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The Coolest Secret Bar in New York

Backroom Bar: secret speakeasy in New York - photo by Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog travel blog

I think I'm about to be mugged. 

It's nighttime in Manhattan. We're walking down a sketchy alleyway that cuts under a dilapidated building. Dirty rainwater drips down the graffitied walls as we sidestep puddles and cigarette ends. An old man leers at us from the shadows, points a gnarled and crooked finger and grumbles, 'That way.' Covering our nerves terror with laughter and flippant remarks that we could turn up dead in the Hudson in the morning, we follow his direction. With mounting trepidation, we climb the flaking metal steps...

Think 'New York', and somewhere down the line (perhaps after the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building), your mind will turn to the roaring twenties, prohibition, and wild nights in a secret speakeasy. 

It's an era that grips the imagination: F Scott Fitzgerald; flapper fashion; and the setting for my absolute favourite, Some Like it Hot. It's a hidden glamour that has always fascinated me, so when I learned from a friend that you can still visit a speakeasy in Manhattan, I knew I had to try it.

The Backroom Bar is located at 102 Norfolk Street, Manhattan. You need to take the address, because there are no signs advertising it. (Find number 100 and number 104; if you're in between the two, you must be in the right place.) The only sign is for the 'Lower East Side Toy Co', the letters individually and roughly stuck onto a grubby white board, tied to a gate.

Don't miss: Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge


Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, New York - photo by Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog travel blog

It's a cold January morning, and I feel as though I've just stepped onto a film set. 

The sky above me is a ridiculous shade of blue, apart from occasional fluffy white clouds that could have been added using a child's paintbox. People moving and taking photographs around me are dressed in chic woolly hats and mittens, looking like casually co-ordinated extras. And I'm looking at one of the most iconic skylines in the world. 

I've mentioned it before, but all through my trip to New York, I felt as though the buildings should be two-dimensional; if you go round the back, you'll just find chipboard and the odd carpenter's marking. And looking at it from the other side of Brooklyn Bridge, you can sort of see why. I guess the glamous of it all helps a bit, too. 

So on the last day of my trip, I decided to brave the biting January air and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I took the subway to Brooklyn, spent about half an hour wandering round Cadman Plaza Park and looking at the war memorial there, then set about trying to find the bridge. (Fortunately, a man with a food cart pointed me in the right direction. He also told me I was beautiful and he loved me. Can't say I blame him...)

Postcards from Greenwich Village


fire escapes and vines on a building in Greenwich Village, New York - photo by Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog travel blog

Unlike the rest of Manhattan, Greenwich Village hasn't given in to the bustle, hurry, or grid-shaped progress of the rest of New York. And don't get me wrong, none of those things are bad - it's just that sometimes, it's nice to experience a bit of a change, and that's definitely something I found in Greenwich Village.

This is the kind of area I love: artsy, quirky, bohemian, full of little independent shops, and cafes spilling their tables out onto the street - the sort of place that used to be home to interesting impoverished artists, until it became so fashionable they could no longer afford to live there. It's a place for sitting in coffee shops, trying delicious foods at independent markets, or simply wandering through the streets of beautiful brownstones.

Unlike further uptown, here the architecture is simple and elegant, and time seems to move at least a little more slowly.

It's an area with a strong sense of history and culture: this is where the American Gay Rights Movement kicked off in a big way; there are murals on walls and garage doors; the more upmarket streets house expensive art shops and independent stores that ooze design.

If I could live anywhere in New York, it would be here.

Saturday Beach: Lyme Regis beach huts

Beach huts, Lyme Regis

I love a good beach hut. I love the colours of them. Bizarrely, I love them especially against the grey sky and sea of the beach on a cloudy day: the way they stand out against their surroundings, bringing a bit of colour into a greyscale world. 

These beach huts are at Lyme Regis in Dorset, England. (For the well-read among you, this is the setting for part of Jane Austen's novel, Persuasion - my favourite Austen novel, as it happens.)

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Saturday Beach is a series of weekly posts celebrating beaches around the world, whether cold and rocky or tropical with white sand. I love water; I love lakes; I love the sea. But most of all I love the edge of it: the boundary between the water and the land; where one thing turns into another. This is my weekly excuse to share that love with you.

Tips for Visiting the Empire State Building

View from the Empire State Building, New York - photo by Katie @ Second-Hand Hedgehog travel blog

Nothing screams New York like the Empire State Building. It's iconic. It's appeared in countless films, books, songs... It's become an emblem of New York as much as the Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge.

But should you visit it? 

There's definitely a case for other buildings, and I've heard big arguments over whether the Rockerfeller Centre might be the better venue. Personally, though, I've always been a fan of the classics, so I plumped for this one. I'm also a fan of classic films, too, which helps. (Ok, I'll admit it: in my head I was playing a mix-up of King Kong, An Affair to Remember and Sleepless in Seattle the whole time I was up there.)

So I would say a resounding 'yes'. Even if you're on a budget. There are some experiences that are just red letter. I didn't want to leave New York without a visit to the top.

Get there early. 

I originally planned to go at around 11am; the 3-hour wait made me change my mind. Instead, I went on the following day. The Empire State Building opens at 8am. Get there for 7:30am, and there's a fairly short queue, so you should be able to wait inside. Ok, so you still have to wait for it to open, but when I did it, I'd bought my ticket and was listening to the audioguide by 8:05am. I'll take a 35 minute wait over a 3-hour one any day!  

Should you go to the 102nd floor? Or just the 86th?