In Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, New York City is bustling, filled with big, loud attractions. In real life, of course, that’s true too. The tallest building in the country? One World Trade Center. The largest museum? The Met Fifth Avenue. The brightest lights? They have to be in Times Square. But some of the coolest spots in the City are under the radar. Here are some of our favorites, places where you just might discover some real magic hidden beneath the surface.
Bowling Alley at The Frick Collection
The Frick Collection is in a converted mansion on the Upper East Side and showcases exquisite paintings by Fragonard, Monet and Renoir. But the museum’s less-refined secret is that Henry Frick commissioned a bowling alley for his house in the basement in 1914. Unfortunately, only members (at the Supporting Fellow level or higher) can get tours of the alley, and no one can bowl there anymore.
124 Old Rabbit Club
Accessed by pressing a buzzer, this skinny cellar pub features a long list of European beers. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, a similar hidden pub is home to The Blind Pig, a wizard’s speakeasy—one of the fully magical places in the film. The patrons are all wizards, many of whom appear on the wanted posters inside the bar.
Frank Lloyd Wright House in Staten Island
Almost everyone with a passing interest in architecture knows that Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenhein Museum, but fewer people know he’s also behind a Staten Island home. The Crimson Beech house, one of the Marshall Erdman Prefab Houses of the 1950s, sits in the Lighthouse Hill neighborhood of Staten Island. The two-story, red and white house is a designated New York City historical landmark but is privately owned by residents who bought it from its original occupants.
The New York Earth Room
This art exhibit by Walter de Maria in Soho is essentially a large white room filled with dirt. It was the third such installation by de Maria (the other two were in Germany) over a 10-year span from the late 1960s to the late ’70s, and it’s the only one that still exists. It’s been open to the public since 1980 and is free to visit.
New York Public Library Underground Vault
There are a lot of important treasures at main branch of the NYPL, including a Gutenberg Bible and an original handwritten copy of the Declaration of Independence. Some of them, you might be sitting on without even knowing it. The library has a two-level, climate-controlled underground storage vault—one floor of which opened back in 1991; the second one was just completed—under Bryant Park, which can hold 4 million books and research items. Note that these are not the only subterranean spaces the library controls; the old stacks, which run seven stories deep below the Rose Reading Room, will be repurposed at some point.
Kaufman Astoria Studios
New York City can sometimes feel like one big movie set—with ubiquitous film crews and celebrities—and indeed, a handful of actual movie studios are sprinkled around town. One has quite a long history: open since 1920, Kaufman Astoria Studios has hosted shoots for the likes of Marx Brothers movies, Goodfellas and The Wiz, with big names like Frank Sinatra, George Burns and Diana Ross among those to pass through. More recently, Orange Is the New Black and Money Monster have filmed there.
The Lowline Lab
As the underground cousin to the popular High Line, the Lowline—a proposed park that’s in the midst of raising funds and developing designs—aims to feature green space and channeled sunlight below the city streets. For now, visitors can visit the Lowline Lab, housed in an abandoned Lower East Side market and filled with indoor gardens.
Rockaway Beach in Queens isn’t the only place to get your sand and salt-water fix. Head north to man-made Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Situated on the eastern edge of Pelham Bay Park, the mile-long beach was sometimes referred to as the “Riviera of New York” when it was completed in the 1930s.
Subway Station Beneath City Hall
The ornate subway station beneath City Hall was the first built in New York City, and includes skylights, decorative tiles and arched ceilings. Although it closed in 1945, you can still get a peek if you stay on the 6 train after the downtown route switches to uptown past Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall. The New York Transit Museum can give you a tour of the station too.
Old Atlantic Avenue Subway Tunnel
Another subway relic worth knowing about is the old Atlantic Avenue tunnel, located in the Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill neighborhoods. Built in 1844, it’s the world’s oldest known subway tunnel and was rediscovered in 1980 by a 20-year-old engineering student. Tours were available until 2010, and theoretically could resume in 2018.
Parrots in Green-Wood Cemetery
Lively, bright green monk parakeets congregate atop the spires of the entrance archway at this historic burial ground. The parrots are originally from Argentina, and the history is a little muddled as to how they arrived in New York City (one story says they escaped JFK airport after being shipped stateside). Steve Baldwin gives tours the first Saturday of each month.
Rooftop Garden at Rockefeller Center
620 Loft and Garden sits atop the British Empire Building, at 620 Fifth Ave. Open for private events (it was also briefly accessible for Open House New York a few years back), the garden includes manicured lawns, flowers, shrubs and up-close views of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Plaza.
77 Water Street
A replica World War I fighter plane sits on a green runway atop this Lower Manhattan office building. Management placed it there long after WWI—in 1969, during the building’s construction—to give the place an interesting look. But visitors can concoct any imaginative origin story they please for the rusted plane, which is modeled off a 1916 British Sopwith Camel.
The City has quite a few secluded streets that even many New Yorkers don’t know about. Pomander Walk, on the Upper West Side, is packed with colorful, Tudor-style homes. Built in 1921 to replicate the setting in the play Pomander Walk, it conjures up visions of an English countryside village. Downtown, the picturesque Washington Mews is open to the public during the day and is mainly occupied by NYU offices. The block’s buildings were used as horse stables for nearby homes and turned into art studios in the 1900s; the cobblestone streets and squat, ivy-covered buildings you see today preserve its antiquated feel. Finally, Patchin Place, in the West Village, is a gated, residential block preserved from the 1800s. It’s been home to well-known writers like E.E. Cummings and John Reed.
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