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On a Budget

The Bargain Hunter's Big Apple

October 18, 1998|ARTHUR FROMMER

Autumn in New York City--why does it seem so inviting? Well, for one thing, of course, the temperatures tend to be comfier and the hordes of summer are thinned (though you'll probably still have to stand in line for the Statue of Liberty).

It's true that sleeping, eating and having fun in the Big Apple are still generally more expensive than just about anywhere else in America. But there are plenty of ways to whittle down your outlays so that a visit to this magnificent city doesn't have to be a wallet-whomper.

(At this time of year you can fly on most major airlines, with a 14-day advance purchase, from L.A. to New York for $324 round trip; and until the end of October Tower Air offers a round trip with no advance purchase for $274.)

Beds and tables: Let's start with hotels. Midtown's 280-room Wolcott, telephone (212) 268-2900, at 4 W. 31st St., is old-fashioned but well maintained, and especially popular with Europeans. Rooms are pleasant and have amenities such as cable television and mini-fridges. Nightly rates start at $65.

Not too far away, the hip and fun Gershwin, tel. (212) 545-8000, at 7 E. 27th St., is full of young people, as well as $82 double rooms with private bath plus a number of hostel-style rooms with bunk beds that go for $25 a night.

The small, 3-year-old Larchmont, tel. (212) 989-9333, at 27 W. 11th St. in Greenwich Village, is a bit pricier than both ($85 to $99 for a double), but consider the digs--four rooms in two ritzy-looking, homey townhouses. But just like in a home, the bathrooms are down the hall.

Similarly, in dining, the home city of notorious, gilded shakedown spots like Lutece and the Four Seasons also hosts many more reasonable options where you can snag a hot meal for less than $10 per person. Your best bet here is to go ethnic. First and foremost, cheap but decent-quality Chinese can be found on practically any block, but there also are excellent choices among the Indian restaurants on East 6th Street between 1st and 2nd avenues, and the Korean eateries on and near 32nd Street between Fifth and 6th avenues.

Night and day: Daytime is tour time, of course, and Manhattan is infested with red double-decker bus tours that careen past the borough's highlights. But you can glean a more personalized, thoughtful experience for just $5 to $10 a person from several outfits that offer walking tours by theme or neighborhood. They include Adventures on a Shoestring, tel. (212) 265-2663; Street Smarts, (212) 969-8262; and Big Onion Walking Tours, (212) 439-1090.

Another daytime option is a free or very low-cost lecture given by one of the city's many cultural institutions and museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim and the Museum of Natural History.

Come evening, the performing arts can still offer lots more than brain-dead mega-musicals and $75 seats--for the time being, at least. Smaller "Off-Broadway" theaters put on about 30 productions nightly at half the price of Broadway, and there are as many as 80 "Off-Off Broadway" shows you can attend for as little as $10 to $12 a ticket.

Listings are found in local weeklies like the Village Voice and Time Out. These publications also list various inexpensive or even free performances of jazz, classical, pop, comedy, you name it.

But if you simply cannot leave New York without seeing "Cats" or "Phantom of the Opera," at least buy at TKTS, where day-of-performance tickets to many shows sell for up to 50% off. One booth is in the middle of Times Square, at 45th Street, and a much less crowded one is located in the underground concourse of the World Trade Center.

For more information on visiting Manhattan, try the New York Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 692-8474.

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