When you think of New York City, what comes to mind immediately? Times Square? Broadway? Fifth Avenue? If you are in New York City for the first time, you have to see Times Square, where they drop that famous ball on New Year’s Eve while the legendary Dick Clark spins rock n’ roll, and a million revelers party until morning. Yes, you have to see a Broadway show or two, or even three if you can afford it. And of course, you need to take that walk down Fifth Avenue going north from 42nd Street, stopping at Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Tiffany’s, Gucci, Chanel and Bendel’s. Go a little bit north, past the entrance of Central Park, to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Guggenheim Museum. Lastly, go play in the park, have brunch at Tavern on the Green, and go to the Museum of Natural History, made famous by the recent hit film “Night at the Museum”. If this is your first time in New York City, and you are only there for a week, this will keep you busy, and exhausted. But to really see the history and taste New York’s flavor, you have to go off that “beaten track”!
And the good news is that you don’t have to go far, or spend a lot of money. First of, don’t hail a cab -- get down into the subway, the way the locals do. Yes the subway--it’s cleaner, safer, and more comfortable than ever. Just avoid the crush--- from 7 to 9:30 in the morning, and from 4:30 in the afternoon until 7 at night-- and you will most likely get a seat, and plenty of elbow room. Subway travel, which averts congestion and traffic lights, is the quickest way to get around. So equip yourself with a subway map and an unlimited one-week Metrocard pass (which is good on the buses too) and you are on your way to the real New York City. First, go to the West Fourth Street stop. When you get to street level, you will be in one of the most legendary sections of New York. Called Greenwich Village, this was the home of liberalism. In the early 1900s, the “Village” was the center of free thinking and progressive writing. It was here that the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911 spawned the workers rights movement. The centerpiece is New York University, and Washington Square Park with its famous arch. Many beatniks, hippies, and radicals formulated their protest plans or wrote their avant-garde manuscripts and manifestoes here by that arch. Walk east from here, and pass Astor Place, where Lincoln made a famous campaign speech and mobs rioted in the mid-1800s because an Englishman replaced an American actor in a play at the Astor Place Theater Keep going through famous St. Mark’s Place until you hit Bowery. It was here that the Ramones got their start at the now-defunct punk-music club, CBGB’s.
At the stop on Canal Street and Broadway, is Chinatown. Have tea and dim sum (appetizers), wheeled around on carts. Point to your choice and, when you are finished, your plates are counted to compute the bill. At Prince or Spring St, you are in SoHo, once an art district, now a place to shop designer labels, like Prada. If you have funkier tastes, just go south instead and you will be in the Lower East Side, around Delancey Street (as in the street Amy Irving crossed in the movie). Once the landing place of thousands of Jewish immigrants around the turn of the twentieth century, this is now a place for trendy boutiques and hip restaurants. West of here, down Mott and Mulberry, is Little Italy. Remember the scene in The Godfather when Michael meets with rival mobsters in a Little Italy restaurant, and stashes a gun in the bathroom? Well, don’t look for guns, but you will find cannoli, lasagna, gelato, and, in September, the world-famous Feast of San Gennaro. South of SoHo is Tribeca, home of the renowned film festival started by Robert Deniro. And further south from there, catch a glimpse of Ground Zero and the former site of the Twin Towers before construction of the Freedom Tower reminds us that life does indeed go on and on, and on. The world changes, so does New York City.
So don’t limit yourself to the tourist route. Hop that subway to the places where you can still see some history. Some of the tenements are still there, even if the “hudded masses” of yesteryear are now masses of hipsters. Sip an espresso in Little Italy or sniff the fresh fish in Chinatown. Sit under a tree in Washington Square Park, that could have inspired Jack Kerouac and his group of beat poets. Think about the 146 young immigrant girls who, a block away in 1911, died in the tragic fire, that inspired the formation of the garment workers unions. When you go off the beaten track in New York City, you feel so much history, culture and soul of the people who have lived, died, and dreamed there.