shop, with about 12 seats.
Saigon Shack: excellent Pho and even better banh mi on very good baguettes. The pork chops are amazing. And a good place to hear Vietnamese.
Oat meals: a surprisingly good, filling, very delicious breakfast. They just do oatmeal. Kind of hipster, sure, but also -- you can get a cup of oatmeal with peanut butter, bacon, dates, and maple syrup.
Patsy's Pizzeria: This is hands down the best pizza in NYC and I will fight you over it. It’s walking distance from NYU. GO TO PATSY’S.
Mahmoun's Falafel: This is an institution. It's good -- not the best falafel ever -- but pretty good, and very cheap.
Melvin's: used to be Melvin's juice bar. Exceptional Roti and other Jamaican food. The juice bar closed and is now just part of the restaurant next door. Prices may have gone up.
not Otto: It was exceptional, but it's a Batali restaurant. So, maybe don't.
all of these are jazz clubs with live music every night. Most of them are "cozy". If you want to hear a jam session at 3am, Smalls or Fat Cat are your best bet.
The Blue Note (overpriced, but good headliners. Kind of a jazz Disneyland)
Bar Next Door
Things a Real New Yorker considers "a short walk" from NYU
St. Mark's place: Funky neighborhood with tattoo shops, ramen, vintage clothes, smokes, and what’s left of the punk rock scene. Lots of skateboards.
Jules Bistro (jazz club & French bistro): Good French food, often excellent music. I sit in here pretty often, depending on who is playing.
Xian Famous Foods: Excellent western Chinese food. Silk road and hip hop. Spicy lamb and homemade noodles.
Caracas Arepas: really spectacular arepas.
Chinatown & Little Italy: I’d recommend walking down broadway, through Soho, and just wandering around.
Other Neighborhoods Easy to get to Quickly From NYU:
Harlem: The culture capitol of the world. Sylvana and Yatenga are both excellent restaurants owned by the same people who own the music venue The Shrine. Both are excellent places to hear French and Wolof. Maison Harlem is spectacular French and African food. The Edge is a Caribbean brunch spot on Edgecombe, not far from a good cafe to work at, called Manhattanville. Up Sugar Hill from there is the beatiful CCNY campus, which is right by an excellent Indian restaurant (Clove), an excellent Italian restaurant (Fumo), one of the best pizza-by-the-slice take-out joints (Uncle Tony’s), and the best ramen outside of Japan (ROKC). For Chicken and waffles everyone will tell you Sylvia’s, but Amy Ruth’s is slightly less touristy and much much better. You could go to Red Rooster, but be aware that Marcus Samuelsson went around the city council and kind of pissed off a lot of people in Harlem. I would strongly suggest avoiding Oso (Alec Trebek’s son claiming he’s “bringing authentic Mexican street food to Harlem, despite the wealth of street food made by actual Mexicans he’s trying to push out), avoiding The Grange, and The Chipped Cup. These are spaces that are welcoming primarily to white transplants to Harlem, and that do not create a welcoming space to people actually from the neighborhood. Your mileage may vary. (With regards to the Chipped Cup, I’ve had more black folks than I can count tell me they didn’t feel comfortable or welcome there, and a handful of white people refer to it as a “safe space”). There’s an excellent African food court I call “Black Panther foodcourt” because of their longstanding wall display of radical black heroes, but the actual name is Harlem Food Court on 116. Price is by weight. They are half a block away from Malcolm Shabazz Market which has African (and Dutch) goods. If you’re looking for Dutch wax, Kente, or Dashikis, that’s the place (note: I have no idea why it’s not Malcolm X or Malik El-Shabazz). A block up is Harlem Coffee, which is run by a brother who looks like Luke Cage (no really, there’s a photo of them together on Harlem Coffee’s instagram), and which gets their beans from Joe. Most of these places are easily accessible from the B or the C, or the 2/3.
Upper West Side: You’d take the B or the C to 81st get here. There’s Central Park, which is a must this time of year. Excellent coffee from Joe, bagels at H&H, ice cream from Van Leeuwen, and more restaurants than you can count along Amsterdam Avenue from 79th to about 96th. I recommend Swagat for Indian food, Senn for Northern Thai food, and The Great Burrito for huaraches with mole poblano. There’s the Natural History museum, and there’s a spectacular independent bookstore called Book Culture. On 106th Street there is one of my favorite Jazz Clubs, Smoke, which always has great music, and has excellent food.
Lower East Side: tons of good food, funky shops, and bars here. Lots of history. I recommend Russ & Daughters for traditional Jewish LES cuisine. They have a sit down restaurant around the corner, where you can eat bagels, lox, blini, matzoh ball soup, and egg creams to your heart’s content. There’s also the Knish Factory.
West Village: Just walk west on Bleecker street from the NYU area. It’s a beautiful neighborhood with tons of restaurants and shops, and tree lined residential streets.
Downtown Brooklyn: There are a ton of ways to get here, I would normally recommend the A train. If you go to Hoyt Schermerhorn, you can go to the Dekalb Market Hall, which has EXCELLENT food. Fletcher’s BBQ is there, and I eat it roughly once a week. Daigo Hand Roll is excellent sushi. Katz’s Deli is wildly overpriced. Great shopping along the Fulton Mall, leading to Borough Hall, which has farmers markets on Saturdays. If you go that far, you can walk back toward Brooklyn Bridge. You could also just take the A to High Street. From here, you can go to the water, and enjoy a SPECTACULAR VIEW OF MANHATTAN AND THE HARBOR. It’s so great I’m yelling with all caps. This takes 20 minutes max from NYU, so there’s no excuse not to go!
A word on NYC foods:
Get a bagel. Preferably, get one from Davidovich (there’s a location in Chelsea Market, (long) walking distance from NYU, short trip on the subway.) Second best is H&H. We recommend either a sesame bagel mit shmear (i.e., with cream cheese), a sesame with cream cheese, lox, and tomato, or a sesame or cinnamon raisin with butter. Everything bagels are an abomination.
Get a slice of pizza. Dollar slices are fine, but not idea. Patsy’s is ideal. Don’t get Dominos.
This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a start. If you leave the NYU area to explore NYC there’s no excuse to go to Times Square instead of these other places. You’ll just end up another tourist who goes home and says “I didn’t really like New York.” If you have questions, leave a comment and we’ll add a response to this post!