Is there anything I don’t like about New York City? Plenty. But this is not the place to kvetch. This is a story about places and events that please me—and hopefully you.
I begin by saying straight out: I like museums. And to be specific, house museums, which are invariably small, choice and, yes, homey. NYC has four at the top of my list. I like the Merchant’s House Museum in the East Village because an actual family, the Tredwells, lived there in the 19th century. It is virtually unchanged since 1832—and possibly haunted. Lots of fun that. I revere The Frick Collection because if I could live anywhere in the city, it would be here, in industrialist Henry Clay Frick’s limestone mansion on Fifth Avenue, among his Holbeins, Gainsboroughs and Rembrandts. I’m a sucker for Old Masters. The Morgan Library & Museum is where this bookworm wants to burrow into financier J.P. Morgan’s vast collection of tomes and artworks. I never leave The Morgan’s stellar gift shop without a new addition to my own library, such as it is.
The museums above can hardly be called minimalist. And that’s fine with a pack rat like me. But inside every pack rat, there is a minimalist gnawing to get out. Perhaps that’s why I am drawn to 101 Spring Street, the five-story cast-iron home and studio of 20th-century minimalist Donald Judd in SoHo. So uncluttered, so spare, so exactly as it was when the artist occupied it and installed works by himself and his contemporaries Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, Frank Stella and others. Judd’s thumbprint is everywhere. In March 2020, the revamped Museum of Modern Art, which reopens on Oct. 21, 2019, and is another favorite, if large treasure house, mounts a major, not-to-be-missed Judd retrospective.
The Opera and Chic Dining Options
If a chamber ensemble of museums can rock my boat, imagine what the full orchestral splendor of Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera can do. Especially when a grand opera by Puccini, like “Madama Butterfly” and “Turandot,” is on the slate. As the house lights dim before a performance, the 12 Austrian crystal chandeliers that ring the auditorium slowly ascend 65 feet to the gilded ceiling. Pure magic. Space-age in appearance, the lights are affectionately called Sputniks. The raising of the Sputniks is more than a ritual; it’s a Met tradition. My tradition after a night at the opera is a burger and a pint of Guinness at old-world saloon P.J. Clarke’s across the street.
But if I want a restaurant to treat me as grandly as the Metropolitan Opera does, it’s Aureole hands down. On the fringes of the hyperactive mob scene that is Times Square and the Theater District, Charlie Palmer’s Aureole is a bastion of quietude (I refer to its sanctum sanctorum—the formal dining room, not the livelier Liberty Room). Service is effortless, the food delicious and elegantly plated. The only drawback: Aureole isn’t open for post-theater dining. (I’ll allow myself one kvetch in this article.)
The Great Outdoors
Whenever I need to clear my head, I take a walk. New York is a great walking city. If I want to sightsee while I move the limbs, I cross the Brooklyn Bridge, always entering from the Manhattan side. The pedestrian walkway is 1.3 miles long; A round-trip—Manhattan-Brooklyn-Manhattan—clocks in at an hour. Check out the panorama at sunset.
If it’s reflection I seek, Hudson River Park, especially the stretch from Houston Street south to Battery Park City, is just the ticket. Families romp on the lawns, while I mosey along, making sure to tip my hat, as a gentleman should, to the Statue of Liberty in the not-so-far-away distance. I love the Hudson, whether it laps at my feet here in the park, or is as pretty as a picture on the other side of the plate-glass windows of the Whitney Museum of American Art. There’s nothing still about the life of the Hudson. You can use the Whitney in the Meatpacking District as a jumping off point for a jaunt along The High Line. I do.
Needless to say, I like New York buildings. Buildings that soar, like the Empire State Building. Buildings that look like they’re ready for take-off, like sculptural, birdlike World Trade Center Transportation Hub designed by Santiago Calatrava. And buildings that go where no building has gone before, like condominium tower 217 W. 57th St. on Billionaire’s Row.
And finally, my most favorite thing in New York. From its roof, I have unimpeded views to the north, south, east and west. I can stand in total isolation and embrace all that I see. But, sorry, it’s not open to the public. It’s my secret place. You’ll just have to find your own. Easy enough to do in a city like New York.