Give the classics a rest and try something new the next time you visit the Big Apple
Words: RADHIKA LALLA
Photographs: UNNIKRISHNAN RAVEENDRANATHEN
Gazing skywards is my default setting in New York City.
No surprises there, really; everything seems to shoot out of the ground to dizzying heights here. And even though my face is upturned right now to wallow in the novelty of snowflakes settling on my eyelashes (embracing the magic of winter however I get it), I’ve always been the gawking tourist craning my neck this way and that, taking in the bright lights and steely splendour. The sheer wealth of things to see and do here is overwhelming – so much so, in fact, that I’ve never managed to make much of a dent in my New York bucket list in the few short days that a visit invariably lasts. Isn’t helped by the fact that I’m loath to move beyond the things that I already know I love doing here…
So, my mission, which I have chosen to accept, is to hit pause on said bucket list and venture forth beyond the obvious charms of Manhattan. It’s a difficult decision to make – who doesn’t want to picnic in Central Park again? – but I’m willing to take one for the cause. After all, as a visitor to New York, it’s very easy to forget that the city extends far beyond Manhattan, or even that there’s so much more to do here than pretending to be Godzilla at the top of the Empire State Building or taking a ferry out to see the Statue of Liberty. I’ll leave those galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum unexplored for now (sigh), and ignore the tacky pull of the bright lights at Times Square, though maybe I’ll squeeze in a show on Broadway – there’s only so much you can give up! Instead of that picnic, I’m going to eat my way through the smaller neighbourhoods – the villages that make up this island. I’m looking forward to losing my heart to yet another museum or two, ones that haven’t been around all that long. And I know I’ll find some secrets that have been hiding right in front of me, too.
And you know what? I’m going to need to invest in a bigger bucket.
The Brooklyn Museum is a revelation.
I’m all set to be confronted by that Brooklyn stereotype, the Hipster, when I venture into the borough, but my first stop confounds me in a completely different way. Why have I never come here before?
I haven’t even indulged my love for ancient Egyptian art, skipping those floors for an intriguing exhibit on Coney Island that’s taken over the top floor of the museum when I visit. This corner of Brooklyn is, in my mind, the definition of Americana. Before World War II, this is where the average New Yorker went for the weekend – to lie on the beach, walk along the kitschy boardwalks with a corndog in hand, take in the fantastical at the carnivals, or go on crazy rides at one of the amusement parks. The exhibit showcases all of this beautifully, and it’s only the equally intriguing exhibits on the other floors that tempt me away. Of the permanent exhibits, one that deserves mention is The Dinner Party – a room that celebrates womanhood in an uncomplicated though provocative manner. What is essentially just a dinner table, complete with plates, cutlery and runner, manages to tell quite a story.
Unni and I quickly realise that we’re going to have to tear ourselves away and head back outdoors if we’re going to do any more exploring; besides, hunger strikes. We do as Brooklyn does on Sundays, and wait in line for brunch at the colourful neighbourhood Mexican restaurant, Chavela’s. I’ll tell you one thing – we brunch here in Mumbai because it’s the ‘thing to do’, but these guys, they’ve got the right idea – delicious, pretty, yet filling eats that straddle that middle-ground between breakfast and lunch so perfectly. My huevos ahogados is a hearty plateful of poached eggs topped with a jalapeño hollandaise, accompanied by chorizo, guacamole, potatoes and mixed veggies, mopped up with a sweet Mexican bread and a strong coffee…