MIDTOWN - Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides

Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides (2016)



Marley White/NYC & Co


Drink in the lights from a hideaway in the sky


Peninsula Hotels

While some of the city’s famous old-time hideaways in the sky have gone the way of the subway token - the Rainbow Room is locked up tight and Top of the Sixes is a private cigar club for big shots - you can linger over a drink with city lights twinkling at your toes in plenty of other aeries.

Four Midtown hotel rooftops are especially appealing retreats from the city streets below, and all afford views that are as intoxicating as the cocktails. Top marks for sophistication go to Salon de Ning (pictured) atop the Peninsula Hotel (700 Fifth Ave at 55th St, tel: 212-956-2888, [map] F4). The Asian-infused decor evoking the feel of 1930s Shanghai is glamorous, and the light show of the surrounding Midtown towers even more so. It’s all about luxe livin’ and high-end cocktails when you’re lounging at The Roof (Viceroy Hotel, 120 W 57th St, tel: 212-830-8000 [map] E4) that you’ll be inspired to engage in some wittily urbane Noel Coward-style banter, and the 360-degree views take in the Midtown skyline, the East River, and a large swath of Queens that, all aglow once the sun sets, looks much more wondrous than it really is. Greenery and sophistication are profuse at the Top of the Strand (Strand Hotel, 33 W. 37th St, tel: 212-448-1024, [map] D1), and the Empire State Building is so close you’ll be tempted to reach out and touch it. Rare, on the 16th floor of the Shelburne Murray Hill (303 Lexington Ave at 37th St, tel: 212-481-8439, [map] F1) is also dramatically over-shadowed by the Empire State Building, while the Chrysler Building spire appears as a shiny beacon just to the north.

Go behind the scenes of hit TV shows at NBC


Marley White/NYC & Co

At 49th Street, Fifth Avenue lives up to its lofty reputation with the Rockefeller Center, one of the world’s biggest business and entertainment complexes, and a triumph of Art Deco architecture. Rockefeller Plaza is dominated by the 70 floors of the soaring GE Building, number 30 Rockefeller Center, or ‘30 Rock’ - headquarters of NBC. Anyone can be part of a live audience any weekday morning during NBC’s long-running Today Show, which is broadcast from a glassed-in studio on the corner of 49th Street, but to get a good spot you should arrive about 6am.

If you want to see where hit shows like Saturday Night Live, NBC Nightly News or The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon are made, sign up for the NBC Studio tour at the NBC Experience Store. These behind-the-scenes tours depart every 15 minutes and give you a chance to see the corridors and rooms that influenced the hit show 30 Rock. Each tour lasts about 70 minutes and takes you into a control studio, make-up room, and several studios.

Comedy Central

If you’re a fan of political comedy, you can join the studio audience of a weekday taping of Trevor Noah’s satirical news show The Daily Show. In 2015 Noah replaced presenter of 16 years Jon Stewart, whose deadpan political punditry made him a star in the US and abroad. Will Noah’s star rise just as high? Grab a ticket and find out!

You need to book tickets well in advance, then be prepared to line up - rain or shine - for 2-3 hours outside Comedy Central Studios (11th Ave and 52nd St, off map) for the tapings that end about 7pm. Order the tickets online at www.thedailyshow.com/tickets.com.

NBC Experience Store, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, 49th St between Fifth and Sixth aves; tours Mon-Thu 8.30am-5.30pm, Fri-Sat until 6.30pm, Sun until 4.30pm. For tickets, tel: 212-664-3700 or book in advance at www.nbcuniversalstore.com; [map] E3

Take a stroll through classic New York, then head to the Top of the Rock to view it all from above



Much of Midtown evokes the 1930s, a decade that, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, ‘was the best of times and the worst of times’ for New York. Though reeling from the Great Depression, the city was gripped by a building spree. A forest of new skyscrapers, mighty symbols of American enterprise, began to soar above Midtown.

The 14 Art Deco towers of the Rockefeller Center, between 48th and 51st streets off Fifth Avenue ([map] E4), constitute a city within the city. Walk down the Channel Gardens, a beautiful promenade that separates the French Building from the British Building, and raise your eyes along the 70-story height of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. You can’t help but feel as though you are gazing up at a great temple of commerce. Meanwhile, the spires of St Patrick’s Cathedral across Fifth Avenue ([map] F3) seem to lift you from the pavement toward heavenly heights.

Over on Park Avenue are two monuments to another hope-filled age, the 1950s. Lever House, at 390 Park Avenue ([map] G3), and the Seagram Building, across the street at 375 Park ([map] G3), are sleek steel-and-glass towers that rise from airy plazas. Together they secured a place for the functional glass office tower on the American landscape. They have inspired hundreds of imitators, none of which are as beautiful or as suggestive of corporate might as these two Park Avenue neighbors.

Art and Observation tours of the Rockefeller Center show off murals, statues, and architectural highlights, and end on the observation platform of Top of the Rock, an exhilarating open-air viewpoint (pictured) 70 floors above the city (90 mins, www.nbcuniversalstore.com, Mon-Sat 10am-2pm, [map] E4)

A pair of beauties

The Empire State Building, at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue ([map] D1), long ago ceded the world’s tallest title, but the beloved granite tower is still New York’s most popular skyscraper. A very close second place goes to the Chrysler Building ([map] F1), with a shiny stainless steel crown that evokes the wonders of the machine age and rises high above Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. Their presence on the skyline is testimony to a longstanding rivalry. The Chrysler Building was the tallest structure in the world, the first ever to surpass 1,000ft, when it was completed in 1929 - the spire, which was secretly assembled within the upper floors then hoisted into position, jostled a newly completed tower at 40 Wall Street out of first-place position. Just two years later the Empire State Building surpassed its neighbor by 250ft. Though skyscrapers pierce the clouds above cities around the world, none can match the appeal of this pair of Art Deco beauties.

The 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building (daily 8am-2am) treats 3.5 million visitors a year to eagle’s-eye views; among the standouts is the nearby Chrysler Building, whose gargoyles fashioned in the shape of radiator caps and hood ornaments shine brightly on a sunny day.

Admire a modern masterpiece at MoMA or a rare manuscript at the Morgan Library


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The Museum of Modern Art houses a collection of 150,000 paintings, sculptures, photographs, and other works, displayed in crisp contemporary galleries on West 53rd Street. MoMA is not as daring a design statement as such other showcases of modern art as the Tate Modern, the Pompidou Centre, or the Guggenheim Bilbao. Even so, as the vanguard of commerce and corporate might, Midtown provides an appropriate backdrop for the art movements that have broken new ground. Stepping off the busy Midtown avenues to stand in front of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon or Rousseau’s The Sleeping Gypsy is one of the city’s most transporting experiences.

While MoMA celebrates the modern, the Morgan Library and Museum preserves some of the earliest examples of the written word. J. Pierpont Morgan, the great financier and banker, was a connoisseur of fine art and an avid collector of illuminated manuscripts, rare books, prints, and drawings. He left his entire collection to the city of New York. Galleries show off drawings by Michelangelo and Rembrandt, Gutenberg bibles, sheet music by Beethoven, and scraps of paper on which Bob Dylan jotted down lyrics for Blowin’ in the Wind.

MoMA, West 53rd St; tel: 212-708-9400; www.moma.org; Sat-Tue 10.30am-5.30pm, Thu 10.30am-5.30pm (until 8.45pm in July and Aug), Fri 10.30am-8pm, free on Fri evenings; [map] F4

The Morgan Library and Museum, 225 Madison Ave; tel: 212-685-0008; www.themorgan.org; Tue-Thu 10.30am-5pm, Fri 10.30-9pm, Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 11am-6pm, free on Fri evenings; [map] E1

Be transported by Grand Central Terminal


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One of the architectural gems of New York City, Grand Central Terminal is worth spending time in even if you aren’t going anywhere. Completed in 1913 after nearly a decade of construction, the beautiful Beaux-Arts station ushered in the era of electric train travel. Many of the grand apartment buildings and hotels in the area were erected around the new terminal, including The Roosevelt Hotel, The Park Lane, and The Waldorf-Astoria. By 1947, Grand Central Terminal was one of the most important transportation hubs in North America. That year more than 65 million people passed through, equal to about 40% of the US population of the time. But car travel and suburban living in the 1950s drastically reduced station traffic, and the building fell into disrepair. By the mid-1960s the roof was leaking and soot and grime covered the walls. Wrecking crews stood by while a protracted battle between conservationists, led by Jackie Onassis, and developers raged on. The station was finally saved by a Supreme Court ruling in 1978, and in the 1990s, a $425 million renovation project restored it to its original magnificence. Today Grand Central Terminal is once again a valued central hub of the city thanks to an efficient commuter train service, a steady stream of tourists, dozens of high- end shops, five restaurants, a cocktail lounge, and more than 20 eateries on the lower level.

Architectural highlights

The magnificent illuminated zodiac on the vaulted ceiling, painted in gold leaf on cerulean blue oil, now gleams like new. All apart, that is, from a dark patch on the northwest lower corner. This was left untouched to give an understanding of the extent of the restoration effort. The gold-and silver-plated chandeliers were designed to show off the cutting-edge technology of the early 1900s: the light bulb. A marble staircase was added to east end of the concourse, matching that of the west end (both modeled on the staircase of the Paris Opera) and the marble flooring is sprung like a dance floor - which explains the strangely muted sounds of travelers threading their way across the vast concourse. Free architectural tours are given every Wednesday at 12.30pm (meet at the central information booth).

Downstairs, outside the wonderful Oyster Bar & Restaurant (an architectural and culinary landmark), is the Whispering Gallery: two people standing in opposite corners of the archway can speak to each other while facing the wall. Try it! For a quick snack, choose from any of the quality eateries.

Return to ground level for a cocktail at the grand Campbell Apartment by the southeast entrance near Park Avenue, formerly the private office of Jazz Age business magnate John W. Campbell, now one of the most elegant bars in New York.

Round off your visit with some shopping at the station’s high-end boutiques, or check out the temporary craft exhibits in Vanderbilt Hall near the 42nd Street main entrance.

Grand Central Terminal, at 42nd St between Park and Lexington aves; [map] F2

Have breakfast near Tiffany’s and shop like a star in Fifth Avenue’s most glittering stores


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‘Tiffany’s! Cartier! Talk to me Harry Winston.’ So Marilyn Monroe coos in her song Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, seductively capturing the allure of shopping on Fifth Avenue around 57th Street. The glittering display windows of all three renowned jewelers, as well as some of the world’s other finest shops, grace this stretch of the avenue.

Cartier (at 52nd St and Fifth Ave, [map] F3) has been bejeweling royalty since 1847, and along the way has made such savvy business maneuvers as introducing the first men’s wristwatch, in 1904. The New York store occupies a beautiful mansion purchased in 1917 for $100 and a pearl necklace valued at $1 million.

The Harry Winston (at 56th St and Fifth Ave, [map] F4) collection once included the deep-blue 45.52 carat Hope Diamond (now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC). The shop still sells distinctive jewels in service to the founder’s informal motto, ‘People will stare. Make it worth their while.’

Tiffany’s (at 57th St and Fifth Ave, [map] F4) was founded in 1834, and moved to its distinctive limestone flagship store in 1940. Over the years the vendor of jewelry, silverware, and stationery has catered to Astors, Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and others for whom the Tiffany name is the epitome of refinement.

While it is not possible to have breakfast at Tiffany’s, a coffee and croissant in the nearby Bouchon, (1 Rockefeller Plaza, tel: 212-782-3890, Mon-Fri from 7am, Sat-Sun from 8am, [map] E3) will start off a morning of shopping in suitably stylish fashion.

A trilogy of nearby Fifth Avenue department stores, Saks (at 50th St, [map] F3), Henri Bendel (at 57th St, [map] F4) and Bergdorf Goodman (at 57th St, [map] F4) are venues for a slightly more affordable, but no less refined shopping spree.

Immerse yourself in an elegant Beaux-Arts library, then relax in a pleasant Midtown oasis


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On the west side of Fifth Avenue between 42nd and 40th streets you’ll pass a monumental staircase flanked by two marble lions, Patience and Fortitude. They are the unofficial greeters to the New York Public Library and were named by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia back in the 1930s for the qualities he wished New Yorkers to demonstrate. The city seems to have collectively rejected the first and embraced the other.

The lions are both proud and welcoming, as befits one of the world’s great knowledge institutions, and they beckon passersby to come in and wander through marble hallways and handsome exhibition galleries to admire rare volumes, maps, prints, and photographs from the vast collections. The Rose Main Reading Room is furnished with 42 long oak tables and comfortable chairs, and warmly lit by tall windows, glowing chandeliers, and brass reading lamps. If you fill out a call slip, one of the library’s 10 million volumes will be delivered to your seat from the 128 miles of shelves that wrap through the cellars and beneath adjacent Bryant Park. It’s also nice just to sit back and take in the surroundings, appreciating the fact that a great city like New York has a fine library like this in its midst.

Bryant Park, behind the library, is one of New York’s smaller but most appreciated public arenas. Throughout the year, a jaunty carrousel revolves to the sound of French cabaret music. In the winter, skaters glide across a skating rink; in the summer, office workers splay themselves on the lawns to steal a few moments in the sun, and filmgoers gather in the evenings to lie back and enjoy outdoor screenings.

New York Public Library, Fifth Ave at 42nd St; tel: 917-275-6975; www.nypl.org; Mon, Thu-Sat 10am-6pm, Tue-Wed 10am-8pm, Sun 1-5pm; free 1-hour tours Mon-Sat at 11am and 2pm; [map] E2

Sip a cocktail in style


Starwood Hotels & Resorts

With its concrete canyons and urbanity, Midtown is a place where you can easily imagine momentous events transpiring, big deals brokered, wise words uttered. The neighborhood is home to several venues that are especially well suited to such weighty affairs.

The Algonquin Lounge is a cushy lair in one of the city’s best-loved old hotels. Ninety years ago it was the favorite lunch spot of a group of actors, writers and critics known as the Round Table. Talk could be vicious, but was unfailingly clever. During one of the lunches wisecracking satirist Dorothy Parker was asked to use the word ‘horticulture’ in a sentence and she replied, ‘You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.’

The King Cole Bar off the lobby of the St Regis Hotel is a dark, woody hideaway that is wonderfully impervious to the march of time. Dress well, order a Bloody Mary (allegedly invented here), and ask the bartender to tell you what’s really going on in the Maxfield Parrish mural of Old King Cole behind the bar (pictured).

The Four Seasons has been the epitome of grown-up urbanity ever since it opened in the Seagram Building in 1959. Undulating walls of metal chain curtains envelop the space in a time warp, and the effect is magical. Philip Johnson, the legendary architect, designed the Four Seasons, and few of his many masterpieces are as beloved.

Algonquin Lounge, 59 W. 44th St; tel: 212-840-6800; [map] E2

King Cole Bar, 2 E. 55th St; tel: 212-753-4500; [map] F4

The Four Seasons, 99 E. 52nd St; tel: 212-754-9494; closed Sun; [map] G3

Give your regards to Off-Broadway


Paula Court

Once you’ve heard the beat of dancing feet on 42nd Street, keep heading west - to a block so chockablock with stages it’s known as Theatre Row.

Time was, no one with reputable intentions would venture too far west in sleazy Times Square beyond the brightly lit arcades of the big Broadway theaters. These days, though, some of the city’s most exciting drama is staged on what was until recently an especially seedy strip of 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth avenues. Former sex clubs and massage parlors are now home to almost a dozen Off-Broadway theaters such as the Acorn and the Beckett. (Off-Broadway is a term invented to confuse just about anyone - it refers to theaters that seat between 99 and 500 patrons and has nothing to do with geographic location, though most Off-Broadway stages happen to be outside the theater district we think of as Broadway.) Several theaters on Theatre Row mount the productions of Playwrights Horizons, committed to the work of contemporary American playwrights. The block also has a suitably dramatic restaurant, the legendary Chez Josephine, where Jean-Claude Baker recreates the 1930s Paris of his adoptive mother, Josephine Baker.

Theatre Row, box office, 410 W. 42nd St; tel: 212-714-2442; www.theatrerow.org; [map] B3

Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St; tel: 212-564-1235; www.playwrightshorizons.org; [map] B3

Chez Josephine; 414 W. 42nd St; tel: 212-594-1925; Tue-Sat noon-1am, Sun noon-10pm; [map] B3

Farther Off-Broadway

Two other Off-Broadway venues, a little further afield, also ensure a good night at the theater. Hair, A Chorus Line, and some of the other most exciting plays of the past 45 years have emerged from the Public Theater (425 Lafayette St, tel: 212-260-2400, www.publictheater.org, [map] B4) on Astor Place at the edge of the East Village. The Public is especially known for avant-garde drama and Shakespearian productions, staged in the outdoor Delacorte Theater in Central Park every summer (for more information, click here). A Renaissance-style landmark that the Astor family, founders of the fur-trading empire, built in 1854 houses the Public’s five year-round stages and Joe’s Pub, a cabaret.

Les Mis and other blockbusters may pack Broadway houses to the rafters, but New York also nurtures excellent work that, as the old theater expression goes, will never play in Omaha. Modern and classic texts are given innovative interpretations by the Wooster Group (33 Wooster St, tel: 212-966-9796, www.thewoostergroup.org; [map] D3) at the Performing Garage, where productions often incorporate experimental uses of sound and video. La MaMa (74A E. 4th St, tel: 212-475-7710, www.lamama.org; [map] C4) has been presenting original performance pieces from around the world for almost 50 years, establishing itself as the beachhead of experimental theaters and a major force in presenting works by new playwrights.

Way Off-Broadway

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (451 Fulton St and other nearby venues, Brooklyn, tel: 718-636-7100, www.bam.org, [map] H3) was founded in 1861, making it America’s oldest continually running performing arts center, and over the years has welcomed such legends as Enrico Caruso. These days, BAM is best known for its innovative productions, and, as if to demonstrate just how avant-garde BAM is, many are mounted in a former vaudeville house that has been dramatically deconstructed down to brick walls, peeling paint, and exposed masonry.

Pamper yourself at a sumptuous spa



What better way to take a break from the hard work of tourism than with a relaxing massage, a facial or a sauna at a high-end Midtown spa (but be prepared to splash out).

Enter the ornate and old-world glamour of the lobby of the Lotte New York Palace, then head to the spacious spa and fitness center on the eighth floor. Work out on a treadmill overlooking St Patrick’s cathedral, have a sauna or steam bath, and enjoy a hot compress massage or back treatment.

Located in a townhouse renovated with a high-end Asian feel, The Townhouse Spa has a cozy women’s area in the lower level, a restaurant and nail spa at street level, and a clubby atmosphere for men on the second floor. Enjoy a Shiatsu, Swedish and Stone therapy massage or the signature Townhouse Glow facial.

Skin Spa lives up to it’s name with customized facials, waxing and organic sunless tanning to get you glowing. Experts in lab coats analyze strands of your hair and get a microscopic look at your scalp, then decide what treatments and products might be best for you.

If your wallet is hurting but you’re looking for a high-quality spa experience, try the Dorit Baxter Day Spa near Carnegie Hall, popular with actors and journalists. Ignore the sparse lobby and head upstairs and enjoy relaxing European facials, blissful Dead Sea salt scrubs, and massages using bamboo sticks.

Lotte New York Palace Spa, 455 Madison Ave; tel: 212-303-7777; www.newyorkpalace.com/spa-fitness; [map] F3

The Townhouse Spa, 39 W. 56th St; tel: 212-245-8006; [map] F4

Skin Spa, 119 W 57th St. 2nd fl; tel: 212-707-8730; www.skinspany.com; [map] H4

Dorit Baxter Day Spa, 47 W. 57th St # 301; tel: 212-371-4542; [map] F4

Be dazzled by glittering jewels in the Diamond District



Even if you’re not shopping for a diamond engagement ring, gold wedding band, or gemstone, a foray into the Diamond District on West 47th Street reveals a fascinating side of New York commerce. And if you are in the market for high-quality, well- priced jewelry, you’ve come to the right place. More than 2,500 independent businesses operate in the district, in street-level shops filled with glittering jewels, cellar workshops, and a glossy new skyscraper, the International Gem Tower. Many of the shops have been doing business since the 1930s and 40s, when Orthodox Jews fled the Nazi invasion of such European diamond centers as Antwerp and Amsterdam.

Shops are generally open Mon-Fri 9am-5pm. Very few will take checks, and many offer better deals if you pay cash. You may well feel a bit out of your depth entering the warren of dealers, so do a little online preparation before you hit the pavement. The Jewelers Vigilance Committee, www.jvclegal.org, provides a useful checklist of what to look for when buying fine jewelry, and the Gemological Institute of America, www.gia.edu, offers an online tutorial in diamond-buying.

Synagogues and restaurants are tucked away above shops and arcades. Taam-Tov (41) specializes in such Central Asian dishes as golubsy, cabbage leaves stuffed with rice and meat, while the Diamond Dairy Kosher Luncheonette (4) serves the best cheese blintzes in the city.

Diamond District, W. 47th St, between Fifth and Sixth aves; [map] E3

Be a culture vulture on Columbus Circle


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Columbus Circle, the busy intersection of Broadway, Central Park West, Eighth Avenue, and Central Park South, is a whirl of traffic enlivened with fountains and statues and is surrounded by some fine cultural institutions.

New Yorkers, who have strong opinions on just about everything, generally consider the new marble-clad Museum of Arts and Design at 2 Columbus Circle to be a poor substitute for the fanciful Moorish tower from the 1960s that it replaces. The building gets more attention than the collection of crafts inside, which is a shame, because the contemporary glass pieces by Dale Chihuly, vintage Tiffany jewelry, and other pieces are stunning. So are the views over Columbus Circle and Central Park from Robert, the museum’s sophisticated contemporary restaurant, open for lunch and dinner, as well as cocktails.

No one has much bad to say about Jazz at Lincoln Center, a cluster of nightclubs, performance halls, rehearsal stages, and recording studios tucked above the city in the glitzy Time-Warner Center, on the west side of the circle. You can hear the jazz canon in the 1,200-seat Rose Theater; in the smaller Allen Room, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city are the backdrop; or Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, a swanky cabaret.

Back on terra firma, take a look at some of New York’s most formidable statuary. Christopher Columbus stands atop a 70ft-tall granite column in the middle of the circle, and the white-marble Maine Monument commemorates the Spanish American War and marks one of the main entrances to Central Park.

Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle; tel: 212-299-7777; www.madmuseum.org; Tue-Sun 11am-6pm, Thu until 9pm; charge; [map] E5

Jazz at Lincoln Center, 33 W. 60th St; tel: 212 258-9800; www.jalc.org; [map] D5

Indulge in international epicurean delights on a stroll up Ninth Avenue


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The very name of Hell’s Kitchen, once the city’s hotbed of gangs and gangsters, used to send shivers up the spines of law-abiding citizens. Today a mention of the neighborhood is likely to get the taste buds watering. On a walk through Hell’s Kitchen on and around Ninth Avenue from 40th and 59th streets you’ll encounter an international smorgasbord of delicious offerings almost every step of the way. Many of the street’s eateries are simple storefronts, and just about all serve on the premises and offer takeout as well.

So, take your pick. Greek? Consider the fried Cretan meatballs at Uncle Nick’s (747 Ninth Ave at 51st St), creamy spreads at Kashkaval (856 Ninth Ave at 56th St), and heavenly baklava at Poseidon Bakery (629 Ninth Ave at 44th St). Middle Eastern? Azuri Café (465 W. 51st St, near Tenth Ave) makes the city’s best shwarma sandwich, and Gazala’s Place (709 Ninth Ave at 49th St) specializes in chak choka, eggs sautéed over garlic, onion, and tomato, and other dishes from the Druse sect. Latin? Oovina (496 Ninth Ave at 37th St) makes a mean pile of yucca fries, and Rice & Beans (744 Ninth Ave at 50th St), true to its name, sticks to simple and delicious variations of Brazilian staples. Among the many places to satisfy a sweet tooth are Holey Cream (796 9th Ave) for build-your-own donut ice cream sandwiches, Little Pie Company (424 W. 43rd St) for sour cream apple walnut pie and other desserts, and Amy’s (672 Ninth Ave at 46th St) for perfect brownies and breads. Among the many excellent grocery stores, Ninth Avenue International Foods (543 Ninth Ave at 40th St) is piled high with Middle Eastern spices and Greek olives and cheeses.

Stands brimming with all this ethnic bounty fill the avenue during the annual Ninth Avenue Street Festival in May (www.hellskitchen.biz).

Hell’s Kitchen; [map] C4