If you’re in a bookstore or shopping around online you need to pick up one of these. Not for Tourists is a series of guidebooks written by locals, for locals. They’re broken down by neighborhood, and contain interesting tidbits about the sights and scene, as well as stuff you need to know to actually live here like what the best dive bars are and where the kick-ass hardware store is. Each page has short, pithy reviews and is accompanied by a map that charts the neighborhood block-by-block. As someone obsessed with maps since childhood (I used to draw maps of imaginary cities), this was the perfect introduction to New York City.
I happened on the guide at a perfect time, too. Days after I moved to New York, I found one on the top of my new roommate’s book pile. I was drawn to the plain black cover that resembled a moleskine, and I read the whole thing. I’ve picked up a new edition almost every year since, either because I lost the old one, or I lent it out and never got it back, or I just wanted to see what else the editors had to say.
Fast-forward to last winter. I happened to be working on writing the East Village sections for the 2011 guide during a week-long nadir of what felt like the worst winter of my life. I’d been excited about contributing to the guide, but at that particular time it was a struggle to write anything, even a few lines about a place I knew well. I got the assignment done, and more or less forgot about those few days until last night. I was walking along Third Avenue, realized it was about time for the new guide to be out, and ran into St. Mark’s Bookshop. The 2011 edition was right up front at the cash register, and inside were the words it had seemed so inexplicably difficult to write. Coming at the end of a long week before my vacation, this was a sweet moment. Sometimes getting one small thing done at a time when you feel like you can’t do anything seems monumental.
So personal drama aside, I highly recommend buying a copy because it’s a fun read and handy to have, whether you’re a local or just visiting. The New York City guide mainly focuses on Manhattan but the Brooklyn and Queens guides delve a little deeper into those boroughs. And if you’re interested in London, Chicago, LA, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, DC, Philadelphia, or Atlanta, you’re in luck.
Available at the Not For Tourists website or Amazon.com or a bookstore if you’re old school, and if you’re too modern for printed matter at all there is an iphone app. But that’s a different beast and pulls in all the reviews from the website.