Hi Friends! As if you couldn’t tell from my West Village and Hell’s Kitchen NYC Neighborhood Guides, I really do the love the west side of Manhattan! So much so, that obviously, I just had to profile the Upper West Side (or UWS) next!
Nestled in between Hell’s Kitchen to the south and Harlem to the north (spanning West 58th St all the way to West 110th St), the UWS sits pretty between Riverside Park and the iconic Central Park and is one of the greenest neighborhoods in NYC. It encompasses Columbus Circle, an upmarket retail and dining complex that sits at the south west corner of Central Park and the well renowned Lincoln Center, the often home of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Ballet.
The UWS is known for being family friendly, less hectic and more polished than Hell’s Kitchen and having with a great variety of wining and dining destinations. With great transport links, including express subway trains into Midtwon and Downtown, it makes for a great area for families and professionals alike. Historically, it’s also known as the neighborhood in which John Lennon was shot, right outside of his apartment building, The Dakota which is on Central Park West and 72nd St.
I have a few friends and colleagues who live on the UWS and who helped to contribute to this post – so thank you N, I and S!
I’m going to start our tour of the UWS at Columbus Circle as that’s where I spend most of my time! Aside from the shops on the lower levels (I visit the Sephora there an unhealthy amount…. but you guys already know, I’m a skincare addict!), I love the upper levels for the restaurants and bars. There’s a really nice selection of places, they are never too packed and the mall doesn’t feel like a regular shopping mall, it’s smaller and I’d say slightly more fancy than your average, so it has a nice ambience too.
I was introduced to my now favourite restaurant in Columbus Circle, Bar Masa by D. I affectionately refer to D as an old school, bon vivant! He likes the finer things in life and has introduced to many a place I now love to love too! Like me, he appreciates a more intimate environment where the food and service are able to do most of the talking.
Bar Masa is a quiet, little known gem that serves great Japanese food and sake. Grab a seat at the bar or at one of the cute tables behind the drapes.
Another Columbus Circle crowd pleaser is Porterhouse – here you can enjoy your steak and red wine alongside breathtaking views of Central Park.
Even without the iconic views, the dining room itself is grand and makes perfect spot for a special occasion. My British girlfriends and I came here for a pre-Christmas- last-week-in-NYC-before-flying-home and it felt very festive and celebratory! We stuffed ourselves silly on steak and truffle mash washed down with copious amounts of Malbec….great memory!
My friend I, let me into a little secret, apparently the bar serves a different menu and the burger at the bar is her absolute favourite in the city. And let’s face it, with a bar this pretty, I’d say making a pit stop here is a no-brainer!
Whenever I’m having dinner somewhere in Columbus Circle. I love having a pre-dinner drink at the Ascent Lounge – it’s dimly lit interior with rich décor reminds me of a private members club and feels especially cozy during the winter. The service here is impeccable too, so it’s all too easy to make yourself comfortable and while away a few hours. Just don’t miss your dinner reservation!
The Upper West Side will always hold a special place in my heart because when I first arrived in NYC two years ago, my company arranged 4 weeks of temporary accommodation while I looked for a more permanent place to live and I choose to be based on the UWS. So I have fond memories of strolling up and down Columbus and Amsterdam Aves, stopping for iced tea, taking in my new surroundings and pinching myself a little that I was really here and about to start a new adventure!
My very first weekend, I was welcomed to the city by a couple of work colleagues, M and L, who took me to brunch at the ‘quintessential neighborhood bistro of the Upper West Side’ Cafe Luxembourg. The start of many more visits to similar French style bistros for a great brunch session, New Yorkers adore them!
Speaking of brunch, a New Yorkers favourite meal of the week and which they take extremely seriously…. I asked my UWS friends to share their brunch spots with me so that I could share them with you! You’re welcome!
Arte Cafe – loftily claims to be the best Italian pasta restaurant in NYC!
The Ribbon – offers an American menu with craft cocktails, nearly 100 whiskies and over 100 wine bottles on their drinks list
Tessa – modern Mediterranean tavern blending southern French and Italian cuisine
For UWS dinner spots, outside of the ones I’ve mentioned in Columbus Circle, I can always be tempted by a visit to RedFarm (also mentioned in my West Village Neighborhood Guide, there are two in NYC and a newly opened branch in London for all my UK friends). The soup dumplings are slurp-a-licious! If you’re looking for a fun, casual atmosphere, look no further than Playa Betty’s serving Californian style beach food in z bright, lively setting. My friend N loves Momoya for some good sushi and Piccolo Cafe for cute and casual, rustic Italian food. My friend I, told me to check out Boilery which I’d never heard of before but is now firmly on my list to try – as I love a seafood grill restaurant! And for Mexican food with more of an elegant setting than the usual, I love Rosa Mexicano (the mango chile cocktails are lethal!). As its just opposite the Lincoln Center, I like to take a post dinner stroll over the road, to sit and watch the fountain after dark! You also can’t go wrong at Boulud Sud for slightly more upscale Mediterranean fare. Basically – you’re set with a whole heap of great options on the UWS!
If you’re looking for a cute wine bar or happy hour spot, again my friends have got you covered with these suggestions….
Burke & Wills – an Australian bistro, sit at the bar for a cozy date night!
The Owls Tail – a super cute looking cocktail parlour
Amelie Wine Bar – also has a location in the West Village
The Dakota Bar – whenever I ask anyone to recommend an UWS bar, this one is sure to come up!
Boat Basin – it wouldn’t be right to list some UWS bars and leave out the Boat Basin! On a summer’s day there is nothing nicer than finding a seat outside at this super chilled, low key venue, cracking open a beer and taking in this view…..
Oh and this view later on as the sun began to set…
The Boat Basin sits right in the middle of the UWS gem that us the Hudson River Park, well worth a visit for the little slice of greenery it offers with riverside views.
As well as the art, dance and culture happening over at the Lincoln Center, the UWS also has a number of movie theatres (or cinemas to us Brits) as well as the historic Beacon Theatre now part of the Madison Square Garden group, where you can catch music acts, comedians and lots more.
Another reason I love the UWS, which may sound strange to my UK folks, but grocery shopping in NYC is just plain difficult! I can’t tell you how much I miss having an M&S or a Waitrose, or a Sainsburys on practically every corner! In NYC there are random little marts everywhere but the produce can be hit and miss. So you need to rely on stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes but surprisingly for Manhattan there aren’t many of them dotted around. You will however find both on the UWS, so it scores bonus points in my book for just having good grocery stores!
And if you have a sweet tooth, the UWS doesn’t disappoint, housing a few of Manhattan’s favourites, including:
Levain Bakery – my French friend S, used to walk from her place on the UES all the way to the UWS for a taste of home at this amazing French bakery
Magnolia Bakery – super cute inside!
Van Leeuwen Ice Cream – serving both vegan and regular flavours, mine is pistachio every time!
Couldn’t resist ending this guide on a sweet note! See what I did there?!
Let me know what your favourite places on the UWS are?! Leave me a comment below!