New York City: More than Apples in the Big Apple

Apr 15, 2019 View Comments by

New York City Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background.

New York City is the original melting pot. Generation after generation of immigrants from all over the world have come here to settle in neighborhoods in one of the five distinctive boroughs and make this place their own. A motorcycle is one of the best ways to unlock The City’s many delights, especially a bike like the Honda CRF250L Rally, with its commanding seating position, narrow “park anywhere” profile, and supple long travel suspension. On one fine fall day, I set out to rediscover the Big Apple.

Staten Island
New York City Staten IslandThe most suburban of the city’s five boroughs, Staten Island is a bedroom community for people who work in Manhattan and elsewhere. Most travelers never make it here. Sometimes, they jump on the “cheapest date in New York” (the Staten Island Ferry is still free), enjoy the boat ride through New York Harbor, land in Staten Island, and then turn right around and head back to Manhattan without leaving the ferry terminal. That’s their loss. They’re missing out on great Italian food (including pizza) and views that you can’t get anywhere else.

New York City Governor's Island and Downtown Manhattan from Red Hook, BrooklynThe Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge (the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was completed in 1964) arcs high over New York Bay (high enough so that battleships and container ships can pass beneath it) and carries me into Brooklyn. This bridge is where the New York City Marathon starts, and the views are outstanding. With 2.6 million people, Brooklyn is a city unto itself (more populous than Houston, Phoenix, or Philadelphia) with neighborhoods and food options that go on and on. Want a genuine Nathan’s Coney Island hot dog? Come to Brooklyn. The best pizza I’ve ever had (see “Life of Pie” in the May/June 2015 issue)? Brooklyn. The best Filipino restaurant that I’ve ever been to? Brooklyn. Peter Luger Steakhouse? Brooklyn. Junior’s Cheesecake? You get the idea.

Somewhere in the 1980s, as rents increased in Manhattan, the creative class (designers, writers, painters, etc.) started leaving Greenwich Village and Soho for cheaper living in Brooklyn, and now, Brooklyn may very well be the hippest place on earth. Red Hook is one of those burgeoning hip neighborhoods, an old industrial district with craft breweries and restaurants slowly supplanting the old businesses.

From the Lords of Flatbush to Welcome Back Kotter, from The Patty Duke Show to 2 Broke Girls, Brooklyn has always had a vibe about it.

New York World's Fair UnisphereQueens is one of the most diverse places on earth, with immigrants from Europe, Asia, South America, and elsewhere calling the borough home. It’s fitting, then, that they held the 1964 World’s Fair here, but the spirit of the fair continues every day on the borough’s streets. I haven’t been here in years, and on this bright and sunny fall day the streets in Long Island City are buzzing with people visiting the shops. Many of the restaurants are open to the street, and people bask in the sun as they eat and drink. There’s great Korean food here, great Greek food, great Indian food, and more. It’s a bit ironic that I end up at a barbecue joint. If there’s one food group that New York City has not quite mastered, it’s barbecue. Places have tried over the years and have gotten better, but next time I’ll Yelp it.

New York City Tuesday Bike Night at Spiegel in ManhattanHollywood hasn’t been kind in its depiction of the Bronx. Sure, there are some rough neighborhoods that still sadly evoke Snake Plisskin in Escape from New York, but there are also treasures like the Riverdale neighborhood, the famous Bronx Zoo, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and, of course, the House that Ruth Built, aka Yankee Stadium. I’m not a Yankees fan but can appreciate their history … and their hot dogs and sushi. But there’s no game tonight and I’m still full from breakfast, lunch, and the Key lime pie. If I were really hungry in the Bronx, I’d head up to Arthur Avenue for some authentic Italian food. Little Italy in Manhattan is more well-known, but this smaller one in the Bronx (just a couple of blocks long) is a hidden gem and less touristy. Every single meal I’ve had there has been unforgettable.

New York City Ear InnThe sun is arcing over New Jersey when I get to the Cloisters on the northern tip of Manhattan. Part of the Metropolitan Museum, the Cloisters showcases medieval architecture, sculpture, and decorative art set in a collection of buildings (some of them actual medieval structures brought over from Europe stone by stone) high up on the Hudson River. It’s a stunning setting that, like the beaches on Staten Island earlier in the day, is not what most people think of when they think of New York. The Cloisters and adjacent Fort Tryon are excellent places to watch the sun set and to think about dinner.

The Ear Inn in the western edge of the West Village used to be the place to be. On hot summer Tuesdays, the street in front of the Ear would be filled with all manner of motorcycles; it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary to spot a vintage BMW airhead alongside an MV Agusta and a Japanese-based streetfighter. But something happened in this far west corner of Manhattan: gentrification. When I park on the curb, I’m one of only two bikes at the Ear Inn. I go in to eat in the crowded, tiny place (built before the Revolutionary War and serving liquor since 1817), hoping against hope that “my people” will magically arrive to supplant the slacks-wearing crowd that fills the tiny space and make me feel a bit out of place. They don’t show up. Has gentrification finally pushed motorcycles out of Manhattan?

Despondent, I do what any self-respecting person does: I Google. There’s a bike night clear on the other side of the island, in the East Village. I ride to the cafe Spiegel, posthaste, and am greeted with a curbside filled with motorcycles. I feel at home again. In this city that never sleeps, filled with potholes and traffic and manic drivers, motorcycles will always have a place.


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About the author

You know that little boy who stares at you, mouth agape, as you ride by? That was me, thirty-plus years ago. I merged two of my passions, motorcycles and photography, when I became a contributor to RoadRUNNER.