Where do you go if you’re a starving artist in New York? You can’t just sit in your apartment being creative, because your apartment will be the size of an elevator and will only have one never-cleaned window that looks on to a dark air shaft.
So you need to get outside and throw yourself into the arms of the city. You’ll spend a lot of time wandering the streets thinking of ways to make money by selling your art…or by selling anything.
Eventually, you’ll have to spend your dwindling savings on food. You obviously can’t cook in the apartment; your ‘kitchen’ is in the living room and comprises a dirty microwave with a frayed flex, an A4-sized sink, and absolutely no preparation surfaces. You do not want to chop onions on that floor.
Here is a list of places where you can get cheap food and drink, as well as hang out at for protracted periods enjoying someone else’s heating/air-con, while you wonder what the hell you’re doing with your life.
Famous Ray’s – 195 E Houston St
Cheap pizza slices the size of your torso are exactly what you need when you’re a starving artist. Famous Ray’s slices are delicious and, crucially, only around $2.35. The lighting’s too bright and the plastic faux-marble tables are usually strewn with used paper plates and napkins, but you can’t afford cool or classy; you only need hot and carb-y.
White Horse Tavern – 567 Hudson St
The White Horse has been beloved of starving artists – and longshoremen – through the ages, due to its cheap prices and large measures. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac drank here when they were truly ‘beat’, as did Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison in later years. Dylan Thomas wasn’t starving by the time he drank here, but the bender that he went on inside did lead to his death a few days later.
McNally Jackson – 52 Prince St
A beautiful bookshop full of beautiful people, where you can happily spend hours in the warm reading excellently curated titles on antique leather stools, before regretfully popping them back on the shelf because you can’t afford to spend $17.99 on an embossed special edition. Classical music plays in the background and there’s also a café you can’t afford to patronize, because their coffee is the same price as the Famous Ray’s slice that will keep you alive.
This is the only place in lower Manhattan to score really cheap food, groceries, and household items. There’s an on-street market selling fruit and veg and plenty of little stores selling bargain kettles and toasters, assuming your apartment is devoid of mod cons, which almost all of them are. It’s also awash with restaurants doing lunchtime specials.
Prosperity Dumpling – 46 Eldridge St
You’ve been starving for so long that your stomach has shrunk to the size of a peanut, so why spend money on large meals, right? Prosperity Dumpling has the answer – allowing you to buy individual dumplings for a dollar. If you’re feeling particularly flush, why not try a steaming bowl of beef noodle soup for $3? A great little place to feel full for hardly any money.
Ruby’s – 219 Mulberry St
This tiny restaurant in Little Italy is a lifesaver. It’s not as cheap as Chinatown, but when you’ve had enough MSG and need some protein and carbs to sustain you for another 24 hours, this is the place to come to. It does a bowl of spicy Italian sausage pasta so big that you’ll be able to take half of it ‘to go’, thus giving you two meals for $13. When it’s not busy, they don’t seem to mind artistic types mooching about getting limitless coffee top-ups either.
New York Public Library – 5th Ave at 42nd St
When you’ve been walking for hours and can’t afford the entrance fees for museums or galleries, you can still go to one of the most stunning buildings in New York for free. The Schwarzman Building has grand, light-filled reading rooms with soaring ceilings painted with Biblical clouds, and wood-lined map, art, print and photograph rooms hung with golden chandeliers. It’s free to wander round and read. Library cards are free to New Yorkers.
Housing Works Bookstore – 126 Crosby St
A true modern-day hang-out for artists and writers. This bookstore – which has a café in the midst of it – has floor-to-ceiling books, many of them for just a dollar or two. It also has excellent events at night; everything from music gigs to story-slams – most of them free. Buy a $2 copy of Ginsberg’s Howl and let him share your pain.
The Ear Inn – 326 Spring St
Down by the former docks is the oldest bar in Manhattan. It has friendly bar staff and large glasses of inexpensive booze. There are free music nights on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday, the greatest of these being the hot-jazz nights on a Sunday, where the top players from all over the city – and touring out-of-towners – converge to take the audience back to the 20s. Hang at the bar and you’ll most likely meet other artists, who will empathize with your poverty.
Christopher St Pier – Pier 45, opposite W10 St
This is lovely place to walk, write or draw, away from the hustle and bustle of Manhattan’s streets. Part of the revamped Hudson River Park, the Christopher St Pier has lots of benches and large areas of grass to sit on, as well as stupendous views of the changing light on the Hudson, the Statue of Liberty and New Jersey.