City break: New York local time

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The Independent Online
This week: 48 hours with a difference. You arrive in New York with nowhere to stay. Don't panic, writes Rory Cunningham, just follow the locals in the city that never even cat-naps. Spend wisely, and you can kid yourself that a weekend in New York comes absolutely free.

Friday, 9.10pm: arrive at Kennedy airport. Thanks to the vagaries of the global clock and a masterpiece of flight scheduling, you can celebrate the end of the working week with a "bar hop" instead of a pub crawl - sharing Friday night euphoria with some of the world's most manic people in the world's most buzzing place.

Virgin, British Airways and American Airlines all have flights leaving London at 6.30pm that race through enough time zones to have you sitting in a Manhattan bar just as Friday night cranks up.

Friday, 10.30pm: head straight for East Village - the ever-changing maze of restaurants, bars, cafes and lounges that caters for every kink and taste - to an innocuous-looking door numbered 212, on East 10th Street, where a man in black is the only indication of what's inside. Once you've been vetted, a curtain opens on to a slow-moving ballet of waifish bodies bedecked in black: the 10th Street Lounge is home to the seriously self- obsessed.

Although East Village's bars are all within a walk of each other, bar hopping is more of a marathon than the oblivion express back home, so you need to pace yourself ... and cheat a bit, tempering pints of ice-cold Bass with coffee - the fuel that drives New York, day and night.

For the best antidote to the austerity of the 10th Street Lounge, the cloister-like interior of the Swift, 34 East 4th Street, is a cosy sanctuary on a cold night, with Irish bands that put a spring in the weariest stride.

By 2am the Wonderbar, just around the corner, should be throbbing. In the squeeze of this Sixties-like bar, it's impossible not to make contact with the locals. And New Yorkers are a chatty bunch. But after you've reeled off your best anecdotes and begun to relax, having finally connected with your global soulmate, don't be surprised if he/she presents you with a faceful of back and starts afresh in another direction.

So you're unlikely to make any long-term friends during 48 hours in New York, but it's easy to feel instantly at home - the Scratcher, on 209 East Fifth St, another Irish pub, is as near to a local as New York gets, and the perfect venue for the last hour before closing time.

By now, you'll have witnessed 10 shoot-outs, a rape, two murders and an alien invasion ... all under the blazing lights of a film crew. New York is one vast movie set, so it's small wonder a lot of the locals live in a twilight zone - one that the 48-hour interloper can't help missing.

What New Yorkers call "New York Moments" enter from stage left, and vary in intensity from a simple double-take to a life-changing incident. New York Moments are unlikely to happen among the multitude in the tedious trek up the Statue of Liberty.

It's 4am: the bars are closing, you've flogged the old-country card for all it's worth, and you still haven't been invited to a New York party, but all is not lost.

The Tunnel beckons. Catch a cab to 220 Twelfth Avenue at 27th Street.The three-storey Tunnel club becomes progressively more outrageous as the night wears on, but whatever your persuasions, you're guaranteed holiday memories that will stay with you for ever, as only New York Moments can.

Saturday, 8am; breakfast at Tiffany's ... Tiffany's Diner, that is, on Perry St and 7th Avenue, in the heart of Greenwich Village. Here, in a turn-of-the-century atmosphere, a plate piled high with eggs over home fries, bacon and sausages, along with copious cups of coffee, will tee you up for a rigorous day.

9am: go shopping. It's up there with buying a washing machine to get a free pack of washing powder, but it is possible to have 48 hours in New York "free". Clothes, luggage, CDs, cameras, computers ... just about anything you care to name is cheaper here than in England. Buy bulk, and you've soon paid off a pounds 200 air fare. But shopping is also a good way of covering Manhattan's myriad sides.

Start at the bottom of the island, in Lower Manhattan, beside the World Trade Centre, with Century 21 - renowned for cut-price designer labels. During the working week it's trader eat trader, so Saturday's the time to strike.

A 20-minute stroll will take you out of the financial district, past Chinatown and Little Italy, on to the valley that lies between the man- made mountains of Midtown and Lower Manhattan. Meander up Broadway - with its abundance of boutiques - and duck into the trendy shops and galleries of picture-postcard, tourist-ridden SoHo which runs to the left. Grab coffees and snacks at the countless coffee bars, delis and pizza parlours that unfold as you head up Broadway towards Madison Square.

Since the best bits of Manhattan tend to be nearer to orbit than they are to you, it's hard not to spend most of your time gawping skywards - a giveaway that's up there with guidebooks. But there are four Gothic monoliths that definitely merit a stretch. The Flatiron Building is a skinny slice of concrete cake that briefly reigned as New York's highest in 1902, and, in the opposite corner of Madison Square, its gold roof bruising the eyes in the autumn sun, the Metropolitan Life Tower, which usurped the crown in 1909.

Where Broadway hits Herald Square you reach a fitting finish to the day's shop. Macy's is in the heart of Midtown, home to the best two skyscrapers in the world: the Chrysler Building, with its gargoyled Deco dome, and the most famous of them all, the Empire State.

8pm: get an aerial view of Manhattan without losing your cool and becoming a tourist, and with it kick off Saturday night with some of the best cocktails in town. The Top of the Tower, which crowns the Beekman Tower Hotel on 49th and 1st Avenue, looks out to the East River on one side and the Chrysler Building on the other. A martini would be more appropriate, but the Top of the Tower serves a Bloody Mary that is a Saturday night launch pad without equal.

Enough of those and you'd be flying, but show restraint and catch a cab instead, for another side of East Village - a budget-priced culinary extravaganza possibly without equal in the world.

9pm: sighting of the weekend. If it's good enough for Brad Pitt ... The Bowery Bar and Grill may be serious film star territory, and have seriously good food, but it's still very reasonable. Dinner for four (with beer rather than the notoriously expensive wine) comes to about $50. Again, your coffee will be refilled at regular intervals. Don't resist - it's going to be a long night.

11pm: to catch a band, check the freebie Village Voice and the $1.95 New York Time Out for details of what's on, but there are countless small venues where you can hear up-and-coming bands and mix with Manhattans.

For a lounge lizard feel, head for the Fez, at 380 Lafayette under the Time Cafe, or, next to CBGBs - famed for Sex Pistols concerts in Punk's heyday - the Gallery, another stylish venue where new acts get an airing.

Sunday, 4am: there's still time for a couple in the Scratcher - your most likely venue to find a firm enough friend to guarantee some floor space next time you're here. If you're looking for a tamer alternative to the Tunnel, Life, 158 Beecker St at Thompson St, boasts a more mainstream mix of house, hip-hop, retro-pop and lounge music.

9am: ignore the beckoning bells. If you've done everything to plan so far, you'd be the worst kind of hypocrite if you walked into a church right now. Instead, add weight training - in the form of Sunday's monster edition of the New York Times - to the usual diner heart-starter.

Head up to Bloomingdales, on East 59th and Lexington Avenue, and deliver the coup de grace to your plastic (remember: "the more you spend, the more you save"). From there, weave through and either side of Central Park, the vast chunk of countryside framed by the 20-storey Munster-like towers of Upper East and West sides, all the way through to Harlem, for a stark view of America's colour divide, and where you're guaranteed New York Moments, especially if you're carrying 20 shopping bags.

If, however, you're one New York Moment short of a nervous breakdown, put up the shutters (guidebook and camera) and turn tourist, because you're conveniently located for New York's biggest draw card. You'll have to put your skates on to cover the Met's 3 million exhibits in the hour before the 5.15pm closing, but that still leaves you 45 minutes to luxuriate in the Guggenheim's 5,000.

7pm: where better to end an A-Z of a Manhattan weekend than Alphabet City - on the edge of East River - once a no-go area that is now Manhattan's most happening restaurant scene. Here, restaurants are materialising overnight, and one recent arrival is the Oriental Grill that's already a hit among New York's gourmands.

8pm: back to the Scratcher, because there's still time to pump those flimsy friendships for all they're worth. Oh, and mention your mansion back in England.

Sunday, 9.10pm; JFK