Red Hook, Brooklyn
A, C, F to Jay St-Borough Hall, then B61 bus; F, G to Smith–9th Sts, then B77 bus
Despite the attempt to cram in crowd-pleasers like Fairway(480–500 Van Brunt St, 718-694-6868, fairwaymarket.com) and Ikea(slated to open later this summer), Red Hook’s remote location makes it feel like unexplored terrain. The thrill of discovery starts with brunch at Tini, featuring omelettes made from neighborhood eggs. Cruise the main drag of Van Brunt Street to find interesting antiques at Atlantis(351 Van Brunt St, 718-858-8816, atlantisredhook.com), and exquisite Victorian-era jewelry at Erie Basin. Next stop is Pier 41, a complex of historic waterfront warehouses that afford an excellent ocean view. Don’t miss the much-praised Latin-food vendors that set up shop on the Red Hook ball fields, or the freshly picked produce at the Red Hook Community Farm farmer’s market(Saturdays beginning Jul 5, 9am–3pm, 590 Columbia St at Beard St, added-value.org). There is a hotel in Red Hook, the Brooklyn Motor Inn(140 Hamilton Ave, 718-875-2500, brooklynmotorinn.com), but would you really rather sleep at the mouth of the Battery Tunnel than in your own bed? Start Day Two off with a decadent sweet-and-salty brownie from Baked, then catch a few circus acts at the floating Waterfront Museum. Get your fill of comfort food and karaoke at Hope & Anchor or dine on Asian-inflected fare at the Good Fork. End the day, like a weary sailor, over a pint at one of the many excellent watering holes: neighborhood stalwart Sunny’s, Bait & Tackle(320 Van Brunt St at Pioneer St, 718-797-4892) or the new Brooklyn Ice House.
— Billie Cohen
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2150 Hempstead Tpke, Elmont, NY
LIRR to Belmont, or F train to Parsons Blvd, then Q110 bus
A dollar won’t buy a dirty-water dog or a subway ride in New York, but it will purchase a solid six hours of entertainment. Sure, the $1 entrance fee to the Thoroughbred racing at Belmont Park near Jamaica (516-488-6000, nyra.com. Clubhouse $5) is only good if you arrive at the track via a 30-minute train ride from Penn Station ($11, round-trip); it’s a whopping $2 otherwise. The 103-year-old racetrack’s biggest event is the annual Belmont Stakes, where on June 7 Big Brown will take a stab at the Triple Crown. But the spot’s seedy charm is best discovered on a sunny Sunday, when the four-level grandstand is mostly empty and there are no lines at the plentiful hot-dog stands (or the on-site barber shop). There’s no need to plop down in a seat and stay there; visit the paddock as entrants tack up for the next race, then lounge at an outdoor table for a post parade or two. Free breakfast tours run on weekends from 7 to 9:30 am, with races starting in early afternoon. Six bucks too steep for a beer? Bring a cooler full of your own Silver Bullets (no glass) to the picnic area. With more betting windows than there are bank tellers left in Manhattan, there’s no rush when making an unpracticed bet. Most days you can be mere feet from the finish line to holler “Baby needs a new pair of shoes!” at your chosen steed as he comes down the backstretch.
— Allison Williams
City Island, Bronx
Take the 6 train to the Pelham Bay Park, then hop aboard the free trolley (for more details, visit cityislandandchambers.org).
A small-town vibe pervades City Island (population: fewer than 5,000), the slightly gritty backdrop for films such as Margot at the Wedding and A Bronx Tale. But you won’t have to sacrifice big-city tastes for an evening in the quasiburbs—and the trolley takes you everywhere you need to go. If you’re hankering for French fare, tuck into excellent escargots at Victorian auberge Le Refuge Inn, located in a former oysterman’s home. Thrifty folks can share a heaping surf-and turf-plate at Sammy’s Fish Box(41 City Island Ave, 718-885-0920), or if you manage to snag reservations for the five open-to-the-public tables, splurge on truffle-oiled rib eye on the water at Mio Sogno at City Island Yacht Club(63 Pilot St, 718-885-2487). After filling your belly, feast your eyes on art by under-18 up-and-comers at Focal Point Gallery(321 City Island Ave, 718-885-1403). Then mosey down City Island Avenue for artful decor, like richly patterned Moroccan bowls, at quirky imports shop Exotiqa(280 City Island Ave, 718-885-3090). Then go Celtic at Irish pub The Snug(302 City Island Ave, 718-885-9559). Had a pint too many to face the long trip back home? Bunk at Le Refuge, but don’t miss the eerie midnight views of nearby Hart Island. The former site of an insane asylum, a missile base and a narcotics rehab center, Hart is also home to NYC’s public cemetery, where you can sometimes spot Rikers Island inmates burying the unnamed dead. How’s that for a fish tale?
— Helen Yun
New pools and decks downtown
The recently opened Empire Hotel’s(44 West 63rd St at Broadway, 212-581-5290) rooftop pool is accessible to hotel guests only by a private elevator, and boasts five cabanas with daybeds, Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus food and cocktail service. You’ll need a room in order to do the breaststroke, and that’ll set you back around $319 per night. The Greenwich Hotel’s(377 Greenwich St at N Moore St, 212-941-8900) pool sits under a roof made of 250-year-old bamboo and wood salvaged from a Japanese farmhouse. If you want to sip sake poolside you’ll have to pay $625 per night for the privilege—only guests have access. When the Thompson LES(190 Allen St at Houston St, 212-460-5300) opens later this summer, its 36-foot rooftop swimming pool will feature an underwater photo strip of Andy Warhol portraits taken by photographer Gerard Malanga. Guests and members can enjoy the pool whenever they want but regular folks are expected to pony up $599 a night for a room. But screw that. The Floating Pool will this year park itself at Barretto Point Park (near the intersection of Tiffany St and Viele Ave) in the Bronx, and will open around Jun 27. Swimming here is free, but crowded. As for roof decks, Highbar(251 48th St between Broadway and Eighth Ave, 212-956-1300) tops a 16-story building and features a full bar and BBQ grill. There’s a glass-walled lounge downstairs to accommodate rained-out crowds. Beginning in July at Club H (222 East 34th St at Third Ave, 212-779-1056) members can take advantage of tanning beds, sunrise and sunset yoga classes and deliveries from the snack and juice bar—all available on a multilevel, 10,000-square-foot roof deck. It’s only for members and their guests; fees start at $110 per month.
— Adam Rathe