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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.
One night in the fall of 1934, a young woman stood backstage at the Apollo Theater, sweating and in obvious discomfort. A stage hand asked if she was ill. No, she replied, she wasn’t ill. ‘It’s that audience, man. You never know what they’re gonna do till you get out there.’ The woman was Ella Fitzgerald, then just 17. The occasion was Amateur Night, the show ‘where stars are born and legends are made’ that also launched the careers of Billie Holiday, Michael Jackson, Sarah Vaughan, The Supremes, and many of the biggest names in 20th-century black entertainment.
Vaughan, The Supremes, and many of the biggest names in 20th-century black entertainment.
As you will learn on a tour of the legendary theater, Ms. Fitzgerald had good reason to be terrified. Audiences were notoriously vocal in their displeasure, and if less than pleased they would yell for the ‘executioner,’ a man with a broom who would sweep the contestant off stage. You’ll also hear how, when the theater opened in 1914, blacks were not admitted. By the mid-1930s, the Apollo was featuring such all-black revues as Jazz a la Carte and 16 Gorgeous Hot Steppers and was at the center of the Harlem Renaissance, the great surge of music and literature that swept through New York’s famous black neighborhood in the 1930s and ’40s.
More than 75 years after the first legends got their start at Amateur Night, the show goes on – every Wednesday, at 7.30pm.
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.
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).
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.
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 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, 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 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 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 stocks all the latest top designer lines, from traditional to trendy to trashy.
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.
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.
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), 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), 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) 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), ‘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.
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.
Upper East Side and Upper West Side. Central Park is the Great Divide, separating the East Side and the West Side, and this swath of greenery may as well be an ocean, so different are these two enclaves. In a nutshell, Upper Eastsiders step in and out of designer boutiques and Upper Westsiders load up on knishes at a string of delicatessens. Whatever side of the park you find yourself on, you will be surrounded by some of the world’s greatest cultural institutions.
Harlem and Upper Manhattan. While Manhattan took root at the southern tip of the island, much of the city’s history played out north of 110th Street, and the homes of some colonial New Yorkers still stand. Uptown is bisected by 125th Street, the main street of Harlem, and is also home to one of the world’s largest churches, the Cathedral of St John the Divine, and one of its greatest universities, Columbia.
Midtown. The busy commercial hub of New York also displays the city’s most theatrical side – literally so, on dozens of Broadway and Off-Broadway stages, and also in the neon display of Times Square and many ostentatious displays of wealth in shop windows. With its busy avenues and skyscrapers, Midtown is the essence of urbanity.
Chelsea, Flatiron, and Gramercy. In relatively small geographic confines between 34th and 14th streets, New York’s most schizophrenic neighborhood incorporates Little Korea, a busy gay stretch of Eighth Avenue, grimy warehouse blocks near the Hudson River, animated Union Square, a contemporary art gallery scene to the west, and a slice of Old New York in the east around Gramercy Park. Above it all floats the High Line, a railroad trestle transformed into an aerial park.
Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District. New York exudes plenty of small-town charm on the tree-shaded streets of Greenwich Village, once home to writers, musicians, and bohemians, and now a place to sip lattes in welcoming coffee houses and walk down quaint lanes. The riverside Meatpacking District is the hip haunt of fashionistas, and the surrounding piers and shoreline have been reclaimed as a stunning park.
Soho, Tribeca, and Chinatown. In New York, Downtown refers to a large swath of Manhattan beneath 14th Street. It also implies a certain level of chic style, best experienced on the cobblestone streets of Soho and Tribeca, where warehouses now house high-end boutiques and places to see and be seen. A stroll east into Chinatown propels you into one of the city’s thriving ethnic enclaves, yet another New York experience.
East Village, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg. Time was, floods of immigrants settled on these mean streets, and they left behind synagogues, delicatessens, Russian baths, and other remnants of a way of life fondly evoked in the Tenement Museum. In their wake a new breed of immigrant has recently arrived – young hipsters who’ve brought with them a hopping music and club scene.
Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. While Wall Streeters busy themselves with bailouts and sell-offs, the rest of us can board historic vessels at South Street Seaport, catch stunning sunset views of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty from Battery Park, and take a skinflint’s cruise on the Staten Island Ferry. More diversions await in Brooklyn, and the walk there across the Brooklyn Bridge is memorable.