We may have decided not to use guidebooks as part of our local travel experiment, but we’re certainly not discarding the map, which, as far as we’re concerned, is often all you ever need to explore a city. Well a guide ‘Not for Tourists’, was one guide with great mapping, but also one that helped us have local experiences.
So we bought this cool little ‘Not For Tourists’ guide to New York City primarily for its maps. We then discovered it was handy for all kinds of other things. It may be compact but it’s jam-packed with detailed information, from how to get to and from the airport to seating plans for theatres and stadiums, as well as including mini-reviews for hundreds of restaurants – which we clearly needed.
We invited ‘Not For Tourists’ managing editor, Craig Nelson, out for a drink to chat about, among other things, how something aimed at residents of New York City could prove to be so indispensable to a couple of visitors.
Q. Why ‘Not for Tourists’ (NFT)?
A. Jane Pirone, the founder, needed a detailed book of maps that had services locals needed – from post offices to gas stations – where these services were actually plotted on a map. No guidebook before or since has had such detailed information, especially written from the perspective of a local.
Q. So what’s the aim of NFT?
A. To help city dwellers, commuters, business travelers, and yes, even tourists, to navigate the world’s most complicated cities as if they were a dyed-in-the-wool local.
Q. What does NFT do that other New York City (NYC) guidebooks don’t?
A. We map out all of Manhattan, not just the few places where tourists spend most of their time. The detailed maps make it almost impossible to get lost. And you won’t have to pull out some god-awful, gigantic fold-out map in the middle of a busy sidewalk. You can discreetly pull out your NFT and get your bearings in a few seconds. And we hire locals from each neighborhood to find the most interesting places to eat, shop, and drink – from the really expensive to tiny hole-in-the-wall gems.
Q. Are you surprised NFT is so popular with visitors?
A. No, we’re not surprised; after all, who wants to look like a tourist?
Q. Does ‘local travel’ and ‘sustainable travel’ come into play?
A. We’re an independent publisher ourselves, so we really value local businesses and connections. We try to cram all the best ones into NFT. NYC has a strong entrepreneurial spirit, so luckily there are always new indie businesses popping up all over the city to counter the new influx of chains.
Q. How can visitors avoid looking like tourists in NYC?
A. Just wear black. Even when it’s hot and humid. And don’t slowly stroll five abreast on the sidewalks or act like the subway is a theme park ride.
Q. Tips on experiencing the city like a local?
A. Avoid the giant hotels in Midtown. Rent an apartment in a real neighborhood. And if you’re going somewhere that’s only 20 or 30 blocks away, just walk. It’s really not that far, and you’ll experience the city like a real New Yorker.
Q. Best way to approach a visit to NYC?
A. Buy NFT (of course!) and start small. Sure, you can check out The Met and The Empire State Building, but don’t run around too much. Spend an afternoon in a park or pick a neighborhood and wander for half the day. Use NFT as a starting point, but then get out and explore on your own.
Q. Some practical local advice?
A. The subways can be a big pain in the butt. That’s the main reason I always carry NFT – for the subway map. If you’re confused or can’t understand an announcement, just ask someone. New Yorkers are actually great at helping people get around.
Q. How can visitors meet locals?
A. New Yorkers can be a pretty harsh bunch – or some of the friendliest people on earth. Take a chance and strike up a conversation at a bar or a diner counter. Some of the banter you’ll hear is amazing, so even if they ignore you, at least you’ll be thoroughly entertained.
Q. Best local breakfast?
A. La Bonbonniere in West Village. Like an old-school diner, but with really good food.
Q. Best local coffee stop?
A. Café Grumpy in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It has incredible coffee and plenty of space to do some writing. Not that we’ve ever done that.
Q. Good (not touristy) place for lunch?
A. Eisenberg’s for BLTs and Egg Creams. It’s a true NYC deli without all the hype and high prices of the other places (Katz, Carnegie, etc) A few tourists wander in, but it’s mostly local workers chowing down at the counter.
Q. East Village aside, a local ‘hood to explore where you’re unlikely to bump into tourists?
A. Spanish Harlem. Great street life and food, especially in summer.
Q. A great local park to kick back in?
A. The brand new Brooklyn Bridge Park. Stunning views of the bridge, Statue of Liberty, and Downtown. Plus, the grass is so new you don’t have to worry about dog poo. Yet.
Q. Great local dinner spot?
A. Jack the Horse in Brooklyn Heights. Pricey but good neighborhood vibe. Nothing hip, just reliable tasty food and service.
Q. Best bar to meet locals?
A. WCOU Bar (aka Tile Bar). Great happy hour, no pretension, and no TVs. Perfect for striking up a conversation with the drinker on the bar stool next to you.
Q. A souvenir that’s as un-touristy as they come?
A. I prefer edible souvenirs so buy some bagels. You can’t beat waking up the next day (wherever you are) eating a real NYC bagel. We suggest Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side.
Q. What makes NYC special for you?
A. It has an amazing 24-hour energy unlike anywhere else in the world. Where else can you start the morning by munching on bagels at a crowded diner, then enjoy a peaceful walk through Central Park, while later checking out an underground indie rock show in Brooklyn, then ending the night eating falafel and watching Egyptian TV at 3:30 am. And the subway will still take you home!