Sure, the locals may roll their eyes at the mention of Midtown Manhattan. The concrete jungle in and around Times Square doesn’t have Greenwich Village’s cozy charm, or the sleek nightclubs of the downtown Meatpacking District. But some new developments in this area, especially north of Times Square near Central Park, have given Midtown a new-found sense of cool. For visitors who are willing to seek it out – and painstakingly avoid the area’s inevitable tourist traps – it can provide the ultimate glimpse at New York’s beautiful public spaces, exemplary accommodation, and endless nightlife. Here’s a sample itinerary to try on your next visit to the Big Apple...
Opened in October, 2013, the gleaming Viceroy New York was designed to make you think you’ve just stepped into a 1930s film noir. Wood, leather, and gold dominate the hotel’s décor. In the rooms, bathrooms are swathed in mosaic tile and upgraded rooms have views of Central Park. Located just a block from Carnegie Hall, and a short walk to both Central Park and the bright lights of the Theater District, this atmospheric location puts you very much in the heart of it. Cost: $399-$499 per night.
Budget option: The Salisbury Hotel, directly across the street from the Viceroy, offers modest rooms for less than $200 per night. You won’t find any of the Viceroy’s glamor, but you will find solid digs in an incredible location. Bonus quirk factor: The building is also the home to the Calvary Baptist Church (Kathie Lee Gifford’s brother is the current pastor), and its exterior is reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral.
Carnegie Hall isn’t just for classical music buffs. Jazz and rock concerts grace its storied stages on a regular basis, alongside more traditional classical fare. You’ll need to book far in advance for popular shows, but don’t hesitate to check in about same-day concerts. The hall has multiple stages, and smaller shows don’t always sell out. If a Broadway show is more your speed, a 12-minute walk down Seventh Avenue brings you directly to Times Square, and the TKTS same-day discount ticket booth at 49th Street. For music in a more modern setting, head West (a 7-minute walk) to the sparkling Jazz at Lincoln Center space, where you can sometimes enjoy a show with a view over Columbus Circle. Cost: $100-$200 for two tickets.
Budget option: Get even cheaper Broadway show tickets by taking your chances in a pre-show ticket lottery. Shows like The Book of Mormon and Kinky Boots sell a limited number of inexpensive tickets (think $45) via a lottery, which is held in front of the theater before each performance. Check individual show web sites for details. To score cheap seats another way, check out a new iPhone app called TodayTix. Seats on the app sell for as little as $35 (plus a service fee), and you don’t even need to wait in line. The company’s genial concierges stand outside the theater and hand you your tickets before showtime.
Late Night: The Quick Dinner
It’s not exactly a secret anymore, but this venerable, utterly out of place burger restaurant – its grafitied walls are neatly hidden behind a curtain in the otherwise plush lobby of the Le Parker Meridian hotel – is still an affordable New York City classic. Burger Joint doesn’t sell anything but burgers, fries, and milkshakes, and the wait can be long. But the quality of the burgers still can’t be matched. And where else can you write on the walls in a 4-star hotel without having to pay for clean up? Cost: $30 for two.
Budget option: This is the budget option.
The Wee Hours: Bar
If you’re staying at the Viceroy, look no further than the hotel rooftop for a great bar scene. Located on the 29th floor, and with an outdoor terrace that offers sweeping views over Central Park, The Roof by Gerber Group serves up fancy cocktails and snacks until 4:00 a.m. each night. Prompt, approachable service, even amidst the plush surroundings, is a nice plus. Cost: $70 for two.
Budget option: Get one drink at the The Roof and head downstairs to 54th Street where Characters Bar hums into the wee hours, thanks to a steady stream of after-show revelers from 54 Below, the excellent cabaret venue just across the street. The drinks are cheap. The ambiance is minimal. But on any night of the week, you might run into the stars of the biggest Broadway shows in the city.
The Late-Morning Start: Brunch
Eggs get the star treatment at Sarabeth’s, where they’re presented alongside signature baked goods like popovers, homemade croissants, and muffins. Situated right on Central Park South, the restaurant’s soothing surroundings will distract you from the weekend crowds that flock here for brunch. Cost: $75-$100 for two.
Budget option: Grab a fig-and-brie sandwich, a Spanish tortilla, and Stumptown coffee to go at Tisserie. This bakery originally made its name supplying local hotels with breakfast foods, but a new shop just south of Central Park means you can take away a variety of foods and eat it as you stroll on to your next destination.
Midday: The Park
Walk off your previous night’s adventures in Central Park, and for an especially low-key diversion, head to the small-but-charming Central Park Zoo. It lacks the size and flash of the Bronx Zoo further uptown, but a few exhibits – snow leopards, too-adorable-to-be-real red pandas, sea lion shows – make it a worthwhile splurge at $18 (slightly less if you buy online). Cost: $36 for two tickets.
Budget option: You can watch the sea lion show for free by peering over the fence just beside the zoo. Don’t be shy. You’ll likely be standing with dozens of other spectators who don’t have time (or the cash) for a spin around the whole zoo.