Kiwi expats on what’s changed in New York over the past two years.
After first promising it, three years ago, direct links from Auckland to New York City are cleared for takeoff.
From 17 September the prestigious NZ1 and NZ2 designators will be given to non-stop services flying to JFK International Airport.
Air New Zealand has finally managed to draw a direct link from NZ to NYC, in what will be the airline’s longest. Covering a distance of 14,200km the air route has a projected flight time of over 16 hours to New York, adding an extra hour and a half on the return leg.
Now with New Zealand’s borders reopening to US travellers and the airline rebuilding connectivity, the direct links to the Big Apple is a prestige project for the airline after two years operating primarily as a domestic air carrier.
It’s time to take a jumbo, across the ocean, for breakfast in America.
DUMBO: New York’s restaurants have seen an al fresco renaissance. Photo / NYC & Company
Originally projected to take off in October 2020, the long-distance route was shelved during the Coronavirus pandemic. Now ready for a return, New Zealand and NYC are very different places. As Kiwis in New York will attest it might not be the same place you knew pre-2020 but there’s a lot new around New York to experience.
Here’s what to expect and what to experience on a return trip to the five boroughs:
What’s new, Manhattan?
New York is still New York but some old memories may be missing.
Kiwis who knew the city before, might be sad to hear that countless eateries have gone under in the past 23 months.
There has been an exodus of chefs from New York City.
Chef Mark Simmons’ Brooklyn-based Kiwiana restaurant – once New York’s largest importer of horopito – is no more. The Musket Room, Matt Lambert’s Michelin-starred restaurant in Manhattan is still going strong, but the chef has relocated to Auckland for good. DUB (Down under Bakery) which has been selling steak and cheese pies for the past two decades has closed its premises on Flushing Ave. and is now selling bakes online.
Outdoors dining and markets at Brooklyn Heights Farmers Market. Photo / Julienne Schaer, NYC & Company
“Our pivot to an e-commerce model, in relative terms, has been a roaring success – but it simply hasn’t been enough,” says Kiwi baker Gareth Hughes.
The Australian – an unofficial hangout for antipodeans to get their fix of Rugby Union on 5th and West 38th – is also gone.
There has been a huge upheaval in the dining and cultural life of New York, but not all changes have been for the worse.
“The city seems to have lost a bit of its heart, but it also found heart in different places,” says Hayden Withers who arrived in the city in 2013 from Christchurch.
The New Zealand-born production supervisor for HBO says that he’s seen many friends leave the city, but it feels like it has turned a corner.
“Tourists have definitely started to come back to the city, which is bringing back a bit of a buzz in the Times Square area.”
Cantabrian Hayden Withers has spent the past decade in New York City. Photo / Supplied
Expect to eat out
The way people eat out has changed with the pandemic. New Yorkers have developed a thick skin and a tolerance for eating al fresco, all year round.
“People are eating out in droves, a lot of restaurants were able to build additional outdoor seating areas in the parking lanes of avenues and streets.” Some places are doing better than they had before, says Hayden, with extra capacity.
Lara Strong, a musician from Wellington, moved to the city to study at The American Music and Dramatic Academy in October 2019. There were points when midtown was “eerily quiet at nighttime” she says. As an expat in the arts, working at restaurants and auditioning for shows, hospitality and theatre jobs disappeared.
“The city is becoming nocturnal again,” she says.
Kiwi musician Lara Strong stayed on in New York City after her Covid-disrupted studies. Photo / Supplied
9th Avenue is packed with places to eat which is all the more obvious for the new dining arrangements. “What I love about Hell’s Kitchen is you never get hungry,” says Lara. “Outdoor dining is something that started with Covid, and so the street is lined with cabin like structures in which you can eat.”
The recent decision to drop vaccine pass requirements has only increased the number of people eating out.
You can also expect to pay a bit more – with many cafes and restaurants putting up prices to recoup overheads. It’s a pressure felt throughout the food chain. The New York Times reported uproar at the beginning of the year, when 2 Bros’ famous $1 pizza slice added a 50c mark-up.
Full house on Broadway
It’s not just restaurants and hungry New Yorkers which are filling up, says music director Matthew Everingham. Theatres have begun reopening on Broadway.
“The last 6-12 months have definitely seen a big rebound in NYC,” he says. Industry paper Broadway League recently reported an average 85 per cent box office attendance, which he describes as “really promising.”
Music Director Matthew Everingham says there have been rewards for Kiwis who stayed in the City. Photo / Supplied
The New Zealand-born pianist moved to New York in 2019. It’s been a difficult time for music and entertainment but he says staying in the city has paid off.
After a summer of outdoor concerts and a winter in freezing, makeshift outdoor booths, Matthew is delighted to be heading back to theatres for a number of reasons. He returns in April with, former Miss America, Katie Harman at Feinstein’s/54 Below and then at Green Room 42.
“Smaller venues reopened first last summer but now it is great to see that Broadway has reopened to full capacity with masking and vaccine requirements.”
The foot traffic and sheer number of people in the city has yet to recover. While most office workers are still remote, or have left town, tourists are among the first to return, says Matthew.
“My subway line was finally repaired during the lockdowns and runs better than ever. Despite the upheaval, there were certainly some silver linings; it has definitely made those of us who stayed in New York even closer.”
Some restaurants and offices remain shuttered but tourists are venturing out into New York. Photo / Jen Davis, NYC & Company
Where to eat
Max Soha, an Italian restaurant in Harlem. Known for fresh pasta and big white doors, Hayden says it’s a favourite. ” I have been eating there for almost 8 years and I am so glad it survived”
Ainslie in Brooklyn is another recommendation. Inside a formidable, former wire factory, there’s a rooftop beer garden which is the ideal place to soak up the atmosphere.
Where to catch a show
Broadway boasts the best theatres in the world, says Matthew. However he recommends venturing outside midtown to find live music.
“Independent music venues like Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side are great and local spots like Wild Birds in Brooklyn is a personal favourite.”
Matthew also rates the city parks, which are among the best in the world and which you can enjoy music or just a walk for free.
The skyscrapers, skylines and sky high fees for viewing decks and rooftop bars. This is the New York you’ve been dreaming of.
Over the past 20 months a couple of new high-rise attractions have sprung up in the city’s central grid. City Climb at the Hudson Yards offers visitors the chance to climb over the edge of the 366-metre high tower – at eye level with the Empire State building. The One World Observatory at the top of the new World Trade Centre is a mirrored look out in the city’s tallest tower, with spectacular effect. Bring trousers.
Manhattan is also the centre of high culture: the Guggenheim, MoMA and the Metropolitan galleries are all here. In the American Museum of Natural History there are also some surprising Kiwi connections. Here you’ll find a tekoteko of Paikea the whale rider, originally from Tolaga Bay and the cast of a Giant Blue Whale in the entrance hall. The scene was the unlikely setting for a drop-in Covid-19 vaccination station last year.
It was once the borough you only went through to go to the airport, the sprawling South Eastern district reaches from Williamsburg Bridge down to the coast of Long Beach.
Realise that it’s home to New York’s’ thriving surf scene. Rockaway Beach, made famous by the Ramones, has a rebellious streak. Come early morning you’ll see city workers and Brooklynites putting in some waves before daybreak. Crystal clear Tasman breaks it is not. Thriving bohemian beach break it is. Go to Rockaway Bagels.
The Bronx pitches ‘hip hop heritage’ tours to music fans. Photo / James Leynse, Getty Images
The Bronx is the Northern barrier borough of New York. Past Harlem river and the end of the A Train, until recently it wasn’t a place you’d find in many guide books. Self-proclaimed birthplace of Hip-hop and it had an edgy reputation for being the ‘wrong side of the tracks’. Today you’re more likely to find ageing Gen Xers in baggy Biggie Smalls t-shirts than a genuine ‘Gangster’s Paradise’. Check out one of the many NYC approved hip-hop tours. (It won’t dent your street cred.) The Bronx is also home to the Yankee Stadium, home of New York Baseball and surprisingly good seafood on Belmont Island – the Bronx’s little Italy.
Brown bricks, beards and Spike Lee, the once affordable, artsy village on the waterfront, it was a place that Kiwis seemed to congregate. Now well and truly gentrified you still get artsy glimpses into the bohemian side. Crossing Brooklyn Bridge on a citibike, or soaking up those epic views at DUMBO (Down under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) its got plenty of charm.
After a two-year break, Turnstile Tours is back in Brooklyn. A bespoke tour company, Turnstile offers visitors a unique behind the scenes look at the inner workings of New York City – from tours of the food markets feeding Manhattan to the metro. Tours for the curious.
New York has the ‘best city parks in the world’, says Kiwi expat Matthew Everingham. Photo / Jen Davis, NYC & Company
The commuter ferry to Staten Island has long been called the best value sightseeing boat in New York, taking you past Liberty Island to the burbs. The only question is what to do once you’ve got there?
Stretch your legs at the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade and take in the view from the 9/11 Memorial in St George. If you’re keen on seeing the sights, it’s worth biting the bullet paying for the Liberty and Ellis Island sightseeing ferry. The Port Authority’s ‘Immigration and Quarantine’ processing museum.