10 Essential Stops For a Literary Tour of New York

Rediscover the legendary night-life and join the modern scene of one of the world's top writers' cities

It used to be bars, not cafés, where the writing community socialized, collaborated, and gossiped. And though Greenwich Village has largely been replaced by Brooklyn (which might soon be replaced) as the writers' neighborhood, you can still explore the history of New York City's vibrant and important literary scene. Design the best tour around the following ten famous homes and hotels, bars, cafés, exhibits, literary scenes and landmarks.

1. Minetta Tavern

Open since 1937, the Minetta Tavern was a favorite social spot and drink fountain of such great authors as Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Dylan Thomas and E. E. Cummings. It was also the semi-home of Joe Gould, the writer who wanted to write the longest book in history. It was the birthplace of Reader's Digest and has now become a Michelin-star rated restaurant after renovations in 2009. You won't find the cheap drinks enjoyed by early-20th-century writers but you will be able to order duck breast and a $33 burger while you talk knowledgeably about Pound's best work.

2. White Horse Tavern

Rather than an upscale remodel, you'll find at the White Horse Tavern a gorgeous bar and restaurant bearing the marks of history since its construction in 1880. Dylan Thomas was also a regular of this tavern and, according to legend, drank himself to death here with eighteen shots of whiskey. Other famous patrons include James Baldwin, Norman Mailer, Jack Kerouac (someone carved "Go home, Kerouac!" in the bathroom) and Frank O'Hara. Take time to admire the memorabilia on the walls but probably don't try to beat Thomas's fatal record, especially if you want to make it any further on your tour.

3. The Algonquin

In midtown, The Algonquin opened in 1902, when a single room cost $2 per night. It's home to the famous Round Table, where writers and artists met and conversed for years. Members of the elite group included Dorothy Parker, Robert Sherwood, Alexander Woolcott and Edna Ferber. John F. Kennedy once said, "When I was growing up, I had three wishes – I wanted to be a Lindbergh-type hero, learn Chinese and become a member of the Algonquin Round Table." Food doesn't come cheap anymore but its rich history might be worth the price.

4. The Plaza

A bit north of The Algonquin, The Plaza Hotel sits at Central Park and was the site of several famous literary events. Truman Capote held his Black & White Ball in the hotel in 1966. And what defines luxury and vitality more than being part of the setting of The Great Gatsby? It opened in 1907 and five decades later was the site of filming for Hitchcock's North by Northwest. The hotel's website quotes Hemingway as having once advised Fitzgerald to "give his liver to Princeton and his heart to The Plaza."

5. Old Town Bar

Open since 1892, the Old Town Bar has been a favorite of writers such as Seamus Heaney and Billy Collins. Madonna, another kind of star, shot a music video there, starring Christopher Walken, a bigger star depending on who you ask. So you have a choice of artistic history to discuss over drinks at the bar. Also of note: in 2010, the urinals in the men's bathroom had a 100-year birthday celebration. Heaney, Walken, and world-famous urinals—now that's a tour stop.

6. Morgan Library

In between food and drinks, the Morgan Library and Museum makes for a worthy stop to see the manuscripts and notes of New England Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. An upcoming exhibition called "This Ever New Self: Thoreau and His Journal" promises to be the "most comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to the life of one of America's most influential authors and thinkers." Permanently on display are artifacts including journals and diaries. For more on the stunning Morgan Library and its prizes, including a Gutenberg Bible, check out The Journiest's profile.

7. New York Public Library

Certainly a necessary stop for many reasons, one particular draw is the real-life Winnie the Pooh bear at the New York Public Library's Children's Center in the Schwarzman Building on 42nd Street. Young readers and kids at heart will enjoy the history of the teddy bear that inspire A. A. Milne to write his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories for his son, Christopher Robin. While you're there, take a moment or longer to relax in peace in the beautiful and finally renovated Rose Main Reading Room. Its high, painted ceiling and majestic wooden interior make it a perfect spot to rest your feet and page through a book or scroll through social media.

8. Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House

The Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House on West 10th Street was built in 1836 and has a vast artistic history over almost two centuries. Situated in the center of a neighborhood whose past residents—including Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Richard Wright and Marianne Moore—are often listed in metal plates next to their front doors, the Writers House is currently home to a weekly reading series hosted by NYU. It became the hub of NYU's creative writing program in 2007 and has hosted authors such as Zadie Smith, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Cunningham and Charles Simic. Their reading series continues, free and open to the public on most Thursday and Friday evenings.

9. Otto Enoteca

Explore the modern literary scene starting at Mario Batali's 8th Street pizzeria and bar, Otto Enoteca. Its kitchen stays open until midnight and the spacey bar area serves a wide variety of wines and spirits, including the restaurants own brand of wine and they even offer twice-weekly wine classes. Those ingredients help make the somewhat hidden restaurant popular with late-night patrons, many of whom might turn out to be writers, publishers or critics. A trip from the Morgan's bookshelves to Otto's wine shelves is a good plan for an evening's adventure.

10. KGB Bar

The KGB Bar on East 4th Street is difficult to find but once you're inside, the dark, Russian-themed bar doesn't seem like the most social of places to meet writers and talk books. Nevertheless, KGB hosts many fiction and poetry readings in its tiny space. It's so devoted to the literary scene, in fact, that it publishes its own online literary journal. Once a month, on the third Thursday, the bar hosts "Drunken! Careening! Writers!" its ongoing comedy-based, alcohol-influenced reading series. Arrive early for a seat at one of the several tiny tables or pull up to the bar and admire the barely-lit Russian memorabilia hung on the walls.

Don't forget:

Other fabulous stops include: The Strand, Housing Works Cafe & Bookstore, Overlook Lounge, the Library Hotel and McSorely's Old Ale House.

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—Workaway.info.

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).

Workaway WoIsango.com

You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker