The City That Never Sleeps: 24-Hour NYC

Jonathan Zeller

In most places, if it's 2am and you want to fix a cabinet, tone your abs or trim your bangs, you'll have to wait until tomorrow—that's just the way society works. But New York is different. Everyone knows that the City offers copious late-night drinking and dancing options, plus a dictionary-thick, round-the-clock menu of great food—for example, pierogies at Veselka and franks at Gray's Papaya. Some may not be aware, however, that the five boroughs are also home to a menagerie of unusual 24-hour establishments proffering virtually every product and service imaginable. To get the inside scoop, we drank a whole lot of guarana-infused Vitaminwater, stayed up late and set out to discover why certain people are taking care of business when most of the world is getting its beauty rest—and why you might want to consider doing the same.

The Subway
First things first: NYC's public transportation system is an essential piece of the City's late-night infrastructure; the fact that trains and buses run all night makes it possible for revelers and shoppers to stay out, too. The subway and its companion, PATH, which travels to New Jersey, are two of very few American rapid transit lines to operate 24/7. Riding the subway at night does require some advanced planning, however. There are often service changes, so be sure to check for the latest word on the lines you'll be taking—and don't be shy about asking MTA employees for help. No matter what, prepare to wait longer than usual (after midnight, trains may take 15 to 20 minutes to arrive) and, if possible, travel with a friend, as some stations can be desolate after hours.

Hair Party 24 Hours
76 Madison Ave., 212-213-0056, Flatiron District, Manhattan
When we walked into Hair Party 24 Hours to take a few snapshots and get some quotes, we had to wait like everyone else. "Take a seat," said Leah Yoo, a manager, as she worked on a customer's nails. "It's a really busy time." It was 11:20pm on a Wednesday, and the place was packed. We finally caught up with Leah an hour later. She explained that the salon thrives, even at seemingly absurd hours, because of its unwavering devotion to the 24/7 regimen. The venue never closes—not even on Christmas or New Year's—so it attracts patrons like late-shift news anchors, groups throwing after-hours salon parties and regulars like Kelly, a young woman who travels frequently and visits Hair Party twice a month because it suits her busy schedule. Kelly calls the always-open salon concept "genius," observing that most places don't take appointments after 7pm or 7:30pm. Leah and the rest of the staff know how to treat their customers, too. After 7pm, the salon offers free water, tea or wine. It's not unusual to see women walking around in hair curlers while chatting and sipping chardonnay.

Duane Reade
250 Bedford Ave., 718-384-7026, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Custom-built to capture the hearts of Williamsburgers—some of whom were suspicious of the pharmacy chain's first foray into their indie-minded 'hood—this Duane Reade location's centerpiece is Brew York City, a counter where an attendant fills customers' growlers (64-ounce refillable jugs) with a variety of beers on tap for $7.99. Don't have a growler? Not to worry. Duane Reade will sell you one for $3.99. Jeff, a gray-bearded man from Palm Beach in town visiting his son, bought a growler full of beer around 10:15pm on a Wednesday. He reported that his son, a neighborhood resident, "loves" the superstore, which stocks a variety of groceries and other products. Those who wish to support independent businesses might also be interested to know of another popular 24-hour pharmacy in Brooklyn: Neergaard, in Park Slope. It's growler-free, but the place has been open round the clock "since World War I," and there's always a pharmacist on duty.

Staten Island Ferry
Whitehall Ferry Terminal, 4 South St., Battery Park, Manhattan
Sure, the Staten Island Ferry is primarily a commuter service. Did you know, though, that the ferry runs all night long—see the ferry schedule here—and that you can purchase and consume beer on said conveyance? Riders can purchase popcorn and other snacks at the concession stand, the views are amazing, and it's free. Is this the most overlooked date or hangout option in the history of the City? Perhaps. The voyage takes 25 minutes each way, and there's nothing to stop you from taking the ride to Staten Island, disembarking, walking onto the next Manhattan-bound ship and floating right back. (Alas, last call for beer is at midnight, a ferry employee tells us, but there's no shortage of bars within a stone's throw of both ferry terminals.)

Rossman Fruit and Vegetable Distribution
770 Third Ave., 718-788-3999, Sunset Park, Brooklyn
Rossman Fruit and Vegetable Distribution stands ready to sate any nighttime craving for broccoli, carrots, apples and virtually anything else edible that grows out of the ground or on a tree. "Affordable" doesn't begin to describe the prices here—one customer jokingly speculated that something "underhanded" must be going on to make them possible—and they also stock assorted grocery staples like cereal, yogurt, bread and juices, along with some flowers, which are also a bargain. Intent on keeping business moving at an efficient pace, the staff is definitely not chatty. You'll be grateful for (or perhaps even amazed at) their speed, though, when they weigh your produce at checkout. If you don't live in the shop's immediate neighborhood, you may want to visit during the day or early evening; Rossman is located way over on Third Avenue in Sunset Park, which is deserted late at night. That said, it's just one block from the R train at 25th Street.

Best Buy
1 Union Square South, 212-466-4789, Union Square, Manhattan
Enter the Best Buy in Union Square late at night and you may feel like you've stepped into a giant living room. When we visited, we saw a family congregated around a PlayStation 3, deeply engaged in a game of Puzzle Fighter; two middle-aged men sunk deep into easy chairs watching a West Coast NBA game; a couple of teenagers surfing for amusing YouTube videos on computers; and a few other customers tickling the digital ivories on keyboards in the music section. Given the store's central location and astounding collection of high-tech playthings, its popularity as a hangout is no mystery. Of course, some people come to Best Buy to, you know, buy. At around 10:45pm on a Wednesday, James, who works for a client-services firm and lives nearby, was in the market for a TV, a DVD player and copies of Wall Street and Anchorman. "As somebody who works late," he said, "this is quite convenient." Best Buy is open at all hours Monday through Friday, but does have limited hours on the weekends; closing at midnight on Saturdays, opening from 11am to 10pm on Sundays and opening at 8am on Monday.

The Camera Club of New York
336 W. 37th St., suite 206, 212-260-9927, Midtown West, Manhattan
If you're a serious photographer who works odd hours, the Camera Club of New York has you covered. Members can use digital workstations and shooting studios, develop film and make prints any time, day or night. John Stanley, the Camera Club's director, said that shutterbugs who use the facility late at night are mainly "people who don't sleep," including freelancers who set their own schedules. He noted, too, that late-night customers should "know their way around a darkroom alone," which means some experience is required. Typically, a photographer will have the requisite skills after one college-level class or intensive workshop. Check for details on membership.

Juvenex Spa
25 W. 32nd St., 5th fl., 646-733-1330, Koreatown, Manhattan
This Koreatown spa serves mainly women during the day (though men are welcome to enjoy treatments in a private room). Starting at 5pm, though, couples can enjoy side-by-side massages, facials or body wraps, along with complimentary fruit and beverages. While the packages aren't cheap, they're incredibly thorough, and Juvenex offers free tours if you want to see the premises before making a commitment. Asked to recommend something from among its services, manager Isaac Yi said that although the spa is not exclusively Korean-focused, Juvenex "takes a lot of pride" in its traditional Korean-style body scrub. Finally, just a couple of practical tips: during co-ed hours, the club requires bathing suits. So bring your own, or you'll have to borrow a disposable version. Reservations are always a good idea, though the hosts accommodate walk-in customers when there's space.

Nuthouse Hardware
202 E. 29th St., 212-545-1447, Murray Hill, Manhattan
The happenings inside Nuthouse Hardware are less boisterous than the store's tongue-in-cheek name might suggest, but handy folks citywide are nevertheless grateful for its existence. Dave, a woodworker and regular customer who rides the subway down from the Upper East Side, came to Nuthouse early on a Thursday morning in search of brass pipe "for decorative purposes." He enthusiastically proclaimed that the store was "the only place that will have it. Especially at this hour." Actually, around 12:45am, when Dave entered, Nuthouse may have been the only area hardware store open, period. The selection here is robust and even includes a modest collection of snacks near the register, in case you get hungry while searching for the right-size washer. The staff is helpful and will gladly talk you through the options if you're not sure what product is best for the task at hand.

Whitestone Lanes and Space Billiard Café
30-05 Whitestone Expwy., 718-353-6300, Flushing, Queens; 34 W. 32nd St., 12th fl., 212-239-4166, Koreatown, Manhattan
At Whitestone Lanes, you can bowl whenever you have an, ahem, spare moment. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, the place is never closed. It's no-frills, sure, but there are lanes and there are pins—what more do you need? Show up late on Monday or Tuesday nights and enjoy unlimited bowling for $19 between 10pm and 3am; same deal on Saturday and Sunday 8am to 1pm. For more late-night gaming, check out Space Billiard Café. This pool hall offers a relaxing vibe, spacious premises and plenty of pristine tables. On weekends Space Billiards is open day and night, from 11am on Friday until 5am on Monday. During the week, it closes from 5am to 11am—a recent change due to the slow economy, according to the staff. They hope to return to full 24/7 status in the future.

The City has a number of late-night gyms, and many New Yorkers—busy people that they are—take advantage of them. In fact, 2:15am at the Flatiron 24 Hour Fitness doesn't necessarily feel like such an unusual workout time. When you're a few flights of stairs below street level, exercising beneath the gym's fluorescent lights, you can't see that it's dark outside. There's no shortage of folks running on treadmills, watching TV sets mounted overhead and, maybe, peeking over at the inspirational wall-size photograph of Yankees legend (and 24 Hour Fitness spokesperson) Derek Jeter. So who's to say how late it is? The chain has locations throughout the City. You can find a complete list at