Secrets of NYC Revealed
March 2, 2008 7:41 PM   Subscribe

Seeking charming and peculiar diversions in NYC and Brooklyn.

In a few weeks, my best friend and I will be staying in Brooklyn (not sure which part) and exploring NY for four days. It's her first visit.

We're the sort of people who on a previous trip to Prague planned an entire morning around finding the mummified arm of a medieval thief in a church (finally spotted it way up in the rafters). Weird, secret, offbeat, beautiful, cheap, memorable, mysterious: these are our watchwords.

It's easy to research interesting museums, good restaurants and notable buildings, but harder to know the sort of minor wonders that would turn our days into a series of discoveries. So if you'd care to share your favorite secret, special spots in the NYC area, we'll include them on our rounds and raise a glass to you.

Examples of the kind of thing we'd love to see: Cobblestones, ghost signs, stores run by eccentrics with unique shelving methods, hidden buildings, tiny graveyards, private/unofficial museums, remarkable public spaces not visible from the street, alleys where if you squint it could be 1902, public restrooms equipped with archaic feminine hygiene displays, the prettiest or stangest subway stations, exceptional one-off shops of any sort, a bunny who lives under a certain shrub or a pet cheetah sometimes spotted in a particular window, environmental art/sound installations, bomb shelters, corporate cafeterias open to the public, magical spaces. We are grateful for any suggestions along these or similar lines. Send us home with our minds blown, please!
posted by Scram to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (18 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
Have you seen Forgotten NY?
posted by kathryn at 8:04 PM on March 2, 2008

Sorry I'm not good at putting in the links but -- these are things I enjoy--

This guy has a website that lists a lot of the old - cobblestones, subways, etc - I liked this site when I first moved here.

Not a cheetah, but -- I found some hawks that live near Central Park interesting

I'm crazy, but I'd also suggest renting a bike, and exploring different areas of BKN - you can get free maps at most bike shops (and study them to find subway stops and bike stores if you run into trouble) - but a fun ride is along the bike trail on the water at the West end of BKN, to Coney Island -- up by Jamaica bay is interesting too. If you enjoy that, you can also ride over into Manhattan (try the Manhattan bridge, the Brooklyn bridge is a tad too crowded), go over to the Staten Island Ferry, take your bike onto that -->ride across and explore Staten Island. Relaxing on a warm day.

Bike map

If you are really interested in places that you can cycle to, memail me.

Oh wait one more if you like old buildings and odd -

Roosevelt island -- ruins of small pox hospital - blocked off by a fence but you can get pretty close - you can take a tram to get there, or the subway.

Darn it I type too slow
posted by Wolfster at 8:05 PM on March 2, 2008

Sylvan Terrace and the Morris Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, for that "if you squint it could be 1902" sensation.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:12 PM on March 2, 2008

Admiral's Row is a fenced off, decaying group of houses at the old Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Doyer's Street in Chinatown is one of the only curved streets in Manhattan.

Sniffen Court is a strange little alleyway with townhomes. The link has other alleyways.

All NYC park monuments.
posted by Frank Grimes at 8:15 PM on March 2, 2008

The Brooklyn parrots.
posted by extrabox at 8:29 PM on March 2, 2008

Green-Wood Cemetery (caution, embedded music!)-- it's endless and full of wonders, and the aforementioned parrots are often found there.

Brooklyn Superhero Supply for all your secret identity needs

The City Reliquary - a museum of fascinating junk

The sculpture graveyard [self-link] behind the parking lot of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. I also love the reconstructed historic houses upstairs in the museum.
posted by moonmilk at 8:40 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, walk around the shores of the Gowanus Canal for a great mix of gentrification, creeping nature, weird smells, and giant machines that eat cars.
posted by moonmilk at 8:42 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

City Walks: New York: 50 Adventures on Foot

My grandmother got me this set of cards and its pretty much exactly what you're looking for.

I'm not sure if Grand Central Station is in the deck, but I did an Open House New York tour there one year and found out all kinds of fascinating secrets about it that most people walk right by. Here's a few off the top of my head:

- there's one tile near the corner of the ceiling of the main hall that is black, its the one tile they left unpainted / uncleaned when they re-did the ceiling way back when, to show what it looked like back in the days of coal power.

- there's an old room off to the north-west corner of the station where they preserved the old chalkboard that the train schedules used to be updated on. it was called the kiss-and-run room or some such thing, can't quite remember. also near there are the long lines of pay phones that are never used anymore, kind of archaic looking in their own right.

- the clock on the information kiosk and the chandeliers in the lobby walk-ways are of some ridiculous value that I can't quite recall. worth checking out in detail, though.

- there's a small domed area at the bottom of the long ramps leading down to the cafe area. if you stand in one corner of the domed area and have someone stand some 30-40 feet away in the opposite corner, you can both talk up towards the ceiling and hear the other person like you're having a face to face conversation. that's my favorite part.

If you're feeling particularly adventurous, you could always try climbing up and exploring the High Line. I will do that when I get back to NYC this summer and I am looking for partners in crime. Definitely try to see the hawks in Central Park. I also like the small cobblestone street near Wall Street, downtown. There's a great bar called Ulysses there, to have a beer at. Unique.

Also, the Cloisters can be a fun, quiet afternoon to go explore.

And my favorite subway station by far is the 14th and 8th street ACE line - dotted with Tom Otterness' sculpture work (bonus: there's a hotel in between Times Square and Port Authority that also displays some of his work. 10 points if you can name the hotel.)
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:54 PM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

Oh, and I forgot to mention - to me, the idea of a perfect day-long date would be to spend the entirety of it on the subway - try not to come above ground once, except maybe if you get to a line leaving Manhattan. Get off at every station and take pictures of the architecture, signage, performers, what have you. You could spend a few days, doing this, honestly, but it would be fun to see how much you could do in a day. Cheap, fun, and you're guaranteed to find some crazy stuff.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:57 PM on March 2, 2008

perfect day-long date would be to spend the entirety of it on the subway
When we do these in Boston, they're called T parties. Hyuk hyuk.

But what I really wanted to say was that when you get all of these things lined up, you might consider making the all-day date something like walking the length of Manhattan. It's really fun because you see all the weird stuff, eat all the wide varieties of food, and see all the different nooks and crannies and neighborhoods, in one long day. (When I did it, it was something like 10 hours from top to bottom including about 4 meals.)
posted by whatzit at 3:02 AM on March 3, 2008

allkinds, isn't that the Hilton? I walk by there all the time...and I love those sculptures.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:22 AM on March 3, 2008

If you go to Trinity Church, you can find the grave of James Leeson, whose headstone contains a cipher that took nearly a century to decode. (I won't tell you what it is.)

Brooklyn's Broken Angel art house, if it's still standing.
posted by thejoshu at 4:47 AM on March 3, 2008

Perhaps you can finagle your way into the long-lost Atlantic Avenue Tunnel.
posted by thejoshu at 6:59 AM on March 3, 2008

If you do take allkindsoftime's excellent advice, keep in mind that the bathrooms at Grand Central Station are far superior to those at the Coney Island stop.
posted by unknowncommand at 10:15 AM on March 3, 2008

You can walk the length of Manhattan just following Broadway (another link ). It's about 13 miles. I did it a few months ago and it took about five hours. It was certainly memorable.
posted by plep at 12:09 PM on March 3, 2008

Response by poster: I love you guys. Thank you!
posted by Scram at 4:18 PM on March 3, 2008

Ooh, I just thought of something. Here's a guide to smears, stains and scratches on NYC walls that look like other things. I don't believe it's been updated in years, so it's up to you to check out all the sites and let us know how many of them still exist. The tar tadpoles were my submission; I'm pretty sure they're still there; and in the same station but in the paid area, Manhattan-bound outer track, about 6 or 8 poles from the entrance on the outbound (uphill) end, on the outer wall there's a pattern of broken and missing tiles that looks to me exactly like a sneaky cartoon rat looking over its shoulder at you.

I hope you'll give us a trip report!
posted by moonmilk at 8:01 AM on March 11, 2008

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