A recent sojourn in the States got me thinking - there really is no other city as romanticised on the silver screen as New York. Without ever having set foot in Manhattan, you can easily conjure up pictures of Carrie Bradshaw's stoop in the Village, the Queensboro Bridge twinkling at dusk in Annie Hall and that infamous Katz Deli scene in When Harry Met Sally. New York moments don't just play out for the eight million people who inhabit it, but also in the imaginations of millions around the world.
For first-timers to the sprawling metropolis, the city has some immense cultural shoes to fill, and it can be a difficult task untangling the genuine 'must sees' from the exhausting conveyor belt of tourist spots.
If you identify with the growing groundswell of travellers seeking authenticity and local experiences, what follows will help you find those magic, candid NY moments that happen when you least expect them.
The New Museum truly embodies its namesake; respected internationally for its adventurous artistic program and championing of new art and new ideas. Occupying an ideal location at the intersection of Soho and the Lower East Side, the building itself is an architectural marvel, disrupting the traditional white cube by bringing art to the outside of the building, with ephemeral installations suspended from its exterior. Insider travel tip: visit on the weekend to catch a glimpse of the Sky Room. With floor-to-ceiling windows and a wraparound terrace, it offers panoramic views of the Manhattan skyline.
235 Bowery New York, NY 10002, newmuseum.org
Slightly removed from the elitist apron strings of MoMA, MoMA PS1 is like the younger, hipper cousin of its prenomer. Its remit is to showcase the most experimental contemporary art in the world. Don't be put off by the Long Island City locale; MoMA PS1 is definitely worth a trip off the mainland and contrary to popular belief you'll get there in around 15 minutes flat from most major subway stations. If you're visiting over summer, be sure to check out MoMA PS1's Warm Up, a series of outdoor live music events featuring the likes of Hot Chip, Miike Snow and Skrillex and attracting Brooklyn's best-dressed creatives.
22-25 Jackson Ave, Queens, NY 11101, momaps1.org
No vacay is complete without a Thelma & Louise moment, and the impressive DIA: Beacon is the perfect excuse for a road trip. Perched on the banks of the Hudson River an hours drive upstate, the DIA: Beacon is home to hundreds of jaw dropping large scale installations in a beautifully restored former factory. There's no such thing as mediocre at DIA, every work is a showstopper in its own right: punchy, colourful, luminous, large scale. It's 'art-tainment' as its best.
3 Beekman Street, Beacon, NY 12508, www.diaart.org
Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges once said, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." Borges would be living his heaven on earth dream in New York, which is home to some of the most spectacular libraries and book stores in the world; the kind of bookstores that give you an overwhelming sense of calm, like you've finally pressed the escape button and found a space where time stands still. Bibliophiles, add these to your list: Rizzoli Book Store (1122 Broadway between 25th and 26th, NY), Brazen Head Books (secret location, open only by appointment), The Strand (828 Broadway, Manhattan), Housing Works Bookstore and Café (126 Crosby St, NY) New York Public Library (5th Ave at 42nd St, NY).
New York is renowned for being the spiritual birthplace of many great thinkers, philosophers and writers, particularly Greenwich Village, which played a central role in the writings of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Truman Capote and Maya Angelou. Their stories of how the bohemian and social movements evolved in New York from the 1950s-70s is fascinating, and it's worth sparing a few hours either on a self-guided or guided tour to discover the writers' old favourite haunts and imagine a New York before the rapid gentrification of the '80s and '90s.
THEATRE + CINEMA
Nitehawk is a true film buff's cinema and an antidote to the soulless multiplexes found in every suburban shopping mall. Instead of Hollywood blockbusters and rom-coms, they present art house films and cult classics, enhancing the audience's viewing with a series of curated experiences including Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, live music and à la carte food and drink menus inspired by the film themes and narratives. Fun fact: In 2011, Nitehawk singlehandedly overturned a prohibition-era liquor law banning alcohol in movie theatres, becoming the first dine-in cinema to open in New York history.
136 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11249, nitehawkcinema.com
Off Broadway Theatre
Unless you're well connected in the theatre world, your chances of snagging a ticket to Hamilton and the Book of Mormon are pretty much negligible. Luckily there's no shortage of options at your disposal beyond the arches of Broadway, including a number of smaller theatres offering eclectic, experimental programming where you can get up close to some of New York's brightest and most promising actors. Try: HERE Arts Center (145 6th Ave, NY), The Flea Theater (41 White St, NY), The Kraine Theater (85 E 4th St, NY), La MaMa E.T.C. (74A East 4th St, NY) and Theater for the New City (155 1st Ave, NY).
For those with a penchant for the serendipity and surprise, the growing trend towards immersive and interactive theatre experiences might be up your alley. Sleep No More, showing at the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea (530 W 27th St), breaks down the barriers between actors and spectators. Audience members are free to roam through the six level theatre space while a roving cast of actors play out enigmatic scenes inspired by Macbeth and Hitchcock. Keep an eye out for the launch of Secret Cinema in New York, a cultural phenomenon founded in London which fuses film, theatre, music and large scale sets in secret locations.
Mister Sundays, Brooklyn
Born from a love of electronic music and a home-grown approach to merrymaking, Mister Sundays is a series of an all-day summer dance parties founded by Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin, taking place in hidden backyards, loft spaces and canal side parks across Brooklyn. Mister Sundays strive to do a little more than a typical party, the spaces are always comfortable and homey, the sound system is optimised for dancing and conversation in equal measure and it feels more like a family coming together than a nightclub.
Going to NYC without experiencing a jazz club would be sacrilege of the worst order, and the music gods would never forgive you. While jazz originated in New Orleans, the New York scene blew up in the '20s and has become closely entwined with the city's cultural identity. Your best bet is to go underground to get that authentic jazz club experience, as opposed to the cheesy dinner-club vibe that prevails at too many other spots around town. Plus it seems to be an unwritten rule that jazz sounds better one floor below. Try: Smalls Jazz Club (183 W 10th St, NY), Barbes (376 9th St, Park Slope, Brooklyn), Village Vanguard (178 7th Ave S, NY) and Smoke Jazz Club (2751 Broadway, NY).
Have you ever said to yourself, 'my music festival days are over'? Well then Sofar NYC might be just the ticket. The start-up company's raison d'etre is to 'bring the magic back to live music' with their series of secret live performances in intimate venues; think laneways, warehouses, lofts and garages. While the artist is kept secret until you arrive, with past performers including the likes of Karen-O, Bastille and Leon Bridges, it's worth taking a punt and discovering some new music while you're at it.