Let’s face it—if you’re in New York during the holidays, you’re going to find yourself doing one of the things every tourist does. You (or someone in your crew) will want to try out the ice-skating rink at Rockefeller Center. You’ll go to The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center. You won’t be able to resist the sparkling Christmas tree in Washington Square Park.
Nor should you. After all, Christmastime in New York is all about these beloved traditions, for tourists and, yes, us locals as well. But we wanted to give you some new traditions you’ll love as much as the old ones. And so we opened our little black books to share the restaurants, bars, best-kept secrets, and moments we know you’ll adore, whether it’s the oysters-and-stout happy hour at the John Dory Oyster Bar (one of the city’s best deals, and just steps from Macy’s gloriously vibrant windows) or the perfect, cozy place to rest your feet (with a martini, of course) after an always-awe-inspiring (and always-exhausting) day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All you need is a good pair of shoes, a good deal of stamina…and this guide. Who knows? You may even see one of us right there with you.
Ice Skating in Central Park
…and while you’re there
Some of the city’s best restaurants have outposts at the The Plaza Food Hall—stop by No. 7 Sub for unique and creative sandwiches (braised short ribs with grape jelly mayo, anyone?), then grab truffles for dessert at La Maison du Chocolat. Kids will love the Rawther Fancy Teas with Santa, an hour-long tea party in the Eloise Shop (212-546-5460; Fridays in December).
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Got a hankering for a “Compost Cookie”—an N.Y.C. cult favorite made with ground coffee beans, potato chips, and graham cracker crust? Swing by Momofuku Milk Bar to sate your craving (15 W. 56th St.).
Sidle up to the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel, the alleged originator of the Bloody Mary. The mural by Maxfield Parrish, after which the bar is named, was recently spiffed up thanks to a $100,000 cleaning (2 E. 55th St.).
The chopped salad’s a power-lunch classic, but you’re really at Fred’s at Barneys New York for the prime people-watching: Think ladies who lunch and Gossip Girl wannabes (660 Madison Ave., 9th Fl.; 212-833-2200; entrées from $19).
Warm up with a croissant and a mug of Counter Culture organic coffee at A Café at AKA Central Park (42 W. 58th St.).
Like a Route 66 roadside greasy spoon, Burger Joint always hits the spot. It’s cleverly (and incongruously) tucked behind the velvet curtains in the lobby of Le Parker Meridien (212-708-7414; entrées from $8).
Go to Serendipity 3 for the famous frozen hot chocolate—and for the best chance of catching Beyoncé and Gwyneth on a play date (225 E. 60th St.).
For a midday snack, grab a table in the bar area at Benoit, where you can plot your next move over a bowl of mussels (60 W. 55th St.; 646-943-7373; bar menu plates from $12).
The Tree at Rockefeller Center
…and while you’re there
Settle in with an old-fashioned at Monkey Bar and guess who’s who in the Edward Sorel mural depicting New Yorkers from the 1920s and ’30s (60 E. 54th St.).
You don’t go to Sardi’s for the food. You go for the dry martinis…and to do some star-spotting (234 W. 44th St.).
Of the city’s ethnic enclaves (Little Italy, Chinatown, Koreatown, etc.), Little Brazil may be the tiniest (it’s just one block long). See it for yourself and do lunch at Via Brasil, which is known for its feijoada completa, a black bean stew with pork that’s the national dish of Brazil. It’s a guaranteed stamina-booster (34 W. 46th St.; 212-997-1158; entrées from $16).
Coffee and a tip: First, sample the superlative West Coast brew at Blue Bottle Coffee on the concourse level of Rockefeller Center (1 Rockefeller Plaza). Next, continue underground, avoiding the crowds and the cold, to Fifth Avenue, where you’ll emerge directly across the street from Saks Fifth Avenue’s holiday windows.
Nothing beats the chill like a steaming bowl of noodles. Want proof? Try the miso ramen at Sapporo (152 W. 49th St.; 212-869-8972; entrées from $9).
Read the full guide at Condé Nast Traveler.