Budget Guide 2013: Downtown Manhattan

There’s always something new to discover in New York City, and if you’ve always stuck to the landmarks, skyscrapers and overpriced restaurants of midtown, now might be the time to venture south to the wilds of up-and-coming neighborhoods like Chinatown.

Here, the buildings are shorter, the streets are narrower and the Starbucks are less ubiquitous. Chinatown is a gritty neighborhood, with its congested streets, mysterious foreign smells and aggressive fake Rolex vendors. It is also one of the city’s most vibrant ethnic enclaves, with bright fruit stands, bargain foot massage parlors and scores of dingy but delicious eateries.

But the times, they are a-changing. In the past few years, farm-to-table fusion restaurants have started replacing the neighborhood’s traditional Chinese noodle shops. Some trace Chinatown’s renaissance to the opening of Apotheke, a trendy artisanal cocktail bar on Doyers Street. But it was Parisian club Le Baron that sealed the neighborhood’s fate when it selected lower Mulberry Street as the site for its much-hyped New York outpost last year. Real estate developers have descended on the neighborhood, branding the easternmost part of it “Chumbo” – a mash-up of “Chinatown” and “DUMBO,” its trendy Brooklyn counterpart. Costs, in turn, are rising.

However, deals can still be had for the budget traveler. Lower-end hotel chains fill the neighborhood, and cheap eats abound. Plus, Chinatown is a landmark in and of itself – just stepping out the door can yield dozens of classic New York experiences. Catch it while you still can.


Hotels

Wyndham Garden Chinatown: Opened in late 2012, the Wyndham Garden Chinatown is a bright new addition to Chinatown’s budget hotel scene. The contemporary 106-room property is located right in the heart of the Bowery, one of lower Manhattan’s main thoroughfares. Floor-to-ceiling windows look out on the hubbub of the neighborhood, while double-paned glass keeps the street noise muffled. All in all, it’s a clean and comfortable option. From $116. http://www.wyndham.com/hotels/new-york/new-york/wyndham-garden-chinatown 93 Bowery

Howard Johnson Manhattan SoHo: Forgive us, that’s “HoJo,” according to Howard Johnson’s youthful new branding campaign. The roadside motor inn has spiffed itself up for its brand new downtown Manhattan location, with pop art on the walls and neon purple track lighting in the lobby. Rooms are small but feature amenities like free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Early reviews are positive, with raves about comfort and value. From $169. http://www.hojo.com/hotels/new-york/new-york/howard-johnson-manhattan-soho 5 Allen Street

The Nolitan: Splurge on a room at the area’s first luxury boutique hotel, located just above the Chinatown border in trendy Nolita. The 55-room hotel opened in early 2012 and offers modern industrial design from Grzywinski+Pons, the same team behind the Lower East Side’s popular Hotel on Rivington. While prices may hover slightly above the typical budget range, guests can save on the affordable mini bar, free access to nearby 24-Hour Fitness and free bike, skateboard, laptop, iPad and video game system rentals. From $285. http://nolitanhotel.com 30 Kenmare Street

Eat and Drink

Nom Wah Tea Parlor: New York’s oldest dim sum teahouse reopened in 2011 under the energetic Wilson Tang, a former banker and nephew of former owner Wally Tang. Wilson redid the restaurant’s interior but kept vintage touches like the original tea booth, 1920s-style leather seating and newspaper clippings celebrating the teahouse’s 93-year history. Prices for small plates are in the $3-$7 range, while traditional teapots are around $1. Don’t miss the shrimp siu mai and house special pan-fried dumplings; they are superb. http://nomwah.com 13 Doyers Street

Nice Green Bo: Tourists regularly queue up for soup dumplings at Joe’s Shanghai, but locals in the know tend to prefer nearby Nice Green Bo. The dingy hole-in-the-wall restaurant offers a full menu of Shanghainese specialties, but its main draw is succulent steamed soup dumplings filled with crab and pork. http://nicegreenbo.com 66 Bayard Street

Epistrophy: Vintage furniture and antiquarian knickknacks fill this charming café and wine bar, which serves a reasonably priced selection of wine, coffee and panini. The place shines in the spring, when the windows are left open to welcome in the neighborhood. http://www.epistrophycafe.com 200 Mott Street

Budget Activities

Museum of Chinese in America: This under-the-radar museum excels in its series of quirky and relevant exhibitions. Currently on display are two comic-themed exhibits: “Marvels and Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986″ and “Alt.Comics: Asian American Artists Reinvent the Comic.” April will see the unveiling of two fashion-oriented showcases: “Front Row: Chinese American Designers” and “Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s.” Admission is regularly $10 but free on Thursdays. http://www.mocanyc.org 215 Centre Street

LES Tenement Museum Neighborhood Walks: What better way to explore the neighborhood than by walking it? Learn the history of lower Manhattan’s immigrant communities through the Lower East Side Tenement Museum’s informative neighborhood walking tours. “Foods of the Lower East Side” is a particularly delicious way to get acquainted. http://www.tenement.org 103 Orchard Street

Pearl River Mart: Bypass the counterfeit handbags of Canal Street and head instead to Pearl River Mart, a massive emporium of cheap, quirky novelty items, like bright kimonos and paper lanterns. It’s the perfect place for souvenir hunting. http://www.pearlriver.com 447 Broadway


Get Around

Downtown Manhattan is relatively accessible from New York’s major airports. From JFK, you take the J subway line from Jamaica Station-Sutphin Boulevard direct to Chinatown’s Canal Street. Public transport from LaGuardia and Newark can be more arduous, with multiple stops and transfers. Google Maps is the best way to compare your transportation options in the city, whether you’re taking a taxi, riding the subway or using your own two feet.

If you’ve previously relied on traditional forms of transportation to get around, prepare yourself for some sticker shock this year. Subway fares are slated to increase from $2.25 to $2.50 per ride this March, following a 17 percent rate spike for taxi fares that occurred last year.

But there is a budget option: the bicycle. New York is to unveil its new Citi Bike Share this May, with 10,000 bikes distributed among 600 stations across Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn and Queens). A day pass can be purchased at any kiosk for $9.95, while a seven-day pass will cost you $25. The city has made major improvements to its biking infrastructure over the past few years, and a fantastic new path recently opened on Allan Street that connects Chinatown to upper Manhattan.


Budget Tip

Wake up early and go for a stroll through Columbus Park, Chinatown’s largest public park. Historically known as Five Points, this area was once the formidable site of the gang violence depicted in “Gangs of New York.” Today, it’s where Chinatown’s elderly community gathers for early morning tai chi and mah-jongg. Pick up a milk tea and pork bun, grab a bench and pay witness to the last vestiges of a neighborhood in transition.

[Photo credits: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews (top photo) and Andrew Burton/Getty Images]

Photo Of The Day: Williamsburg Bridge


We often forget that Manhattan is an island. That is, until we remember the number of bridges crisscrossing the skyline to connect the New York City borough with the rest of America.

Most people are familiar with the Brooklyn Bridge and the George Washington Bridge. But my personal favorite is the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Manhattan’s Lower East Side to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I have spent many a late night in a cab over that bridge, and the view of the Manhattan skyline when crossing over from the Brooklyn side never fails to leave me breathless. This view, taken by Flickr user Skylar Grant from the East River waterfront, isn’t too shabby either.

Do you have any beautiful bridge photos? Upload your shots to the Gadling Flickr Pool and your image could be selected as our Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Skylar Grant]

Video Of The Day: Rickshaw Spider-Man

I was wandering around the Lower East Side last Friday night when I heard screaming and saw New York’s Rickshaw Spider-Man entertaining passengers and pedestrians alike at the street corner. I stood in awe and watched him, Shaun Emerson, as he glided up and down smooth and rough walls alike with abandon – and with his pedicab in tow. My husband took his own video, but this video shows the man at work a bit more clearly. Rickshaw Spider-Man has been spotted regularly in Alphabet City and the Lower East Side in NYC. My biggest regret of the night? Not following him around the corner and asking for a ride.

Didi Senft's Royal Rickshaw

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath: On The Ground In New York City

For tourists and locals alike, the post-Sandy vibe in New York City is unusual, even eerie.

With subway lines down throughout the city, slow bus service and intense traffic – everyone’s who’s got a car is currently using it to get around – the remaining signs of wreckage from the storm make for a spooky Halloween. The city’s weird mood is backdropped by the continuing lack of electricity in lower Manhattan, which makes the normally iconic NYC skyline totally dark (you can see it here, if you click through to the 16th image).

Yesterday afternoon, there were hundreds or even thousands of pedestrians walking across the Williamsburg Bridge, which separates powerless Manhattan from a neighborhood in Brooklyn where electricity is flowing and residents are carousing as though a Frankenstorm didn’t just pass through. Children in costume walked the bridge with their parents to go trick-or-treating; for many, walking is the only viable way to get out of lower Manhattan, with public transportation at a near standstill.

The spooky pre-Halloween vibe was perpetuated in the Lower East Side by shops and bodegas that were open for business but totally dark inside. Katz’s Deli, a New York icon, burnishes a sign announcing it’s open – but that it doesn’t have power and, no, you can’t use its restroom.

With nothing to do inside, residents flock to the streets, chatting with their neighbors and walking aimlessly, all with a restless air that reminds me of a post-apocalyptic movie scene. Street lamps are dark at night, and the lack of traffic lights means policemen are directing traffic at crowded intersections. Cars are fending for themselves at mid-sized intersections.

The disquieting restlessness feels like the quiet before a storm of its own. On Halloween, of all nights, I can’t decide whether this is particularly appropriate, or especially haunting.

[Photo credit: Allison Kade]

Is Eddie Huang The Next Anthony Bourdain? Watch And Find Out

If the name Eddie Huang isn’t familiar, it may soon be, if the folks at VICE.tv have their way. The Washington, D.C., native is a chef, former lawyer and, according to his website, a former “hustler and street wear designer” born to Taiwanese immigrants – a background that led him to become the force behind Manhattan’s popular Baohaus restaurant.

Huang’s new VICE video series, “Fresh Off the Boat,” premiered online on October 15. According to VICE’s website, the show is “Eddie Huang’s genre-bending venture into subculture through the lens of food.” That’s one way to describe it.

Huang has been positioning himself as a chef-turned-media-personality in the vein of Anthony Bourdain or David Chang for a while now. As in, he’s street smart, opinionated, and doesn’t appear to give a rat’s ass what people think of his renegade ways. Ostensibly, it’s a great fit for VICE, which is known for its edgy exposés and other content.

Here we hit the first divergence among FOTB and the canon of travel series. Regardless of how you feel about them, Bourdain and Chang are still, respectively, articulate, intelligent commentators of what’s been called “food anthropology.” Huang is obviously a savvy businessman, and thus, one must assume, not lacking in brain cells. But he isn’t as likable. Unlike Chang, a mad genius, he’s not so outrageously batshit that he’s funny. He’s not particularly charming, witty, or aesthetically appealing, and he comes off more wannabe-Bourdain and imposter street thug than informative host and armchair travel guide.

In the premiere, Huang takes viewers on a backwoods tour of the Bay Area, starting with a visit to Oakland’s East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.

We’re briefly introduced to Rats president Trevor Latham, and next thing we know Huang and Latham are armed with rifles and wandering Latham’s Livermore ranch in search of rabbits. Says, Latham, an avid hunter, “People that eat meat and aren’t willing to kill an animal are fucking pussies, and fuck them.”

Of note, the below video is fairly graphic.


rabbitsFor his part, Huang appears suitably humbled, although I have to wonder why a chef of his standing and ethnic and familial background (his father is also a restaurateur) doesn’t appear to have been exposed to animal slaughter before. Still, he gets bonus points for trying to disseminate what should have been the primary message.

Says Huang in the final scene, “Every time I eat meat now, I have to be conscious that…I am choosing to enable someone to kill an animal and create a market demand for slaughter. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Just be conscious of the choices you make.”

Well done. I just wish the rest of the episode carried that levity.

“Fresh Off the Boat airs Mondays; future episodes will include San Francisco, Miami, Los Angeles, and Taiwan.

[Photo credit: Eddie Huang, Youtube ; rabbits, Flickr user Robobobobo]