My inexpensive, off-the-beaten-path, Must-See spots for food, drink, and entertainment for visitors to New York City. You know the big landmarks and sites, so here are twenty-one things you should do after you cross those staples off your list.
1) Museum of the Moving Image- Astoria Queens. Interactive museum with a ton of movie and television memorabilia and props including Freddy Krueger’s glove and some Huxtable sweaters (the show was filmed next door.) There’s even a room that traces the history of video games, and you get to play with everything from Pong to Dance Dance Revolution!
2) The major sporting events are obvious and all fantastic but US Open tennis shouldn’t be missed. Staten Island and Coney Island offer great minor league baseball experiences as well. Catching basketball games at Rucker Park in Harlem is a one of a kind experience. Before they went to the NBA, guys like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Vince Carter, Dr. J, Stephon Marbury, Lamar Odom, and Ron Artest played picked up games at Rucker. Some even come back to play at the height of their careers as NBA all-stars like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant.
3) Rock-n-Roll Karaoke at Arlene’s Grocery. Lower East Side. They certainly have their favorites so it’s hard to get on, but it’s still fun to be there. Karaoke with a full band to back you up and a very energetic audience. You can live our your dream of being a God Rock for five minutes. Celebs are seen there often.
4) High Bar rooftop bar- great midtown views. I usually nurse one drink for as long as I can and then head to somewhere cheaper. Great for photos. Also good rooftops- Hudson Terrace and Gramercy Park Hotel.
5) Vazac’s Horseshoe Bar (7B)- indie dive bar in Alphabet City with a great jukebox and film/tv history (Godfather 2 and Sex and the City scenes.) If the photo booth in the back is working, that’s must, if you can get past the hipsters playing Big Buck Hunter.
6) Grimaldi’s Pizzeria- It’s not just the pizza that’s fantastic. Enjoy it after a nice walk/bike over the Brooklyn Bridge. You can tell your friends that you left the city and you’ll seem edgy.
7) The Frying Pan- outside on the water at Chelsea Piers. Great place for drinks, first dates, meeting hundreds of young people, sunsets, and views of Manhattan. Oh yeah, you’re on a huge ship and the drinks are very reasonable.
8 ) Hudson RiverFlicks- Forget Bryant Park. Real New Yorkers know the best place to go for outdoor movies in the summer. At Pier 54 they play better movies and have chairs. Show up on 14th Street before the sun goes down on the Hudson River.
9) Barcade- yes, just like it sounds. It’s a bar and it’s an arcade with classic 80s games. And yes, it is right where you thought it’d be, right in the middle of Williamsburg.
10) McSorley’s- Abe Lincoln and John Lennon had a beer here so you think you’re better than them?!? Drinks come in pairs (both filled half way) in either light or dark but don’t hesitate when ordering, they run an efficient operation and don’t have time for questions or delays. Get the cheese and crackers but breathe through your mouth in the bathroom.
11) White Horse Tavern- 11th Street and Hudson. Famous in the 1950s and 60s for writers and musicians. Dylan Thomas famously drank himself to death here and Jack Kerouac spent many alcoholic nights here as well. Other notable patrons: Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, Norman Mailer, Jim Morrison, and Allen Ginsberg (who once got thrown out for circling the room and chanting Hare Krishna.)
12) Tom’s Diner on 112th Street and Broadway near Columbia University. First popular in Suzanne Vega’s song “Tom’s Diner” then immortalized as the facade for Monk’s Diner in Seinfeld. The interior looks completely different from that used in the show so don’t get your hopes up. Still though, you’ll be surprised how excited you get when you turn the corner and see that familiar neon sign. It’s a good random thing to check out and very close to the amazing cathedral of St. John the Divine.
13) If you’re a Led Zeppelin fan check out the Physical Graffiti buildings on 96 and 98 St. Marks Place near First Avenue. It’s the facade they used for that album’s cover. Even if you’re not a fan of the band you’ll recognized the building, there’s a second-hand clothing store called Physical Graffiti on the ground floor. The song “Stairway to Heaven” was supposedly written about the apartment on the top floor, where their heroin dealer lived. I’m not sure if that’s true but it makes sense. Have a kick ass outdoor brunch across the street at Yaffa’s, but expect to be judged by your uber-cool, 22-year-old Israeli hipster waiter.
14) Astoria’s Bohemian Hall Beer Garden. Traditional Bavarian beer garden just over the bridge in Queens, very near La Guardia. It only seats 800 so get there early on a warm weekend afternoon. If you’re still too scared to leave Manhattan then just go to Zum Schneider on Avenue C for a watered-down, indoor experience.
15) Fourth of July, spend the afternoon eating hot dogs and watching the freak show at Coney Island (if it’s still open) and then get yourself to a rooftop in the city for the fireworks. Now they’re shot off on the West side of Manhattan so kiss up to your Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen friends to get that party invite. Warning: every other firework experience the rest of your life will seem somewhat lame after a rooftop party in NYC.
16) Art galleries in Chelsea. Yes, of course the Straight Guy loves Chelsea! This is an obscenely cheap way to kill an afternoon and see some great art in every medium imaginable. Often times the stuff you see in the cluster of galleries between 20th-27th Streets/10th-12th Avenue is better than what they have in the museums. Try to go when the new cycle of exhibits are opening all over the neighborhood, lots of free drinks and food. En route walk the High Line and stop by the Chelsea Hotel and try to figure out where exactly Sid killed Nancy.
17) The Bronx Zoo. It’s a cliché and everyone knows about it but no one ever goes, same with the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Hit the gardens in April when the cherry blossoms are out. Yes, flowers and trees really do grow and thrive in NYC.
18) Shakespeare in the Parking Lot. Lower East Side. The most culture you can get on asphalt. Admission is free. Intermissions occur when someone needs to get their car out. Only in New York.
19) Steinway and Sons Tour. Astoria. The manufacturer of arguably the best modern pianos in the world, offers a tour of its headquarters and factory, showing how the treasured instruments are made. Tours take place on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon from September through June. I actually haven’t done this one yet, but it sounds really cool.
20) East River Park- Lower East Side. Fifty-seven acres along the East River for biking, soccer, tennis, jogging, baseball, football, barbecues, picnics, and general laziness. The tennis courts are right on the water, in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge. Live music is performed at the amphitheater. The crowds go to Central Park for unnatural nature, you can come here and watch the dead bodies float by.
21) Marathon Day. Don’t run it, it’s much more fun to attend a marathon party hosted by someone who lives on the race route. Popular spots include balconies and fire escapes in the Upper East Side along First Avenue, though there are many options in Queens and Brooklyn as well. If you’re banking on a photo finish get to Central Park and wait patiently. I lived on Mile 19 for a while so I didn’t have to get up early to see all the action. If you’re an early riser, get up and watch the start on the Verrazano Bridge, it’s amazing.