For the uninitiated or those here on a quick business trip, New York — and especially Midtown — can seem like a city filled with underwhelming chain restaurants, touristy souvenir shops, and overpriced bars. But dive a little deeper (or ask a local) and it’s easy to discover a ton of neighborhood gems that will take your visit to the next level. The Navigators at the Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel have selected 10 spots to take you beyond those tourist destinations and into parts of New York that few visitors see. Let this list be your guide to the hidden gems of Midtown Manhattan, from no-frills neighborhood bars to clandestine speakeasies, delicious destinations, and off-the-beaten-track museums.Read More
New York City’s Hidden Gems
Discreetly housed in an unmarked brownstone on a side street in the Theater District, Bar Centrale is a must for a post-show cocktail and some delicious bites to eat. Nibble on lobster quesadillas and chickpea fries while you sip wine and enjoy the intimate atmosphere — it’s a small space and there’s a strict no-standing rule, so make sure to snag a reservation before you arrive. And don’t be surprised if you spot the star of the show you just saw — Bar Centrale is a known haunt for Broadway legends winding down from the night.
Garment District Art on the Plazas
If you don’t feel like heading indoors for your fill of art, check out the Garment District’s Art on the Plazas installation. These public works of art (ranging from murals to sculptures to interactive digital sculptures) change throughout the year, so be sure to check the website to see what’s currently on display and where. This summer, “Nymph Pond,” a colorful block-long mural inspired by the Galapagos Islands, flowed down the middle of Broadway.
Instead of spending your afternoon browsing the racks at yet another crowded clothing store, try something different and pop into Mood Fabrics — yes that Mood, made famous by Bravo’s Project Runway and the inimitable Tim Gunn. The fabric behemoth occupies three floors and has everything you could ever want if you’re ready to try your hand at making your own clothing. Look out for the store mascot Swatch, a loveable Boston terrier who is happy to pose for pics.
Balade Your Way
In New York City, if you’re on the go and don’t have time for a full sit-down lunch, you don’t have to forgo flavor. Balade Your Way takes the “Chipotle of [insert global cuisine here]” concept to the Middle East for fresh, delicious meals made, as the name implies, your way. Choose from a pita wrap, a rice bowl, or a salad and pile on toppings like falafel or shawarma, hummus, baba ghanouj, feta cheese, and a garlic whip that you just might want to eat with a spoon (it’s that good).
The Houdini Museum
Step off the beaten path and spend an afternoon exploring the magical life of famed escape artist Harry Houdini. This museum, housed within the headquarters of Fantasma Magic, showcases hundreds of pieces of memorabilia related to the magician. While you’re there, see an animatronic Houdini escape from a straitjacket, and if you’re lucky you might run into a famous magician — just don’t ask them to spill their secrets.
Yes, there’s a Starbucks on nearly every corner in NYC, but step out of the coffee box and treat yourself to a beverage at Culture Espresso, an independent and locally owned coffee shop open since 2009. Culture partners with one roaster at a time, and the menu includes a unique selection of beans for your caffeine needs. (They’re currently featuring beans from Heart Coffee Roasters out of Portland, Oregon.) And if you’re craving something sweet, help yourself to one of their house-baked cookies or a decadent doughnut from another one of NYC’s hidden gems: Dough Doughnuts.
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Renaissance New York Midtown Hotel
The one thing to know about this Midtown hotel? No two visits are ever the same, thanks to the interactive murals and passage that change on the regular. The reflective wallpapers, motion detectors, and 3D cameras react in real time to passersby, reflecting the energy and creativity of its Garment District neighborhood. There’s even a Diane von Furstenberg quote highlighted in push pins, in one artist’s nod to the fashion community. Versa, the rooftop restaurant with an outdoor terrace, is worth a visit if not just for the spectacular views you won’t find anywhere else.
The Ragtrader & Bo Peep Cocktail and Highball Store
This two-for-one spot gives you the best of both worlds. Upstairs at the Rag Trader, a refurbished garment factory turned restaurant, grab a table for a meal of fried chicken sliders, stuffed squash blossoms, and the Allium pizza, topped with fontina, leeks, garlic confit, and crispy shallots. Once you’re satiated, head downstairs to Bo Peep, a 1920s-inspired piano bar with plush seating, dim lights, and delicious inventive cocktails. Try the Cachaça Khan, with cachaça, watermelon, cinnamon, chile, and lime.
Billymark’s West just might be the antidote to anxiety-producing, crowded tourist bars near Penn Station. This long-standing neighborhood establishment (owned by brothers Billy and Mark, hence the name Billymark) is a great place to seek refuge from the busy Midtown streets. Sidle up to the bar, order one of their beer-and-shot specials, and shoot some pool while the jukebox plays ’70s hits.
Barn Joo 35
You don’t often hear “Korean food” and “small plates” together in the same sentence, but Barn Joo’s menu is full of well-thought-out, flavorful tapas that will transport you to Korea. The chili shrimp, crunchy tofu, and hot and spicy chicken wings are must-orders, and don’t sleep on their signature soju cocktails, like the Purple Rain, served with a candy rock mixer.
The Morgan Library & Museum
There’s no shortage of amazing museums in NYC, but sometimes it just takes too much energy to fight the masses for a peek at the latest Met or MoMA show. Sneak away from the crowds and head to the Morgan Library & Museum, the opulent former home of Pierpont Morgan. Although the buildings are gorgeous and the collection impressive, the museum remains mostly under the radar. In October, check out a beautiful exhibit of charcoal portraits by John Singer Sargent or detailed set designs for operas and ballets from Where the Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak. Pro tip: Entry to the museum is free on Fridays from 7 to 9 p.m.