For those of you familiar with Not for Tourists books, you know that they are handy little guides designed to help locals (and visitors) discover new and interesting places that are oft-overlooked by the larger guidebook series out there. While their books are typically pocket-size and easy to carry, not everyone (especially actual locals) wants to always be toting a guidebook around with them. Sometimes you’re just out and about and have a specific need worth addressing. Whether it’s a place to buy a scarf because a cold spell caught you off guard or a strong need for a stiff drink after a long day, Not for Tourists books have always been useful. Now, however, they have an iPhone app for New York City that puts all the useful tips of their book right in your phone. I put the app to the test over the last few weeks. Since I live here, I’m very familiar with bars and restaurants in my neighborhood. However, I often need recommendations when I head to other parts of the city. I was curious to see if the Not for Tourist app would lead me astray or replace the friends I often call for suggestions when I head to other parts of town.When you open the app, you are presented with a list of neighborhoods. Rotate your iPhone into landscape and the list gives way to a map with neighborhoods clearly marked. Once you select a neighborhood, you are given a list of categories from which to choose. These include Top Picks, Restaurants, Nightlife, Shopping, Landmarks, Libraries and Museums. after choosing a category, a list of locations appears. From there, you can pick your poison and make your decisions.
The first thing I noticed about the Not for Tourists app is that it is probably more beneficial to a local than a tourist (even though many tourists love their actual guidebooks). Information is limited within the app. Summaries of bars and restaurants are often only one sentence. If you’ve heard of a place before or received a suggestion from a friend, the NFT app is a nice supplement, but it is not a robust primary source of information.
On a recent trip to TriBeCa, I was at a loss for where to go for a drink. Since the NFT app is broken down by neighborhood, I simply selected TriBeCa followed by Nightlife. I was then presented with a list of bars. Bars are categorized but, unlike the paper editions of the books, the app lacks a key to decipher the pictures. While I could figure out that a knife and fork meant that the bar served food, I was unsure about other icons.
You can search by name if you are looking for a specific location. I selected The Ear Inn, a bar with which I was somewhat familiar, to see what NFT had to say about it. The app included a one line synopsis and a lengthy description of the bar that was incredibly useful. Then I decided to select a bar with which I was completely unfamiliar. I tapped “Toad Hall” and was provided with a very basic description stating “Laid back vibe with SoHo locals.” Unlike the write-up for The Ear Inn, there was no additional information provided. As such, the app essentially told me that the bar existed and not much else.
This was the case for additional searches over the course of the next few weeks. Most listings had simple one sentence summaries that were not terribly descriptive.
If you are a fan of NFT guides, are familiar with their aesthetic and typically agree with their suggestions, then the app is significantly more useful than random Yelp or Google Places reviews. If you’ve never used NFT guides before, the app is certainly too vague to distinguish itself from other apps and online resources.
Overall, the Not for Tourist iPhone app is useful for New Yorkers who occasionally are flummoxed when they leave their comfort zones. For visitors, it could be a helpful supplement to a fuller guidebook, but probably wouldn’t replace the Not for Tourist paper edition, which contains much more information and is a richer resource. Considering how small the actual NFT book is, I’d be more apt to keep that in my bag than rely on the app, considering how inconsistent the information is on the phone.
Thankfully, Not for Tourists has kept the price low. The New York app costs just $2.99 (as do their apps for San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere) and is available in the App Store. If you don’t feel like carrying around a book, the apps could be useful.