Bright Lights, Cheap City: How to spend a weekend in New York without spending a fortune | Culture | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Bright Lights, Cheap City: How to spend a weekend in New York without spending a fortune


Published September 4, 2002 at 1:00 a.m.

  • Dan Salamida

In the city that never sleeps, you’ll still need a place to rest your head. Before becoming indignant at the prices, remember that vacationing New Yorkers pay $42 a night just to lodge their dogs at the Paws Inn. People need more closet space and better plumbing, so you can do the math.

• The Larchmont Hotel is located smack in the middle of Greenwich Village in a 1910 Beaux Arts building. The cozy, residential-style lodgings are comfortable, clean, convenient and, best of all, cheap. Each room has a color TV, telephone, ceiling fan, air conditioner and private washbasin. Full bathrooms are down the hall. Prices include a continental breakfast with fresh-baked rolls, juice, coffee and tea. Weekend rates: single $85 to $95; double $100 to $115; queen $125. Weekday rates are slightly cheaper. (The Larchmont Hotel, 27 West 11th St. between 5th & 6th, 212-989-9333,

• The Carlton Arms Hotel is both a rent-a-room museum and an ideal place for a dirty weekend. Each of the 52 rooms is decorated with fantastical murals painted by different artists who have passed through its halls. The Arms was transformed from a flophouse to an art house in the late 1980s and is now a destination for young, nomadic, up-and-coming artists. You can view the murals and choose your room on their Web site. Doubles with a bathroom go for $95 a night; without a bath, $80. Not for the faint of bedbug or germophobe. (Carlton Arms Hotel, 160 East 25th St., 212-684-8337 www.carlton

• For something spiffier and newly renovated, try the 22-room Chelsea Lodge, located in a brownstone on a quiet block in the central Chelsea neighborhood. The rooms are clean and comfortable and include everything you need — bed, shower, sink, AC — but the toilet is down the hall. Singles, $90; doubles, $105. (The Chelsea Lodge, 318 West 20th St.,, 212-243-4499/1-800-373-1116.) In New York City, the dog days of summer mean you can smell exactly where your neighbor’s poodle just relieved itself. But despite the odors of urban living, the end of season can be a rewarding time for a weekend in the city. Locals are still aggressively relaxing in the Hamptons or on Fire Island, making it easy for visitors to get tables at restaurants that might otherwise be packed, to purchase last-minute theater tickets, and to wander through popular museum shows.

    Whether or not you want to partake of next week’s inevitable 9/11 commemoration activities, you can still take Manhattan, armed with this Burlington transplant’s suggestions for the best places to eat, sleep, visit and dance without having to take out a second mortgage on your house. Jet Blue’s 4:50 p.m. flight gets you there in time for cocktails. Or you can start drinking on the plane.

    Friday night:

    New York’s East Village, especially the far-eastern Alphabet City, was once considered the bailiwick of junkies and artsy squatters à la Rent. Now the East Village, and the Lower East Side, for that matter, are home to the Wall Street and Wallpaper sets. Moreover, the area has become a prime culinary stomping ground, where casual restaurants serve delicious food at bargain prices.

    6 p.m. Before dinner, load up on free samples at the Kiehl’s flagship store. The funky, Old World pharmacy is packed with a hundred years’ worth of bric-a-brac under the light of vintage chandeliers. You’ll find a cornucopia of elixirs, from tomato-face masks to the ever-popular hair crème. Best of all is the sample counter, where salespeople dole out generous handfuls of every product. (Kiehl’s, 109 Third Ave. between 13th & 14th streets, 212-677-3171. Open Mon/Wed/Fri: 10 a.m. - 6:30 p.m; Tue/Thu: 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m; Sat: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m; Sun: 12 noon - 6 p.m.)

    7 p.m. Put your name on the list at Supper before the dinner rush. They don’t take reservations, and your entire party must be present before they’ll even take your name. Supper’s décor is as eclectic as Kiehl’s, but the food is focused. After four months in business, this Northern Italian newcomer is the hands-down neighborhood favorite. Design-wise, it looks like an Italian grandmother and her gay grandson collaborated with equal parts tradition and flair. Inside are two glassed-in, climate-controlled wine “cellars,” but the $21 house Pinot Grigio is a fine way to go.

    The food is simple, unadulterated and uniformly excellent. Try hard-to-find appetizers like the bagna caoda, in which anchovies are ground with a mortar and pestle, then mixed with butter and herbs to create a warm “bath.” It’s served in a fondue pot and is perfect for dipping crudités. Favorite entrées include the Priest Stranger — extra-dense pasta served with spicy marinara sauce and topped with fresh sheep’s-milk ricotta for $9.95. The veal scallopini alla Milanese, with salad, is large enough for two and a bargain at $12.95. (Supper, 156 Second St., between avenues A & B, 212-477-0823/212-477-7600.)

    9:30 p.m. For a little post-prandial sweet, head over to Veniero’s. Since 1884 the ever-expanding pastry shop has made mouths water and hips swell with its luscious cannolis, cheesecakes and butter cookies. How to try everything without blowing all your Weight Watcher’s points? Order a plate full of miniatures and a thimble of espresso. (Veniero’s, 342 East 11th St., 212-674-7264.)

    10:30 p.m. Capitalize on the caffeine buzz: Walk back to your hotel and “rest” up for tomorrow. The digs may not be glamorous — see sidebar — but nothing beats having your own room in the Big City, even without a view.


    9:30 a.m. Grab coffee and a bagel with Nova or sturgeon at Russ & Daughters, a landmark store on the Lower East Side that’s been in business for 88 years. At $6.95 to $9.95, it’s pricier than your basic bagel sandwich, but still less than a sit-down breakfast. (Russ & Daughters, 179 East Houston St., 212-475-4880.)

    10 a.m. Not far from Russ & Daughters, the Tenement Museum offers both walking and tenement tours in this historic immigrant neighborhood, where many of Emma Lazarus’ “tired, poor, huddled masses” first breathed free. Learn about spe-cific families who lived at 97 Orchard and whose lives have been carefully reconstructed in artifacts and words. Tours led by knowledgeable, engaging graduate students leave at least every half hour but fill up fast. Special tours include: “Getting By: Immigrants Weather the Great Depressions of 1873 and 1929,” and “Piecing It Together: Immigrants in the Garment Industry.” (Museum Visitor Center: 90 Orchard St., $9, 212-431-0233,

    Noon: Grab a giant dill at Gus’s Pickles just down the street on Orchard, or head over to Bereket, a 24-hour Turkish cafeteria where you can eat like a sultan for less than $10. (Bereket, 187 East Houston at Orchard, 212-475-7700.)

    12:30 p.m. Walk through Nolita (North of Little Italy), New York’s trendiest boutique area, where upscale shoe and homeware stores butt up against funky vintage outlets. Stroll west towards SoHo before catching the N/R subway to Times Square.

    2 p.m. Get in line at TKTS. A New York institution, this booth in Times Square has been selling discounted tickets to Broadway, off-Broadway, dance and music events since 1973. The hitch is that tickets are only available on the day of the performance, and it’s not exactly a secret. But waiting in line with a thousand other people has become its own spectacle, with street performers and food vendors congregating on the little island in Times Square to keep everyone entertained. The selection of shows is phenomenal — almost everything except The Lion King is generally available — provided you arrive early. Get in line between 2 and 2:30. When the booth opens at 3 you’ll only have another half-hour to wait to snag tickets for Proof, Cabaret or Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. (TKTS, 47th St. & Broadway. Cash only. Look for the red-and-white banners.)

    4 p.m. The International Center of Photography houses a large permanent collection of photographic luminaries, such as Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and Chim. Temporary exhibitions change frequently. See what’s currently on display at (ICP, 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd St. $9. 212-857-0000. Tue/Thu: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m; Fri: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m; Sat & Sun: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.)

    6 p.m. Grab a pre-theater dinner at Hell’s Kitchen, a “nouveau Mexican” restaurant where dinner for two is roughly $65. It’s worth the splurge for creative, authentic dishes, which are just familiar enough to count as comfort food. (Hell’s Kitchen, 679 Ninth Ave., 212-977-1588.)

    8 p.m. Seats, please. The curtain goes up!

    10:30 p.m. You saved money

    on the show. Now splurge on a nightcap at Serena in the basement of the Chelsea Hotel. Leonard Cohen is long gone, but you’ll likely see Rufus Wainwright and other grunge stars circulating. (Serena, 222 W. 23rd Street, between 7th and 8th, 212-255-4646.)


    10:30 a.m. Dim Sum brunch is a singular Chinatown experience. For first-timers, the Golden Unicorn is a safe bet, because the normally gruff Chinatown waiters take some pains to welcome non-Chinese-speaking patrons. After settling on a pot of tea — jasmine, chrysanthemum or mixed — order a selection of delicacies from the carts flying by. Try the pearl shrimp dumplings, Sui Mai pork and shrimp dumplings, turnip cakes and the Chinese chive dumplings. Brunch for two, including the standard tea fee, should be roughly $25. (Golden Unicorn, 18 East Broadway at Catherine St., 3rd floor, 212-941-0911.)

    1 p.m. If you’re overwhelmed by the Big Three — the Met, Guggenheim and Whitney — try taking in some smaller museums you may not have visited before, such as the Frick or the recently opened Neue Gallery.

    The Frick Collection: Henry Clay Frick was a steel and railroad tycoon with a penchant for art collecting. His Fifth Avenue mansion, built in 1915, now houses 16 galleries where you can view his collection almost exactly as he left it. Highlights include paintings and sculptures by Goya, El Greco, Ingres, Manet, Monet, Titian, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Vermeer. (The Frick, 1 E. 70th St. at Fifth Ave. Tue-Sat: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m; Sun: 1-6 p.m; $10.

    Neue Galerie: The project of philanthropist Ronald Lauder and his art-dealer friend Serge Sabarsky, the Neue Galerie explores the fine and decorative art of early 20th-century Germany and Austria. In addition to examining how the fine and decorative arts influenced each other, the museum’s other mission is to “bring a sense of perspective back to Germanic culture of this period.” The two floors of gallery space in this lovingly restored Fifth Avenue townhouse contain works by Kandinsky, Klee, Egon Schiele, Josef Hoffmann and many others. Complete the experience with a strudel or Linzertorte at Café Sabarsky, the 19th-century Viennese café on the ground floor. (The Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Ave. at 86th St. Fri/Sat/ Mon: 11 a.m. - 7 p.m; Sun: 1-6 p.m. $10.

    Willing to postpone your return flight until Monday morning? Head back downtown for New York’s most laid-back dance party.

    6 p.m. Body & Soul. For the past six years, this weekly dance party has been the unlikely toast of lower Manhattan. No alcohol, just dancing. The brainchild of DJs Danny Krivit, Joe Claussell and Francois K, it’s a spiritual dance party with a mission statement: “an opportunity to let one’s guard down and truly share and celebrate the most vibrant energy that music and dancing give us.” (Vinyl, 6 Hubert St. between Greenwich & Hudson. Sun: 5-11 p.m. $15 non-members. 212-330-9169.)

    10 p.m. Bubby’s. For a late dinner, head to this Tribeca favorite, which many cast members of “Saturday Night Live” treat as their cafeteria. Delicious, wholesome, hearty food at reasonable prices. Don’t miss the espresso milkshakes or the strawberry rhubarb pie. (Bubby’s, 120 Hudson St. at N. Moore, 212-219-0666.)