Summertime in Bryant Park

I love parks – I write about them enough, don’t I? – but Bryant Park is a very special kind of park. As my friend said on Friday when we ate our pizza there before seeing a show, in Bryant Park you are still very much in the city. It’s ringed with tall buildings that you can see above the tree line, and it’s filled with people at all times, people who are sitting and reading or sunbathing or talking or doing yoga or doing nothing. There’s food to eat and a carousel to ride and an outdoor bar and ping pong tables and a library space – and space to just be, even in the midst of hundreds of other people. It’s only been that way for a little over twenty years, after a renovation that turned it from an unsafe space to a celebrated public asset – with public bathrooms worth raving about.

I’ve waxed poetic about Bryant Park before, I know. And if you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, or have ever talked to me about Bryant Park, you’ll have heard at least a bit of this story. So, sorry. But every time I go to Bryant Park, especially in the summer, I flash back to a summer night in July, a few years ago, when I came to NYC for an interview. It wasn’t for the job I ended up taking, but it was in my industry, and it had gone well. I’d met some friends for happy hour and the three of us had wandered over to Bryant Park afterward.

Summer nights are long in New York. The sun doesn’t set till about 8:30. That night years ago in Bryant Park, the light that was left before the sun went down, along with the streetlights and lights from nearby buildings – Times Square, after all, is very close – cast strange and lovely blue-tinted patterns across the pavement as I sat with two friends at a table under the trees. I looked around at the park, at the shadows, at my friends, and at the city around us, and thought, “Okay. I can do this.” A month or so later I moved to New York and I’ve been here ever since.


There’s a movie series, and like last summer I imagine there will even be dancing lessons, but what defines Bryant Park is that it’s a gathering place, whether you’re alone or with others. If you need time with nature, go get lost in Prospect Park. If you need to be reminded of how beautiful New York is in the summer, head to Bryant Park.

Manhattan Day Out: A walking itinerary

Tourist season is upon us. If you live in NYC, that means you’ll soon have friends and relatives coming in for the weekend and sleeping on your couch. Some of them have spent time in New York and just want to see you, but I guarantee you’ll have at least one visitor per year who hasn’t visited before – and if you don’t live in New York and are reading this, that visitor might be you.

You can always go back through back entries of this blog when looking for ideas (check out my “things to do” tag!). But in this post and a few others, I’ll outline some sample itineraries for a weekend day with friends who want to explore the city. Because most of my visitors are twenty-somethings on a budget, most of my suggestions are free – though there are a lot of stores are on this itinerary, so remember to bring enough money for some small souvenirs! If you’re looking for something to do on a Friday evening, swing by the free hours at the Morgan Library & Museum. Grab some finger food at their café or have some sandwiches at the Pret around the corner before heading to bed early to rest up for a busy Saturday!

Note: This particular itinerary involves a LOT of walking, so it’s best attempted on a nice day. Wear comfortable shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, pack lightly, and bring a water bottle.

Get an early start on Saturday with coffee and a bagel, then hop on the subway and head to the museum of your choice! Most open at 10 a.m. I’d suggest starting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (be sure to check out the roof garden! And I love the period rooms!) or the American Museum of Natural History (the dinosaurs, the giant meteorite, and the blue whale are all must-sees). Both are pay-what-you-wish, so don’t feel pressured into paying full-price. They’re also both conveniently located on Central Park.

After a few hours at the museum, you’ll likely be hungry! Museum cafeterias are often over-priced but convenient. If you’re looking for something more reasonable and quick, you should be able to find a deli or a pizza place nearby without too much trouble, especially if you walk a few blocks away. The Shake Shack near the Natural History Museum is delicious, but very crowded during peak hours.

Another option is to walk into Central Park and get a hot dog from a hot dog stand – a little risky sometimes, but they can be delicious! Whatever you do, wander into the park after lunch. There are maps scattered throughout, but if you walk more or less south from either museum you’ll have a nice ramble and you’ll eventually end up at the bottom of the park.

Aim for the southeast corner, where you can visit the famous toy store FAO Schwarz and indulge your inner child – and walk by the Plaza Hotel and indulge your inner Eloise. From there, wander south on Madison Ave and enjoy the window-shopping. When you reach 51st street, head west and south on 5th Ave so you can take a look at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Walk a block and half south on 5th Ave and head west into Rockefeller Center, where you can peek at where the Today Show is filmed, or visit the NBC Experience and Top of the Rock (neither of which I’ve done). For a free (unless you buy anything!) experience, check out the NBC Store, Nintendo World, the LEGO Store, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art store.  Other nearby destinations: Radio City Musical Hall, Magnolia Bakery, and American Girl Place.

From Rockefeller Center, wander south five blocks to 42ndStreet, where you can check out the New York Public Library and Bryant Park, two of my favorite places (and two great bathrooms). If your feet aren’t too tired, wander a few blocks east to see the gorgeous constellation ceiling at Grand Central Terminal, or bravely trek a few blocks west to visit Times Square. If you’re in the mood, see how long the TKTS line is and get some theater tickets.

If you or your guests aren’t  theater-crazed, you’re probably getting hungry again. Hop a train down to SoHo to grab dinner at my favorite restaurant, Il Corallo. From there, hit up one of my favorite cupcake places in the neighborhood or take a walk or subway ride back up Broadway to Union Square and check out a few bookstores before taking your tired-but-happy self home to gear up for another day’s outing.

Anyone have suggestions for other stops along this route?

Here’s a map with most of the places mentioned above marked. The straight lines are routes I’ve suggested walking, while the squiggly one is the subway ride to Il Corallo. Enjoy!

When you need a restroom on 42nd Street…

I am something of an expert on NYC restrooms.

Okay, that is probably not true. But I am very good at finding restrooms, and I am very good at remembering where they are for future moments of need. You laugh, but when you live in Brooklyn and you’re wandering Manhattan, out-of-town friends in tow, knowing where to find a restroom can be pretty important. This means, of course, that I have a few favorite restrooms scattered across the city, and today I’m going to share two of them.

The first is in Bryant Park. You may have qualms about park restrooms —believe me, we all do—but the ones at the northeast corner of the park, on 42ndStreet, are unique. They are staffed by an attendant who makes sure they are clean, and the toilet seats have ROTATING SELF-DISENFECTING PLASTIC COVERS. You think I’m kidding? Stop by sometime when you’re on 42nd Street and need to pee. All in all, if the line isn’t too long and it’s not raining, it’s a good choice.

Another of my go to restrooms is just a minute down the street—inside the New York Public Library. If you slip in the side entrance on 42nd, you’ll find yourselves right near a ladies’ room (men, I’m sure there’s one nearby, but I’ve never looked). It’s a little dingy, but it’s also right near the library’s children’s room, where you can usually pay a visit to the original Winnie the Pooh and the rest of Christopher Robin’s stuffed animal friends. (I say usually because right now they’re on display in the Gottesman Exhibition Hall as part of the exhibit “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter”, which is there through September 7, 2014).

These two restrooms are clean, easy to find, and, importantly, don’t require buying a cup of coffee for entrance. They’re also conveniently located near many places that friends and family visiting from out of town want to check out, like Times Square, the library itself, Grand Central Terminal… you get the picture.

What are YOUR go-to public restrooms when you’re showing tourists around the city?

Why Children’s Books Matter at the New York Public Library

I am fairly certain that I have taken almost every person who has visited me since I moved to NYC to the main branch New York Public Library, also known as the Stephen A. Schwarzman building. My reasons are simple: It’s in a great location near other tourist outings (Bryant Park, Grand Central, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square are all nearby), I love libraries and this is a particularly beautiful one, and, of course, it’s free.

Someday I want to bring my laptop or a notebook and do some writing in the Rose Main Reading Room, but so far my visits are limited to showing that gorgeous space off to out-of-town visitors. We take a quick lap around, staying quiet so as not to disrupt the many people who do use the library as a work space.
Besides a moment to say hit to Patience and Fortitude, the lions outside the library, and a peek in the gift shop, the other main stop on my tour is the children’s room on the ground floor. It houses a circulating collection of children’s books, and it’s also usually home to the original stuffed animal that inspired the Winnie the Pooh books.
I say usually because right now Christopher Robin’s beloved friends are on the main floor of the library as part of a special exhibit, ongoing until March 23, 2014, called “The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter”. I’ve mentioned the exhibit before, but I went back for my second visit in December and I have to say, you should go! As someone who thinks about kids’ books on a daily basis (and gets paid for it!), I was familiar with a lot of the books discussed, but not all of them, and I highly enjoyed both of my visits.
Some of my favorite bits were a model of the car from The Phantom Tollbooth (a book I didn’t read until college), an Alice who “grows” (with the help of some books), and the original letter written by Edward Stratmeyer to Mildred Wirt Benson outlining the new girls’ series he wanted her to write the first books of under the name of Carolyn Keene — the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.
While that last one is probably not as exciting to anyone else as it is to me, there are many other bits and pieces relating to well-known children’s books that will be fascinating to people who loved them, and at the least nostalgia-inducing for everyone else. There is also a great section on banned books, with a display of the titles of many books that have been banned and a discussion of the reasons some censors have given for banning them.
I could go on and tell you more about why children’s books matter, but that’s what the exhibit’s for! Have you visited already? What did you think?

Bryant Park and square dancing

Last Friday night, I went square dancing in Bryant Park. I have a special love for Bryant Park. Right before I moved to New York, I came in for an interview, and that summer evening I went with two friends to the park and sat at one of the tables in the twilight and fell for the city because of the blue shadows the trees cast on the sidewalk. I tell that story to pretty much everyone I’ve ever been in Bryant Park with, but the park still has a bit of that magic for me each time I visit.

I started going contra dancing (similar to square dancing but not exactly the same) in New York about a year and a half ago. I’d done some line and square dancing on choir retreats in college, and it seemed like a fun idea for a birthday outing. I dragged some friends with me (birthdays are useful for that), had a lot of fun, and started going once in a while to dances in Brooklyn. There’s always live music, the people are nice, and dancing is both fun and awesome exercise. Plus sometimes they have dances in neat locations, like at Dekalb Market, or the Brooklyn Waterfront Museum (which is a boat).

This square dance in Bryant Park was a bit different. For one thing, it was free. For another thing, it was in a hugely visible public outdoor space. These two factors meant that the majority of people there had little or no experience with square dancing, making it perfect for beginners. It’s less ideal for non-beginners as you have to wait through explanations, but my square picked up the moves pretty quickly and had a blast. Our favorite move was one that the caller explained and then discarded as too difficult for beginners. It involved two dancers slingshotting a third dancer across the square, back to her partner. We figured it out just fine.

The park is hosting another square dance this Wednesday evening, details here: It’s free, and the dancing starts at 6:15 and goes till 9. You can show up with a partner or alone, and it looks like the weather is going to be gorgeous. Fall is a perfect time to dance outside—cool enough that you don’t get sweaty but not so cold you’ll freeze between dances. If I didn’t have choir rehearsal, I’d be there!