I’ve been trying to make a habit of exploring NYC outside of my own neighborhood of Bushwick. As I hadn’t seen my friend Hillary in Park Slope in awhile, we decided to spend a day wandering SoHo, equally easy for us to access via subway. Being that SoHo is the style and design hub for the city, this was also the perfect excursion for trying out my new backpack and crossbody bag from Beside-U Handbags.
Beside-U Handbags is a company I recently partnered with, as I’m in love with their concept. Many brands claim to mix style with functionality, but I’ve found most rarely live up to their promise. For the last two years I’ve been using an Osprey backpack, extremely comfortable and with decent space, but far from attractive.
After receiving their Arroyo Leather Trimmed City Backpack and the Hemet Leather Trimmed Travel Crossbody Bag I was pretty shocked to find that Beside-U actually had more room and more pockets than the dedicated Osprey travel brand, complete with bold and bright colors and features even the most rugged travelers can appreciate, like:
- RFID-blocking pockets large enough to fit an entire wallet. These pockets keep thieves from using electronic card readers and capturing your credit card and identification information.
- A lightweight, water resistant design (each bag is roughly 1 pound or less)
- A 100% Ripstop Nylon fabric (select areas with leather trim) to keep the bags from tearing.
- Custom hardware details like a clip-on whistle dangle with a pretty double layer Beside-U logo — perfect for my fellow solo female travelers wanting to stay safe.
Each Beside-U bag also comes with its own unique features. For instance, the Arroyo Backpack offered two extra large external pockets for my 24-ounce water bottle, as well as two interior water bottle pockets if needed, though you can use them for other gadgets, as well. Inside I fit my DSLR, a huge stack of promotional postcards for my tour company, a deodorant stick, my MacBook Pro (there’s a 13″ padded laptop pocket), an extra camera lens, an external camera flash and my three lipsticks (hey, this was SoHo in style).
The smaller Hemet Crossbody Bag, which I stored inside the backpack, held my cash, coins, ID, credit cards, a wallet, keys, MetroCard, iPhone 6s, pen, notepad and full-sized paperback copy of Orange is the New Black. And that was just on the inside. There was also two large external pockets and one small external pocket I didn’t even use.
So Much Organized Space!
Basically, these bags offered way more space than one would need for a day, or even a long weekend, with style and identity protection to boot. As a photographer, I loved the padded external pockets that made it easy to switch lenses. As a sugar and coffee addict, I loved all the hidden pockets for hiding cash and coins within easy reach whenever a craving struck.
To complement my bags, I decided on an equally fashionable yet practical outfit: dark skinny jeans, a white and navy blue striped shirt, light tan Timberland boots (I wear my Timbs everywhere and with anything), and loose hair. For my face I chose a smokey eye with no bottom liner and no lipstick since it was day time and windy, and I knew my hair would stick in my lipstick.
A spritz of vanilla perfume and I was ready to explore.
Percolating At Maman
Weekends in NYC can be rough with the subway, especially coming from Brooklyn. I ran into this country reminiscent cafe clearly needing a coffee (or a whiskey), and the barista was extremely friendly consoling me with stories of his own sad subway tales. This may not sound noteworthy, but friendly, un-rushed service in New York is not always the easiest to find. My Maman Americano was easily one of the best I’ve ever had, a slight thickness due to the added almond milk. They also serve a sweet yet floral Lavender Hot Chocolate. If you’re joining for brunch you can grab a seat in the backroom; otherwise, post up at the window bar and people watch or sip under wall hanging baskets and dangling vines.
Inspired By Street Art
While SoHo’s cobblestoned streets and upscale shopping gives off a quaint vibe, the neighborhood is actually quite eclectic, with modern galleries, funky design shops and edgy street art. Simply wandering around you’ll stumble upon colorful works, although there are a few points of interest to add to an itinerary. The Bowery Mural is a giant wall at Bowery and E. Houston Street that’s featured rotating pieces since 2008. In the adjacent Little Italy neighborhood, which Hillary and I walked through, is The Lisa Project, which adorns Mulberry Street with al fresco works.
Continue The Creativity In Local Galleries
Along with Chelsea (Manhattan) and Bushwick (Brooklyn), SoHo is known for its plethora of art galleries. Strolling streets like Greene, Wooster, West Broadway and Spring is where you’ll find most of them, and it’s easy to simply wander around without a plan and stumble upon great finds. One particularly quirky gallery is The New York Earth Room (141 Wooster Street), a giant plot of dirt on the second floor of a narrow stairway. It may sound boring — or just plain weird — but it’s surprising how moving the quiet space can be, not to mention you’ll undoubtedly twist your brain in knots wondering how much someone is paying in rent just to store dirt in SoHo.
Another notable gallery is Westwood Gallery NYC (568 Broadway), a large and inviting space with rotating contemporary works in a large array of mediums. Hillary and I both agreed our favorite gallery of the day, however, was the Allouche Gallery (115 Spring Street), as it housed contemporary pieces by iconic artists like Keith Haring — I always recognize his style from his children’s hospital murals — thought provoking works like the Rolling Stone’s tongue logo made to look like a kneeling woman by Ron English, and atypical mediums like multi layered glass sculptures by Brooklyn artist Dustin Yellin.
Refuel At Siggy’s
While I wouldn’t consider myself a nutrition nut, I definitely try to eat healthy 80% of the time. I especially love eating healthy when a talented chef is in the kitchen, so Siggy‘s was the perfect place to refuel. The cafe is focused on organic, locally-sourced ingredients, with lots of options for those with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free lifestyles. There’s also a fun alien theme to the restaurant (aliens actually eat free! ha), and a smart “You Affordable Healthcare Plan” on the wall with photos of natural foods like beans, avocados and bananas and their wellness benefits.
The venue features lots of seating — a rarity in NYC — and also somewhat functions as an art gallery. Hillary and I split the turkey burger and the salmon burger, both incredibly delicious, and their raw and hemp seed-laced smoothies make for a tasty, guilt-free pairing.
Tip: Next door is a bar called Tom & Jerry‘s that offers a cheap happy hour with $5 beers and well drinks if you’re craving some booze.
Shop Til’ You Drop — Artisan Style
No other neighborhood in NYC has a better reputation for shopping than SoHo. You’ll find the luxury brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Coach and Marc Jacobs, as well as popular commercial retailers like H&M, Topshop, Bloomingdale’s and Uniqlo (amazing for budget-friendly adventure travel gear, by the way). That being said, I recommend digging around for the independent shops for a more culturally immersive experience.
I absolutely fell in love with a vintage shop called Maison Jadis Vintage, with classy old school pieces (that were sadly a bit out of my price range). Still, Hillary and I had a little dancing session to Drake in the store, with the shopkeeper giving us pointers on her favorite Hotline Bling moves, so definitely stop in for an upbeat experience.
There’s also a brand new space featuring an array of artisan vendor stalls called The Market, that just opened in early February 2016. That’s where I fell in love with the flower tiara I’m donning in the photo above. This is where you’ll get true one-on-one time with vendors who likely don’t even have a brick-and-mortar yet and are just starting to debut their unique creativity to the world.
While they’re all over the East Coast, 2nd Time Around is a cool consignment shop where you can purchase second hand designer duds for a fraction of the cost.
Get Books On A Budget
I love to read books. Real, paper-made, binded, printed books. The problem is real books are often real expensive, especially compared to their Kindle counterparts. Not at Housing Works Bookstore, where almost every title I picked up seemed to range between $5-$15. I ended up with some cool photo-centric books, one on bicycles ($8.50) and one on cats ($10), while Hillary went on a “blind date with a book” (books wrapped in paper so you can’t see their titles, with literary clues written on the front).
I learned the reason the books are so budget-friendly is that Housing Works is a volunteer-run organization focused on ending AIDs and homelessness, so my purchases went to a good cause, not to mention Hillary and I signed up for their volunteer list so we could also do our part in the community. Definitely an inspiring SoHo stop in more ways than one.
Savor Free Tea Samples In A Funky Space
While I like tea, I would never choose it over coffee. Until I discovered T2 Tea, a shop so bright and bubbly you’ll be pulled in even if you don’t mean to stop inside. I was attracted to the bright pastels colored emitting from the shop like a moth to a flame, and even more enticed by a long table with aromatic complimentary samples like a budget backpacker to a free…well, anything. The shop focuses on matcha, and the woman working the serving station was more than happy to explain what this meant. When making matcha the tea stems are removed and the leafs ground into a fine green tea powder to maximize antioxidant benefits.
Also, fun fact: Did you know Japanese Samurai drank matcha before going into battle due to the tea’s energizing properties? Pretty neat.
The shop is a sensory kaleidoscope of colors, tastes, sounds and scents — along with the samples they have beautiful tables showcasing open tea tins for you to smell — and I instantly felt uplifted just being in there.
Sip An Art-Inspired Pick-Me-Up At La Colombe Coffee
I’ve seen cafes do latte art before, though never have I been asked what design I would like on my coffee. I told the java artist to surprise me, and was promptly given a creamy latte adorned with a floral and heart design, perfectly fitting for the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday. La Colombe Coffee is also home to the “draft latte,” a coffee and milk concoction that has a Guinness-like texture, as well as the coffee version of the “Black and Tan,” 50% pure black cold brew coffee and 50% draft coffee.
Indulge Your Sweet Tooth Without Guilt At Chobani Cafe
By the end of the day Hillary and I were craving something sweet. Foursquare directed us to Birdbath Neighborhood Green Bakery, which looked and smelled delicious but was tiny with no seating. So, we decided to pop in next store to the Chobani Cafe (yes, Chobani as in the yogurt). The brand’s owner is Turkish, so the cafe — which has a decent amount of seating, by the way — features a Turkish menu of simit, Mediterranean dips and sweet yogurt treats.
We opted for the Spinach & Garlic Dip laced with Kalamata olives and sumac and served with simit chips, followed by the Fig & Walnut Yogurt drizzled with clover honey. Every bite was incredibly fresh, and as 10% of the cafe’s profits go to charities that help provide nourishing food to underserved communities and support to small businesses it truly was a guilt-free indulgence.
Sip Booze With Class
As the editor of an online food and drink magazine, a sommelier and a cocktail tour guide with in New York, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about drinks. Pegu Club is one of my top three favorite cocktail bars in NYC, and a place I don’t mind paying $14 for a drink (because it’s totally worth it). It’s designed after a British Colonial Officer’s club in Burma, with velvet couches, low wood tables, tropical plants and a bar stuffed with mixologist paraphernalia that twinkles in the dim, candlelit room.
Pegu Club is the brainchild of famed mixologist Audrey Sauders, who is known for helping to bring craft cocktails back to New York after the downfall of the artful drink following Prohibition and WWII. Hillary and I ended our day exploring SoHo in style with a hot toddy laced with maple butter and a drink that’s not on the menu, but that Pegu Club made specially for me, a spicy tequila drink infused with citrusy lime.
At the end of the day, I felt tired, accomplished and unusually organized. My MetroCard sat in the outer back pocket of my purse, my keys in a hidden front pouch and my iPod in easy reach at the top of my backpack. I easily could have taken just one bag or the other — even the “Small” Crossbody Bag fit all of my necessities including a paperback book. That being said, I wanted to show you in photos the style and functionality of both bag options.
Personally, I think the smaller bag is perfect for everyday use, while the backpack I like for weekend trips and when needing to lug my camera gear. And no matter where I go, from SoHo to the Serengeti, these bags can be worn in a practical yet fashionable manner.
There are so many things to do in SoHo. How would you spend your ideal day? Please share in the comments below.
*This post was sponsored by Beside-U Handbags, a brand I use both for travel and my everyday wear. All opinions are 100% my own.