Facts to impress your friends

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1. Head to East Village brasserie The Smith (55 Third Ave between 10th and 11th Sts; 212-420-9800, thesmithnyc.com), and see if you can find the peephole hidden in the textured wall next to the vintage photo booth downstairs. Peek through to see burlesque movies from the '20s and '30s (above) while you wait in line for the bathroom.

2. Subtle automotive themes (like Ferrari-red chairs and motor-oil-black wainscoting) throughout Trattoria Cinque (363 Greenwich St between Franklin and Harrison Sts; 212-965-0555, trattoriacinquenyc.com) are a tribute to proprietario Russell Bellanca’s father, Guido, who owned an auto dealership on Rome’s Via Veneto before he came to New York and got into the restaurant business.


Serena van der Woodsen

3. You may know the Villard Houses (455 Madison Ave between 50th and 51st Sts)—the gorgeous McKim, Mead and White--designed complex adjacent to the New York Palace Hotel—as the home of Serena van der Woodsen on Gossip Girl. But the man who financed the manse, Henry Villard, didn’t lead as charmed a life. He lost his fortune shortly after construction was finished and lived in the houses for only three months before selling them.

4. Mariah Carey was the first person to stay in the Plaza Hotel’s three-bedroom/three-bathroom Royal Plaza Suite, the hotel’s presidential suite (768 Fifth Ave at Central Park South). She earned the honor after shooting her video “Obsessed” at the hotel the night the opulent room opened in 2009.

5. During the 1960s, ski slopes were constructed in the southern section of the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park (Broadway at 242nd St), featuring powered rope tows, floodlights for night skiing and a snowmaking system. The mini resort could accommodate up to 1,000 skiers, who were able to rent skis, boots and poles. The Parks Department doesn’t know exactly when the slopes were dismantled, but the fun lasted only for a few years.

6. The hardest task the Central Park Conservancy had after forming in 1980? Cleaning up. The staff had to remove more than 65,000 square feet of graffiti.


Amy Poehler

7. At the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre (307 W 26th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves), someone recently wrote on the wall of one of the performer bathrooms: “I can’t believe I’m pissing in the UCB bathroom! Hi Amy! Hi Tina!,” referring to Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, to which Poehler responded, in writing, “Hi!” and signed her name.

8. The murals painted on the walls of the Plaza Hotel’s Oak Room were an inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle.

9. Bob Dylan’s 2008 Celebrate Brooklyn! benefit concert at the Prospect Park Bandshell was his Brooklyn debut.

10. While digging in piles of twigs, leaves and decomposing plant material (as biology types are wont to do), scientists discovered new-to-science species of centipede in Central Park in July 2002. The little bugger is called Nannarrup hoffmani and is the first new species found in the park in more than 100 years.

11. The 1857 Litchfield Villa (95 Prospect Park West near 5th St, Prospect Park, Brooklyn)—named for the man who converted the Gowanus Creek into our famed new Superfund site, the Gowanus Canal—is the headquarters for the city parks department’s Brooklyn operations. If you head inside (Mon--Fri 9am--5pm) and ask nicely, the staff will let you eye a rediscovered treasure. About 20 years ago, maintenance workers tore back part of the building’s tin ceiling when searching for the source of a leak; what they found instead was a fresco that dates back to the mansion’s construction. No plans have been made to remove the rest of the ceiling, since the tin probably helped preserve it in the first place.

12. In the mid-1800s, the Arsenal (830 Fifth Ave at 64th St), the current headquarters of New York City Parks, was used as a menagerie filled with caged animals. By the 1860s, park commissioners came up with a better idea: an official zoo, which as you know, ended up being located right behind the Arsenal. The Arsenal was also the first home of the American Museum of Natural History.

13. The New York Palace Hotel’s meeting room, the Chairman’s Office, is so called because the richly appointed, wood-paneled space was real-estate mogul Harry Helmsley’s office when the hotel was built in 1982.

14. Chefs Anderson Sant’anna De Lima and Jennifer Sant’anna Hill tell us that their restaurant, 508 (508 Greenwich Ave between Canal and Spring Sts; 212-219-2444, 508nyc.com) is haunted by the ghost of Jonathan Larson. Larson wrote the musical Rent in the walk-up apartment above 508; apparently the building was a shithole back in the day, and served as inspiration. Larson’s ghost hangs out a lot in the downstairs private dining area. Guests have reported flickering lights, wine bottles falling by themselves, strange whispers right next to their ears and eerie buzzing vibrations in the air. The owners say they’ve had electricians try to fix the flickering, but no one can.


1970s subway map

15. What do Italian restaurant SD26 (19 E 26th St between Fifth and Madison Aves, 212-265-5959) and the NYC subway map have in common? Both were designed by Massimo Vignelli. In 1972, the artist crafted a rendition of our infamous underground mess that was both extolled as beautiful and criticized as confusing. Eventually replaced, Massimo’s map made a brief revival in 2008, when he redesigned it for an issue of Vogue.

16. At the now-legendary Leonard Cohen Project multiartist show presented by Celebrate Brooklyn! in 2003, David Bowie was invited to perform but could not make the rehearsal and had to bow out. However, when the day came, he was spotted in the audience leaning against a tree watching the show.

17. Take luck where you can get it. Restaurant Dovetail (103 W 77th St at Columbus Ave; 212-362-3800, dovetailnyc.com) recently expanded its bar into the former railroad apartment of a woman named Emmie, who left a horseshoe for Chef John Fraser before she headed south to Florida. You can still find the shoe by the ice bin under the bar. In the West Village, chef-owner Jesse Schenker at Recette (328 W 12th St at Greenwich St, 212-414-3000) attempted to make his own luck by playing only Pearl Jam for the first few weeks that his restaurant was open.

18. When he was building restaurant the Red Cat (227 Tenth Ave between 23rd and 24th Sts), owner Jimmy Bradley saved the mosaic sign for Chelsea Central (the restaurant that previously inhabited the space) and had it framed. He now keeps it in his office in honor of the old restaurant. At least nine of America’s top chefs (including Charlie Palmer and Rick Moonen) worked there at one time or another, and Bruce Willis once tended bar.

19. In the 1930s, a proposal was made to install a full-sized ski jump in the Municipal Stadium on Randalls Island.

20. The original 1871 Central Park Carousel was hand cranked, but after humans decided that was hard work, they powered it with a horse or mule tethered to the infrastructure and housed one level below. The animal was directed by a series of stomps to the ground—two to start, one to stop. By 1912, electricity saved the donkey’s ass.

21. Prior to the opening of Delicatessen (54 Prince St at Lafayette St, 212-226-0211) in July 2008, the space on the corner of Prince and Lafayette Streets was occupied by Buffa’s Diner, owned by John Buffa. His grandfather, Augustino Buffa, planted a fig tree behind the restaurant in the 1940s. Though the tree is hidden from view by the building, it is still alive and now towers three stories high—and in the summer months, chef Michael Ferraro uses its figs in a variety of desserts and other dishes.


Gilt

22. Next time you’re pretending to be a millionaire at the Palace Hotel’s restaurant, Gilt (455 Madison Ave at 51st St), think of the ornate 14k-gold-gilded hall as your music room, which is what the space was used for when the building was a private mansion (1882--1931). An elaborate suspended balcony at the room’s north end served as a performance stage for musicians, and a narrow stairway hidden behind the wall paneling still provides access to the balcony today.

23. Celebrate Brooklyn!, the free performing-arts festival that takes place each summer at the Prospect Park Bandshell (Prospect Park West at 9th St, Prospect Park, Brooklyn), started in 1979 at the Picnic House and was called Free for All.

24. Though it feels like one big shopping extravaganza, Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street is actually ten buildings combined. What’s more, the columns you see throughout the store are left over from the original brownstone residence that was on the site in 1866.

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