Dark gritty places, weird stories, women’s art, protest sites, street art. These are some of the little known and less trumpeted places that make New York City special, places that are a bit off the beaten track, but important to see. Here are six of my favorites.
1. HERE Arts Center
The HERE Arts Center, a space for innovative and cutting edge art performances, is located on Spring Street in SoHo and often hosts Off-Off Broadway theater productions. This is a terrific place to see really interesting and reasonably-priced productions. We saw playwright Clare Barron’s humorous piece, You Got Older, produced by Page 73 Productions (more on Page 73 later). The actors were an ensemble of professionals who made us laugh and squirm throughout the play. We found it thought provoking, edgy and entertaining. The theater, the smaller of two stages comprising the Arts Center, was a 63-seat proscenium theater which made for an intimate and intense theatrical experience. 73 Productions supports new playwrights, so check their website for intriguing new plays when planning a trip to the City. The Arts Center has a separate list of productions, so check its show schedule, too. It is also known for a contemporary opera festival. Super interesting place!
2. Feminist Art
Ride the subway to the Brooklyn Museum’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, a must-see institution. In addition to contemporary feminist art, you can see Judy Chicago’s pivotal work, The Dinner Party, which ignited controversy across the art world in 1979. If you want more feminist art, one of the center’s cool resources is the Feminist Art Base, an online digital database.
3. Weird Four-Tusked Elephant
The Hogwarts-style headquarters of the Explorers Club hosted a weird, but captivating lecture on a mysterious Congolese four-tusked elephant. The story goes that around 1938, European and American explorers came to a village in the Congo. There, villagers told stories about a smart, powerful elephant with four tusks. They said it was difficult to locate the animal, but occasionally it was seen at a certain water hole deep in the jungle. One Indiana Jones-style explorer hired local guides to help him try to spot the animal. After several weeks wandering through the jungle, however, the explorer decided the rumors were just that–unsubstantiated rumors. He then headed out of the country for a few months. During his absence, the elephant died. A few locals carried the animal’s remains out of the jungle to the closest village. The rotting head was dumped in one of the village ditches. The tusks were very poor quality ivory, but because of their novelty, were shipped to an auction house in England. The explorer, through much effort and multi continental trips, finally tracked down the tusks and the head and reunited them in New York City. The club displayed it next to the lecturer.
As background, the club’s founders and members are the Who’s Who for contemporary and old time explorers of land, sea, air and space. Its mission is to support explorers and scientific expeditions, funding student explorers as well as experienced scientists. If a visitor is a member of the club, there are many extraordinary expeditions’ artifacts displayed at the headquarters. Non-club visitors may view limited portions of the valuable collections, but the real value for tourists are the public events. By the end of the elephant story, I wanted more! Be sure to check the club’s calendar of events.
4. Asia Society
The Asia Society and Museum is located just down the street from the Explorers Club. The museum displays contemporary and traditional art exhibits that change every few months. Because more art by women artists are displayed these days, I find myself seeking out contemporary art galleries and museums. The current exhibit was contemporary which lured me into this small, but fascinating place. The Asia Society’s museum is a small part of its mission, which is to educate people about Asia to enhance understanding of this continent’s cultures. While there, don’t miss their fabulous gift shop. It sells absolutely gorgeous items.
5. Zuccotti Park
Zuccotti Park is the famous Occupy Wall Street encampment. This pretty place used to be known as Liberty Plaza, which is the name listed on many maps and, confusingly, on the signs there. Pausing to watch singles and couples sitting under trees at the picnic tables while munching their lunches, it may be difficult to imagine the space roiling with protesters who first yelled, “We are the 99 percent!” Hopefully, some day a generous donor will fund a powerful memorial sculpture explaining the income disparities of our time and giving appreciation for those protesters who established a tent community during their short, influential time there. Maybe the park’s operators will even erect signs with the correct name.
6. Chelsea street art
Wandering the Chelsea Art District, it’s easy to tour numerous art galleries, but I quickly became fascinated by the street art. Instead, I ended up discovering the wall art and outdoor sculptures of this interesting neighborhood. The nearby High Line Park is a cool place to see small sculptures tucked into little landscaped gardens, as well as, large wall art.
Most travel pieces will tell you about the highlights of this magnificent city and its world-class institutions and sights (e.g., Central Park, Times Square, Broadway theater productions, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Modern Art, the Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet and Coney Island.) They are fabulous!
Truthfully, though, cities are not made up solely of their grand institutions. Cities are made also of neighborhoods of ordinary people going about their daily lives. See some of the city’s highlights and then wander neighborhood streets to look at the architecture where people work and live. Browse little grocery stores, eat at family restaurants, visit local art galleries and walk through small parks where kids are playing or women are training their young dogs. Ride public transportation and eat picnic lunches or a sandwich in a local pub. Less trumpeted places give a view of the inner life of a city and are more accessible than the crowded and grander places.
New York City is one of the safest large cities in the US, but there are prudent actions you can take to make your visit safe. Visitors should follow standard precautions , but here are the ones the New York Police Department recommend.
If you have suggestions for another little-known place in New York City, be sure to let me know by commenting below.