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An Insider’s Guide to NYC

Tired of Broadway shows and the annual trek to the Met? Try one of these activities on for size on your next trip to the Big Apple.

071023_grom_flavorsF.jpgIndulge: Get your Grom on
Turin-based gelato importer Grom opened this summer on the Upper West Side to high-decibel hype, small $5 servings, and hour-long waits. Five months on, the small cups are still pricey but the lines have shortened. Judge for yourself whether the full-fat milk, organic eggs, and artisanal flavors like pistachio, grapefruit, or lemon are worth the hype. The store’s slogan, “Il Gelato Come Una Volta” (roughly translated as “Ice Cream as It Once Was”), proclaims its commitment to old-fashioned scoops. Warning: many a visit to the gelateria have turned into full-fledged Grom-a-thons.

Drink: The ultimate noir bar
If you like a little cloak-and-dagger with your cocktails, head on over to PDT (it stands for Please Don’t Tell), a clever, if inconspicuous, new watering hole in the East Village. Housed below the unassuming hot dog joint Crif Dogs, this pseudo-speakeasy can only be reached by entering through a phone booth on the main floor. Patrons with reservations are escorted through the phone booth’s false back into the building’s underbelly, which does a spiffy variation on cozy with dark paneling, wood beams, and tongue-in-cheek taxidermy. Do try the Hemingway Daiquiri (with white rum and grapefruit juice), and if you get peckish, Crif Dog items can be brought around with drinks.

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071023_lafayettehousehotel_F.jpgStay: The perfect pied-a-terre
Although its opening was overshadowed by the debut of the much larger Bowery Hotel, the newly opened Lafayette House Hotel, (photo, right) due east of Washington Square Park, is nothing to sneer at. With just 15 rooms (from $375 a night), this regal little 1840s town house will bring to mind Henry James novels and an era when New York’s well-heeled gathered around these once-cobblestoned lanes. All rooms have a working fireplace — perfect for those crisp New York nights — period-perfect antiques, and bathrooms complete with copper-fixture bathtubs. But have no fear, you won’t be trapped in the 1800s — the amenities are strictly 2007, with iPod docks and flat-screen LCD televisions. There’s no restaurant on site, but BBar and Grill next door can set you up with a New York strip steak.

Play: Adults-only bowling comes to Brooklyn
In Brooklyn, hip young things like to gather at The Gutter for beer and bowling while listening to fist-pumping rock ‘n’ roll. Vintage glass lamps over the full-service bar, a 1970s vending machine, and a wooden phone booth all conspire to make you believe this month-old establishment is a venerated institution. In truth, it’s the first bowling alley to open in Brooklyn in about 50 years. The décor is semi-ironic but the love of bowling is sincere (expect to wait for one of the eight lanes to open up). Prices are $7 per person, per game (with discounts for four or more players or before 8 p.m.). Shoe rental is $4, but don’t expect to find kids’ sizes. The Gutter is a strictly 21 and up crowd.

071023_toloache.jpg Eat: Dine like a local
Walk beyond the blaring neon lights of Times Square and the pulsing crowds at Grand Central to find the restaurants where real New Yorkers dine. You can start by making a beeline for 50th Street’s Toloache, (photo, right) a bustling new Mexican brasserie that has local foodies talking. Don’t miss the chipotle-accented guacamole, the Negro Modelo-braised brisket tacos, or beef short ribs braised in pomegranate sauce.

If you’re looking for a great meal around Grand Central Terminal, skip the restaurants in the station and head down the street to Benjamin Steakhouse, just a block south inside the Dylan Hotel. In this stylish space, outfitted with dark wood paneling, leather banquettes and cream accents, you can treat yourself to dry-aged prime cuts that arrive still sizzling, incredible “cream-free” creamed spinach, and extravagant seafood platters. Not in the mood for a big meal? Take it easy with a martini or a glass of Malbec in front of the crackling fire.

Shop: Madison Avenue’s got a brand new bag
Some luxury handbags shout their logos across leather like a Times Square billboard. But Lambertson Truex whispers affluence. The September opening of the new flagship store (692 Madison Avenue) brings its high-end line of leather goods ($1,795 python tote, anyone?) to a playing field of well-known heavy hitters like Louis Vuitton and Hermès. Inside, an assortment of bags, shoes, belts, gloves, and small leather goods line the walls. Hint: a framed clutch and a pair of knee-high calf boots will never go out of style, even on fickle Fifth Avenue.

Maria Teresa Burwell and Erica Duecy

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