When you see New York City-dwelling twentysomethings in movies and on TV, they are typically shown in trendy parts of Brooklyn and Queens (see: "Girls," "Broad City"). But the cold, hard truth is that many of those neighborhoods simply aren't affordable for someone who is bogged down with student loans, they're often pretty inconvenient when it comes to transportation, and there are plenty of other neighborhoods that are cheaper and just as exciting—even in Manhattan.
Although downtown living may be more exciting for nightlife, moving uptown to the Upper East Side or Upper West Side can actually give you more bang for your buck. With many people skipping the upper boroughs in their searches, it leaves more great housing at better prices for those in the know.
[Editor's Note: This article previously ran in June, 2015 and is being presented again in case you missed it.]
I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not talking about the "Real Housewives of New York" version of the Upper East Side or the townhouses near Central Park on the UWS. Whether it’s a high-rise building on Third Ave (or further East) or a walkup on Columbus Avenue, I'm here to make the argument that it’s time to migrate uptown.
I have lived around 96th Street on both sides of the park for the past four years after briefly living downtown, and I can’t imagine it any other way. I pay $900 in a share—at least $300 less than some of my Brooklyn and Queens friends—and have much more of a neighborhood feel than the busy, bar-filled streets of the East Village where I used to live. You can actually sleep at night when bros aren’t screaming outside your window all night.
Still need some convincing? Here's my thinking:
Pro: You get more for your money
I've been able to live with roommates for around $1,000 on the UES and UWS. I have a friend who pays around $1,100 at 82nd and Second Avenue and know someone who rented a spacious studio for $1,400 on 92nd and Third Avenue.
Compared to the $1,400 for a two-bedroom Bushwick share that a friend has (and it’s a 20-minute walk to the DeKalb L train stop) or an East Village shoebox that’s even more (the median rent for a studio in that neighborhood is over $2,200), uptown gets you more space for your hard-earned cash. I lived in a 16-foot-by-14-foot room for more than three years that was twice as big as my friend’s place downtown (and it was in a luxury building, too) for only $1200.
Pro: You'll sleep better
Aside from the occasional siren or honking cab, I was rarely overwhelmed by noise on the UES, and now that I live on the UWS, it’s even quieter. Although it can get a little louder on main avenues like Broadway or Lexington, living on a quiet side street feels a little like a suburb, thanks to most of my neighbors being families. At the same time, there are still enough people out late at night — mostly young people migrating uptown — so you don’t feel like you’re in a creepy ghost land when walking home from the bar. And it’s still easy to grab a cab.
Pro: It's starting to feel younger
If you walk up and down Broadway on the UWS, there's no shortage of great bars and restaurants. In lower Harlem, there's Marcus Samuelsson's Streetbird, in addition to Red Rooster, and there’s an outpost of Levain Bakery with barely any wait on 117th Street. Brunch is always hoppin’ on both the UES and UWS with young people lining the outdoor patios in the summer for Eggs Benedict and mimosas at places like Jacob’s Pickles (84th and Amsterdam) and The Writing Room (89th and Second Ave.).
For shopping, one of my favorite shopping plazas is on 96th and Columbus, housing T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, Petco, Michael’s, Sephora, Whole Foods and their cheap wine store, plus Bareburger and Yogurtland for a bite to eat. There's also a lot of retail between 72nd Street and 86th Street, with Victoria’s Secret, Aldo, Trader Joe’s, Marshall’s, Fairway, and the big AMC theater (with leather recliner seats) within those 14 blocks. Of course, there are lots of smaller boutiques, too, but the chain stores often offer better deals.
Pro: Getting around is pretty easy
The UWS has some of the best train accessibility with the 1, 2, 3 and A, C, E close by, and plenty of buses in case you don’t live right next to a stop.
The east side only has one train line currently with the 4, 5, 6, but maybe one day we’ll see the Second Avenue subway come to life. Until then, the only con for the UES is if you live far east, you'll have to trek a few avenues every day to commute. Thankfully, hailing a yellow cab (or calling an Uber) is pretty easy in both neighborhoods and crosstown buses help ease the pain.
Pros: There's nightlife, it's just not as in your face
If you spend your weekend doing shots and getting schwasted at brunch, the UES and UWS may not be ideal for you (though you'll be able to find those places if you're willing to do a bit of research, of course).
There are lots of great bars and restaurants, but they aren’t like Joshua Tree or Continental — they’re more chill and less fratty. In my new neighborhood, I sometimes find it difficult to locate late-night eats right outside my door since I live closer to Central Park, but a short walk away on Broadway, I can find some great places. And where I used to be on the UES still had plenty of good options.
Con: Your friends may want to hang out elsewhere
I’m lucky enough to have most of my friends uptown now, either in Harlem or on the UES or the UWS, but I’ve heard many stories about friends’ friends not wanting to come “all the way uptown” for dinner or to hang out. If you have a lot of friends in Brooklyn or downtown, they may want you to come down instead, which can mean long train rides if you live on a local stop, a few train switches if there’s not a direct route — especially in BK — or expensive cab rides.
Con: They aren’t the “coolest” neighborhoods
Even though the UES and UWS are established neighborhoods, they don’t have the same “cool” factor of saying you live in Williamsburg or the East Village. Sometimes I catch myself saying “but not in the ritzy part” when I mention where I live, which seems silly, but it’s habit—as a twentysomething, I don’t want to be associated with rich ladies and housewives. These days, a good number of my friends live on the UWS, so it makes it easy to gather everyone together. Start a new trend and soon, you may be in the same boat, never having to trek out to Brooklyn for brunch again.