The reason for my first trip to New York City in 2010 is a story in itself, for another time, but on that trip I was talking with a local who said, “you know, if you want the best coffee in the city, you need to go to Mud Spot in the East Village”.

I made a mental note of the recommendation and, the next morning, set out on foot alone to find this neighborhood and the esteemed coffee.

I took a meandering route from our flat in Gramercy through the neighborhoods down to the East Village. This was my first time exploring New York City completely on my own and it felt like a mix of fear and excitement. I was by myself, in this massive city, with only a vague sense of where I was going. It was exhilarating! I was hooked.

I found Mud Spot. The shop was tiny but loaded with charm. I ordered my usual, an Americano with steamed cream. It was delicious and lived up to the recommendation. Coffee in hand, I continued to explore the East Village.

Down the block and around the corner from Mud Spot is an outpost of Dun-Well Doughnuts. Hailing from Brooklyn, they feature a quirky assortment of artisan, handcrafted vegan doughnuts. Popular flavors include: Maple French Toast, Lemon Poppyseed, PB&J, and Pistachio.

As I wandered south toward the Lower East Side I passed by this kitschy sign. At the time, I took it at face value. Crif Dogs is a popular local hot dog joint. And while this is true, in New York City fashion, there’s a surprise hidden within. Crif Dogs doubles as a speakeasy called PDT (Please Don’t Tell). Once inside you gain entry through a vintage phone booth along the left wall. Dial 1 on the telephone, the door will unlock and you can step into the dimly lit bar on the other side.

I probably wouldn’t have discovered the charm of the East Village had I not gotten a recommendation from a local about the coffee shop. I likely wouldn’t have set out to find it otherwise. But because I had such a personal experience with it, I now love it. The vibe of the East Village is very different than other areas of the city. Gritty and unpretentious, it values quality and authenticity over polish and shine. The locals are friendly and there aren’t many tourists around.

I learned two important lessons from this formative solo adventure in the East Village:

1) Be willing to abandon plans and incorporate recommendations from locals into your visit.

2) Set out on foot with only a loose idea of where you’re headed. Take a meandering path and discover the hidden gems of that area along the way.


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