Get curious in New York City
Vanessa Grall a.k.a. Messy Nessy takes readers on a tour of hidden treasures beneath NYC’s surface.
What most excites you about New York City?
Because NYC is so darn big, just by travelling to another borough, it feels like you’re visiting another American city entirely, with its own culture and history. I think it would be almost impossible to run out of day trip ideas that you can reach by metro. Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, Brooklyn (which if it were a city, would rank the 4th largest in the US); they all have so many interesting neighbourhoods off the beaten path, teaming with unchanged historical gems.
What’s the ultimate American comfort food?
I remember watching My Cousin Vinny when I was a kid and wondering what the heck “grits” were. I finally got to taste one at Sylvia’s in Harlem, where they do gospel brunch on Sundays. I also got to try their amazing chicken and waffles with maple syrup which was as good as I’d imagined it would be. I also just love pretty much anything from a good old-fashioned American luncheonette or diner, with their menus of endless options – they’re a dying breed in New York (there’s only five stand-alone diners left in Manhattan).
Share an odd city secret?
Most people don’t realise that you can go fishing in Central Park – and camping! (they do a lottery for pitching a tent overnight).
If you could time travel into historical New York, what year would you choose?
That’s a tough one. You start in the first American century, where you can visit Manhattan’s last-standing farmhouse lived in by Dutch settlers. You can stroll between the centuries in Brooklyn Heights, find those cinematic saloons reminiscent of Gangs of New York and then follow in Gatsby’s footsteps to the speakeasies. Perhaps my favourite part is dining at the mid-century time capsules. The ‘50s and ‘60s seemed like the best era for this city, but during my research, I became fascinated by the stories and aesthetics of New York’s grittiest decades, the 1970s and ‘80s. What a character-shaping time that must have been!
Any advice for those wanting to wake up their inner explorer/detective?
Funny you ask that! A quote from the opening page of Don’t be a Tourist in New York: “This book can wake up your inner explorer; tap into your curiosity and help you to discover all five boroughs like a roaming detective; a seeker of stories and collector of local secrets”. Other than that, I would say: Don’t always rely on someone else to come with you on an adventure. I pay so much more attention to what’s around me in a city when I’m strolling on my own. I observe more, look up more, take the time to see what’s behind doors. Don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.