New York City winters may be chilly, but with the cold comes a certain kind of magic. The season is the stuff of fairy tales: the holiday windows of Fifth Avenue, the twinkling lights of Rockefeller Center, couples strolling through Central Park’s snow. After the holidays, the City is low on visitors, high on bargains and full of cozy charm. There’s nothing quite like it. But how do you stay warm during the coldest months of the year while taking advantage of what NYC has to offer?
Fortunately, many ingenious underground areas seamlessly connect to the City’s subway system. Even better, the vast transit network lets visitors easily explore areas—and their attractions, shops, restaurants and bars—all over town. So you’re never far from a queer ’hood in NYC.
Read on for a rundown of the best underground attractions and indoor LGBTQ+ spots for this winter.
The following places can all be accessed directly from the subway, without hitting the street once you’ve entered whichever station serves as your departure point.
World Trade Center
In a city of iconic architecture, nothing is quite like the Oculus World Trade Center Transportation Hub. The concourses of the airy complex, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, are accessible by multiple subway lines. They hold Westfield World Trade Center, a retail destination for top fashions, tech goods and high-end jewelry. The (open-air) Oculus Greenmarket operates on Tuesdays during winter months, but on any day of the week you can find great food options throughout the WTC complex—including at the renowned Eataly NYC Downtown. The underground concourse leads to Brookfield Place, which houses a host of affordable eating options and upscale shops.
One of the City’s great landmarks and public spaces, Rockefeller Center is home to a vast underground concourse, linked to the subway (B, D, F or M train to 47-50th Sts/Rockefeller Center), that serves as both a climate-controlled passageway and a shopping and dining center. Enjoy ground-level views of ice skaters on the Rink at Rockefeller Center, or take the elevators from the lobby to NBC’s studios or the Top of the Rock Observation Deck.
Serving as a hub for Amtrak, Long Island Rail Road, New Jersey Transit and multiple subway lines, Penn Station possesses a pace (and crowds) that can seem daunting. But a pleasant escape awaits upstairs at The Pennsy, a multilevel food hall good for eating, drinking and relaxing a bit amid all the bustle. Enjoy hearty sandwiches from NYC butcher Pat LaFrieda, savory pan-Asian dishes from Sabi Sushi or vegetarian fare at The Little Beet. A bar serves craft cocktails and an impressive array of beers—and offers drink specials based on the sports events or artists performing at the adjacent Madison Square Garden.
The original Essex Market opened in 1940 on Delancey Street and became a Lower East Side staple. In May 2019, the market (and its vendors, including a slew of new ones) moved across the street into a new, expansive home as the centerpiece of the Essex Crossing development. It remains easily accessible from the Delancey St-Essex St station (F, M and J trains). Try Davidovich Bakery for bread, Arancini Bros for Italian rice balls, Dominican Cravings for empanadas and Sugar Sweet Sunshine for cupcakes and pudding. On the lower level, the new Market Line holds even more food and gift vendors. Other fun attractions include the International Center for Photography Museum and a deluxe Regal Cinema.
Grand Central Terminal
This historic rail station has long been a bright light for travelers for more than a century. Tied directly to the subway (4, 5, 6, 7 and S trains) and Metro-North railroad, Grand Central Terminal houses everything a New Yorker needs: Grand Central Market’s fresh produce and seafood, an especially cool Apple Store with a view, hidden cocktail bar The Campbell, a puzzling “whispering gallery” and the one and only Grand Central Oyster Bar. While you’re in railroad mode, visit the New York Transit Museum Gallery Annex and Store for informative exhibits and subway-related merch. If you're looking for quick-bite options, be sure to visit the Lower Level Dining Concourse, with more than 20 fast-casual options including NYC faves like Shake Shack and Magnolia Bakery.
Connected to the Columbus Circle subway station (A,B,C, D and 1 trains), Turnstyle is a revamped underground passageway lined with boutiques, restaurants and specialty food stores. It also leads to the massive underground Whole Foods, below The Shops at Columbus Circle. Take the escalators up to directly access those shops; the incredible live entertainment at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola; and a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants.
If you’re there in December, consider heading above ground to check out the Columbus Circle Holiday Market. It’s a great place to find the holiday spirit in NYC.
LGBTQ+ travelers, take note: just south of Columbus Circle you’ll find a bevy of great gay-owned restaurants, shops, bars and nightclubs in lively Hell’s Kitchen. For details, check out our handy LGBTQ+ Shopping Guide along with our roundup of Hell’s Kitchen Dining and Nightlife.
Out and About in Winter
As far-reaching as NYC’s underground system of subways, stations and attractions is, you can’t reach every must-see without coming up for air. So wrap that wool scarf around your face and scoot along the sidewalks to some of NYC’s best indoor experiences and LGBTQ+ attractions this winter.
MoMA Is Back
The Museum of Modern Art reopened in October 2019 after a $450 million remodeling and the addition of more than 40,000 square feet of (heated) gallery space. The revamped art icon is a perfect cold-weather respite: you can easily spend a day indoors exploring the works of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Louise Bourgeois, along with internationally focused exhibits on China and Latin America. There’s a room on the fourth floor dedicated to Frank O’Hara, the Beat poet who worked as a MoMA curator during the 1960s. A gorgeous new café on the top floor complements the street-level (and Michelin-starred) The Modern, where you can enjoy a seasonal menu and watch snow fall on the sculpture garden.
Nothing warms the spirit like Broadway. The theater event of the season is The Inheritance, a seven-hour contemporary gay take on Howard’s End by out playwright Matthew Lopez. You can see the two-part show in a marathon, one-day binge on Saturdays and Wednesdays, or make it a two-night experience. It’s a don’t-miss show for queer theatergoers. Popular musical mainstays like Wicked and Frozen (starring LGBTQ+ performer Noah Ricketts) are fun for gay families, especially during late January’s Broadway Week, when tickets are 2-for-1.
In March, a revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf hits co-starring LGBTQ+ luminary Rupert Everett and Tony winner Laurie Metcalf, hits the Booth Theater. Off-Broadway in Chelsea, you’ll find the long-running queer noir immersion play Sleep No More. Hop in car or taxi and head to the west side’s “McKittrick Hotel” to warm up with two hours of goth Shakespeare weirdness—then grab a hot toddy at the bar afterward.
Who hasn’t relished that giddy feeling of walking into a warm shopping mall on a cold winter day? One of New York’s newest, biggest and best shopping and culinary hubs, Hudson Yards is a great place to get all your holiday shopping done in one fell swoop while also getting some choice food and drink. You’ll also find The Shed, an arts center that hosts a lively mix of music, plays and performances throughout the winter.
Chelsea and West Village
There’s hardly a shortage of places to shelter from the cold in these NYC gayborhoods. Chelsea Market opens its doors early morning to anyone in need of hot coffee, crepes or intensive retail therapy and stays open late to host events and feed winter merrymakers. You can also spend a snowy day in a local coffee shop like Café Grumpy, a gem of a Chelsea café, or pop down to the adjacent West Village, where Grounded is a welcoming spot to warm up with a hot latte on a comfy couch.
Chelsea and the West Village are also home to some of the world’s most famous LGBTQ bars, whether warm and cozy or hot and steamy—so why not make a winter bar crawl? Head to Julius’, the City’s oldest gay bar, for a burger and a happy hour drink. Move on to the Stonewall Inn, where the modern gay rights movement was kindled on a hot June night in 1969. Channel some of that heat on its upstairs dance floors or meet new friends at one of two bars. Finish at nearby Marie’s Crisis, home to hot piano playing and live vocal performances of Broadway faves—singing along is essential!
Keith McNally’s French bistro Pastis was a cornerstone of the queer landscape even before Carrie Bradshaw and the Sex And The City girls made it famous. When the subway-tiled, warmly lit bistro shuttered in 2014, many assumed it would only live on through memories and old photos. Now it’s back and better than ever, evoking its original golden look and toasty feel with more space. Old regulars and eager newbies will find it a warm and welcoming stop for brunch, lunch or dinner.
Art lovers looking to escape the cold should head down Gansevoort Street to the Whitney Museum of American Art. The museum has arguably the greatest collection of modern and contemporary American art in the world, and offers stunning views of the City and its Hudson River waterfront. There’s also a restaurant and a café in which to hang out and enjoy a delicious meal after a day on your feet.