I’ve lived in New York for 27 years and, apart from a five-year detour to Brooklyn, I’ve always been a downtown girl. I love everything about Lower Manhattan – anywhere south of 14th Street, I’m comfortable. It’s the attitude, the energy – there’s a different rhythm to the city down here.
It’s one of the reasons why, whenever friends come to visit, I recommend they stay at The Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca. The whole place is beautifully designed, with lots of brick and glass, oak beams and velvet sofas. It has a warm, elegant feel. There’s a private courtyard garden and a drawing room, where there’s a fire going practically all year round, while the restaurant – Locanda Verde – serves an unbelievable sheep’s-milk ricotta. The Greenwich offers a very different experience from what you might find uptown; the service is friendly and real – it never feels uptight.
Similarly, The Marlton, which has just opened on West 8th Street, is another really stylish place to stay. The building was recently refurbished completely by Sean MacPherson, the restaurateur and hotelier behind the Maritime Hotel. It has an elegant attitude, with ceiling mouldings and Serge Mouille-style lamps. MacPherson takes smaller spaces and gives them the look and feel of a chic, cool New York hotel, while keeping the prices reasonable. The rooms are not necessarily huge, but they’re lovely. And the location is fantastic – right in the middle of things.
Then there’s The Bowery Hotel on the Lower East Side. What’s great about this hotel, for me, is what makes a hotel great in general, which is that it’s not just a place to sleep. I’ve had dinner at Gemma, the restaurant there, and drinks at The Lobby Bar at the back. The rooms have antique furniture and hardwood floors – it’s not unusual to find a teddy bear on your bed. It’s almost as though your grandmother has lent you the keys to her apartment for the weekend.
Brunch is one of the great things to do in the city. I don’t actually like to get up early on the weekends, but for friends who do, I recommend Sant Ambroeus, a café and restaurant that recently opened near my apartment. They make the best lemon-ricotta pancakes I’ve had in my life. I will actually get up early for those, so I don’t have to wait in line. And Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque scores highly, too. This place does all the classics – spare ribs, pulled pork, wings, smoked sausage. And it’s authentic barbecue; the restaurant has its own smoker. I also love La Esquina, a Mexican restaurant that, from the outside, looks like a tiny diner but, in fact, has an underground restaurant. The tacos are amazing, the guacamole is incredible and it’s a fun place to go with friends. I also always recommend the sub sandwiches at the Italian Food Center on Grand Street. There’s one that I don’t know how to talk about without salivating: chilli sauce gives it a bit of bite and it’s loaded with Italian meats and salad.
For dinner, I send everyone to The Waverly Inn. The first time I went, I ordered the truffle mac and cheese. It cost $125 – I didn’t realise at the time. But it’s totally worth it and every time I go back, I order it. For event dining, I would head to Masa, a Japanese restaurant. You have to set a couple of hours aside and you have to sit at the bar – a 4.5in-thick block of wood that spans 12ft and that they sand down to an even plane every night. The chef prepares all the food right in front of you; there’s no menu, so it requires an adventurous spirit. But if you like sushi and Japanese cuisine, there’s nowhere better. I remember a dish with grated frozen foie gras that melted as you ate it.
Then, for dessert, there’s Eileen’s Special Cheesecake, which I discovered while walking home after dinner one night. Turns out it’s rated one of the best cheesecake places in NYC. I suggest you don’t discriminate, because all the flavours there are delicious, but there’s a salted-caramel cheesecake that’s insane – not to mention the chocolate one.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is, of course, excellent, but at the weekends it’s too crowded, so I often tell friends to keep with the downtown theme for culture. One great venue is Gavin Brown’s Enterprise on Greenwich Street. Brown doesn’t just hang paintings – although he does that too. He allows some pretty remarkable things to go on in his gallery. I remember an Urs Fischer installation for which he had dug out the entire floor.
If you’re here in springtime, I would highly recommend a walk in Brooklyn Botanic Garden. They’ve planted a whole avenue of cherry trees and it’s completely spectacular when they’re in blossom. There are 52 acres of grounds here, a glass conservatory with a café for lunch, and for those who have visited every inch of Central Park, it feels like an entirely different experience of the city. Also in Brooklyn, Prospect Park recently opened an ice-skating rink at the LeFrak Center. It converts into a roller rink in summer, which I’m so excited about because I love to roller-skate.
For a more original way to tour the city, I love taking people up in a helicopter at sunset. It seems extravagant, but it’s actually not that expensive. I use a company called Heli NY. The trips are lovely at any time during the day, but at sunset they are breathtaking – flying over the skyscrapers, watching the sun go down and the lights of the city come on.
Everyone knows about Broadway. But a more interesting and unusual way to spend an evening out is to book tickets for the taping of the satirical news programmes, Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show or The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert. Seeing them live is so much fun and very New York. Right in midtown, near the studios, a good place to head for a cocktail is The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station. I don’t really go to bars, but this one has a very special feel to it. In general, people don’t think about going to Grand Central just to hang out, but it really is exquisite.
There are so many one-off boutiques and interesting shops to explore downtown. The Evolution Store in SoHo is filled with curiosities: mounted butterflies, crystals, beautiful pieces of malachite. You find all kinds of people in there, and the staff are super-friendly. Another must is The Future Perfect, a furniture and decor store on Great Jones Street. They cultivate and curate a mix of old-school designers – such as Carl Auböck – alongside new artists who make pieces out of, say, four types of coloured marble. They present a fascinating cross‑section of things.
Ursus Books and Prints is probably one of the city’s best bookstores. They have a great selection of art and design books, and if you’re looking for something specific, they’ll find it. Warby Parker is a spectacle and sunglasses store in SoHo. The whole aesthetic is great. Plus, if you buy some glasses there, they give a pair to a child in need. And an outpost of Dover Street Market recently opened here; it stocks interesting, diverse products, from fashion labels and jewellery to home accessories.
I personally spend far too much time in The Ludlow Shop, J Crew’s menswear boutique. I have an affinity for men’s pants; I buy them large on the waist so they fit really straight on the hips and then shorten and taper them.
One thing that’s quintessentially New York is exercise classes. I used to be religious about exercise, but I haven’t managed to work it back into my life since having a kid. There’s a massive obsession with SoulCycle’s spinning classes over here, so if you only get to go to one class, I would head there – or to Physique 57. Physique 57 is more dance-inspired, so it gives you a lean, long body shape, and SoulCycle is more about burning calories. I say that as if I know what I’m talking about, but I really don’t. I think everyone in this city works out except me.