Dog Days of Summer
by Andrew Rosenberg, 07/30/2014
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People complain a lot around New York City when the dog days of summer come. It can be hot and sticky. Some mom-and-pop shops close up for a short while. Your best friends leave you behind each weekend for the Hamptons or Fire Island or the Catskills. And all the therapists and lawyers seem to go on vacation for the entire month of August—so who is left to tell your woes to anyway? But there's a bright side. Yes, people go away, but that means some of the big tickets and reservations can be easier to score. Yes, the weather can be a summer bummer, but that just makes the cooling off that much more refreshing.
We tend to associate the dog days with August, perhaps because the real-life events of the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon (which, we'll have you know, screens for free at Habana Outpost October 12) took place that month. But the roots of the phrase date back to ancient Roman times, when the hottest part of the year was linked to the cycle for Sirius, the "dog star" (a name that might be familiar to you from Keanu Reeves' former band). The brightest one in the night sky, its rising in conjunction with the sun takes place from early July to mid-August. In any event, we already prepared a lineup of great August activities right here, but if you want a different way of girding yourself for the slow, sultry times a-coming, read on.
Beat the Crowds
It’s true. Neil Patrick Harris is leaving Hedwig in mid-August. There's still time to see him, but competition for tickets will be fierce. That just might make you seek a viable consolation prize, something like the crowd-pleasing Jersey Boys, playing, appropriately enough, at the August Wilson Theater.
Meanwhile, over in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, another fan favorite, the US Open (August 25–September 8), will have folks lining up in droves to see the top seeds clash. Some days draw around 60,000 spectators, including day and evening sessions, so the outer courts during daytime are your best bet to get up close. Qualifying rounds (August 19–22), however, are totally free, and it's fairly easy to sit where you like at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during that time.
The heat won't deter ardent golfers from hitting the fairways, and most of the City's public courses are reliably packed—but Marine Park, down in the far reaches of Brooklyn, is good for an easygoing round. Perhaps it's the ocean breezes off the Atlantic, or the fact that it's the longest course in the City, which makes for better spacing on the links. Whatever the case, drinks at the 19th hole don't hurt.
On the indoor scene, MoMA is always popular, but this may be your time to try the free Friday entrance between 4 and 8pm—coinciding with the departure of beach-going weekenders. Of course, you could flip the script and have a morning coffee in the sculpture garden, which is free from 9:30 to 10:15am.
Even with the mass exodus of New Yorkers, you're still probably not going to get into Rao's, and many folks left in town might be trying to hit WD~50 before it closes (that will be November 30). Also the first half of the month is dominated by our own NYC Restaurant Week. But plenty of hot-name restaurants can still fill the bill. Recent searches on OpenTable showed plentiful prime time Saturday night slots available at places like Marcus Samuelsson's Red Rooster in Harlem and Nougatine at Jean Georges near Columbus Circle. Nougatine also has a terrace, so come evening, that shrimp salad and cucumber martini will taste extra refreshing under the setting sun, Central Park just an olive toss away.
There are still some screen blockbusters to be released this August: Marvel's deep-space fandango Guardians of the Galaxy; The Hundred-Foot Journey, a collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey; a reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. At this stage of the summer, many moviegoers will be tired out, giving you an advantage, but if all else fails, head to Regal Battery Park Stadium 11, known to insiders as the place that always has a seat or 10 for you.
Beat the Heat
Cooling off is usually the name of the game once the temperature spikes, and you can only stay in an air-conditioned spot for so long. Best to take advantage of NYC's many public spots to get wet. There are the Olympic-size, WPA-era pools in every borough, including Astoria Pool in Queens; Sunset Park Pool and Red Hook Recreation Center in Brooklyn; Hamilton Fish Park on Manhattan's Lower East Side; Crotona Park in the Bronx; and Joseph H. Lyons in Staten Island. The first three, at the least, have the advantage of submerging you in neighborhoods full of tasty ethnic eats—and the harbor views from Sunset Park are more than worth the (free) price of admission. Other spots for splashing that should be quite calm if you arrive early enough are the new water feature at Prospect Park's Lakeside and Pier 6 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, both pitched toward wearing out the young ones, while bringing you some sweet heat relief.
Every place in the Momofuku empire is popular, but tiny Booker and Dax might take the cake (or pork bun, if you like). Still, the fact that it's August—and that they've got a new limited-reservations system—gives you a fighting chance. Once you're in, watch the mixologists take advance of the best month of the year for local peaches while concocting a brisk Thunderpeach! (exclamation point is theirs), with NY State Riesling and peaches, enlivened by some fizzy champagne acid. During the daytime you're better off checking the location of the Kelvin Natural Slush truck, which does somewhat exotic takes on the beloved Slurpee: think spicy ginger with some mango or pear and herbs pureed in.
Beat a Retreat
You might need to make the odd mini-escape yourself, but do so in the City. A true retreat, Wave Hill was a summer home built by lawyer William Lewis Morris in the mid-1800s and later used by Teddy Roosevelt (well, his whole family; Teddy was a child at the time) and Mark Twain. The lush grounds marry a sense of nature with a sense of order, and Sunset Wednesdays, with river breezes and music playing, may be as restorative as any country vacation.
In a similarly serene vein, two City museums are devoted to art from the Himalayas. There's the Rubin Museum of Art, almost always peaceful and quiet despite being smack-dab in the hopping neighborhood of Chelsea. And the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art is a Staten Island trek that will bring out your meditative best. Indeed, that's the aim of the monastery-like complex, which holds Buddha sculptures and scroll paintings and sits perched among gardens and a fishpond.
The last day of August can be seen off at the underappreciated Great North River Tugboat Race & Competition. It's one of the few long-running City events that has a small-town feel, with a barker announcing the race over a bullhorn, followed by a line toss competition and spinach-eating contest. Held on the Hudson, in the shadow of the Intrepid, which more or less marks the finish line, it's an uncrowded, sea-sprayed ending to the month and, in turn, summer.
As for Sirius, well, the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York can probably tell—or better yet, show—you more. Join up with them at one of their August observation events (perhaps for a dressed-down evening at Lincoln Center or a break from a morning swim at Orchard Beach), and rather than complain about the dog days, thank your lucky stars.