New York Attractions
Any New York itinerary has a few standard must-dos – the Metropolitan Museum, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park – but often these spots are crammed with more visitors than residents, and it’s hard to get a real sense of city life. For this, you’ll need to hunt out some less-standard sights, restaurants and markets. More than ever, New York’s real action is on the fringes of Manhattan and in the outer boroughs, so get your Metro card and get riding. You’ll be glad you made the effort to find these off-the-radar attractions.
New York City’s most stylish park counts as “hidden” because you could walk right by it without noticing it suspended above you, along disused elevated rail lines. Crowds flocked to the strip of green on Manhattan’s far west side when it opened in 2009, but now a second section of converted track has given park-goers room to disperse nicely along the full length, from just below 14th Street up to 30th Street. The landscaping is beautiful, but one of the most mesmerizing perches is a bench overlooking 10th Avenue, for an uncommon perspective on city traffic.
Just when it seemed like most of the creative nightlife had fled to Brooklyn, this performance venue opened in Greenwich Village in the space of a former legendary jazz club. The “multimedia art cabaret” books everything from avant-garde classical to quirky literary salons. It’s not too big – about 250 pack in for a seated event, and up to 700 when the dance floor is wide open. And the crowd is invariably as interesting as the main event.
In SoHo, where it can feel like the whole neighbourhood is devoted to nothing but bijou boutiques, the Housing Works Bookstore Café offers a real taste of community. Its massive stock of secondhand titles rewards aimless browsing, and many well-known authors schedule readings here. Next door (and at several other locations around the city), an associated thrift shop offers some equally surprising fashion finds. Proceeds benefit AIDS patients and homeless people.
New Yorkers have finally discovered the joys of real Mexican food, and this is one of several newer restaurants that seek to capture the flavor and flair of America’s neighbour to the south. This basement spot in Chinatown features pulque, a boozy beverage that had nearly died out in Mexico until a younger generation reclaimed the funky fermented-agave concoction. Look for it down a hall lined with Vietnamese signs.
For much of New York’s counterculture, food is the new rock-and-roll, and Smorgasburg is the scene’s weekly Woodstock. On summer weekends, it takes place on the waterfront in East River Park, in the semi-industrial Williamsburg neighbourhood. In winter, it moves indoors to a historic former bank building nearby, with drink deals at Brooklyn Brewery. Either way, wear your stretchy trousers and prepare to graze on some of the best small-scale food in the city, whether newfangled kimchi-bedecked hot dogs or an old-fashioned chocolate egg cream.
The waterfront under the iconic bridge has received a welcome makeover, and the city’s newest park affords amazing river views. On summer nights, look for free outdoor movies, with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop. The area, which encompasses abandoned piers from Brooklyn’s shipping heyday, is still being built on, so every summer brings new attractions.
Fisher Landau Center for Art is devoted to the exhibition and study of the contemporary art collection, and even less known to tourists, this private collection of contemporary art is fantastic – and completely free to visit. Every biggie from the last fifty years is here, from Andy Warhol to Jenny Holzer to Damien Hirst.
Established in 1940 by a street-vendor-hating mayor, this cavernous concrete market hall languished for decades. But in the 21st century, it has grown into a great mix of long-established Lower East Side vendors, like old-school butchers and Latin America grocers, alongside upstart artisans. The notoriously cantankerous Kenny Shopsin has a weird and wonderful restaurant here, and the excellent Boubouki bakery produces delicious Greek sweets.
This MacArthur Award–honored storytelling event now takes place in several cities around the US, but its heart remains in the Big Apple. The shows revel in the simplest form of entertainment – gripping stories, told well – and often feature only-in-New-York moments. Outside of the summer, catch the monthly formal shows, which can gather everyone from writers, to civil-rights lawyers, to window dressers, to tell true tales on a given theme. Or participate in more frequent storytelling “slams”, open to audience members.