Six ways to enjoy Madison Square Park

Manhattan has a lot of great parks – but a handful tends to hog all the attention. Central Park is what it is; there’s just now way to compare it to anything else. Bryant Park has live performances and exhibitions (not to mention a starring role in Fashion Week) and is only a block from Times Square. And, there are others that would come to mind before you work your way down the list to one of my favorite open spaces in the city: Madison Square Park.

Don’t be misled – this park is nowhere near the “garden” of the same name. It sits between East 23d Street and East 26th Street and between Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue, in a small pocket of New York that most visitors tend to skip. So, catch the R or W train to the East 23d Street stop, and get ready to enjoy Madison Square Park in six different ways.

1. Take care of two buildings at once
The uniquely shaped Flatiron Building is right across the intersection from the southwest corner of the park, where Fifth Avenue and Broadway meet. What you may not realize, though, is that the northwest corner of the park (East 26th Street and Fifth Avenue) provides a great view of the Empire State Building. Crowds tend to form, for some reason, during morning rush hour (which sucks for the locals). Also, avoid lunch hour and evenings, as people who work nearby will get in the way of your shot.

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2. Watch some television – live
It’s not unusual to find camera crews in and around Madison Square Park. Plenty of shows shot in New York use the space. So, while you wander through, you may be lucky enough to bump into one of your faves.

3. Go to the bathroom
If you aren’t fortunate enough to spot a celeb, drink some water. This will have the predictable effect and send you to one of only a handful of self-cleaning public toilets in the New York City. It’s on the southeast corner of Madison Square Park, and a quarter buys you 15 minutes. That should be plenty of time to take interior photos of the device that guest-starred on CSI:NY.

4. Enjoy some art
There’s always a public art display of some kind in Madison Square Park. Right now, it’s Markers, an installation by Mel Kendrick, a Boston-born artist who’s now a resident of New York. This project consists of five pieces reflect the “rippling surfaces contain the fossil memory of the actions taken over time.” Like almost all the public art in Madison Square Park, Kendrick’s installation is definitely worth a look.

5. Grab a bite
Sure, it’s tempting to head over to the storied Shake Shack in the southeast corner of Madison Square Park (near the toilet/TV star/murderer). But, if you’re looking for a substantial, enjoyable sit-down meal, go up to Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse, a few blocks north on East 28th Street and Fifth Avenue. Definitely make the ribeye your meal (it was amazing), but you’d be nuts not to start with the seafood platter. Take your time, and rest your feet for a bit, especially if you’ve been wandering around the city all day. The staff is attentive and accommodating, and they will not rush you. This is a great alternative to the long waits and hope-you-can-pull-it-off reservation situations at the steakhouses in mid-town. And, the dark-wooded interior drives home the insider feel that makes any steak dinner in Manhattan complete.

6. Grab a cigar (for those inclined)
For many, the only way to finish a hefty steak dinner is with a cigar. Go local with a stick from Martinez Cigars, a few blocks away on West 29th Street and Seventh Ave. Grab a maduro, and go back to the park (while you can still smoke there). If nobody’s around, chill for a bit on the new pedestrian area just west of Madison Square Park.

See New York through the Gossip Girl lens

Soak in the sights, sounds and smells of the good life on the latest television tour of Manhattan. The new Gossip Girl tour runs 3 ½ hours and leads fans through the locations used to create the on-screen phenomenon that features the decadent lives of poor little rich kids.

Buses cart fans to the New York Palace, on Madison Ave, home to the Bass and van der Woodsen clans – as well as the Henri Bendel store on Fifth Avenue and The Plaza Hotel‘s Oak Room on the southeast corner of Central Park.

Fortunately, the cost of the tour isn’t commensurate with the lifestyles of the show’s characters. At $40, you’re paying less than the “help” commands. Afterward, be sure to grab brunch at Norma’s where hopefully you can get a look at one of the performers!

The Gossip Girl Tour of New York City

Annie at Remember when we told you about the Gossip Girl Tour of NYC? Well, as a fan of the show and a New Yorker, I went ahead and took the tour.

It was pouring rain, but undeterred, about 86 of us piled onto a coach for $40 apiece. We were hosted by an adorable redhaired actress named Meghan, who definitely talked the talk and walked the walk, and dressed much like one of the faux Upper East Side denizens. She cheerfully and enthusiastically recounted favorite moments from the show, asked trivia questions, and did a stellar job of keeping track of everybody when we took little trips off the bus to places like Henri Bendel. She pointed out restaurants and bars which were shooting locations, and we walked the grounds of several spots like “Constance Billard School for Girls” (actually The Museum of the City of New York, pictured).

Highlights of the tour included fun tidbits like the fact that the real girls who attend Marymount — across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art — really do eat their lunch on the steps of the museum like Blair and Serena, pretty spots in Central Park, shopping at Dylan’s Candy Bar and a shot of agave-based frosting from a trendy bakery on the Lower East Side. For tourists, this tour really does take you all over the city and show you some very cool places to revisit on your stay, from trendy nightclub Butter to famed Ukrainian diner Veselka.

The pack consisted mostly of Gossip Girl-ishly dressed young ladies in their late teens and some parents, and I brought along a non fan with me (he has no particular aversion to the show, he just doesn’t watch it) to see how the uninitiated would handle the tour, as most of my New York friends said they had actually never seen it — would he be bored? Well, the next day he sent me this:

“One of the most compelling parts of the whole tour was the creative and engaging delivery of our host, who made every effort to recant the plotlines while untangling the web of characters and places along the route into a living map of the city and the show its self. While the tour was a bit long at three and three quarters hours, there wasn’t a moment where our host wasn’t actively engaging the attendees. It was a great way to be reintroduced to my city.”

He now considers himself an expert on all things Gossip Girl. The tour even included clips of the show played on video screens at the front of the bus (see gallery).

Lower points for New Yorkers would be photo ops at places like Grand Central where we just felt like we were in the way, but for an out of towner, that’s an important stop. It was a lot of fun, even as a resident, to see the heavenly little havens where shooting takes place — it gave us both a lot of respect for Gossip Girl’s location scouts. Really, you’d be driving down a regular east side street and suddenly there would be a storefront or apartment entryway that looked like a dream — they were almost invariably filming locations.

If you’re not into piling onto a bus with 86 people, you also have the option for a more personal Gossip Girl tour by limo. The tour is $180 per person for a minimum of five people and includes a guided tour and lunch at a restaurant used in filiming the show.

Click here to purchase tickets!
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Take the new Gossip Girl Tour of NYC

Some of the stars you won't see on the Gossip Girl tourRemember the Sex and the City Tours? And then the uber expensive, $24,000 Sex and the City Tours? Well, a new show is now stealing the spotlight for Manhattan’s trendiest tourists (oxymoron?) — Gossip Girl.

The Gossip Girl Sites Tour will take you to 40 locations used in filming the Upper East Side’s high school drama Gossip Girl. Naturally, the New York Palace Hotel where the Bass and Van der Woodsen families reside is included, as is the Fifth Avenue building where Blair supposedly lives. You will also get to shop at Henri Bendel (expensive bags not included), and be “spotted” by the anonymous Gossip Girl blogger. The trip will cost you $40 and just a liiiiiitle pride.

What’s next, a 90210 tour of L.A.? Oh. (It’s just virtual.)

[via NewYorkology]

Lively-est brunch in Manhattan

In New York, brunch is more than just a meal. For most, it’s that one chance to indulge, regardless of tax bracket. You find an upscale restaurant, sip a champagne cocktail and order dishes you could never prepare on your own. Most important, you work hard to seem nonchalant, as if you live this way every day. Of course, if you’re visiting the city, you also want at least one celebrity sighting. So, if you could nab a celeb while scarfing brunch, you complete your vacation without tying up the sidewalk on 34th and Madison (and slowing my commute).

So, two birds, one stone? Try Norma’s, in Le Parker Meridien. The brunch is fantastic and expensive, so you will get the full experience. In addition to waiting 20 minutes past your reservation to be seated, you’ll enjoy the occasional star sighting. Men, if you want to score big with your wives or girlfriends, arrange to be there on a Sunday after noon. It’s no secret that Gossip Girl‘s Blake Lively loves Norma’s, and I can confirm that she prefers an early afternoon brunch on Sunday (at least as of a few weeks ago).

Oh, and the coffee’s great, too.