1. Mona’sPhoto: Eden, Janine and Jim
The idea of Mona’s disappearing makes me want to vomit more than all the times I’ve ralphed after too many $3 Guinnesses (Thursday night special). Irish locals say Mona’s has the only drinkable Guinness outside of leprechaun land; several bartenders hail from the isle. Even dogs can get a taste: regulars have been known to pull a stool to the bar for their furry friends to lap up a watered down stout. The pool table may be a teeny bit crooked, but that doesn’t stop sharks from running the night. Don’t expect ironic hipster music on the jukebox either: your dollars here are going to get you the Rolling Stones, some Talking Heads, and the B-52s.
2. East Village Cheese Shop
Handwritten paper signs plaster the shop door and windows, and inside the tiny digs you’re expected to have used those messages to make your decision in a New York minute. In other words, don’t dare to approach the counter without knowing what you want, or be prepared to brave all the snark and sass for which New York used to be known. The brave get good deals though: you can snag a full wheel of brie here for roughly the cost of a subway ride. The Third Avenue mainstay very recently announced it was finally closing its doors and moving to a new location on Seventh Street, but thank the dairy gods that it isn’t closing forever.
Venture out into Queens or deep Brooklyn and there’s no shortage of classic barbers, but they’re no longer a dime a dozen in Manhattan. The fellas at Astor Place have been in the biz for 65 years, and the barbers are all as seasoned and weathered as someone who’s been chopping NYC locks for that long should be. The place is decorated with its own storied past, boasting celebrity autographs, newspaper clippings, and random chotskies from a time before anyone would ever pay $50 for a trim.
4. B&H Dairy
Forget Katz’s and the currently embattled Carnegie Deli: if you’re looking to transport yourself to the days of old with a cup of burnt coffee, skip the tourist traps and head to Second Avenue. A teeny hole in the wall with the original 1940s counter and stainless steel stools, this place serves up unapologetically classic diner fare like tuna melts and ridiculously delicious breakfast. Pull out your yarmulkes—this joint is kosher, and will put all other Matzoh ball soups to shame. Think you’ve had perogis? Think again. Though most customers are regulars, the friendly staff won’t make you feel like it’s your first time.
The New York gourmet cupcake craze arguably began when Carrie Bradshaw and Miranda Hobbes visited Magnolia, and ended when the Crumb’s Bake Shop chain narrowly avoided bankruptcy. All the while, Sugar Sweet Sunshine has been a ray of hope for true baked-good lovers, keeping it real with reliably delectable cupcakes for $2.25. The place looks like your grandma’s kitchen circa 1974, and the staff is as cute and sweet as the shop’s namesake. Walls are plastered with photos of regulars, and the coffee isn’t bad to boot.
6. East Village Books
I consider myself a book aficionado, and I usually hate literature snobs—but this place makes snobbery not only ok but even kind of cool. Don’t expect anyone to help you find what you’re looking for, or to discuss whatever obscure title he’s devouring behind the counter. While the Strand may have the monopoly on stacks to get lost in, these shelves are spilling over with used books for as cheap as $2. The store itself is below street level, and low ceilings make this tiny place feel like a literary hobbit wonderland. Love that musty book smell? It’s worth checking out just to get a whiff.
7. Cafe Reggio
Macdougal Street may currently be overrun with NYU students and burgeoning comics, but the spirit of the street’s beatnik past is alive and well at Reggio. Allegedly home to the first espresso machine on American soil, the mama-mia Italian vibe is strong here, despite that most of the wait-staff is Eastern European, gorgeous, and appropriately rude. Snuggle into a window booth and watch the street traffic while you listen for the ghosts of young Bob Dylan and Alan Ginsberg writing at an adjacent table.
8. Russian souvenirs
You don’t need to go to Leningrad to buy authentic nesting dolls, or to experience the surly demeanor of someone who’s lived through the rise and fall of the Soviet Bloc. You may not think you need a Russian Army badge for your pack, but you definitely need to witness this store’s very Russian proprietor holding true to the very old-school New York tradition of ruthless haggling.