Undiscovered New York: Roosevelt Island

The average visitor to New York has already seen Roosevelt Island. Or rather, they’ve seen it from a distance. You know that crazy island sitting in the middle of the East River across from Midtown? The one with the tram ride that lets you use your public transit card? Everyone knows it’s there, but not nearly as many make the effort to go for a visit. You know what? Let them miss out. A five-minute ride in an alpine-style gondola to arrive at one of the city’s least-trafficked destinations, boasting spooky abandoned hospitals, lush walking trails, quirky architecture and million-dollar views of Manhattan.

Ironically, from the 1820’s until the 1950’s most people on Roosevelt Island weren’t there for the scenery: they were trying desperately to get away. After the Blackwells sold their private island to the city in 1828, it was renamed Welfare Island and given a very different purpose as home to the city’s most notorious prisons, insane asylums and smallpox hospitals. Welfare Island was for many years a forbidden and isolated place, with a reputation that kept the curious at bay.

Want to learn more about this strange island’s history? Ready to leave your assumptions behind? Join Undiscovered New York as we investigate Roosevelt Island. Click below for what we found.The Tram Ride
Visiting Roosevelt Island doesn’t require any special boat trips. To get there, all you need is a New York City metrocard. By far the most popular way to travel is the Roosevelt Island Tramway. You can pick up the tramway at 59th Street and Second Avenue, with trips leaving every 15 minutes or so.

As the Swiss-engineered gondolas briskly lift you hundreds of feet above Midtown Manhattan, you’ll be treated to bird’s eye views of the 59th Street Bridge, the East River and the Manhattan skyline. Just 5 minutes or so later and you’re back on the ground, ready to explore Roosevelt Island. Afraid of heights? Travelers can also take the F Train to the Roosevelt Island stop.

Exploring the Smallpox Hospital
Get off the Tramway and head South towards Roosevelt Island’s premier attraction, the ruins of the 19th Century Smallpox hospital. This Gothic Revival hospital was first constructed in the 1850’s to help quarantine patients suffering from this particularly contagious diseases. More than 150 years later, the stone structure lays in ruins, empty windows whistling with the ghosts of lonely river breezes. A short walk away is the island’s empty southern tip offering visitors unbroken views of nearby Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens along the East River. This proverbial waterway, always the butt of New Yorker jokes, never looked so grand.

The Blackwell House and Octagon
Head back North the way you came. As you walk, make sure to enjoy the picturesque views of Manhattan’s UN Headquarters and Chrysler Building towering above you just across the river. We’re heading towards The Octagon, a famous architectural landmark on the Island’s northern edge. Take your time – this walk will take you about 20-30 minutes, bringing you through the island’s center.

About 15 minutes north is the Blackwell House, a remnant of the Island’s history as a private farm. Built in the late 1700’s, it is the oldest surviving structure on the island. The structure predates Roosevelt Island’s purchase by the city and its conversion to a large welfare complex of prisons and hospitals.

Finally as you continue your stroll, you’ll come to The Octagon, another of the Island’s most famous structures. Like many of the buildings on Roosevelt Island, this intriguing landmark started life as the entrance to a lunatic asylum opened in the 1840’s. Today you’d have to be crazy to turn down one of the building’s luxury residences, as it’s been turned into upscale condominiums. How times change.

Undiscovered New York: Best rooftop bars

With so many drinking options in New York, it’s easy to get dizzy with all the choices. Here at Undiscovered New York, we’ve covered some of the Big Apple’s many drinking dens before. But there’s something particularly special about drinking in New York in Summer. Nothing better epitomizes those balmy nights than holding a chilled highball glass or beer in hand, watching as a fiery orange dusk melts into the humming yellow lights and steel grey of the skyline below. And if outdoor drinking is your goal, there’s nowhere better to do it than one of the city’s many rooftop drinking establishments.

Whether you choose to patronize New York’s many hotels with chic rooftop bars, or an al fresco rooftop museum space with some artwork to boot, New York boasts a surprisingly diverse assortment of outdoor drinking spaces. In a city crowded with skyscrapers and world class architecture, you’re also sure to be rewarded with not only a new perspective on the city but some killer views to boot. And while rooftop drinking is by no means a cheap pursuit, (your beverage will typically set you back $3-5 extra on average) if you choose the right spot and right happy hours it can be surprisingly affordable.

This week at Undiscovered New York, we’re elevating our look at the city to a new level. Just in time for Summer, join us as we take you up to five our favorite rooftoop drinking spaces. Ready to rise to the occasion? Grab your sunglasses and we’ll take you through our picks after the jump.
Rooftop #1 – The Pool Deck @ Empire Hotel
The neighborhood near New York’s Lincoln Center has long been regarded as a nightlife dead zone. That has changed in recent years with the opening of The Pool Deck at the Empire Hotel. In addition to boasting stellar views of the nearby Lincoln Center and Manhattan traffic artery Broadway,The Pool Deck is of particular note for its awesome vintage neon sign. Visitors can enjoy a cocktail right underneath the imposing red glow of this historic landmark.

Rooftop #2 – Bookmarks @ Library Hotel
The Midtown Library Hotel is a bastion of calm and cool in an otherwise bland area of Manhattan. In addition to the hotel’s literary decor, (the lobby is lined with shelves of books) visitors can enjoy some downright poetic scenery at the hotel’s rooftop Bookmarks bar. The mahogany paneling and fireplace will ensure your creative juices (or at least conversations) are flowing in no time.

Rooftop #3 – The Met Rooftop Bar
New Yorkers and visitors alike respect New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art as a treasure trove of culture and creativity on the city’s Upper East Side. But not quite as many patronize the museum’s beautiful rooftop bar with stunning views of Midtown Manhattan and nearby Central Park. In addition to soaking up some alcoholic beverages, guests can take in outdoor art exhibitions from the museum’s diverse collections.

Rooftop #4 – Mé Bar @ La Quinta Inn
On first glance, the La Quinta Inn on Manhattan’s 32nd Street appears to be nothing special. But New Yorkers in-the-know pay this first impression no heed. Up on the roof of this nonchalant budget property is one of New York City’s most killer views of the nearby Empire State Building. Sip a cocktail while this iconic landmark rises above you like a massive steel giant, brightly glowing with its trademark lights. Anyone in need of a snack can order some delicious Korean food from the area’s many nearby eateries. Check Undiscovered New York’s recent look at Koreatown for more info.

Rooftop #5 – Rare View @ Shelburne Murray Hill
Hip New Yorkers have written off the Murray Hill neighborhood for dead. All the better for you – the Shelburne’s Rare View rooftop bar is the area’s secret weapon. Though this rooftop can get crowded during the post-workday rush, it offers blissful up-close-and-personal views of some Manhattan’s most famous architectural landmarks. As you sip your drink it will be hard to miss the imposing silhouettes of the nearby Chrysler and Empire State Buildings. It’s a free architectural tour of New York’s greatest hits, all for the low price of a refreshing beverage in a plastic cup.

John Updike’s take on travel: A mini tribute and ode to NYC

John Updike, as well as being one of America’s beloved, if not a bit controversial, novelists, was a traveler and a poet. Brenda’s post yesterday was a fitting tribute, but here’s a bit more. In his collection of poems, Americana, published in 2001, Updike combines the traveler’s and the writer’s eye.

The poem “Americana,” subtitled “Poem Begun on Thursday, Oct. 14, 1993, at O’Hare Airport, Terminal 3, around Six O’Clock P.M.,” is an airport musings piece. In this one he uses the airport as a place to let his mind and words ponder life. In another, he delves into the subject of an overhead luggage rack. (To read “Americana,” click on this link and scroll down.)

In other poems, Updike tackles overseas travel and descriptions of cities. About New York City, he wrote the lines “whose sheets of windows rise like dusty thunder” in reference to the skyscrapers.

New York City, according to Leon Neyfakh who wrote an article about Updike in the New York Observer, was one of Updike’s favorites.

Along with people watching and taking in the city’s sense of adventure, Updike enjoyed heading to art museums, in particular. Neyfakh was planning on taking Updike to the Miró exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art on his next visit to the city.

If you want to see New York through Updike’s eyes, sit at a restaurant table where you can look out the window and people watch. Then head to the Museum of Modern Art to see the Miró exhibit. Along the way, jot down notes on your observations. Perhaps you’ll uncover a poem in there.

For a review of Americana, click here. For Updike’s review of the Museum of Modern Art before it reopened after being remodeled, click here.

Chalky Lives did the photo montage of the Chrysler Building, an image that seems to suit Updike’s words. The second photo, titled “Jump” was taken in NYC”s theater district by Joshua Davis. It also seems poem worthy.

In today’s New York Times, Updike’s poem, “Requiem” was published in the Opinion page. It’s part of his collection “Endpoint and Other Poems” that is soon to be published.