Undiscovered New York: Under the bridge

The bridges of New York City serve as lifelines, connecting this vast city of islands to the people, places and goods that lie beyond. From the iconic Brooklyn Bridge to the majestic Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, just about anywhere you look in New York, you’re bound to see one of these graceful structures dominating the city’s skyline and waterways. But for all the time we spend looking at and walking across New York bridges, did you ever think about what’s going on underneath them?

We tend to think of the space under bridges as a symbolic “no-go” zone, a place inhabited by phantom trolls and the darker side of our imagination. But in New York, a city that is among the most dense of any on earth, all that extra space is actually being put to good use. Since they were built, the undersides of New York City bridges have been used for everything from Cold War bunkers to massive art projects. In fact, rather than being areas of marginal interest, these spaces are among the most dynamic and intriguing in all of New York.

Ready to live it up in one of New York’s most elegant restaurants? How about a visit to a whimsical little lighthouse, located beneath a towering bridge? Or perhaps you’d like to hear the story of one of New York’s forgotten neighborhoods, hidden beneath the zooming path of millions of cars? This week, Undiscovered New York is going “under the bridge,” in search of attractions hidden from view under the city’s many bridges. Check it out after the jump.
Bridges provide a way to get past obstacles to travel elsewhere. But we might want to revise that assumption, especially when it comes to Guastavino’s a restaurant conveniently nestled beneath the Manhattan side of the Queensboro Bridge. As you walk into this elegant restaurant on 59th Street, a frequent setting for banquets and weddings, you’re immediately confronted by the size of the cavernous space. Visitors can settle in with a nice cocktail, taking the time to gaze up in wonder at the series of vaulted ceilings supported by towering pillars of rock. It’s like stumbling into the grotto of some forgotten medieval castle, hidden in plain view.

The Little Red Lighthouse
The George Washington Bridge is another of New York’s busiest arteries, pumping Manhattan commuters back and forth on their way to New Jersey across the Hudson River. Those not intimidated by the bridge’s hustle and bustle might want to take a look down below, where they’ll be greeted by the strange sight of the Little Red Lighthouse. This iconic lighthouse was first built back in 1880, when it was installed along the banks of Sandy Hook, New Jersey. By 1921, it had been moved to its present location along the shores of the Hudson, where it helped sailors navigate their way up the river to points north. Today it has become the de facto symbol of Manhattan’s Fort Washington Park, where it now greets the area’s joggers and bikers on their daily routes.

Forget about the elephant in the Disney movie, New York has a DUMBO of its own. This neighborhood, whose name stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass,” is literally surrounded on all sides by bridges, with both the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge passing directly overhead. The result of this infrastructure decision is that DUMBO feels like a neighborhood kept under wraps, bursting with great bars, restaurants and shopping that most visitors pass right by as they drive overhead. Start your visit with an authentic taco at Hecho in Dumbo before taking a look at some of the area’s great stores like record store Halcyon, powerHouse Books or Japanese toy store Zakka. Finish your trip with a stop at Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park.