Made in Manhattan


By Ilona Kauremszky



NEW YORK CITY- Business bulls are throttling their cell phones. Tourists gaze skyward, snapping photos of the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Rockefeller Center. Everywhere you go New York City is open for business.

So where do you start? Try a tour. Here's a quick guide to some of the hip-hopping tours.

Rockefeller Center Tour
Between East 48th Street and East 51st Street, the cluster of art deco masterpieces speaks volumes.

Some call it "New York's most ambitious and breathtaking architectural feat." Others rave that the Rockefeller Center is the largest private building enterprise ever. One thing is certain; this modern acropolis situated in the heart of New York would have made even the ancient Greeks swoon.

Built during the height of the Great Depression (1931-1939), amid spiraling financial doom, John D. Rockefeller Junior, heir of the Standard Oil tycoon, was determined to construct a plaza representing the strength of modern man, a remarkable plan of urban design in the twentieth century. The critics blasted him. They called him mad.

Undoubtedly, a must-see for any architecture or history buff, the Rockefeller Center conducts guided group tours daily with 10 stops. History hounds are outfitted with high-tech wireless headsets transmitting the guide's narration, a modern device Junior might have applauded. "This feature is what sets us apart. It keeps the group together," says Jenney Plaza Valverde, PR rep of the tour.

Loaded with trivia on the over 100 artifacts displayed throughout the 14 buildings, the tour starts at "30 The Rock," the GE building. The 70-story limestone structure is best viewed at the Outdoor Plaza and has one of the most dramatic entrances in Manhattan. A limestone carving of Zeus called "Wisdom" looms above with a stark message: "Wisdom and Knowledge shall be the stability of thy times." My guide Jonathan Rattner rhymed off how the first Pyrex glass produced by Corning appears below the Greek god, another feat accomplished by Junior's vision. As it turns out, the Rockefeller Center garners a list of many firsts.

"The idea of television hadn't even caught on then and here is J.D. Junior building a headquarters for them," comments Jonathan about the GE building's first tenants, RCA, RKO and NBC. Then, there is the skating rink. "Who would have thought this real estate would hold a rink?" Jonathan remarks. The world's first underground shopping plaza, a maze of catacombs, awaits us beneath the crop of skyscrapers. Prior to construction, the location was flanked with speakeasies and gambling holes, not the sort of place to root some of America's largest corporate offices. Today, the six city-block complex is considered one of the chichi-est spots in Manhattan.

Ticket reservations are done at the NBC Store. Prices are $10 Adults, $8 Children (6-16), Seniors $8. Tour Length: 1 hour 15 minutes

Circle Line Cruise
Pressed for time but still want to see the city landmarks? How about seeing the Gotham City from a boat crossing the mighty Hudson River?

Billed as "America's favorite boat ride," the 57-year-old cruise operator takes visitors sightseeing, passing over 20 landmarks circling Manhattan's 35 mile coastline in one, two or three hour cruises. So far, the company claims 55 million patrons have sat on deck, marveling at the city skyline.

On my tour, guide Jim dazzled us with a plethora of knowledge as this walking encyclopedia rhymed off historical tidbits on the many buildings dotting the horizon. We cruised down the Hudson River, past Battery Park and got a close-up look of Lady Liberty. When we approached the skyline to the void that was the World Trade Center, Jim started a tape recording of "Amazing Grace" as we stood in a moment of silence. Continuing up the East River, it's under the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge toward Roosevelt Island and back to our base, Pier 83.

Cooler on this side of Manhattan, the trip is highly recommended.

Circle Line Cruises is located at Pier 83 at the west end of 42nd Street. For more information, visit www.circleline.com

Big Apple Greeter (BAG)
Started 10 years ago, this free service inspires those who want to get a scoop on the city's trendiest hoods, flit around the hundreds of shopping districts or get to know a native. "You'll discover we New Yorkers are quite friendly," says Elizabeth Smith of BAG.

Interested visitors should contact the service that's run by an army of volunteers, three weeks prior to the big visit, stating preferred neighborhoods. Don't worry, if you don't know a spot. A Big Apple Greeter will steer you in the right direction.

Contact: 212.669.8159 email information@bigapplegreeter.org or visit www.bigapplegreeter.org

Lower East Side Tenement Museum Tour (LESTM)
During the mid-nineteenth century in the heart of Manhattan's Lower East Side, immigrants and refugees called this hood home. Between 1863 and 1935, it is estimated that 7,000 residents crammed into the humble address on 97 Orchard Street, an untouched property that is now a part of the LESTM's public tours. Opened in 1988, curators have painstakingly researched the history of the tenement, producing a phenomenal snapshot of five families who once resided in these squalid rooms. For an off-the-beaten path attraction - yes, some remain in NYC - the LESTM is worth the transit ride.

A place void of the heavy commercialism that runs rampant throughout Manhattan, this neighborhood brims with discount shops, restaurants and art galleries.

LESTM is located on 90 Orchard Street. For ticket reservations call TicketWeb at toll-free 1.800.965.4827.

Getting there: Take the F Train to Delancey Street over to the Lower East Side.

Staten Island Ferry
Hey, It's free. Stroll down Broadway, past the bronzed Bear and Bull Statues, pick it up at the Whitehall Terminal at Whitehall Street and South Street and get ready to sail with the locals. The 25-minute ferry service leaves lower Manhattan, passes the Statue of Liberty and captures picture-perfect views of Lower Manhattan.

Metro Fun Pass
Although not a tour per say, this gem of a card at $4US is NYC's greatest bargain. Your can roam around the 301-square mile city that cuts into five boroughs, (Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Staten Island). When I used this pass, we ventured south to Coney Island then roamed north on the 6-train to an off-the-beaten hangout called City Island, a 230-acre community famous for its fried fish. Originating around 1685, City Island can best be described as "Nantucket on steroids," reminiscent of a lazy New England town but with a weird twisted edge. Beyond the marinas and yacht clubs that hug the shoreline, galleries and seafood restaurants flank the main thoroughfare of City Island Avenue. Jazz lovers can sip a cocktail at Tito Puente's, a Latin jazz bar. For seafood lovers, an emporium awaits over at Beldon Point. With sweeping views of Long Island Sound, this is the fried fish drag, jam-packed with visitors, many from the Bronx. Everyone dines under a canopy of stars to a symphony of seagulls. Try Johnny's Famous Reef, a beachside restaurant, where you can order a mean dish of five lobster tails, fried or steamed, with coleslaw and fries for $18. Although "Crab Shanty" on City Island Avenue has second-rate lobster, the setting is kitschy worth-it. Patrons don Fred Flinstonesque bibs bearing the red crustacean.

Getting to City Island: Take the #6 train north to Pelham Bay Park the last stop in the Bronx. Transfer to City Bus BX 29 towards City Island.

Central Park
So you've seen the beauty of Central Park in movies directed by Woody Allen and know "Strawberry Fields" is a tribute to legendary John Lennon who lived across the street at the Dakota Apartments. But did you know there are free walking tours led by volunteers throughout this 843-acred green space? Any child's dream, this part of Manhattan comes equipped with its own carousal, petting zoo, and castle. America's first landscaped public park, often called the lungs of NYC, is a perfect place for a needed respite. During the tour season (April through December) the Central Park Conservancy offers at least eight different walking tours.

For more information call 212/360-2726 or visit www.centralparknyc.org.

Where to eat:
Café Bari (529 Broadway) -Located on the corner of Spring and Broadway, Café Bari serves up Italian fare a la spice in a style reminiscent of Italy but with a touch of the exotic middle east. Baked in brick ovens, the huge pizzas are fantastic ($9.95-$14.95) Prices are moderate.

Tavern on the Green (Central Park at West 67th St) - If you haven't already dined at this schmaltzy restaurant, try it. The historic restaurant resides on a former sheep farm at a time when this part of Manhattan was still agricultural. Although the menu is pricey with main courses starting at $20, the setting immersed in tall cedars and sculpted shrubs courtesy of the Hollywood wizards of the movie "Edward Scissorhands," is a beacon on its own.

North Square (103 Waverly Place) - On the northwest corner of Washington Square is North Square, a quaint restaurant offering American fare with a zest. Frequented by the locals, this is an undiscovered gem for tourists and can be easily missed. The premise is nestled by the historic Washington Square Hotel.

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photos: Stephen Smith


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