NFT New York Upper West Side (Lower)

Upper West Side (Lower)

Away from the bustle of midtown and downtown Manhattan, the lower part of the Upper West Side offers a decidedly different, slower pace. But by no means does this neighborhood feel sleepy. Sandwiched between two parks, this neighborhood offers great food, museums, dive bars, and beautiful Art Deco architecture, not to mention the cultural meccas of Lincoln Center and the American Museum of Natural History, all of which remind you that New York is a livable city after all.

Many of the buildings that line the streets of the Upper West Side are landmarks. The Ansonia (built between 1899 and 1904) was originally a hotel and is now an exclusive apartment building. It has had many famous residents including Babe Ruth and Theodore Dreiser. The Dakota (built from 1880-1884) is best known for being the home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and the place where Lennon was killed at the entrance to the building. See more.

>The Dorilton (built in 1902), The Majestic (built in 1894), and The San Remo (completed in 1931) all attest to bygone days of elaborate building construction.

Green space surrounds this neighborhood. To the east lies Central Park, but most locals head west to the gorgeous Riverside Park. It is filled with beautiful flower gardens, wonderful playgrounds, and some great spots to sit down and relax by the water. For those looking for something more active, a path runs along the Hudson River, perfect for jogging and biking. The Boat Basin at 79th Street is the only facility in the city that allows year-round residency in boats. It is also used as a launch site for kayaks, canoes, and sailboats, which you can rent in the summer. The rotunda overlooks the marina and is the site of the Boat Basin café (open April to October), a great place to unwind with a beer as the sun sets over the Hudson.

Like a city unto itself, The American Museum of Natural History is one of the largest museums in the world. Founded in 1869, the museum contains 25 interconnected buildings with lots of famous permanent exhibits (anthropological collections, rooms on human biology and evolution, a life-sized model blue whale, and the world's largest sapphire in the world, to name a few). Be sure to check out the always popular Hayden Planetarium and its spectacular space show--it's a great spot to experience the wonders of the universe--and of course the collection of dinosaur fossils that tantalize visitors of all ages. Just south of AMNH is The New-York Historical Society which has a fabulous collection documenting the history of New York and the United States. Some highlights include many of James Audubon's watercolors, paintings from the Hudson River School, and materials from the Civil War and Reconstruction.

When Upper West Siders tire from museums, they join the rest of the city's cultural elite at Lincoln Center, probably the most famous arts and culture center in the world. Home of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Lincoln Center Theater, the Metropolitan Opera, the City Opera, the City Ballet, and the New York Philharmonic, as well as Juilliard, the School of American Ballet, and the Library for the Performing Arts, this place is just bursting with artistic brilliance.

For a night of culture, go to Lincoln Center or see a concert at the Beacon Theater. For drunken revelries and beer pong, hit Jake's Dilemma. Was that out loud? We meant to say, With a selection of wine for everyone, seek out Barcibo Enoteca. And Harry and Sally set up their best friends at Cafe Luxembourg.

For Daniel Boulud's take on seasonal French cuisine, check out Bar Boulud and its charcuterie bar. Or take a walk to Telepan where Bill Telepan serves up rock-steady seasonal tasting menus and great cocktails. But if breaking the bank isn't in the agenda, check out Kefi for the best Greek food around. Meanwhile, sushi snobs don't even have to leave the neighborhood with Gari close by.

New York's prime food shopping can be found in this neighborhood. Zabar's (cheeses, fish, coffee, free samples) and Fairway (fresh produce, breads, dry goods, total chaos) are within blocks of each other. To pair some wine with that fine food, we like 67 Wine & Spirits. And everyone can find something to wear at the uptown outpost of Century 21.


This Neighborhood Featured in...
On the Hunt for NY's Avant-Garde

By Sarah Enelow
New York is a world-class performing arts mecca, especially when it comes to experimental work, but where exactly does one find it? NFT Editor Sarah Enelow takes us on a tour of avant-garde performance venues in the city, cutting through the Broadway fluff to find the best, most affordable offbeat events.
Robert Moses Commands

By Michael Massmann
Sure, he's a controversial figure, but ain't you glad we got fast-moving roadways, tunnels and heaps of stark, unvarying violence-inciting public housing? Michael Massman chronicles the mind (or maybe just the history) of the 20th century Machiavelli.

Art Deco Bronx: A Meandering Social History

By Rachel Greenwald
The Bronx has one of the largest conglomerations of Art Deco Architecture in the United States. Surprised?

Free NYC

By Krista Apple
When Krista Apple moved to NYC, a friend shoved her into a corner and hissed, "They charge you to breathe here." But Krista could not be deterred. She vowed to seek out the cheapest eats, drinks and arts this side of the Appalachians. Now, let her show you the way.

Breaking into Non-Profit Arts

By Liz Pink
Young, talented, poor and striving. Artists are a mysterious lot. Will they make it, or will we wipe our hands of them, devilishly and unforgivingly. J/K. Liz Pink offers truckloads of making-it-in-the-big-city advice that only a very rich or successful artist could pass up. Join her.

Guide to Entertaining Tourists

By Jane Pirone
Someone's gotta do it.

Living on a Budget in NYC

By Diana Bocco
The living is easy when you have lots of money. And that's why we need Diana Bocco to tell us to shop at the Greenmarket and patronize the free-for-all furniture store of the street. After all, what is living if not suffering; drinking if not free sampling? Nothing. It is nothing if not that.


On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Rob Tallia
Photo:  Rob Tallia

Lincoln Center
Yup, even on a crappy cell phone, Lincoln Center looks great, doesn't it? The reconstruction of the plaza continues, but even with construction equipment lying around, it's still gorgeous, especially at night. And the fountain's not a bad place to pop the question, fellas, especially right before going to see a production at the Met. Which I'm excited to finally do for the first time in my twenty years in New York, as I've got tickets for Shostakovich's "The Nose" on March 18. Why did I finally choose to go to the Met? Simple: brilliant multimedia artist William Kentridge is doing the set design. A perfect day: Kentridge exhibit at MoMa, dinner at PJ Clarke's across from the Met, the opera itself, and then some drinks at Mars Bar afterwards, just to make sure you're touching all the bases. Sweet.

Posted By:  Matilda Boland
Photo:  Matilda Boland

Boat Basin Cafe
Buckets of beer and a killer view! An Upper West Side summer secret and laid back local hangout between late March to the end of October. The large open space riverside on the Hudson overlooks docked boats, busy boardwalk and views across to Jersey. The sunset and the sprawling views are the drawcard, taking you away from the NYC rat race. More giant picnic than café, with a basic menu and everything served in plastic. Choose you time wisely to enjoy your afternoon drinks and avoid a crowded college crowd and baby carriages.

Posted By:  Craig Nelson
Photo:  Craig Nelson

If you care about service more than food, stop reading right now. At Celeste the maître d' (or whatever it's called in Italian) is king. And he will make you wait. He'll chat up the pretty ladies. He'll pass you over for locals that show up 15 minutes after you did. But for tasty homemade pasta dishes under ten bucks, a little attitude is a small price to pay in this city. Stick it out and here's your reward: angel hair pasta with big plump clams in a powerful garlic sauce, tagliatelle loaded with shrimp, cabbage, and pecorino cheese, grilled eggplant stuffed with prosciutto on top of a tangy tomato sauce, and ravioli packed with raddicchio and speck then drowned in a sage butter sauce. It's all delicious and incredibly cheap. Just bring your patience and your cash (they don't take cards). And if you really need special service, your best shot is to bring an Italian supermodel who lives on the Upper West Side.

Posted By:  Molly Riordan
Photo:  Molly Riordan

Levain Bakery
How could I be so ignorant? So unaware? How could I think myself truly alive for (mumble) years before I experienced the chocogasmic ecstasy of a Levain Bakery cookie? Haggard and hungry from a multi-borough bike ride, a wise man scooped me up from Central Park West and led me on the final leg of my pilgrimage to the holy land. Down the steps of the subterranean temple, white and silver framing the gleaming gold of sanctified pastries, I smelled the incense of butter and chocolate. I felt the warmth and weight of the parcel bestowed upon me by the aproned shaman at the altar piled high with sweet sacraments. Finally, I tasted: rich, sweet, doughy, nutty goodness oozing cocoa as dark and primal as the moment of our creation. I am renewed, restored, enlightened. The sun shone brighter, the wind blew softer, and I floated high above the passersby, sucking the last morsels of chocolate nirvana from my fingers.

Posted By:  Dave Cook

Grandaisy Bakery
The name is odd, and except for the lovely flower on the awning, the first impression is austere; the baked goods are well back from the door, not pressed up against the window. Perhaps the owner's grandmother Daisy was a neatnik—the type who cleans the kitchen even as she's cooking—but the results will make you swoon. I love the tartlike wild lingonberry crostata, the grape-dotted Tuscan flatbread (schiacciata d'uva), and especially the funghi pizza. It may look like a park ranger's sample from the forest floor, but those crimini mushrooms, onions, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh thyme paint an earthy, salty, dense layer on a firm but not overbaked thin crust. A square costs about three bucks, and in defiance of standard bakery rules, Grandaisy's version isn't necessarily better earlier in the day: I loved it at room temperature, just the way it was served.

Posted By:  Rachel Greenwald

Lincoln Center
You’ve got popcorn, soda pop, and feet up. But fortunately, you don’t have packaged music that kills organist jobs at ball parks. Instead, you have the Metropolitan Opera live in High Definition at movie theaters for only $18. Feels sort of like a sports game, except the audience is quiet. You can even place illegal bets: will the singers conquer the most difficult arias or lose their sense of pitch? Locations, including Regal Cinemas Union Square, are available at the Met website. Also cheap–actually free–are opening night broadcasts at Times Square and Lincoln Center. Check the Met website for summer updates. Opening night is lots of fun because of the glamour that grows out of major donors paying $100,000 a seat to attend a reception and cast dinner (Don’t worry $95,840 is tax deductible). In this kind of charged atmosphere, a great aria can bring the audience to stop the show mid-performance. Unfortunately, Beverly Sills is no longer around to provide humor and some much-needed perspective during intermissions. Most fundraisers would describe their $100,000 patrons as distinguished and generous. Not Sills. Last year, she said something like this, “We take super-rich patrons on private tours of the Met hoping that they’ll give us lots of money.”

Posted By:  Rachel Greenwald

Metropolitan Opera House
Always assumed that you couldn’t afford the Metropolitan Opera? Well guess what folks, you can! I myself enjoyed a fabulous production of Aida, replete with dead Ethiopians, for a fraction of the price of the average ticket. And you too can sit in the Oxygen-Tank Circle (named for the breathing apparatus you’ll need to bring with you to stay alive at this altitude) and experience dead Ethiopians for only $15 or $26. Both prices offer excellent views, but rent binoculars since faces and small props are blurry when you’re four stories up. Rentals costs $2 with a $20 refundable deposit at coat check, also inexpensive at $2.00. There’s an overpriced bar at the summit as well. And yes, you can hear every unamplified note perfectly despite having to supplement your air intake. When you talk to the box office, just ask for Family Circle tickets. Another affordable possibility, Rush Tickets, gives you the opportunity to sit where air is abundant if you can arrive at the box office two hours before curtain. A generous patron donated $2,000,000 to provide $20 orchestra seats (they usually cost $100). Apparently, some of the $100-a-seat subscribers are rather miffed about sharing oxygen. They’ll get over it once they realize that the Met needs a younger audience to replace those who will no longer need oxygen. But no matter, be sure to turn on Met Titles so you can understand the libretto.

Posted By:  Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan

The motto at Luigi Dance Studio is "Never Stop Moving." Now in his early 80s, jazz dance legend Luigi practices what he preaches by teaching the daily “style” class to dancers (professional, novice, aspiring, and often sycophantic) who come from all over the world to experience “Luigi style.” His influence on dance is profound, having touched Broadway and Hollywood alike, and he’s regarded as having laid the foundation of modern jazz technique. His warm up emphasizes placement, carriage, and style, style, style! During the combination, his corrections and criticisms are buffered by gentle humor (“Be a butterfly!” he called out as I stumbled a half beat behind), but his passion for dance is fierce and unmistakable, and he wants you to feel the same way. Plus he walked Liza Minnelli down the aisle when she married David Gest, so he’s gotta be cool, right?

Posted By:  Sarah Liston
Photo:  Joe Schumacher

Beard Papa's
With a logo depicting a pipe-smoking cartoon man in a funny little hat, Japanese food chain Beard Papa’s has been creating converts out of the cream puff curious since the fall of 2004. At its NoHo location (not far from NYU), bright-white surroundings punctuated with orange and yellow accents add to the energetic feel of the store. The biscuit-sized cream puffs ($1.45 to $1.55 each) consist of a flaky, croissant-like outer layer filled with a custard-like cream on the inside. While vanilla filling is always on the menu, customers can also choose from a daily rotating list of special fillings, which include familiar flavors (chocolate, strawberry, and coffee) as well as the not so familiar (green tea, organic sesame, and royal milk tea).

Posted By:  J. Slab
Photo:  J. Slab

Beard Papa's
At first I thought Beard Papa was a sexual predator, but that’s only because I jump to wild conclusions. The fellow in question is actually a fictional old “seaman” with a fluffy white beard and pipe, concocted by The Muginoho Co. to peddle their creamy, creamy treats. According to the website, Beard Papa comes from Osaka. He had some house and used to lure kids inside with sweets. Then he decided to cash in, and started mass producing his puffs: light, double-layered crusts filled with a mixture of vanilla custard and whipped cream. I read somewhere that these are the new “Krispy Kreams,” which I guess means they’re the latest trendy sugar fix for folks who like to glorify the high pleasures of lowbrow snacks. Bottom line? Come to Papa!

Posted By:  Michele Langer
Photo:  Michele Langer

To step into Zabar’s is to experience a suspension of time. Owned by the Zabar family for nearly 75 years, this self-styled food emporium on the Upper West Side recalls the hustle and bustle of a New York from another era. Zabar’s presents a unique, sometimes cramped, layout along with a motley crew of employees. It’s a glass half-empty or half-full scenario, where the store could be either viewed as a zoo or a real slice of life in the city. Carrying the orange on white Zabar’s shopping bags is something of a status symbol for uptown shoppers. While other gourmet food shops proliferate in branches all around the city, Zabar’s growth is evident within their one and only location. Over time, the family has added an eat-in café and converted the second floor into a housewares mezzanine, containing a comprehensive stock of cookware and gadgetry for the self-proclaimed chef. What started out as a smoked-fish counter within the very building it now fully occupies, Zabar’s is a testament to New Yorkers’ love of both the unique and amazing food.

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