New York

A Trip With the Secret Tour Group Changing the NYC Weekend Getaway Game

Julien Levy
Julien Levy
Julien Levy

It’s a postcard-perfect October Saturday in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The fall air is finally crisp, and tawny treetops sparkle like autumnal fireworks in the afternoon sunlight. A pack of tourists up from the city strolls past idyllic homes decorated with jack-o’-lanterns, black cats, and cobwebs. The houses are like palaces compared to the tourists’ tiny apartments 30-some-odd miles downstate in Manhattan and its boroughs. The sidewalks are uncrowded, but the group’s leader is careful to make sure his herd stays together. Someone remarks that he ought to have a flag pole like the kind you see out-of-towners bobbing behind in Times Square, but this isn’t that sort of tour.The day began at Grand Central Station, where nine strangers gathered to meet Joe Ferris and embark on his word of mouth, ascendantly popular backyard getaway series that splits the difference between a staycation and a vacation: In-Betweens.”When this started, I was in a funk,” says Ferris, a 33-year-old editorial manager who lives in Brooklyn. “I do long-distance bike rides and I’d gotten injured on one, just south of the Canadian border. On the train ride back to New York, I was frustrated, looking out the window at all these towns passing by that I’d never considered going to. I asked myself ‘why not?'” When Ferris couldn’t come up with a reason, “I saw this as an opportunity to get friends together and experience new things,” he says.A year later and with 15 trips to his name, Ferris has compiled details on 350 municipalities accessible from NYC by commuter rail, and sorted them into the color-coded spreadsheet he pours over to plan jaunts to the In-Betweens: places that “merit a Now Entering sign on the highway, but not an exit,” he says.

Jim Logan
Jim Logan
Jim Logan

In advance of each outing, Ferris considers the season, picks a town, weaves an exhaustively researched, minute-by-minute program through quirky local attractions, restaurants, and bars, writes up a tidy itinerary that rivals travel agent propaganda of yore, and blasts an invitation to the select but growing number of friends, acquaintances, former coworkers, gym buddies, chatty bartenders, and early adopters who, with an ear to the ground, have managed to get on the list. It’s first come, first served for a limited number of spots — usually fewer than 20. Most sell out within a few days. Anyone can pick a destination on the LIRR or Metro-North and make a day of it, but Ferris makes it look easy.”It’s a social currency factory,” says Dan, a 10-time In-Betweener. “You go to a party and say, ‘I’m going to Danbury, Connecticut, tomorrow — I’m psyched!’ People are like ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ They have a hard time believing there’s no irony, that you’re not mocking anyone because nobody else in New York has really done this.”Every New Yorker who’s been stuck behind obvious tourists walking three or four abreast on the sidewalk with nowhere to be and all day to get there has had the same fantasy: to go to wherever they’re from and dart around like a dizzying subway rat. But Ferris’ getaways make those same folks realize that a languid pace is actually kind of nice — at least for a day or two.In-Betweens is a ton of work for something that isn’t a job, and Ferris doesn’t even attempt to turn a profit. Guests only pay transportation and attraction costs. Their out-of-pocket expense is no more than it would be if they’d planned the day themselves. Most trips cost under $100.

Felix Lipov/Shutterstock
Felix Lipov/Shutterstock
Felix Lipov/Shutterstock

Excursions have included stops at the Billy Joel Motorcycle Museum a miniature golf course, and an oyster farm in Long Island, a bird sanctuary and glass house in New Canaan, Connecticut, an old bank turned arcade in Edison, New Jersey, and an uncharacteristically spendy two-night stay in trendy Beacon, New York, where Ferris’ group rented an Airbnb, visited local shops and galleries, toured Bannerman Castle on Pollepel Island, went kayaking on the Hudson, and ate and drank their way through town. Each person spent $350 for the weekend away.”[He] manages to find these super specific little museums and attractions,” says Megan, who scored her spot on the email list after playing kickball with Ferris. “The proprietors are always equal-parts confused and thrilled that a group of people from the city have found them. The nerdery on display is amazing and hilarious.”

Julien Levy
Julien Levy
Julien Levy

In Sleepy Hollow, the cityfolk mosey from brunch at local favorite Bridge View Tavern — where Newfoundland blue mussels, wild boar chorizo burgers, and warming rounds of spiked hot ciders and craft beers do not require 30-minute-plus wait times — across the town’s main drag toward the Historic Rockefeller estate Kykuit (rhymes with “like it”). After taking in the Rockefellers’ spectacular collection of Brancusis, Picassos, and Calders, it’s time for a drink and a chat at a sports bar called The Huddle, where the vinyl siding, wood paneling, and atmosphere are a near-perfect contrast to Kykuit’s elegance.Breaking bread is integral to every trip’s itinerary, and Ferris is greeted warmly by name everywhere he goes. “I realized on the first trip that, aside from it being a great way to experience a town and its culture, if you get people around a table for a meal or drinks, they’re going to talk to each other. It becomes its own thing,” Ferris says.Two-time In-Betweener Fleur is happily sipping a beer. After moving to New York City from Australia for a job, her only point contact was out of town, but had a suggestion. “My friend Haley trusted Joe,” Fleur says. “She suggested I go on an In-Between. I did, had a lovely time, and that trust was transferred. Now anyone I meet on one of these trips, I assume they’re a good person.” It’s the word-of-mouth assurance.

Julien Levy
Julien Levy
Julien Levy

Soon, the group is off to a pre-Halloween Murder & Mayhem tour of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. They cluster close in the dark, wending their way through tombstones in the historic boneyard. Lit by the moon above and kerosene lamps below, tour guide Laura unspools supposedly true spooky tales with a wink. Crickets chirp in the chilly air perfumed by damp leaves and fireplaces; this is what a late-October evening should be.They shake off the chills over pasta and bottles of wine Red Zebra, a local Italian favorite Ferris visited with a different group around the same time last year. The In-Betweeners debate which of the bone-chilling cemetery stories might’ve been embellished and discuss their dramatic potential as movies or TV-series. Time is flying and someone wonders aloud whether they should just catch the later train — dessert and another drink sound nice.By 11:30pm, the group is headed back to the city, tired and satisfied. They exchange social media handles on the Grand Central Concourse and begin saying their ‘see ya next times.’ They’ve made new acquaintances, seen some spots slightly off the beaten path, and gained a blueprint they can recreate with different groups of friends. These are all places anyone can visit given the time and inclination. At the end of the day, “This as an opportunity to get friends together and experience new things,” Ferris says. A couple of days later, His next planned trip to Yonkers is already sold out, some spots snapped up by folks from the Sleepy Hollow adventure.In-Betweens is exclusive by force of necessity rather than pretension. It must stay small to be sustainable. But Ferris says all are welcome to join the email list. We aren’t going to share his contact information here, but he isn’t that hard to find. Nobody is — it’s called the internet. And the journey to the journey is half the fun.Although he isn’t ruling anything out, Ferris has no immediate plans to turn In-Betweens into a money making scheme. “People getting to see what’s out there, enjoying these towns; the history and culture, the food and drink scenes — that’s a win for everybody, the towns and the people who visit them,” he says. For now, expansion is more attractive than possible profits. “For this to take off as a trend outside of New York would be amazing. Chicago, Boston, Portland — there’s history and commuter rails everywhere.”Sign up here for our daily NYC email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun New York has to offer.

Julien Levy is a writer and native to downtown Manhattan. He now lives in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @JulienLevy_.

New York

Scavenge for Peeps Cookies and More Fun Treats in NYC This Easter

The best Easter desserts in NYC this spring include Easter Bunny Churros and Carrot Cake Macarons.

Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery

As spring makes its way through New York City, not only do we get to enjoy beautiful weather, stunning cherry blossoms, and cool activities priced at $Free.99, but it’s also the perfect time for some limited-edition desserts.

With Easter fast approaching, bakeries are filling their shops with tons of chocolate eggs, carrot cake-flavoured everything and all types of flavours that offer both nostalgia and innovation within the city’s dessert landscape. After you’ve picked up a cake from the city’s best new bakeries, from Easter Bunny Churros to Carrot Cake Macarons, here are 8 Easter desserts to try in NYC right now.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Bakery

Magnolia Bakery

Throughout April
Various locations
There’s great news for devotees of Magnolia Bakery’s Classic Banana Pudding: For Easter, the spot is mixing up the iconic dessert’s vanilla pudding with some carrot cake. The Carrot Cake Pudding is filled with freshly grated carrots, coconuts, pineapples, raisins, and walnuts. And if both bananas and carrots aren’t your thing, they’ll be offering their Classic Vanilla Cupcakes in pastel colours with a Cadbury chocolate egg hidden inside.

Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery
Photo courtesy of Funny Face Bakery

Funny Face Bakery

Through Easter Sunday
NoHo and Seaport
Known for their celebrity face and meme-worthy decorated cookies, fans of Funny Face Bakery know that a new fun design is always just around the corner. For Easter, they’ve created the adorable Hoppy Easter decorated cookie that resembles a classic box of marshmallow Peeps. Along with that, they also have the return of their fan-favourite Caramel Pretzel Chip cookie flavour, plus a set of three mini-decorated cookies perfect for gifting.

The Doughnut Project

Friday, April 7 through Easter Sunday
West Village
With the ever-changing flavours at The Doughnut Project, it’s super easy to miss out on trying out a new debut. But this Easter weekend, there will be two new flavours available. One is of course, a carrot cake doughnut topped with a cream cheese glaze, and the other is known as the Doughnut Nest-a French cruller “nest” with a cream-filled doughnut hole “egg” in the centre.

Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour
Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour
Photo by Cole Saladino, courtesy of The Fragile Flour

The Fragile Flour

Wednesday, April 5 through Easter Sunday
East Village
For stellar vegan desserts this holiday, head to The Fragile Flour, a plant-based bakery and dessert wine bar. They’re known for going all out for each holiday with a variety of new pastry options that you can pair perfectly with a glass of wine. This Easter, they’ll have a whole dessert menu that’s both delicious and gorgeous for posting on IG. The menu includes Stuffed Carrot Cake Cookies, a Lemon Cake (whole or by the slice), some festive cupcakes, and specialty macarons.

Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate
Photo courtesy of Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate

Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate

Through mid April
Midtown
For a luxurious take on Easter chocolates, browse the selections available at Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate. You can even pick the Easter Signature Chef’s Selection for a special box curated by award-winning chefs. For something other than chocolate, choose between the Carrot Cake Macarons or the cake flavored Easter Marshmallow Trio, both of which are almost too cute to eat.

La Churreria

Throughout April
Nolita
This churro-centric spot is putting the cutest Easter spin on their crispy cinnamon churros by twisting them up into bunnies and bunny ears. At Churreria, choose from a Bunny Churro Lollipop topped with your choice of chocolate or dulce de leche and sprinkles, or the bunny ear churros in the Ube and Matcha ice cream sundae or the Ube Milkshake, both of which are made with ice cream from il laboratorio del gelato.

Photo by Briana Balducci
Photo by Briana Balducci
Photo by Briana Balducci

Lafayette

Throughout April
NoHo
You’ve surely seen this croissant tons of times while scrolling through IG or TikTok, whether it’s the Pain au Chocolat one or the latest of the month. Known as Supr√™mes, these filled croissants went viral and continue to live up to the hype each time a new flavour comes out. April’s flavour-sour cherry amaretto with a Luxardo custard and toasted almonds. While you’ll have to be super early and wait in line during one of their three drops of the day to get a taste, we promise you it’ll be worth it.

Photo courtesy of Levain
Photo courtesy of Levain
Photo courtesy of Levain

Levain

Seasonal
Various locations
We all know the iconic cookies from Levain-they’re gigantic, perfectly crispy and chewy, and well worth the long lines. For spring, the shop is launching a new flavour: Caramel Coconut Chocolate Chip. Filled with gooey caramel chips, fresh shredded coconut, and melty dark chocolate, it’s one you’ve got to try while it’s still around. To further celebrate the new season, all of Levain’s storefronts will be decked out in spring floral displays, serving as the perfect backdrop for pictures.

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Alaina Cintron is an Editorial Assistant at Thrillist. Her work can also be found in Westchester Magazine, Girls’ Life, and Spoon University. When she’s not at her desk typing away, you can find her exploring a local coffee shop or baking a new recipe.

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