So look at you: you’re visiting New fricking York, perhaps for your first time, and Times Square is on your checklist of things to see, because, well, Times Square. Whether you already have your selfie stick all packed and ready for a pic with the mascots like Elmo and Elsa (who will be hustling you for tips, make no mistake), or perhaps you’re feeling a twinge of dread about entering such a full-on tourist zone, here are seven things you should actually be excited about seeing and doing in Times Square (no matter what the locals tell you).
You don’t even have to nibble on any special brownies to start tripping out on all the Times Square shifty lights and special effects. It’s a staggering display of consumerism, with morphing logos, winking M&Ms, sleek cars, and Selena selling you sex and Beats headphones and her album on iTunes all at once. Whether you enjoy locking lips with capitalism or it all makes you want to run right to Muji, Times Square is something to witness in person at least once. Nighttime yields the brightest display, casting a pulsing glow that’s like a bumpin’ advertising club in the heart of Manhattan. Time your visit for 11:57pm and experience Midnight Moment, a nightly presentation by a rotating roster of artists that is shown for three minutes on all the electronic billboards at once.
After numerous sightings on TV, magazines, and social media, now it’s your turn to witness firsthand the freaky, furry, and slutty mascots that have taken over Times Square. Make sure you get a picture with one, at least for novelty’s sake—your social media fans deserve only the best from you. But don’t try to smile and scoot away after your pic—these mascots will shake you down hard for tips.
You ready to get shacked up with one of famed restaurateur Danny Meyer’s ShackBurgers? What started as a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001 has mushroomed into one of New York’s most well-known hamburgers, with Shake Shack locations all over the U.S. Even if you’re not into a juicy, cheesy burger made with quality ingredients (WHO ARE YOU?), there are also the Shack-cago dogs, a Chick’nShack sandwich, cheese fries, hand-spun milkshakes, and their “concretes”: frozen custard with various evil whip-ins, like peanut butter sauce and chocolate-covered pretzels.
Quality Cheap Eats
There are some fantastic cheap eats in the neighborhood, all just a quick walk away: swing by Kung Fu Little Steamed Buns & Ramen for soup dumplings; Xi’an Famous Foods for their cumin lamb burger; and the famed Halal Guys have an outpost at W. 53rd St. and 7th Ave.—bring on the white sauce on a combination platter of chicken and beef.
The Broadway Scene
Even if you’ve never had the urge to go to a Broadway show, just navigating your way through all the people entering and leaving the theaters and crowded around stage doors will probably inspire you to think about getting some tickets (or at least starting humming Hello, Dolly!). You can snag some tickets last-minute, and you don’t even have to pay that much.
It’s one of those old-school New York places (since 1921!) you need to visit at least once, especially if you pray at the altar of Broadway and old Hollywood stars. Behold, the caricatures (hundreds of ’em)! If you don’t want to come in for a pre– or post–theater meal of classics like steak tartare, cannelloni, or grilled pork chops, you can still perch at the bar upstairs and try to figure out who’s who on the walls (before you get too sloshed).
Other cities don’t have much in the way of cheesecake shops, but this is New York, and New Yorkers know a thing or two about cheesecake. Junior’s started in Brooklyn in 1950, and they perfected the recipe in the 1960s, the very same one used today. So take advantage of your chance to get a big-ass slice of famed New York cheesecake without having to leave Times Square—and after a Broadway show, it may taste even better.