Tuesday, March 10, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 5) - Midtown Manhattan II

   Day 3's activities took in the stretch of Midtown south of 42nd Street. Now, it's time to partner that with the stretch of Midtown north. This is the busiest business district in North America and is always jammed with crowds of workers and tourists. Weekdays often mean shorter lines at museums and attractions, but they also mean surges of office workers on the sidewalks in the morning and evening rush hour, and especially around lunch. So just be wary of those lunch crowds and you'll be all set. Grab a hearty breakfast before setting out and head over to Rockefeller Center

DAY 5 - Midtown North

Morning: Start the day exploring Rockefeller Center. This is one of the greatest architectural treasures of New York City. The complex cover three blocks between 51st and 48th Streets and was built during the depths of the Great Depression. It's a masterpiece of understated Art Deco design, but is also one of the most forward-thinking commercial spaces ever built. Rockefeller Center was built so that it's buildings would all gracefully fit together. It was designed with public promenades and gardens, and even some private gardens on rooftops. There's places to sit, shops to visit, and a large underground concourse of shops and services. It was built with truck loading bays and subway connections underground so the sidewalks aren't quite as packed with trucks and office workers as other parts of Midtown. And since it opened in 1933, it has housed NBC studios. If you arrive before 9 AM, you'll be able to check out the broadcast of Today that usually wraps up with a number of outdoor segments. I've gone by around 9:00 before and always found there to be lots of space from which to watch the last few segments as they're broadcast live to the whole East Coast. Inside the GE Building (aka 30 Rock) there is the studios of The Tonight Show, NBC Nightly News, Saturday Night Live, and other NBC classics. There are studio tours offered but it's hard to know exactly what you'll see on the tour. Tours obviously don't get into studios that are in use. So it can be fun or a disappointment depending on what you see. More reliable is the tour of Radio City Music Hall, which is a world icon of Art Deco and coordinated kicking. The theater is sparklingly restored and the opportunity to see it without seeing a show is worthwhile.  Tours run every half hour and take a little more than an hour.

A photo posted by Shawn (@nytourguy) on
   Once you've had a fill of Rockefeller Center and any tours you choose to do there, head up to 53rd Street for one if New York's most famous cultural anchors, the Museum of Modern Art. While my art preferences lead me more to the Metropolitan Museum or Frick Gallery, it's hard to deny that this is the most globally significant art collection in New York. The Met is amazing, but Europe's museums have wider, deeper, and more start-studded collections of European masters and ancient antiquity. But no one can match the MoMA's collection of late 19th- and 20th century art. Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Cans" is there. So is Salvador Dali's "Persistence of Memory," Rousseau's "The Dream," Jasper John's "Flag," and of course Van Gogh's "The Starry Night." It's the best greatest hits collection in the modern art world. Luckily, the museum doesn't take too long to see. A few hours is enough to take in the bulk of the museum and see the most famous pieces. And if you're anything like me, a museum trip needs a rest afterwards.

Lunch: The heart of Midtown isn't the best place for lunch. There's not many casual places, though there are plenty of delis, takeout joints, and street carts. In fact, the city's original and most famous Halal Guys food cart is at the end of the block on 6th Ave. Look for the guys in the yellow shirts and a long line. If the weather's nice, it's a classic NYC lunch al fresco sitting on any improvised seat you can find. Heck, any of the food carts are gonna be pretty good around 6th Ave, and options include korean noodles, schnitzel, crepes, and mexican barbecue, steaks, and lots more. If the weather's no good and you just want a simple lunch on the run, head back to Rockefeller Center and head underground to the concourse level where there are a lot of options for a soup, salad, or sandwich. On the other hand, if you want a serious dining experience for lunch, don't stray from the museum at all and head into the Bar Room at The Modern, the museum's on-site restaurant. The michelin starred restaurant's bar room is livelier and more relaxed, but still makes a late lunch seem like a special meal. It will hit the budget harder, but it makes a great midday splurge.

Afternoon: The afternoon will be a short one, but you should have time for a walk up and down 5th Avenue. Start by heading into St. Patrick's Cathedral. St. Patrick's was built in 1879 and was modeled after many of the great cathedrals of Europe. It also announced the Catholic Church's ascendance in New York's culture and society in an era when Catholics, and particularly Irish immigrants, were considered lesser citizens by many in the country. The cathedral isn't the biggest or grandest church in the world, but it's a beautiful and graceful space. And it is wonderfully restful to suddenly have the noise and hubbub of Midtown removed and a quiet, holy space fill its place. Though walking through the doors back onto the honking chaos of 5th Ave is a jarring transition. 100 years ago, 5th Avenue was lined with the grand mansions of the wealthiest families in America, but their houses were replaced by commercial towers and fine shops in more recent decades. Most people know 5th Ave as the city's premiere high-end shopping district. And while Versace and Harry Winston still line the street, they now share space with Tommy Hilfiger, Abercrombie & Fitch, H&M, and Hollister. Tiffany's remains the most venerable store on the strip at 5th and 57th Street. The staff are always friendly, even to those just coming in to gawk. But for me, the true heart of fashion on 5th remains Bergdorf Goodman on 58th Street and 5th. The windows are always stunning, especially at Christmas and the store oozes old elegance. NYC's venerable toy store F.A.O Schwarz is right across the street for the kids or kids at heart.

Evening: The point of the day's late lunch was to stay sated through the evening's entertainment. Tonight is the night for Broadway. There are 39 Broadway theaters in New York, mostly clustered around Times Square. A Broadway theater is simply a theater with more than 500 seats, and they are the biggest budgets and highest production values of any theaters in the country. It's the dream of every stage actor to reach Broadway's stages. And no matter the show, it doesn't get more glamorous and professional than the Great White Way. The big musical shows are the most popular, but don't overlook the straight plays that often play in smaller theaters and sometime feature famous stars in the lead roles. For instance, my most recent Broadway show featured Daniel Radcliffe. If there's a particular show you want to see, it's best to buy tickets in advance. But if you're willing to wing it, there's the TKTS booth in Times Square at 47th Street. The ticket window sells the day's leftover tickets from 3 PM up until curtain, and usually for 30%-50% off face value. There's also the TodayTix app that sells discounted tickets for same-day and even same-week tickets. Curtain is typically at 8 PM so there's time to freshen up before the show. After all, it may be acceptable to wear jeans and a t-shirt to Broadway these days, but it's way more fun to dress up!
A photo posted by Shawn (@nytourguy) on
Night: After the show, start by wandering into Times Square. Most visitors make the mistake of seeing Times Square first thing when they arrive. It's the Crossroads of the World after all (maybe not, but it certainly is the crossroads of New York). And while Times Square is an impressive sight, it's also incredibly crowded and filled with people endlessly hassling tourists for tours, comedy shows, demo CDs, and other schemes to separate you from your money. Most New Yorkers have a low-opinion of Times Square as a place that's filled only with commercialism, tourists, and offices. But you know what? Everyone who visits New York should see Times Square! It's a one-of-a-kind sight and when it's lit up at night and the post-theater crowd is milling around churning through the side streets is when Times Square is at it's hectic best. After seeing Times Square, head west to the neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen for some after theater drinks and snacks. Hell's Kitchen is an old waterfront Irish neighborhood that has been transformed by it's proximity to the new, less seedy Times Square. Hell's Kitchen bustles with bars and restaurants, especially along 9th Ave. Kashkaval Garden on 9th between 56th and 55th makes a great spot for affordable fondue, tapas, and wine. Pulperia on 9th and 46th is a great spot for Latin fare and cocktails. Ardesia on 52nd (just west of 10th) and Casellula on 52nd (just west of 9th) make for great wine and small plates options. And if you're a beer maven, The Pony Bar on 45th and 10th is one of the craft beer landmarks of New York. There's lots of great casual options in the neighborhood so even without a plan, you'll have a great night.

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