While downtown admittedly gets a lot of air time —see my guides to the West Village/Soho, East Village/LES, Tribeca and beyond—I have some loyal uptown girls here, and even those of us who you won’t typically find above 34th Street have their beloved spots uptown.
If you’re visiting NYC, Uptown is where you head to see so many of the sites that have classically made the city, “the city.” Walking through Central Park, which stretches from 59th Street to 110th, is a non-negotiable activity for tourists (but also one that Manhattan lifers don’t tire of). Uptown is also, of course, home to some of the city’s most iconic museums like the Met; and the relatively quieter city neighborhoods of the UES and UWS have an appreciated family-friend vibe. If you don’t have kids in tote, though, there’s still something to be said about brunching and bar hopping up here where everything feels a bit less sceney.
2 E. 91st St., Upper East Side | 212.849.8400
Housed in Andrew Carnegie’s former Georgian mansion, the Cooper Hewitt still maintains the original dark wood-lined interiors and imposing staircase. After closing for three years for a major upgrade on the design galleries at the hands of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, the Cooper Hewitt had a grand re-opening at the end of 2014 with an expanded exhibition space. There’s also an interactive Process Lab where visitors learn about the design process, and an Immersion Room highlighting the museum’s expansive wall-covering collection. The museum was already one of the best in the world for design—both contemporary and ancient—so it’s no surprise that it’s better than ever. Don’t miss their shop, which is incredibly well done.
30 Lincoln Center Plaza, Upper West Side | 212.362.6000
1048 Fifth Ave., Upper East Side | 212.628.6200
Walking into this Upper East Side townhouse is a quick time-warp into the golden age of Vienna, before the first World War. The permanent collection, displayed almost as if it were in an elegant home, includes works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, and many design pieces from Josef Hoffman, Koloman Moser, and Werner Werkstatte. We never tire of visiting the galleries and then heading downstairs for a tea and Linzer Torte at the perfectly achieved turn-of-the-century-style Café Sabarsky, where you dine surrounded by Adolf Loos furniture.
New York City Ballet
20 Lincoln Center Plaza, Upper West Side | 212.496.0600
Whether for an opera, a musical, or a ballet, an evening out at the gem-like Lincoln Center always makes for a wonderful, dressed-up night out. This season, we’re especially looking forward to George Balanchine’s Firebird (scenery and costumes by painter Marc Chagall) and Swan Lake, and what the always avant-garde choreographers Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky have in store with Wheeldon’s American Rhapsody set to George Gershwin’s music, and Ratmansky’s promised premiere in early 2017.
The Frick Collection
1 E. 70th St., Upper East Side | 212.288.0700
Housed in a classic early 20th-century mansion commissioned by the industrialist Henry Clay Frick, the collection boasts iconic works from the Renaissance to the early 19th-century, including pieces by El Greco, Goya, and Rembrandt. We especially love the absolutely over-the-top rococo room with wall-to-wall frescoes by Honoré Fragonard.
1071 5th Ave., Upper East Side | 212.423.3500
Aside from being one of the most significant buildings of the 20th-century, and the apex of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career, the Guggenheim is a world-class art museum and cultural center, too. No matter the show—usually solid retrospectives—it’s worth the entrance fee just to wind your way through the snail-like building and look down from the top at the mesmerizing view below.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Ave., Upper East Side | 212.535.7710
This beloved institution—reigning supreme on NYC’s Upper East Side—has been shepherding millions through its halls since 1880. You’ll find some of the art world’s most iconic pieces, as well as important artifacts from ancient to modern times. It’s also home to the Egyptian Temple of Dendur, which dates back to 15 BC.
10 Columbus Circle, Upper West Side | 212.823.9800
This is a bit more casual and much more affordable than its big brother next door (Masa), though it’s still one of the best places for sushi in New York.
541 Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side | 212.724.4707
This old-school delicatessen has been around for over 100 years and carries every conceivable kind of smoked fish. It’s a fun stop even just to see the hand-painted 1950’s sign outside, and the vintage Americana interiors it has carefully stewarded through the decades. Greengrass is also a restaurant that’s particularly great for breakfast—there are plenty of egg and bagel options to accompany your choice of smoked fish. And, in keeping with tradition, portions are huge, so go hungry.
The Carlysle Hotel, 35 E. 76th St., Upper East Side | 212.744.1600
This is a seriously charming, truly legendary New Yorker’s bar: For starters, the clubby space is covered in Madeline author Ludwig Bemelmans’s whimsical murals—a tribute to the city’s quirky inhabitants—and to top it off, you might just run into Woody Allen playing the clarinet (his band plays Monday nights).
1048 5th Ave., Upper East Side | 212.288.0665
This Viennese café, named for Neue Galerie co-founder Serge Sabarsky, is as luxurious as museum eats go. You can sit down to a full dinner, but it’s ideal for an indulgent coffee and sweet after browsing the galleries.
1621 2nd Ave., Upper East Side | 212.772.2242
The food is classic Italian by way of New York—but it’s the beautiful presentation and cozy uptown vibe that make this spot so special. It’s a siren song for some of the city’s most interesting personalities, like Joan Didion and Jerry Seinfeld.
240 E. 86th St., Upper East Side | 212.327.2008
Beyond being one of the more perfect independent grocery stores around, Fairway is the perfect New York cross section: You’ll see young families, old ladies in fur coats, students looking for good food at good prices, and just about every New York “type” you can think of. This outpost is almost open 24 hours (6am-1am).
Freds at Barneys
660 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.833.2200
Located on the top floor of Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship, Fred’s is convenient for any mid-shopping pit-stop, but it’s also a good restaurant in and of itself. The menu is full of classic American comfort foods, from chicken soup, to turkey clubs, and large chopped salads.
215 W. 85th St., Upper West Side | 212.858.9060
The food here is full of flavor and spice (the dan dan noodles are particularly insane). It’s a no-frills kind of place, and the reasonable tabs make it a great place to go with a group on a budget. (Note that it’s no longer BYOB, though.) There’s also a location in the East Village.
1291 3rd Ave., Upper East Side | 212.744.0585
Kitschy, often crowded, and rowdy on any night of the week, this 1970s bar makes a great, laid-back stop in the otherwise pretty upscale Upper East Side. We go for their excellent Bloody Mary’s and their famous, oft-lauded burgers served from lunch until late into the night. (There’s now a second location in Greenwich Village.)
142 W. 65th St., Upper West Side | 212.359.6500
The location of Lincoln Center’s refined Italian restaurant makes it a no-brainer for before a show, but the menu (not to mention the seriously sophisticated, Italian-only wine list) actually stands up to our favorite hole-in-the-wall joints downtown. The menu fulfills cravings for all the classic dishes, from spaghettini al pomodoro to lobster risotto, plus a glorious bistecca alla griglia. If you come in the evening, don’t forget to check out another bonus from the drinks program: The negroni and prosecco bars.
Le Moulin à Café
1439 York Ave., Upper East Side | 212.288.5088
Near the East River, Le Moulin à Café is part coffee shop, part bistro, part French grocery store—and charming. If you’re not ordering to-go, the counter spots overlooking York Avenue are prime real estate—and somewhere you can post up to do work, trading your latte for a glass of wine later in the day. There are also tables (with waiter service) in the back of Le Moulin, though.
Momofuku Milk Bar
561 Columbus Ave., Upper West Side | 347.577.9504
While working at Momofuku in the early days, Christina Tosi—office manager at the time—started baking the occasional treat for the team. And her insanely sweet, totally novel confections quickly took off. Soon, she had her own shop next door (and now many more in NYC) where she and her staff crank out ridiculously complex layered cakes, the aptly named Compost cookies, and unusual soft-serve flavors—all simultaneously nostalgic and unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
1621 Lexington Ave., Harlem | 212.828.0030
The décor is nothing special, but the Middle Eastern dishes—standards from tabbouleh to falafel, plus their trademark oven baked “pitzas” (that’s a pita served like a pizza)—are more than a cut above your standard Turkish café. Plus, it’s really well-priced. We love this as a lunch option or as a crowd-pleasing take-away. There’s also a location in the West Village and East Village.
1590 2nd Ave., Upper East Side | 212.203.2751
The Penrose was a very welcome addition to the Upper East Side when it debuted on Second Avenue a few years ago, and the gastropub still feels noteworthy today in a neighborhood that is more known for its collegiate sports bars than craft-centric joints. Some would say that it feels more downtown than uptown, probably because the Penrose was done by the same people behind downtown spots The Wren and Wilfie and Nell. All that said, beyond the exposed brick and vintage décor, this is really a neighborhood spot—and a solid one at that. Besides the drinks, the snacks are satisfying, and you might find yourself wanting to stay for dinner, or come back the next day for brunch.
44 W. 63rd St., Upper West Side | 212.957.9700
The P.J. Clarke’s on 55th Street—it’s been there since the 1880’s—is one of those classic NYC institutions where everyone who grew up on their burgers can think of nothing better. That sensibility translates to the downtown outpost, which seems to play particularly well with bankers who are thrilled to have a burger and a beer to wrap up the day. The Lincoln Square location is a hit with kids walking home from Central Park.
235 Columbus Ave., Upper West Side | 212.776.4921
This offshoot from the Nolita original is part of the Major Food group (Dirty French, Carbone, etc.), and as-to-be-expected it’s reliably really good. It couldn’t be Parm if it didn’t serve a really good one, along with other trattoria standbys like broccoli rabe, penne scampi, and chicken limone. There are also outposts in the Financial District, Williamsburg, and at Yankee Stadium.
10 Columbus Circle, Upper West Side | 212.823.9335
Napa’s French Laundry may have put Thomas Keller on the map, but Per Se, which is perched above Central Park, confirms his legendary status. Chef Eli Kaimeh’s menu changes daily, and the meal itself can last for hours as you advance from seasonal course to course, but it’s all superb. Having one of the best meals in New York City comes at a price, though, as the set dinner menu starts at $325 (you can now order á la carte). The private room also happens to have one of the best views in town.
2170 Broadway, Upper West Side | 212.724.9700
Chef Joe Ng is doing wonders in a great second floor space in the West Village (upstairs from Red Farm’s newer sibling, Decoy), and a second outpost on the Upper West Side. Red Farm’s menu focuses on fresh greenmarket product, artfully prepared fish, and delicious dim sum (including less familiar creations like Katz’s pastrami egg roll). From the dim sum selection, the Pac Man shrimp dumplings are as delicious as they are Instagram-worthy and the duck spring rolls are not at all greasy and taste surprisingly refreshing. We’re more than willing to endure the substantial wait (no reservations here) for a bowl of the Lobster Long Life noodles and the veggie fried rice. They put together prix-fixe menus for large groups in private spaces at both locations.
14 E. 60th St., Upper East Side | 212.390.8060
Modeled after rotisseries in Paris, you can watch (and smell) the chickens simmering in the brass-trimmed ovens in the back. There’s plenty more aside from poulet rôti, but that’s what they do particularly well. The cozy chef’s table in the back can hold private parties of up to ten and gives you an up-close view of the kitchen.
1295 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.410.7335
Sarabeth’s started out as a bakery in Chelsea Market in the 80s, where owner Sarabeth Levine perfected cookies, scones, and cakes (with unabashed amounts of sugar, flour, and butter). After she became legendary, she opened Sarabeth’s and basically launched the craze that is weekend Brunch. Years later, it’s still hard to get a breakfast reservation at any of her roomy, all-American, restaurants, but it’s so worth it for luscious pancakes and french toast, not to mention ideal omelettes. There are additional locations in the Upper West Side, Midtown, Gramercy, and Tribeca.
401 E. 73rd St., Upper East Side | 212.249.8583
Inspired by the LA original of the same name, this is a “trust me” sushi spot, which means you’re at the mercy of Chef Takahashi and his team behind the bar. The barely seasoned omakase they make consists of incredibly fresh fish—sourced at the fish market early each morning—served on warm, perfectly moist rice. It’s a tiny, no-frills nook, and the best seats in the house are at the bar.
311 E. 60th St., Upper East Side | 212.355.2337
Hidden under the Queensboro Bridge, The Jeffrey combines two storefronts that look completely unremarkable. Inside, though, you can get unexpectedly good coffee, drinks—and oysters. The espresso bar serves local roasts from Café Grumpy, and is also part growler-to-go-service. For later in the day and night, there are a few dozen rotating local and global brews, plus wines and a fairly extensive cocktail list. When the weather is nice, take your drink and oysters to the back patio.
2245 Broadway, Upper West Side | 212.787.2000
Come here for the bagels, and the rugelach, and the chocolate babka, and the smoked fish, and we could go on and on. This Upper West Side specialty grocer, which has been operated by the Zabar family (out of the same location) since the 1930s, is still the place to stock up on old-school Jewish delicatessen fare. It’s one of those classic city shops that’s as worth it for the goods as it is for the characters who shop there regularly.
35 E. 76th St., Upper East Side | 212.744.1600
Open for business since 1930, The Carlyle is just a few blocks from Central Park and Museum Mile. And you can’t check-out without stopping for a drink in Bemelmans Bar, which has murals painted by Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeline series. This is one of the best hotels in the world in terms of service, décor, comfort, and amenities.
28 E. 63rd St., Upper East Side | 212.838.1400
This luxurious Upper East Side hotel is rare for NYC, with rooms so plush and inviting that you’ll be tempted to stay indoors rather than leave to explore the city. This is even more true now that it has Majorelle and Jacques, its new restaurant and bar respectively, and an elegant Club Room–all of which are the result of a recent renovation. Michael Smith designed the re-envisioned spaces and most of the rooms in his classically elegant style. It’s more of a home away from home than most of its buzzy counterparts.
25 E. 77th St., Upper East Side | 212.744.4300
Here, you’ll get access to New York fantasy life, from 24/7 exclusive access to Bergdorf Goodman, Laduree macaroons at the bedside, custom bikes for touring the city, and Jean Georges Vongerichten-crafted picnics to go (he runs the The Mark’s restaurant). The rooms themselves are gorgeous; revamped by Jacques Grange, the interiors are sleek, and just a little splashy.
972 Fifth Ave., Upper East Side | 212.650.0070
The French Embassy has pulled off a wonderful coup in bringing this gem-like French bookstore and reading room to Fifth Avenue. Named after the ethereal character from Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the Jacques Garcia-designed (who else?) space is beautifully decked-out with comfy leather couches for cuddling up with a novel, and a gleaming constellation fresco on the ceiling of the two-storey space. The only French bookstore of its kind in the city, it’s a gift to New York—in one of the few remaining Stanford White-designed Beaux Arts buildings, no less.
Barneys New York
660 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.826.8900
Barneys buyers are famous for having an eye for spotting trends and designers—and then making them huge. The flagship store always has incredible, over-the-top displays, plus one of the best buys in the city. The shoe department, in particular, is great. There’s also a location on the Upper West Side and in Brooklyn and Chelsea.
306 E. 61st St., 2nd Fl., Upper East Side | 212.888.8930
Led by Barbara Kirshbaum, who has been on more than 120 buying trips to Europe and Asia, BK Antiques carries furniture, lighting, accessories, original artwork, and silver from the 18th-, 19th-, and early 20th-century. BK Antiques also has an exclusive collection of limited editions: high-end desk accessories; a series of small “drinks” tables in wood, iron, and stone; oak console tables; barstools; wastebaskets and custom iron and wood benches.
1283 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.369.2583
Phoebe Cates and Lisa Matlin’s boutique is pretty great: Downstairs, you’ll find really beautiful jewelry and a great assortment of toys, including hand-painted Russian dolls and Keith Haring dominoes. Upstairs, you’ll find clothes from little known designers, especially for the neighborhood, like Ally Capellino handbags and Yoshi Kondo dresses. It’s not surprising it’s a hit on the Upper East Side, as it brings uniqueness and discovery back to a neighborhood that’s generally dominated by big brands.
Creel and Gow
131 E. 70th St., Upper East Side | 212.327.4281
Jamie Creel and Christopher Gow are serious collectors who spend much of their time traveling the world sourcing far-flung objects for their townhouse shop. We go just to see the wacky and elegant displays that mix coral and taxidermy, Suzani textiles and kitschy South African ceramics. It’s a real mix with prices to match, and if you’re looking for a truly offbeat gift—like say, a hand-blown glass hammer and nails—chances are you’ll find it here.
26 E. 80th St., Upper East Side | 212.772.2440
This gorgeous estate jewelry shop looks more like an exceptionally appointed apartment than a store and has more than earned its name: the collection of estate jewelry spanning every era and every designer (Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels are the biggies) is nothing if not museum-worthy. Rare treasure hunters in particular flock to FD as it’s one of the few U.S. distributors of JAR. Also worth noting are the vintage accessories by Chanel and Hermes and photography by Man Ray, Richard Avedon, and more.
18 E. 69th St., Upper East Side | 212.288.1338
Young proprietor Clare Distenfeld (she’s in her twenties), opened up this exquisitely outfitted Deco townhouse in 2012. While space is tight, she brings together an impeccable edit of men’s, women’s, and kid’s clothing plus gorgeous jewelry, shoes, bags, and home goods. The mix of names we already love in ready-to-wear (Carven, Acne, Preen) plus the stream of unknowns she continually introduces make this a pretty great new addition to the neighborhood’s shopping scene.
1266 Third Ave., Upper East Side | 212.255.7804
Over the past few years, this lingerie boutique has grown and opened up several shops all over the city. It turns out there was a real hole in the marketplace when it came to lingerie: A place where you can find pretty lingerie that you don’t feel silly wearing everyday, which means a tasteful mix of brands like Bordelle, Stella McCartney, Cosabella, and Princesse Tam-Tam, in both basic nudes and bright colors. There’s also a location in Union Square and Soho.
Kitchen Arts & Letters
1435 Lexington Ave., Upper East Side | 212.876.5550
For over 20 years, food academics, serious chefs, and home cooks alike have all come here to stock their kitchen bookshelves. In fact, Julia Child used to shop here. Besides the seemingly endless supply of cookbooks, academic journals, and food memoirs, it’s owner Nach Waxman and his team that make it really special. Well-informed but not intimidating, they’re happy to help you find the right book, or will track it down if they don’t have it.
822 Madison Ave., Upper East Side | 212.585.3200
Proenza’s first brick and mortar location is everything you’d expect from this much-loved label: The space is a slick, geometric gray, with inlaid marble walls that are the perfect backdrop for the duo’s structural pieces. There’s now an additional boutique in Soho.
SHOP Cooper Hewitt
2 E. 91st St., Upper East Side | 212.849.8400
Housed in Andrew Carnegie’s former Georgian mansion, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum still conserves the original dark wood-lined interiors and imposing staircase, even after closing for a few years for a major upgrade in the hands of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, among others. The shop on the second floor is part of the revamp, too, with the architectural firm’s custom modular shelving framing the tailor-made space. The wonderful mix of beautifully designed objects and utilitarian goods remains the same, however, and from designers young and old, from Ben Medansky vases to Tom Dixon spice grinders, and much more. It is by far one of the best museum shops on the planet.
Steven Alan Outpost
465 Amsterdam Ave., Upper West Side | 212.595.8451
We head to Steven Alan for the perfectly tailored yet lived-in men’s and women’s shirting that comes in an endless variety of plaids and stripes. Beyond that, it’s the relaxed mix of pieces from designers like A.P.C, Isabel Marant, Rachel Comey, that keeps us coming back. The location in Tribeca is the flagship and the original, though there are now locations scattered around the city. As its name indicates, this outlet location is permanently on-sale.
50 E. 78th St., Ste. 1C, Upper East Side | 212.772.8787
Ursus sells art and rare books along with a very special selection of 16th to 19th-century prints. For art lovers, this is where you’ll find that rare edition on your favorite artist you can’t find anywhere else. And if Ursus doesn’t have it, their knowledgeable staff can help you track it down.