Ultimate 24-Hour Guide to Living Large on Your Tax Refund in NYC
Whether you're getting nothing back or the government owes you thousands, we've got 24 hours of fun that'll make you fall in love with NYC
This spring, it looks like April showers will bring tax refunds. According to the IRS, tax refunds are up this year (by 3 percent) with the average refund tallying $3,034. If you’re one of the lucky “average” ones, here are three 24-hour itineraries with suggestions for how to celebrate with your found money on a typical weekend day (we’re assuming you have to work during the week to earn that refund!) in New York City. Note that our itineraries work as well for New Yorkers who want to spend their money where they live as they do for visitors who want a vacation on Uncle Sam.
IF YOUR TAX REFUND IS $0
Hey, at least you don’t owe! You’re still in the black, and as they say in gambling, “a push is a win.” Mark the occasion by taking advantage of the city’s best free or low-cost fun.
Breakfast ($5): Start the day with a bargain breakfast. Say “thanks, NYC,” with an emblematic bagel at the classics — at Murray’s Bagels in Chelsea ($3.20) or Russ and Daughters in the Lower East Side ($2.75). An egg and cheese on a roll from the old-school Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop in the Flatiron ($2.50) will fill your belly and, as they promise “raise your cholesterol.” Nab a street coffee for a cool $1 or $1.50.
Nature and art walk (free): Next up, take a vigorous walk on the High Line, which runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 29th Street in Chelsea before browsing the neighborhood’s art galleries. The streets between 18th and 25th, west of Ninth Avenue, are full of free painting, video and photography exhibits from both established and up-and-comers. Two to look out for: The Claire Oliver Gallery is hosting Vanilla Scented Sovereignty by Lisa Alonzo through April 26 and Atlantic Gallery has Max Tzinman’s Duality on view through May 3. Most are closed on Sunday, so make this a Saturday activity — some galleries open as early as 10am.
Lunch ($3-$6): To keep costs down, Hit Rudy’s Bar & Grill in the Theater District, and order a signature brew (or two), and get a free hot dog (or two) ($3 beers).
Bargain hunting (free): Wander back down to Chelsea to discover history through antiques at the Chelsea Antiques Garage, a veritable museum of low-priced domestic and foreign treasures; or pick up something from an up-and-coming designer at The Market NYC in the heart of the Village.
Happy hour ($3-$6): Lift a glass and toast to keeping it “even Steven.” Parkside Lounge on Houston offers $3 beer and well drinks 1pm to 8pm daily; and you can’t beat a $3 mug of McSorley Ale at Corner Bistro in the Village.
Dinner ($10-$20): Eat well and with good value at spots such as Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque, where entrees such as brisket of a half-chicken are less than $9. While at Curry Hill’s modern, standout Indian, Chote Nawab, entrees such as chicken tikka masala and lamb saag run from $9 to $11 — startlingly low prices given the lovely trappings. Or, as any frugal New Yorker knows, head to Chinatown; the legendary noodles and dumplings at Lam Zhou are a favorite and most items ring in at around $5.
Night out ($0-$20): Get on the standby line for gratis entertainment from the cast of Saturday Night Live, for either the 8pm dress rehearsal or for the 11:30 live show. Or hit a Village piano bar such as Marie’s Crisis Cafe or The Duplex for sing-alongs without cover.
Nightcap ($3-$10): Yes, you can afford it! Catch some music after hours at Fat Cat in the Village when open jam sessions start at 1:30am ($3 cover, plus drink money — PBRs are $3).
Stay ($0-$129): Cozy up at your home sweet home — the rent is already paid if you’re a resident. If you’re visiting, book one of NYC’s nicest inexpensive rooms, such as the ironically named Harlem Flophouse — it’s much better-appointed than it sounds — with rooms starting at $128, or the Chelsea Lodge with rooms starting at $129.
IF YOUR TAX REFUND IS LESS THAN $1,000
You’ve got a little dough to play with, and we’ve got just the right mix of food, shopping and Broadway (plus a cocktail or two) for you to blow your money on.
Breakfast ($20-$30): Grab a hearty bite at Joe and Misses Doe in the East Village (brunch entrees $12-$20), where the biscuits are religion, or choose from hundreds of menu options at Shopsins in the Essex Market (entrees $12-18). Since you can do better than street coffee, take a walk to one of NYC’s beloved local java joints for a fancy beverage, such as Third Rail Coffee or Joe ($2.50-$4.50), both with multiple locations throughout Manhattan.
Shop, shop, shop (up to $400): If your definition of fun involves the cha-ching of a credit card, head to NoLita for its boutiques. Hit casual indie favorite CourtShop for high-waist skinny jeans and Pamela Love pendants or the flagship Tory Burch for her signature logo gear; then head down to SoHo to do some damage at Bloomingdales, which carries big names like Diane von Furstenberg, Nanette Lepore and Nudie Jeans. If you want more bang for your buck, check Racked.com for current sample sales so you can walk away with big-ticket items for much less. Keep the refund budget in mind — $500 or less should do it.
Take to the water ($38.25): Both locals and visitors will enjoy seeing the city from a fresh angle on the Shearwater Classic, an 82-foot schooner at 12:30 on Saturdays and 2pm on Sundays (adjust your shopping and lunch schedule accordingly). Built in the 1920s as the personal yacht of Charles E. Dunlap, a prominent NYC businessman, the yacht was recognized as a national landmark in 2009.
Lunch break ($60): Take advantage of prix-fixe lunch menus at otherwise just-out-of-reach luxury restaurants such as the fabled Jean-Georges in the high-end Trump International Hotel & Tower, the celebrated chef’s Taste of Spring, menu (two courses for $38), is available all weekend long. Take a stroll in nearby Central Park to work off lunch (and to squeeze in a nap) before starting back up again.
Happy hour ($20-$40): Throw back a few at some of NYC’s best new bars, such as The Bar at the Nomad Hotel in Midtown, where you can sip a cognac- and rye-based Let it Loose cocktail ($16) and literally do the same. Or head downtown to the celebrated Dead Rabbit for a throw-back Pistache Fizz ($14). The retro-classic drink dates from 1895 and blends green tea-infused gin, fresh lime juice, pistachio syrup, eucalyptus tincture, double cream, egg white and siphon carbonic.
Dinner ($60-$100): Dine on the early side at the more casual, sister restaurants of top-tier spots, such as Nomad, sibling of the wildly popular 11 Madison Park; DB Bistro Moderne, the younger, more casual relative of Daniel Boulud’s Daniel; and the birthplace of the db bistro burger; or Union Square Cafe, the restaurant that started it all for Danny Meyer. Entrees at all are $18 to $35.
Night cap ($7-$9): A late-night glass of amaro at Mario Batali’s Otto in the Village can be paired with gelati from 10pm to 2am ($7-$9).
Stay ($162-$265): Check in to a nice mid-priced hotel to use the rest of your budget, such as the modern Hudson (from $162) near Central Park, the more regal Iroquois in Midtown, or the funky-friendly Pod Hotel, in Midtown East (from $265).
IF YOUR TAX REFUND IS $3,000 AND UP
Time to spend some of that cash that Uncle Sam’s been hoarding in style.
Breakfast ($50-$130): Indulge at longtime society favorite, Norma’s at Le Parker Meridien in Midtown with a foie gras brioche French toast ($32) or the Zillion Dollar lobster frittata ($100 with 1 ounce of caviar).
Really shop ($1,000-$2,000): Give your closet a makeover and take on a personal shopper for the day at famed Fifth Avenue department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman or Henri Bendel. Those Stuart Weitzman pumps, that creamy leather satchel, the Saint Laurent number you can’t live without … they’re now in reach.
Lunch ($50-$70): No need to stray far from your spree, as the rather sumptuous Nobu 57 is just a few blocks away. Nibble on sushi and sashimi or splash out with that famous black cod miso (lunch combos from $36-$52).
See the city like the 1 percent ($349-$414): Whether you’ve lived here all your life or you’re just seeing it for the first time, it’s fun to feel like a rock star. Take a luxury tour of NYC in style, via limousine, where your own private chauffeur will show the sites via GrandGothamTours. Splurge on one of several packages offered, such as The Uptowner and The Brooklyn Tour, or design your own (Tours start at $199 an hour). If you prefer to see things from a bird’s eye view, try a helicopter tour of city with Liberty Helicopter ($150 per person for a 12 to 15 minute peek or $215 for an 18 to 20 minute journey).
Happy hour ($30-$130): Raise a glass at the Champagne Bar at the Plaza Hotel ($26). Or pamper yourself with a caviartini, martini garnished with a caviar cube ($18) and caviar service ($51-$91) at Petrossian, the restaurant operated by the namesake caviar retailer. The art deco interior with its Lalique crystal wall sconces, a Lanvin chandelier and pink Finnish granite politely screams “You’ve made it.”
Dinner ($400-$600): You’re going to want to save dinner for after the show to properly enjoy the country’s priciest restaurants at the Time Warner Center, which deliver on the cuisine and amazing night views. You can’t go wrong with either one: At Thomas Keller’s elegant Per Se, live it up with the nine-course tasting menu ($310), a parade of extravagance with signatures such as “oysters and pearls,” a sabayon of pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and sterling white sturgeon caviar; or get spoiled with personalized service from chef Masa Takayama at Masa, his 26-seat Zen temple of sushi ($450-$600 per person).
Stay ($1,000 and up): Live it up somewhere swanky in Midtown such as the Plaza (from $595) or the Pierre (from $540). Both have terrific spas to take advantage of — signature treatments at the Pierre’s Indian-inspired Jiva Spa include the Champi head massage (from $180).
Night cap ($17): Assure a good night’s sleep with a drink from Lantern’s Keep nightcap menu. The Chancellor ($15), made with blended Scotch, Islay Scotch, port, sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters, ought to do the trick.
Total: $3,034 to the sky is the limit