Best weird/alternative places to go in NYC
May 17, 2006 6:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to NYC for a week in September. I need recommendations of the best alternative/weird/unusual/eye-opening places in Manhattan.

I'm going to NYC for a week in September.

I want to experience the unusual side of NYC - avoid the mainstream, any kind of tourist sight-seeing, the big shops etc. With that in mind, I would love to hear recommendations (with descriptions - not just a list of names) of awesome examples of places to go to in Manhattan that fall into the following categories:

* Somewhere that is deserted and dusty and eerie - an old warehouse, an abandoned street or whatever.
* A squat that has fun events (music, art, workshops, talks, films, whatever).
* A queer (not gay) hangout.
* Clothes shops that sell unusual/alternative/strange things.
* The best music shop for hardcore/grind.
* Somewhere that is publically accessible but relatively deserted where you can get up really, really high and look over the city.
* The best burger bar.
* Local bands that gig a lot in NYC who just must be seen by someone who likes hardcore/punk-rock/grind/queercore.
* A great bookshop with a leaning towards anarchism or radical politics or music or queerness.
* A good place where people are doing interesting radical politics (a bar, a club, a squat, a street, a meeting).
* A random place that I haven't covered here that I really should go to.
posted by pollystark to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (40 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
For the deserted/dusty/eerie, I always love to walk the Financial District/Chinatown/Lower East Side areas late at night. The Madison and Market at 1 am, for instance. Also, check out Cortland Alley/Benson Street in Tribeca.

The best burger bar is Corner Bistro in the West Village.

There's an Anarchist bookstore on 1st Ave between 9th and 10th (West Side of the street), but I cannot vouch for its completeness or even remember its name, having never been in.

There's a "strange clothes shop" on literally every block of the East Village.

For radical politics, you need look no further than the south end of Union Square, assuming the weather is nice. Megaphones and hand-lettered signs abound.

For other funky things to do...

Take the 6 train to Brooklyn Bridge (final stop), then hide when they clear the train to turn it around. Once it's moving again, pop your head up and look out the windows to see the abandoned City Hall train station. Fucking eerie.
posted by saladin at 7:00 AM on May 17, 2006

Forgotten NY Lamps, cobblestones, necrology...
posted by popcassady at 7:22 AM on May 17, 2006

ABC No Rioon the lower east side fits your squatter/punk/political/art interests exactly.
posted by kimdog at 7:27 AM on May 17, 2006

Have you considered venturing to the outer boroughs of NYC? I think a lot of what you seem to be looking for can be found, these days, in Brooklyn and Queens to a greater extent than in Manhattan.

You also may have a hard time stumbling upon a "squat" in any part of the city. The laws are a lot different here than in the UK.
posted by staggernation at 7:30 AM on May 17, 2006

Head out to Brooklyn and see the NYC transit museum.

Best museum deal in NYC

Go here to see more.
posted by josher71 at 7:41 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you want non-touristy, don't head to the village. It's a neat place, but these days it's all faux bohemia. I hit up the Corner Bistro when I first got into NYC after hearing it was the best burger joint around and was kinda dissappointed. It's a nice local place with decent food, but for $10 ($17 with a coke and tip), there are better.

The problem is that everyone wants to "get off the beaten track" these days and so anti-hype is all the rage. You're not going to find much thats "abandoned" in Manhattan, but the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn have got plenty of warehouses, etc.

If you really want something creepy, see if you can connect with someone local who is into "Urban Exploring" where they go down into the service tunnels, etc. that run underneatht the city. I also hear that China Town has got some crazy tunnels that are still in use for selling knock off merchandise.
posted by Smarson at 7:53 AM on May 17, 2006

posted by unknowncommand at 8:02 AM on May 17, 2006

Most squats are secret. Good abandoned places are probably not going to be in Manhattan. In Brooklyn, check out Vinegar Hill and Red Hook, though both are kind of hard to get to by public transportation.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:05 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

If you really want something creepy, see if you can connect with someone local who is into "Urban Exploring" where they go down into the service tunnels, etc. that run underneath the city.

Is this still possible in NYC? I'm probably being naive, but I'd think since 9/11, the security would be too tight to do this. I'd hate to get caught in a tunnel and have to explain what I was doing there.

I once got caught carrying a fake gun (for a play I was directing) into a building and it took my an hour to get out of trouble -- even after they knew it was fake.
posted by grumblebee at 8:08 AM on May 17, 2006

For the bookstore, I would recommend Spoonbill & Sugartown on Bedford Ave. in the heart of Williamsburg. It's not explicitly an "anarchist" bookstore, but I found a lot of weird and radical things there. Also, St. Mark's Bookshop in the East Village is pretty great.

I agree that you will need to go to Brooklyn and Queens to have the type of NYC experience you want. There are lots of abandoned warehouses in Bushwick / East Williamsburg and you can find flyers for shows in pretty much any shop along Bedford Ave.

On the weekends you can climb to the top of the Sailor's and Soldier's Memorial arch in the center of Grand Army Plaza. It's usually pretty empty and you can get a good view up there. It's not always unlocked, though. Has anyone else done this?
posted by mattbucher at 8:12 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Corner Bistro is definitely the best burger bar. Go at an odd hour to avoid a line. It is in the West Village, hence the crowd is not exactly edgy and it is a tad expensive, but the burgers are perfect in my book.

For something out of the ordinary, head to Long Island City, Queens, to 5 Pointz, a row of deserted warehouses turned graffiti mecca. You can go up to the roof for more graffiti and views of LIC and Manhattan. Address: 5 Pointz, Jackson Avenue at Crane Street and Davis Street, the whole block, Long Island City, NY 11101

The area in Brooklyn that runs along the Navy Yard is rather deserted and interesting. Full of old warehouses, only some of which have begun being utilized for housing and such. Just don't let curiosity get the better of you and climb over the Navy Yard fence. You will be arrested. Swiftly. It is not pretty.

Brooklyn, in general, is great to explore on foot. It is not nearly as restrained as Manhattan. (You'd probably prefer to stay out of Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, as those neighborhoods are pretty gentrified, although very attractive.)

Have fun.
posted by susanmullin at 8:14 AM on May 17, 2006

Also, sign up for the Nonsense NYC list here. It's getting kind of crappy for non-festive "happenings" (or maybe they're not happening so much right now), but still a pretty good resource for creative parties.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:21 AM on May 17, 2006

climb to the top of the ... arch in the center of Grand Army Plaza. Has anyone else done this?

Yes, I live around the corner from the arch. Great view.

That area of Brooklyn -- my neighborhood -- is really great. Maybe not quite as offbeat as pollystark wants, but there's some great stuff here. In addition to the arch, there's the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I've been told it has the largest collection in the USA, but no one ever talks about it. You hear about MOMA and The Met all the time, but there's this amazing, huge museum in Brooklyn.

Also near the museum and arch is the Botanical Garden, which -- for some reason -- is a favorite stomping ground for Hasidic Jews. So you can look at men-in-black looking at flowers in bloom.

Prospect Park, also in this neighborhood, is the biggest park in NYC, but it doesn't get the press (or the tourists) that swarm around Central Park. Prospect park has a couple of great lakes in it, filled with turtles, a little zoo, and an old-time carousel.

You might also want to go to Coney Island. Parts of it are pretty well preserved from the "old days," and when I've been there, it's been mostly filled with New Yorkers, not tourists. Too bad you're not coming during the mermaid-day parade. Now THAT'S unusual.
posted by grumblebee at 8:25 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

maybe see if DUMBA is doing anything then (sorry for all the comments, i keep thinking of other things).
posted by unknowncommand at 8:26 AM on May 17, 2006

For the deserted, dusted and eerie... You're going to have to go into Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx for that. But don't worry: Most of the amazing old warehouses and abandoned places out there are no more than a 15-20 minute subway ride from Manhattan.

As for the music... ABC No Rio on Rivington St fits your interests exactly and Generation Music on Thompson St in the West Village is a good spot for hardcore cd, vinyl and finding out about upcoming shows.

I'd also recommend the show listings on Although they lean more to the indie rock side of things, they've been better & better with grindcore/thrash/hardcore listings as well.
posted by huskerdont at 8:38 AM on May 17, 2006

I would recommend Red Hook in Brooklyn. Hard to get to but worth it. Lots of great old industrial buildings and docks - you cant get in a lot of them but walking the streets is great. Plus you can hit the river and see the Statue Of Liberty without any douchebags around. Go to Van Brunt Street and just start wandering around. You can get a great burger at Hope and Anchor and then head over to Bait and Tackle for Schaefer on tap.

There is a park in DUMBO, Brooklyn under the Manhattan Bridge (I guess that is redundant) that has fantastic views and is less crowded and the surrounding area is still unique, althought the galleries are starting to take over.

In Manhattan I think the burger at Cedar Tavern on University Place and 12th beats the hell out of Corner Bistro.
posted by spicynuts at 8:59 AM on May 17, 2006

Smarson is bonkers if s/he thinks Corner Bistro is expensive. Cheeseburgers are $5.50 and they have a couple of beers that are $2 and you're complaining about price? You're lucky to get away with paying that for one drink in most of the bars in the area.

I live in the neighborhood and think the burgers are great. They are actually correctly cooked to order, which is more than you can say for most places. And Mario Batali says it's the best, so there.

Don't have much else to add except to agree that the financial district late at night is really creepy. Strangely, Chinatown seems to close early and become scary as well, but if you're visiting during the summer the garbage from the restaurants and grocery stores can make it smell pretty foul (I know, I was once on a multi-hour scavenger hunt there in July. Yikes.).
posted by lackutrol at 9:15 AM on May 17, 2006

check out the High Line.
Note - it's illegal.
posted by hellbient at 9:16 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Prospect Park, also in this neighborhood, is the biggest park in NYC, but it doesn't get the press (or the tourists) that swarm around Central Park.

Prospect Park is approximately .7 square miles in area.
Central Park is approximately 1.3 square miles in area.

Brooklyn Museum is approximately 560,000 square feet.
The Met is approximately 2,000,000 square feet.

Can't find info on the sizes of each museums collections, but I'm going to guess that having 4 times the amount of diplay space, the Mmet is going to have a larger collection as well.
posted by skwm at 9:20 AM on May 17, 2006

I guess I was wrong about Prospect park (it still is a REALLY big park, with bigger open areas than Central Park). But I never meant to claim that the Brooklyn Museum had more floor space. What I've heard -- and this may be just rumor -- is that it has a larger COLLECTION than any other American art museum.

In any case, it's a great museum. It has a really great Ancient Egypt exhibit. I've never seen the one in Cairo, which is supposed to be the best (as it should be), but I've seen the one in the British museum, which is supposed to be the 2nd-best. I would rank the Brooklyn museum's exhibit not too far behind the British museum's.
posted by grumblebee at 9:31 AM on May 17, 2006

Don't sleep on Shake Shack in Madison Square Park for burgers. Tremendous.

Also, go to the Cloisters, which will serve as park, out of the way museum and overall fantastically beautiful place---esp if you like medieval art.
posted by kosem at 9:32 AM on May 17, 2006

"Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx is largest at 2,765 acres and Greenbelt on Staten Island, Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens and Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx are also all larger than Central Park."

More confirmation that I was wrong (from this site).
posted by grumblebee at 9:35 AM on May 17, 2006

I second kosem's recommendation. I've had burgers from both Corner Bistro and Shake Shack, and I thought the Shake Shack was better. The taste of their burgers is similar to In'n'Out, but much better. Also, good frozen custard. But, aren't they only open in the summer?
posted by mullacc at 9:44 AM on May 17, 2006

if you go to Dumbo, visit Vinegar Hill. You'll forget you're in NY.

Also, Sassy's Sliders is good burger eatin'.
posted by hellbient at 9:51 AM on May 17, 2006

"You also may have a hard time stumbling upon a "squat" in any part of the city. The laws are a lot different here than in the UK."

I was actually in an active squat in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a huge party about a year back, and it was a very interesting experience, but whatever squats are left are not the kind of places you'll find out about except by knowing a guy who knows a guy. Not public operations. And this was just the people who lived in the squat deciding to have a big party in their abandoned building - as far as I know there's not much if anything like squatting performance venues or art galleries.

I also recommend walking around industrial/post-industrial Brooklyn. If you like good beer, and you visit Red Hook, visit Sixpoint Craft Ales.

Don't worry about things not being in Manhattan so much. Its easier to access parts of Brooklyn from parts of Manhattan than to access the rest of Manhattan.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:09 AM on May 17, 2006

Shake Shack prepared to wait in line for an hour. Maybe half an hour if you go off peak.
posted by spicynuts at 10:09 AM on May 17, 2006

Actually, although this initially may sound like exactly the opposite of what you're looking for, the Empire State Building is sort of dusty and eerie in terms of its occupancy. There are no large corporations taking up multiple floors or even entire floors. It's pretty much (literally) 900+ tiny fly-by-night companies, some of them hanging on from 50 years ago.

I second the suggestion to go to the financial district (basically, Lower Lower Manhattan) late at night.

I was actually in an active squat in the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a huge party about a year back, and it was a very interesting experience, but whatever squats are left are not the kind of places you'll find out about except by knowing a guy who knows a guy.

Yeah, I mean, I know there are squatters around, but they're not about to announce themselves on Ask MeFi. My impression is that it's a much more open deal in London, which is why when I saw the word "squat" in the question I immediately assumed the poster was British.
posted by staggernation at 10:22 AM on May 17, 2006

* Somewhere that is publically accessible but relatively deserted where you can get up really, really high and look over the city.

The rotating restaurant atop the Marriott Marquis is quiet (relative to the crowds of the ESB and Top of the Rock) and provides great views. And it rotates. Definitely not the grunge-core Manhattan you seek, though.

For a unique, unimpeded and completely accessible cityscape, take the 7 train to Queens and back.

* The best burger bar.

Impressed that there's not much debate here. I third (fourth?) Corner Bistro. If you don't want to go at 3 p.m. or wait on line for an hour, try Old Town Bar on 18th Street.
posted by werty at 11:15 AM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another good burger place is Georgio's Country Grille on 53rd and 9th (I think; it's been a while. Right near there at any rate). Great shakes too.

And yet again, yea, down here in the Financial District, it is deader than a doornail after ~8PM. Kind of irritating for those of us that occasionally work late nights here.

susanmullin, 5 Pointz is that building complex nestled in the crook of one of the elevated lines just as it comes above ground, right? You can see it really well from the J line, I think it was, and sometimes from Amtrak/LIRR trains as well.

There's a Wall of Fame graf area in the Bronx as well, although I haven't been there and don't know exactly where it is. Then again, the Bronx is supposed to be one of the less safe areas of the city, so it might be a little too off-beat for you, I dunno.

As for the Brooklyn Museum of Art, yea, it is pretty big. I haven't been to it or the Met recently enough or extensively enough to judge the difference, but let's just say you should visit both if you have time, and if you only have time for one, either is a great choice.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 12:04 PM on May 17, 2006

This is almost exactly the question I was going to ask in May before I went to NYC for the first time, but didn't. Here's what I found:

NYC Punks myspace page seems to have some good show listings, at "squats" and smaller venues. I didn't end up going to see any punk-ish stuff when I was there, however (I use squats in quotes because it seems like the ones you're gonna hear about at least, as others have mentioned, aren't really "squats" in the illegal sense).

We went out to Redhook for one night of No Fun Fest, at The Hook. It wasn't as annoying a venue as the website might suggest. It looks like it has some good shows, although the schedule for Sept. isn't up yet. And it was a pain in the ass getting back, the door guy was no help with directions. We ended up in one of those weird non-metered black cab-type things, which we survived. Vacation adventure!

Listed on the NYC punks myspace page as a venue is Tommy's Tavern in Greenpoint, which we were supposed to have DJ'ed at our last night. Their PA blew out, and we couldn't. But the bands that managed to play anyway were cool, and it was a nice dive-y bar. I wish we had explored that neighborhood more, it seemed cool.

Williamsburg was kinda annoying, but we kept ending up there. It's a good place to check out flyers for shows, at least. Galapagos Art Space is not a dirty-ass loft space as the name might suggest, but a bar (we had to heavily conceal the drinks we had brought in, thinking it was a BYO-type thing). But we saw a great, demented clown show and some very good burlesque, so it might be worth checking out what's going on there. Just drink your bottle of whiskey in the bathroom.

I liked wandering around the LES, there were some cool stores. That I didn't go into, because I'm poor. Arlene's Grocery looked like a good place to see shows, but we never had a chance to go. There are some good dive bars.

In the Village, we went to Lit, probably about the clubbiest bar I've been to in a while, but pretty chill. We were there on a really off night, though, it's usually pretty hip, I gather. We saw David Cross there, which made me feel like I was really in New York. It was kinda cool. We also went to Mars Bar (I think?) down the street which was small, dirty, and cheap-ish.

Probably the best night was the one we spent wandering all across Manhattan from Chelsea (where we were staying -- decidedly NOT punkrawk) to the Village and back again, drinking 40s. Not necessarily the safest thing to do in the middle of the night, and pizza joint bathrooms are absolutely disgusting, but it was a great time and fun to just wander and explore and people/graffiti watch.

Have fun!
posted by ruby.aftermath at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2006

You'll want to keep an ear open for gigs at C-Squat. Word is they're renovating, so I have no idea about schedule. Saturday Matinees at ABC No Rio are excellent for hc/ grind/ crust stuff. Squat culture in NYC isn't like what you see in Europe (or even other parts of the US for that matter), but there are other things that fill the gap.

The passing of the Sweetwater Tavern left a bit of a hole in the scene. But there are always decent shows around. Go see any of these local bands: Thoughtcrime, Disassociate, Death Mold, Virulent Strain, Witch Hunt -- hell, there's too many to list. Fliers will be at ABC, maybe at The Levee (212 Barry, Williamsburg -- it used to be Kokie's, and I hear the locals stop by).

I know you asked for Manhattan-specific, but what the hell: Coney Island. Soak it up before it gets bulldozed. Ride the Cyclone (sit in the last car for the best beating), wander along the ruins of Surf Ave. If Ruby's is still on the boardwalk, grab a beer in a plastic cup and take it out to the sea.

And Red Hook isn't as battered as it once was, but here's some stuff: there's a sunken ship across the street from the new Fairway at the end of Van Brunt. Friday or Saturday night, have a beer at Sonny's; given the right atmospheric conditions, the view kind of feels like the end of the earth. Good burgers at the Pioneer (but better barbecue), good beer at the Bait and Tackle, and up the way at Moonshine you can eat free ballpark peanuts in the company of some pretty beautiful bulldogs. Plus the owner was in Black Train Jack. But yeah, good wandering around those parts.

Best view of Manhattan for my money is the Queensborough Bridge upper roadway at night, driving from Queens. You really get the sense that Gotham is swallowing you up.

If you want more information about the scene, such as it is, my email's in the profile.
posted by milquetoast at 12:25 PM on May 17, 2006 [1 favorite]

C-Squat is still around? Lord, I remember seeing Final Warning, Destroy!, Distraught and quite a number of other bands there... Good to hear that they are still holding on.

But seconded for Red Hook. There is also some amazing graffiti, some of it dating back to the early 1990s in the Gowanus neighborhood around the Smith & 9th St F stop. Well worth taking a look at before the whole 'hood is turned into luxury condos..
posted by huskerdont at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2006

Pssst — hey, baby!
(and, they're hiring)
posted by rob511 at 6:22 PM on May 17, 2006

WOW is an anarchist women & transgender theater collective that might meet your criteria. (Also, check out the links on their site for other resources.)
posted by xo at 7:09 PM on May 17, 2006

Just walked past it, and the anarchist bookstore I referenced above is called MayDay Books, between 9th and 10th on 1st Avenue.
posted by saladin at 7:25 PM on May 17, 2006

There are absolutely still squats, but you're not going to hear specifics about them on mefi. And they don't have the same events-culture at all anymore. But definitely head to ABC No Rio and if you smell trustworthy enough you'll probably get some info.

"A great bookshop with a leaning towards anarchism or radical politics or music or queerness."
Bluestockings, no question. They have radical or queer events almost every night.

"A random place"
The Dream House! Intense/loud sound+sculpture installation in a loft. Every slight turn of your head changes the pitches you hear. It's seasonal but should be open again by September --

Visit Ganas (, nyc's biggest intentional community. They will feed you good dinner (asking a few bucks or some labor) and somebody there will be into giving you event/adventure advice.

Try temporarily joining the NYC Burning Man mailing list and you'll hear about events that are up your alley (you will also hear lots of in-jokes, bickering, etc., but it may be worth it to get the nuggests of event info).
posted by allterrainbrain at 10:25 PM on May 17, 2006

Response by poster: This is just awesome - thanks so much everyone. It's all gone in my travel notebook and I'm going to make a list of stuff that has to be done.

Thanks again!
posted by pollystark at 2:44 AM on May 18, 2006

Wow, I never thought I'd see C-Squat & especially Sweetwater mentioned on metafilter.
posted by Brainy at 11:29 AM on May 18, 2006

Rent a bicycle and bike the Greenway. I've lived near the city most of my life but I've never seen the things I saw over that 5 hour ride.
posted by exhilaration at 1:43 PM on May 18, 2006

Now I'm not saying Corner Bistro doesn't have great burgers, but...

I do second the Shake Shack. Also, there's a great place called Bruce's Burgers - right across from Madison Square Garden by the K-Mart. And there's the Burger Joint in the lobby of Le Parker Meridian. And there's the very reasonably priced burger at Peter Luger's out in Brooklyn. And there's a burger cart usually parked outside the museum at the Cloisters (which I was glad to hear someone point out as a good park / getaway). All great burgers.

And for getting up high and getting a view of the city with not very many people around - try Castle Point in Hoboken - only you'll only be looking at the lower half of manhattan - about 34th on down.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:56 AM on May 23, 2006

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