An Insider's Guide: The 500 Hidden Secrets of New York

New York loves a secret. In a city this congested, any tangent that takes you away from the crowd is a welcome one. NYC mavens Ellen Swandiak and Michiel Vos have recently teamed up on the New York entry to the Luster series of insider guides. The 500 Hidden Secrets of New York, from ACC Distributions, provides a compact look across 100 compelling categories of under-the-radar NYC.

500 hidden secrets nyc

Easy-to-read maps and vibrant photos make this a great companion for a New York visitor (and a neat trip keepsake as well). It also works for the seasoned New Yorker looking to extend her range. Color coding makes it easy to navigate the nine categories, which cover ground from eating and drinking to culture, shopping, weekends, and “Buildings to Admire.” There are the requisites, like “5 Friendly Places for Brunch” and “5 Ways to Enjoy NYC From the Water,” and there are wholly original roundups like “5 Places with a Personality All Their Own.” There are discoveries to be made on every page. Did you know you can dine on the cooking of culinary royalty at James Beard House dinners (“5 Faves From a New York Foodie”)? Or that Central Park is getting hard to get lost in, as the lampposts have secret GPS codes printed on them (“5 Central Park Attractions”)? Lux cocktails, avant-garde galleries, hotels for shoestring budgets—the diversity of New York experience is reflected here.

erinn springer: The Butcher's Daughter

The guide's photos, by Erinn Springer, reveal a vivid New York. Pictured here is The Butcher's Daughter ("5 Places for Breakfast & Bread").

Co-author Ellen Swandiak was kind enough to share some thoughts on The 500 Hidden Secrets of New York with us.

CG: As the founder of HOBNOB, you’re an expert in “what to do, where to go, and what to talk about when you get there.” How much of an inspiration was your long experience in exploring the city?

ES: It was essential! Since starting Hobnob Magazine ( my life has been focused on finding places in NYC that deserve attention. It has become my passion and joy. I am one of those people who loves to walk around town as my preferred way of getting around. In doing so, I really get to absorb the city vibe. And notice things, “hey—there’s a new shop,” or “that restaurant is packed!” When something catches my eye, I make sure to stop in and grab a business card or take a photo of the façade. Then add it to my list of places to go to (which is quite long!). 

ellen swandiak

CG: How did you research this book?

ES: It wasn’t research so much as experiencing. I’m always absorbing information about new places and the trends that run their course through the city. In categories where I was less familiar, I relied on fantastic suggestions from trusted friends. Then, of course, I went online to confer and contrast. Yelp was a good spot to gauge a range of opinions in some cases.

CG: In collaborating with Michiel Vos, did you find yourselves at odds over some of your picks?

ES: Actually, I think we both came at the book from different perspectives. And we each contributed our own areas of expertise. Michiel had more of a draw to museums, history, and children’s activities. I leaned more to the eat/drink/stay aspects. And then there were areas where we overlapped and could enhance each other’s picks. 

morris jumel mansion nyc

Image: edwardhblake/Flickr

CG: As an expert in New York, was there anything left in the city to surprise you?

ES: The thing that I love about New York is that there is ALWAYS something to learn. I was amazed at many of Michiel’s picks, like the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which is the oldest house in New York, and has had the most interesting tenants, from Aaron Burr to the daughter of a prostitute. There is really so much history here that we bypass on a daily basis. 

CG: How about now, with the book completed? Are there any secrets left? 

ES: Of course! We are planning to update the book on a regular basis, the publisher is devoted to keeping it current. There was already a changeover from the first printing—you know how places open and close in New York, so I had to replace about 20 picks. Now that the book’s premise is embedded in my psyche, my eyes are peeled to find those cool places that give New York its character. I’m thrilled to be part of this project. 

Ellen Swandiak is founder of, a website that shows you the secrets to throwing unforgettable parties, plus sophisticated spots to meet up with friends. Click here for more information and here to purchase The 500 Hidden Secrets of New York.

About the Author

Ethan Wolff is the author of numerous guidebooks to New York, having covered the city for more than two decades. He has written for New York Magazine, BlackBook, and Details, among others. In addition to his work as the editor of City Guide, Ethan covers NYC’s talk and lecture scene for the website Thought Gallery. He lives with his wife and two daughters in the Windsor Terrace neighborhood of Brooklyn.

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