Don’t get caught in the tourist traps: try these places instead.
When news came that the Fodor’s offices were moving to Times Square in New York, there was collective hesitation among my colleagues. Wading through crowds of tourists taking selfies in front of the Chicago the Musical marquee just to get to work? Not ideal. But as we settled into our new quarters, the benefits of being in the heart of the city became more apparent.
Today as I get off the M train next to Radio City Music Hall sign ablaze in neon red I feel somewhat elated. As I make my way down 49th Street and glance in the direction of the slice of bright sky flanked by skyscrapers and flashing behemoth ads for the next blockbuster, Dunkin Donuts coffee in hand, I succumb to my part in this Adrian Tomine-esque sketch of commuters in skirts and suits shuffling to avoid delivery trucks and mopeds, as the drafts from steam grates rush scarves and neckties sky-high.
But I get it—it can be overwhelming. Apart from the Times Square staples you may be accustomed to, or trying desperately to avoid, from Broadway shows with early birds rendering sidewalks unusable to Irish pubs that could not be more out of place, there’s much to explore. Whether you are tethered to Times Square for business or a special occasion, you can steal away to much tamer, more palatable, and culturally rich enclaves nearby. Here’s our list of worthwhile destinations that’ll spare you from the tourist traps.
A few blocks up from the chaos, on 9th Ave and anywhere from the mid-40s to upper-50s Streets (aka Hell’s Kitchen), your choices go from overpriced and mediocre to reasonable and outstanding. You’ll hardly feel like you’re in the Manhattan maelstrom.
For breakfast or a light bite, Bird & Branch has soothing greenery, calming white brick walls, tasty drinks like almond macadamia milk lattes and pastries like fig and cheese danishes.
For lunch, Pure Thai Cookhouse is a delicious (though cramped) choice, from its charming multi-colored marquee bulbs on the sign outside to perfect pad thai and spring rolls.
For dinner, Casellula is 10 blocks from Times Square on 52nd St., and this tucked-away gem has wines for every palate and from all over the world. The cheese plate and olives are undeniably delectable, but the wait staff is hit or miss (they’ll either reinforce your preconceived notions of rude New Yorkers or dissolve them, depending on the night). Reservations are not accepted but if you show up with a small party there’s rarely too long a wait.
Attached to the Row NYC Hotel is the Sugar Factory, which is a celebrity-endorsed (Britney Spears and the Kardashians are fans) sugar-induced coma waiting to happen. An offshoot of the Vegas outpost, you can get a smoking watermelon goblet with a candy garnish or a gem-encrusted lollipop right here in New York. Yes, it’s a little touristy, but it’s good for kids—and your Instagram.
The Paley Center for Media focuses on TV, radio, and other media and how it relates to society through exhibitions, live performances, and screenings. During Paleyfest you can even catch showings of new series from Hulu and NBC on the big screen.
The Museum of Modern Art may be crowded, but well worth a visit for its world-class contemporary exhibitions. Bone up on your understanding of modern art with this podcast by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson, where she discusses some of the more esoteric pieces found in the museum.
Skip the high-end boutiques and opt instead for thrifty finds at Housing Works, which works to provide life-saving services to people with HIV/Aids, and has unique second-hand clothing, records, and home decor. Though while you’re here, why not stock up at Uniqlo on 5th Avenue for your winter essentials?
A weekend of eating and partying in New York doesn’t have to leave you worse for the wear. Sweat it all out at Cyc in the lower level of the Row NYC hotel. Pedal in the dark to pop music à la Soul Cycle while encouraging instructors guide you through an intense workout. Even if you’re a first-time rider, the staff will help you get settled and click into the bike. Stop by whether or not you’re a guest of the hotel! ($22 with shoes included)
Don’t let the curtain (or the host) intimidate you. This clandestine tiki bar The Polynesian, tucked away in the Pod Hotel in Midtown West, is decked out in upscale Bohemian flare with turquoise and bamboo throughout as a nod to the islands. The price of drinks is worth it for the kitsch and the expertise with which they’re crafted, especially the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a which is brought to you in a fishbowl.
Get fancy and festive at the Ophelia Lounge in Beekman Tower, an Art Deco building from the late ’20s. When it opened in 1928 as the Panhellenic Tower, it was a clubhouse, dorm, and hang out for recently-graduated sorority sisters who had moved New York to join the workforce. While you wait for libations like the Rising Star cocktail (Pierre Ferrand Cognac, El Dorado 12 Rum, cinnamon simple syrup, and lotus cookie-infused cream), peruse recovered relics from its days as a women’s-only haunt, with photographs and trinkets carefully preserved under glass at the bar. In winter, sheepskins are strewn across the barstools. Cozy up with a date at the enclosed terrace with magical panoramic views of the city.
Later pop over to District M in the lobby of Row NYC for some cocktails and a DJ.