7 Hidden Gems of New York City
By Yayne Hailu
From Times Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, New York City has a lot to offer a traveler. But the true beauty of the city is hidden in long forgotten alleyways and over looked neighborhoods. For those who seek to experience a New York that many have never heard of, check out a few of these places:
Whispering Gallery – Grand Central Station
Although this is one of the most popular hidden gems of New York, the Whispering Gallery still deserves a place on this list as one of the most romantic secret treasures this city has to offer. Grand Central Station is as symbolic as the Statue of Liberty and as impressive as the Empire State building, but within its glorious architecture, lays an acoustic phenomenon. On the Terminal’s dining concourse, in front of the famous Oyster Bar & Restaurant, is an archway that if whispered into will carry the voice as a shout to the diagonal archway. Many marriage proposals and romantic gestures have taken place here using the secrets of the whispering walls. Travelers can witness the intricate beauty of Grand Central’s murals and try a hand at the mystifying sound effect.
Parlor Jazz at the Triple Nickel– 555 Edgecombe Ave 3F
Once feared and avoided, Harlem has more recently become a popular tourist destination. Many come for the quintessential jazz experience at the Cotton Club or St. Nicks pub and others for the historic landmarks from the renaissance era. But a few locals and travelers have uncovered a little gem that encompasses both, right in the heart of Sugar Hill’s residential buildings. Probably the last real-life parlor jazz salon left, for over 20 years the home of Marjorie Eliot has been the set of Sunday afternoon jazz. Marjorie opened up her home to music lovers as an homage to her late son Philip and now every Sunday at 4, audiences can cozy up in her living room, foyer and kitchen to listen to the sweet sounds of new and old jazz, as well as some gospel and soul. The two-hour show features an array of musicians including Marjorie herself on the piano. Fittingly, the free jazz series take place in the historic Triple Nickel apartment building where notable African-Americans like boxer Joe Louis and composer Count Basie used to reside in the 1940s. An NYC experience you won’t get anywhere else, Marjorie’s parlor jazz is a nostalgic tribute to Harlem and a time long gone.
City Hall station (end of the 6 subway line)
NYC’s intricate underground system is world-famous but a little-known fact to outsiders is that over the years, the city has accumulated a few ‘ghost stations’ – subway stops that are no longer in use. To all the urban explorers out there, one such station is likely a hidden destination you won’t want to miss when visiting the Big Apple. The old City Hall station is a beautiful relic from 1904 that looks more like a ballroom than a subterranean channel. Designed with arched ceilings, stained glass skylights and electric chandeliers, it is a shame current passengers are subjected to the grime of today’s stations. When newer trains were introduced, the station’s curved architecture proved to be dangerous and in 1945 the stop was closed to the public forever. Today very few tours are given to the public, and even those are for MTA Transit Museum members only. However, there is a (somewhat) secret trick to touring this well-preserved time capsule all on your own. If you take the downtown 6 train to the last stop and stay on, the train will make a loop through the old City Hall station to get back uptown. Though the chandeliers won’t be on, on a sunny day, the hauntingly beautiful station will be visible.
Kayaking on the Hudson– Pier 26, Pier 96
Water sports and NYC are two concepts that rarely make sense, or so you would think! Boating activities in the concrete jungle are often overlooked and sadly so because during warm weather, the NYC harbor is a sight to be seen. Along the Hudson River, non-profit organizations like the Downtown Boathouse and the Manhattan Community Boathouse offer free kayaking opportunities for all those who wish to see the New York City skyline from the “open seas.” Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, you can take to the waters and paddle out into the middle of the river with other sailors, jet skiers and yachtsmen. This is a fun way to get a glimpse of the New York you rarely see while getting in a little work out. Boating season starts in May until mid October with free kayaking and canoeing in several locations on weekends from 9 – 5 pm.
PDT –113 St. Marks Place
On an iconic East Village street, in an unassuming hot-dog shop, stands one of New York City’s best speakeasies of today. Please Don’t Tell, known to its regulars as PDT, is quite literally a hidden gem as the only entrance to the bar is through a secret passage in the corner of Crif Dogs restaurant. Patrons of the shop take one look at the exposed brick interior and picnic tables and assume it’s a hole-in-the-wall style eatery with deliciously quirky dogs and an out-of-place decorative telephone booth. But those in the know, know that everyday after 6 pm, prohibition era aficionados can climb into the old-fashion phone booth, dial the secret code and the wall will slide open to a sleek and sexy speakeasy boasting some of the finest cocktails this side of the 1920s. What’s almost as fun as pretending to dodge the law? Once inside you can order your artisanal drinks and anything off the Crif dog menu, a pairing that surprisingly goes well together. For travelers who want a nightcap in NYC and a trip back in time this is the place to go. And what about that secret code? Like most secrets, it’s the simplest answer- press 1.
Museum of the American Gangster – 78 – 80 St Marks place
While on the topic of the roaring 20s, travelers and tourists may be quick to forget that the world of organized crime once ruled this town and was instrumental in shaping the political and cultural history of New York City. Luckily, visitors of the Museum of the American Gangster can get a glimpse of the many secrets the underbelly of NYC had to hide. Located on top of an old speakeasy –turned – theater, the museum showcases artifacts from safes and moonshine stills, to real bullets recovered from Al Capone’s infamous St. Valentine’s Day massacre. But perhaps what’s more interesting about this place is its actual history. When the current owners bought the speakeasy from an alleged mobster in the 1960s, not only did they find elaborate basement tunnels leading from the butcher shop on the corner to the illegal bar, but millions of dollars in gold certificates stowed away in safes. Visitors now get to explore the tunnels and finish off their tour like true gangster enthusiasts – with a wide selection of absinthe.
Morris-Jumel Mansion – 65 Jumel Terrace
One of the most spectacular attractions of NYC is rarely mentioned on travel sites like lonely planet. The oldest house in Manhattan not only appeals to history buffs but also to ghost hunters and yes, Yogis too. The Morris-Jumel mansion was built in 1765 by a British military officer and passed back and forth between the opposing sides during the American Revolutionary War. It even served as a temporary headquarter for George Washington during the Battle of Harlem Heights. But what is even more interesting about this house are the events that took place there after it was purchased by a wealthy French merchant and his scandalous wife, Eliza Jumel.
Eliza, a former prostitute turned wealthy New York socialite, wanted desperately to be apart of New York High Society. But unfortunately for her and her companions, she was surrounded by tragedies that tainted her image and the mansion she lived in. Many claim she murdered her first husband and buried him alive on the property, while others talk of suicides and love triangles. In any case, five different ghosts, including that of Eliza herself, allegedly haunt the house today. The mansion is now a museum where visitors can walk through during the day and see what life must have been like in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Oddly, every Thursday at 11 am there is $5 Yoga in the back courtyard. Ghost chasers can wait outside the gates after midnight to catch a glimpse of the many tragic souls roaming the compound.
Yayne is a digital journalist and a global health consultant based in New York City. A true nomad at heart, she has lived everywhere from Côte d'Ivoire to Brazil, from Oregon to Addis Ababa. When she's not traveling and experiencing life through her passport, she is passionately merging her creativity with social good.