Newlyweds Mariana and Todd were renting a 500-square-foot one bedroom on the Upper East Side. They loved their location and enjoyed all their neighborhood had to offer—but it was tough for two people to live and work in such a small space. They have dreams of buying but when they saw all the rentals available during the height of the pandemic, they decided to keep renting and landed in the Murray Hill/Kips Bay area. It doesn’t have the same vibe as the UES, but there’s plenty to like. Here’s Mariana’s story.
I grew up an hour outside of Los Angeles County and my husband Todd is originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania. We met in Southern California and made our way to the city in late 2019—that was after we had our destination wedding in Manhattan in 2018, which ignited our desire to move to the Big Apple and invest in our future here.
Our original plan was to buy, but that didn’t happen—even though we are constantly looking. We landed in a rental in the Lenox Hill area of the Upper East Side on a picturesque, tree-lined street with doormen and greenery in front of the buildings. We didn’t realize when we first moved in that the trees on the block were lit up during the Christmas holiday season. It was like having a Christmas spectacular outside our window.
We didn't choose a doorman building to keep our costs down, part of our long-term plan to own someday. We also opted for a walkup building, and fortunately we didn’t end up on a high floor.
The apartment was a 500-square-foot, railroad-style, narrow one bedroom that only received sun during certain hours of the day. On the plus side, it had lovely, high ceilings and two, large windows in the living room. We could hear the bustling sounds of the city, which we loved—especially during the pandemic when we were stuck at home, waiting for the 7 p.m. cheer for essential workers. There was laundry in the basement and the rent was $2,500.
All in all, we didn’t do so bad, considering how expensive the rental market is right now.
[Editor's Note: Brick Underground's series “Transitions” features first-person accounts of what it’s like to move from one New York City neighborhood to another. Have a story to share? Drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity.]
Our bedroom had a door that led to a small patio/fire escape, where we set up a table and had our coffee in the morning and cocktails in the evening. Our downstairs neighbors had a huge patio and hosted Shabbat dinners every Friday night. It felt like we were a part of them.
The absolute best part about the UES and our location was that the neighborhood felt safe. We were only about five blocks from Central Park and it felt like we were close to so many great spots: the Bethesda Fountain area, the Q and bus lines, and major retailers like Target. I was even able to line up all my doctors within a three-block radius. Imagine your physician, dentist, optometrist, pharmacist all within a short walk!
Since our activities on the UES were limited due to the pandemic, Central Park became a vital outlet for us. We had picnics and walked around the paths. It was essential to be able to get out of our apartment and enjoy nature and fresh air. Sometimes we would walk as far as 80 blocks. We even walked down from the UES and crossed over the Brooklyn Bridge.
We also rode Citi Bikes often and explored different neighborhoods. Our car was also a lifesaver for us and for weekend or day-trip getaways. We explored places like Bethel Woods where Woodstock was held, the Catskills, Hamptons, Montauk, the North Fork, Philly, and New Jersey. We found the UES to have some of the easiest parking compared to anywhere else in the city, so that was a big deal.
Eating out and ordering in is a big part of our lifestyle, like it is for most New Yorkers. Some of our local favorites on the UES included La Esquins, which has some of the best steak tacos and esquites. Bua Thai always had great food and fun drinks. Sushi Ren did it for our sushi fix, but we’re still in search of the best sushi in the city. NR was our pick for some of the best and well-crafted cocktails uptown, very unique. Our go-to for a quick five-minute delivery for our favorite Orange Chicken dish was Six Happiness. What’s New York without a go-to delivery place, right?
Overall, we were happy with our first apartment in the city, but the size was not sustainable long term—both of us were working from home. (I work in health tech and my husband is in real estate.) We needed more space for work.
We debated moving again and whether to rent or buy but the city had so much rental inventory, as a result of people fleeing. Ultimately, we decided to continue renting. We started looking for places in the winter of 2020 and we missed out on several great places because we were looking way too early and did not want to break our lease.
StreetEasy became almost an addiction during the pandemic, thanks to new listings being uploaded hourly and viewing different apartments becoming a hobby. It was no easy task however. After seeing what felt like nearly 100 apartments, we went into analysis paralysis. But in the end, we found our place in the Murray Hill/Kips Bay area. We ended up moving in April 2021 when our lease was over.
Our new place is in a tall doorman building, with a rooftop that nearly feels like our own private patio. The view of the Empire State Building from our living room was ultimately the selling point, plus being it’s close to a Trader Joes, which was a must for us!
It’s still a one bedroom but wider, bigger, modern, with tons of light and more space to work. It’s a dream to have the skyline in our living room and be able to see the Chrysler, Vanderbilt, and MetLife buildings, and the lights of Times Square and the Empire State Building. I didn’t know the Empire State Building had that many colors in its repertoire. As for the rent, we’re paying $3,000 versus the $3,450 pre-Covid rent.
The neighborhood and vibe are a whole different world from the UES. Of course, all neighborhoods in NYC are different, but this is like night-and-day different. We really didn’t grasp that the Murray Hill/Kips Bay area is known for its recent-grad population (read: fraternity-like) until living here. It’s near Midtown, so its busier and livelier overall, which we wanted, but not exactly the kind of livelier we were looking for: It's a bit grittier and not quite as safe a feeling as the UES.
The building is well-kept with great staff. The location is more accessible to Downtown. It is also easy to get to the West Side and we can hop on ferries to get to other boroughs, explore more parks and diverse pockets of the city, have more food, night-life options, and be closer to shopping.
However, it’s impossible to find parking around here. And living on a higher floor makes you feel a bit removed from the city’s hustle and bustle. Not hearing the sounds of the city is something we actually miss from our second-floor unit on the UES.
We have not explored this area as much as we would like to but have a couple go to spots: Dock’s has some of the best oysters in town and a good happy hour; La Vera Pizzeria has quickly become one of our favorite pizza spots for their pepperoni and chicken Caesar pizza—a must try. And we have multiple bodegas where we are always grabbing a bacon, egg, and cheese—unlike the UES.
We live next to a Trader Joe’s, although ordering in and grocery delivery is still just as easy as on the UES. Doorman versus no doorman does take time to get used to. And the laundry room in this building is one of the best we’ve seen in the city—they have ballerina paintings hanging on the walls!
We do not have to commute for work, which is good because we are a bit further from the train. We use the bus and Citi Bikes more often now, plus the ferry in warmer weather. And we still have the car for longer trips.
Overall, we feel we are saving in the long run and living in a much happier space than the UES; although we may be paying a couple hundred dollars more it’s less than it would have been pre-Covid. The skyline view checks off one of our New York City dreams and hopefully soon enough we’ll be onto our next Gotham dream as homeowners.
We are happy to be near the heart of the city and begin to see the city come back to its full glory little by little. I read a quote recently, “There are many New Yorks, but Midtown is the place to go when you want to eat and drink New York, New York.” Locals should embrace this now more than ever given what the city has been through.
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