Cheap Date: 5 Places To Christmas Carol For Free In NYC


Christmas caroling is one of my very favorite things to do during the season.  I mean, it’s like karaoke…only communal!  And everyone knows all the words!  And need I mention the obvious?  Hot chocolate!

Plus, it’s such a fun date night!  All bundled up, cozying up next to each other sounds pretty great, right?  And who couldn’t have a great time singing renditions of Frosty The Snowman with a group of happy New Yorkers?!

NYC has plenty of opportunities to get your caroling on for free all around the city.  Here’s a few we’re looking forward to checking out this year:


1. Caroling at the Carl Schurz Park

WHEN: Sunday, December 7th, 2014 at 5:00pm

ABOUT: A cherished, family tradition: carols, Cantori choir, Orbital Brass, candlelight, candy canes, hot chocolate… and an evening your family will cherish for years to come.

2. Unsilent Night

WHEN: Saturday, December 13th, 2014 at 6:45pm

ABOUT: Meet at Washington Square Park and carol your way with a big ol’ group to the East Village’s Tompkins Square Park.

3. Caroling on the steps of St. Bart’s

WHEN: Monday, December 15th, 2014 at 5:30pm

ABOUT: A personal favorite of mine, this is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to sing on the steps of the gorgeous St. Bart’s to all the folks walking by on Park Avenue.  A special visitor (St. Nick!) joins and sings along.

4. Washington Square Park Caroling

WHEN: Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 at 5pm

ABOUT: The Rob Susman Brass Quartet and the revelers from all over the city will gather to sing out the familiar tunes.  Caroling books will be distributed, but chances are you’ll know them all by heart!

5. Stuyvesant Square Community Alliance Caroling

WHEN: Wednesday, December 24th, 2014 at 6pm

ABOUT: Join the residents of Stuy-Town as they carol on Christmas Eve.  Hot refreshments will be provided.

What’s your favorite Christmas carol? Share below!

By: Jessica Tiare Bowen




5 Tips For Being An Awesome NYC Guest

Being a guest in NYC is a lot different than other parts of the country…have you tried living amongst several others in 500 square feet (and no, college doesn’t count)?!  That’s what I thought;-)

Now, I can imagine this post may get a bit of backlash from those Couchsurfing, super-friendly Australian types (no judgement!  I love Aussies, they just seem a bit friendlier than people in the rest of the world?), but keep in mind these are just tips I’m suggesting from personal experience, and feedback from NYC friends I’ve spoken with regarding this topic.  I’m by no means trying to be the Taylor Swift ambassador of NYC etiquette, I wouldn’t dare:-)


Without further adieu, here’s how to be a rockstar guest in NYC!

1. Plan Ahead

NYC is just not one of those cities where you can call on a Friday and be like, “hi, I’m jumping on a plane, see you in a few hours.  your couch is free, right?”  I mean, emergency situations, yes.  But not ideal.  If you’re planning to come to the city to stay with friends or family, trust me when I say they will appreciate as much advance notice as possible.

2. Have An Agenda

While it may seem like it’s a better idea to be all, “oh, i really don’t care what we do, you pick!”, this is actually a lot more pressure on your host.  Unless we’re either bff’s or you’re my mom/dad/dog, I probably don’t know you well enough to guess what you would like to do.  So general suggestions are always appreciated.  Do you want to hit up typical tourist spots?  Check out art galleries?  Take a brewery tour?  Catch an off-Broadway performance?  Again, you don’t have to be super specific, but some guidance is always appreciated.

3. Don’t Use A Million Towels/Washcloths

Unless you’re a NYC bijillionaire, chances are you don’t have a washer/dryer in your apartment.  Which means you are either hauling laundry to your basement (if you’re lucky), the nearest laundromat or paying for it to be sent away and washed.  This is not the burbs where you can use a fresh towel daily and just throw it in the wash…make that singular towel last all weekend, folks.  Or else your host will be all…


4. Don’t Ask To Stay With Someone Unless You Genuinely Want To Spend Time With Them

The first year I lived in NYC, I had, like, a million and one guests.  Granted, this was probably because I was a naive 22 year old and didn’t know how to say “no” to people, but it seemed like everyone I was even a casual acquaintance on MySpace with (yes, this was circa 2005) suddenly wanted to visit.  And crash on my couch.  I’m definitely much pickier now about who gets to crash (ahh, the wisdom you gain in your 30’s.)  

So let’s be clear that if you are a guest planning to use a casual friend of a friend that you met once at a bar 5 years ago for a free place to stay while in the city, at least be gracious enough to take your host out for brunch.  And be clean.  For the love of god, be clean.


5. Plan Time On Your Own

Maybe this is more of a personal thing than a NY thing, but I value my alone time, A LOT.  Whether I’m hosting for a weekend or a guest at someone else’s house for a weekend, I am not my best self if I don’t have a dose of alone time.  Plan a morning out at a coffee shop and walk around the city, or a trip to some shops you want to check out.  This still lets you appreciate the city while allowing your host to catch up on errands (and r&r) that is lingering from the week before.  Win/win for everyone!

Do you have any tips on how to be an awesome guest?  Share below!

By: Jessica Tiare Bowen

p.s. thanks to “the office” (i.e. my favorite show ever!) for the images in this post!

This post is part of Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox.




UsedYorkCity Inspiration #13


^^My sister and I got matching reindeer sweaters over Thanksgiving!^^

1. Our gorgeous tree at Rockefeller Center is being lit up tonight, with a special performance from my girl Gaga;-) (via amNewYork)

2. AS IF you need more things on your calendar this month.  But, just for kicks, we love this round-up of 20 festive things to do in NYC during December. (via Gothamist)

3. Love this idea of gifting and reading a different children’s Christmas book every night leading up to the 25th.  And even if you don’t have kiddos of your own you can pick up a few books and donate them to the Pajama Program, a wonderful organization I’m involved with! (via My Sister’s Suitcase)

4. Anyone else never know what to do with all those holiday cards?  These ideas are pretty brilliant…I’m planning on starting the yearly binders. (via Popsugar)

5. Decorate your small apartment all merry & bright with these cute ideas. (via BHG)

What’s been inspiring you this week?






Good Tidings And Spirits To Kick Off The Holidays

unnamed-2A good journalist will do whatever it takes to get the story. Tenacity and great moxie define a reporter’s drive. Sometimes you have to lean on a source to get the information you need. Sometimes you relentlessly pursue a lead until you get results.  And sometimes you need to drink copious amounts of alcohol – all in the name of journalism, of course. It’s rough, but someone has to do it.

The Village Voice recently hosted its second annual Holiday Spirits bash, and “good tidings and spirits” takes on a whole different holiday connotation when taking more than 25 distilleries into account. I felt like I had fallen into a real-life, grownup and slightly surreal type of Charlie in the Chocolate Factory dream come true.  As many festive tastes and cocktails as I wanted?  A moonlit cruise down the Hudson with the city lights twinkling in the background as Lady Liberty kept watch? Um, yes please. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

unnamed-4 unnamed-5There were truly too many to count, but my favorites among the lineup were:

Scorpian Mezcal tequila, whose motto is “worms are for wimps” – hence the scorpion. I wouldn’t have thought tequila would go well in hot chocolate, but it just goes to show what I’ve been missing. Chocolaty goodness with the golden glow of tequila and whipped cream or marshmallows (but let’s be real, whipped cream and marshmallows) = Come To Mama.

Sorel Artisanal Liqueur. Just saying “liqueur” makes me feel I should be drinking with my pinky up, as if sophistication could be gleaned from proximity to fancy liqueurs — or so it would seem after sipping many cordials and elixirs. Sorel makes an exotic concoction containing Moroccan hibiscus, Brazilian clove, Nigerian ginger, Indonesian nutmeg and grain alcohol to make a liqueur that tastes like Christmas in a glass.

Blat Vodka, the most dangerously smooth vodka I’ve ever tasted, simply light years beyond college days of vodka so egregiously terrible that you’d have to drink it before it ate away the bottom of your paper cup. Or so I’ve heard. The brand touts the slogan “100 percent free of impurities,” and while I don’t know if that’s true, it was certainly smooth sailing.

Dutch’s Spirits, with its glamorous backstory of Dutch Schultz and 1930’s prohibition, when federal agents stumbled upon the biggest bootleg moonshine operation in Dutchess Country ever recorded. Dutch’s still follows that old prohibition recipe, which involves a lot of sugar and fermented champagne yeast in the distillation process.

White Pike Whiskey, proudly described by the bartender as “the Lamborghini of moonshines.” It is indeed a white whiskey, “aged” only 18 minutes (apparently the aging process has a lot to do with a whiskey’s amber hue). The result is a mild flavor, subtle enough for whiskey lovers to drink it in Bloody Mary’s, which is exactly how they served it — a welcome respite from all the sugary, syrupy cocktails floating around.

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There was music, merriment, mounds of hors d’oeuvres, and yours truly imbibed until I made a definitive sloshing sound when walking off the boat. New Yorkers and visitors take note: this is a hit that will surely be coming back around next year to kick off the holiday season right.


p.s. gorgeous boozy video above, right? you can enter to win a weekend in Madrid with your significant other here, yay!

Do you have a go-to cocktail for the holidays?  Share below!

By: Sarah Henry of Written in Chocolate




Adorable Mugs For Your NYC Coffee Lover


It’s no joke that New Yorkers love their coffee.  Just take a peek into any Starbucks, located on every single corner, any time of day.  Always a line!  And $4 lattes!  We’re willing to go (and pay) the distance for a good cup of joe in these parts.

Since just about everyone I know is a coffee-a-holic*, I decided to give crafting some personalized mugs a whirl.  It’s seriously like, a 2 second project, and scores major cute points.  Oh!  And if you want to get really innovative with your gift, you can easily wrap it up with a package of coffee from your favorite coffee house.  Voila!  Getting crafty AND supporting small businesses (and no, my friends, Starbucks does not count as a small business.  Head to Culture Espresso.)


-cheap white mugs

-sharpie (i used a regular one and it seemed to do the trick just fine, but searching the internet for instructions, it seems like some people used the oil-based sharpie, and others pebeo markers.  personal preference, I suppose?)

-an oven


1. Doodle, draw, quote, whatever on your mug.

2. Pop the mug in the oven at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, then leave it in the oven until completely cooled.

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Done and done!  Important to note that this project works best with hand washing only (not too big a deal since most NYers don’t have dishwashers, ha!)  But maybe include a little note letting the recipient know not to throw it in the dishwasher just in case;-)

These particular ones I crafted for my sister (we have a silly saying about loving each other 10 times on Thursday, and how every day in our world is Thursday…total goofballs, I know!), and my sister-in-law, whose power animal/muse in life is Blair Waldorf from Gossip Girl.  So naturally….WWBWD?

I hope you enjoyed this little project! 

Would love to know…what would be on your DIY mug?  Share below!

By: Jessica Tiare Bowen

*okay, not EVERYONE in NYC loves coffee.  I’ve met my fair share of tea lovers, and this project would work just swimmingly for them, too!  And for my vino drinkers, I personally love the concept of quoting, “shhh, there’s a chance there’s wine in here.”  I mean, just in case anyone is looking for a gift for me…;-)