NYC, Off the Suggested Donation Path
March 3, 2011 7:38 AM   Subscribe

I'll be spending two days in Manhattan, all by my lonesome. I'm not interested in gettin' my culture on. What should I do? My boyfriend bought me a night in a Midtown hotel. Awww. However, my stay has to take place this weekend (Fri./Sat.), when he'll be unavailable to join me. I'm shy/nerdy, so this puts the kibosh on super-social activities. However, I'm ALSO not terribly interested in seeing any museums/cultural attractions on this trip. Don't get me wrong - those things are delightful! - but it's spring break, so I'd like my trip to be a lil' more indulgent/eclectic/badass.

What I Like: weird food, medical oddities, crazy-ass experiences, testing the limits of my own body (licking a hallucinogenic toad while BASE jumping and having my eyebrows threaded? SIGN ME UP, YO), stuff that's open all night, feeling out of my element, urban exploration and performance art. I know, I know... rather broad. So hit me up with anything you've got. What are YOUR recommendations for solitary activities/excursions in NYC which won't require me to look anyone in the eye and won't necessarily teach me a damned thing, but which WILL leave me with a smile on my face?
posted by julthumbscrew to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (33 answers total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Medical Oddities: Body's Exhibit in Southstreet Seaport. For grasshopper tacos head over to Toloache on 50th between Eighth and Broadway. Oh and Willy-b for some urban exploration :)
posted by mooselini at 7:56 AM on March 3, 2011

Pick up a Time Out New York (available at nearly every magazine shop) and find out what is going on, there will surely be a few things that capture your eye.

The more 'out there' stuff may be found in brooklyn, but where, well, I have no idea. We have a ton of museums here, so don't write them all off... The Museum of Sex is a cool one for example and the Tenament Museum, while educational, is also pretty damn interesting.

Assuming the weather cooperates, stroll around the East Village/West Village for shops and things of that nature. And if you like unique japanese food, I recommend going to Hagi, where Anthony Bourdain filmed an episode and said that they have some of the best and most unique japanese food (think real food though, not sushi rolls). Get there VERY early, like when they open, lest you wait for 90 minutes. There will be some things you can try that will probably blow your mind.
posted by darkgroove at 7:57 AM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: Something I did when I was broke may work --

1. Pick any random nice long street.
2. Walk the whole length of it -- one end to the other -- and see if you see anything cool.

Broadway's a good street for this -- it's really super-long, and it's fascinating to see how the neighborhoods change as you progress. There will be a lot of people around, yeah, but they'll all be worried about their own stuff and won't pay too much attention to you.

Or you could pick a neighborhood like Chinatown and just wander -- that would be good for the "weird food" end of things, whether you stop in a random dim sum shop or hit up the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory (they have things like Red Bean and Durian flavor ice cream), or get weird fruit from stalls out on the street.

There are a ka-squillion books with "self-guided walking tours" you may want to check out -- two that may be more to your taste include one that highlights the stomping grounds of the Beat Poets, and one that spotlights the histories of six different immigrant groups. Both are corners of the city that have great significance, but aren't as "obviously touristy" as others, so those may yield interesting delights.

If you want to venture into Brooklyn (which is totally do-able from Manhattan), this guide takes you to some weird corners of Brooklyn as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:58 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mmmm those grasshopper tacos are tasty. And there's also the Ripley's Believe it or Not exhibit in Times Square (42nd b/w 8th and 7th), which is right by Madame Tussaud's which is also kinda weird.. Though I have a feeling Bodies and Ripley's are probably a bit too tame for your tastes. I'm sure there's tons more weird stuff in Brooklyn!
posted by Grither at 8:00 AM on March 3, 2011

Oh and also some previously generated mefi wisdom on the subject.
posted by mooselini at 8:05 AM on March 3, 2011

Nonsense NYC is a list of interesting goings-on that comes out every week. If you want, I can memail it to you when I get it (sometime tomorrow afternoon).
posted by mlle valentine at 8:12 AM on March 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If you want to see the city, as in the entire city, then go to the Rockefeller Building's roof. They call it "top of the rock" and is in Midtown East. The views from the roof are stunning, day or night. Right down the street from it, on East 42nd Street is Grand Central train station. It is really cool inside. Across town, to the west of that is Times Square. You'll want to avoid that. This is where we keep our Olive Gardens and Dave & Busters for the out-of-town folk that wish to still be in flyover states.

Downtown from Grand Central, which you can take a subway to, is the Lower East Side, which used to be a lot cooler, but is still pretty cool if you're not from here. There are lots of places to eat, places to drink, and some shops. MTV once made a Virtual Lower East Side that was supposed to be like Second Life, but for "hipsters." West and South from there is SOHO, which is where you can shop if you have some money to spend. Topshop and Uniqlo are really cool stores there, on Broadway.

If you go south from SOHO to Canal Street, and then east, you'll hit Chinatown, which has lots of little streets to get lost on. Everything there is pretty cool. And there's the ice cream shop, which is really nice. North from that is Little Italy, which is a lot like Times Square, but made to look "old."

If you can make it, you should go to the finest treasure in all of Manhattan, which is Momofuku Milk Bar, which is on 12th street and 2nd Avenue. Get the Crack Pie. You might want to go visit this on your first day, because you will want to come back. Heh. Next door to that is the Momofuku Ssam Bar, which is one of the best restaurants in town, foodwise. (It is in the top 25 "best restraunts in the world" and is actually not pretentious and is affordable.

If you need a break from it all, head north from midtown to Central Park, which is in the middle, can't miss it. Go walk around there. Up towards more of the middle part is all windy and designed to get you somewhat lost in it, which is pretty cool.

All that is the starter places that I take most people from out of town so they get a feel for the city, and I've had no complaints so far.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 8:12 AM on March 3, 2011 [11 favorites]

Yaffa Cafe is open all night and is decorated like the boudoir of a senile former cabaret dancer. The food's nothing to write home about, but if you're in the East Village anyway, stop by for a glass of prosecco or a coffee.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:13 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Take the 7 train to Flushing and wander around. Look at cool graffiti after you leave Manhattan.
posted by gaspode at 8:21 AM on March 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If you're interested in urban exploration, it is fascinating to wander the perimeter of Newtown Creek, one of the most polluted industrial sites of America, which separates Brooklyn from Queens.

I recommend exploring the Brooklyn side of it. Take the 7 train to Hunter's point, from there you can walk across the Pulaski Bridge on foot and see an excellent view of the Manhattan skyline on one side, and the futuristic new sewage treatment plant on the other (also known as the "Shit Tits").

Once you cross the bridge you can go see the Newtown Creek Nature Path, which is a sort of new public park build according to Eraserhead specifications. From there you can explore the winding industrial streets that abut the creek, where you will find all sorts of interesting relics and photo opportunities. I've made a game of trying to find all the locations from which the creek is actually accessible -- they are all squalid, but some of them are also beautiful. Memail me if you'd like more details.
posted by hermitosis at 8:32 AM on March 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

CineKink runs through this weekend.
posted by 17564 at 8:38 AM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: Agree with folks who've mentioned the Tenement Museum as a special case. It's basically urban exploration, if when you busted into the deserted tenement building you found it exactly as its last inhabitants had left it. And happened to have a guide on hand to tell you their names, ages, religious/ethnic backgrounds, what they did for a living, whether they got along with the neighbors, and where they went after they left. The ultimate in eavesdropping.

Re medical oddities - there isn't much aside from the Bodies exhibition, which is sort of politically questionable. There's a lot of evidence that the provenance of the subjects is sketchy, at best, and there are a lot of allegations that they're executed Chinese political prisoners or possibly cadavers obtained on the black market. Maybe you care about this, maybe you don't.

You might enjoy checking out South Street Seaport, anyway - especially the Tall Ships that are docked there. Somewhat educational, but honestly they are just really freaking cool old ships!

Urban exploration - if you want to do the deserted urban/industrial blight sort of thing, Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn, or parts of Astoria/Long Island City/Sunnyside in Queens, are your best bet. Atlas Obscura should provide some interesting ideas.

However, my favorite kind of urban exploration in New York is to find interesting inhabited places. New York is full of little enclaves that feel like being in another city, another country, or even another time. Not knowing where you live now or what your interest/background is, I would suggest one of the big Hasidic enclaves in Brooklyn (southern Williamsburg, Crown Heights, or Borough Park), Brighton Beach, Jackson Heights, or Flushing. Renting a bike and riding down the Ocean Avenue greenway from Prospect Park to Coney Island would be a great way to get this experience, too, though I don't think the weather will be good for it this weekend. If it rains on Saturday as it's supposed to, maybe go to the Russian Baths in the East Village or Kensington (bring a bathing suit). All of the above neighborhoods are also good for food adventures.

If you find yourself in the gentrified part of Williamsburg for food or entertainment purposes, you might like to stop by the City Reliquary. It's not really an educational "museum" experience per se, more a shrine to the weird detritus of Brooklyn life.
posted by Sara C. at 8:42 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Threeway Handshake mentioned the crack pie at Milk Bar-- I suggest the pork belly buns at the same. So fresh! so pillowy! so luscious!
posted by tangaroo at 8:42 AM on March 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Been a while since I was in NYC, but I will second the "pick a neighborhood and start walking" suggestion for daytime. You might enjoy this shop.
posted by omnidrew at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2011

For browsing in a shop: Obscura on 10th between 1st and A. I saw their TV show and have always wanted to go there.

While I was trying to remember the name of this shop, I centered google maps on Manhattan and searched for "oddities" - came right up. But what also came up was a link saying "See all 525 results for oddities". Most of them come from the words 'oddities' in a review on the site, but who knows what you might find?
posted by CathyG at 8:53 AM on March 3, 2011

how about a concert? brooklyn vegan has a pretty comprehensive list of daily shows.
posted by sabh at 8:57 AM on March 3, 2011

Best answer: Staten Island Ferry.

At least on e a year, I made a point to walk all the way from uptown (say mid 70's) to downtown (Nolita/soho.) Go ahead and start from your hotel and walk all the way to the ferry! Stop along the way. Enjoy what you find!

Also. The Temple of Dendur. At The Met, which is free or donation only. Don't miss it. Trust me.
posted by jbenben at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You guys are THE AWESOMEST. Special shout-out to hermitosis: the Newtown Creek Nature Path is SO up my alley. Guess I'd better pack some decent shoes, loose pants (on account of the Crack Pie) and a GPS. :-)
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:22 AM on March 3, 2011

Don't discount the Nonsense NYC list. It's really worth a gander if you can get a hold of it. It lists the more immediate odd activities for each coming week.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:17 AM on March 3, 2011

Walk the High Line. While it might be a bit, er, tidy for some tastes, it's still a fascinating perspective on a rapidly-changing ex-industrial neighbourhood. You can see it here (caution: large image), running like a green ribbon just up from the West Side Highway. On a cold, quiet-ish March weekend, not only will you feel out of your element up there, the city itself will feel a bit out of its element. It's also an easy way to score your Urban Exploration Achievement for the weekend.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:19 AM on March 3, 2011

Oh, and on the urbex theme, you might enjoy having a peek at Forgotten NY, if you haven't already. You could make an entire trip out of tracking down every bit of old exposed trolley line if you so wished. WHILE HAVING YOUR EYEBROWS THREADED!!! I'd follow that blog.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:24 AM on March 3, 2011

On a cold, quiet-ish March weekend, not only will you feel out of your element up there, the city itself will feel a bit out of its element.

This weekend is not due to be "cold" (by local standards), and the weather thus far this winter has been so shitty that people are CRAZY excited for the prospect of anything resembling spring. Unless it rains (as I mentioned above), you should expect to see lots of foot traffic at the High Line.

That said, my favorite thing about the High Line is the people watching.
posted by Sara C. at 10:26 AM on March 3, 2011

Yeah, the High Line might get a bit crowded.

Food stops near it:

At the downtown end is Chelsea Market, which is awesome.

On the uptown end (at 23rd and 10th) is a bar with good food: Half King (as seen on The Onion!). And a fucking wonderful tapas place called Tia Pol. You can sit at the bar and eat amazing food and drink some good wine.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:00 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Half King. Crowded at happy hour, but they have a great burger.

There's also a little casual/homestyle French bistro on 20th and 10th called La Luncheonette, which is a favorite of mine.
posted by Sara C. at 11:05 AM on March 3, 2011

It's the Armory art show this weekend and there are associated events, including an open studio walk near the High Line. I know it's art, but it might count as urban exploration, sort of, in that you get to wander around inside buildings that are otherwise not open to the public. Some of the other events on those pages might fit into your performance art category.

Or you could take yourself on a self-guided Old Croton Aqueduct Tour. Some of that is a little underwhelming but the High Bridge is pretty cool.
posted by yarrow at 11:21 AM on March 3, 2011

Luncheonette is, indeed, awesome.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:28 AM on March 3, 2011

It doesn't fit with your list o' likes but just in case if you haven't been already: go to the Strand! I have all these nerdy memories of wiling away hours there perusing used books. I think my entire Jung collection comes from there. Love it. Oh, and IIRC that's where jonmc works too, ha.
posted by ifjuly at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

And if you like specialty prepared foodstuffs and ingredients Dean and Deluca is pretty fab, but I'm going my memories from over 10 years ago so I might be off the mark now.
posted by ifjuly at 12:20 PM on March 3, 2011

Dean & Deluca is great, but in the last 5-10 years so many equally good (if not better/more distinctively local) places have cropped up. On the off chance that you're in these neighborhoods, I'd also recommend Sahadi's, Brooklyn Larder, Kalustyan's, Brooklyn Kitchen, or any of the greenmarkets*.

My favorite old school New York "nowhere like this exists anywhere else" food place is Porto Rico.

*I prefer the smaller neighborhood markets, but I'm sure the legendary Union Square market will be in full swing at least one day you're in town.
posted by Sara C. at 12:29 PM on March 3, 2011

Sara C., thanks for the update, though you're making me homesick (: Is Zabar's still around and awesome? 'Cause I almost mentioned it but it was the same deal where I can't vouch for it these days...damn. I need to make a homecoming trip soon...
posted by ifjuly at 12:54 PM on March 3, 2011

I haven't been to Zabar's in probably as long as you've been away from the city, but yes, it is there and going strong.
posted by Sara C. at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2011

I tried to go on the Newtown Creek Nature Path a couple weeks ago and it seemed to be closed (for the winter maybe?). Not sure what was up, maybe someone else can clarify, but I just thought I'd warn you since you're enthusiastic about that option.
posted by ootandaboot at 3:01 PM on March 3, 2011

Visit the Lincoln Plaza.
posted by jchaw at 4:19 PM on March 3, 2011

« Older Cricket World Cup on DirecTV?   |   Help me find this todo webapp? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.