Undiscovered New York is a series that investigates New York’s unexpected and off-the-beaten-path attractions. The places left off the “NYC tourist trail.” But like all good things, the series must come to an end. This week marks our final post. It’s not because we’re tired of the Big Apple – far from it. The effervescent shine and never-ending energy of New York will linger in our bloodstream for many years to come. But with the end comes a new beginning: there’s no better way to finish up than by helping visitors continue exploring this magical, one-of-a-kind metropolis on their own terms. And to prove it, we’re going to show how to visit one of New York’s most generic, overblown and monotonous tourist spots with fresh eyes. Lookout, we’re heading to Times Square!
Times Square is arguably New York City’s most famous tourist destination. Each day, thousands of visitors descend on this tiny pulsating strip of land, ebbing and flowing among Broadway shows and deep-fried chain restaurants, imbuing the area with a constant sense of energy. But this vitality has a way of robbing Times Square of all its fun. For an area that was once the city’s most notorious den of vice, it’s undergone a remarkable clean-up, morphing to a destination of squeaky-clean fun and glitzy nightlife. Yet for all these family-friendly charms, Times Square still retains vestiges of New York’s gritty charm and out-of-the-way attractions – you just need to know where to look.
Want to discover a forgotten gathering of magic and mystery in an old-school New York cafe? How about some of the city’s best BBQ north of the Mason-Dixon? Or perhaps some gorgeous vintage architecture from the days of old, hidden in plain view behind gaudy neon billboards? It’s time to leave your biases at the door – this week, Undiscovered New York is taking a fresh look at Times Square. Click below to see what we found…
The Magician’s Table – Cafe Edison
These days, magic is a dying art. The glory days of magic on Broadway are long gone and the craft has gone underground, finding favor at childrens’ birthday parties and the occasional Las Vegas casino. But if you’re looking relive the surprise and wonder of magic’s glory days, head over to Times Square’s Cafe Edison for the weekly Magician’s Table. The Society of American Magicians has held weekly meetings at this defiantly old-school cafe for over 60 years, dating back to the days when Times Square was a hotbed of New York’s flourishing magic scene. Magicians and regulars have been enjoying card tricks and the cafe’s top-notch Eastern European favorites like Matzo ball soup, Kasha varnishkas and blintzes for over 25 years.
With all generic strip-mall restaurants and chain stores serving Times Square these days, it’s easy to forget the neighborhood is home to some of New York City’s most impressive architectural relics. Walk just a block or two from the frenzied movement of Broadway to corners like 46th Street and 7th Avenue, where visitors will find a the shocking remains of New York’s famous theatrical past, housing a facade with four statues from famous Broadway shoemaker Israel Miller. Just a few blocks south on 40th Street between Broadway and 6th Avenue are the “40th Street Philosophers,” a group of incredibly detailed building sculptures hidden in plain view. For all the flashy digital signage and gaudy lights in the area, it’s surprising to realize there’s plenty of historic New York architecture if you just stop and look around.
You don’t have to head to Texas, Kansas City or North Carolina to get some of the country’s best barbecue. It’s actually found near Times Square at Virgil’s Real Barbecue, which has been dishing up down-home favorites like pulled pork sandwiches and chicken fried steak to patrons from around the world. Considering your average dinner in Times Square involves some kind of cheesy nacho popper or fried shrimp, Virgil’s represents a defiant culinary stake in the ground for anyone who cares about quality well-made food.
With that, our odyssey here at Undiscovered New York comes to a close. Over the past year, we hope you’ve had a chance to explore New York’s five boroughs with fresh eyes, discovering all this vast, multicultural, history-rich city has to offer. Hopefully the next time you find yourself in the Big Apple, you’ll step off that well-worn tourist trail and head off in search of fresh adventure. Because in a city like New York, you never know what might be waiting for you around that next corner. See you soon!