Essential New York

New York is a city of superlatives; it's no easy task sifting through the ample quality offerings to single out the very best in food, nightlife, shopping, entertainment and personalities (not to mention the best blog, bus route, and store for Santeria practitioners!). And the terrain is constantly shifting; last month's hot taco may be this month's cold leftovers (and if so, you really should clean out your fridge). Still, we scoured the town for this edition of our annual Essential New York issue—and now we can tell you where to order a drink from the city's finest bartender, hobnob with Broadway stars after a show, score spices alongside professional chefs, enjoy a relaxing cheap massage or get some out-of-town guests out of your hair with the perfect itinerary. (One perennial debate, however, can never be resolved, so we've allowed a batch of opinions regarding New York's best pizza.) Enjoy these top attractions now, because you never know what up-and-comers will overtake them by this time next year.


park that isn't Central Park
It may be less than one quarter the size of Central Park, but when it comes to outdoor attractions, the 198 acres of Staten Island's Clove Lakes Park more than measure up. Besides leafy hiking and bridle paths galore, there's a wealth of spots for picnicking and pick-up ball games—(the basketball courts are known as a showcase for local talent). The four lakes play host to migrating birds, an armada of pedal and rowboats and, set on a tiny island, a boathouse that's been rechristened the Lake Club—an upscale Italian restaurant and popular destination for sunset cocktails.—Clare Lambe
1150 Clove Rd at Victory Blvd, Staten Island (718-390-8000)

GLIDE AND JOY Beginning Friday 28, Bryant Park's new free skating rink promises to be an instant NYC hit. cold-weather activity
Now that the Rangers, Islanders and Devils have returned to the ice after the NHL's yearlong hiatus, the addition of a rink smack-dab on the lawn behind the New York Public Library seems like another boon for winter sports. Beginning Friday 28 and continuing through mid-January, the 17,000-square-foot surface, known as the Pond at Bryant Park, will feature free ice-skating sessions as an alternative to the holiday swarms at Rockefeller Center and Wollman Rink.—Brett Johnson
Sixth Ave between 41st and 42nd Sts

...Halloween costume shop
New York takes Halloween with frightful seriousness, and Halloween Adventure provides all the necessities for a ghoulish good time. This vast space, with two floors and two entrances, stocks classic and current-events costumes, as well as the perfect accessories, decorations and makeup. For procrastinators put off by a line around the block—and you'll find one if you wait till All Hallows' Eve—a solid alternative is Creative Costume, which offers elaborate costume options and a lot less mayhem.—Chad Frade
Halloween Adventure, 104 Fourth Ave between 11th and 12th Sts (212-673-4546)
Creative Costume, 242 W 36th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves (212-564-5552)

...flea market
Although many bemoaned its relocation this past August from a convenient lot in Chelsea to a desolate stretch of Hell's Kitchen, the Annex/Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, founded by Bronx-born entrepreneur Alan Boss almost 30 years ago, remains as the go-to bazaar for local and international antiques hounds. The new location is open weekends year-round from dawn till dusk—so there's plenty of time for hagglers to peruse stands of vintage furniture, clothing, jewelry, knickknacks, trinkets and kitsch galore.—Leslie Price
West 39th St between Ninth and Tenth Aves

STAGED RIGHT The New York Theatre Workshop always comes through.Photo: Jeff Harris company's season tickets
While most Off Broadway institutions take the safe route, presenting ho-hum dramas by name writers that won't offend or alienate the subscribers, the New York Theatre Workshop offers consistently challenging work. From its stylish, deconstructed vision of Ivo von Hove (Hedda Gabler) to American premieres of Caryl Churchill (A Number) and brainy homegrown fare (Homebody/Kabul), this downtown theater constantly excites us.—David Cote
79 E 4th St between Bowery and Second Ave (212-460-5475,

...late-night chicken
Most late-night food options are long on carbs, but for those who prefer protein to pizza, Big Arc Chicken is a godsend. Open until 4am seven days week, Big Arc offers the leanest and most flavorful flame-grilled chicken in the East Village at an extremely reasonable price ($5 for half a bird). The menu also includes vegetarian Middle Eastern dishes that have made the restaurant a favorite of cabdrivers and worshippers from the nearby mosque. Proximity to the First Avenue L station makes Big Arc an ideal pit stop for Williamsburg and Greenpoint residents who want to refuel on the way home from a night in the East Village (or vice versa).—Andrew Johnston
233 First Ave between 13th and 14th Sts (212-477-0091) for NYC trivia
True New Yorkers love uncovering the bits of history and intrigue that lurk under our feet and above our heads—an infamous murder here, a forgotten architectural treasure there, perhaps the spot where a famed writer drank himself to death. These are the kinds of things that fill New York Songlines, an addictive site run by Extra! magazine editor Jim Naureckas, who is busy mapping out the historical odds and ends of Manhattan, street by street, building by building. Start at your own address, and you might find out that an influential circus freak or 18th-century sheep farmer once lived where you do now.—Soren Larson

...grassroots opera company
In 1948, Tony and Sally Amato founded what is still considered to be the only self-sustaining opera company in the country. Amato Opera, a courageous alternative to the big houses, has been located in a cozy nook on the Bowery since 1964. Tony, an opera coach, casts and directs the productions; Sally, formerly a prima donna, performed as Serafina Bellantoni, stitched the costumes, ran the lights, and fed the cast and crew, until her passing in 2000. Still very much a family affair, Amato Opera has provided a launching pad for countless singers, while fostering generations of opera lovers.—Steve Smith
319 Bowery between 1st and 2nd Sts (212-228-8200) for last-minute wardrobe additions
Even if you weren't in a mad rush, you probably wouldn't want to spend a whole lot of time at Forever 21. With loud pop music, a dressing-room line that's longer and slower moving than the security check at JFK, and racks of clothes that would make a teenage girl's closet appear to be the pinnacle of organization, this teenybopper clothing mecca is hardly a place you want to linger. But with its three floors of au courant ladies' threads—many priced lower than what you'd pay for two vodka tonics—you can run in and get out with new togs and still have plenty of time to get home and do your hair.—Kate Williams
9 E 14th St between Fifth Ave and University Pl (212-228-0598)
50 W 34th St between Fifth Ave and Broadway (212-564-2346)

New York's finest...
old-school bartender

"I don't mix drinks, I mix people," says Norman Bukofzer, stalwart head barman at the Ritz-Carlton's clublike Star Lounge. As he ambles back and forth behind the granite-topped stand-up bar, he cracks jokes, talks baseball and builds what is likely the finest classic cocktail you'll ever savor (try the happiness-inducing $16 Manhattan). The Brooklyn native, 61, says he started working for the Ritz "30-something" years ago, by his best guess. "I'm an old-timer," he says. "I just make drinks the way they're meant to be made."—Clare Lambe
The Star Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton, 50 Central Park South at Sixth Ave (212-308-9100; Bukofzer works Mon--Fri. made up by a New Yorker
With its unadorned aluminum pole, feats of strength and airing of grievances (which is, let's face it, what a lot of family holidays descend into), Festivus is indeed the perfect anti-dote to Christmas or Hanukkah. But while the solstice observation for the rest of us was introduced to the world on a 1997 episode of Seinfeld, it didn't start there; Festivus, which is celebrated on December 23, was created in 1966 (interestingly, the same year Kwanzaa was invented) by the father of the Seinfeld writer Daniel O'Keefe. The older O'Keefe (also named Daniel) was looking for a way to commemorate the anniversary of his first date with his wife; eventually, Festivus evolved into the celebration depicted on the show. The fact that Festivus has been adopted as a real holiday by Seinfeld fans is due in no small measure to Jerry Stiller, who played George Costanza's father—and authored the foreword to the new book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us, by Allen Salkin. Stiller says the absence of gift-giving is the best thing about Festivus, because for other holidays, "I go out and buy all of these presents for everybody. It drains me, and sometimes I never get a thank- you."—Howard Halle

Photo: Federica Paoletti

New York's finest...

After seven years as research director at the Center for an Urban Future, a nonpartisan think tank that tries to solve city problems, Jonathan Bowles was given the outfit's top job in September. It was no surprise: For years, he's been griping about the futility of corporate tax breaks, clamoring to involve all five boroughs in development plans and demanding the diversification of the city's economy. Before most other critics got onboard, he applied his lethally lucid logic to Bloomberg's Jets Stadium fantasy. Bowles, 34, comes to the troublemaking table naturally. He interned for Village Voice muckraker Wayne Barrett, wrote investigative reports for legendary State Senate maverick Franz Leichter and happens to be former NYCLU head Norm Siegel's nephew. "I always had an optimism," Bowles says. "New York's a terrific place—there's nowhere like it—but things can be better."—Katherine Pushkar store for Kim's-worthy selection without the attitude
Sure, Netflix delivers to you in your jammies, but until the day it stocks a little less Drew Barrymore and a little more of her genius grandpa John, you'd best head down to Evergreen Video, where a film geek rarely hears the word "no." Hollywood's golden oldies get special, loving attention here, as do those wacky early films without words that you know you ought to get around to watching one day. And yes, you can still rent Never Been Kissed, if you must.—Joshua Rothkopf
37 Carmine St between Bleecker and Bedford Sts (212-691-7362)

...downtown-style bar uptown
It makes sense that the Ding-Dong Lounge looks, sounds and feels like a downtown bar: The owners used to run the Motor City Bar on Ludlow Street before converting this space into the Upper West Side's only punk bar. So instead of finding salsa on the jukebox or fratboys downing shots, as you might elsewhere in the 'hood, here you'll happen upon a dark room, cheap beer, gloriously loud, fast music—and all the people who love such things.—James Oliver Cury
929 Columbus Ave between 105th and 106th Sts (212-663-2600,

...urban legend
Did you hear about the woman who was scouring the obits as a way to find a cheap apartment? She went to hop on the train to check one out, but the station was closed because some homeless dude got electrocuted when he took a whiz on the third rail. She decided instead to take a cab, but it took her forever to find one because it was taxi turnover hour. She finally got to the apartment and couldn't believe the horrible stench. Apparently the previous tenant had died from choking on a big chunk of sweet-and-sour puppy in his Chinese take-out, but since no one knows their neighbors in New York, his body wasn't discovered until dogs started scratching at the door. The woman went into the apartment and gasped when she saw pictures of the deceased. "I know him!" she cried. In August 2003, the two had engaged in random "blackout sex." Despite the shock, she took the apartment and she now pays far less than you for her own floor of a brownstone.—Alison Rosen

HIGH AND MIGHTY Enjoy stellar views from the Lobby Lounge.

...hotel lobby drinks
Sure, the Time Warner Center is just a glorified shopping mall, but you can't deny that the location, overlooking Columbus Circle, provides some stellar views. One primo spot to enjoy them is from a leather chair at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel's Lobby Lounge, perched 35 floors above the southwest corner of Central Park. The drinks aren't cheap (signature cocktails are $17 apiece), but the Fifth Avenue and Central Park South skylines, glittering through the walls of windows, make the few extra bucks worth the splurge.—SL
80 Columbus Circle at 60th St (212-805-8800) to see future literary stars
The dark-hued, Lenin-flavored dive KGB Bar is a great venue to catch contemporary lit's soon-to-be stars. It hosts a handful of readings that mix the well-established with the relatively unknown, and if you hang out there enough, you may see someone in the latter cate-gory transform into the next big thing. Case in point: Ren Steinke (Holy Skirts) and Christopher Sorrentino (Trance) read here this year as their new books were coming out.Both were just nominated for the National Book Award. So grab a seat; that reader you've never heard of might become the next Jonathan Lethem.—Michael Miller
85 E 4th St at Second Ave (212-505-3360)

...vegetarian restaurant
Zen Palate is predictable. Its offspring Gobo is hit-or-miss. And while the deep-fried mock meats of Red Bamboo have their place in the city's ever-expanding menu of vegetarian dining, they aren't exactly a step forward for herbivore cuisine. That's why we're glad there's Counter. The independently owned East Village restaurant, which has a relaxed, modern classi-ness in the mode of an upscale diner, doesn't simply fall back on the vege-tarian clich of Asian--inspired flavors. Instead, its menu ranges from healthy comfort food (the griddle corn cakes) to innovative fare (the hearty cauliflower "risotto"). And it offers an impressive selection of organic wines to wash it all down.—Billie Cohen
105 First Ave between 6th and 7th Sts (212-982-5870)

GET SCHOOLED Academy employs Manhattan's most knowledgeable clerks.Photo: Donald Bowers

...used-record store
When it comes to used vinyl and CDs, there's a niche for every itch. But as far we're concerned, the best across-the-board performer is Academy Records. Outgrowing its original home in a dingy bookstore on West 18th Street, Academy spilled into sunnier, more spacious digs next door; recently, the store also opened two vinyl-only annexes, in the East Village and Williamsburg. Recordings of every conceivable genre can turn up here, and whether you're buying or selling, Manhattan's savviest and most helpful clerks provide the biggest bang for your buck.—SS
12 W 18th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-242-3000,
77 E 10th between Third and Fourth Aves (212-780-9166)
96 North 6th St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-218-8200) station
College-radio stations WNYU and WKCR still offer diverse programming, and WFMU remains a perpetually odd and invigorating listen. But the Web-only East Village Radio—which launched in August 2003 and now operates from a First Avenue storefront—is NYC's real underdog radio outfit. Credit the on-air talent (including DJ-to-the-stars Mark Ronson and staffers from the Fader) for speaking little while mixing music intuitively: On a recent Wednesday evening, DJ Toney Blare cele-brated Thelonius Monk's birthday with a killer mix of soul, hip-hop and jazz. And where else can you watch live radio happen from the sidewalk?—Mike Wolf
19 First Ave between 1st and 2nd Sts (studio 212-254-7104,

...bargain wine shop
If you think $10 gets you cheap wine, you haven't visited Warehouse Wines and Spirits, where prices commonly drop to $3 or $4 per bottle. That's not to say that you can't find expen-sive hooch—plenty of $50 bottles from California, Italy, Australia and France—but the selection of drinkable low-end wines here is unmatched in the city. And the smart staff will gladly help you fill your grocery cart with them.—JOC
735 Broadway at St. Marks Pl (212-982-7770)

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

New York's finest...

Many factors can make or break a night of live music, but if the band doesn't sound good, little else matters. So fans of the Bowery Ballroom are highly appreciative of production manager Kenny Lienhardt's work behind the soundboard, which makes everything sound bright and clear. Lienhardt, who's been with the venue since it opened in 1998, passes much of the credit on to the high-end gear and to the 500-capacity room itself. "We've got a lot of power and headroom," he says. "Bright Eyes had 13 people onstage and it sounded great—every last pennywhistle was accounted for."—Mike Wolf
6 Delancey St between Bowery and Chrystie St (212-533-2111;

To appreciate the intensity of Cones' gelato, imagine the chocolate and caramel swirls in store-bought ice cream.Now take away the ice cream. Every gelato here ($3.45 for a basic cup) achieves that magnifi-cent concentration of fla-vor. The dark chocolate screams french chocolate mousse. The white chocolate would make Jacques Torres blush. This is creamy goodness so rich and sweet that mixing in a candy bar would be worse than redundant; it'd be blasphemy.—Nick Garfinkle
272 Bleecker St between Morton and Jones Sts (212-414-1795)

...street festival
The downsides of New York street fests are undoubtedly the inconvenient detours and the smoky clouds from sundry grilled meats and sausages. Though Atlantic Antic, begun more than 30 years ago, isn't exempt from these realities, the Brooklyn block party's upsides are much greater. This September, the annual fete, which stretched along 1.3 miles of Atlantic Avenue, celebrated the borough's unique diversity and featured Middle Eastern belly dancers, pony rides from the Black Cowboys and food tastings from the area's renowned restaurant row.—BJ
Atlantic Ave from Hicks St to Fourth Ave, Brooklyn

SCALES OF JUSTICE Yama's offerings are a bargain—and you don't have to worry about that not-so-fresh-fish feeling.Photo: Jeff Harris

...inexpensive-but-trustworthy sushi
Cheap sushi is a horrible idea—like selling discount rotten eggs—but some restaurants manage to offer relative bargains without compromising quality. The slabs of fish that hug the rice patties at Yama, for exam-ple, are enormous. Order any piece of nigiri sushi and you will feast on blankets of silky-soft fresh fish, not the slivers you find elsewhere. It's not the city's cheapest sushi, but it's a bargain.—JOC
122 E 17th St at Irving Pl (212-475-0969)
92 W Houston St at Thompson St (212-674-0935)
38 Carmine St at Seventh Ave (212-989-9330) in which to host a birthday party
A bar needs certain critical assets to host a birthday-bash. A separate space for to comfortably gather. An ambience that's festive, but quiet enough to converse. A jukebox stocked with the guest of honor's nostalgic favorites. Magician has all of these, which is why on a Saturday there you're likely to encounter revelers surrounded by wrapping paper. Better yet, go during happy hour (5--8pm), when you might have the place almost to yourselves and when most concoctions are in the $4 range.—SL
118 Rivington St between Essex and Norfolk Sts (212-673-7851)

ORGAN FEATS Tuesdays are full of key notes at Smoke.Photo: Donald Bowers

...throwback experience
Admittedly, the antique chairs and crushed velvet booths at Smoke Jazz Club & Lounge are considerably more plush than what one might have found at an old-school juke joint. But just sit back and close your eyes any Tuesday night that Mike LeDonne is sitting behind the Hammond B-3 organ for "Hammond B-3 Organ Grooves" and it's easy to imagine yourself as a foot-tapping audience member on one of those '60s-vintage Blue Note recordings. This is what piano veteran Horace Silver meant when he coined the phrase "blowin' the blues away."—K. Leander Williams
2751 Broadway between 105th and 106th Sts (212-864-6662) block for gallery hopping
Sometimes referred to as "MGM Galleries" (for Metro Pictures, Barbara Gladstone and Matthew Marks), "the Miracle Mile" or "the Gold Coast," that impressive lineup of galleries on West 24th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues has been a longtime must-see on any Chelsea gallery hop. But expect to add a new block to your itinerary. A warehouse practi-cally around the corner—six spaces, from 615 to 627 West 27th Street, between Eleventh and Twelfth Ave-nues—will soon be the new home for a cadre of young art dealers. Clementine Gallery, John Connelly Presents, Derek Eller Gallery, Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery, Foxy Production and Wallspace are slated to make the move from other Chelsea locations to fresh ground-floor digs by January.—-Emily Weiner

...olive emporium
Chaos gets a good name at Sahadi's, one of a handful of indispensable Middle Eastern grocers and bakers located in Brooklyn Heights. The powers that be at Sahadi's like to give the impression of order (a concept that's laughable when the place gets busy), so they'll scoop those capers, dried fruits, nuts and coffee beans for you. Just take a number, wait your turn, and make sure not to bypass the olives. Black, green or purple, pitted or not, wrinkled or smooth, briny, garlicked-, Sicilian, Greek—whatever your fancy. These treats will justify waiting on line with every tenth Brooklynite on a Saturday afternoon.—Jules Verdone
187 Atlantic Ave between Court and Clinton Sts, Brooklyn Heights (718-624-4550,

Photo: Imogen Brown

New York's finest ...
music booker

"Booking a nightclub is boring," says Bill Bragin, 38, a booker at perhaps the most unboring nightclub in town, Joe's Pub at the Public Theater. "For me, it's about something greater than that: getting larger audiences for artists and creating a sense of community." The cozy Noho space—which Bragin came to after working at Symphony Space and Central Park SummerStage—has been an incubator for local talent (Ral Midn, the East Village Opera Company), while bringing in an overwhelmingly diverse range of acts from all corners of the globe. The November slate includes the Del McCoury Band, Neko Case, Luciana Souza and Erin McKeown.—Jay Ruttenberg
Joe's Pub at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St between Astor Pl and E 4th St (212-539-8770)

...giant bobble-head dolls
There's something simultaneously creepy and whimsical about the giant-headed renditions of Derek Jeter, Tiki Barber, Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd that gaze blankly over the sweatshirts and running shorts at the Times Square store Champs. (Don't even get us started on the two figures with featureless faces that allow you to project your own visage onto them.) It's kinda fun to push on their heads and make them bobble, but the longer you spend in the store, the more you notice their pale plastic eyes following you—and that their frighteningly toothy grins seem more serial killer than friendly athlete. —Ethan LaCroix
5 Times Square at Seventh Ave (212-354-2009, way to see art
Thanks to Emerging Artists International, art fans have a new chance to get up close and personal with local creative luminaries—and score a few discounted pieces in the process. This month's inaugural NYC Citywide Open Studios has featured more than 500 artists flinging open their doors to the public, with each borough being highlighted for a weekend. All types of work have been on display, including those in progress, and most artists are more than happy to field questions. The only borough left to explore this year is Staten Island, Sat 29 and Sun 30, but the whole process will happen again next year.—Stephen Kosloff

WAX POWERS Candles from Casa de las Velas may help solve your problems.Photo: Jeff Harris for Santeria practitioners
Whatever your problem—asthma, no cash, fickle lover, trouble with the law—the Santeria superstore Casa de las Velas(New York's oldest existing botanica, established in 1921) has got a candle to cure it. And if a wick won't do the trick, the emporium's shelves are also packed with helpful herbs, charms, incense, saintly icons and bath preparations. It's one of the last remaining botanicas on fast--gentrifying 116th Street, and the store clerks- are friendly, happily "blessing" your purchase for extra potency. But you risk a frosty glare and a finger-wagging "no" if you pull out a camera to snap the grimacing deities that hang from the ceiling.—CL
60 E 116th St between Madison and Park Aves (212-289-0378) for those with no sense of direction
Grid shmid. Even seasoned locals sometimes need subway-navigation help, especi-ally in avoiding the dreaded "three-trainer." If you need to go from, say, the Meatpacking District to Astoria, point your browser to, where you can type in where you're going and where you're coming from, hit "get directions," and be told exactly what combination of trains, buses and pedestrian routes will get you there the fastest.—AR

COURT IN SESSION Knicks tickets are worth something again now that proven winner Larry Brown is in town.Photo: Jeff Harris

...reason to buy Knicks tickets again
When Isaiah Thomas took over as Knicks general manager in 2003, he cut or traded many of the overpaid, underperforming stars, signed a marquee guard and drafted some decent youngsters. What could be his biggest coup is the luring of coach Larry Brown, the league's best defensive mind and master motivator, to shape the team's odd mix of youth and grizzled vets into a winning unit. If Brown can work the same magic he did with 2004 NBA champs the Detroit Pistons, the Garden will be rocking this winter.—BJ

...non-sports bar to watch sports in
With a nod to Woody Allen's famous paraphrase of Groucho Marx in Annie Hall ("I just don't want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member"), Palais Royale is ideal for the sports fan who hates sports fans. The slender saloon shows noteworthy games on two wide-screen LCD TVs and a 72-inch projection unit behind the pool table. A formidable roster of top-shelf bourbons, including rare brands such as A.H. Hirsch Reserve and Black Maple Hill, sit proudly behind the bar. But best is the blessed absence of lunkheads, yahoos and other thick-necked bellowers donning team colors. We'll drink to that!—Joe Angio
173 Mott St between Broome and Grand Sts (212-941-6112)

...bus ride
A double-decker bus tour of Manhattan carries a hefty $37 price tag, but for a mere two bucks you can board the M5 and take in the real West Side story. Starting in Soho, it swings up Sixth Avenue to Central Park South, then joins Broadway at Columbus Circle. After turning west at 72nd Street, it heads up through Riverside Park, past the mansions and monuments of Riverside Drive. At West 122nd Street, Grant's Tomb and the behemoth Riverside Church appear, and from the heights of the 125th Street viaduct you can grab views of the Hudson and GWB. Back on Broadway, at 155th Street, you'll whisk by the Beaux Arts enclave Audubon Terrace and then the infamous Audubon Ballroom site at 166th Street. Jump off here, or stay on to the last stop in Washington Heights, turn around and take the scenic voyage in reverse.—CL
The M5 route runs from Houston St at Broadway to 178th St and Broadway.

...night to go out
Until they add a new day to the week, it's going to be a constant struggle to find the right time to go out on the town. You don't want your desired hang to be jam-packed, but you can't settle for, say, Monday, when fresh fish is scarce and chefs often have the day off (and you might feel like a lush for being out in the first place). We all had high hopes for Thursday, which became the new Friday about ten years ago—but now Thursday evenings are just as maddeningly crowded and stress--producing as weekend nights. Wednesday is hump day, and we can't mess with that designation. That leaves us with Tuesday: Let the partying begin!—Thorne Lorenzo

HANOI ROCKS Bite into a banh mi at Nicky's.Photo: Cinzia Reale-Castello

How can a Vietnamese shop serve a quintessentially New York staple? Simple: It's the best-tasting cheap eat we've sampled in ages—and it's got a growing core of fans who swear it is the holy grail of sandwiches. At Nicky's Vietnamese, the $3.95 banh mi combines plenty of meat (pt, ham and ground pork) with sweet pickled carrots, cucumber, cilan-tro and mayo on a toasted baguette. The result is a sandwich that's crunchy, tangy and supremely addictive.—JOC
150 E 2nd St between Aves A and B (212-388 1088)

...indie-rock hang
When the East Village standby club Brownies closed in 2002, the city's indie-rock crowd mourned and fretted about where the bands would go. No one expected Hi-Fi, the bar that Brownies co-owner Mike Stuto opened in its place, to be as appreciated as its forerunner—but now the kids are free to socialize while enjoying frequent drink specials (more than just canned Pabst), not to mention EL DJ, an MP3 jukebox that boasts 35,000 tunes.—MW
169 Ave A between 10th and 11th Sts (212-420-8392)

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

New York's finest...
stage actor

No other actor speaks onstage like two-time Tony winner Cherry Jones, with each word carefully measured out and administered with loving precision. And no one listens quite like her either: A great Jones performance includes important intervals of silence, with flashes of thought that illuminate her deceptively serene features. Whether playing a naive young woman destroyed by romance (The Heiress), the sidelined mother of an atomic family in fission (Flesh and Blood) or a stern, self-righteous nun (Doubt), Jones is a model of emotional intelligence: a worthy heiress to Helen Hayes as First Lady of the American Stage.—Adam Feldman
Doubt is playing at the Walter Kerr Theatre. massage
Cheapie qi gong massage parlors have sprouted like kudzu throughout the city in recent years, but for our money, six-year-old Best Chinese Tui-na lives up to its name. Toss all mod-esty aside before plopping down on one of the seven massage tables in the tiny cramped room (your neighbor will be an arm's length away) and submit to the cheery sadism of the mostly female "therapists" who pound, knead and twist all your troubles away. (Lulu is a mean back-walker!) The cheesy Chinese pop music is unfortunate and the aggressive hustling for bigger tips off-putting, but when an amazing one-hour massage sets you back only $40, such transgressions are forgivable.-—JA
222 Lafayette St between Broome and Spring Sts (212-941-6038) to drop $60 on a T-shirt
The average shopper would have to be sleuth-level perceptive to notice the faded stencil on the sidewalk in front of this hard-to-find boutique's Noho entrance. But then again, Nom de Guerre is far from your average shopping experience. Once you traverse the staircase down to this basement shop—sparsely appointed with racks of upscale denim ($227), moleskin flight jackets ($595), limited-edition sneakers ($100--$290) and graphic T-shirts ($50--$60)—you'll find the ultimate in exclusive hip-hop/skater chic.—BJ
640 Broadway at Bleecker St (212-253-2891,
88 North 6th St between Berry St and Wythe Ave, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-387-3363)

SPECIAL DELIVERY The B&H trolley system is a marvel.Photo: Cinzia Reale-Castello

...checkout system
Not only is B&H a dreamland of all things photo-, video- and pro-audio-related, but the impres-sive checkout method is reason enough to pop into this block-long shop. The ceiling is rigged with a trolley system that transports purchases from storage or distant departments right to the checkout desk. A series of small motors and electrical eyes, functioning as connecting sensors, keep baskets of items moving from one end of the store to the other. All you have to tote to the cashier is a slip of paper that identifies what you're buying. These masters of efficiency make schlepping goods around a thing of the past, which is crucial if you're walking out with a 23-pound telescope.—Anne Finn
420 Ninth Ave between 33rd and 34th Sts (800-606-6969, mike
On Monday nights, when most of the city's theaters are dark, the stage crowd flocks to Birdland, where the host of Jim Caruso's Cast Party waits with a one-liner, a two-piece band and a list of singers eager to grab the microphone. With its eclectic blend of established stars and ambitious still-unknowns, Cast Party has become a vital pulse point of the musical-theater bloodstream: Every week, with any luck, a star or a standard might be born.—AF
315 W 44th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves (212-581-3080)

...alternative stand-up club
After a stint as a coffee- and rare-film house, Rififi, the back room of Cinema Classics, is now home to some of the city's best variety shows. During the past year, comedy programming has expanded from one night a week to seven. Recognizable faces and superb new talent redefine the boundaries of comedy with the stand-by shows Invite Them Up, Welcome to Our Week and the understated Giant Tuesday Night of Amazing Inventions and Also There Is a Game.—Jane Borden
332 E 11th St between First and Second Aves (212-677-1027,

Photo: Sarina Finkelstein

New York's finest ...
bar owner--author--yoga instructor

Yoga and death metal would seem to have little in common, but not to Melody Henry. The heavily tattooed Brooklyn native is the co-owner of Park Slope metal institution Lucky 13 Saloon—and teaches yoga classes at Crunch (sample class banter: "This pose is a great bar trick!"). She also works a day job at an advertising firm, has had poems and essays published in various antholo-gies and magazines, and is working on an autobiographical novel that touches on her years as a stripper, peep-show-booth girl and dominatrix. Oh, and she just got back from rescuing animals on the Gulf Coast. Think of her next time you feel like there aren't enough hours in your day.—Ethan LaCroix
Lucky 13 Saloon, 273 13th St at Fifth Ave, Park Slope, Brooklyn (718-499-7553,

...source for inexpensive party paraphernalia
Never mind the cramped aisles, fluorescent lighting and homely decor. NoHo discount trove National Wholesale Liquidators has captured the hearts (and wallets) of many a tightfisted host and hostess for its reliable stock of party goods. Whether you're throwing a Monday night football fest, Saturday night cocktail soiree or Sunday brunch, it pays to mine the overpacked shelves for disposably priced party loot—including champagne flutes ($6 for a set of six) and barrel-like tubs of snack mix (a paltry $3.99 for two pounds). Those bargain-basement price tags allow you to save up for the most important party favors: top-shelf booze.—Marissa Patlingrao-Cooley
632 Broadway between Houston and Bleecker Sts (212-979-2400)

...overlooked midtown lunch spot
Scandinavia House might not be the first place you'd think to eat when you're walking along Park Avenue below Grand Central. And anyone in the neighborhood seeking a quick, cheap lunch probably won't look beyond the abundant fast-food joints on 42nd Street. But for only slightly more than the cost of a Value Meal, head for AQ Cafe, where you can relax in a candy-colored chair and select items from a menu—put together by Swedish superstar chef (and Aquavit head honcho) Marcus Samuelsson—of N-ordic-inspired food, including smoked salmon and, of course, Swedish meatballs.—EL
58 Park Ave between 37th and 38th Sts (212-879-9779) samples
Don't tell 'em we sent you, but have you eaten at Williams-Sonoma lately? Hint: Go on a Saturday afternoon between 2 and 4.
Time Warner Center, Columbus Circle at Broadway (212-823-9750,

...near-spelunking experience
Legend has it that the northeastern end of Inwood Hill Park was the scene of the most notorious real-estate deal in history: In 1626, Peter Minuit "bought" Manhattan from the Lenape Indians for sixty guilders. Centuries after that deal closed, you can still visit the Lenapes' homes in the nearby Shorakapok Preserve (Shorakapok translates roughly as "place between the ridges"). Leave the trail and scramble up the preserve's steep slopes, and you can explore the tribe's cave shelters. The tree-covered granite outcrops open into weatherproof chambers big enough to sleep in, while outside, a bunch of smooth boulders are perfectly grouped for powwows.—CL
Enter Inwood Hill Park on Indian Rd at 218th St.

Photo: Imogen Brown

New York's finest...
sports commentator

A character with character and a rare class act in the shout-a-thon frat house of sports talk radio, WFAN's Steve Somers and his Borscht Belt shtick are throwbacks to the days when radio was about storytelling, not yelling. Beneath that shtick, he's obviously a total sweetheart: When the Mets honored their longtime radio play-by-play announcer Bob Murphy in 2003, which 'FAN jock was up on the dais to make a speech? Not mainstays Mike Francesa, Chris "Mad Dog" Russo or Joe Benigno—it was Somers, of course. And when he pokes fun at the Yankees and the Islanders, it's just that—fun, not vitriol—which makes him all the more endearing.—Paul Lukas
See for Somers's on-air schedule.

...funk-music party
Philadelphia-based DJ Rich Medina knows the power of the extended groove. Spinning crateloads of James Brown instrumentals and Afrobeat (the fusion of jazzy horns and West African highlife developed by Fela Kuti), Medina revs up a dance-happy Afrocentric crowd on the last Thursday of the month at S.O.B.'s Jump N Funk,with rhythm tracks that often last ten minutes or more. Talk about a workout.—BJ
S.O.B.'s, 200 Varick St at Houston St (212-243-4940,

...sledding hill
Speeding downhill on a well-WD-40'd cafeteria tray may be one of this city's superb winter pastimes, especially when surfing the snow at Fort Greene Park. From the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, the park offers a virtual 360-degree opus of steep slopes, featuring ramps and obsta-cles for danger seekers, and smooth, gradual descents for coasters. And if you're really hard-core, we dare you to skim down the monument's 100-foot-wide staircase, complete with jump--worthy landings. Watch out: You might catch major air.—Katharine Rust
Fort Greene Park between Washington Park and Fort Greene Pl/St. Edwards St and DeKalb and Myrtle Aves, Fort Greene, Brooklyn (

...version of Handel's Messiah
When mid-December arrives, hardly a day goes by in which Handel's oratorio can't be found in some NYC auditorium or church. But only one ensemble can claim to have made Messiah a tradition for more than a century: The Oratorio Society of New York, which began its annual renditions in 1874. This year's performance, on December 19 at Carnegie Hall, takes on an additional poignancy since it will be the first since the death of longtime music director Lyndon Woodside.—SS

...NYC real-estate blog
Is it because there isn't enough space that New Yorkers care so darn much about what happens with the precious little we have? Or is it that we suspect we were bamboozled into overpaying for our deluxe non-alcove studio? Or maybe we're just nosy? Whatever the reason, news, tidbits and rumors from the real-estate world are highly sought after—and, which launched in May 2004, is here to help. Singularly focused on realty, the site (which traffics in reader-submitted tips) proffers insider information on neighborhood happenings in all five boroughs, including new developments and construction, commentary on realtors and brokerage firms, and speculation about restaurant and bar openings.—LP

SEASONS' GREETINGS Kalustyan's carries 899 spices.Photo: Donald Bowers

...spice collection
Ask chefs where they find their rare exotic spices (not to mention oils, teas, nuts, seeds and herbs) and they will inevitably mention Kalustyan's. This place isn't just the city's best source of spices, it's also one of the oldest, having opened in 1944. It's heaven for food lovers who need more than just parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme—and just about the only place in the city where you can find certain ingredi-ents. The website, for example, lists 899 spices, from aaloo bhaji curry to za'atar Lebanese spice blend. Take that, Whole Foods.—JOC
123 Lexington Ave at 28th St (212-685-3451, for stargazing after a Broadway show
You may find yourself jostling against Nathan Lane at Theater District mainstay Angus McIndoe's—or eavesdropping on producers Barry and Fran Weissler at the table beside yours as they brainstorm on the marketing for their next show. You may even see a theater reporter scoping out the joint for juicy scoops. The Broadway experience isn't complete without a trip to this stylish restaurant and classy watering hole, preferably at about 10 or 11 at night.—DC
258 W 44th St between Broadway and Eighth Ave (212-221-9222, for stargazing after an Off Broadway show
The $5 mac and cheese at East 4th Street Bar is a steal, and the laid-back comforts here include a pool table and a fine jukebox. But another good reason to hang at this unpretentious East Village mainstay is to catch a glimpse of the actors you may have just seen at the New York Theatre Workshop, La MaMa or the Kraine Theater. On Monday, usually an off-night for shows, the bar has been known to welcome an unofficial confab of downtown actors and other theater artists—maybe they're attracted by the half-price chicken wings and $3 Bud Lites, standard starving-artist fare.—DC
78 E 4th St between Bowery and Second Ave (212-253-2237)

...hip-hop radio show
The Ivy League is down with underground hip-hop! Columbia University's 89.9-FM WKCR features the city's best mixshow, Squeeze Radio, which gives rap listeners their weekly fill of indie platters, in-studio freestyle rhyming sessions and hilarious music-industry dish. "It's always been about quality control," says Sucio Smash, a.k.a. DJ Jer2, who has cohosted the program with Timm See since March 2003. "We play whatever we like. And we address people if they wack."—BJ
Thursdays 1--5am, 89.9 FM WKCR

Photo: Federica Paoletti

New York's finest...
film programmer

Deep in the bowels of Film Forum's citadel of good taste sits Bruce Goldstein, 53, smacking his lips over delicious possibilities: a shady film-noir retrospective? A gorgeous new print of Mouchette? A long-lost, pre-Code gem? Who knows? Only Bruce and, eventually, the patrons of the city's most consistently excellent repertory programming. "I have a small staff—and they're much younger than I am, which helps," Goldstein says. "I try to make the [programming] accessible, rather than elitist and snobby. I like to mix it up—Naruse on one side of a calendar, Hitchcock on the other."—Joshua Rothkopf
209 W Houston St between Sixth Ave and Varick St (212-727-8110)

...Sunday barbecue
In July 2001, TONY proclaimed Lillie Haws, the go-for-broke proprietress of Lillie's in Red Hook, NYC's Best Bartender. Never one to rest on her laurels—though she would no doubt have a witty rejoinder to such a claim—Haws continues to up the ante at her namesake establishment. This past summer she hosted Va-va-vroom Car Wash (in which buxom, scantily clad beauties gave cars a sultry, sudsy scrub) and just last week opened her doors to Wanda Jackson for two concerts. But Haws's greatest claim to fame is her summerlong Sunday barbecue; for five bucks, you can fill up on ribs, chicken, burgers, brats or whatever the grillmaster decides to fire up. The feast takes place rain or shine from Memorial Day through Halloween,but is best on summer evenings when the leafy, multitiered garden—complete with a bubbling fountain and tiki hut—provides a shady respite from the industrial blight out front.—JA
46 Beard St at Dwight St, Red Hook, Brooklyn (718-858-9822) itinerary for out-of-town visitors
We've all heard those words: "What should we do? You must know where we should go!" Your NYC cred is on the line. Here's an itinerary to keep them occupied and edified. First: breakfast. Choose an Ess-a-bagel (359 First Ave at 21st St, 212-260-2252; 831 Third Ave at 51st St, 212-980-1010). Then get on the downtown 6 and exit at Bowling Green. This is Battery Park: stroll over and get a glimpse of Lady Liberty. Do NOT get on the boat. Hike up Hudson River Park (optional stops at the Museum of Jewish Heritageor the Irish Hunger Memorial) until you reach the Christopher Street pier. Note the fit and well-groomed populace. To the east: Richard Meier's celeb-stuffed apartment buildings. (No stalking!) Lunchtime: Cab it to Lombardi's (32 Spring St between Mott and Mulberry Sts, 212-941-7994) and sample the fare at America's first pizzeria. Now it's time for art: off to the new MoMA(11 W 53rd St between Fifth and Sixth Aves, 212-708-9400), where you can sip a drink at the bar after ogling the masterpieces. Got to bag another borough: Catch the 2 or 3 at 42nd Street, and don't get off till Clark Street in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Heights promenade provides more stunning views, as will the Brooklyn Bridge, which you should make your way across. Chinatown's just a few blocks north; Ping's Seafood (22 Mott St between Mosco and Pell Sts, 212-602-9988) will end the Classic New York Dining triumvirate. Nightcap? Try Thor at the Hotel on Rivington (107 Rivington St between Essex and Ludlow Sts, 212-796-8040). Congratulations: You've successfully avoided getting tickets for Mamma Mia!—SL