Michelle Mannion discovers inspiring architecture, indulgent snacks and hysterical Lennon fans in the Big Apple
Defined as the area north of 59th Street, Uptown encompasses the Upper East and West sides, Central Park, Morningside Heights and Harlem, although here we venture up only about 30 blocks. While Central Park gets the spoils, the lesser known Riverside is an attractive spot to begin your tour. Stretching 6km north from 72nd Street along the western edge of Manhattan, it was designed in the 1870s by the same team behind Central Park with the aim of encouraging people to move to the Upper West Side. It’s less touristy than Central and in the summer you’ll see locals stretched out across its greens.
The park is home to various monuments – at 89th Street, the Soldiers and Sailors memorial remembers Civil War dead, while Joan of Arc is commemorated at 93rd. Further north, at 100th, is a monument to the city’s fallen firefighters – a particularly poignant spot since the September 11 attacks in 2001. But if you don’t want to cover that much ground, simply cut through the park to the riverside at 79th Street, where the pretty Boat Basin is located, and walk along the path with the rest of the runners, riders, strollers and skaters. With so much of Manhattan built up, it’s a pleasure to feel the breeze across the Hudson. Visit nycgovparks.org
Food on Broadway
Head east a couple of blocks and take note of the attractive brownstone townhouses that line the side streets of the Upper West Side. As well as being a thriving residential area, this part of New York is a foodie haven, and this is nowhere more in evidence than on the section of Broadway that runs though it. At 74th Street, Fairway is a lively market teeming with mouth-watering produce – if you’re not hungry, you will be by the time you’ve had a look around. Outside are racks of colourful fruit and veg, while inside there is a deli selling all manner of freshly prepared delights, cheese and fish counters, a bakery, butchers and a big olive bar. It’s as much fun watching the New Yorkers attending to one of their biggest obsessions – good food – as to wander along the aisles.
At 80th Street is Zabar’s, a family-run institution in operation for more than 70 years. Its counters are similarly teeming with goodies, especially cheese and coffee – more than 3,600kg of the latter are sold each week, with a wide variety of beans to choose from. It also has a large homeware section if you want to pick up any kit. Across the road from Fairway, Hotel Beacon’s 260 rooms all come with a kitchenette, if you want to really take advantage of all that grub. Rooms are spacious for New York and have recently been refurbished. Visit fairwaymarket.com, zabars.com, beaconhotel.com
Upper West shopping
Next, cut across two blocks east for a spot of shopping. Home to numerous independent boutiques and names such as Reiss, L’Occitane, Ugg and Mac, Columbus Avenue is a charming and less frenetic alternative to Fifth Avenue. You’ll also find many eateries here, including Il Violino (on the corner of West 68th Street), a down-to-earth, friendly Italian serving tasty food (ilviolinonyc.com).
If your shopping bug isn’t sated, Broadway has stores such as Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters and the Apple Store, while the Shops at Columbus Circle in the Time Warner Centre (located where Broadway meets Central Park South) showcases all manner of brands. Watching drivers used to grid systems navigate the roundabout here is an amusement in itself. Visit shopsatcolumbuscircle.com
You’ll no doubt be in need of a cool drink now so head for PJ Clarke’s on West 63rd Street, close to where Columbus and Broadway meet. A buzzing bar and restaurant located opposite the Lincoln Center performing arts complex, PJ’s has full-length windows that open to the street in summer. Take a seat at one of the tables gaily decked out with red-and-white checked tablecloths, or do as the locals do and grab a stool at the dark wood bar. Staff are incredibly friendly and the menu features salads, sandwiches, burgers, steaks and plenty of seafood. The homemade potato chips (crisps to us) with a warm blue cheese dip is a naughty but moreish snack. Open 11.30am-2am (11am on weekends).
This is the newest of New York’s three PJ Clarke’s, having opened in 2007. The original, at Third Avenue and 55th Street, has been in operation since 1884 and has hosted everyone from Jackie Onassis to Frank Sinatra. The third is in Lower Manhattan. Visit pjclarkes.com
Go east on 63rd until you hit Central Park West, and turn left. The park was a favourite spot of one of New York’s best known adopted sons, John Lennon. At 72nd Street you’ll find the Dakota building, where he lived with Yoko Ono in the seventies and outside which he was murdered in 1980. Built in the 1880s, the Dakota’s elegant façade is worth a look in itself – one of the Upper West Side’s earliest constructions, it remains one of Manhattan’s most well-heeled addresses. But if you are looking for a memorial, you won’t find one. Instead, head across the road to Strawberry Fields, the area of the park dedicated to his memory. Signs designate this a quiet zone but that’s perhaps futile given the masses of tourists and fans that stream here daily – when I stopped by, one disciple was sobbing over the rose-strewn mosaic that forms the memorial’s focal point, while a busker played – you guessed it – Imagine. It’s a touching spot to ponder on the legacy of the great man.
The Upper West Side is no slouch when it comes to museums – just up Central Park West at 79th Street is the American Museum of Natural History (amnh.org), and, next to it, the city’s oldest museum, the New York Historical Society (nyhistory.org). The Society’s permanent collection of treasures is closed for reconstruction until November next year but it continues to host exhibitions, most recently one celebrating the Grateful Dead – its shop is also a good stop for quality New York memorabilia.
But for the real cultural heavyweights, cross the park to Museum Mile on the Upper East Side. Running along Fifth Avenue between 82nd and 104th Streets, its ten venues include the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Jewish Museum of New York. Next year the Museum for African Art will become the Mile’s 11th when it relocates between 109th and 110th Street, but for now the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, at 89th, remains its newest addition, being a sprightly 51 years old.
The Guggenheim is a must-see not only for its innovative temporary exhibitions and permanent collection of masterworks but for the building itself – Frank Lloyd Wright’s white spiral construction is as much a piece of art as anything inside. Check out the Thannhauser collection, which has paintings by Renoir, Degas, Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne and – this writer’s favourite – Picasso’s dreamy Woman with Yellow Hair. Open 10am–5.45pm (Sat until 7.45pm, closed Thurs). Entry US$18 (free with the New York Pass). Visit guggenheim.org
If you’re a performing arts fan, check out the programme at the Lincoln Center. The huge complex encompasses 12 organisations including the Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and New York Philharmonic. Visit lincoln center.org
New York Pass
If you have time to visit several attractions it could be worth investing in a New York Pass. It offers free access to more than 55 sights, including the Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art and American Museum of Natural History, as well as fast-track entry to many of them and special offers. It costs from US$75 for a day to US$165 for a week online. Visit newyorkpass.com
See nycgo.com for more information.