A customer with whom I’ve kept up over the years asked me for a list of my favourite New York City places. I want to take you up-and-down the island of Manhattan.
Where to start?
The longer my career spans, the more places I fall in love with. So I’ll begin with the place I love most to work. A quiet, beautiful place without parallel in the city. Central Park.
This is Bethesda Fountain, the centrepiece of Central Park. It’s bricking is local but the stone all comes from the province of New Brunswick. The fountain is topped by an angel sculpted by Ms. Emma Stebbins, and modeled after her lover, actress Charlotte Cuthbert.
Central Park is 4.1 kilometers North and South, by 800 meters east and west. I give these distances this way because my customer friend is from Wales. In American, it’s 2.5 miles North and South by half a mile East and West.
Here’s the Poets Walk, or Literary Walk. This is the only straight path in the park. It goes North from here. There’s Robert Burns on the left, and Walter Scott on the right. To the right rear, out of sight, is Shakespeare. The walk is surrounded by Elm trees as you can see. Unfortunately in the early 20th century, Dutch Elms were planted world wide. Wherever Dutch Elms went, they carried Dutch Elm disease to the native Elms. Here at the literary walk there are – or were – 300 American elms. They have been infected with Dutch Elm disease and a few have died. Upkeep is expensive. In the foreground by the compass rose are many hexagonal stones. These were donated by wealthy people. $10,000 buys a memorial stone. The money goes to elm maintenance.
One stone was donated, it would seem, by a Welsh person. The stone to the left of the letter W says “In memory of Q.” Who was Q?
The late Desmond Llewellyn played Q in the James Bond movies from 1966 to 1999. It’s possible that in this case the compass W represents ‘Wales,’ not ‘West.’
Here is Bethesda Arcade, where John Wick shoots people. The arcade arches are of New Brunswick sandstone. The ceiling is made of 7500 patterned tiles from the Minton Potteries of Stoke on Trent.
What happens here? Besides John Wick shooting people, it’s a popular spot for this:
In fact, the whole area around the fountain is rife with weddings and wedding photo sessions.
You should see it on a Saturday in June, when there are dueling weddings. Once I was here and there were four Weddings in sight.
The park is a product of the 19th century. Americans were very envious of Victorian England. This park was made to emulate the styles and landscaping fashions of that time. Very classic.
Manhattan is shaped vaguely like your right foot. Smells the same anyway. The Dutch colonialized the southern tip of the island in the 1620s, and slowly built northward. This means that, the farther North you go, the newer the area is. Central Park is right in the middle of the island. Another reason why it was built was that the ground is very rugged here, with mud flats, streams, rocky outcrops. They built the park too use these natural features. It’s the second most popular park in the world, according to TripAdvisor.
The park contains a little under 60 bridges, spans and arches. It’s built practically. Up above Bethesda arcade is 72nd St. Four streets were tunneled underneath.
Here’s Gapstow Bridge, in the southeastern corner of the park over the pond.
You would not believe the number of selfies taken here. About 100 meters or yards away is the Plaza Hotel. Gapstow Bridge is easily accessible by anyone entering the park. I think it’s terribly unfortunate, though, that so many step into the park, take a picture at Gapstow bridge and then leave. They have no idea the wonders in the 843 acres or roughly 330 hectares of the park. It’s like letting an ocean wave cover your feet, and saying you swam In the Atlantic.
Just beyond Bethesda fountain is the Lake. The only Venetian gondola in New York City plies that Lake. It’s named for a drink that a New York bartender invented in 1910: the Dry Martini.
Over the Lake in Central Park spans this bridge. Bow Bridge is made of a single piece of cast iron, manufactured down in the formerly industrial neighborhood known as Greenwich Village.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono bought an apartment near Central Park in 1971. He would walk to a nearby little spot in the park to write poetry. Then they would go down to the recording studio and record a song from it. He made several albums before his death by assassination in 1980. Yoko’s memorial to him is this quiet place named for the Beatles song, Strawberry Fields. The mosaic bears the name of everyone’s favorite Lennon song, Imagine. The black and white sections going outward from the word IMAGINE represent lotus petals, a Buddhist symbol of renewal.
One more small British note. These are the New York City Badassilisks (not basilisks) playing quidditch. I’ve never watched them play a whole game, so whether they fly or not is an open question.
Let’s go on.
Manhattan Island is shaped like your right foot. Smells about the same, anyway. The Dutch colonized the southern tip in the 1620s, while the Britons colonized the entire rest of the Atlantic coast of North America. The Dutch slowly moved northward in Manhattan, building as they went. From the 1620s at the South end, the North End of the island was built up by the 1950s.
This is the oldest wooden house on Manhattan island, dating from about 1795. And that’s the Brooklyn Bridge beyond it. The street here is paved with granite blocks that were picked up as ballast in Belgium by the Dutch colonial shippers. They would bring supplies to the settlers but needed more weight outbound because they were not heavily loaded. So they brought paving stones. Half of New York City is paved with these Belgian blocks. There must be a million of them.
Of course the ships went back to the Netherlands with riches in furs. The British noted that they could be making more money with one more colony on the Atlantic coast so they took it over in 1664. The Duke of York received all the taxes, which is why this place is called New York.
Knife and a fork
And a bottle and a cork
That’s the way
You spell New York
Things soured between the Crown and the colonies in the 1770s. The American Revolution took seven years. Afterward, all of the English and their sympathizers had to leave. They were given two years to settle their affairs. It was done very fairly.
The park at the southern tip of the island is Battery Park, so named because a Fort was built there in preparation for the War of 1812. It was to batter enemy ships. This little park has become sort of a military Memorial Park for the many wars that America has been in.
You’re looking through the fort’s doorway. The studs are doornails. They are beaten downward in back so they can’t fall out of the door. Thats where we get the phrase, “dead as a doornail.” They are insurance against battering rams.
Shown below Is a sculpture group of merchant Mariners whose ship was sunk by the Nazis in 1942. They called to have the submarine pick them up, but the submarine submerged, leaving them to die after its photographer took a photo on which this sculpture group is based.
That’s the Statue of Liberty about a quarter mile out in the harbor. She faces the ocean, lifting the torch. You could say she’s actually a lighthouse.
The island was known by Native Americans as big oyster island. The Dutch family Bedloe farmed it. Miss Liberty was built there in 1886. I go there so often that my wife calls her my girlfriend.
Here are some candid shots of my girlfriend.
She faces out to sea, waiting for immigrants, despite our 45th president’s hatred of them.
This ship probably bears no immigrants. She is the QE2, a real ocean liner. The photo was taken in Brooklyn just before sunset.
And now back to Manhattan.
Trinity Church was the biggest and oldest Anglican church on Manhattan island. It was first constructed in 1690 with help from a privateer named captain Kidd who lived on Wall Street. He was the first of the Wall Street pirates. It’s here that Nicholas Cage found an immense amount of gold in a movie called National Treasure. Alexander Hamilton is buried outside, as is his buddy Hercules Mulligan, and many other noteworthy early Americans, revolutionaries and statesmen.
Revolutionaries sawed a leaden British crown off the top of this fencepost at Bowling Green Park, on the very first block of Broadway. That night they also toppled a statue of King George lll, partly because they hated him and partly because it was made of lead. They needed the lead for musket balls and cannonballs. The date was July 9, 1776.
Things were patched up after the War of 1812. We became allied in World War One. 200 years to the day after the destruction of George 3rd’s statue, on July 9 1976, his descendant Queen Elizabeth II stood where this plaque now shines.
It’s right on the front steps of Trinity, where everyone can see it. We are proud that she came here.
Trinity is one of my favorite places because of my admiration for those early Americans. But it’s not just that. There are bathrooms in the back of the church, and I can sit on the park benches alongside the graveyard and eat lunch quietly. Those are good things.
It’s long been claimed that Americans are terrible spellers. It’s totally true. Look at this gravestone of a man who died in the 1660s. He’s entombed in a wall at Trinity.
Imagine how embarrassed he must immortally be, that everyone who stops by learns that he was born in ‘Oldingland.’
The financial district surrounds Trinity. Wall Street is right in front of the front door. The first block North of Wall Street, Pine St, holds a skyscraper that once was the headquarters of Citgo Oil. It’s being converted into apartments now. Built in 1930, it is lavishly decorated in stone and nickel, in the art deco style. That’s its lobby above.
At the corner of Broadway and Pine St is this impressive lobby. Currently it’s a pharmacy. Years ago this was the Bank of Tokyo.
Computerization led to the diminishment of the amount of space needed to store paper, and the number of people to work with all that paper. 70 Pine St once was an office building. Now it’s apartments. The same is true of this building. Once Upon a time it was a big banking firm, but now it’s apartments. Many big shot financial firms of the late 19th and 20th century have closed their doors. And now people walk through those doors to their apartments.
The East River separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens. You’re not supposed to catch fish in the East River because decades ago polluters dumped tons of metals and chemicals into it. But it is becoming cleaner. Check out this yardlong striped bass or ‘striper’ that someone pulled out of the River a few blocks from Wall Street.
Continuing North, let’s go to everyone’s favorite ethnic neighborhood in Manhattan, Chinatown. Trinity Church is at Wall Street. The wall was built after African slaves were freed to buy or rent land North of the Dutch city. The city’s wall was at Wall Street. For 200 years this free black community lasted, until the Irish came. After the potato famine or great hunger, my people started showing up. They came in such numbers that the Black people moved away.
Germans started coming in just a couple years after the Irish. Followed by the Italians and the East European Jews, then the Chinese. Each wave took over this neighborhood just North of the Brooklyn Bridge. The Chinese have stayed here for over 100 years, although things are changing now with West Africans and Bangladeshis coming in to operate stores. They may settle here as the Chinese have.
I have been in love with Chinatown for decades. My first wife was Chinese American. Her mother was brought up here and her father was a ‘fixer’ for some of Chinatown’s professional gamblers, meaning he found them locations where the police were unlikely to bother them.
My wife clued me in that I was a ‘low-fon’ or white person in Cantonese. No matter. I love to just hang out here, although practical matters often take precedence.
Chinatown has wonderful little hole in the wall restaurants where you can fill up on dim sum cheaply.
There are also some extraordinary shops. My favorite one has Japanese cosmetics on the upper floor, a Chinese grocery store on the 1st floor and an awesome display of lacquerware and ceramics, as well as Asian cooking supplies, in the basement. It’s not easy to get a rice cooker in this country, but the store has various different brands. Along with Szechuan hotpots, and beautifully decorated Japanese and South Korean bowls, plates and saucers, often hand decorated.
I’ve been getting my haircut here For 30 or 40 years. The cheapest Barber shops in town are also some of the best. Why don’t more people come to Chinatown for $9 haircuts?
Last year I was getting my hair cut and I met two Tibetans in the barbershop. Turned out they lived miles away in Queens, but loved coming here for the cheap haircuts and dimsum, just like me. Good thing I’m a tour guide. I can say hello in Tibetan!
Wing On Wo Is the oldest, longest operating shop in Chinatown. It’s on the main drag, Mott St.
Just down Mott from Wing On Wo is Wo Hop. EVERYBODY who has gone out dancing In Manhattan on Saturday nights for three decades knows about Wo Hop. It’s a 24 hour restaurant. The dance clubs close at 4:00 AM. This place is open and receives a generous helping of sweaty, dressed up young people who come here for breakfast at 4:30 Sunday mornings.
My wife has the T shirt!
Every weekday afternoon at 2:30 the kids get out of school and form a long line to get into Chinatown ice cream Factory. They make their own ice cream in the basement in exotic flavors like lychee, sesame seed, black tea and others. You can also get chocolate and vanilla. Rupert Grint would love this place.
This year is 2020. The dim sum restaurant in the photo above dates from 1920. It’s been in the same family for 100 years. The man who runs it now is grandnephew of the original owner. He is a good marketer. He is New York savvy. He has gotten the restaurant into movies such as The Other Woman, Premium Rush and one of the Spiderman movies. Notice all the white people waiting for their turn to get in. They’re here because it’s famous. I’m here because my barber is here.
I don’t eat at this Restaurant. I’ve been unemployed all year because of Covid. The food is just as good as any other place in Chinatown, but they charge double for it because they can get away with it, because they’re famous. That’s why there aren’t any Chinese people waiting to get in. Everyone In the neighborhood knows better.
I’m fairly well informed for a low-fon.
Note far from China town is the lower East Side. A 100 years ago this was the most crowded place in the world, all immigrants. At that time apartments often had no plumbing. This Public toilet building engendered the comparative phrase, “it’s built like a brick shithouse.”
Residents of New York and Connecticut are apparently the only Americans who can pronounce the name of this place correctly. Connecticut because there is a Greenwich CT.
Everyone who lives there calls it ‘the village.’ It’s a quirky part of town. There is a street grid that corresponds to the Hudson River nearby. Another one corresponds to the rest of Manhattan. And there’s a third that grew outward from a hub in the center of the West village. This makes for difficulty trying to figure out where you are at any time. For instance, West 4th St starts out going East West but turns to the North and, at its northern extremity, it is a North South street. You can stand at the corner of W 4th and W 10th.
Remember those Belgian paving stones? Many streets in the village are still paved with them, giving a very old-fashioned heir to the neighborhood. That goes with the houses that date from the 1820s too early 1900s. Most of them are brick, but there are a few old wooden houses.
Here is the oldest pharmacy in the United States. It saved the lives, literally, of many Village residents on a November night in 1964. That night there was a major power blackout. All the pharmacies but this one shuttered.
Bigelow’s happened to have gas lights that still worked, and a hand cranked antique cash register. So they alone stayed open all night. They supplied prescription drugs to many people who couldn’t get along without them, the night of the big blackout.
The photo above technically is outside Greenwich Village. It’s one block North of the northern edge, 14th St. This is the holiest of holy places in the world. The letters NBC do not refer to the broadcasting network up in midtown. They refer to the National Biscuit Company, which built this building around 1910. It was here in this beatific location of glorious majesty, in 1914, that they made the first Oreo cookies. If there’s any place more sacred in this world I want to know about it. Oreo cookies have to be New York City’s greatest invention.
After the transistor.
And the elevator.
By the way, the elevator was invented here. So stop calling it a lift. This is New York, my friend. Use big words.
Midtown is the central business district. More than 100 skyscrapers, some of the very distinctive and made and designed by big name architects, dot the blocks. The bigger the building, the more people can work in it. Some of these places are so huge they have to have restaurants on the first floors because otherwise their workers can’t sit down to have lunch. There are just too many people. Food trucks line the side streets offering Ethiopian, Indian, Arab, Ukrainian food, pizza, you name it.
Rockefeller Center is a complex of 18 buildings, one of which is about 70 storeys tall. Roughly 30,000 people work in this one complex that’s one block wide by three blocks long. In the basement you can find a burger place, a Starbucks, three chocolate shops and a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream shop, a pharmacy, a shoe shine, and a few other places to eat.
This photo has the tall one in back. It was originally owned by RCA, then GE, then NBC, then Comcast and now I think it’s Universal. Rockefeller Center buildings fronting on 5th Ave are named for countries. Of the two that you can see, the left one is la Maison Francaise. The right one is the British Empire building. Remember, this Complex was made in the 1930s when there was an empire.
Way in the background is the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. What are all these people photographing?
The Christmas light show on the exterior of Saks 5th Avenue. It’s really quite impressive.
This one also shows the Comcast building but it’s taken later in winter, after the tree has been taken away. You can see the ice skating rink. It’s about 25 feet Below the street level. The Golden statue is Prometheus. He’s shown flying down from heaven bearing the gift of fire that he has stolen for humanity. However up behind him is an angry Zeus with lightning bolts coming out of his fingertips. He sees Prometheus. The fire God is going to be in trouble when he gets home.
And here’s one more iconic Rockefeller Center photo. I didn’t take this one. It was made As 30 Rock was being constructed. These men were bribed with doughnuts, to sit on a girder and pose for the camera.
A few blocks away is Grand Central Terminal. I’m sure you seen this view before:
But how about this one? This ticket window was in the film North by Northwest, by Hitchcock. Cary Grant stops here to buy a train ticket.
And how about the exterior? The terminal opened in 1913, when flowery expressions of stone or concrete were still in vogue. Above the Tiffany glass clock, representing speed, is Mercury. To his left, manning a pump, is Hercules representing strength. The woman touching a finger to her temple is Minerva, goddess of wisdom. What this frieze is saying is that it takes speed, strength and wisdom to operate a huge railroad network.
Developers started designing buildings in the 1840s around 42nd street where Broadway crossed 7th Ave. The area was called Longacre Square. It was one of the best places in Manhattan to buy a horse. Lots of stables, lots of auctioners. Horse rental, carriage rental, sleigh rental for winter, etc.
Longacre Square was given a new title in 1904 after the New York Times newspaper built its headquarters skyscraper there. It was now to be Times Square. Dozens of theaters came to the square, on its side streets. Now every night, when there’s no Covid, roughly 50,000 people go to the theater.
Although I wouldn’t call them my favorite things to do in New York, I spend a lot of time on the trains. The network of trains runs more than 700 miles, occasionally over but mostly under the streets of New York.
As a guide, I need to learn as much as possible about every interesting thing in the city. The trains are very interesting to many people. There are artworks in some of the stations. Where there is no artwork there is at least beautiful décor.
Not all the trains are below ground. The number one is above ground in northern Manhattan, where I live.
Hudson River Greenway
I’ve fallen in love with this last section of Manhattan only this year as I discovered it. I haven’t been able to ride a bike for quite some time, but my wife got me an electric bike which allows me to explore the city once again.
The Hudson River Greenway runs the length of Manhattan’s 13 miles. It’s a collection of parks with the bike path running through them all, from Battery Park all the way up to Dyckman Street, which is also called 200th St. I live nearby.
The Greenway has only been open for about 10 years. Parts of it have been open for decades but it’s only been complete for 10 years.
Let’s have a look.
That bridge is the George Washington bridge, between New York City and Fort Lee NJ. There are 300-foot cliffs on the far side, known as The New Jersey Palisades.
A selfie of me and several tour guide friends on the George Washington bridge. I’m wearing the helmet. The views of and from the bridge also are great.
And this leads you finally to my neighborhood, where there’s a clifftop park named after the last British Governor General of the province of New York. It’s Fort Tryon Park, once a 60-acre private estate.
The previous owner built an immense gate house to impress people. Now the gatehouse is part of the park. The park runs from the River up about 27 stories to gorgeous clifftop views.