Thursday, February 10, 2011

NEW YORK CITY- Part one: Upper West Side

Knit the Big Apple

New York.  I grew up near The Big Apple (in Connecticut), so it still has the feel of home to me.  Factor in that it’s pretty much the center of the publishing universe, and the fact that you can only get scrumptious Yodels on the east coast, and this was a good trip before I set foot on the plane.  
It’s a mammoth city, so just typing in "NYC yarn stores" into your google might dish up some daunting results.  Unless you can afford a week of Manhattan hotel rates (in which case, consider sponsoring this blog!), narrow things down to two or three.  Luckily, I had the handy staff at my publishing house and several family friends to help me make up a short list.  So remember, this is by no means exclusive, these are just the two stores that rose the the top of my contact’s recommendations.  And they’re gems, so enjoy.
First, couple of transportation tips:
  1. New York’s subway system isn’t as daunting as you’d think.  Granted, I’m six feet tall and relatively fearless when it comes to urban travel, but unless you ride the rails late at night, you’re pretty much safe with a good set of instructions. Buy a metrocard from a machine in most of the larger stations (a $10 one gets your four rides, which is about what I averaged every day). I like paper directions (and feared loosing cell phone signal inside the subway), so I pre-printed instructions for myself using the “transit” feature on Googlemaps with great success.  If you want to go digital, locals highly recommended a smartphone application called HopStop, but I didn’t have the chance to try it.
  2. Before you climb into a cab, know how locals would give the address.  Generally, it’s something like “5th Avenue between 22nd and 23rd” rather than an exact address or using some street of the names like “Avenue of the Americas.”  Using the local vernacular will decrease your chances of getting into a cab willing to take the long way to your destination to rack up a higher fare.  And no, despite multiple efforts to do so, I never did climb into The Cash Cab while in town.
  3. This is a big city so it pays to be smart.  Keep your wallet in a secured compartment of your handbag and carry a cross body bag if you can.  Tuck a twenty (and a second credit card if you’re really nervous) somewhere else on your person so you’re okay if someone swipes your purse.  Skip the iPod so you can take in your surroundings, and if you really want to blend in, wear black, walk fast, and look slightly grouchy (just kidding about the grouchy part).
There are a million ways to slice up the city, so rather than give you specific days, I’m going to divide our adventures up into two neighborhoods.  Combine them in whatever order and alongside whatever standard Big Apple Touristy Stuff you desire.
Knitty City and the Upper West Side
The Upper West Side, mainly the part of Manhattan to the West of Central Park and considerably north of Times Square, is quintessential New York to me.  It’s “neighborhoody,” clean, and diverse with just a touch of uppity.  Times Square never really did it for me--but I could wander the Upper West Side endlessly.  I sat in a deli on this trip and had a bejeweled, big-haired woman with enormous glasses grab my arm, bark out, “Can I tell you something?” and then regale me for twenty minutes with tales of her latest friends’ birthday presents.  A complete stranger.  Really, it was like wandering into a Seinfeld episode...and I loved it.  So, join me by starting out our adventures in this part of the city.  Hop the #1 Subway uptown and get off at 72nd Street to breakfast at:

321 1/2 Amsterdam Ave (at 77th Street)
New York, NY 10023
Loyal DestiKNITers know I chow down cupcakes for breakfast at least once every adventure.  And I have to say, when store manager Michael told me I was about to eat “the best chocolate cupcake you’ve ever had,” I  Folks, I’m here to tell you the Blackout Cupcake is hands down the best chocolate cupcake I’ve ever had.  Enormous.  Moist.  A perfect frosting topping and a gooey center, too.  I paired it the with Almond Joy cupcake for a balanced breakfast, but the Blackout stole the show.  I did not care that, along with my excellent Hazelnut coffee, I’d just downed almost a 1,000 calories for breakfast.  Really, it’s sinister that they post the calorie count next to these culinary luxuries.  Some airline meals (when you can even get them) top out at 1,000 calories and don’t deliver 1/20th of such taste-bud joy.  Do it. Eat two. And hey, if you’ve got mouthes to feed, opt for the “Colosal Crumb” because it’s--and this is a direct quote--“a cupcake the size of your head.”  Bliss.

Lick your fingers and come down off your sugar high as you walk up delightful Amsterdam Avenue to 79th street, where you’ll turn west to encounter one of the city’s fiber finest:

Knitty City
208 W. 79th Street (between Amsterdam and Broadway)
New York, NY  10024
This lovely, vibrant shop didn’t earn it’s loyal following out of nowhere; owner and “soul of the shop” Pearl Chin set out to make a community and whoa boy, she succeeded.  She and her entire staff bend over backward for customers, fueling their creativity and urging them on to new skills.  To call it a store is such an understatement--this place is a studio, a hub, a home.  “I didn’t want it to feel like a store,” Pearl explains of the colorful, delightfully chaotic space, “I wanted it to feel like my home.”  
I love that the store has a Men’s Knit Night (Wednesdays 6-8), a kids club, and a book club that never limits itself to fiber-related literature.  Pearl has set out to “shrink the knitting world,” giving enthusiasts access to top-notch designers as well as helping to launch young up-n-comers.  She boasts a rich list of guest teachers as well as introducing young designers on special nights.  Just while I was there, she gave me four recommendations, called one supplier on the phone to let them know I was featuring their product, and gave advice on the phone to a handful of customers.  I’d want to spend the whole day in the store just to watch her buzz around, spreading fiber joy to everyone she can reach.

Great projects to consider:

It’s A Wonderful Cowl in Malabrigo’s Rasta
Cowls and neckwarmers are all the rage, and this piece’s thick, chunky yarn makes the most of the trend.  Great for a quick gift, or to grace your own neck when spring demands just a bit more than your sweater.

Churchmouse Yarn’s “Barb’s Koigu Ruffle"
Our Knit-A-Long for this adventure, this short but dynamic scarf knits up in long rows that burst color and ruffles.   This photo is from their pattern--I couldn't do it justice.

The Awesome Oragami Sweater in Frog Tree Alpaca
The perfect example of why I love knitting.  This sweater folds over in so many ways and looks stunning on.  Pearl also recommends it as a very practical sweater for nursing moms.  Work this up in Frog Tree Alpaca (Frog Tree being one of my new favorite yarn companies), and the reasons to love this sweater just keep coming.  That's Pearl, by the way.

Pearl offered up a cheerful tote bag as a prize for those who leave knit-along comments, and the tote had its own adventure.  I carried it that evening to a taping of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, where it was confiscated! Yes, I had tucked my current project inside, and the Addi lace-points were nabbed up at “potential weaponry” (fret not, the nice folks at Comedy Central returned my goodies at the end of taping). I’m jazzed that this bag--having spend several hours in Daily Show possession--had its own brush with fame.  And you can win it (stay tuned)!

Once you’ve had your fill of fiber joy, head back to Amsterdam Avenue where all sorts of fun shopping can be found.  If you’re already hungry, A KnittyCity favorite just a few doors west is:

Fish Tag
222 West 79 Street
New York, NY 10024 

It will come as no surprise that this is a seafood place, and some find the menu a bit daunting, but creative types like us will most likely adore the unique flavor of this place.  It feels like my favorite kind of restaurant---a local secret.  Ask Pearl or any of the KnittyCity staff to list their favorites, or wing it--or would that be fin it?--on your own.

I found at least an hour’s worth of good wandering up and down Amsterdam Avenue--shops, botiques, all those hip little places you associate with New York.  Free free to graze the retail goodies and take in the charm of the neighborhood.

Still, if you’d rather get a little cultural, walk a couple of blocks farther to the famed:
American Museum of Natural History
79 Street And Central Park West
New York, NY 10024

Find inspired colorways in the gem collection, meet up with the iconic 94-foot long blue whale I haven’t seen since childhood but still recall in detail, browse the culture halls, or expand your mind at the Rose Center for Earth and Space.  Any way you do the museum, it will gobble up a big chunk of time--but hey, this is one of the world great museums and it’s worth it. 

Once your back on Amsterdam Avenue, some highly-recommended eating choices include:
Land Thai Kitchen
450 Amsterdam Ave
New York, NY 10024
(212) 501-8121

I found the prospect of a lychee martini intriguing, but I visited a bit too early to contemplate such diversions.  While it didn’t happen to me, evidently it’s quite common if there’s a wait for the staff to take your cell phone number and send you next door to the Dead Poet bar, which sounds like an adventure in itself.

Not in the mood for asian?  Your timing is fabulous, because you’re near the recently opened:
Luke's Lobster - Upper West Side
426 Amsterdam Ave
New York, NY 10024-5846
(212) 887-8800
Owner Luke Holden has a sort of celebrity status, and the food here proves his chops (or maybe his claws).  It’s lobster, people.  What more marketing do you need?  Really, how can anyone be expected to resist “diabolical lobster rolls”?

Save room for desert as you continue your stroll down Amsterdam--I’m about to introduce you to the mother of all cookies:
Levain Bakery
167 West 74th Street
New York, NY  10023
A couple of steps down off the sidewalk just east of Amsterdam on 74th street lies “your little piece of cookie heaven.”  Note, knitters, the little bit of street art knitting above the store window.  “Cookies” don’t really begin to describe what’s baked here. And don’t take my word for it; the New York Times called it "Possibly the largest, most divine chocolate chip cookies in Manhattan." The company website proclaims they weigh in at 6 oz each, and it’s true.  I can tell you that when I brought one to my friend’s office and put it on her desk, a co-worker said, “Oh my God, that’s from Levain’s isn’t it?”  I had the traditional chocolate chip and the dark chocolate peanut butter cup, neither of which I could finish in one sitting (and that’s saying something, believe me!)
There you have it, a gastro-fiber-retail tour of the New York’s Upper West Side.

1 comment:

Camy Tang said...

I SO WANT ONE OF THE LEVAIN BAKERY COOKIES!!!! We saw it on Throwdown with Bobby Flay and have wanted to try the real thing ever since. I hope I can get some when I go to NY this summer!