Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides (2016)
UPPER EAST SIDE AND UPPER WEST SIDE
Marley White/NYC & Co
Sip cocktails in the company of Old Masters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
More than 3 million paintings and other artifacts, housed in galleries that stretch for a quarter of a mile, may not figure in your plans for a big night out on the town. But climb the monumental steps from Fifth Avenue, step into the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and you’ll discover that one of the world’s greatest art galleries is also one of the best places in the city to begin a weekend evening (the museum is open until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays). Quartets play classical music, cocktails are served in romantic hideaways, and the galleries are much more navigable in the evening than they are during the day, when they can be as chaotic as Grand Central Terminal. The Temple of Dendur, transposed from the banks of the Nile to a stunning glass atrium overlooking Central Park, is especially atmospheric as soft twilight turns the 2,000-year-old stones golden and the trees just outside darken against the sky. The European galleries are unhurried on these evenings, so take your time to stand in front of El Greco’s View of Toledo, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat, and dozens of other masterpieces so famous that they are comfortingly familiar even to first-time visitors to the museum. Make your final stop the Chinese Garden Court, where the gurgle of water, graceful plantings, and an aura of serenity will restore you for whatever you’re planning to do for the rest of the evening.
The Met puts on a lively roster of concerts and lectures on Friday and Saturday evenings. Check the museum’s website or go to the information desk to find out what’s on. Lectures are about $23, and concerts start at $45. And on a less lofty note: it’s hard to resist the Met Store, a glitzy two-floor emporium near the main entrance with an enticing array of prints, books, and distinctive jewelry and knickknacks based on the museum collections.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fifth Ave at 82nd St; tel. 212-535-7710; Sun-Thu 10am-5.30pm, Fri-Sat 10am-9pm; recommended admission $25 (pay what you wish); [map] F4
Nosh your way up Broadway for a smorgasbord of New York gourmet delights
Upper West Siders aren’t noticeably larger than other New Yorkers, though by rights they should be, surrounded as they are by the city’s most tempting delis and food markets. A culinary walk begins at Fairway (2131 Broadway at W. 74th St, tel: 212-595-1888, [map] C4), a 1930s-era fruit-and-vegetable stand turned exotic food emporium. New Yorkers, not known for saintly patience, tolerate long lines to select from 650 kinds of cheeses, 36 drums of olives, shelves stacked with store-baked bread and babka, and aisles piled dangerously high with fresh fruit and vegetables. Climb the stairs to the cafe and steakhouse for the best Reuben in town by day and aged prime rib by night.
‘Like no other bagel in the world’ claims H&H (526 Columbus Ave at W. 86th St, tel: 800-692-2435, [map] D5), and ‘We agree,’ say aficionados, citing such merits as chewiness and freshness; you can buy just one, but you’ll wish you’d ordered a dozen.
Zabar’s (2245 Broadway at W. 80th St, tel: 212-496-1234, [map] C5) has prided itself on selling the finest smoked fish for 80 years, and still does - along with everything from 8,000lbs of coffee a week, fresh-baked knishes, smoked meats, and an astonishingly large and well-priced array of pots, pans, and other gizmos for the kitchen. The next-door self-service cafe is short on decor, but lobster salad on a croissant and other offerings are so satisfying you won’t mind bumping elbows with the patron on the stool next to yours.
One block east from Broadway is Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam Ave at 87th St, tel: 212-724-4707, [map] D5), ‘the Sturgeon King.’ At the city’s shrine to smoked fish (and other deli classics) you can order over the counter or take a seat at a Formica table beneath dingy murals - clearly, his highness puts the emphasis on freshness, not ambience, and that’s just as it should be.
Hang out with dinosaurs and gaze at the stars at the enthralling Museum of Natural History
Just looking at the American Museum of Natural History, a sprawling expanse of pink granite towers and turrets with a huge crystal cube attached, you can tell that amazing things are going on inside. And they are, from stars shooting across the night sky to giant squid floating through the depths of the ocean. No need to feel like an explorer in uncharted territory as you try to find your way through the four blocks of galleries - free Highlights Tours depart hourly to show off such prizes as the 21,000-carat Princess Topaz, a 63ft-long canoe crafted by Pacific Northwest Indians from a single cedar tree, a 34-ton fragment of a meteorite that careened into the Greenland ice sheets. In enormous and elaborate dioramas created by taxidermists and painters in the 1940s, gorillas, lions, and other magnificent beasts range across the African rainforests and veldts; in the dinosaur halls, Tyrannosaurus rex strikes a rather terrifying stalking pose, surrounded by prehistoric companions.
One of the world’s oldest natural history museums also finds flashy new ways to capture the excitement of the natural world. More than 500 butterflies flutter freely through the Butterfly Conservatory, undisturbed by us spectators watching from a glass tunnel (Oct-May). Cosmic collisions and other stunning extraterrestrial phenomena are earthshakingly recreated in the Rose Center for Earth and Space.
If you have little ones in tow, sign them up for a Night at the Museum (selected Friday and Saturday nights); kids 7 to 13 see an IMAX movie, tour the spookily dark galleries by flashlight, and tuck into sleeping bags beneath a 94ft-long blue whale.
American Museum of Natural History, Central Park West at 79th St; tel: 212-769-5100; www.amnh.org; daily 10am-5.45pm; charge; [map] D4
Enjoy some fin de siècle art and sacher torte
New York often seems to have more in common with the continent across the Atlantic than it does with the one that stretches for almost 3,000 miles from the western banks of the Hudson River. European ambience is especially pervasive in the Neue Galerie, a 1914 Beaux-Arts mansion that would fit right in on Vienna’s Ringstrasse.
Early 20th-century socialites Cornelius and Grace Vanderbilt lived and entertained in the paneled salons overlooking Central Park, and they would probably be pleased to see them now filled with stunning early 20th-century German and Austrian paintings and decorative arts. Few enclaves in New York are more transporting, and all that slightly decadent Germanic art is especially warming on a rainy New York afternoon.
A shimmering gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt is the gallery’s Mona Lisa, an ornate dazzler that evokes fin de siècle Vienna and carries a dramatic provenance to match - the early death from meningitis of the wealthy subject, confiscation by the Nazis in World War II, a protracted court battle to return the painting to the rightful heirs, and a price tag of $135 million; this sum makes the piece the most expensive painting ever sold - to billionaire Ronald Lauder, who assembled this stunning collection with famed art dealer Serge Sabarsky.
Should Adele and works by Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, and other devotees of Art Nouveau and the Bauhaus leave you in the mood to linger over a coffee and sacher torte, sink into a plush banquet in the Café Sabarsky.
Neue Galerie, Fifth Ave and E. 86th St; tel: 212-628-6200; http://neuegalerie.org; Thu-Mon 11am-6pm; charge; [map] F4
Get a new look in the glamorous boutiques of Madison Avenue
Madison Avenue, especially around 65th and 66th streets, is a patch of designer heaven. In shop after shop you will mingle with wafer-thin fashionistas decked out in fabulously chic garb. We mere mortals may feel like country mice scurrying from one glamorous boutique to another, but a short walk is a fascinating foray into the world of high fashion, and you may even emerge with a new look.
Valentino (no. 747) should be your first stop if you expect to find yourself on a red carpet and wish to look your best for the paparazzi. Even if you don’t have a premiere on the agenda, the glamorous gowns and tuxes will make you feel like a star.
Madison Avenue makes a sharp turn east to Milan at Armani (no. 760), where sumptuous limestone walls, dark wood floors and elegant staircases are as much a testament to Italian chic as the sparsely elegant attire for men and women. Attentive staffers who look like models will help you choose formal and casual designs that will ensure you fit into the surroundings.
The name says it all. BCBG (no. 770) stands for Bon Chic, Bon Genre, French for Good Style, Good Attitude. Designer Max Azria creates sexy dresses and shoes for women who have plenty of both.
A short walk north to 72nd Street, the former Rhinelander mansion is a prepster’s heaven. One of the city’s great Gilded Age palaces is now filled with enough Ralph Lauren (no. 867) tweed and plaid to clothe armies of country gents and ladies. Even if your tastes don’t run to duck-emblazoned khakis, stop by for an amusing look-see: to borrow a term from the country club set, the over-the-top horse and houndish environs are ‘an absolute hoot.’
The department store for style slaves of all ages, Barney’s (no. 660) stocks all the latest top designer lines, from traditional to trendy to trashy.
Madison Avenue, [map] E1-F2
Get a closer look at New Yorkers and their worlds at two idiosyncratic museums
Courtesy, Eva Jericna Architects
You can’t spend too much time in New York without noticing that New Yorkers are… well, hard to sum up in one short, snappy phrase. New York is, after all, the most American of cities, founded by the earliest colonials, and the landing pad for wave after wave of immigrants. Two idiosyncratic museums provide a glimpse into this cosmopolitan and complex world and may add a bit of perspective to what you observe on the city streets.
At the Jewish Museum, you will encounter plenty of weighty artifacts, such as a stone from a 1st-century wall erected in Jerusalem to repel Roman invaders, alongside sound and video clips from the great Jewish comedians, most of whom got their start in New York.
At the New-York Historical Society, you’ll see fascinating bits and pieces of Old New York, including 132 lamps by the city’s Tiffany Studios. Also on view are a selection of poignant exhibits from the aftermath of 9/11, including a piece of one of the planes, masks and hats used by rescue workers, and candles used during vigils when the city came together. Few mementoes of that terrible day are sadder, or more important a part of the recent history of this great city.
Jewish Museum, Fifth Ave/92nd St; tel: 212-423-3200; www.thejewishmuseum.org; Sat-Wed 11am-5.45pm, Thu 11am-8pm, Fri 11am-4pm; [map] G5
New-York Historical Society, Central Park W. at 77th St; tel: 212-873-3400; www.nyhistory.org; Tue-Thu, Sat 10am-6pm, Fri to 8pm, Sun 11am-5.45pm; [map] D4
Pay homage at a temple of gastronomy
Time was, Central Park was the great divide when it came to food - one dined on the Upper East Side and simply ate on the Upper West Side. These days you can dine exquisitely on either side of the park and should make it a point to venture north of 59th Street, east or west, for at least one meal.
To say Daniel is one of the city’s temples of gastronomy would sound more trite than it does if the opulent dining room weren’t so beautifully graced with rows of Greek-looking columns and if chef Daniel Boulud weren’t the high priest of innovative French cuisine, elevating such basics as ribs and pork belly to divine realms (closed on Sunday).
An approachable, unpretentious and beachy elegance prevails at Dovetail, where chef John Fraser has carefully curated an experience which pays homage to his California roots. The vegetable-rich menu is anything but boring and will have you gorging on things like sweet pea and wasabi tartlet or cured carrots before your tender plate of duck arrives.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants cover the planet, and the epicenter of the empire is the airily stunning Jean-Georges overlooking Central Park. Creations such as wild mushroom tea and beef tenderloin topped with foie gras quickly put to rest any fears that expanding the brand has taken away from serious cooking. At just under $30 for two courses, Jean-Georges is the best weekday lunch deal in New York (reserve, closed Sunday).
Daniel, 60 E. 65th St; tel: 212-288-0033; http://danielnyc.com; [map] E1
Dovetail, 103 W 77th St; tel: 212-362-3800; www.dovetailnyc.com; [map] D4
Jean-Georges, 1 Central Park West; tel: 212-299-3900; www.jean-georges.com; [map] C2
Go behind the gilded doorways of Old New York at the intimate Frick Collection
The Frick Collection/Michael Bodycomb
While it’s often said that money does not buy good taste (step into Trump Tower in Midtown to see how true that is), steel magnate Henry Clay Frick had plenty of both. The serenely beautiful limestone mansion he built in 1914 is now the intimate Frick Collection, filled with works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Ingres, Fragonard, and other European artists, each one a masterpiece.
The collection is relatively small. You can take a leisurely tour of the 16 galleries in less than an hour, with stops to linger in front of the pictures that capture your attention. One that certainly should is Francesco Guardi’s View of Venice, full of vibrant light and dazzling water that will make you yearn for a setting as beautiful and exotic as the scene the artist captures. One is near at hand. Just down the corridor is an atrium filled with exotic palms and statuary surrounding a fountain and pool. The story goes that Frick said he created all this opulence to make business rival Andrew Carnegie’s mansion at 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, now the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, ‘look like a miner’s shack.’ That would be hard to do, and both houses are rich remnants of New York in the Gilded Age.
Bemelman’s Bar (Carlyle Hotel, 35 E. 76th St) just around the corner is the sort of dim, elegantly hushed place where glamorous characters in old movies set in New York engage in sophisticated banter, as have such real life regulars as Jackie O.
Frick Collection, Fifth Ave and 70th St; tel: 212-288-0700; www.frick.org; Tue-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-5pm; charge; [map] E2
Unwind with river views at Riverside Park or a swim in an exotic pool
Island that Manhattan is, some of the city’s most refreshing retreats are on the miles of waterfront acreage. On the Upper West Side, Riverside Park follows the Hudson River for almost 4 miles. You can plant yourself on a shady lawn for a picnic, or find refreshment at the park’s riverside cafes at 70th Street, next to a pier where outdoor films are screened on Wednesday evenings at 8pm; at 79th Street, above the Boat Basin; and at 105th Street. On the Upper East Side, a long pier is a breezy riverside perch at 107th Street, and Eli’s Vinegar Factory (431 E. 91st St, tel: 212-987-0885, off map), supplies prepared meals for a picnic in Carl Shurz Park, on the river at 86th Street.
Manhattan’s YMCA is a lovely red-brick Italianate-style tower on 63rd Street near Central Park West. Swimmers will be delighted to discover two large and stylish pools in the depths of the building, both surrounded by beautiful hand-decorated Italian tiles that create the exotic aura of a Roman nymphaeum (Mon-Fri 5am-10.45pm, Sat-Sun 8am-7.45pm, [map] C2). The longest pool in Manhattan, a full Olympic-length 50 meters, is at Asphalt Green, a large sports complex. Both have well-equipped gyms, as well as saunas and steam rooms. The best place for an outdoor dip is the John Jay Pool (June-early Sept, 11am-7pm, [map] H2) tucked into a patch of greenery next to the East River at the east end of 77th Street. Locker facilities are minimal (bring your own lock), but on a hot summer day all you’ll really care about is diving into the refreshing water.
Enjoy a night at the Opera
Opera, it’s said not entirely irreverently, is when a guy gets stabbed and instead of bleeding, he sings. This sentiment captures the magic of the wildly extravagant art form, and New York is blessed with one of the world’s best opera companies. The Metropolitan Opera has staged dozens of American and world premieres, from Italian bel canto classics to new work, and presents the finest voices in the world. Enrico Caruso, Maria Callas, Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, Renée Fleming, and just about every other voice familiar even to non-opera buffs have sung on its enormous stage. The Met also pioneered innovative technology that allows simultaneous translation on computer screens in front of each of the 3,900 seats.
For all these superlatives, the Met is also remarkably proletarian - you can enjoy one of the majestic productions for as little as $35 for a seat in the family circle or even less with day-of-performance discounts. And you should - a night at the Met is right near the top of the list of only-in-New York experiences. Should you be mesmerized, you can go backstage to see such stage-magic wonders as a turntable 60ft in diameter on tours during the season most weekdays at 3.30pm and Sundays at 10.30pm, for $15.
The Met’s home is the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, a 16-acre campus on the Upper West Side the company shares with such illustrious neighbors as the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet, and the City Opera. The season runs from October through May; the box office is in the foyer of the Metropolitan Opera House.
Metropolitan Opera House, Broadway at 64th St; tel: 212-362-6000; www.metopera.org; Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm; [map] B2
Day-of discount tickets are available from the David Rubenstein Atrium across the street on Broadway between West 62nd and West 63rd streets.
Catch some outdoor culture in Central Park
While Central Park is often touted as the greensward where New Yorkers escape their concrete canyons and get in touch with nature, what really makes these 837 acres so intriguing are the antics of New Yorkers. To paraphrase Shakespeare, all Central Park is a stage.
The park’s official stage is the outdoor Delacorte Theater ([map] E4) where the New York Shakespeare Festive mounts two productions a summer. Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, and Al Pacino are among the many stars who have performed in recent seasons against a sylvan backdrop of the Turtle Pond, a green sweep of grass and trees, and Belvedere Castle. Tickets are free, but you may consider getting one to be yet another challenge this hard-edged city throws at you or just part of the fun - that depends on how you feel about getting up at dawn and waiting in line for seven hours or so. Many inveterate theatergoers love the ritual, so join these bagel-munching know-it-alls to get an earful of inside dish on the New York theater world as you snake around the Great Lawn. Free tickets are distributed at 1pm on days of performances; for more info, go to www.publictheater.org.
No such hijinks are required to attend the summer performances by the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic. Thousands of listeners pour onto the Great Lawn ([map] E4) to dine alfresco, listen to bel canto and symphonies, and safely enjoy the park under the night sky (even in post-gentrification New York, at other times it’s still provident to keep in mind the advice of poet Ogden Nash, ‘If you should happen after dark / To find yourself in Central Park / Ignore the paths that beckon you /And hurry, hurry to the zoo / And creep into the tiger’s lair. Frankly you’ll be safer there’).
You’re likely to come upon a performance or two at just about any time in the park, especially on weekends. Bethesda Terrace ([map] E3), where a lovely broad staircase descends to an ornate fountain and the lakeshore, is an impromptu stage for drummers, mimes, puppeteers, and other performers good enough to draw large, appreciative crowds of onlookers. The north end of Literary Walk, a stately promenade lined with elms and statues of poets, is the incongruous haunt of break dancers and rappers. Strawberry Fields, a beautifully planted oasis ([map] D3) near West 72nd Street that memorializes John Lennon, inspires many visitors to strum guitars and sing Beatles songs.
Central Park, [map] C1-G5
For information on concerts and other events, go to www.centralpark.com
Picnic in the park
Below New York is the solid bedrock that provides a firm foundation for the city’s iconic skyscrapers. Most conveniently, outcroppings of these rocky underpinnings poke through the greenery of Central Park to provide perfect perches for picnics. Especially choice spots are the diminutive mountain range of bedrock that rises just to the south of the Turtle Pond (the highest summit is crowned by Belvedere Castle) and a rocky landscape that rises and falls around the Carrousel, just east of the zoo. Another sylvan spot is the Pinaetum, a fragrant grove of pines at the northern edge of the Great Lawn. A convenient stop for provisions is Whole Foods, in the Time-Warner Center on Columbus Circle, at the southwestern end of the park.