You can stay at a Holiday Inn anywhere, but for a true New York experience, Donna Quadri-Felitti, clinical assistant professor in the Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism, and Sports Management, recommends visitors try a boutique hotel for the personal service and unusual details. On the west side, she goes for the European luxury of the Iroquois, and on the east side, it's the intimate bed-and-breakfast-like Roger Smith. But the Hotel Roger Williams in Midtown's Murray Hill really stands out for being hip yet unintimidating. "It's not so trendy that it's off the scale," Quadri-Felitti says. "Mom can still go there and be cool." With books, scented candles, and flat-screen plasma TVs in each room—some with private garden terraces—the Roger Williams describes itself as "more fashionable apartment than hotel." And forget waking up to miniature boxes of cereal—the Help Yourself Breakfast Pantry is virtually its own café with heaps of frittatas, European meats and cheeses, and local delicacies such as croissants from Balthazar and smoked salmon from Petrossian. Not your average hotel, but as Quadri-Felitti puts it, "Isn't that why you come to New York—for the unique things you can't get anywhere else?"
131 Madison Avenue, 212-448-7000; www.hotelrogerwilliams.com
Tucked in a row of buildings amidst the bustle of Times Square and Fifth Avenue is a little-known gem of city history: headquarters of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, a favorite of Daniel J. Walkowitz, professor of history and acting director of metropolitan studies. Founded in 1785, the society was established to provide educational and cultural services for working people and their families before there was even a public school system. And that legacy has endured—the library is the second oldest in the city and the school they started in 1820 continues today. Walkowitz says the building is a testimony to the city's forgotten craftsmen. "We somehow think that the builders of New York are simply the great men who provide the money, the Donald Trumps—but Donald Trump's never laid a brick in his life," he says. One doesn't have to be a society member or history buff to appreciate the library's soaring three-floor-high grand atrium topped by a breathtaking skylight. "The architecture is quite magnificent," Walkowitz agrees, "but the front is just another old building on the block."
20 West 44th Street, 212-840-1840; www.generalsociety.org
Quick eats are a must for most New Yorkers, but fast food shouldn't mean sacrificing quality, according to Rogan Kersh, who studies the politics of obesity and the fast-food industry and is associate dean and professor of public service at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. "We have been trained through advertising to think of McDonald's as the purveyor of the fast food we need right now," he says. "But an apple doesn't take any longer to eat than a Big Mac." For a full meal that's quick but also fresh and inventive, Kersh hits up Caffe Falai. He recommends the veal meatballs in tomato sauce or fried mozzarella and beet salad, but his favorite is the honeydew melon juice. Chef Iacopo Falai—who learned how to cook in his hometown of Florence and was later pastry chef at Le Cirque—provides a take-out or sit-down menu, and lures customers with an elaborate dessert case up front. Just a block away from the crowds of Soho, the café offers a great break from work or shopping. As Kersh says, "On a rough day, tottering down there around four o'clock is always a rewarding experience."
265 Lafayette Street, 917-338-6207
When Robin Nagle tells people she's been swimming in the Hudson River for seven years now, they're never eager to shake her hand. But Nagle, director of the John W. Draper Interdisciplinary Master's Program in Humanities and Social Thought, swears it's one of the best places to take a plunge. "It's such an extraordinary feeling to be not on the water, but actually in the water around Manhattan," she says. Some swims are organized by the Manhattan Island Foundation, which raises awareness of just how clean the waters are. For more traditional lap swimming, Nagle heads upstream to Riverbank State Park with its spectacular views of the Palisades, George Washington Bridge, and, of course, the Hudson. The 28-acre, multilevel recreation facility—which is Manhattan's only state park and boasts a football/soccer field, tennis and basketball courts, ice skating rink in winter, and a restaurant—has public outdoor lap and wading pools (open from July 4 through Labor Day). And just two bucks gains you entry to the indoor Olympic-size pool. Nagle says, "It's a joy to go for 50 meters without having to turn around because it feels like you're swimming in something more substantial than just a pool."
679 Riverside Drive, 212-694-3600
© Hotel Roger Williams; © Steve Amiaga; © Annemarie Poyo Furlong; © NYS Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation