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How to Pretend You’re in New York City at Home

By Ann Shields

Apr 30, 2020

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A photo to remind you why it's not simply called Central Station.

Photo by Jason Spoonseller/Shutterstock

A photo to remind you why it's not simply called Central Station.

During quarantine, use this itinerary with tips from locals to recreate the best parts of a day in NYC from the safety and comfort of your own home.

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Everyone’s reason to visit New York is different: the food (the restaurants, the street carts, the pizza), the architecture (the art deco landmarks like the Chrysler Building, the sleek office towers of Wall Street, the grand edifices like Grand Central Station), the museums (with collections of everything from fine art at the Met and the Modern to old subway turnstiles and dinosaur bones). Not to mention the theater, music, street art, sidewalk rush, crazy clothes, mouthy sports fans, street sounds, kids dancing, the grandeur, and the humanity. My friend Margaret was happily living in San Francisco when she heard the Chet Baker version of “Autumn in New York” on the radio and decided on the spot to move back home. The city has that kind of a pull. 

Right now, of course, you can’t get your NYC fix. Even those of us quarantined in the city are only seeing it through our apartment windows, not able to participate. Because we all miss this town, here’s a full day’s worth of activities so you can re-create a day in New York City without leaving your home.

This ceramic version of the iconic Greek diner paper cup won’t spring a leak after 15 minutes.

8:30 a.m. Order a coffee light, no sugar

New York wakes up with a bang. No breakfast is more essentially NYC than the bacon-egg-and-cheese (often shortened to BEC on menus) on a roll. Deb Perelman, the New York–based cook and food writer behind Smitten Kitchen, recently broke down the bodega-style bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich so we can cook along at home when the corner stores and delis are closed. Perelman even includes instructions on how to deftly fold the omelet so it fits on the deli roll and envelops the cheese in a melty pocket. 

Wash it all down, of course, with a strong cup of joe in a ceramic version of the iconic Greek diner to-go cup. 

Buy It Now: We Are Happy to Serve You coffee cup, $14, uncommongoods.com

Your breakfast soundtrack: To get your blood pumping to the pulse of the city, turn to Blondie. The Village Voice called its 1978 release Parallel Lines “the sonic version of Times Square.” 

9:30 a.m. Dress for NYC WFH success

After years of working at Condé Nast, editorial consultant Sarah Leon went freelance—and realized that her old wardrobe didn’t match her new life. “When you work from home, you don’t need shoes,” she says. “You don’t need to worry about weather, or looking seasonally appropriate. You just need to look presentable—at least, from the waist up.”

Leon has swapped her mostly black wardrobe for color clothes, because she noticed that black “just doesn’t translate well via Zoom call. It looks flat and dull. I’ve noticed my skin doesn’t look as good when I wear black as when I wear a lighter shade.”

She also says, “I’ve taken to wearing silk slips, oversized button downs, sweater dresses. Sometimes, I’ll wear several at once and just change things up throughout the day. And, most notably, swapped out my pointy, chunky, fashion-y shoes for a pair of L.L. Bean shearling slippers.” 

So, forgo the obvious NYC black uniform and don some sophisticated layers instead. From the waist up, anyway.

Buy It Now: See some of Sarah’s favorite colorful dress ideas from Net-a-porter.comTheRealReal.com, and ganni.com.

In addition to writing children's classics, E.B. White had a thing or two to say to adults, too.

10:00 a.m. Start (sp)reading the news

Get the official skinny from one of the city’s three major daily newspapers, the New York Times, the New York Daily News, or the New York Post, or go for the local angle at Gothamist.com (none of that national or world nonsense, this website covers only the center of the universe). 

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When you’ve had your fill of current events, spend the balance of your morning reading a love letter to the city: Here is New York, by E.B. White. If the only book of his you’ve read is Charlotte’s Web, you already know his writing is precise and graceful, with passages that demand to be reread, and then reread aloud, and then underlined. Even if you disregard everything else on this list, this is enough to transport you. White manages to capture New York’s magical and unyielding rhythm—good-natured, chaotic, funny, and difficult—in this slim (56-page) book. Required reading for all who love this infuriating city.

Buy It Now: Here is New York, ebook, $10, hardcover, $17, mcnallyjackson.com

12 p.m. Enjoy a midday nosh

When there’s not a pandemic stalking the streets, Veselka, a 66-year-old Ukrainian restaurant in the East Village, is open 24 hours a day, which makes the beloved landmark a favorite stop for the best hangover prevention: a midnight snack. The walls are covered with murals, the counter stools are generally taken up by people reading books as they eat, and the food is great, fresh, and surprising. Here are two ways to become a fan of Ukrainian lunch from home. You can: 

1. Order the Veselka soup and pierogi pack from anywhere in the United States (12 pierogi of your flavor choice and two quarts of soup) with lots left to freeze for future meals; or 

2. Order The Veselka Cookbook and make your own. (The Christmas borscht—a clear red broth with little mushroom pierogi islands floating in it—is a gift at any time of year.) This is teaching a man to fish: get the book and you can get an NYC fix anytime with all sorts of treats like buttermilk pancakes, matzoh ball soup, black and white cookies, and shredded beet and horseradish salad.

Buy It Now: Soup and pierogi pack, $100, goldbelly.com 

Buy It Now: The Veselka Cookbook, $28, veselka.com

Lunchtime accompaniment: What are you, Henry F**ng Higgins, yo? Check out some local dialects, courtesy of this NYTimes article enhanced with video examples of the #BestNYAccent challenge. This good-natured and foul-mouthed contest was instigated by Nicolas Heller on his Instagram page, #newyorknico, so if you need more instruction on pronunciation of deese, dohs, and Manha-ens, that’s the feed to follow. 

1 p.m Make curtain time at a Broadway matinee

March 22, 2020, was the 90th birthday of composer and Broadway god Stephen Sondheim. (He’s the genius responsible for the music in shows like Sweeney Todd, Company, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George, to name a few.) To mark the occasion, some of the best stage performers in the English-speaking world gathered by video to celebrate him in song and fond memories. This is the best, most sentimental Zoom call you’ll ever listen in on. Meryl Streep crooning in a bathrobe at her kitchen table? Neil Patrick Harris singing with his kids? Yes, please.

The compost cookies from Milk Bar can be made at home or ordered by mail.

3 p.m. Take a moment for a sweet rush

Have a cup of coffee—caffeine jitters give you an edge—and crack open that tin of Milk Bar compost cookies. Why is baker Christina Tosi’s creation called a compost cookie, you ask? Potato chips, chocolate chips, oats, butterscotch, even a little ground coffee (more edge, man!) go into making these wicked afternoon delights. (Feel free to make your own, if you’ve got all the goodies you need.)

Buy Now: A tin of a dozen Compost cookies, $36, MilkBarstore.com 

5:30 p.m. Toast the town 

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The obvious New York City–themed drink is a Manhattan, which is my usual cocktail of choice, but let’s change it up tonight and get an expert’s recommendation. Pete Stanton is the head bartender at Ai Fiori, the Michelin-starred restaurant with a romantic and sophisticated bar at the Langham Hotel on Fifth Avenue (one of our top recommended stays in town). Pete suggests a variation on punch, which was a favorite during the colonial days in the city, but Pete’s version offers wiggle room for freestyle improvisation, which is also very NYC. 

Pete’s Punch

Here’s the basic recipe that you’ll riff on: 

  • 2 oz. base spirit (any will do; Pete likes a funky Rhum Agricole Blanc, or Clairin from Haiti but use what you have on hand)
  • 1 oz. citrus (lemon, lime, or grapefruit)
  • Zest of half the citrus fruit you’re using
  • 0.75 oz. sugar syrup 
  • A selection of whatever herbs and spices you have in your pantry 

Choose a hearty pinch of whatever fresh herb you have on hand (tarragon, rosemary, thyme, sage, or cilantro all work).

Go through the spices in your cupboard and grab a dried chili, black peppercorns, or some baking spice (cinnamon, clove, or allspice).

Put the simple syrup in a sturdy container, add the zest and the herbs and spices you’ve chosen, and then lightly muddle it. (Pete likes the combo of lime zest and two whole cloves, which creates “a spicy backbone to support a good, funky rum.”)

Strain the muddled syrup into a shaker with ice, the citrus juice, and the spirits. Shake it all up and then strain into a coupe glass. Or a jelly jar. Whatever works.

Your happy hour soundtrack: Oh, just a little Spotify mixtape I whipped up to lend some extra NYC to your evening. The Tito Puente rhythm is perfect for shaking cocktails.

Deliver some Chinatown goodness to your dinner table.

6:30 p.m. Order in Chinese

Or, actually, make your own, using this Smitten Kitchen recipe for Peanut Sesame Noodles. Feel free to do some more improvisation and top with the final shreds of last weekend’s rotisserie chicken, the scallions you’ve been rooting on the window sill, a handful of frozen snow peas or spinach, or leftover baked tofu on top. 

Dinner with a show: Over the years, the New York Landmarks Commission has created videos of some notable spots around the city that may provide a tasty accompaniment for your noodles. I recommend this visit to the Four Seasons, the midcentury locus of Manhattan power lunches and oh-so-important dinners, with interiors designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson. Another option is a virtual trip to Queens to visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum, a tour that includes a walkthrough of the lavish interiors, eye-popping kitchen, and endearing photos of Armstrong cutting up with neighborhood kids.

You want atmosphere? The Django brings it right into your home.

8 p.m. Catch some music

The Django, an intimate jazz club on the cellar level of the Roxy Hotel, is closed but has been posting playlists and recordings of past performances. Make yourself another Pete’s Punch, and keep the Django landing page onscreen so you can imagine yourself in that groovy little room. Discreetly scribble some poetry or sketch the eccentric jazz lovers you imagine sitting around you.

10 p.m. Remember this is the city that never sleeps

You’re not going to bed yet. Pour yourself a seltzer, grab another cookie, and then settle down to watch the best noir-ish NYC movie from our list of great NYC movies: Hitchcock’s Rear Window. New Yorkers try not to look into their neighbor’s windows, really, but since Jimmy Stewart’s character is laid up with a badly broken leg and no Wi-Fi, the windows across the back courtyard become his entertainment. And one night, the entertainment takes a dark turn. . .

Watch It Now: Prime VideoiTunesGoogle Play 

While I hope viewing Hitchcock doesn’t mean you’ll never sleep, either, I want to thank you for accompanying me to these places none of us can visit right now. Even if they’re close enough to see from our own rear windows.

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