Best of Manhattan 2011: City Living
Best Reason to Hail a Cab: The C Train
Morning commuters are getting restless as they shift their weight back and forth on the Upper West Side's 72nd Street subway platform, waiting for a train they feel may never come. "This just makes me crazy," one woman exclaims, tapping a black patent leather heel and shaking her head. Maybe that's why they named it the C train, or maybe it's because of the creeping, crawling way it snakes through subway tunnels, like Charon's doomed ferry steering through the underworld-when it finally does decide to show up. Tying for the worst of the 18 subway lines as rated by NYPIRG's Straphangers Campaign in their 2011 "State of the Subways" report card, the C has the least daytime service and breaks down more than any other line. But at least it's clean and you're likely to get a seat after all that heel tapping-probably because no one else wants to ride it.
Best Place to Rediscover the Comics and Memorabilia of Your Youth: Forbidden Planet
840 Broadway (at E. 13th St.), www.fpnyc.com
Have you ever found yourself walking toward Union Square and suddenly noticed a plastic Yoshi staring at you from a nearby shop? That would be Forbidden Planet, and beyond its doors is an impressive collection of comic books, manga and graphic novels. However, Forbidden Planet is perhaps best known for its multimedia-themed collectibles and merchandise. From apparel to toys to posters to virtually whatever, Forbidden Planet is a treasure trove of products to keep your closet geek at bay. But if merchandise and memorabilia don't completely satisfy your nostalgic needs, the store also hosts regular in-store appearances and signings by comic book authors, illustrators and the like. After all, the only thing more appealing to your inner geek than an out-of-production Wolverine action figure is one that has been signed by someone from Marvel Comics.
Best New Public Transportation: East River Ferry
The subway is hot and crowded and the bus can be unreliable, but thanks to this year's latest transportation innovation, The East River Ferry, getting around Manhattan, or even to far-flung destinations like Queens or Governors Island, can be easy, cheap and scenic. A $4 ride, which you can pick up at East 34th Street or Pier 11 in the Financial District, will shuttle you quickly to a number of spots, from Williamsburg to Dumbo or even Long Island City, with the oddly is-this-really-New-York-City feeling of being on a boat. On nice days the decks are the place to be, taking in the sun and watching the East River glisten almost as if it was the Mediterranean. On less pleasant days, stay indoors and thank your lucky stars that you're not shoved into a speeding box with a thousand other wet, unhappy commuters. Besides fostering an appreciation for the waterfront we never had before, the ferry has made heading to hard-to-reach parts of town a snap and made everyday city life a bit more like a day trip. In our experience, nautical garb only makes the journey more pleasant.
Best Picnic Area in Central Park: West 100th Street near the pool
Let's face it: Central Park is too damn crowded, at least during the times you want to be there. But the tourists haven't yet figured out that the park extends north of the reservoir, so enjoy the space while it lasts. There are quite a few nice spots up there to spread a blanket and take off your shoes, but none better than facing the pool, the charming pond near the park's northwest corner that receives more shade than any of the main lawns, where rushing waterfalls provide the background noise.
Best Place to Meet the Knicks: The Sky Room
330 W. 40th St., 33rd Fl. (betw. 8th and 9th Aves.), 212-380-1195
There's a world above our world in Manhattan; from the street, The Sky Room (on the rooftop of a Times Square building) blinks like a distant star. But the trip up costs only your coat (they often lose it), and when you pop up on the sky top, you may, depending on the day, feel like an alien-a midget among Knicks. But they're gentle giants, and you'll soon relax. And marvel: from the Sky Room's sky-nested deck bar, Manhattan glitters like red, green and gold star shards, a metropolis unlike the one you live in. And looking down at this other Manhattan-and up at the tall, tall men-can even be affordable; just order a soda.
Best Park for Live Music: Washington Square Park
Steve Earle walks his dog here, and Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas can occasionally be seen pushing a stroller under Washington Square's massive white arch, but it's the impressive and varied assortment of amateur and semi-professional musicians that make this West Village park the best spot for live (and free!) music. Drum circles, impromptu acoustic jam sessions and staged sets from jazz-infused NYU trios set the soundtrack for an afternoon around the Square's fountain. Sure, Central Park's SummerStage brings in the big name acts, but without stilts and a pair of binoculars, you'll have a hard time getting a glimpse of the action at those jam-packed sweat fests. Instead, head over to Washington Square on an early Sunday afternoon, snag a bench or a spot by the fountain and open your eyes (people watching opportunities abound) and ears to the musical majesty awaiting.
The Best Place to Use the Restroom in NYC: Times Square Marriott
1535 Broadway (at 45th St.), www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/nycmq-new-york-marriott-marquis
The lines for the bathrooms can be outrageous during the intermissions of Broadway shows. Homeless people have populated the restrooms of Starbucks. So where is someone in the know supposed to duck in for the bathroom? Try the Marriott Marquis' second-floor bathrooms. Clean and well-populated with stalls and urinals, the Marriott is close enough to the majority of Broadway theaters to make standing in an endless line unnecessary.
Best Place to Rescue a Smaller Dog: Bideawee
410 E. 38th St. (betw. FDR DR. and 1st Ave.), www.bideawee.org
Trying to adopt a pet at the city's pounds and countless animal rescues is a daunting task, with lots of large dogs and special needs cats. Not everyone is equipped to nurse these animals back to health. Bring in Bideawee. This no-kill animal rescue has been a New York establishment since 1903. The staff at Bideawee brings in animals from the street, kill shelters and a multitude of other places and readies them for a family. They have programs to fly in smaller dogs from California pounds that are harder to adopt there than in our small-dog-loving city. New pet parents can rest assured that they'll have support from the organization, as each pet comes with a free vet visit to Bideawee's animal clinic to confirm that your new friend is in good health when they go home.
Best Bookstore: McNally Jackson
52 Prince St. (betw. Lafayette and Mulberry Sts.), www.mcnallyjackson.com
This bilevel Soho book mecca is always packed, and that shouldn't be surprising. It's stocked with a large but well-curated selection of books, from fiction to travel guides and cookbooks, and boasts an impressive selection of readings, in-store book clubs and seriously good-looking patrons. There's even a coffee shop off to the side of the main level in case you find yourself under-caffeinated or unable to leave the store without tearing into your new purchase. What's most appealing about McNally, though, is the feeling of shopping at a locally owned store that's not at all lacking in selection. There are none of the impersonal touches that chain stores can have and all of the New York charms they could never cultivate if they tried. Sure, you can order any book you'd like online, but the experience of shopping at McNally is more than worth the effort.
Best Record Store: Other Music
15 E. 4th St. (betw. Broadway and Lafayette St.), 212-477-8150
Most people are downloading their music these days, whether they're buying it on iTunes or downloading it illegally. But if you're looking to buy records-yes, the good old-fashioned kind-or CDs, Other Music in NoHo is the place to go. Staffed by knowledgeable if slightly aloof young people who seemingly live in hip Brooklyn rock clubs, the shop stocks not only the best in new, must-have music but a nice collection of used LPs and CDs that are discounted in price and offer a bit more eclectic a selection. The real secret about Other is that while the staff can seem a bit too cool, they're actually quite helpful, whether you're looking for the newest release from a practically unheard of band or something a bit more mainstream. If you've ever missed the classic record store experience or found yourself looking for something that hasn't yet hit the store that lives in your computer, give Other Music a spin.
Best Reason Not to Miss Law and Order: All TV Shows Still Filming in New York
Some of them (The Good Wife) use New York to stand in for some place else. Some of them (Boardwalk Empire) film in New York to evoke days of yore. And some of them (Bored to Death, Damages, Gossip Girl, White Collar) take advantage of their filming location to show off the Big Apple's many trendy and hidden sites in all their glory. All of them, mercifully, provide employment for the many local performers who feared they'd lost a home when the Dick Wolf evergreen came tumbling down in 2010. And as a result, terrific actors like Jayne Atkinson, Heather Burns, Len Cariou, Santino Fontana, Lisa Joyce, Danny Mastrogiorgio, Laila Robins and Paul Sparks don't have to flock across the country to find work.
Best Tourist-Free Outdoor Shopping Mall: 5th Ave. betw. 14th and 23rd Sts.
Let's face it, sometimes New Yorkers just need to step into an H and M that doesn't make us feel like we're in the middle of a strange, touristy, pop-music-filled torture chamber. Sometimes we need to impulsively buy a leopard-print shirt from Zara that we'll only wear once because it's been a long week and we don't want to battle attractive Italian people who can afford to buy the entire store. Other times we may need to walk down the street and not worry about crashing into large, immobile groups of midwesterners in Hollister T-shirts holding maps on Broadway because we just want to pop into a J. Crew, Club Monaco or Madewell to scan the sale racks. That's why lower Fifth Avenue is a New York shopper's "safe space." Spacious sidewalks allow you to avoid the tourist obstacle courses that usually end in passive-aggressive shoulder checks and nine times out of 10, the stores will have your size. It's our very own private Mall of America-let's just pray the out-of-towners don't catch on.
Best $20 Gym Not in a Creepy Basement: Blink Fitness
E. 4th St. (at Broadway), www.blinkfitness.com
Tiny basements with limited ventilation and budget-friendly gyms just don't mix. Blink Fitness manages to buck tradition with spacious, light-filled, airy facilities so pleasant, you will actually find yourself wanting to go to the gym. A little sister of Equinox, Blink has every piece of up-to-date equipment your fancier gyms have, minus the classes to keep costs down. But who really enjoys those sweat-filled rooms full of Zumba-dancing strangers anyway? At $20 a month, there's no reason not to join.
Best Busker: Asian Hipster at the 1st Ave. L Station
There's something about the hipster Asian gentleman who often sits at the First Avenue L station, guitar in hand and harmonica perched on his neck. His voice isn't classically good. His notes are not exactly crisp. He kind of sounds like a drunken, high-pitched Tom Waits at times. His accent is a bit off, as is his pronunciation of certain words, but I'll be damned if he doesn't melt you heart every single time you hear him. He just sits there on the benchs, playing a Rolling Stones cover, unperturbed by the masses walking by, singing his heart out. What he lacks in correct enunciation he more than makes up for with his perfectly mournful tones. There's nothing better to hear when you're returning to Brooklyn after a night that didn't exactly go as planned.
Best Subway to Occupy (and Work On) Wall Street: No. 2 and 3
While other trains are stuck in the station, you can beat your broker Downtown and Occupy Wall Street with a 15-minute ride from the Upper West Side. While the A train has the largest "big play" express jump in Manhattan from 59th to 125th streets-which made for comic fodder in the indie classic The Brother From Another Planet-and the additional glamour of inspiring a jazz standard ("Take the A Train"), stop for stop, nothing moves you up and down Manhattan quicker than the 2 and 3 trains during rush hour. Added bonus: the No. 1 is often waiting across the platform if you are looking for a local station.
Best Street Exemplifying the Excesses of Capitalism: Freedom Place, Trump Place
66th Street at Freedom Place
This street is actually named in honor of three civil rights workers slain during the Freedom Summer of 1964. But like all idealistic endeavors, it eventually succumbed to the pressures of capitalism and is now lined with residential towers emblazoned in gold lettering with the namesake of Donald Trump. If you haven't had enough development in the 14 years since its groundbreaking, Trump Place is expected to expand by another seven buildings before it's complete. By then, you may be able to watch the Donald sporting an oxygen machine, sitting at a boardroom table in outer space tell a 39-year-old, fresh-out-of-rehab Justin Bieber, "You're fired."
Best Lawn That's Empty on a Weekend Afternoon: Rockefeller University campus, Turtle Bay
On-campus housing is limited at Rockefeller University, so you pretty much have this oasis to yourself when class is out of session. Between ignoring your cell phone and getting engrossed in a novel, be sure to explore Manhattan's forgotten campus, home to one of the world's best biological sciences program. The rustic sculpture installation on the campus' north end makes you question whether the old cliché about scientists in lab coats never seeing the light of day could possibly be true.
Best Place to Experience New York Like It's 1608: Inwood Hill Park Indian Caves
Inwood Hill Park (at Dyckman St.), 212-304-2278
Some folks would probably argue that NYC has been going downhill ever since Henry Hudson started poking around out in the harbor. That's fine, because in New York City, there's even a place for the naysayers. The Wiechquaesgeck indians used the caves in Inwood Hill Park as a sort of pre-Columbian summer camp, complete with shellfish feasts and cool summer breezes. It is one of the very few places in Manhattan where it is actually conceivable to pitch a tent and frolic in the woods. Imagine a slightly more rustic version of the Hamptons and you get the idea.
Best Off-the-Beaten-Path First Date Spot: Les Enfants Terrible
37 Canal St. (at Ludlow St.), www.lesenfantsterriblesnyc.com
Way down on the Lower East Side there exists a radius of a few blocks that avoid the collection of sidewalk stumblers, women walking barefoot while holding their high heels and guys in collared shirts fighting in the middle of the street. In that space is a hip little French (or is it Brazilian?) restaurant/bar full of attractive people, good music and dark lighting. Les Enfants Terrible can get a little crowded, but it's intimate and not too bustling and has a general vibe and out-of-the-wayness that will give your date the idea you're in the know. Sure, your date's eyes might linger a little too long on the younger version of Audrey Tautou seated next to you or the scruffy, scarf-wearing cigarette smoker hanging outside, but chances are that will end up rubbing off on you by the end of the night.
Best Outdoor Concert Series: SummerStage
Working in over 750 parties citywide, SummerStage offers what is undoubtedly the most comprehensive and interesting outdoor musical offerings in New York City. This past summer's slate included Yo-Yo Ma, hip-hop legend Funkmaster Flex, indie rockers Friendly Fires, local up-and-comers Milagres and a whole lot more. And it's not just music: SummerStage offers dance and theater performances as well. The main stage, where the biggest concerts take place, is at the Rumsey Playfield in Central Park near Fifth Avenue and East 69th Street and features, in addition to performance, food and drink vendors curated by The Brooklyn Flea. The best part? Most of the shows are free. And the paid ones are usually fundraisers, which is hard to say no to when you're enjoying so much complimentary culture each summer.
Best Place to Live a Jimmy Buffett Lifestyle: West 79th Street Boat Basin
W. 79th St. (at the Hudson River), 212-496-2105
Everyone knows that living on a boat is just about the coolest thing you can do. But living on a boat and simultaneously paying $417 a month for rent may also be the smartest decision you ever make. There are only 116 slips and the waiting list is a mile long, but register now and there may be a chance you could spend those golden years sipping rum drinks under the roar of the West Side Highway. There are only three prerequisites to starting your Manhattan yacht life: A boat, a sweet beard and a weathered stash of urban-themed Hawaiian shirts.
Best Small Outdoor Dog Run: Madison Square Park
On the west side of the park near 25th street, just north of the regular dog run, is a nice play space for smaller canines. A friendly assortment of owners bring an equally interesting array of dogs to play, chase balls and, frankly, tire them out. Here people know their little darlings won't get seriously pounded by a Siberian husky 50 times its size as in the bigger dog park. Water bowls are provided and if they're not full, you can enter the big dog park and fill them with the hose at the south end. The small dog run is a great place for puppies to get socialized without getting traumatized. The first time I brought my new puppy there, she was filmed by CUNY.TV for a promo about how animals can keep you healthy. It doesn't get much better than that.
Best Place to See the Stars: Columbia University Stargazing and Lecture Series
The Roof of Pupin Hall, 538 W. 120th St. (betw. Broadway and Amsterdam Ave.),
During the 2004 blackout, the Milky Way was visible from New York City for the first time in decades. Some people called 911 because they didn't know what it was. Light pollution is an urban astronomer's nightmare, washing out nearly all of the heavenly bodies. But Columbia University's astronomers understand that people shouldn't be deprived of seeing the rings of Saturn, the Seven Sisters or the mighty Orion. Every other Friday night, stargazers can enter Pupin Hall's observatory and peer through their five telescopes at the night sky. Even on cloudy nights, the free movies and lectures on black holes, colliding galaxies and the latest in astronomical discoveries make the trip worthwhile.
Best Place to Find an Action Figure of Public Enemy's Chuck D: Toy Tokyo
91 2nd Ave. (betw. 5th and 6th Sts.),
Is it a rubber ducky with Mr. T's head that catches your fancy? Or perhaps you've always wanted to try a Ghostbusters energy drink? These and other unique items line the somewhat out there and completely whimsical shelves of Toy Tokyo in the East Village. The shop, which boasts exclusive items including an action figure of Public Enemy's Chuck D, as well as classic Star Wars and Wonder Woman toys, is a collector's dream. Cool cache from around the world arrives on shelves every week, so whether you are looking to buy another Kid Robot or your very first Monchichi doll, you're in luck. Vending machines filled with mini action figures can be found at the front of the store not far from the Justin Bieber sticker books, the one touch of irony in this toy oasis.
Best Meatpacking District Hot Spot Hotel: Dream Downtown
355 W. 16th St. (betw 8th and 9th aves.),
Move over Standard, step aside Jane, and forget you, Soho House-these days, there's no topping The Dream Downtown. A hospitality mecca, the sprawling hotel boasts two restaurants: a steakhouse called Marble Lane run by the same team that operates Tao and Romera, which specializes in "neurogastronomy" and has one seating per night of an 11-course, $245-a-person dinner prepared by acclaimed chef and neurologist Dr. Miguel Sánchez Romera. To top it off, The Dream Downtown boasts a spacious penthouse lounge, PH-D, equipped with an elevated DJ booth and a state-of-the-art sound system housed between two floor-to-ceiling glass walls, one of which opens onto an expansive outdoor terrace. Down below there's a basement lounge, Electric Room, run by Rose Bar's Nur Khan. One things's for sure: this is one hotel where few people come to sleep.
Best NYC Afternoon Without Spending a Cent: Hudson River Park
Begin your journey at 23rd Street, cross the West Side Highway and enter the Hudson River Park. Once you get beyond the bedlam known as the bike path, you'll find a delightful pedestrian walkway that moves at a much more civilized pace. Wander, perambulate and rejoice in the beauty of the river, the fresh air, the sky and the immaculate landscaping. Remember and celebrate the fact that you live on an island. Sit on a bench and read a book you've been meaning to get to, feel the sun on your face, reflect and hang out. Be aware of each moment in the present as it cascades into the next. Sit in the sun or find some shade and rest on the totally dog-free lawns. Stroll for hours. Revel in the idea that you've found joy without money for just one day.
Best Home Brewing Supply Store: Whole Foods Market Bowery Beer Room
95 E. Houston St. (at Bowery), 212-420-1320
With the closest home brew shop a lengthy subway ride into Brooklyn away, I was relieved when the Whole Foods Market Bowery Beer Room opened at the Houston Street Whole Foods. Besides having one of the most impressive local beer selections in the five boroughs, they have anything and everything you'd need to get your own brew started in your very own kitchen. Bottles, hops, tubes and the all-important, hard-to-find beer yeast are all there for the perusing. Sure, this stuff is all available online, but it's always better to see the stuff in person. Cheers to a welcome addition to the do-it-yourself landscape of Manhattan!
Best Place to Feel Like Edith Wharton: The Old Mercantile Library
Center for Fiction, E. 47th St. (betw. 5th and Madison Aves.),
Ascend the staircase of The Old Mercantile Library, select a clothbound novel from the shelves, settle down in a wingbacked leather chair and visualize yourself a regency noble or Bostonian spinster poetess. Or ride up in the gloriously claustrophobic, rickety elevator and read literary quotes from the decoupaged newspaper pages and clips that line its walls. It's practically a ghost town during weekday business hours, when members can treat the Henry Otis Chapman-designed spaces as their personal drawing rooms. Don't forget to visit the stacks in the recessed bowels of the building. Dark and empty, we imagine more than a few live bodice rippings might have taken place among the tomes.
Best by-the-Hour Cubicle: Paragraph
35 W. 14th St. #3 (betw. 5th and 6th Aves), www.paragraphny.com
If you find yourself without an office and are sick of writing at home, Paragraph-a rental space for writers-awaits. Grab a first-come, first-served cubicle and silently glance at the Wooly Cap Guy, the Literary Glasses Girl or the Intellectual Loner while you pretend to work, basking in the glow of your laptop. For around $150 a month, there's free coffee and candy in the kitchen, along with the chance to strike up a conversation about Rilke or Egan with someone who might actually know who they are.
Best Subway Art-Official: 14th Street A/C/E Platform
Most MTA art ranges from the spectacularly inoffensive-mosaic waterfalls and literary snippets under the NYPL-to the hopelessly misguided-the "interactive sound experience" on the 34th Street N platform that begs tourists and drunks to bombard innocent bystanders with a cacophonous din of rain sticks and xylophones. None of it inspires any emotion-that is, except for Tom Otterness' "Life Underground." In a corner of the system used primarily by Meatpacking clubgoers lurks a world of featureless, mildly sinister characters going about the same business of subway-riding as everyone else, only cuter. Otterness' signature figures scrounge for change (in sacks of gold coins), sleep on benches (with top hats pulled over their eyes) and get pulled down open manholes by equally adorable crocodiles. Equal parts Rich Uncle Moneybags and the industrious Doozers from Fraggle Rock, the foot-high figurines will inspire at least one emotion while you wait for the train: delight.
Best Subway Art-Unofficial: MTA "Service Advisories"
Since the sanctioned art scene below-ground is so dull, many industrious artists have taken it upon themselves to liven up the scene, bringing the mountain to the MTA's Mohammed. Of course there's the graffiti and Poster Boy's (née Henry Matyjewicz) iconically iconoclastic corruption of station billboards, though recent legal hassles have slowed his once-prolific output, but for the best of the bunch, our money's on the fake MTA posters. About six years ago, a genius with an ax to grind and some amazing Photoshop skills discovered they could perfectly replicate the MTA's service advisory posters and created their own, warning riders about the transit corporation's corruption, greed and indifference to its customers. Though the format has since been cracked and is now available for any average Joe to crank out a poster, the biting, politically strident originals used the medium to subvert itself and its viewer's expectations, the true test of high art.
Best Neighborhood to Wind up an Extra on TV: Tribeca
In the space of 10 blocks below Canal Street you can go from the pan-Asian bustle of Chinatown past the imposing monuments to justice of the court system down to a world of wider-than-average cobblestoned streets and family-friendly, post-industrial lofts. Nowhere else in New York has less of a unifying aesthetic, making Tribeca the perfect choice for those trying to simulate just about anywhere in America, from big-shouldered Chicago to tony West Hollywood as well as New York City itself. Though Law and Order no longer films daily in and around The Tombs, a number of series have picked up the slack and neighborhood residents are now immune to the thrill of walking past craft services tables and sneaking a peek inside trailers. Walk down any street and you're sure to end up in a crowd scene or two-hang around long enough and you may just get discovered.
Most Color-Coordinated Brownstone: 48 W. 10th St. (betw. 5th and 6th Aves.)
10th Street is, end to end, quite possibly the most beautiful residential street in the city. From St-Mark's Church in-the-Bowery on the east side through the restored brownstones of the middle Village to the starchitect high rises on the Hudson River, it's enough to inspire severe homeowner's envy. Best (or worst) of all is the block between Fifth and Sixth avenues, a perfect row of brownstones with verdant window boxes and baroque ironwork that ends at the gorgeous clocktower of the Jefferson Market Library. Nestled in its center is a scene that has to have been planned: a single-family dwelling of brighter-than-usual red brick with vibrant turquoise shutters, outside of which is parked a trim turquoise Vespa with a brick-red seat. We're convinced the Vespa's for show only; in at least five years, it's never once been away from its post. You want to resent the excess, but it's just too perfect a picture.
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