The Manhattan must-dos: Where to eat, drink, stay and play in New York

The famous skyline of New York City.
The famous skyline of New York City.  Photo: Supplied

So you're off to New York and you want to experience "it" – that magic and mayhem you've seen and heard in countless sitcoms, romcoms, movies and songs. The stylish hotel, the cocktails, the jazz and the cabs. But where to start? With the quintessential New York, New York spots to eat, drink, play and stay, of course. These are classics, old and soon-to-be, all of them amazing. Add them to the bucket list and please, take me with you.

The super stylish accommodation at The Langham New York.

The super stylish accommodation at The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue. Photo: Michael Weber

Michelin-starred eats and stylish sleep at The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue

You might not have much time to put your feet up between shopping, cocktails and shows, but when you do, put them up here. The stunning Langham hotel is slap bang in the middle of Manhattan's most famous and most central avenue, making it the perfect luxury base for your city adventures. The 234 rooms and suites are among the biggest in New York, many with views of the Empire State Building, and are remarkably quiet given the buzzing location. It's super stylish too, with its very own multi-million dollar permanent art collection featuring the works of Alex Katz. If Don Draper was a) real and b) in the 21st century, you just know he'd lay his hat (among other things) here. Need a night (or day) in? Indulge in a massage at Chuan Body and Soul, before drinks and dinner at the hotel's very own Michelin-starred Italian restaurant, Ai Fiori. With an apartment-of-your-dreams aesthetic featuring cool dark wood fittings and beautiful bathrooms, it's the New York base for stars including Andy Murray and Justin Bieber. It should be yours too.
400 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY The Langham, New York, Fifth Avenue

While you're in the area: Go for a rooftop drink under the twinkle of the Empire State Building at The Top of the Strand. Walk a few blocks to touristy but has-to-be-seen Times Square. Shop till you drop along Fifth Avenue.
 

Shop and do lunch in luxury department store Bergdorf Goodman and BG Restaurant

Describing Bergdorf Goodman as a department store is like describing Rafa Nadal as a tennis player. It simply does not do justice to the magnificence. Grandly perched on a corner of Central Park since 1928 are seven levels of the most beautiful jewellery, fashion, accessories and homewares you've ever seen – with marble fittings, beaux-arts architectural flourishes and big-haired shoppers that are almost as mesmerising as the goods within. But don't let all that bling distract you from the best bit: lunch on the seventh floor at BG Restaurant. Take in the sweeping views of Central Park as you break bread (or lobster rolls) and drink wine alongside truly fabulous locals in pastel-hued palatial surrounds, and toss up whether you really need to buy that divine silk Hermes scarf you spotted on the ground floor. (Answer: you definitely do).
754 5th Avenue, New York City, New York bergdorfgoodman.com

While you're in the area: Leave yourself a few hours for a leisurely walk and unparalleled people watching around Central Park.
 

The Grand Central Station Oyster Bar and Restaurant.

The Grand Central Station Oyster Bar and Restaurant. Photo: Supplied

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Slurp oysters underground at The Grand Central Station Oyster Bar and Restaurant

Seafood bars at transport hubs are not a unique combo. Even the most basic airports seem to have them, weirdly. But never like this. This is no ordinary seafood bar and Grand Central station no ordinary train stop. Grand is one word for it. Heaven is another. Head down, down, below the platforms to the arched wonder that is – and has been for more than 100 years – the Oyster Bar and Restaurant. Pick your pew among the 440 seats at the bar or tables scattered through this cavernous hidey hole and get ready for a quality shucking. With 25 to 30 varieties of oyster to choose from daily, picking one can be tough, so don't. Instead, let the seen-it-all-before server pick a variety for you, alongside your splash of choice to wash it all down with. Whether it's 10am or 10pm, there's no judgement here, and plenty of angles to enjoy and interesting people, as ever in this city, to watch.
89 East 42nd St, New York, NY oysterbarny.com

While you're in the area: Talk to the "whispering wall" next to the restaurant. The acoustics of the low ceramic arches can make a whisper sound like a shout. Explore the shops and area around the station. Pick up some European-style delicacies from the sprawling Grand Central Market.  
 

Sip on cocktails at Dante.

Sip on cocktails at Dante. Photo: Stevefreihon.com

Drink cocktails like a legend at Dante

Imagine the neighbourhood local cafe/bar/everything of your dreams – a warmly lit room, filled with character and characters, with friendly barfolk who sling cocktails and spin yarns with familiar ease and expertise. Now imagine that local nestled within the West Village. And it also being a regular past haunt of legends such as Pacino, Seinfeld, Dylan and Hemingway. Too cool to be true, right? And yet here it is, as unpretentious and relaxed as when it first opened in 1915. History and atmosphere aside, it has a seriously good Italian-accented food and drink menu going on too. Proving you don't have to be fancy to be fabulous, Dante has a highly coveted top 10 spot among the World's 50 Best Bars (and a dozen or so negronis you just must try). Slip in, sit back and soak it all up.
79-81 Macdougal St, New York, NY dante-nyc.com

While you're in the area: Go for a relaxed meal at Aussie-owned Banter NYC. Catch some comedy at Comedy Cellar – lots of big names started out here (Seinfeld among them) and still pop by from time to time.
 

A live music session in full swing at Mona's.

A live music session in full swing at Mona's. Photo: Aidan Grant

Experience the best live and free jazz and bluegrass music at Mona's

You won't find Mona's Bar in many tourist guides, but that just makes it all the cooler. When it's not in full swing, Mona's Bar is just a great old fashioned dive bar with one of the best jukeboxes and pool tables (and the most interesting barflies) in the East Village. That's more than enough for many (myself included). But wait, there's more. For late on Monday and Tuesdays, old punk bar Mona's transforms into one of the best live music spots in all of New York. Monday is bluegrass, holding true to the traditions of pickin' nights past, where fiddles, mandolins and banjos fill the air with barn dance numbers and old country tunes. Tuesday is all about '20s and '30s jazz with the clarinet, piano, sax, strings and sing thing bringing the throngs until the wee hours of Wednesday. Nab a seat at the bar and settle in. You'll feel like you've stumbled onto something very special, and you have.
224 Avenue B, New York, NY Mona's Bar

While you're in the area: Join the queue for pork buns and ramen at infamous Momofuku Noodle Bar. Eat one of the great pastrami sandwiches at Harry & Ida's.
 

The writer travelled as a guest of the Langham Hotel, New York, Fifth Avenue and Cathay Pacific Airways.