New York City is home to globally recognized digital companies like Etsy, Tumblr, foursquare and Vimeo—as well as startups galore aspiring to such success. We have a mayor keen on developing the City's tech economy as a rival to Silicon Valley's. The recent launch of Cornell NYC Tech promises to bring a Stanford- or MIT-like educational institution to the City. And it seems like there's always some kind of digital conference or high-minded conclave convening here, including Internet Week New York, Maker Faire, the World Science Festival and more. In that spirit, we've put together a roundup of places that appeal to the City's more tech-minded residents and visitors.
Festivals and Events
New York City hosts a number of festivals, events and conventions that draw brainy folk from around the country and the world. Here's a sampling.
•World Science Festival: At this annual festival—the goal of which is to better inform, inspire and engage the general public—science is illuminated through lectures, film screenings and other activities. It takes place this year May 29–June 2.
•PEN World Voices: During this weeklong annual event, noted authors from around the world gather in New York City and share their work, ideas and inspiration with each other and the general public.
•World Maker Faire New York: Maker Faire New York brings together do-it-yourselfers of all kinds and ages, allowing them to show off and share their ingenuity to and with an appreciative audience. It takes place annually at the New York Hall of Science over a weekend in fall—this year September 22–23.
•Internet Week New York: This weeklong festival celebrates Internet business and culture, attracting more than 45,000 techies each year, offering keynote speeches from industry leaders, panels, discussions, workshops, product demos and more. It takes place this year May 20–23.
•Secret Science Club: Part cocktail hour and lecture series, the monthly Secret Science Club at the Bell House in Brooklyn combines a talk from a noted research scientist, a signature cocktail whose theme relates to the lecturer's topic and a DJ spinning tunes—this is Brooklyn, after all.
•Brooklyn Book Festival: The largest free literary event in New York City occurs annually at venues in and around Downtown Brooklyn and attracts local, national and global literary icons and emerging authors participating in more than 100 panels and 50 “bookend” events—this year September 16–22.
•NYC FIRST Robotics Competition: Called a “varsity sport for the mind,” this robotics challenge pits teams of 25 students each against one other in designing and building a robot to complete a set of tasks.
Museums and Institutions
As collections of specific bodies of knowledge, museums are by definition nerdy, but we think the following stand out.
• Hayden Planetarium: Planets, space, a giant sphere surrounded by a glass atrium—all reason enough alone for nerds to visit the Hayden Planetarium. Bonus: Neil deGrasse Tyson is the planetarium's director. Could the Internet have a bigger crush on that guy?
• Paley Center for Media: Even in the age of YouTube and on-demand video, the Paley Center is impressive. Where else are you going to find a public library of more than 150,000 TV and radio shows and commercials along with daily screenings of classic TV episodes?
• Museum of the Moving Image: As the only institution in the United States dedicated to the art, technology and social impact of film, television and digital media, this museum houses the nation's largest collection of moving-image artifacts, screens hundreds of films annually and offers education programs.
• New York Hall of Science: The City's only hands-on science and technology center is perfect if you have nerdlings in tow. Here you'll find more than 450 exhibitions, workshops and special events, including Rocket Park Mini Golf, the 60,000-square-foot Science Playground and the state-of-the-art 3-D Theater. It's also home to World Maker Faire New York (see Festivals and Events).
• The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art at the Society of Illustrators: Exhibitions at this museum (whose collection in 2012 was acquired by and is now housed at the Society of Illustrators) feature anime, cartoons, comic strips, political satire and graphic novels. Each year, the museum puts on MoCCA Arts Festival, a celebration of comic art bringing together established and emerging artists and fans.
• Museum of Mathematics: The only institution of its kind in the United States, the museum goes by the nickname “MoMath” and features interactive exhibits demonstrating the connections between math and such everyday subjects as music, sports and even soap bubbles.
• Brooklyn Brainery: Learn to knit, speak sign language, make gnocchi or play poker—or brush up on the history of chocolate, Norse mythology or Brooklyn's Gowanus canal. Sound eclectic? That's because the classes here are community-driven, taught by people from around the City. Sign up to attend or teach.
• City Reliquary Museum: This quirky not-for-profit organization is home to the more ephemeral relics of NYC history—early postcards depicting the City, New York World's Fair and Statue of Liberty memorabilia, a vintage subway turnstile—and sponsors events like Collectors Night, where everyday New Yorkers display and talk about their oddball collections.
Not all gaming is done online or via mobile. At The Compleat Strategist in Midtown Manhattan, you'll find an epic array of tabletop role-playing games, board games, card games, dice and magazines in addition to PC-based games. The Brooklyn Strategist in Carroll Gardens is part café, part store, part community center. For a fee, you can play board or card role-playing games, trying out new ones before buying (helpful staff will walk you through the rules). There's a strong emphasis on after-school programs for kids and on events, like Brooklyn Scrabble Tuesdays, Chess Club Thursday Nights and Dungeons and Dragons Saturday. For even more social play, the website NerdNYC sponsors a free monthly board game night at Think Coffee on Mercer Street. When it comes to video games, the Nintendo NY in Rockefeller Center is always a fun stop for fans of Mario and crew. The flagship store sells Nintendo games, game systems, accessories and exclusive merchandise. For vintage video games, check out 8 Bit and Up and Videogamesnewyork, which sell vintage and hard-to-find games for consoles from the '70s through today.
Comics, Manga and Toys
It may be a cliché that nerds love comic books, but if the shoe fits, make the hike to Midtown Comics, the largest such retailer in the United States, which carries new issues, back issues action figures and more. For obscure manga, head to the New York outpost of Japanese used-book reseller Book-Off. Kinokuniya, near Bryant Park, is an option for new Japanese comics and graphic novels, as is Image Anime in Midtown West, which sells manga toys, figures and collectibles. For more toy-oriented shops, try Toy Tokyo, whose inventory is almost all imported directly from Japan and Hong Kong; and Sanrio Luxe, a mecca for Hello Kitty fans conveniently located in Times Square.
NYC is home to a 24-hour subterranean Apple Store whose entrance is a giant glass cube, but a nerd's journey to New York is truly incomplete without a trip to such homegrown electronics retailers as J&R Music and Computer World and B&H. At J&R's Park Row complex, you'll find an entire block of stores selling audio equipment, cameras, computers and peripherals and everything in between. B&H offers an exhaustive array of new and used photo, video and pro audio equipment and is worth visiting just for a glimpse at its unique conveyor-belt system that delivers merchandise from the store's various departments to the pick-up counter near the exit. Another don't-miss retail experience is the MakerBot Store in NoHo. It's the world's first such store, where visitors can watch the MakerBot Replicator 2 3-D printer create objects, like a panoply of gumball-machine characters available for purchase.
Wait, nerds drink? You betcha, especially at places like the East Village's Booker & Dax, where liquid nitrogen is used to chill glasses, or a 1,500°F device called the Red Hot Poker heats hot cocktails. Or try Brooklyn's Barcade, which is just what you think it is—a bar with classic arcade games, most of which are a quarter a play. A few blocks from Barcade is Skee-Ball–themed Full Circle Bar, national home of “Brewskee-Ball.” (See also: NYC bars with games.) For tech-sector professionals seeking higher stakes, NoHo's low-key Tom & Jerry's, with its free wifi and library of take-out menus, is popular with start-up founders and venture capitalists alike. Serious cocktail nerds head to the East Village's Death & Co. or newcomer Pouring Ribbons, whose bartenders' meticulous craft appeals to geeks' appreciation for detail. Back across the river in Brooklyn, Whovians will appreciate The Way Station, a Doctor Who–themed bar complete with TARDIS bathroom—on the cocktail menu? Sonic Screwdrivers, of course. If none of that made sense to you, it might be time to brush up on trivia and pop-culture knowledge at The Bell House, home to newish NPR quiz show Ask Me Another as well as The Moth Storyslam, and a venue favored by geek-beloved stand-up comics, personalities and indie musicians (John Hodgman, Eugene Mirman and Jonathan Coulton, among others).
Geek cuisine may conjure up visions of snack chips, pizza, convenience foods and reheated frozen fare, but we've noticed that those with a technical bent appreciate novelty, technique and obsessiveness when it comes to restaurants. Chef Wylie Dufresne was an early pioneer of scientific techniques in the kitchen of his Lower East Side restaurant wd~50, which in turn has been a springboard for many of its alumni chefs, who are now redefining NYC's dining scene. Here you'll find bright-orange pasta noodles made from lobster roe and “pho gras,” which merges French and Vietnamese cuisines in a precisely playful way. Nearby in the East Village, chef Amanda Cohen's Dirt Candy turns vegetarian cuisine on its ear, focusing not on health or food politics but on inventive ways to showcase vegetables in all their forms. (Further geek appeal: she's the author of the world's first cookbook in graphic novel form.) In Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood, Wild Rise, in the back of 68 Jay Street Bar, cooks its Neapolitan-style pizzas in a modified electric kiln whose chamber moves up and down on an elaborate counterweight system. The owner, who has a degree in microbiology, keeps yeast starter culture for the dough in a lab-grade incubator. For another classic nerd food gone upscale, look no further than ramen. New York City has had a ramen renaissance in the last decade. While heavyweights like Ippudo NY and Totto Ramen inspire the longest lines, you'd also do fine at any of these Asian noodle spots. For a sweet snack or dessert, Doughnut Plant offers such unusual (for doughnut) flavors as tres leches, peanut butter and banana cream and pistachio. (See also: the Best Doughnuts in NYC.)