Forget the "I Heart NY" t-shirts and Statue of Liberty figurines. These locally made souvenirs show how well you really know the city.
Though there are plenty of shops in Manhattan selling snow globes, figurines, and clothing that sports the ever-ubiquitous "I Heart NY" logo, savvy travelers know there are better purchases to be made in the Big Apple. Always ahead of the trends, New Yorkers are known for innovation, which means visitors can find unique keepsakes and gifts unavailable anywhere else. These are some of our favorites, from liquor distilled in Brooklyn to tote bags that subtly bestow an insider status on the wearer.
New York Distilling Company Gin & Rye
Anyone who appreciates this city’s cocktail culture will love the small batch spirits by the New York Distilling Company, which are poured in bars city-wide. Located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the distillery offers free tours and tastings on the weekends. After sampling a few cocktails made with their signature gins and ryes at the on-site bar called the Shanty, you’ll want to bring home a bottle or two and mix up your own gimlets and sazeracs.
A collection of personalized maps by New Yorkers both anonymous and famous, Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers compiles dozens of personal recollections about the Big Apple. Author Becky Cooper distributed blank maps to the contributors and asked people to annotate them with personal associations instead of major landmarks. The result is a touching compilation of illustrated maps that has been compared to Post Secret for its confessional quality.
Mast Brothers Chocolate
For a sweet remembrance of your time in New York, pick up a bar or two by Brooklyn’s favorite artisanal bean-to-bar chocolatiers. The Mast Brothers revamped their flagship store in Williamsburg earlier this year with a streamlined design, more tours, and new bonbon flavors. With beautifully designed wrapping, they make great gifts, too. Best of all: the bars are so small you can bring back several.
Model Water Tower
Skip the cheesy Statue of Liberty figurines and instead pick up a model water tower kit. Locally crafted by Boundless Brooklyn, the DIY water towers are made of recycled chipboard and are fun gifts for crafty kids (and adults) who can assemble and decorate their own. Nearly as widespread as real water towers, the kits are available at MoMA Design Stores, PowerHouse Books, Owl and Thistle General Store, Red Pearl, the High Line, and many other shops around the city.
Sweets by Momofuku Milk Bar
Award-winning pastry chef Christina Tosi turns out famously quirky-but-addictive treats like crack pie, compost cookies, and cake truffles. Though there are now seven Milk Bar locations in New York, Washington D.C., and Toronto, it all began in Manhattan’s East Village. Stop into any of the bakery’s New York City locations to pick up some sweets to go, or have them shipped when you buy online. Aspiring pastry chefs can even take a class at the Williamsburg production kitchen or take home one of Tosi’s cookbooks.
Whitney Museum Tote Bag
Skip the ‘I heart NY’ gear—insiders show their allegiance to New York’s top spots by carrying a tote bag subtly emblazoned with the name of a favorite museum, gallery, or bookshop. For art lovers, a canvas tote from the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking district is the bag du jour. For bibliophiles, a tote from the Union Square literary mecca known as The Strand is a must-have.
Laura Itzkowitz is a contributing digital editor at Travel + Leisure. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lauraitzkowitz.