Look be­yond Man­hat­tan for a great time in New York at Christ­mas, sug­gests Amelia Torode

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Us Holidays -

THERE is a fa­mous New Yorker mag­a­zine cover from the 1970s called View of the World From 9th Av­enue. Man­hat­tan is in fo­cus and ev­ery­thing to the west of the Hud­son River is just an ir­rel­e­vant car­toon blur, tiny, re­ced­ing into the dis­tance.

Thirty years on the mes­sage still res­onates loudly: New York is Man­hat­tan. Man­hat­tan is the cen­tre of the world; noth­ing else mat­ters. Hav­ing been an ex­pa­tri­ate in New York for al­most six years, I could not dis­agree more strongly. For a more au­then­tic New York ex­pe­ri­ence you have to leave Man­hat­tan, es­pe­cially in the Christ­mas pe­riod, when the outer bor­oughs come into their own.

Start off in the Bronx on City Is­land. This tight-knit fish­ing com­mu­nity feels more like rural New Eng­land than ur­ban US. City Is­land is tiny, just 2.4km long by 800m wide. It has one main street, City Is­land Av­enue, on which stands the is­land’s only ho­tel, Le Refuge Inn, a beau­ti­ful six-room Vic­to­rian man­sion. There you can re­lax, revel in the Christ­mas lights and watch the sail­boats docked on Eastch­ester Bay.

Pop into any of the lo­cal restau­rants and feast on suc­cu­lent clams and lob­sters, ex­plore the lo­cal his­tory mu­seum, browse the an­tique stores or head to the sail­ing club and rent a boat. Only the oc­ca­sional sound of a car alarm drift­ing over from the main­land brings you back to earth.

Deeper in the Bronx there is a bluecol­lar area, Arthur Av­enue, aka the real Lit­tle Italy. Un­like Man­hat­tan’s touristy ver­sion, Arthur Av­enue is ut­terly gen­uine: imag­ine Good­fel­las meets The So­pra­nos . As you might guess, they take Christ­mas very se­ri­ously (they in­sist on us­ing the word Christ­mas; no ‘‘ happy hol­i­days’’ here). The restau­rants and char­ac­ters are great. Restau­rants have menus but no one uses them; in­stead, you ask what the chef rec­om­mends. It is strongly ad­vis­able not to dis­agree with him, be­cause they do know their food.

Last time I was there we ate plates heaped with mouth-wa­ter­ing egg­plant parme­san, freshly made pas­tas, ten­der cuts of veal and thinly cut bre­saola. At the end of the meal your waiter de­cides how much he would like you to pay. Our bill came to an ut­terly ar­bi­trary, though very rea­son­able, $201 for five of us to eat and drink past the point of glut­tony.

Don’t for­get Brook­lyn. Th­ese neigh­bour­hoods have a vi­brancy that can’t help but draw you in and are best ex­plored on foot. Time Out New York re­cently pub­lished its Best Block edi­tion, and the block that won was in Fort Greene, which used to be a drug-rid­dled night­mare dur­ing the 1970s and ’ 80s but is now a cul­tur­ally and eth­ni­cally di­verse mid­dle-class utopia.

It has man­aged to re­tain a flavour the film­maker Spike Lee, Fort Greene’s most fa­mous son, would be proud of. Take the sub­way to Lafayette Av­enue and start with the streets around Fort Greene Park: Port­land, Ox­ford, Cum­ber­land and Adel­phi are the most beau­ti­ful.

There are lit­er­ally hun­dreds of Greek re­vival, ro­manesque and Re­nais­sance-style row houses of vir­tu­ally orig­i­nal ap­pear­ance, many dec­o­rated with trees, lights and other Christ­mas para­pher­na­lia.

The area comes into its own at week­ends when, even in win­ter, the world sits out on its stoop with cof­fee and TheNew York Times . Stroll down to Ju­niors, a Brook­lyn in­sti­tu­tion since 1950, where off­duty cops, Ja­panese tourists, AfricanAmer­i­can fam­i­lies and lo­cals en­joy New York’s best cheese­cake. It doesn’t get more Brook­lyn than this.

If you are in the mood for some­thing a bit trendier, Wil­liams­burg is the place. Just one stop from Man­hat­tan, the area around Bedford Av­enue is lit­tered with small,

Snow trans­forms the streets of Brook­lyn’s Bed­fordS­tuyvesant neigh­bour­hood trendy art gal­leries and one-off bou­tiques, per­fect for pick­ing up cool presents. Try some of the fab­u­lous bars and restau­rants, many in old con­verted spa­ces. There’s Rel­ish, a diner in a dis­used ’ 30s rail­road car; Union Pool, an old swim­ming pool store; and SEA, a for­mer meat-pack­ing ware­house. It can be a bit too cool for school, but it’s a great place to ex­plore.

It used to be that the ex­pres­sion ‘‘ bridge and tun­nel’’ was a dis­parag­ing phrase used by Man­hat­tan­ites to talk about those who streamed into the city at the week­end. Now it’s used by peo­ple to de­scribe the flow from peo­ple leav­ing Man­hat­tan to go to their bars, restau­rants and bou­tiques across the river.

For a gen­uine New York Christ­mas ex­pe­ri­ence this year, it is all hap­pen­ing across the Hud­son and the East River, no mat­ter what The New Yorker says. The Spec­ta­tor

Deep win­ter:

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