Food & Drink
Unlike California or the South, New York doesn't have one defining cuisine. Ask for some ‘New York food’ and you’ll wind up with anything from brick-oven pizza to vegan soul food in Harlem. Cuisine in the multicultural city is global by definition, a testament to the immigrants who have unpacked their bags and recipes on its streets. And just like the city itself, it’s a scene that’s constantly evolving, driven by insatiable ambition.
Urban Farm to Table
Whether it’s upstate triple-cream Kunik at Bedford Cheese Shop or Montauk Pearls oysters at fine-dining Craft, New York City’s passion for all things local and artisanal continues unabated. The city itself has become an unlikely food bowl, with an ever-growing number of rooftops, backyards and community gardens finding new purpose as urban farms.
While you can expect to find anything from organic tomatoes atop Upper East Side delis to beehives on East Village tenement rooftops, the current queen of the crop is Brooklyn Grange (www.brooklyngrangefarm.com), an organic farm covering two rooftops in Long Island City and the Brooklyn Navy Yards. At 2.5 acres, it’s purportedly the world’s biggest rooftop farm, producing over 50,000lb of organically cultivated goodness annually, from eggs to carrots, chard and heirloom tomatoes. The project is the brainchild of young farmer Ben Flanner. Obsessed with farm-to-table eating, this former E*Trade marketing manager kick-started NYC’s rooftop revolution in 2009 with the opening of its first rooftop soil farm – Eagle Street Rooftop Farm – in nearby Greenpoint. Flanner’s collaborators include some of the city’s top eateries, among them Marlow & Sons and Roberta’s in Brooklyn, and Dutch in Manhattan.
While the concept of ‘New York cuisine’ is inherently ambiguous, this town is not without its edible icons. It’s the bites with the longest histories that folks usually have in mind when they refer to NYC specialties. Among these are bagels and pizza, introduced by Eastern European Jews and Italians, among the earliest wave of immigrants. Have one! Have three! But leave room for the cheesecake, egg creams and dogs.
The hot dog made its way to New York via various European butchers in the 1800s. One, Charles Feltman of Germany, was apparently the first to sell them from pushcarts along the Coney Island seashore. But Nathan Handwerker, originally an employee of Feltman’s, opened his own shop across the street, offering hot dogs at half the price of those at Feltman’s and put his former employer out of business. Today, the original and legendary Nathan’s still stands in Coney Island, while its empire has expanded on an international scale. There is barely a New York neighborhood that does not have at least a few hot-dog vendors on its street corners, although some locals would never touch one of those ‘dirty-water dogs,’ preferring the new wave of chichi hot-dog shops that can be found all over town. Enjoy yours, wherever it’s from, with ‘the works’: smothered with spicy brown mustard, relish, sauerkraut and onions.
Bagels may have been invented in Europe, but they were perfected around the turn of the 19th century in NYC – and once you’ve had one here, you’ll have a hard time enjoying one anywhere else. It’s a straightforward masterpiece: a ring of plain-yeast dough that’s first boiled and then baked, either left plain or topped with various finishing touches, from sesame seeds to chocolate chips. ‘Bagels’ made in other parts of the country are often just baked and not boiled, which makes them nothing more than a roll with a hole. And even if they do get boiled elsewhere, bagel-makers here claim that it’s the New York water that adds an elusive sweetness never to be found anywhere else. Which baker creates the ‘best’ bagel in New York is a matter of (hotly contested) opinion, but most agree that Manhattan’s Ess-a-Bagel and Queens’ Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company rank pretty high. The most traditionally New York way to order one is by asking for a ‘bagel and a schmear,’ which will yield you said bagel with a small but thick swipe of cream cheese. Or splurge and add some lox – thinly sliced smoked salmon – as was originally sold from pushcarts on the Lower East Side by Jewish immigrants back in the early 1900s.
Pizza is certainly not indigenous to Gotham. But New York–style pizza is a very particular item, and the first pizzeria in America was Lombardi’s in Manhattan’s Little Italy, which opened in 1905.
While Chicago–style pizza is ‘deep dish’ and Californian tends to be light and doughy, New York prides itself on pizza with a thin crust, an even thinner layer of sauce and triangular slices (unless they’re Sicilian-style, in which case they’re rectangular). Pizza made its way over to New York in the 1900s through Italian immigrants and its regional style soon developed, the thin crust allowing for faster cooking time in a city where everyone is always in a hurry.
Today there are pizza parlors about every 10 blocks, especially in Manhattan and most of Brooklyn, where you’ll find standard slices for $3. The style at each place varies slightly – some places touting cracker-thin crust, others offering slightly thicker and chewier versions, and plenty of nouveau styles throwing everything from shrimp to cherries on top. The city’s booming locavore movement has also made its mark, with hipster pizzerias like Roberta’s in Brooklyn peddling wood-fired pies topped with sustainable, local produce.
Now don’t go expecting eggs or cream in this frothy, old-school beverage – just milk, seltzer water and plenty of chocolate syrup (preferably the classic Fox’s U-Bet brand, made in Brooklyn). When Louis Auster of Brooklyn, who owned soda fountains on the Lower East Side, invented the treat back in 1890, the syrup he used was indeed made with eggs and he added cream to thicken the concoction. The name stuck, even though the ingredients were modified, and soon they were a staple of every soda fountain in New York. While Mr Auster sold them for 3¢ apiece, today they’ll cost you anywhere from $2.50 to $5, depending on where you find one – which could be from old-school institutions such as Katz’s Delicatessen in the Lower East Side or Tom’s Restaurant in Brooklyn.
New York–Style Cheesecake
In one form or another, cheesecake has been around for quite a while. Look back 2400 years and you’ll notice that Greek historian Thucydides and his posse were already kneading honey into fresh feta and baking it over hot coals for a sweet treat. Centuries later, the Romans adopted it, tweaking the concept by incorporating spelt flour for a more ‘cake-like’ form. This would be followed by countless more tweaks across the continent and centuries.
It would, however, take the error of a 19th-century New York farmer to create the key ingredient in New York–style cheesecake: cream cheese. A botched attempt at making French Neufchâtel cheese resulted in a curious product with the texture of polyethylene plastic. Enter James Kraft, founder of Kraft Foods, who picked it up in 1912, reformulated it, wrapped it in foil and introduced the country to the wonder of cream cheese.
Classic New York cheesecake would be immortalized by Lindy’s restaurant in Midtown. Opened by Leo Lindemann in 1921, the particular type of confection served there – made of cream cheese, heavy cream, a dash of vanilla and a cookie crust – became wildly popular in the ’40s. Today, this calorific local masterpiece is a staple on countless dessert menus, whether you’re at a Greek diner or haute-cuisine hot spot. The most famous (and arguably best) cheesecake in town is that from Brooklyn stalwart Junior’s (www.juniorscheesecake.com), whose well-known fans include Barack Obama.
New York City is a master of mixed libations. After all, this is the home of Manhattans, legendary speakeasies and cosmo-clutching columnists with a passion for fashion. Legend has it that the city’s namesake drink, the Manhattan – a blend of whiskey, sweet vermouth and bitters – began life on the southeastern corner of 26th St and Madison Ave, at the long-gone Manhattan Club. The occasion was a party in 1874, allegedly thrown by Jennie Churchill (mother of British prime minister Winston) to celebrate Samuel J Tilden’s victory in the New York gubernatorial election. One of the barmen decided to create a drink to mark the occasion, naming it in honor of the bar.
Another New York classic was born that very year – the summer-centric Tom Collins. A mix of dry gin, sugar, lemon juice and club soda, the long drink’s name stems from an elaborate hoax in which hundreds of locals were informed that a certain Tom Collins had been sullying their good names. While many set out to track him down, clued-in bartenders relished the joke by making the drink and naming it for the fictitious troublemaker. When the aggrieved stormed into the bars looking for a Tom Collins, they were served the drink to cool their tempers.
These days, NYC’s kicking cocktail scene is big on rediscovered recipes, historical anecdotes and vintage speakeasy style. Once, obscure bartenders such as Harry Johnson and Jerry Thomas are now born-again legends, their vintage concoctions revived by a new generation of braces-clad mixologists. Historic ingredients such as Crème de Violette, Old Tom gin and Batavia Arrack are back in vogue. In the Financial District, cocktail bar Dead Rabbit has gone one further, reintroducing the 17th-century practice of pop-inns, drinks that fuse ale, liqueurs, spices and botanicals.
Then there are the city's revered single-spirit establishments, among them whiskey-versed Ward III in Tribeca, and the self-explanatory Brandy Library and Rum House, in Tribeca and Midtown respectively. There's even a drinking den devoted to Moonshine – Wayland – in the East Village.
Beer brewing was once a thriving industry in the city – by the 1870s, Brooklyn boasted a belly-swelling 48 breweries. Most of these were based in Williamsburg, Bushwick and Greenpoint, neighborhoods packed with German immigrants with extensive brewing know-how. By the eve of Prohibition in 1919, the borough was one of the country's leading beer peddlers, as famous for kids carrying growlers (beer jugs) as for its bridges. By the end of Prohibition in 1933, most breweries had shut shop. And while the industry rose from the ashes in WWII, local flavor gave in to big-gun Midwestern brands.
Fast-forward to today and Brooklyn is once more a catchword for a decent brewski as a handful of craft breweries put integrity back on tap. Head of the pack is Brooklyn Brewery, its seasonal offerings include a nutmeg-spiked Post Road Pumpkin Ale (available August to November) and a luscious Black Chocolate Stout (a take on Imperial Stout, available October to March). The brewery's comrades-in-craft include SixPoint Craft Ales (www.sixpoint.com), Threes Brewing (www.threesbrewing.com) and Other Half Brewing Co (www.otherhalfbrewing.com). Justifiably famed for its piney, hoppy Imperial IPA Green Diamonds, Other Half Brewing Co gathers its hops and malts from local farms.
Up-and-coming Queens is home to nanobrewery Transmitter Brewing (www.transmitterbrewing.com) and beach-born Rockaway Brewing Company (www.rockawaybrewco.com). The borough's dominant player remains SingleCut Beersmiths (www.singlecutbeer.com); its launch in 2012 saw Queens welcome its first brewery since Prohibition. Its offerings include unusual takes on lager, among them the Jan White Lagrrr, brewed with coriander, chamomile flowers, oranges, matzo and Sichuan peppercorns. Further north, the Bronx lays claim to Bronx Brewery and Gun Hill Brewing Co (http://gunhillbrewing.com), the latter making waves with its Void of Light, a jet-black, roastalicious stout.
Sidebar: NYC Food Books
There's a plethora of books about NYC's culinary history. Top reads include William Grimes' Appetite City: A Culinary History of New York, Arthur Schwartz's New York City Food: An Opinionated History and More Than 100 Legendary Recipes, and Gastropolis: Food & New York City, edited by Annie Hauck-Lawson and Jonathan Deutsch.
Sidebar: NYC Restaurant Week
Bargain-savvy gastronomes love the biannual NYC Restaurant Week. Taking place in January to February and July to August, it sees many of the city's restaurants, including some of its very best, serve up three-course lunches for $29, or three-course dinners for $42. Check www.nycgo.com/restaurantweek for details and reservations.
Sidebar: Minuit Brewery
The first public brewery in America was established by colonial governor Peter Minuit (1580–1638) at the Market (Marckvelt) field in what is now known as the Financial District in Lower Manhattan. Minuit is credited with 'purchasing' Manhattan from the native Lenape people in May 1626.
Sidebar: City Harvest
City Harvest (www.cityharvest.org) is a nonprofit organization that distributes unused food to around 1.4 million struggling New Yorkers each year. A whopping 150,000lb of food is rescued daily from city restaurants, bakeries and catering companies. Individuals wanting to make a monetary donation can do so via the City Harvest website.
Sidebar: NYC Master Chef Cookbooks
- Daniel: My French Cuisine (Daniel Boulud & Sylvie Bigar)
- The Babbo Cookbook (Mario Batali)
- A Girl and Her Greens (April Bloomfield)
- Momofuku (David Chang & Peter Meehan)
The spectacles of Broadway, the gleaming white-box galleries of Chelsea, joints playing jazz, music halls blaring moody indie rock and opera houses that bellow melodramatic tales – for more than a century, New York City has been America's capital of cultural production. And while gentrification has pushed many artists out to the city’s fringes and beyond, New York nonetheless remains a nerve center for the visual arts, music, theater, dance and literature.
NYC: An Art Heavyweight
That New York claims some of the world's mightiest art museums attests to its enviable artistic pedigree. From Pollock and Rothko to Warhol and Rauschenberg, the city has nourished many of America's greatest artists and artistic movements.
The Birth of an Arts Hub
In almost all facets of the arts, New York really got its sea legs in the early 20th century, when the city attracted and retained a critical mass of thinkers, artists, writers and poets. It was at this time that the homegrown art scene began to take shape. In 1905, photographer (and husband of Georgia O’Keeffe) Alfred Stieglitz opened ‘Gallery 291,’ a Fifth Ave space that provided a vital platform for American artists and helped establish photography as a credible art form.
In the 1940s, an influx of cultural figures fleeing the carnage of WWII saturated the city with fresh ideas – and New York became an important cultural hub. Peggy Guggenheim established the Art of this Century gallery on 57th St, a space that helped launch the careers of painters such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Robert Motherwell. These Manhattan-based artists came to form the core of the abstract-expressionist movement (also known as the New York School), creating an explosive and rugged form of painting that changed the course of modern art as we know it.
An American Avant-Garde
The abstract expressionists helped establish New York as a global arts center. Another generation of artists then carried the ball. In the 1950s and ’60s, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Lee Bontecou turned paintings into off-the-wall sculptural constructions that included everything from welded steel to taxidermy goats. By the mid-1960s, pop art – a movement that utilized the imagery and production techniques of popular culture – had taken hold, with Andy Warhol at the helm.
By the ’60s and ’70s, when New York’s economy was in the dumps and much of SoHo lay in a state of decay, the city became a hotbed of conceptual and performance art. Gordon Matta-Clark sliced up abandoned buildings with chainsaws and the artists of Fluxus staged happenings on downtown streets. Carolee Schneemann organized performances that utilized the human body. At one famous 1964 event, she had a crew of nude dancers roll around in an unappetizing mix of paint, sausages and dead fish in the theater of a Greenwich Village church.
Today, the arts scene is mixed and wide-ranging. The major institutions – the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Met Breuer and the Brooklyn Museum – deliver major retrospectives covering everything from Renaissance portraiture to contemporary installation. The New Museum of Contemporary Art, on the Lower East Side, is more daring, while countless smaller institutions, among them the excellent Bronx Museum, El Museo del Barrio and the Studio Museum in Harlem, focus on narrower slices of art history.
New York remains the world's gallery capital, with more than 800 spaces showcasing all kinds of art all over the city. The blue-chip dealers can be found clustered in Chelsea and the Upper East Side. Galleries that showcase emerging and midcareer artists dot the Lower East Side, while prohibitive rents have pushed the city's more emerging and experimental scenes further out, with current hot spots including Harlem and the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Greenpoint, Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy).
Graffiti & Street Art
Contemporary graffiti as we know it was cultivated in NYC. In the 1970s, the graffiti-covered subway train became a potent symbol of the city and work by figures such as Dondi, Blade and Lady Pink became known around the world. In addition, fine artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kenny Scharf and Keith Haring began incorporating elements of graffiti into their work.
The movement received new life in the late 1990s when a new generation of artists – many with art-school pedigrees – began using materials such as cut paper and sculptural elements. Well-known New York City artists working in this vein include John Fekner, Stephen ‘Espo’ Powers, Swoon and the twin-brother duo Skewville.
Less celebratory was the 2013 closure of the iconic 5Pointz, a cluster of Long Island City warehouses dripping with Technicolor graffiti. Not even a plea from legendary British artist Banksy could save the veritable gallery, condemned to demolition. These days, spray-can and stencil hot spots include the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge and the corner of Troutman St and St Nicholas Ave in Bushwick, also in Brooklyn. In Astoria, Queens, explore the Technicolor artworks around Welling Ct and 30th Ave.
A Musical Metropolis
This is the city where jazz players such as Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis and John Coltrane pushed the limits of improvisation in the 1950s. It's where various Latin sounds – from cha-cha-cha to rumba to mambo – came together to form the hybrid we now call salsa, where folk singers such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez crooned protest songs in coffeehouses, and where bands such as the New York Dolls and the Ramones tore up the stage in Manhattan’s gritty downtown. It was the ground zero of disco. And it was the cultural crucible where hip-hop was nurtured and grew – then exploded.
The city remains a magnet for musicians to this day. The local indie-rock scene is especially vibrant: groups including the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, LCD Soundsystem and Animal Collective all emerged in NYC. Williamsburg is at the heart of the action, packed with clubs and bars, plus there are indie record labels and internet radio stations. The best venues for rock include the Music Hall of Williamsburg and the Brooklyn Bowl, as well as Manhattan's Bowery Ballroom.
All That Jazz
Jazz remains a juggernaut – from the traditional to the experimental. The best bets for jazz are the Village Vanguard in the West Village and the Jazz Standard near Madison Square Park. For more highbrow programming, there’s Midtown's Jazz at Lincoln Center, which is run by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and features a wide array of solo outings by important musicians, as well as tribute concerts to figures such as Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.
Feature: A New York Hip-Hop Playlist
New York is the cradle of hip-hop. Rap to the following classics from the city's finest:
- 'Rapper’s Delight', Sugarhill Gang (1979) – The single that launched the commercial birth of hip-hop, from a New York–New Jersey trio.
- ‘White Lines,’ Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (1983) – The ultimate ’80s party song from the Bronx.
- ‘It’s Like That,’ Run DMC (1983) – That’s just the way it is from the legendary Queens trio.
- 'Fat Boys,' Fat Boys (1984) – Brooklyn’s ultimate beat-boxers.
- ‘No Sleep Till Brooklyn,’ Beastie Boys (1986) – The NYC trio who fought for their right to party.
- ‘Ain’t No Half Steppin’,’ Big Daddy Kane (1988) – Mellifluous rhymes from a Brooklyn master.
- 'Fight the Power,' Public Enemy (1989) – A politically charged tour de force from Long Island's hip-hop royals.
- 'C.R.E.A.M.,' Wu-Tang Clan (1993) – The rules of street capitalism rapped out by Staten Island's finest crew.
- 'N.Y. State of Mind,' NAS (1994) – From from the debut album of a Brooklyn-born, Queens-raised rap deity.
- '99 Problems,’ Jay-Z (2004) – This Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn boy is now a music mogul (and Beyoncé's other half).
Classical & Opera
The classics are alive and well at Lincoln Center. Here, the Metropolitan Opera delivers a wide array of celebrated operas, from Verdi’s Aida to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The New York Philharmonic (the symphony that was once directed by one of the 20th-century’s great maestros, Leonard Bernstein) is also based here out of the newly refurbished David Geffen Hall. Carnegie Hall, the Merkin Concert Hall and the Frick Collection also offer wonderful – and more intimate – spaces to enjoy great classical music.
For more avant-garde fare, try the Center for Contemporary Opera (http://centerforcontemporaryopera.org) and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) – the latter is one of the city's vital opera and classical-music hubs. Another excellent venue, featuring highly experimental work, is St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn. If you like your performance outré, keep an eye on its calendar.
On Broadway & Beyond
In the early 20th century, clusters of theaters settled into the area around Times Square and began producing popular plays and suggestive comedies – a movement that had its roots in early vaudeville. By the 1920s, these messy works had evolved into on-stage spectacles like Show Boat, an all-out Oscar Hammerstein production about the lives of performers on a Mississippi steamboat. In 1943, Broadway had its first runaway hit – Oklahoma! – that remained on stage for a record 2212 performances.
Today, Broadway musicals are shown in one of 40 official Broadway theaters, lavish early 20th-century jewels that surround Times Square, and are a major component of cultural life in New York. If you’re on a budget, look for off-Broadway productions. These tend to be more intimate, inexpensive and often just as good.
NYC bursts with theatrical offerings beyond Broadway, from Shakespeare to David Mamet to rising experimental playwrights including Young Jean Lee. In addition to Midtown staples such as Playwrights Horizons and Second Stage Theatre, the Lincoln Center theaters and smaller companies like Soho Rep are important hubs for works by modern and contemporary playwrights.
Across the East River, Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and St Ann’s Warehouse offer edgy programming. Numerous festivals, such as FringeNYC, BAM's epic Next Wave Festival and the biennial Performa offer brilliant opportunities to catch new work.
For nearly 100 years, New York City has been at the center of American dance. It is here that the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) – led by the fabled George Balanchine – was founded in 1949. The company promoted the idea of cultivating American talent, hiring native-born dancers and putting on works by choreographers such as Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey. The company continues to perform in New York and around the world.
But NYC is perhaps best known for nurturing a generation of modern-dance choreographers – figures such as Martha Graham, who challenged traditional notions of dance with boxy, industrial movements on bare, almost abstract sets. The boundaries were pushed ever further by Merce Cunningham, who disassociated dance from music. Today, companies such as STREB (http://streb.org) are pushing dance to its limits.
Lincoln Center and Brooklyn Academy of Music host regular performances, while up-and-coming acts feature at spaces including Chelsea's Kitchen, Joyce Theater and New York Live Arts, as well as Midtown's Baryshnikov Arts Center (http://bacnyc.org).
New York in Letters
The city that is home to the country’s biggest publishing houses has also been home to some of its best-known writers. In the 19th century, Herman Melville (Moby Dick), Edith Wharton (The House of Mirth) and Walt Whitman (Leaves of Grass) all congregated here. But things really got cooking in the early part of the 20th century. There were the liquor-fueled literary salons of poet-communist John Reed in the 1910s, the acerbic wisecracks of the Algonquin Round Table in the 1920s and the thinly veiled novels of Dawn Powell in the ’40s, a figure whose work often critiqued New York’s media establishment.
The 1950s and ’60s saw the rise of writers who began to question the status quo. Poet Langston Hughes examined the condition of African Americans in Harlem and Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg rejected traditional rhyme in favor of free-flowing musings. The last few decades of the 20th century offered a wide gamut to choose from, including Jay McInerney, chronicler of the greed and coke-fueled ’80s, to new voices from under-represented corners of the city such as Piri Thomas and Audre Lorde.
NYC scribes continue to cover a vast array of realities in their work, from the immigrant experience (Imbolo Mbue) and the Manhattan music business (Jennifer Egan), to the crazy impossibility that is New York in Michael Chabon's Pulitzer-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Among the latest crop of Gotham-based talent is award-winning Ben Lerner, whose metafiction novel 10:04 is as much about the city's visceral intensity as it is about its neurotic, heart-troubled protagonist.
On any given week, New York is home to countless art exhibits, installations and performances. Get a comprehensive listing of happenings at www.nyartbeat.com.
Sidebar: Brooklyn's Music Scene
Brooklyn has a hopping indie-music scene, with local bands performing regularly in Williamsburg and Bushwick. To hear the latest sounds, log on to www.newtownradio.com.
Sidebar: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Brooklyn's literary roots run deep. The former Borough President Marty Markowitz described Brooklyn as 'New York's Left Bank,' and given the range of local talents who have shaped American literature, not to mention the countless authors living here today, he may not be far off the mark.
Here are a few quintessential reads from celebrated Brooklyn authors present and past:
- Leaves of Grass (1855) Walt Whitman's love letter to New York, 'Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,' is a particularly poignant part of his poetic celebration of life.
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) Betty Smith's affecting coming-of-age story set in the squalid tenements of Williamsburg.
- Sophie's Choice (1979) William Styron's blockbuster centers on a boarding house in post-war Flatbush.
- Motherless Brooklyn (1999) Jonathan Lethem's brilliant and darkly comic tale of small-time hoods is set in Carroll Gardens and other parts of Brooklyn.
- Literary Brooklyn (2011) Evan Hughes provides an overview of great Brooklyn writers and their neighborhoods, from Henry Miller's Williamsburg to Truman Capote's Brooklyn Heights.
- Manhattan Beach (2017) Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jennifer Egan's novel follows a young woman working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during WWII.
Sidebar: Jazz Times
For comprehensive coverage of the American jazz scene, log on to www.jazztimes.com, which features plenty of stories about all the established and rising New York acts.
Sidebar: Theater Reviews
For comprehensive theater listings, news and reviews (both glowing and scathing), visit www.nytimes.com/section/theater. You'll also find listings, synopses and industry news at www.playbill.com.
Sidebar: Paying for Art
In January 2018, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it would begin charging admission to out-of-state visitors for the first time since 1970. The decision was a controversial one: while many recognized the museum's financial bind – only 8% of its income comes from government funds – others mourned the loss of the open-door policy that allowed universal access to a world-class art collection.
New York’s architectural history is a layer cake of ideas and styles – one that is literally written on the city’s streets. Humble colonial farmhouses and graceful Federal-style buildings can be found alongside ornate beaux-arts palaces from the early 20th century. There are the revivals (Greek, Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance) and the unadorned forms of the International style. And, in recent years, there has been the addition of the torqued forms of deconstructivist architects. For the architecture buff, it’s a bricks-and-mortar bonanza.
New York’s architectural roots are modest. Early Dutch-colonial farmhouses were all about function: clapboard-wood homes with shingled, gambrel roofs were positioned to take advantage of daylight and retain heat in winter. A number of these have somehow survived to the present. The most remarkable is the Pieter Claesen Wyckoff House in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. Originally built in 1652 (with additions made over the years), it is the oldest house in the entire city.
After the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam became the British colony of New York in 1664, architectural styles moved to Georgian. Boxy, brick and stone structures with hipped roofs began to materialize. In the northern Manhattan district of Inwood, the Morris-Jumel Mansion from 1765 is an altered example of this: the home was built in the Georgian style by Roger Morris, then purchased by Stephen Jumel, who added a neoclassical facade in the 19th century. Another British-colonial building of interest is the Fraunces Tavern, where George Washington bid an emotional farewell to the officers who had accompanied him throughout the American Revolution. Today the structure contains a museum and restaurant.
On the ceremonial end is St Paul’s Chapel, south of City Hall Park. Built in the 1760s, it is the oldest surviving church in the city. Its design was inspired by the much bigger St Martin-in-the-Fields church in London.
Architecture in the New Republic
In the early 1800s, architecture grew lighter and more refined. The so-called Federal style employed classical touches – slim, columned entrances, triangular pediments at the roofline and rounded fanlights over doors and windows. Some of the best surviving examples are tied to municipal government. City Hall, built in 1812, owes its French form to émigré architect Joseph François Mangin and its Federal detailing to American-born John McComb Jr. The interior contains an airy rotunda and curved cantilevered stairway.
Uptown, on the Upper East Side, 1799 Gracie Mansion, the official residence of New York City’s mayor since 1942, is a fine example of a Federal residence, with its broad, river-view porch and leaded glass sidelights. This stretch of riverfront was once lined with buildings of the sort – a sight that impressed Alexis de Tocqueville during his tour of the United States in the early 19th century.
Other Federal-style specimens include the 1793 James Watson House at 7 State St right across from Battery Park, and the 1832 Merchant’s House Museum, in NoHo. The latter still contains its intact interiors.
Greek, Gothic & Romanesque: The Revivals
Following the publication of an important treatise on Greek architecture in the late 1700s, architects began to show a renewed interest in pure, classical forms. In the US, a big instigator of this trend was Minard Lafever, a New Jersey–born carpenter-turned-architect-turned-author-of-pattern-books. By the 1830s, becolumned Greek Revival structures were going up all over New York.
Manhattan contains a bevy of these buildings, including the gray granite St Peter’s Church (1838) and the white-marble Federal Hall (1842) – both of which are located in the Financial District. In Greenwich Village, a row of colonnaded homes built on the north side of Washington Square (Numbers 1–13) in the 1820s are fine residential interpretations of this style.
Starting in the late 1830s, the simple Georgian and Federalist styles started to give way to more ornate structures that employed Gothic and Romanesque elements. This was particularly prominent in church construction. An early example was the Church of the Ascension (1841) in Greenwich Village – an imposing brownstone structure studded with pointed arches and a crenelated tower. The same architect – Richard Upjohn – also designed downtown Manhattan’s Trinity Church (1846) in the same style.
By the 1860s, these places of worship were growing in size and scale. Among the most resplendent are St Patrick’s Cathedral (1858–1879), which took over an entire city block at Fifth Ave and 51st St, and the perpetually under construction Cathedral Church of St John the Divine (since 1911), in Morningside Heights. Indeed, the style was so popular that one of the city’s most important icons – the Brooklyn Bridge (1870–83) – was built à la Gothic Revival.
Romanesque elements (such as curved arches) can be spotted on structures all over the city. Some of the most famous include the Joseph Papp Public Theater (formerly the Astor Library) in Greenwich Village, built between 1853 and 1881, and the breathtaking Temple Emanu-El (1929) on Fifth Ave on the Upper East Side.
At the turn of the 20th century, New York entered a gilded age. Robber barons such as JP Morgan, Henry Clay Frick and John D Rockefeller – awash in steel and oil money – built themselves lavish manses. Public buildings grew ever more extravagant in scale and ornamentation. Architects, many of whom trained in France, came back with European design ideals. Gleaming white limestone began to replace all the brownstone, first stories were elevated to allow for dramatic staircase entrances, and buildings were adorned with sculptured keystones and Corinthian columns.
McKim Mead & White’s Villard Houses, from 1884 (now the Palace Hotel), show the movement's early roots. Loosely based on Rome’s Palazzo della Cancelleria, they channeled the symmetry and elegance of the Italian Renaissance. Other classics include the central branch of the New York Public Library (1911), designed by Carrère and Hastings; the 1902 extension of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, by Richard Morris Hunt; and Warren and Wetmore’s stunning Grand Central Terminal (1913), which is capped by a statue of Mercury, the god of commerce.
By the time New York settled into the 20th century, elevators and steel-frame engineering had allowed the city to grow up – literally. This period saw a building boom of skyscrapers, starting with Cass Gilbert’s neo-Gothic 57-story Woolworth Building (1913). To this day it remains one of the 50 tallest buildings in the United States.
Others soon followed. In 1930, the Chrysler Building, the 77-storey art deco masterpiece designed by William Van Alen, became the world’s tallest structure. The following year, the record was broken by the Empire State Building, a clean-lined moderne monolith crafted from Indiana limestone. Its spire was meant to be used as mooring mast for dirigibles (airships) – an idea that made for good publicity, but which proved to be impractical and unfeasible.
The influx of displaced European architects and other thinkers who had resettled in New York by the end of WWII fostered a lively dialogue between American and European architects. This was a period when urban planner Robert Moses furiously rebuilt vast swaths of New York – to the detriment of many neighborhoods – and designers and artists became obsessed with the clean, unadorned lines of the International style.
One of the earliest projects in this vein were the UN buildings (1948–52), the combined effort of a committee of architects, including the Swiss-born Le Corbusier, Brazil’s Oscar Niemeyer and America’s Wallace K Harrison. The Secretariat employed New York’s first glass curtain wall – which looms over the ski-slope curve of the General Assembly. Other significant modernist structures from this period include Gordon Bunshaft’s Lever House (1950–52), a floating, glassy structure on Park Ave and 54th St, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s austere, 38-story Seagram Building (1956–58), located just two blocks to the south.
The New Guard
By the late 20th century, numerous architects began to rebel against the hard-edged, unornamented nature of modernist design. Among them was Philip Johnson. His pink granite AT&T Building (now Sony Tower; 1984) – topped by a scrolled, neo-Georgian pediment – has become a postmodern icon of the Midtown skyline.
What never became an icon was Daniel Libeskind’s twisting, angular design for the One World Trade Center (2013) tower, replaced by a boxier architecture-by-committee glass obelisk. On the same site, budget blowouts led to tweaks of Santiago Calatrava’s luminous design for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub (2016). According to critics, what should have looked like a dove in flight now resembles a winged dinosaur. The latest WTC site controversy involves Two World Trade Center, its original Sir Norman Foster design recently scrapped for one by Danish firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). According to the chief operating officer of 21st Century Fox, James Murdoch, Foster's design was too conventional for what will become the media company's new base. BIG responded with its trademark unconventionalism: a tower of giant, differently sized boxes, soaring playfully into the sky.
Not that Sir Foster is a hack at cutting-edge style. The British architect's Hearst Tower (2006) – a glass skyscraper zigzagging its way out of a 1920s sandstone structure – remains a Midtown trailblazer. The building is one of numerous daring 21st-century additions to the city's architectural portfolio, among them Brooklyn's sci-fi arena Barclays Center (2012), Thom Mayne's folded-and-slashed 41 Cooper Square (2009) in the East Village, and Frank Gehry’s rippling, 76-storey apartment tower New York by Gehry (2011) in the Financial District.
Starchitects on the Line
Frank Gehry's IAC Building (2007) – a billowing, white-glass structure often compared to a wedding cake – is one of a growing number of starchitect creations appearing around railway-turned-urban-park, the High Line. The most prolific of these is Renzo Piano's new Whitney Museum (2015). Dramatically asymmetrical and clad in blue-gray steel, the building has received significant praise for melding seamlessly with the elevated park. Turning heads eight blocks to the north is 100 Eleventh Ave (2010), a 23-story luxury condominium by French architect Jean Nouvel. Its exuberant arrangement of angled windows is nothing short of mesmerizing, both cutting-edge in its construction and sensitive to the area's heritage. That the facade's patterning evokes West Chelsea's industrial masonry is not coincidental.
The area's newest darling is Zaha Hadid's apartment complex at 520 West 28th St (2017). Rising 11 stories, the luxury structure is the Iraqi-British architect's first residential project in the city, its voluptuous, sci-fi curves to be complimented by a 2500-sq-ft sculpture deck showcasing art presented by Friends of the High Line. Sadly the Pritzker Prize–winning architect wasn't able to see its completion; Zaha Hadid died at the age of 65 in 2016.
Sidebar: AIA Guide
AIA Guide to New York (5th edition) is a comprehensive guide to the most significant buildings in the city.
Sidebar: On Architecture
Esteemed New York architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable gathers some of her most important essays in the book On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change.
Sidebar: Public Monuments
Public Art: New York by Jean Parker Phifer, with photos by Francis Dzikowski, is an informative guide to the city's public monuments.
Sidebar: Must-See Buildings
- Chrysler Building (Midtown)
- Grand Central Terminal (Midtown)
- Morris-Jumel Mansion (Washington Heights)
- Empire State Building (Midtown)
- Temple Emanu-El (Upper East Side)
- New Museum of Contemporary Art (Lower East Side)
Painting the Town Pink
New York City is out and damn proud. It was here that the Stonewall Riots took place, that the modern gay rights movement bloomed and that America's first Pride march hit the streets. Yet even before the days of 'Gay Lib,' the city had a knack for all things queer and fabulous, from Bowery sex saloons and Village Sapphic poetry to drag balls in Harlem. It hasn't always been smooth sailing, but it's always been one hell of a ride.
New York State amends a public-obscenity code to include a ban on the appearance or discussion of gay people on stage in reaction to the increasing visibility of gays on Broadway.
On April 21, gay rights organization Mattachine Society stages a 'Sip-In' at NYC's oldest gay drinking hole, Julius Bar, challenging a ban on serving alcohol to LGBT people.
Police officers raid the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village on June 28, sparking a riot that lasts several days and gives birth to the modern gay rights movement.
ACT UP is founded to challenge the US government’s slow response in dealing with AIDS. The activist group stages its first major demonstration on March 24 on Wall St.
New York's Marriage Equality Act comes into effect at 12.01am on July 24. A lesbian couple from Buffalo take their vows just seconds after midnight in Niagara Falls.
President Barack Obama declares a swath of the West Village, including the iconic Christopher Park, a US National Monument, the first such designation honoring the LGBT civil rights movement.
Subversion in the Villages
By the 1890s, New York City's rough-and-ready Lower East Side had established quite a reputation for scandalous 'resorts' – dancing halls, saloons and brothels – frequented by the city's 'inverts' and 'fairies.' From Paresis Hall at 5th St and Bowery to Slide at 157 Bleecker St, these venues offered everything from cross-dressing spectaculars and dancing to back rooms for same-sex shenanigans. For closeted middle-class men, these dens were a secret thrill – places reached undercover on trains for a fix of camaraderie, understanding and uninhibited fun. For curious middle-class straights, they were just as enticing – salacious destinations on voyeuristic 'slumming tours.'
As New York strode into the 20th century, writers and bohemians began stepping into Greenwich Village, lured by the area's cheap rents and romantically crooked streets. The unconventionality and free thinking the area became known for turned the Village into an Emerald City for gays and lesbians, a place with no shortage of bachelor pads, more tolerant attitudes and – with the arrival of Prohibition – an anything-goes speakeasy scene. A number of gay-owned businesses lined MacDougal St, among them the legendary Eve's Hangout at number 129. A tearoom run by Polish Jewish immigrant Eva Kotchever (Eve Addams), it was famous for two things: poetry readings and a sign on the door that read 'Men allowed but not welcome.' There would have been little chance of welcome drinks when police raided the place in June 1926, charging Eve with 'obscenity' for penning her Lesbian Love anthology, and deporting her back to Europe. Three years later, Eve was honored by a Greenwich Village theater group, who staged a theatrical version of her book at Play Mart, a basement performance space on Christopher St.
Divas, Drag & Harlem
While Times Square had developed a reputation for attracting gay men (many of them working in the district's theaters, restaurants and speakeasy bars), the hottest gay scene in the 1920s was found further north, in Harlem. The neighborhood's flourishing music scene included numerous gay and lesbian performers, among them Gladys Bentley and Ethel Waters. Bentley – who was as famous for her tuxedos and girlfriends as she was for her singing – had moved her way up from one-off performances at cellar clubs and tenement parties to headlining a revue at the famous Ubangi Club on 133rd St, where her supporting acts included a chorus line of female impersonators.
Even more famous were Harlem's drag balls, which became a hit with both gay and straight New Yorkers in the roaring twenties. The biggest of the lot was the Hamilton Lodge Ball, organized by Lodge #710 of the Grand United Order of Odd Fellows and held annually at the swank Rockland Palace on 155th St. Commonly dubbed the Faggot's Ball, it was a chance for both gay men and women to (legally) cross-dress and steal a same-sex dance, and for fashionable 'normals' to indulge in a little voyeuristic titillation. The evening's star attraction was the beauty pageant, which saw the drag-clad competitors vie for the title of 'Queen of the Ball.' Langston Hughes proclaimed it the 'spectacles of color' and the gay writer was one of many members of New York's literati to attend the ball. It was also attended by everyone from prostitutes to high-society families, including the Astors and the Vanderbilts. Even the papers covered the extravaganza, its outrageous frocks the talk of the town.
The Stonewall Revolution
The relative transgression of the early 20th century was replaced with a new conservatism in the following decades, as the Great Depression, WWII and the Cold War took their toll. Conservatism was helped along by Senator Joseph 'Joe' McCarthy, who declared that homosexuals in the State Department threatened America's security and children. Tougher policing aimed to eradicate queer visibility in the public sphere, forcing the scene further underground in the 1940s and ’50s. Although crack downs on gay venues had always occurred, they became increasingly common.
Yet on June 28, 1969, when eight police officers raided the Stonewall Inn – a gay-friendly watering hole in Greenwich Village – patrons did the unthinkable: they revolted. Fed up with both the harassment and corrupt officers receiving payoffs from the bars' owners (who were mostly organized-crime figures), they began bombarding the officers with coins, bottles, bricks and chants of 'gay power' and 'we shall overcome.' They were also met by a line of high-kicking drag queens and their now-legendary chant, 'We are the Stonewall girls, we wear our hair in curls, we wear no underwear, we show our pubic hair, we wear our dungarees, above our nelly knees…'.
Their collective anger and solidarity was a turning point, igniting intense and passionate debate about discrimination and forming the catalyst for the modern gay rights movement, not just in New York, but across the US and in countries from the Netherlands to Australia.
In the Shadow of AIDS
LGBT activism intensified as HIV and AIDS hit world headlines in the early 1980s. Faced with ignorance, fear and the moral indignation of those who saw AIDS as a 'gay cancer,' activists such as writer Larry Kramer set about tackling what was quickly becoming an epidemic. Out of his efforts was born ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987, an advocacy group set up to fight the perceived homophobia and indifference of then-president Ronald Reagan, as well as to end the price gouging of AIDS drugs by pharmaceutical companies. One of its boldest protests took place on September 14, 1989, when seven ACT UP protesters chained themselves to the VIP balcony of the New York Stock Exchange, demanding pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome lower the price of AIDS drug AZT from a prohibitive $10,000 per patient per annum. Within days, the price was slashed to $6400 per patient.
The epidemic itself had a significant impact on New York's artistic community. Among its most high-profile victims were artist Keith Haring, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and fashion designer Halston. Yet out of this loss grew a tide of powerful AIDS-related plays and musicals that would not only win broad international acclaim, but would become part of America's mainstream cultural canon. Among these are Tony Kushner's political epic Angels in America and Jonathan Larson's rock musical Rent. Both works would win Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
Marriage & the New Millennium
The LGBT fight for complete equality took two massive steps forward in 2011. On September 20, a federal law banning LGBT military personnel from serving openly – the so-called 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy – was repealed after years of intense lobbying. Three months earlier persistence had led to an even greater victory – the right to marry. On June 15, by a margin of 80 to 63, the New York State Assembly passed the Marriage Equality Act. On June 24, the very eve of New York City Gay Pride, it was announced that the Act would be considered as the final bill of the legislative session. Considered and amended, the bill was approved by a margin of 33 to 29 and signed into law at 11.55pm by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. State victory became a national one on June 26, 2015, when the US Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a legal right across the country, striking down the remaining marriage bans in 13 US states.
In the same year, organizers of New York City's St Patrick's Parade lifted their long-standing ban on LGBT groups, allowing Out@NBCUniversal – a group consisting of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people working for NBCUniversal – to join the parade. The lifting of the ban no doubt met the approval of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who had famously boycotted the event in protest.
Despite these significant triumphs, New York City is not immune to intolerance and prejudice. In 2013, New Yorkers reeled when a Brooklyn man, Mark Carson, was fatally shot in Greenwich Village, one of Manhattan's most historically tolerant neighborhoods. Carson and a friend had been walking along 8th St in the early hours of May 18 when, after a short altercation with a group of men hurling homophobic abuse, the 32-year-old was shot at point-blank range. The attack prompted a midnight vigil in Carson's memory, as well as a sobering reminder that even in liberal New York City, not everyone is happy to live and let live.
Feature: Gay Pride Beyond Manhattan
Sure, the annual Gay Pride march and flood of parties in Manhattan is a wild and wonderful thing. But New York City’s outer boroughs have queer folks, too – and their lives and cultures can often feel worlds away from the Manhattan scene. Going to one of these smaller, nontouristy celebrations can be a joyously unique experience. Queens Pride, held the first Sunday in June, takes places in the multicultural neighborhood of Jackson Heights and has a strong pan-Latin flavor. Brooklyn Pride kicks off the second Sunday in June and features a street fair and nighttime parade in Park Slope, with parties radiating throughout the borough at nightfall. Staten Island PrideFest usually includes a 5K run and family-friendly festival, while Bronx LGBTQ Pride tends toward concerts, DJs and a health fair in a park. Held in July, the latter two are less established, and the best way to find out more information is to check in with the LGBT Community Center in May or June.
Sidebar: A Chorus Line
A Chorus Line was the first musical to highlight a gay narrative. The show debuted at the Shubert Theatre in 1975, running for 15 years.
Sidebar: First Gay Rights Rally
America's first gay-rights rally was held in New York City in 1964. Organized by the Homosexual League of New York and the League for Sexual Freedom, the picket took place outside the Army Induction Center on Whitehall St, where protestors demanded an end to the military's anti-gay policies.
Sidebar: GLBT Reads
- Dancer from the Dance (Andrew Holleran)
- Last Exit to Brooklyn (Hubert Selby)
- Another Country (James Baldwin)
- City Boy (Edmund White)
Sidebar: Queer Screen Classics
- Torch Song Trilogy (1988)
- The Boys in the Band (1970)
- Paris Is Burning (1990)
- Angels in America (2003)
- Jeffrey (1995)
NYC in Film & Television
New York City has a long and storied life on screen. It was on these streets that a bumbling Woody Allen fell for Diane Keaton in Annie Hall, that Meg Ryan faked her orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, and that Sarah Jessica Parker philosophized about the finer points of dating and Jimmy Choos in Sex & the City. To fans, traversing the city can feel like one big déjà vu of memorable scenes, characters and one-liners.
Hollywood Roots & Rivals
Believe it or not, America's film industry is an East Coast native. Fox, Universal, Metro, Selznick and Goldwyn all originated here in the early 20th century, and long before Westerns were shot in California and Colorado, they were filmed in the (now former) wilds of New Jersey. Even after Hollywood's year-round sunshine lured the bulk of the business west by the 1920s, 'Lights, Camera, Action' remained a common call in Gotham.
The Kaufman Astoria Legacy
The heart of the local scene was Queens' still-kicking Kaufman Astoria Studios. Founded by Jesse Lasky and Adolph Zukor in 1920 as a one-stop-shop for their Famous Players–Lasky Corporation, the complex would produce a string of silent-era hits, among them The Sheik (1921) and Monsieur Beaucaire (1924), both starring Italian-born heartthrob Rudolph Valentino, and Manhandled (1924), starring early silver-screen diva Gloria Swanson. Renamed Paramount Pictures in 1927, the studios became known for turning Broadway stars into big-screen icons, among them the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the latter making her feature-film debut as a flapper in Young Man of Manhattan (1930).
Despite Paramount moving all of its feature film shoots to Hollywood in 1932, the complex – renamed Eastern Services Studio – remained the home of Paramount's newsreel division. Throughout the 1930s, it was also known for its 'shorts,' which launched the careers of homegrown talents including George Burns, Bob Hope and Danny Kaye. After a stint making propaganda and training films for the US Army between WWII and 1970, what had become known as the US Signal Corps Photographic Center was renamed the Kaufman Astoria Studios by George S Kaufman (the real-estate agent, not the playwright) in 1983. Modernized and expanded, the studio has gone on to make a string of flicks, including All that Jazz (1979), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), The Stepford Wives (2004) and Men in Black III (2012). It was here that the Huxtables lived out their middle-class Brooklyn lives in the '80s TV sitcom The Cosby Show, and it's still here that small-screen favorites Sesame Street and Orange is the New Black are taped.
Slap-bang in the historic Brooklyn Navy Yard, the 26-acre Steiner Studios is the largest studio complex east of LA. Its film credits to date include The Producers (2005), Revolutionary Road (2008), Sex & the City 1 and 2 (2008, 2010), and The Wolf of Wall Street (2013). The studios have also been used for numerous TV shows, among them Martin Scorsese's critically acclaimed gangster drama Boardwalk Empire and fellow HBO series Vinyl, a rock drama by Scorsese, Mick Jagger and Terence Winter.
Back in Queens you'll find the city's other big gun, Silvercup Studios. Its list of features include NYC classics such as Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather: Part III (1990) and Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose (1984) and The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), plus TV gems such as mafia drama The Sopranos and the equally lauded comedy 30 Rock, the latter starring Tina Fey as a TV sketch writer and Alec Baldwin as a network executive at the Rockefeller Center.
In reality, the Rockefeller Center is home to the NBC TV network, its long-running variety show Saturday Night Live the real inspiration behind Fey's 30 Rock project. Other media networks dotted across Manhattan include the Food and Oxygen Networks, both housed in the Chelsea Market, as well as Robert De Niro's Tribeca Productions, based in the Tribeca Film Center.
Beyond the studios and headquarters are some of the top film schools: New York University’s Tisch Film School, the New York Film Academy, the School of Visual Arts, Columbia University and The New School. But you don’t have to be a student to learn, with both the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens, and the Paley Center for Media in Midtown Manhattan acting as major showcases for screenings and seminars about productions both past and present.
Landmarks on Screen
Downtown Drama to Midtown Romance
It's not surprising that NYC feels strangely familiar to many first-time visitors – the city itself has racked up more screen time than most Hollywood divas put together and many of its landmarks are as much a part of American screen culture as its red-carpet celebrities. Take the Staten Island Ferry, which takes bullied secretary Melanie Griffith from suburbia to Wall St in Working Girl (1988); Battery Park, where Madonna bewitches Aidan Quinn and Rosanna Arquette in Desperately Seeking Susan (1985); or the New York County Courthouse, where villains get their just deserts in Wall Street (1987) and Goodfellas (1990), as well as in small-screen classics such as Cagney & Lacey, NYPD Blue and Law & Order. The latter show, famous for showcasing New York and its characters, is honored with its own road – Law & Order Way – that leads to Pier 62 at Chelsea Piers.
Few landmarks can claim as much screen time as the Empire State Building, famed for its spire-clinging ape in King Kong (1933, 2005), as well as for the countless romantic encounters on its observation decks. One of its most famous scenes is Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks' after-hours encounter in Sleepless in Seattle (1993). The sequence – which uses the real lobby but a studio-replica deck – is a tribute of sorts to An Affair to Remember (1957), which sees Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr make a pact to meet and (hopefully) seal their love atop the skyscraper.
Sarah Jessica Parker is less lucky in Sex & the City (2008), when a nervous Chris Noth jilts her and her Vivienne Westwood wedding dress at the New York Public Library. Perhaps he'd seen Ghostbusters (1984) a few too many times, its opening scenes featuring the haunted library's iconic marble lions and Rose Main Reading Room. The library's foyer sneakily stands in for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), in which thieving playboy Pierce Brosnan meets his match in sultry detective Rene Russo. It's at the fountain in adjacent Bryant Park that DIY sleuth Diane Keaton debriefs husband Woody Allen about their supposedly bloodthirsty elderly neighbor in Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). True to form, Allen uses the film to showcase a slew of New York locales, among them the National Arts Club in Gramercy Park and one of his own former hangouts, Elaine's at 1703 Second Ave. It's here, at this since-closed Upper East Side restaurant, that Keaton explains her crime theory to Allen and dinner companions Alan Alda and Ron Rifkin. The restaurant was a regular in Allen's films, also appearing in Manhattan (1979) and Celebrity (1998).
Across Central Park – whose own countless scenes include Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford rowing on its lake in clutch-a-Kleenex The Way We Were (1973) – stands the Dakota Building, used in the classic thriller Rosemary's Baby (1968). The Upper West Side is also home to Tom’s Restaurant, the facade of which was used regularly in Seinfeld. Another neighborhood star is the elegant Lincoln Center, where Natalie Portman slowly loses her mind in the psychological thriller Black Swan (2010), and where love-struck Brooklynites Cher and Nicolas Cage meet for a date in Moonstruck (1987). The Center sits on what had previously been a run-down district of tenements, captured in Oscar-winning gangland musical West Side Story (1961).
The more recent Oscar-winner Birdman (2014) shines the spotlight on Midtown's glittering Theater District, in which a long-suffering Michael Keaton tries to stage a Broadway adaptation at the St James Theatre on W44th St. Locked out of the building, a mortified Keaton fronts Times Square in nothing but his underwear. A few blocks further east, he spars over his play with Lindsay Duncan at historic drinking den Rum House.
Movie- and TV-location guided tours such as On Location Tours are a good way to visit some of the spots where your screen favorites were shot, including The Devil Wears Prada, Spider-Man, How I Met Your Mother and more. Alternatively, you can do it yourself after visiting the wonderfully comprehensive On the Set of New York website (www.onthesetofnewyork.com), which offers free downloadable location maps covering much of Manhattan.
Dancing in the Street
Knives make way for leotards in the cult musical Fame (1980), in which New York High School of Performing Arts students do little for the city's traffic woes by dancing on Midtown's streets. The film's graphic content was too much for the city's Board of Education, who banned shooting at the real High School of Performing Arts, then located at 120 W 46th St. Consequently, filmmakers used the doorway of a disused church on the opposite side of the street for the school's entrance, and Haaren Hall (Tenth Ave and 59th St) for interior scenes.
Fame is not alone in turning Gotham into a pop-up dance floor. In On the Town (1949), starstruck sailors Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly and Jules Munshin look straight off a Pride float as they skip, hop and sing their way across this 'wonderful town,' from the base of Lady Liberty to Rockefeller Plaza and the Brooklyn Bridge. Another wave of campness hits the bridge when Diana Ross and Michael Jackson cross it in The Wiz (1978), a bizarre take on The Wizard of Oz, complete with munchkins in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and an Emerald City at the base of the WTC Twin Towers. The previous year, the bridge provided a rite of passage for a bell-bottomed John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (1977), who leaves the comforts of his adolescent Brooklyn for the bigger, brighter mirror balls of Manhattan. Topping them all, however, is the closing scene in Terry Gilliam's The Fisher King (1991), which sees Grand Central Terminal's Main Concourse turned into a ballroom of waltzing commuters.
Feature: NYC on Film
It would take volumes to cover all the films tied to Gotham, so fire up your imagination with the following celluloid hits:
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) Starring Robert De Niro, Cybill Shepherd and Jodie Foster. De Niro is a mentally unstable Vietnam War vet whose violent urges are heightened by the city's tensions. It’s a funny, depressing, brilliant classic that’s a potent reminder of how much grittier this place used to be.
Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979) Starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton and Mariel Hemingway. A divorced New Yorker dating a high-school student (the baby-voiced Hemingway) falls for his best friend’s mistress in what is essentially a love letter to NYC. Catch romantic views of the Queensboro Bridge and the Upper East Side.
Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985) Starring Madonna, Rosanna Arquette and Aidan Quinn. A case of mistaken identity leads a bored New Jersey housewife on a wild adventure through Manhattan's subcultural wonderland. Relive mid-80s East Village and long-gone nightclub Danceteria.
Summer of Sam (Spike Lee, 1999) Starring John Leguizamo, Mira Sorvino and Jennifer Esposito. Spike Lee puts NYC's summer of 1977 in historical context by weaving together the Son of Sam murders, the blackout, racial tensions and the misadventures of one disco-dancing Brooklyn couple, including scenes at CBGB and Studio 54.
Angels in America (Mike Nichols, 2003) Starring Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Jeffrey Wright. This movie version of Tony Kushner’s Broadway play recalls 1985 Manhattan: crumbling relationships, AIDS out of control and a closeted Roy Cohn – advisor to President Ronald Reagan – doing nothing about it except falling ill himself. Follow characters from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan to Central Park.
Party Monster (Fenton Bailey, 2003) Starring Seth Green and Macaulay Culkin, who plays the famed, murderous club kid Michael Alig, this is a disturbing look into the drug-fueled downtown clubbing culture of the late ’80s. The former Limelight club is featured prominently.
Precious (Lee Daniels, 2009) Starring Gabourey Sidibe and based on the novel Push by Sapphire. This unflinching tale of an obese, illiterate teenager who is abused by her parents takes place in Harlem, offering plenty of streetscapes and New York–ghetto ’tude.
Birdman (Alejandro G Iñárritu, 2014) Oscar-winning black-comedy/drama starring Michael Keaton and featuring Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts. Birdman documents the struggles of a has-been Hollywood actor trying to mount a Broadway show.
Ghostbusters (Paul Feig, 2016) The reboot of the original 1984 film stars four female ghost hunters (comedy stars Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones) who light up NYC during their encounters with ghoulish creatures. Though receiving mixed reviews, the film broke new ground with its all-female leads.
Sidebar: Film Festivals
- Dance on Camera (January/February)
- New York International Children's Film Festival (February/March)
- Tribeca Film Festival (April)
- Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (June)
- NewFest: LGBT Film Festival (October)
- New York Film Festival (September/October)
Sidebar: Seven Year Itch
The infamous subway grill scene in The Seven Year Itch (1955) – in which Marilyn Monroe enjoys a dress-lifting breeze – was shot at 586 Lexington Ave, outside the since-demolished Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre.
Sidebar: MGM Lion
Metro Goldwyn Mayer's famous 'Leo the Lion' logo was designed by Howard Dietz. His inspiration was the mascot of New York's Columbia University, where the publicist had studied journalism. Leo's famous roar was first added to films in 1928.
Sidebar: Film Locations
- Central Park Countless cameos, including in Woody Allen's Annie Hall, Manhattan and Hannah & Her Sisters.
- 64 Perry St Carrie Bradshaw's apartment exterior in Sex & the City.
- Katz's Delicatessen Where Meg Ryan faux climaxes in When Harry Met Sally.
- Tom's Restaurant Stand-in for Monk's Café in Seinfeld.
- Tiffany & Co Where Audrey Hepburn daydreams in Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Sidebar: NYC TV Shows
Over 70 TV shows are filmed in NYC, from hit series such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and The Good Fight and quirky comedies like Broad City, to long-standing classics including The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live. Combined, the city's TV and film industries spend over $8 billion on production annually and support 104,000 jobs. Over a third of professional actors in the US are based here.