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What the Locals Do in New York City
There are a few tricks to navigating this city—unspoken, hard-won bits of knowledge that help us locals get the most out of our hometown without driving ourselves crazy. And at the risk of compromising our New York credibility (after all, we consider ourselves members of an exclusive club and guard our secrets accordingly), we've decided to share those tricks here. Just don't tell anyone we told you.
Getting Around Like a Local
Hit the Ground Walking
Spend a day in a New Yorker's shoes and you'll realize why we have the reputation for being skinny: New Yorkers walk. Two feet are the preferred method of transportation so if you want to talk the talk while you're here, you'd best walk the walk, too.
The most important rule of walking here is move quickly. We're in a hurry. Unless you're holding the hand of a small child, single file is the rule; walking two or three abreast will slow busy locals down. If you need a moment to update your Facebook status or take pictures of each other, make like you're on the highway: pull over and get out of the way.
Take the Subway
When distance is involved, make like a New Yorker and take the subway. It's cheaper than a cab, and often faster, too. The subway runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (with reduced frequency late at night and on weekends). A single-ride subway fare is $2.50, but expect an increase in 2013. If you're planning to make extensive use of the subway while you're in town, buy a MetroCard, a magnetically encoded card that debits the fare with every swipe at the turnstile (it's cheaper than paying single fares). You can purchase MetroCards from a staffed station booth or from the vending machines located in every subway station.
Know that the most common mistake for a subway novice is to hop on a train going in the wrong direction. We've all done it. First, determine if you are going uptown or downtown. Then, figure out which train—designated by numbers or letters—stops near where you're going. Note: the signs outside some stations indicate "Uptown Only" or "Downtown Only," so pay attention on your way in. Even seasoned New Yorkers ask for/confirm directions, so don't be shy; if anything, locals like to show off their knowledge of the system. Alternately, if you're traveling with a Smartphone, the website HopStop will help you figure out the best route.
Trains can run "local" (stopping at all stops on the line) or "express," so if you're uncertain just stick with a local train; better to delay your journey by a few stops than to miss your stop altogether!
All Hail the Taxi Cab
There is no shortage of yellow cabs in Manhattan; there's just a shortage of available cabs—especially when it's raining or you're in a hurry. You can tell whether a taxi is available by checking its rooftop light: if the center panel is lighted and the side panels are dark, the driver is looking for passengers (so stick out your arm!); taxis whose roof lights are lighted only at the edges—not the center—are off-duty.
Once you're in a cab, know your passenger rights. Although your driver will likely careen at high speeds while simultaneously cursing, leaning on his horn, and chattering into his cell-phone headset, you're entitled to ask him to slow down. You're also allowed to ask him to turn off his phone or blaring car radio, and if he doesn't comply, refrain from tipping him. Cabbies make almost nothing aside from tips, so tack 15% to 20% onto your fare after a satisfactory ride; all cabs are now required to take credit cards, too.
Speaking of fares, you'll be charged $2.50 for just getting into the cab. After that, the cost is 40 cents for every 1/5 mile (or every 60 seconds in stalled/slow traffic). You'll have to cover any bridge or tunnel tolls, and while you're at it, a surcharge of $1 between 4 and 8 p.m.
Last, know where you're going before you get into a cab. A quick map check or call to your destination will give you the cross streets and ensure a direct route.
Dining Like a Local
The first rule of New York eating is, forget the heavy breakfast—at least on weekdays. Although weekend brunch is popular—as the lines in front of restaurants on Saturday and Sunday attest—when the rest of the city is on the clock, it's better to get up and go. Grab coffee and a bagel from a café, a deli, or one of the ubiquitous sidewalk carts (they're passably good), and walk while you eat.
On TV it seems New Yorkers only eat pizza, or dine at diners or chichi restaurants, when in reality, instead of chasing stereotypes or trends, you'll find most locals chasing trucks. The food-truck phenomenon is nothing new for New York, but rather than fizzle out, food truck dining has become a competitive sport with Twitter feeds and blogs dedicated to helping New Yorkers track and find trucks and then one-up coworkers with their lunch loot, be it a Turkish Taco or an Apple Pie Melt. Work up a healthy appetite like a local and find nearby food trucks with EdibleCity.com.
Don't skip lunch whatever you do, because if you want to experience the real New York dinner scene, you'll need to dine late. Most New York restaurants are empty around 6 pm and don't fill up until at least 7:30 or 8, so if you eat early, you'll have your pick of tables but little company. Prime-time dinner reservations—between 8 and 10 pm—are the hardest to score, but will ensure that you're surrounded by dining companions.
Of course, if you can't get a good reservation, you can always do what many savvy locals do: eat at the bar. You'll get the same great food and people-watching, plus you'll get to feel like an insider while other folks are still waiting for a table.
It's the city that never sleeps so you know the coffee's good and plentiful. Skip the generic coffee chains posted on every other corner and caffeinate like a discerning local with a cup from an artisanal roaster, served by an enthusiastic barista, often with free Wi-Fi on the side. Some local faves include: Joe The Art of Coffee in the West Village; 9th Street Espresso with two locations in Alphabet City, and one in Chelsea Market; Abraco in the East Village; and Gimme! Coffee in NoLIta. Portland's Stumptown Coffee Roasters and San Francisco's Blue Bottle Coffee have locations in Manhattan. Find your fuel by name, neighborhood, or location at NYCMugged.com.
Going Out Like a Local
There's one major rule New Yorkers abide by when hitting the nightspots: avoid, avoid, avoid the big clubs on Friday and Saturday nights. The only people you're likely to see then are other visitors, the pickup artists trying to scam them, and kids too young to know better. Locals and A-listers go clubbing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday—on weekends you'll find them either at smaller, low-key bars and lounges or huddled in their apartments with Netflix and take-out Chinese.
When you do hit one of the superswanky spots in Chelsea or the Meatpacking District, don't over- or underdress. If you're female, don't confuse "dressy" with "formal"; leave the cocktail dress at home and go for something casually sexy: tight, dark jeans, a classy-yet-revealing top, a fabulous handbag, and heels are almost always a safe bet, as is the classic N.Y.C. black. If you're a guy, dress to impress—jeans are fine as long as they're dark—but leave the baseball cap at home.
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