For a chance to savor the lap of luxury, head uptown.
By Carla Davidson|
Once upon a time, New York City's telephone exchanges were instant social arbiters. When you dialed BU-8 (Butterfield 8, as in the novel and film), you knew you were calling someone in the most desirable section of the Upper East Side, encompassing Fifth, Madison and Park—perhaps Lexington—from 86th Street to the low 60s. In the 1960s, digits replaced the exchanges, and while there is no thrill in dialing 288, the neighborhood remains home to some of the richest New Yorkers: Think Mayor Bloomberg, Caroline Kennedy and, of course, the Gossip Girl crowd.
Even though little trace remains of the Astors' and Carnegies' early-20th-century mansions, take a walk around these parts and you'll still feel that old-time, uptown charm thanks to the distinguished prewar apartment buildings on Park Avenue, the low-rise townhouses turned high-end clothing shops on Madison Ave and the grand museums on Fifth Avenue. To find resources such as gyms, play spaces and movie theaters, you'll have to head east toward the river.
Check it out
The China Institute(125 E 65th St, 212-744-8181) is one of the city's least explored treasures. Sign up your three-year-old for a Chinese language class, or take part in one of the special family workshops keyed to major Asian holidays and festivals.
The children's program "Start with Art" is free with admission to the Metropolitan Museum of Art(1100 Fifth Ave, 212-535-7710). It's a perfect way to introduce your tykes to this world-renowned collection. Afterward, snag a seat on the iconic front steps and discuss what you saw.
What local families do
Central Park, naturally, is a weekend staple. Families flock to Saturday morning sing-alongs at the zoo (enter park from Fifth Ave at 64th St; 212-439-6500) and at the bucket swings and Alice in Wonderland fountain at the James Michael Levin Playground (Fifth Ave at 77th St).
On the blocks east of Third Avenue, you'll find a number of spots for tots to blow off steam. Kidville(163 E 84th St, 212-772-8435), which occupies a four-story space, offers more than 100 "creative classes" for babies to five-year-olds. At Jodi's Gym(244 E 84th St, 212-772-7633), kids ages one to 12 can swing, balance, tumble, jump and stretch while dreaming of Olympic glory.
Theaters showing family-friendly films are scattered throughout the district. Take the 4, 5 or 6 train to 86th Street for the City Cinemas East 86th between Second and Third Avenues or the UA East 85th on First Avenue. Postshow, stop by Barnes & Noble(240 E 86th St, 212-794-1962). Not only does the store have a huge children's section, but it hosts storytimes on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Shops and boutiques
Whitewashed wide-plank floors, gently battered display cases and a warm welcome at the children's boutique Bonpoint(810 Madison Ave, 212-879-0900)make you feel like you've stumbled upon a secret place, not a store on New York's version of the Rue de Rivoli. Notable here is clothing for infants, girls and boys in subtle palettes of grays and tans, dusty pink and crushed berry. Purchase the family matching soft flannel nightwear at French-owned LTJ Arthur(922 Madison Ave, 212-254-6014). Like much in this neighborhood, though, it'll cost you: Toddler pajamas are $95.
Children's stores (most of them upscale) come thick and fast on Madison. Between 80th and 84th Streets are Flowers by Zoe(1070 Madison Ave, 212-535-3777), Bambini(1088 Madison Ave, 212-717-6742), Petit Bateau(1100 Madison Ave, 212-988-8884) and Little Eric Shoes(1118 Madison Ave, 212-717-1513), where we spotted a nanny dragging her tiny charge from the window display. (Shoe mania starts early.) Preteens seeking an edgier look flock to Infinity(1116 Madison Ave, 212-517-4232), its windows emblazoned with 1960s peace signs and its interior crammed with tie-dyed T-shirts, Hannah Montana memorabilia and rhinestone-studded sweat pants.
Another tween magnet is the family-owned Lester's(1534 Second Ave, 212-734-9292). A neighborhood stalwart since 1948, this boutique draws shoppers like Rebecca, 13, who journeys from the Village for such favorite brands as Splendid, So Low and Hard Tail, plus great service. "The store is kind of overwhelming and you're always going to need help, which you'll get in the blink of an eye," she says.
Shopping builds a powerful appetite. Kids can enjoy a lavish afternoon tea at Alice's Teacup Chapter 2(156 E 64th St, 212-486-9200), housed in an atmospheric townhouse that evokes all the enchantment of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. Madeline, the plucky French schoolgirl, lives on at the Hotel Carlyle(35 E 76th St, 212-744-1600). Ludwig Bemelmans, who launched the book series about the character, re-created his charming illustrations for the barroom walls. On weekends, the landmark hosts a children's buffet brunch and sing-along. While kids gather at the Steinway, parents can order from the a la carte menu and sip a cocktail or two.
More prosaic fare (wraps, pizza by the slice, salads) makes City Market Café(1100 Madison Ave, 212-535-2070) a quick, kid-friendly pit stop. For an on-the-fly sugar rush, William Greenberg(1100 Madison Ave, 212-861-1340), a family-run bakery that opened in 1946, sells plate-size black-and-white cookies worth any post-indulgence guilt. Children emerge with cheeks stuffed like chipmunks'.
Further east at highly regarded pizzeria Totonno's(1544 Second Ave, 212-327-2800), kids can play with pizza dough while they wait for their pie to arrive. Stroller-laden families cluster outside Big Daddy's(1596 Second Ave, 212-717-2020), drawn by the oversized burgers. Outdoors, the relentless assault of pop music is audible, and inside it's earthshaking. "The noise doesn't bother me," one mom said. "I have three boys. In fact, it makes the little one doze off."
Elementary school Hunter College Elementary 71 East 94th Street. Grades K-6. What's special: Superior academics for very bright children. Downside: Uneven quality of teaching. Reading scores: 4/5 stars Math scores: 5/5 stars Hunter College Elementary School, a laboratory school for the study of "intellectually gifted" children, is one of the most sought after schools in the city. Nearly 1,800 families request an application for their children to take an IQ test to be considered for admission at a cost of about $300.
Middle school M.S. 114 East Side Middle School 1458 York Avenue. Grades 6-8. What's special: Challenging academics served with kindness and warmth. Downside: Cramped building with narrow hallways. Reading scores: 4/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars East Side Middle School has become one of the most popular and successful middle schools in the city under the steady leadership of Principal David Getz. The school has about 350 students, and the low enrollment has allowed East Side Middle to foster an environment where academics count, but so do kindness and familiarity among students and staff.
High school H.S. 519 Talent Unlimited High School 317 East 67 Street. Grades 9--12. What's special: A small school where academics and performing arts get equal billing. Downside: Limited upper level academic offerings and after-school sports teams. Visit Talent Unlimited High School and you might hear the chorus singing a finger-snapping version of the jazzy tune "Get Happy." Wander into a drama class and you'll find kids waving their arms or crawling on all fours in skits. Leotard-clad dancers leap across the auditorium stage.
Hunter College Elementary School 71 East 94th Street. Grades K--6. What's special: Superior academics for very bright children. Downside: Uneven quality of teaching Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars Hunter College Elementary School, a laboratory school for the study of "intellectually gifted" children, is one of the most sought after schools in the city. Nearly 1,800 families request an application for their children to take an IQ test to be considered for admission at a cost of about $300. Of those, between 250 and 300 meet the cutoff necessary to be interviewed, which ranges from the 97th to the 98th percentile, depending on the year. A total of 48 are chosen for the kindergarten class.
P.S. 158 Bayard Taylor School 1458 York Avenue. Grades K--5. What's special: Super-involved parents' association. Downside: Old building with long winding corridors. Reading scores: 4/5 stars Math scores: 5/5 stars PS 158 has a relaxed and cheerful tone. Principal Darryl Alhadeff spends lots of time in the classrooms and seems to know most of the children by name. She strives to give teachers as much support as they need in order to do their jobs. "I believe you nurture teachers the way you nurture children," she says. Teachers have "common preps," regularly scheduled periods during the day in which they may plan lessons together and ask one another for advice. "Darryl makes a point of making families know they're welcome," said one mother. The principal is "very personable, very approachable," said another mother.
P.S. 183 Robert Louis Stevenson School 419 East 66 Street. Grades K--5. What's special: Strong, creative work in all grades; proximity to world-class research institutions enriches the school. Downside: Some parents are not happy with pace of math instruction; school needs more technology. Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars In a scene reminiscent of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, students at PS 183 paraded around the track in the school's renovated yard, some carrying signs with the names of their native countries or the countries of their parents and grandparents. Some donned traditional costumes, others dressed as any American kid would on a blazing hot day in June shorts, t-shirts, sneakers. The occasion was the annual International Day, a natural event for a school that boasts more than 40 languages spoken amongst its many immigrant and first-generation American students.
P.S. 198 Isidor & Ida Straus School 1700 3 Avenue. Grades K--5. What's special: Free after-school, small classes, strong teaching. Downside: Separate schools in building divided by race and class. Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars Attentive teachers, a strong principal, and a science program taught by researchers at the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine make this a school to watch. Once a struggling school, PS 198 now has test scores that place it in the top quarter of schools citywide. The school's progress is all the more remarkable considering the Lower Lab School for Gifted Education which shares a building with PS 198 continues to draw some of the neighborhood's brightest students.
P.S. 290 Manhattan New School 311 East 82 Street. Grades K--5. What's special: Writing program that is a national model. Downside: Some concern about the math program in the upper grades. Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars Manhattan New School, one of the top schools in the city, is best known for its writing program. Children are taught to write well, and creatively, from the very earliest grades. First graders conduct interviews of their classmates' parents and write books about what they learn. By the 4th grade, many students are writing moving, textured, and descriptive prose and talking about their work in sophisticated ways. Kids and teachers alike feel that they have a real say in what goes on at the school: It is a place where their opinions count.
P.S. 6 Lillie Devereux Blake School 45 East 81 Street. Grades K--5. What's special: High quality teaching and sound academics. Downside: Office staff can be abrupt. Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars One of the top schools in the city, PS 6 has a particularly well-developed writing program, based on the principles outlined by writing guru Lucy Calkins. Teachers College has designated PS 6 as a "mentor school" for its reading and writing project. Teachers and researchers from across the country visit the school on a regular basis to see how it teaches children to write. By the time they graduate, children have written memoirs, plays, songs, speeches, essays, poetry, and short stories. With each piece, they go through many stages: collecting ideas, picking a "seed" or central theme, planning a first draft, revising, editing, and finally "publishing"preparing a piece for others to read either in a homemade book or at a "writing celebration" to which family members are invited.
P.S. 77 Lower Lab School 1700 3 Avenue. Grades K--5. What's special: A warm gifted program with hyper-active parents. Downside: Separate schools in the building seem divided by race and class. Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars Founded in 1987 as a program for the gifted, the Lab School is modeled after two progressive private schools, Manhattan Country School and Bank Street School of Education. Classrooms have cheerful curtains and sofas, donated by the parents. Geraniums in blue plastic pots line a windowsill along a corridor that faces a sunny interior courtyard. The floors are a sparkling blue. Children call teachers by their first names. Most of the classes have tablesnot desksand children move from one activity to another freely. They sit on rugs, or sprawl on the floor in the hall with a book. The academics are demanding. Fourth graders may write essays of 750 words. Fifth graders may read classics often read by older children, such as The Red Badge of Courage,The Wizard of Oz, and Frankenstein.
PS 225 Ella Baker 317 East 67 Street. Grades K--5. What's special: Open, progressive learning environment; access to an impressive range of facilities in Julia Richman Complex. Downside: Room for improvement in academic performance. Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars Ella Baker is a small, progressive school founded on the model of Central Park East in East Harlem. The school exudes openness and informality a place where teachers and administrators are addressed by their first name and older children stop to say hello to the younger ones. Two grades of kids are taught together (K-1) (1-2) (2-3), so students have the same teacher for two years. Children are encouraged to explore their own interests and work at their own pace. Ella Baker is on the list of 209 schools that the chancellor exempted from the citywide uniform curriculum.
M.S. 114 East Side Middle School 1458 York Avenue. Grades 6–8. What's special: Challenging academics served with kindness and warmth. Downside: Cramped building with narrow hallways. Reading scores: 5/5 stars Math scores:5/5 stars East Side Middle School has become one of the most popular and successful middle schools in the city under the steady leadership of Principal David Getz. The school has about 350 students, and the low enrollment has allowed East Side Middle to foster an environment where academics count, but so do kindness and familiarity among students and staff. Housed on the top two floors of an elementary school, P.S. 158, the physical plant of East Side Middle leaves a lot to be desired: the corridors are narrow and the classrooms are cramped. But the staff is cohesive, the kids seem happy and the atmosphere combines hard work and fun.
M.S. 167 Robert Wagner School 490 Hudson Street. Grades 6–8. What's special: Extensive music and sports programs. Downside: Wagner's size may overwhelm some students. Reading scores: 5/5 stars Math scores: 5/5 stars With nearly 1,400 pupils, Wagner is the largest and most traditional middle school in District 2. The advantage of the size is the facilities and course offerings not available at a smaller school. The potential downside is the lack of individual attention for children—and their parents. The administration strives to make the most of the school's many resources while minimizing the chance that students will get lost in the crowd.
H.S. 519 Talent Unlimited High School 317 East 67 Street. Grades 9–12. What's special: A small school where academics and performing arts get equal billing. Downside:Limited upper level academic offerings and after-school sports teams. Visit Talent Unlimited High School and you might hear the chorus singing a finger-snapping version of the jazzy tune "Get Happy." Wander into a drama class and you'll find kids waving their arms or crawling on all fours in skits. Leotard-clad dancers leap across the auditorium stage. Everywhere you go in this small school, kids seem jazzed up, happy, and self-assured. Talent Unlimited admits students after an audition, but it balances a strong performing arts program with engaging academics.
Eleanor Roosevelt/Upper East Side High School 411 East 76 Street. Grades 9–12. What's special: Well-rounded liberal arts education in small, cheery building. Downside: Tiny gym with low ceilings; limited advanced science classes A sparkling new building, talented teachers, and a philosophy that draws on both traditional and progressive methods have made Eleanor Roosevelt High School, nicknamed ELRO, a well-regarded and popular school in just a few years. Opened with 100 9th graders in temporary quarters in Chelsea in September 2002, Eleanor Roosevelt High School moved to its permanent home in the former Sotheby's warehouse in September 2003.
H.S. 449 Vanguard High School 317 East 67 Street. Grades 9–12. What's special: Small class sizes, liberal learning environment, supportive teachers Downside: Some lackluster teaching and immature student behavior. At Vanguard High School, students can wear hats in class, be openly gay or obviously adept at chemistry, and nobody judges. Students who despise "adult rules" and crave learning their own way will enjoy the school's open, liberal approach to learning. Some students, however, lack maturity and focus. Located in a large building, Vanguard boasts a swimming pool, glossy hardwood floors, and wide hallways covered in murals and other student artwork. Even the lockers, conventionally boring elsewhere, are here painted light green and decorated with ivy and flowers. Inside the classrooms, more art dangles from the ceilings.
H.S. 459 Manhattan International High School 317 East 67 Street. Grades 9–12. What's special: New immigrants get lots of practice speaking English Downside: Some great teachers, but turnover is higher than ideal Manhattan International, modeled on International High School in Queens, prepares for college students who have just arrived in the United States. Housed in the renovated Julia Richman complex, it shares pleasant facilities with several other high schools and an elementary school, Ella Baker. There are no bells, and classes last 70 minutes, giving students and teachers a chance to study topics in depth. It's an unusually gentle school, seemingly designed to smooth the way for students who have hard times both in their countries of origin and in the United States.
H.S. 580 Richard R. Green High School of Teaching 421 East 88 Street. Grades 9–12. What's special: Internships in which students assist in elementary school Downside: Too many kids leave without graduating Richard R. Green High School of Teaching, named for the schools chancellor who died in 1989, is designed to encourage young people to consider a career in teaching. Students have internships, mostly in the Bronx, in which they assist elementary school teachers in their classrooms. The school is a cheerful, orderly place, where the kids mostly seem to be engaged in their work. "The teachers are nice," said one girl. "It's small, so you know everyone." The school is about 80 percent female. While the curriculum is traditional and there's a lot of emphasis on preparation for Regents exams, there's also room for class discussions. There is a gentle rapport and a nice give-and-take between the teachers and the kids. Students call teachers and even the principal by first names.
Hunter College High School 71 East 94th Street. Grades 7–12. What's special: Brilliant kids and stellar record of college admission. Downside: Mountains of homework and lots of stress. Like Hunter College Elementary School, Hunter College High School is touted as a "laboratory" school for the study of "gifted" education and is administered by the City University of New York. It is a highly successful, very selective, and competitive school that prepares its students for the country's most elite colleges. It's known particularly for its strength in the humanities, but it also offers high-level math and science courses. Hunter also has an unusually strong program in music and art. The drama department offers students the chance to write and perform their own plays and musicals. Student musicians have performed from France to Senegal. Art history classes take trips to Florence and Siena.
Life Sciences Secondary School 320 East 96 Street. Grades 6–12. What's special: Collaboration with Mt. Sinai Hospital to provide internships; tutorial program with Columbia University Downside: Cramped facilities; no outdoor space; many students begin school with weak academic skills. Reading scores: 3/5 stars Math scores: 4/5 stars Life Sciences was founded in 1998 in collaboration with Mt. Sinai School of Medicine to encourage minority students to prepare early for careers in medicine. Students are placed in internships with doctors and technicians at Mt. Sinai and get solid instruction in the school's newly renovated science labs equipped with state-of-the-art equipment.
The Urban Academy 317 East 67 Street. Grades 9--12. What's special: Intellectually stimulating and supportive atmosphere Downside: Not for kids who want to blend in with the wallpaper; tiny school can't take everyone Urban Academy on Manhattan's Upper East Side is an unorthodox high school. Teachers go by their first names. Kids can listen to headphones while they take tests. Classes are made up of students from all grades. In-class debates get heatedand so can students' language. The halls are lined with worn couches, where students retire in groups during lunch and other breaks to hang out or listen to impromptu musical performances by their classmates.