THE BLOG

Discover Manhattan's Lower East Side

31/01/2013 00:06 GMT | Updated 29/03/2013 09:12 GMT

While I'd enjoyed it at the time, my first visit to New York City was a bit of a disaster. It was about seven years ago and it was the first romantic mini-break with Tom, a new boyfriend. The first trip away together is a fairly crucial step in any relationship - definitely make or break. I thought that the trip had gone well - we stayed in the Soho Grand (nice hotel on West Broadway), hung out in bars, went out for dinner, did some touristy things. He dumped me the day after we returned to London.

This trip was definitely less emotionally fraught - I was traveling with my housemate Ming, we were in Manhattan for a week and we'd rented an apartment through Airbnb. I love the service that Airbnb provides - access to quality private short-term rental opportunities but with the security of a trusted 'middle-man' to take the risk out of it for both parties.

The choices on Airbnb can be a bit overwhelming, but Ming had been to Manhattan recently and had liked the East Village and Lower East Side, so that helped narrow our search, and we'd soon booked a small apartment on Madison Street which looked perfect.

We collected our keys from the laundromat downstairs and quickly felt at home in our new neighborhood.

I am actually a terrible tourist and am happiest when I'm able to find a cool cafe and just hang out over good coffee and free wifi. Clinton, East 7th, Ludlow and Orchard streets are all worth exploring, with plenty of great cafes to try. The Clinton Street Bakery Company is the famous one, but it's so popular with tourists that you have to get there super early to get a table and, to be honest, there's better options elsewhere in this neighborhood. My favorite was 88 Orchard Street where I tended to start the day with a cafe latte and a toasted bagel smeared with cream cheese.

One of the advantages of renting an apartment is that you've got the option to prepare your own meals when you feel like it, and shopping locally is a great way to feel part of the rhythm of local life. It's odd to rave about a supermarket, but I could happily spend hours in Whole Foods where you can get everything you could dream of, but it was also fun to stock up on speciality items from the Essex Street Food Market and (on Saturdays) the Hester Street Fair - 'Do we need candied bacon and maple macaroons?' A rhetorical question, obviously.

When you're on holiday it takes enormous discipline to maintain any sort of diet regime, a discipline that I do not have. The best approach is to try and go for quality not quantity - on Spring Street give 16 Handles a miss and opt for Rice to Riches. Pass by Donut Plant on Grand Street and head straight to Milk Bar on East 13th. The best ice-cream in Manhattan is Van Leeuwen on East 7th - try and limit yourself to one per day.

Shopping in New York City can be time consuming and exhausting, but if you focus on the independent and boutique stores you'll find some real treasures and impress even your most fashion-forward friends. I loved Any Old Iron on Orchard Street, showcasing new and emerging designers; I can never have too many t-shirts from American Apparel; and I could spend a day in Patricia Field's store on Bowery Street - like a drag queen's dress-up box.

I often bang on about how great London's restaurants are, but I was seriously impressed by the food in Manhattan. Probably our best meal was at Mission Chinese Food on Orchard Street - the wait for a table was too long so we got take-away and ate it while sitting on a bench in the street, helping ourselves to the free beer that they provide (the food was an absolute taste sensation). Other favorites were breakfast at Il Buco on Great Jones Street; Vanessa's Dumplings on Eldridge Street; the pork buns from Momofuku on 1st Avenue; and dinner at Yunnan Kitchen on Clinton Street.

Drinking in Manhattan is a bit of a joy. I love a bar that free-pours their spirits, and I love a bar that you can walk home from. The 169 Bar on East Broadway was busy with a young (straight) crowd and they were serving up top-drawer cocktails; The Boiler Room on East 4th Street was our friendly local gay bar; and Eastern Bloc on East 6th Street with its 80s porn and go-go boys was a killer option for a late night dance.

A Manhattan mini-break demands that you pull a few late nights, but the plus side is that there's some quality late night food options to help soak up the alcohol. The famous Katz's Deli on East Houston is still dishing up enormous pastrami sandwiches; Pommes Frites on 2nd Avenue delivers authentic Belgian-style fries with your choice of flavored mayonnaise; and Las Esquina on Lafayette is a super-cool Mexican takeaway serving up tacos that are a total dream.

A great mini-break in a great city. And no messy break-up!