By Alex Eggerking
Are you looking for somewhere new to explore? Or somewhere to take guests in town who think they have already seen everything there is to see in New York? Here are three places that will immerse you in New York’s culture while offering some respite from the city’s frantic pace.
Housing Works Bookstore & Café
Housing Works Bookstore & Café: 126 Crosby St, New York
I fell in love with this place as a tourist many years ago. The Housing Works Bookstore & Cafe is a non-profit bookstore that draws locals and tourists in with its warm, welcoming atmosphere and inspiring mission to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS. After moving to New York, it didn’t take me long to reconnect with the space, which has the feel of a home away from home in the middle of the bustling city.
Nestled in a back street in hip SoHo, this is the perfect bookstore for losing an hour or more browsing through the extensive, ever-changing, sometimes surprising, collection of books, movies and music. But it isn’t just a store for bookworms – the café inside the store creates a cosy space for meeting up with friends or colleagues. Take your laptop to while away a few hours with a coffee and something to eat, or simply spend some time browsing the shelves. You might even recognise the wooden surrounds from the season 5 finale of Girls, which was filmed inside. The bookstore also regularly hosts events, including The MOTH’s famous story slams, which are perfect for entertaining friends visiting from out of town.
I hardly ever walk out of this store without a book under my arm, including many I never knew I wanted to read until they jumped out at me from the shelves! But if you are like me in this regard, you can leave without feeling guilty about any damage to your bank balance, as 100% of the profits from the store and café are channeled back into Housing Works so it can pursue its advocacy and provide front line services.
Green-Wood Cemetery: 500 25th St, Brooklyn
Sprawling across 478 acres in Brooklyn, south of Prospect Park, this scenic cemetery is well worth a visit. Sound spooky? I thought so too. But far from it. With its sweeping views across Brooklyn and Manhattan, and rolling landscape dotted with lakes and hills, this cemetery has been more fashionable than fear inducing since it was founded in 1838. Since then it has been THE place for New Yorkers to be buried, and remained a chic place to stroll and picnic into the 20th century.
For those who enjoy a bit of celebrity spotting, the cemetery is home to many famous New Yorkers, including West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein, Gangs of New York’s “Bill the Butcher”, and artist and Warhol collaborator Jean-Michel Basquiat, as well as a host of baseball legends, politicians, artists, entertainers and Civil War generals. The site witnessed the first and largest battle of the American Revolution, and for history buffs the cemetery is rich with Revolutionary and Civil War history and monuments.
Now is the perfect time to go for a visit, with trees and flowers in springtime bloom. A friend and I took a trolley tour around the grounds on a sunny autumn day (note – the tours usually run on Wednesdays and Sundays, and often sell out in advance, so book ahead). Our guide was a unique cabaret-loving lady, who put me in mind of Babette from Gilmore Girls as she sang West Side Story songs to us in honor of the late Mr Bernstein and regaled us with tales of the cemetery’s more colorful inhabitants.
For something a bit different, the cemetery also regularly hosts other events, including the upcoming roving, interactive theatre experience, The Great American Casket Company.
Cathedral of St John the Divine
Cathedral of St John the Divine: 1047 Amsterdam Ave, New York
Hidden in plain sight on a busy Morningside Heights thoroughfare, the Episcopal Cathedral of St John the Divine stands as a sanctuary to soothe the nerves and inspire the senses.
The breathtaking enormity of St John the Divine evokes the great cathedrals of Europe. I was surprised to learn that it is one of the largest, if not the largest (it seems a matter of some debate), cathedrals in the world. To give a sense of the building’s scale, the dome over the Cathedral’s crossing could fit the Statue of Liberty, sans pedestal, underneath it.
Walking inside the Cathedral for the first time, I was struck by the earthy splendour of the space. While beautiful stained glass catches the eye, rough-hewn stone abuts polished concrete on the interior walls, leaving the Cathedral with a sparse, rather than ornate, feel. There are plenty of fascinating details for the curious to discover, including playful modern figurines carved to stand in the central columns.
The Cathedral hosts various tours, concerts and events. I for one intend to return to take the ‘Vertical Tour’, run Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which leads visitors to climb to the top of the Cathedral, culminating on the roof with (one imagines) stunning views of the city.
About the Author
Alex Eggerking has recently moved to New York from Sydney. While she is almost able to block out the aural assailment of passing sirens, Alex is always on the look out for a quiet place in the city. She is currently making the most of exploring New York’s myriad attractions while she considers her next move, and is excited to spend her first summer in New York, cold brew and/or cocktail in hand. Follow Alex on Instagram @alex.eggerking.