I visited New York last week. I rented a room on airbnb (great deal: £294 for 6 nights) in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; an interesting area full of artists and hipsters, the cousin of the Mission in San Francisco and Shoreditch in London. It’s also central, being just two subway stops from Manhattan.
Staying in an airbnb apartment is odd. It’s an impersonal transaction where you pay for the space, yet it’s much more personal and much less private than a hotel. I’m a fan of the anonymity, impersonality, privacy of hotels, so this was out of my comfort zone. That said, I’d do it again, but I’d read the reviews thoroughly.
My host was completely fine. The problem was the shape of the apartment: though I had my own entrance, there was another door from my room into my host’s bedroom. There was also generous window high up at the top of the room, connecting our rooms. This meant when my host’s bedroom light was on, it’d also light up my room. (Making this an actual problem was that my host liked to keep the lights on in his room all night. Maybe he thought I was dangerous?)
Brunch was one of my favourite things about Williamsburg. I had brunch at Egg in Williamsburg twice. They do a dish called Eggs Rothko, which is easy-cooked egg on a slice of brioche, covered with cheddar (photo). I wanted to go to Parish Hall, but sadly didn’t get around to it. I strongly appreciate that brunch is a proper thing that people take seriously in New York. If I’d stayed longer in Williamsburg, I’d have tried all the recommended places.
I bought a week MTA pass for about $30, and quickly figured out how to get from Williamsburg to Manhattan. It’s not easy to spot the subway entrances in the city, which are pretty unmissable in London as street furniture that help you find your way around. I noticed that an average subway crowd in New York is better preened and better dressed (sorry London, but it’s true), and manicures seem to be as basic as salon haircuts. These are some of the shallow observations you make during a week in a new city.
The New York grid is much more egalitarian than London’s sprawl, which has pros and cons. Central Park is an obvious visual focal point, and the surrounding avenues and streets. The advantage of the grid is that you can meet at intersections, and if you look left or right while crossing an avenue, you can see stunning views across Manhattan. Because the lines of the map tended to be equal, it was much less obvious to me where I should go first.
Service in New York was sometimes unfriendly. I don’t mean neutral, but actually grumpy and sour. It was clearer to me who hated their jobs. I had a glare from a barista in Williamsburg while she was taking my order for coffee. (I’m advised this is a phenomenon in Williamsburg, where everyone is working on their novels, and see their barista or bar job as beneath them.) I had a funny run-in with a waiter on the Upper East Side, while out with an old colleague. The waiter handed us a garbled receipt with a total that seemed high. I asked him to explain the items on the receipt, which he didn’t appeciate. He ended an unhelpful explanation with a curt “BYE-BYE!”.
I think New York would be an amazing place to live as a young and single person. (Dating, I’m told, is much more of a structured “thing” than it is in London, where it exists in a sort of embarrassed, apologetic purgatory of not-really-any-rules). There are amazing social and professional opportunities, many exceptional restaurants and cheap places for brunch, parks, museums, galleries. I loved MoMA. There are unique venues like Barcade in Brooklyn, where I’d go all the time.
But I was happy to come home. Coming home felt smoother and more pleasant and friendly than the entry to the US. I have a heightened appreciation for things like the clear and easy station signage at Heathrow and Paddington, the maze-like streets, the unpolished people riding the tube.