The Road to BookCon: New York City
I apologize that it took me so long to publish this post, but my initial drafts read like a drunk walking tour of the city and I’ve tried to hone that into something more readable. As with my “What to Expect at BookCon” post, there are two options: Read all the way through for some personal reflections on my experiences, and/or scroll to the bottom for some basic takeaways.
Here’s my NYC credentials: I lived in New York for five years, in two different neighborhoods in Queens, and worked in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
I haven’t lived in the city in two years, and have only been back a dozen or so times in those two years, so I acknowledge that things I mention in this post may have changed. (Actually, you don’t even have to be gone for years for change to sneak up on you in the city.)
Normally when I talk to friends and family about where to stay and what to do, I’m doing it under the assumption that their days are wide open with the intention of experiencing all that the city has to offer. Given that those of us who are attending BookCon are signing up to be inside a solitary building for most of the day on Saturday and most of the day on Sunday, I’m operating on the assumption that you’re looking for a few highlights to add to your BookCon adventure.
I’ll briefly cover what to expect with your stay, suggestions on what to see, and tips for how to get around, and be warned that “What to See” is mostly “What to Eat” because whenever people came to visit us in New York I always brought them to my favorite places to eat.
Staying in Manhattan is generally expensive no matter where you on the island you end up, but don’t expect the expense to translate to space.
Having spent most of my time in the city as a resident I didn’t stay in a lot of hotels in the city, but the ones I stayed in before I lived there, and that I have stayed in during recent visits are always small.
Though one in SoHo seemed like it was big in that the room was two stories, which really meant a tiered set of stairs that led from the bathroom and tiniest sitting room to a loft style “bedroom” where I felt like the Andre the Giant, bumping into the ceiling and walls (I’m just over 5’6” and in most other situations don’t feel like I’m living in a doll’s house)
I don’t share this to scare you! I find it’s helpful to be mentally prepared. The other rooms I’ve stayed in have been your average square space, just without a lot of extra room around the bed and nightstands.
If you’re staying someplace like a suite at The Plaza, then you’ll have plenty of room, and earn the jealousy of myself and many others, and can disregard my warnings about space.
We’ll be staying in Midtown, not too far from Bryant Park, keeping us mostly away from the electric hum of Times Square, but within walking distance of Penn Station, where we’ll be arriving into the city, and about a 15 minutes bus ride/25 minute walk to Javits.
While proximity to The Javits Center can feel important because you’ll be hauling books around, the ubiquity of Uber now makes staying almost anywhere in the city a good option.
Plan on downloading the app and setting up an account if you live in an area that doesn’t use Uber. You can, of course, hail a regular NYC taxi, but often the fares are going to be more reasonable through Uber.
When not hauling books the train is generally a good way to get around. I say generally because weekend construction can throw things completely out of whack. Make sure to check the MTA for updates about construction if you’re planning on using the train to get around. Google maps will give you travel plans, but they may not reflect changes/delays from construction.
When you’re out and about, enjoying the city on foot, please be mindful of the people around you. New Yorkers are some of the most intense pedestrians I’ve ever encountered, and when I counted myself amongst their number, I was perpetually speed walking everywhere. I once made it off the train, up the stairs, and to a dinner ten blocks away, in sandals, in 11 minutes. Not by running, just by walking. And there are a lot of people who move through the city at that pace.
I’m not telling you to not take in your surroundings, to not look up at beautiful buildings, but if you’re going to slow down, or even stop in a busy area, make sure you don’t do so in the middle of the sidewalk. Step to the side and allow the pedestrian traffic to move past you. Not doing so will result in people bumping you, muttering about you under the breath, or flat out yelling at you to get out of the way. You won’t have to worry about this in less busy areas, in parks, or in areas set aside for tourism, like the closed road sections of Times Square.
Know that the street blocks, which run East/West, are longer than avenue blocks, which run North/South. A destination that’s just ten blocks away can take twice as long on an East/West route than you think it will. This sounds like a trivial thing to share, but in my first few months in the city, not accounting for those longer blocks in my travel plans made me late more than a few times.
As far as getting into the city itself, if you’re flying in and out of JFK know that there is no quick path to Manhattan, be prepared to spend some serious time either in traffic, or going from shuttle to bus to train to get into the heart of the city.
If you’re flying in and out of LaGuardia, that airport is a little closer to Manhattan and will take less time, though depending on the time of day you should absolutely count on heavy traffic.
If you’re driving to the city look into options for parking outside of Manhattan. Driving in the city can be frustrating and unless your hotel offers free parking, daily rates can be astronomical. My husband heads down to the city for work fairly often and at this point we’ve found that parking in a long term lot of one of the Metro North stops is a nice option. We park in Poughkeepsie and then take the train into Penn Station. It’s an hour and a half to two hours depending on the train, which means an hour and a half when neither of us needs to drive and we can read, etc., instead.
There is no shortage of places to see and things to do in the city, but again, operating on the assumption that you’ll have a limited amount of time to work with outside of the convention, here are my personal favorites.
Places to see:
Top of the Rock
If you want to see the city from above, I recommend good ol’ 30 Rock over the Empire State Building. I’ve been on top of both, and prefer the glass walls of TotR over the fence caging of the Empire State building. I’m also partial to the fact that the view offers not only rooftops, but a beautiful look at Central Park, which you can’t really see from the more southern ESB location.
Central Park (Sheep Meadow)
The park is huge, like seriously, enormous. You can see epic gardens, a castle, a zoo, and acres and acres of more grass, gardens, and interesting people.
If you want what I think of as “the movie experience,” go check out Poet’s Walk, which is frequently seen in movies. If you want the Casey Rose experience, you’re going to want to start at the Whole Foods and at Bouchon in Columbus Circle, pick up some delicious drinks, some snacks, and the best giant macarons in the city, and then walk up Central Park West to W 67th St. From there you’ll turn right into the park, pass Tavern on the Green, and head into Sheep Meadow. This is my favorite place in the park, and the best place to have a picnic. Enjoy your food, the green surrounding you, and a boon of people-watching.
I also shared my picnic with a squirrel one afternoon, handing him my blackberries from my mixed berry salad as I don’t like them, and he clearly did.
This converted elevated train track is a stunning blend of nature and art in an inescapably urban setting. I’ve only been a couple of times, but each time I was wowed by the beautifully designed green spaces in contrast with all the homes and businesses that line the space. It’s the most interesting and innocent kind of city voyeurism as you get a glimpse inside these spaces through their wide glass windows.
There’s no lack of great bookstores in the greater NYC area, but if you only get a chance to go see one, I recommend Strand. With an awesome blend of new and used books, and as they rightly boast, miles and miles of books, it’s easy to spend an hour or two here.
It’s also a few blocks away from the Union Square Barnes and Noble where many big name authors have events.
Strand is also just a block away from one of my favorite chocolate-centric places in the city, which brings us to:
Things to eat:
Even if you can’t stay for a meal or one of their devilishly delicious cocktails, consider stopping for some of their takeout treats or to buy some of their chocolate for the road.
One of my favorite places to have a nice meal and a strong margarita, there’s a Union Square location not far from Strand and Max Brenner. The restaurant is casual, but more upscale than Blockheads. Reservations are definitely helpful on the weekends.
If you want tasty, tasty food, and an crazy-good frozen margarita, then you want to wait in line at Blockheads. There are locations peppered throughout the city, and I’ve always had a great time there. I’ve brought family and friends to various locations and we’ve always had a good time. Depending on the time of day you can expect to wait 45+ minutes for a table. The 50th St location has a decent amount of outdoor seating.
Big Gay Ice Cream
The best ice cream in the city. Maybe the best in the world.
When I first moved to the city Big Gay Ice Cream was just the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. They didn’t have any storefronts and they would park the truck in Union Square Park on scheduled evenings during the summer. After I had my first Salty Pimp I was hooked. Now they have 3 storefronts in the city and one in Philly. You can even buy pints of their ice cream online now, but I can’t imagine that they’d be as incredible as what you get in person. The West Village location is about 3 blocks from Washington Square Park, another oft-used movie/tv location.
I mentioned Bouchon in my Central Park spiel, and while there are a couple locations in the city, and in the country, I visited the one in the Time Warner Building the most. I will most definitely make a point of picking up some macarons from here while I’m in town. I can’t eat their grilled cheese anymore, but before I had to go GF, their grilled cheese was always a welcome addition to my day.
Alice’s Tea Cup
Another restaurant with multiple locations in the city, Alice’s Tea Cup is a hotspot for kids in particular, but I had a great time when I brought my mom for Mother’s Day a few years ago. The tea is great, the food is fun, and the atmosphere is bubbly.
Dedicated to a mac and cheese menu you can get all kinds of macaroni and cheese, even if you’re gluten free and/or vegan. This is one of those restaurants you don’t find in other cities so I’ve often recommended it to friends.
New York City is famous for its pizza, but it can be hard to come by a good gluten free slice. The best GF fresh pizza I’ve had in Manhattan is at Pizzarte. I make a point of going each time I’m in the city, and as their regular pizza is just as amazing, my husband always gets a good meal as well.
Obviously, a lot of my recommendations focus on sweets, margaritas, and a good gluten free pizza, but that’s where my heart is. That being said, if you’re looking for good vegan or vegetarian I have a few recommendations, so feel free to contact me for more.
Also, before I went gluten free, the best pizza I had in the city was at Vezzo’s, so consider adding that to your list as well.
No matter where you are staying, or what part of the city you’re in, there’s always a great place to eat. Forget the Olive Garden in Times Square and enjoy something that only New York has to offer.
The Condensed Version:
Make sure you have the Uber app on your phone and your account set up.
Trains are your friend, as long as you check for construction updates/delays.
Be mindful of other pedestrians.
Top of the Rock is more fun than the Empire State Building.
Central Park, particularly Sheep Meadow, is a great place to visit.
Strand has lots and lots of books.
That’s it for now!
If you have questions or thoughts, feel free to share them in the comments, or head over to the Contact page and shoot me an email.
Until then, I’m looking forward to meeting all of you!
I’ll have pics up on Instagram sharing what I look like and what I’m wearing the day of the show, so please feel free to stop and say hello!