“So you’re like a real life Gossip Girl now?” asked my photo tour guest, referring to the hit CW Network show about super wealthy Manhattanites.
I laughed so hard I almost dropped my camera. Okay, yes, I admit it; The Jefferson’s theme song had been playing in mind for weeks…
Movin’ on up….to the East Side…to a deluxe apartment in the sky…
…The surprising truth, however, is the Upper East Side is one of Manhattan’s most affordable neighborhoods. In fact, my new spacious-ish one bedroom would be just $1850 per month — quite cheap for NYC standards.
Though it certainly would be in the sky. As in, a fifth floor walk up.
Moving To Manhattan From Brooklyn
While there are tons of travel bloggers out there who wake up in a new city every morning, that’s not my style. In fact, I consider myself lucky to be someone who travels constantly, yet still my favorite destination is my birthplace of New York.
For five years Bushwick, Brooklyn has been my home base. And while I have a deep love for the neighborhood, the past few months my “steal of an apartment” — aka my never renovated tenement building from the 1800s — was having some issues.
Look, I consider myself an adventurous solo female traveler. And that sense of adventure translates to my home life in NYC. I could handle the spattering of black mold above the toilet, and that when I washed a dish the water came right through the pipes pouring on my feet.
And hey, it’s fine that my bathtub took over an hour to fully drain and that I had to use a screwdriver to turn the shower knobs.
Heck, I didn’t even mind when my landlord cut up a garbage bag and taped it over a cabinet-sized hole in the wall to “cover it.”
And I was cool with the fact my bathroom walls were covered in shower liner to keep water from leaking on the tenants below me. Sure, I had a few nervous visitors ask if I’d ever watched the show Dexter, eyes darting around to make sure my kitchen knives were out of reach. But looking like a serial killer was a small price to pay for a good deal in New York.
But here’s what I couldn’t handle: rats.
Now, let me preface that if you’ve never been to New York City you don’t know what rats are. Maybe you’ve seen a large mouse in your lifetime; but not a rat.
At least, not an NYC rat. Our rats are the size of small cats, crap all over your house, eat your food (they love pizza and hot garbage), and try on your wigs. The latter is what I surmised after I found a hole chewed through my sink and, along with my snacks haphazard all over the place, my pink party wig lay tangled on the floor.
I’ve never been the New Yorker who was afraid of rats. I even think they’re somewhat cute and might even pet one if I could confirm it wouldn’t mutate me into a zombie upon contact. But when there’s a rat sharing your living space and trying on your clubbing accessories just…no.
Falling For The Upper East Side
As my boyfriend and I have been dating a while, we took the opportunity to get me the heck out of the animal house and move in together. We planned to look in up-and-coming neighborhoods like Hamilton Heights (Harlem) and Long Island City (Queens); however, after researching we found the Upper East Side (UES) was surprisingly affordable and more central than either of those.
In fact, we looked at a ton of large one bedrooms for around $2,100, and even found an adorable exposed brick place in the UES’s Yorkville section for just $1,850; which, fast forward, is where we now live. Yes, I’m sweaty by the time I’ve made it to our door and it doesn’t have a microwave, but there’s laundry in the building and we’re a five-minute walk from the water and the best German sausages you’ll ever taste (shout out to Heidelberg Restaurant and Schaller’s Stube Sausage Bar).
Who Would Have Thought?
If you would have told me even one year ago that I’d be moving to the Upper East Side, I would have yawned and explained how I was way too hip for such a boring neighborhood. Luckily, I’ve grown out of that condescending phase and come to my senses.
Okay, so there are fewer places where I can wear my pink party wig, and I probably won’t see two grown men in leopard bodysuits fighting in a dog cage on the sidewalk (#AnythingGoesInBushwick). The food in the Upper East Side is more “authentic German” and “French bistro” than Korean-Italian-Harry-Potter-Fusion served by a nude waitress atop 24-hour bourbon braised kale. But that’s okay.
We’ll certainly miss Bushwick; but we can still go there for quirky meals, street art and outlandish shows. Plus, I’m still taking guests there on my NYC photo tours. Sometimes, though, the places that are the most fun are the hardest to live.
For example, about two years ago a fitness studio-slash-dance club opened.
Attached to my bedroom.
Fat Man Scoop became my Saturday night lullaby, and it wasn’t pleasant.
I lived next door to a band. Not a musician; a band. Bushwick is artist country, people! There are no noise ordinances. And below me, a DJ. Who came home at 4am from work. And continued to DJ. Again, Bushwick is more about creativity than allowing your neighbors to sleep.
The Upper East Side is, quite literally, a dream. Andy and I go to sleep to the sound of nothing, and literally wake up to birds on our fire escape. We grab cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens and eat them in Carl Schurz Park while looking out over the East River to Queens and Roosevelt Island.
We found a charming Italian restaurant, 1742 Wine Bar, where for $30 we get two steaks and a bottle of red wine. And during happy hour Infirmary NYC makes my mouth pleasantly burn with their spicy “Silver Tongued Devil” — blending jalapeno-infused tequila, pineapple, ginger and lime — only $8 during happy hour.
Central Park picnics and Museum Row walks are now a regular occurrence, and I’m more likely to get hit by a stroller than a crazy driver while biking.
Return Of The Travel Mindset
One of the best parts about travel is that it makes you curious. Instead of saying “Meh, I’ll sleep in and watch cartoons all day,” you get out of bed and energetically explore, fueled by coffee and promises of discovery.
I also love having that feeling at home. Because I didn’t travel at all in March and most of April due to the move, I was nervous about feeling cabin fever. But since settling in a brand new neighborhood, I’m getting out of the “cabin” often to explore new things.
And that’s what’s so great about NYC. You honestly can live here your whole life and never see all of it. You can travel to Brazil, Israel, Russia, Japan and Switzerland without leaving the city limits. You can spend your Sunday doing one of 5,001 activities, choosing between 102+ festivals or taking the train 40 minutes to be in the mountains.
But even in a place like New York you can feel stagnant if you stay in a situation where you don’t feel like you’re growing.
Or where you have nightmares of rats eating your face off. Either or.
Now, I’m on to my next New York (and beyond!) chapter.
Upper East Side For Solo Travelers
Looking for more awesome things to do in the Upper East Side? Check out the spots I mentioned within this post, and stay tuned for an upcoming neighborhood guide.
By the way, it’s an amazing location to stay if you’re a solo traveler. There are lots of things to do as stated above, not to mention you’ve got the parks, the waterfront, the museums, a ton of different subway options and, most importantly, it’s safe. Though note, I always recommend walking with a TSA-friendly personal alarm anywhere you go.
And if you’re thinking of moving to Manhattan yourself, see some helpful tips below.
Moving To Manhattan: Essential Tips
So if you’ve stumbled upon this blog post wanting concrete advice on what goes into making the move to Manhattan, here is some advice:
Lower Your Standards. Not to sound like your mom when you won’t date that guy/guy because they wore black ankle socks, but unless you’re rich New York City’s “luxuries” are other city’s norms. Just because you live on the 6th floor doesn’t mean you’ll have an elevator. Dishwashers, laundry machines and microwaves are not a given. Heck, the first room I ever looked at didn’t even fit a bed in it, and I had to walk through someone else’s room to use the bathroom.
Make A List. This is why it’s important to make a list. For me, cat-friendly, good natural light and enough space to entertain were important. Being one block from the subway, having a doorman and having an elevator were not. Consider what you need in an apartment so you can let your broker know.
Hire A Broker (Or Don’t). Ah, the broker. Look. I’ve gotten apartments without the help of a broker before; but the truth is you’re limiting yourself. Brokers have access to tons of apartments across the city, and a good one will take the time to understand what you’re looking for to find you the perfect place.
Broker Fees: Keep in mind, while no-fee brokers do exist, you’ll typically pay the broker you end up getting the apartment with one month’s rent or 8-15% of the year’s rent. We paid $3,300 just for the broker fee for ours. But as long as we stay in our place for 2+ years it’s still a bargain. Do the math before deciding. If you’re really set on a no-fee apartment try Provident Management or look for rental signs in windows with phone numbers to call.
- Keep in mind, you can look at apartments with as many brokers as you want. You’ll only pay the broker you end up getting the apartment with.
Recommended Brokers: Ardor NY, CitiHabitats, Nooklyn and Bond New York. I really loved Naked Apartments for searching for apartments.
Other Fees/Considerations: Typically you’ll also pay an application fee/credit check (~$75-$200). Also be prepared to show a letter of employment, three recent pay stubs, two bank statements and tax returns. They’ll want to see you and your roommates make ~40-50% the monthly rent.
Bad Credit? If you don’t make steady income, have bad credit or just immigrated here, you’ll need to be willing to pay a year up front or have a guarantor. Otherwise, you can find sub-lease opportunities in Facebook groups like Gypsy Housing, Bushwick Boarding Bazaar and Rent Apartments in New York City.