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Get into the act
New York sets the stage for an urban adventure, with plays, museums and culinary delights

By Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein
Published: May/Jun 2001

As William Shakespeare might have put it, all New York City's a stage and all the men and women who live and visit there are merely players.

What a dramatic stage. Heaven-piercing skyscrapers. Times Square billboards. Central Park. Jammed thoroughfares. Crowded sidewalks.

Listen to the music. Honking horns. Police whistles. Tinkling bicycle bells. Deafening jackhammers. Shuffling feet. A cacophony of conversations. Disharmony blended into an unforgettable score.

Behold the international cast. Uniformed doormen. Showgirls. Pitchmen. Sidewalk performers. Derelicts slumped in doorways. The beautiful people, as well as the ugly, have roles to play.

Put yourself in the drama and act out the excitement with the best of them in one of the greatest shows on earth.

On stage

Take your part as an audience member for a melange of theatrical experiences. Off and off-off Broadway shows play in intimate theaters in Greenwich Village, SoHo and along West 42nd Street. Broadway theaters stretch from 42nd–57th Streets and from Sixth–Ninth Avenue.

For those willing to stand in long lines to get discounted theater seats, head for the TKTS booth located in Duffy Square (47th Street and Broadway). A $2.50 per ticket fee gets you either a 25- or 50-percent discount, sometimes for top shows. The booth is open 3–8 p.m. for evening performances and 10 a.m.–2 p.m. for Wednesday and Saturday matinees.

Museums

The Metropolitan Museum of Art features more than 3 million works of art, including the massive Temple of Dendur. /Lee Snider/Photo Images
Take a cultural role, and that's easy to do as New York boasts 150 museums. The world-famous Metropolitan Museum of Art has a collection of more than 3 million works of art. A great family choice is the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th Street). And the rebuilt Hayden Planetarium stars in the Rose Center for Earth and Space. The Hall of the Universe and the Hall of Planet Earth are among new installations.

When the six-story Museum of American Folk Art opens (scheduled for late fall) at 45 W. 53rd St., it will be the city's first major new art construction since 1966. Cross the street to the Museum of Modern Art (11 W. 53rd St.) where ongoing construction will double the current exhibit space.

Culinary headliners

With more than 18,000 restaurants, giving a rave performance as a gourmand is easy. New Yorkers say with all the openings and closings, they could eat at different restaurants every night of their lives and never get to all of them.

For a stargazing lunch, reserve a red-leather banquette in the original downstairs café at the Russian Tea Room (150 W. 57th Street) on a Friday, the best day of the week for celebrity viewing. Order from the list of flavored vodkas, and ask your server to hand roll caviar into your blinis (Russian crepes). Stretch out your viewing time by lingering over cups of strong coffee or Epicurean teas.

A hit by London's famed Sir Terence Conran plays at the landmark Bridgemarket. Guastavino’s (409 E. 59th St.) attracts standing-room-only crowds. Located in a 26,000 square-foot tiled and vaulted historic site that once served as a farmer's market, the restaurant showcases a contemporary brasserie on the first floor and more formal (and pricier) dining space on the second. The beautiful people crowded the bar. On the second floor, views added flavor to Italian/French-influenced cuisine, but the casual first floor was more of a party.

Babbo (110 Waverly Place) presents daring Italian. The Greenwich Village eatery boasts a very serious wine list, along with new tastes and flavors. Sample clever renditions of lamb's tongue and testa (headcheese) for Antipasti. “Primi” choices included beef cheek and goose liver ravioli. Sweetbreads and wild boar appeared in the “Secondi” section. If exotic dishes turn you off, go for grilled ribeye or spicy calamari. Seven-course pasta or traditional tasting menus are available for entire tables only. Dishes change daily. The James Beard Foundation voted Babbo best new restaurant in America in 1999.

At lively Balthazar (80 Spring) in SoHo, diners didn't mind waiting for tables at the lively bar. French comfort food is served in a setting of distressed woods, mirrors and closely packed marble-topped tables. The air zinged with excitement as waiters scurried about carrying towers of fresh seafood. This shared-appetizer course would have sufficed as dinner, but we couldn't resist the fresh fish and sides like twice-fried French fries. The sinful chocolate pot de crème was worth paying penance.

Great tastes enjoyed at the original Palm Restaurant on Second Avenue can be had at the restaurant's outpost in the theater district (250 W. 50th St.). The same celebrity caricatures, sizzling steaks and enormous lobsters are here–without the long waits. Split the mammoth entrees. Affable assistant manager Bruce Bozzi, Jr. is the great-grandson of the original owner. It's the perfect epilogue or prologue to theater.

Playbill for spring and summer

Things keep changing in New York, but visitors can count on great annual events.

See spring flowers at the Cherry Blossom Festival, April 28–29, Brooklyn Botanic Garden. View international ships and enjoy the Armed Forces celebration during Fleet Week at the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, May 24–29.

Beginning in June, spend summer evenings attending the Met in the Park free opera series held on the Great Lawn in Central Park. The New York Shakespeare Festival's annual Shakespeare in the Park season opens in June at Central Park's Delacorte Theatre. Central Park SummerStage offers an eclectic program of music, dance, opera and more for eight weeks, beginning in June. The free festival gathers on Rumsey Field.

July brings the crackle of Macy’s Annual July Fourth Fireworks. Tennis devotees head to Queens for the U.S. Open Tournament, beginning Aug. 27.

Spring, summer, winter or fall, New York City sets the stage for visitors with continuously unfolding drama. Join the cast of characters.

Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

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