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Exclusive | New York City: Neighborhoods Part Five

Exclusive | New York City: Neighborhoods Part Five

Though its heart is all business, nothing spells "MANHATTAN" more dramatically than Midtown's famous cluster of skyscrapers: the Empire State Building (34th St, at Fifth Ave), the Chrysler Building (E. 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue), the Citicorp Tower (E. 52nd St, at Third Ave) and the Met Life Building (formerly the Pan Am bldg; Park Ave, at 45th St). Oh, and that's not to exlude Rockefeller Center (between Fifth and Sixth Ave, from 45th to 49th St) and the United Nations (1st Ave, at 44th St).

A trip to the top of the Empire State Building (350 5th Avenue; 212/736-3100) really is worth it for the best view of the city.

If you want a romantic environment, in which case nothing beats a sunset cocktail from the Rainbow Room (30 Rockefeller Plaza; 212/632-5100; fixed price menu $150), with a 65th floor view, high atop the GE Building in Rockefeller Center.

While walking down 42nd Street, take a peek inside Grand Central Terminal (E. 42nd St, at Park Ave), a masterpiece of Beaux-Arts design. The twinkling lights in the ceiling is a reproduction of the Milky Way.

Midtown's biggest cultural draw is undoubtedly the Museum of Modern Art (11 W. 53rd St, between Fifth and Sixth Ave; 212/708-9480), or just "MoMA," as New Yorkers call it. Here you'll be able to trace the development of modern art, beginning with the Europeans, and into the American '50s Pop Art movement. The museum also hosts important temporary exhibitions and thematic film series.

Just around the corner from MoMa, and down Fifth Avenue a couple of blocks is the High Gothic St. Patrick's Cathedral (5th Ave, at 50th St), built in 1888 by James Renwick.

On West 52nd Street, just off Fifth Avenue, the Museum of Television and Radio (25 W. 22nd St; 212/621-6600) holds a vast collection of over 60,000 radio and television programs and commercials for public use, so you can finally see that one episode of The Brady Bunch you missed!

Bryant Park (behind the New York Public Library, 42nd St, at Sixth Ave) is Midtown's nicest oasis, with well-tended lawns and trees. During the summer, the park hosts an outdoor movie festival, something like an urban drive-in without the cars.

Fifty-seventh Street also holds several pleasures: Carnegie Hall (at Seventh Ave; 212/247-7800) is here (ask a New Yorker how to get to Carnegie Hall; the correct answer: Practice!), some fantastic art galleries, Robert Miller (524 W. 26th St; 212/366-4774), bookstores and optimum celebrity sightings.

Still synonymous for its seedy sex trade, Times Square is being aggressively sanitized, painted-over and refurbished via, who else, Disney. Huge packs of tourists ogling at everything from the endangered porn palaces and sex shops, neon signs and giant marquis make this one of the more aggravating places to get around, even as a tourist yourself. (But you're not, you know, one of them.) You'll have to dodge them with aerobic skill to enjoy the electric, frenetic rhythm of the world's biggest corporations' signage, which light up the streets with the power of noon-time sun.

Broadway the avenue runs the length of Manhattan, but the Broadway! of theater legend is here alone. Most seats at good shows run between $40-70, unless you get discounted-to-half-price tickets through NYC on Stage (47th St, at Broadway; 212/221-0885) on the same day as the show. Be prepared for monstrous lines. Cash only.

If you want good seats to the hottest shows on short notice, use the Care-Tix program from Broadway Cares (212/840-0770). For a (tax-deductible!) contribution equal to (and on top of) the price of the tickets, they will pull strings to get you house seats.

42nd Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue is in the process of Disney-fication. A theater that has surprisingly survived this is The Gaiety (201 W. 4 6St; 212/391-9806), where muscle guys strip down on stage and get hard-ons, but can only accept bills laid down politely for them to pick up.

Anyone who has been through the Port Authority Bus Terminal knows there are video games there, but almost no one knows there's a great bowling alley on the second floor: Leisure Time (625 Eighth Ave; 212/268-6909). Quality rental shoes, electronic scoring, and the most diverse cross-section of New Yorkers under one roof.

West of Eighth Avenue on 46th Street is Restaurant Row, where many theater-goers enjoy prix-fixe dinners before or after the shows. Not many gay-popular choices here, but residentially, this area (called Hell's Kitchen) is home to many gay men and lesbians, who are gradually adding a more diverse character to this formerly seedy neighborhood.

Often summarily dismissed by tourists as too dangerous, Harlem is a huge chunk of the city, from 90th Street up to 178th, and from the Harlem River clear across to the Hudson River. It does have some dangerous sections, as do most of New York's neighborhoods, but it also has some happening nightlife and restaurants, notable churches, and the city's greatest concentration of museums and landmarks of black culture. East Harlem, also known as "El Barrio," is one of the city's Hispanic sections.

Harlem's cultural and economic heart beats on 125th Street, where you'll find the Studio Museum of Harlem (144 W. 125th St; 212/864-4500; suggested donation $7), containing an extensive range of African-American art in all media, and the legendary Apollo Theater (253 W. 125th St; 212/749-5838). Up ten blocks or so from 125th Street, on Lenox Avenue, is the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (515 Lenox Ave; 212/491-2200).

A full-gospel Harlem Sunday can be experienced by first attending services at the Abyssinian Baptist Church (132 W. 138th St; 212/862-7474), with a world-famous choir, and then heading on over to Sylvia's (328 Lenox Ave; 212/996-0660; $10-20) for their Gospel Brunch, where you'll be serenaded by a roving gospel trio, over eggs benedict or pancakes with fried chicken. Sylvia herself will probably be in the kitchen; make sure you say hi.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part SIx

Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

Related Articles:
New York City: Introduction
New York City: Where to Stay
New York City: Where to Eat
New York City: Where to Play/Meet
New York City: What to See and Do
New York City: Where to Shop
New York City: Resources

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Joe Okonkwo