Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Top 5: Favorite Spots to Write in NY (without my computer)

Every time I buy a new Moleskine and Pilot Varsity pen, my laptop is usually given a break in favor of the old-fashioned way of pounding out some ideas.  There's no beating the convenience of a laptop but I swear the feel and creative flow of actually putting a pen to paper is equally unrivaled.  Here are my Top 5 picks of favorite writing spots in New York based on the following criteria:

1. Muse Level - The quality of people watching, atmosphere, etc. to get the creative juices flowing
2. Tranquility - What's the noise level? Is it too loud, too quiet? Do you feel jittery or at peace?
3. Fuel - Proximity to caffeine and food
4. Seating - Is there a surface that will make my butt happy?

5. Second Floor of the Houston Street Whole Foods
Muse Level: I don't know about you but there's
something about food that just gets me going.  If you like gazing at a sea of food while writing, you can sit by the mezzanine opening where you can look down upon the giant market but if you prefer trees and greenery, you can sit by the windows on the east side where you'll be facing a park where people are often playing basketball or soccer.
Tranquility: Though this is a popular meeting spot for people, most are in conference mode.  There's a surprisingly limited number of "Oh-my-God-we're-so-like-Sex-and-the-City" conversations here.  Aside from the occasional loud chewer that you can easily move away from in your half-a-block's worth of seating choices, there's a pretty perfect level of peace and quiet to work in.
Fuel: More than you can handle! It's a supermarket after all and the largest Whole Foods in the city (it's literally a block long).  The coffee shop's conveniently on the upper level so you don't have to worry about trekking up and downstairs between pages.
Seating: Quite a bit of quality seating from communal tables lining the windows to cozier, smaller tables with room for one or two.  If you feel like crossing your legs and writing on your lap, you have that option on their bleacher-like seating facing Sara D. Roosevelt Park.

4. The Highline
Muse Level: An abandoned elevated railroad converted into a one-mile stretch of park along The Hudson River.  Abandoned Old-Timey Stuff + Trees and Flowers + Water = Writing Haven Trifecta
Tranquility: Despite high tourist foot traffic (as well as high foot traffic in general), the chatty people are usually walking by you while the ones seated next to your are probably just taking in the environment as you are.  Your soundtrack here is basically typical city noises but it serves as a non-blood-pressure-elevating sort of backdrop.
Fuel: There are City Bakery coffee stands regularly stationed all along The Highline (among other food/beverage carts) and food trucks parked below it.
Seating: Funky, artistic benches as well as your traditional benches line the walkway and a strange arena style seating facing traffic are all there to serve your seating needs.

3. Stumptown/The Lobby of the ACE Hotel
Muse Level: Imagine a log cabin but with ceilings so high you're thinking it was built to accomodate Abraham Lincoln if he were on growth hormones and liked to smoke cigars and drink fine cognac on his downtime.  I mean, that's a novel right there.
Tranquility: The space is open and there's a whole lot of room for echoing conversations but the hanging animal skins and plush couches absorb that pretty easily.  Most people there are calmly sipping their super-strong coffee and working on something as well so it's certainly an optimal thinking environment.
Fuel: If you like your coffee strong and made to order by a cute guy dressed like a slightly more mature version of one of the Newsies, then Stumptown is an absolute must-visit.  Just waiting in line and catching a whiff of the stuff is enough to give even the worst caffeine addicts a strong enough hit to last a couple hours.
Seating: Plaid couches, wooden library-esque tables and chairs - all a-plenty. Word of warning to those who don't like animal skins... they have a big ol' bear or something draped over one of the back couches.

2. Bryant Park
Muse Level: Fashion designers choose this as their location of choice for New York Fashion Week.  I love me some haute couture so if the designers dream of Bryant Park when putting together their season's line, then perhaps it could work some creative magic on me.
Tranquility: It's not huge like Central Park or as frenetic as Union Square or Washington Square.  It doesn't have risk of pigeon attack like Madison Square or risk of running into a child/clown/addict like in Tompkin's.  Still, Bryant Park has just the right amount and mix of different people to keep yourself from boredom.  IMHO, this is the best-balanced park in Manhattan for some thinking/writing.
Fuel: You have your standard coffee chains both in and around the park but I suggest soaking in the good-old-fashioned fuel: Sunshine.
Seating: Benches? Check. Park tables? Check. Green, green grass to stretch out across? Check.

1.  La Lanterna di Vittorio
Muse Level: I don't write fantasy but I've always imagined this to be a good starting place if I ever did.  There's something about this back garden space that prompts C.S. Lewis type thoughts (that door in the back... where does it go? If someone says the shared backspace of the hardware store behind the cafe, I'll cry).  I usually come here during off-hours so not to take up too much of actual meal hours but as a result, there's not a whole lot of people-watching but it doesn't matter much. I promise you'll feel the disembodied presence of a muse floating into the space.
Tranquility: Ivy runs up the walls and wind around the open slats of the roof.  It's quiet back here and far enough from city noise that every once in awhile you forget you're in New York.
Fuel: Since this is more of a full-blown Italian restaurant than a cafe, there's like food food. A lot of it. The menu is like ten-point type and bunched as tightly as legal fine print.  Their calzones are goooood. So good.  Especially with the options of stuffing it with bresaola or smoked duck! Dessert-wise, my favorite's gotta be the pumpkin cognac cheesecake.
Seating: You have the option of sitting indoors or "outdoors" (the pictured seating is actually more greenhouse than garden).  It's not exactly bright enough to write inside so my suggestion would be to come here between lunch and dinner during the day for a good writing spot.


  1. Hi India, I'm obsessed with all things NY, and I write YA fiction, so I was thrilled to find your blog. I was in NY last year and I LOVED Bryant Park and the Highline. Unfortunately I'm now back in boring old Ireland but next time I go to NY I'll check out the other places you mentioned.

  2. Emily, how could Ireland possibly be boring? I've always wanted to visit! I do hope you find your way back to New York again and let me know what you think about writing in those locations. I'm looking forward to the day where I'll be asking you for suggestions of a good place to write in Ireland.