Undiscovered New York: 10 unique NYC sights

It’s been exactly 10 months since our very first feature here at Undiscovered New York. Given the occasion, it’s the perfect time to look back at some of our “greatest hits.” When we first started the Undiscovered New York series, our intention was to provide an insider’s look at the hidden places, history and overlooked spots in this huge city, the very spots many visitors don’t have a chance to visit.

Along the way we’ve taken you through all five boroughs of the city, from the far reaches of The Bronx, to the the rich cultural tapestry of Queens, to the quiet waterways of Staten Island. We’ve revisited some familiar sights with a fresh look and discovered hidden gems begging for exploration.

If you ever wanted a chance to check out the “undiscovered” side of New York, this week you’re in luck. We’re counting down the top 10 unique New York City sights, reviewing our favorite unexplored and lesser-known Big Apple experiences. You may find spots you know and love and a plenty more you’ve never heard of. Ready to go exploring? Let’s take a look.

  • Number 10: Staten Island’s Snug Harbor – New York visitors need not go far from Manhattan to get a unexpected look at this huge city. In fact, just a 25 minute ferry ride away is Staten Island, home to Snug Harbor, a former complex for elderly sailors. In addition to some wildly beautiful harbor views this quirky compound has modern art and a botanic garden complete with its own hedge maze.
  • Number 9: Secret Eating + Drinking – A city the size of New York is bound to have some hidden spaces. In fact, as we discovered, it’s filled with Prohibition-style speakeasies, secret burger joints and unassuming taco spots ready for some clandestine enjoyment. Places secret enough, in fact, that we got a few people angry for giving away their hidden favorites. See what we uncovered.
  • Number 8: East Village + Japan – New York’s East Village is a neighborhood best known for St. Mark’s Place and the youthful rebellion of Punk. But in 2009, the East Village is less the home of mohawked-rockers than ground zero for some first rate Japanese food, shopping and culture. Find out how to experience Tokyo without ever leaving the Big Apple.
  • Number 7: Best NYC Pizza – New York is a pizza-lover’s dream. Nothing better embodies the city’s frantic energy and high culinary standards than the simple New York slice. We investigated some of the best slices from here to Brooklyn and Staten Island (and back again) to crown New York’s pizza champions. See who came out on top.
  • Number 6: Graffiti Culture & 5 Pointz – the 1970’s and 80’s presented New York with a unique confluence of events: as the city fell apart due to massive budget problems, a golden era of hip-hop and street art came of age. We investigated New York’s wild graffiti history, even pointing a spot in Queens where you can see some awesome street art on a massive scale.
  • Number 5: Bronx Little Italy – many New York City visitors know about Manhattan’s Little Italy. But not very many are familiar with Arthur Avenue, a second Little Italy in The Bronx, site for some of the city’s most authentic Italian meats, cheeses and pastries. Italian food lovers will want to check this little-known spot out.
  • Number 4: Staten Island Graveyards – Staten Island is frequently regarded as New York’s “forgotten” Borough, an island that provides a shocking variety of unexpected attractions and great food. We investigated the ghostly boat graveyards just off Staten Island’s coast and then stopped off to visit another more human burial ground dating back to the Revolutionary War.
  • Number 3: Hudson River Valley – there’s a lot more to New York than its bustling metropolis. In fact, just north of the city that never sleeps lies one of the United States’ hidden treasures: the Hudson River Valley. Along the shores of this majestic waterway lie stunning views, contemporary art and regal Presidential mansions.
  • Number 2: Corona Park, Queens – Corona Park, located just South of Citi Field and LaGuardia Airport is quite possibly New York’s most outrageous hidden attraction, albeit one hidden in plain sight. Site of not one but two World’s Fair, Corona Park boast huge deserted stadiums, a 140-foot-tall globe, the temporary home of the United Nations and some of the best Lemon Ice ever.
  • Number 1: 7 Train to Latin America – New York is home to a huge range of immigrants, representing every corner of the globe. Nowhere is this more true than in Queens, a Borough home to a wildly diverse range of cultures, foods and attractions. Along Roosevelt Avenue you’ll find a rich mixture of authentic culture from around South and Central America boasting Mexican taco stands, Cuban food, Ecuadorean street carts and Argentine bakeries. It’s the equivalent of backpacking south of the border for 3 months, all less than an hour from Manhattan by subway.

A guidebook to New York Hip-Hop (Remixed)

Though New York has given birth to any number of musical movements, it’s only the last 30 years that have given rise to Hip-Hop, arguably one of the more defining cultural movements of the late 20th and early 21st Century. Though Hip-Hop is alive and well in New York City, it’s not necessarily something that’s easy to pinpoint on a map for out-of-town visitors, especially not like the Empire State Building or Central Park.

Yet a new interactive online database, called Bronx Rhymes, promises to challenge this assumption. The new project takes a closer look at the Bronx, the Borough best known for jumpstarting the movement, categorizing some of the most famous places and people on an interactive map. A corresponding poster has been placed at the physical location of each map point in the Bronx, offering details of what happened there. Visitors can respond to the poster with their mobile phone by SMS, offering a comment on what they’ve read or providing a hip-hop “rhyme” of their own for inclusion in a database.

Anyone interested in learning more about hip-hop luminaries like Afrika Bambaataa, DJ Kool Herc or KRS-One can find the artists’ entries listed on the website, along with the text message comments of anyone who’s contributed. For instance, an entry for DJ Kool Herc reads, “he was kool like a king threw one two punches in the hip hop ring.” It’s an interesting and participatory approach to creating a tour guide, one that is just as dependent on the input of the visitors as it is on the project’s original designers. It works especially well for Hip-Hop, a movement that is highly dependent on the remixing and blending of sounds and voices for inspiration. And with high-powered mobile phones and Google Maps becoming ever-more pervasive, we can expect to see more of these type of tourist mash-ups coming soon to a vacation hotspot near you.

[Via PSFK]

Undiscovered New York: Is the “Real” Little Italy in the Bronx?

Welcome back to this week’s installation of Undiscovered New York. New York has a longstanding love affair with all things Italian. From the Feast of San Gennaro to some of the world’s best pizza outside Italy, to our town’s infatuation with the Cosa Nostra, it’s hard to deny that Italian culture has strongly influenced New York culture. In fact, many visitors come to New York specifically to check out Little Italy, a well-known strip of Italian restaurants and shops around the intersection of Mulberry and Grand Street in downtown Manhattan.

For those who came to check out Little Italy, have a cannoli and grab some calamari at Umberto’s, it’s certainly a fun time. Seems like a good dose of Italian culture, right? What if I were to tell you there’s another, some would even say better, Little Italy in New York? Well that’s just what I’m trying to tell you paisano, and it’s in the Bronx.

Curious? Why not click that link below and find out the story behind Arthur Avenue, New York’s other Little Italy.
What is it exactly?
When discussing the Bronx’s very own Little Italy, we’re generally talking about the intersections of 187th Street and Arthur Avenue also known as Belmont by locals. The area surrounding this intersection is a virtual feast of Italian American and immigrant culture in New York, offering a huge array of authentic Italian food markets, butcher shops, bakeries, old school red sauce joints and plenty of Italian gift shops.

Enough with the chit-chat, what can I eat?
If you like Italian food, welcome to paradise. Ground zero is probably the Arthur Avenue Retail Market, a one-stop Italian bazaar full of all kinds of hand-made Italian foodstuffs like sausages, olives and freshly made pasta. Once you’ve worked up an appetite (probably immediately) stop by Mike’s Deli for one their amazing sandwiches stuffed with Italian meats like prosciutto. Don’t forget to hit some of the other area favorites, including Teitel Brothers for Italian specialties like olives and anchovy paste, Terranova Bakery for some hearty Italian-style loaves, Calandra’s Cheese for some mozzarella, and Madonia Bros. for some superb cannoli filled on the spot.

What else should I check out?
The best part about Arthur Avenue is that you can make a day out of your visit. Not only is Arthur Avenue home to Italian culture – lately it has become home to a large populations of residents from Mexico, Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania. The Bronx Zoo and Bronx Botanic Gardens are also both within easy walking distance of Arthur Avenue. Both sites are as good a spot as any to take a leisurely stroll or nap and perhaps sleep off that sausage and peppers you had for lunch. And if it’s baseball season, you’re no more than a 10 minute subway ride from a Yankees game.

How do I get there?
Perhaps the closest subway stop to Arthur Avenue is the Fordham Road stop on the B and D lines. From there, you can jump on the Bx-12 or just walk your way a few minutes east. Another alternative is the Metro North Fordham Road Station, which stops nearby.

A very special “Thank You!” to Steph Goralnick, for all the awesome photos in this story.

Undiscovered New York: Bombing the Bronx and the Graffiti of 5 Pointz

As a resident of New York for just over five years, I frequently take for granted the “relative” cleanliness of my city. Sure, I could do without the many, pungent trash bag piles during summertime, but you quickly get accustomed to a certain level of grit and grime when you live in one of the world’s largest metropolises.

In fact, my version of New York circa-2008 is a utopia of clean compared to New York in the 1970’s and 80’s, when the town was literally coming apart at the seams. As the city suffered a massive financial crisis, crime ran rampant and public services like the subway system fell into decline. As tragic as this period was for residents, it also provided the background for some of the era’s most important cultural movements, including the rise of punk at clubs like CBGB, emerging artists like Basquiat and in particular, the first stirrings of the nascent culture of Hip-Hop and graffiti in the Bronx.

Graffiti is perhaps one of the most controversial artistic movements of the end of the 20th Century. As much as its detractors view the form as symptomatic of urban blight, its supporters just as forcefully embrace it as the stirrings of a wholely legitimate new art form. Though vandals have been defacing public buildings with their “art” since the ancient Greeks and Romans, the modern incarnation of graffiti took shape in New York City in the borough of the Bronx in the 1970’s. In that regard the current prominence of famous graffiti artists like Banksy owe their rise to the pioneers of the form here in New York several decades ago.

So if you’re visiting New York City in 2008, where do you go to see and learn more about graffiti firsthand? Click on through to find out more and learn where to go to find the art form still alive and kicking in the 5 boroughs.The rise of NYC graffiti was as much a result of civic neglect as it was a nascent cultural movement. With city police preoccupied with a huge crime wave, the city’s walls and subway cars became prime canvases for vandals, who began leaving their mark wherever they saw fit.

At first it was all about gaining notoriety. Early practitioners of the form like TAKI 183 would roam the city, leaving their ‘tag’ as a way to earn bragging rights throughout the huge city. Soon the movement gained steam, with other ‘taggers’ competing to see who could create the most ambitious pieces, evolving into elaborate, colorful works painted directly on the city’s subway cars. Due to the covert nature of their projects, many graffiti taggers began to describe their hit and run visits to the city’s subway rail depots as “bombing.” The style is perhaps best encapsulated by the 1983 documentary Style Wars, which documents New York’s thriving Hip-Hop, breakdancing and graffiti cultural scenes.

While graffiti on the New York City subway is a thing of the past, the spirit of the movement carries on today. A walk around downtown neighborhoods like the Lower East Side, East Village, Soho and parts of Brooklyn will reveal the art form is still alive and well. While there’s no one specific spot to check out, an afternoon stroll down the area’s many side streets will reveal a wealth of projects if you’re curious. Check out Wooster Collective and Streetsy, two of the best online street art websites, to get an idea of what’s out there. In the East Village, also make sure to check out the cheeky works of De La Vega at his shop on St. Mark’s Place.

But for the best place to go to learn more about this uniquely New York art form, your first stop should be Five Pointz, a large-scale artist project in Queens. This huge industrial building, located in Long Island City, is completely covered from floor to ceiling in a living, breathing mural of graffiti artwork. Artists both local and from around the world drop by on a regular basis to put up new pieces, resulting a building that has become a dynamic illustration of the art form’s continuing legacy and influence. While some works are more abstract, there’s plenty of great pieces that feature New York themes like Hip-Hop and many of the city’s famous landmarks. The building also has plenty of examples of wildstyle, an intricate form of lettering made famous by the original New York ‘taggers.’

If you want to check out Five Pointz, it’s easy enough to make a full day out of your trip to Queens. Just a short walk across the street is the art museum PS1, a contemporary art gallery which is an offshoot of the famous Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Just take the E or V trains to the 23rd Street/Ely Avenue stop or the 7 train 45th Road/Courthouse Square. The Five Pointz building is hard to miss – you’ll be able to the see the brightly-colored murals from up close as your train rumbles right past the building’s many murals.