Time Out New York’s editors and critics surveyed the city’s nightlife, culture, things to do and shopping options, and declared the best of 2013 winners across 29 categories—read on to find out which venues and events reigned supreme this year. Readers were also given the chance to weigh in, making their own picks in 10 categories. Plus, we asked New York City icons and tastemakers—including choreographer Mark Morris, They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh, and comedian Marina Franklin—to share their personal picks for the best things to do in NYC.
RECOMMENDED: Full list of New York's best
Best things to do this year
The haters really came out of the woodwork in the lead-up to the bike-share program’s late-May rollout, ranting loudly and loonily into the Internet echo chamber. Some of the most vitriolic barbs included accusations of civic-government totalitarianism from Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz, and a suggested rebranding of the DOT as the “Department of Taliban” by SoHo Alliance member Sean Sweeney. But many New Yorkers have quietly approved of their new public transport option in the way that matters most: by using it. Six months after its launch, more than 90,000 people have signed up for an annual membership, and on average, more than 35,000 trips are made each day on the blue two-wheelers. Since Citi Bike is clearly here to stay, we have some advice for the staunchly opposed: Take the subway instead. citibikenyc.com
Cinephiles, couch potatoes and pop-culture aficionados can all find something to love at this Queens attraction, which blends high and low art like no other NYC institution. The permanent collection spans the history of moviemaking, with early technology given equal representation alongside pop-culture artifacts like figurines and lunchboxes. Plus, there are enough interactive stops (make-your-own stop-motion film, playable classic video games, an homage to a 1920s movie palace) to distract the most fidgety gallerygoer. In the next few months, Moving Image is hosting exhibits on the storied Kaufman Astoria Studios (open now) and the year’s best independently produced computer games (opens Dec 14). 718-777-6888, movingimage.us
Low-cost educational offerings have flourished in New York, but the Brainery—which has been doing the cheap-classes thing since 2010—remains our favorite place for learning something new. Having consolidated its two Brooklyn locations into one Prospect Heights center earlier this year, the Brainery continues to offer lessons on topics as varied as Asian cooking, serial killers and the Gowanus Canal, with the average session costing around $25. Founders Jonathan Soma and Jen Messier are also committed to the broader indie-education community: After 3rd Ward abruptly shuttered in early October, they helped pair displaced teachers with other local resources. brooklynbrainery.com
The exhibition space at the Fashion Institute of Technology punched above its weight with this spring’s “Shoe Obsession” show, which generated the kind of buzz associated with the Met Costume Institute’s annual spring exhibit. The gallery’s greatest strength is its ability to find accessible entry points into the exclusive and often esoteric world of haute couture; its current display, “A Queer History of Fashion” (through Jan 4), and the upcoming “Trend-ology” (opens Dec 3), which examines why certain things become popular, are as much about stimulating your brain as they are about making you appreciate beautiful clothes. 212-217-4558, fitnyc.edu/museum
Video stores have mostly gone the way of the Automat and the pay phone (which is to say, bye-bye), but Williamsburg’s Videology is still in the game, partially due to a radical overhaul in 2012 that added a bar and a screening room to the rental shop. It’s the perfect place to revisit beloved TV shows such as Twin Peaks and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. For the former, the space hosts a weekly bingo night (Wed 8:30pm, free) rife with doughnuts and damn fine beverages. Agent Cooper would probably order a coffee, but you should get a beer. videology.info
The brick wall. The round wooden stool. The stained-glass sign depicting a single spotlighted figure. Audience members who swear they’ve seen this backdrop before probably have, as it’s identical to the one at the Comedy Cellar’s original MacDougal Street location. This offshoot of owner Noam Dworman’s club opened in April and offers more space and seats, plus better sight lines, while maintaining the anything-goes atmosphere that attracts stand-up stars like Dave Attell, Louis C.K. and Chris Rock. 212-254-3480, comedycellar.com
The cramped quarters at this Lower East Side club are part of its appeal: There are no bad seats (or standing spots) in the house. You can catch multiple acts every night of the week on three separate stages, and it’s likely that many of those performers will soon be appearing in much bigger halls. Multigenre polymath Gabriel Kahane is a regular, as is bluegrass great Michael Daves. Your best bet is the monthly Communion Club Night, curated by Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett (next event: Tue 5 at 7pm; $12). 212-477-4155, rockwoodmusichall.com
After 25 years, this Upper West Side classical-music destination remains as vital as ever—and arguably, it’s had its biggest impact on the city’s music scene in the past decade. Under the auspices of former director George Steel and his successor, Melissa Smey, the venue has consistently featured programming that’s forward-thinking and fresh, often spotlighting little-known and on-the-cusp artists. Not content to simply attract a crowd already familiar with classical music, in 2012 the organization launched its free monthly Pop-Up concert series, which offers performances by new-music hotshots in an informal setting—and the gratis drinks don’t hurt either (next event: Nov 19, doors at 5:30pm). 212-854-7799, millertheatre.com
Mike Sniper’s Brooklyn imprint has accomplished plenty in the short five years since its founding, from launching the careers of indie heroes Diiv, Wild Nothing and Mac DeMarco, to reissuing long-lost ’80s luminaries like the Cleaners from Venus and Nick Nicely. The indie operation prides itself on taking chances on acts without a major release, nonetheless resulting in an impeccably curated roster that’s earned its tastemaking rep. Captured Tracks moved to new digs this fall, and its Greenpoint shop feature booths with music selected by different artists. capturedtracks.com
Inspired by Colin Quinn’s workshopping of his one-man show Unconstitutional at the Creek and the Cave, the 75-capacity theater’s owner, Rebecca Trent, launched a series this year, offering performers 60 minutes a night (residencies often run six evenings, sometimes fewer) to do pretty much whatever they want. Since July, audiences have seen Chris Gethard, Christian Finnegan, Bonnie McFarlane, Ted Alexandro and more test new material, hone hour-long routines, record sets and experiment freely—no cover or two-drink minimum required to watch. creeklic.com
New York City offers plenty of perks for die-hard music fans, but for those who grew up going to basement shows—staunchly DIY, all-ages events that were as much about the community as the bands—it sometimes feels as though an essential piece is missing. But Death by Audio has been fostering that sense of kinship since 2007 with cheap, sweaty shows that welcome the 18-and-under set at every single performance. Plus, the tiny club’s proprietors regularly assemble excellent lineups: In the past few months alone, acts as varied as indie-folk legend Ed Askew, alt-rock throwbacks Speedy Ortiz and Ty Segall’s side project Fuzz have all played there. entertainment4every1.net
Though its mere existence remains a point of contention for some Brooklynites, this year-old arena has already been a success. The staff is efficient and amiable, the acoustics are excellent, and there’s a top-notch view from nearly every one of the 19,000 seats. And since it opened, it has attracted an unexpectedly cool list of acts, with local luminaries like Vampire Weekend, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and, soon, MGMT gracing its stage. 917-618-6100, barclayscenter.com
People tend to use words like fearless and terrifying to describe the Erin Markey experience, and not without good reason: Recently, she portrayed a version of Westboro Baptist Church spokesperson Shirley Phelps-Roper in a musical titled God Hates This Show. It’s true that this queer singer-actor-comedian-etc. is a brave and occasionally scary performer, but she can also be warm, charmingly self-deprecating and extremely funny. Really, though, no warning can do her justice. If you have a chance to see her perform, go. erinmarkey.com
This Lower East Side club never really went away even though it was rebuilt from the ground up, which took a little more than two years. Now that the Slipper Room has reopened with a better sound system, new lighting and a mezzanine, among other swank touches, it has reclaimed its place as the city’s premier burlesque venue. Many of the shows that once called it home, including Mr. Choade’s Upstairs Downstairs (which began in 1999), have returned, and the setting is as intimate and fun as ever—but with upgrades that make the experience better than before. 212-253-7246, slipperroom.com
This year, we finally said goodbye (sort of) to one of Brooklyn’s great parties: Mister Sunday, the weekly warm-weather blowout helmed by Mister Saturday Night’s Justin Carter and Eamon Harkin, has ended its run at Gowanus Grove. The no-frills lot on the banks of the Gowanus Canal closed in September, and will soon be turned into—of all things—luxury apartments. But the dancing isn’t over for good: Carter and Harkin are searching for a space for next summer, though no details have been confirmed yet. Whatever the pair cooks up, we’re sure it’ll have the same excellent tunes and laid-back vibe that made those Sunday-afternoon shindigs so great. mistersaturdaynight.com
For proof that a volunteer-run neighborhood bookstore can succeed against the odds, look no further than Word Up. Conceived in 2011 as a temporary shop in a disused Washington Heights storefront, the indie bookseller proved so popular that its monthlong lease was extended to a little less than a year. Afterward, the organization carried on its mission—to reflect its diverse community and bring a bookshop to an underserved area—even without a space. Fortunately for uptown bibliophiles, Word Up found a permanent roost this past summer, thanks to an Indiegogo campaign that raised $60,000 (novelist Junot Díaz appeared in a promo video for it). The retailer offers a multilingual selection and hosts regular readings, concerts and arts events. 347-688-4456, wordupbooks.com
What’s better than seeing top-notch authors read their work for free? Seeing top-notch authors while you down $4 pints. Writers from the realms of fiction, memoir, poetry and storytelling have all been on this event’s roster, and the list of past appearances reads like a bookworm’s dream dinner party: Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, Mary Gaitskill and Sam Lipsyte have all stepped up to the mike. facebook.com/franklinparkreadingseries. Second Monday of the month 8pm; free.
This intimate, modular space has a reputation for tackling difficult, weird, dark new plays. Since its founding in 1975, it has served up jaw-dropping premieres by Richard Maxwell, Sarah Kane and Mac Wellman. (Now through Nov 24, it’s presenting David Adjmi’s surreal gloss on power and privilege, Marie Antoinette.) And though prices have risen since its inception (and its subsequent move to an Off Broadway contract in 2007), the venue still offers 99¢ tickets on occasional Sundays—an astonishingly good deal anywhere, but particularly for shows of this caliber. 212-941-8632, sohorep.org
Smart, vital and downright punchy, Brooklyn’s preeminent art house has a freewheeling range that perfectly suits Kings County’s brazen eclecticism. From retros of urban icons like John Cassavetes and Richard Pryor, and a groundbreaking presentation of civil rights movies, to a nose-thumbing survey of films “Booed at Cannes,” programmers Nellie Killian and David Reilly have built a tent big, broad and odd enough to house hard-core cinephiles, weekend thrill-seekers and even (don’t judge) discerning Manhattanites. 718-636-4100, bam.org
Though it opened in 1994, now is the moment this cinematic giant has been waiting for. No longer just a novelty for hosting nature documentaries, the 600-seat theater with a 100-foot screen—tucked inside a generic Upper West Side multiplex to induce maximum disorientation—is nonpareil for enjoying visually astonishing blockbusters. Alfonso Cuarón’s stunning Gravity, for example, has been selling out around the clock—it’s a perfect union of immersive, experiential spectacle and a screen vast enough to send you into orbit. 212-336-5020
Constructed from the husk of a Yiddish vaudeville venue, this once-upstart art house is now a downtown institution showing topflight independent films. A few of its five uniformly good theaters feature steeply sloped, sight-line-enhancing seats and nearly floor-to-ceiling screens that hint at the old stage prosceniums. The popcorn’s good, but even better are the knishes next door at Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, in operation for 103 years and a living bridge to the Sunshine’s cultural forebears. landmarktheatres.com
As small companies continue to be priced out of Manhattan, everyone’s looking to Brooklyn to pick up the slack. This funky black box, a neighborhood fixture long before East Williamsburg became entrenched in every Realtor’s lexicon, ought to be your first stop. Some of the fiercest experimental troupes—the Debate Society, Half Straddle and others—have made the Starr shine brightly. Catch the TEAM’s mind-bending mash-up RoosevElvis through Sun 3. thebushwickstarr.org
They literally don’t make them like this anymore. Despite its Jazz Age moniker, this movie palace opened in 1969; since then, its red carpets and gilded staircases have served as a last stand against stadium-seated sameness, a hand-on-heart paean to sheer class. Temporarily endangered but saved by Bow Tie Cinemas, the largest single-screen theater in the city seats 1,162 citizens under a vast ceiling of chandeliers, harking back to when going to motion pictures wasn’t just idle entertainment, but an aspiration. 212-307-1862, bowtiecinemas.com
In just a few years, Timbers has established himself as the go-to mastermind of a breathtaking range of musicals. He can do an emo-rock mock-presidential show (Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and a festive Bard adaptation (Love’s Labour’s Lost at Shakespeare in the Park), and he can stage a 360-degree disco rave about Imelda Marcos (Here Lies Love). But can he make Rocky Balboa sing? Find out next year, when the Sylvester Stallone–produced Rocky opens on Broadway with Timbers at the helm. 212-239-6200, rockybroadway.com. Previews start Feb 11, opens Mar 13.
For nearly a decade, this Queens space has bolstered artists by offering them room to work on experimental and new pieces. When he’s not presenting his own works—most recently, 2012’s Hot Box—artistic director Brian Rogers curates each season, giving choreographers like Beth Gill, Ursula Eagly and Tatyana Tenenbaum (who’s in residence through Sat 2) technical assistance and even funding (!) to get their projects going. chocolatefactorytheater.org
Owner Kathy Sanchez struggled to find fashionable clothing in the 14–24 size range, which inspired her to open this Lower East Side shop—devoted exclusively to items in those sizes—in February. She carefully culls the selection, seeking on-trend pieces from brands like Igigi, Jamie by BB Dakota and Taylor. But Sanchez doesn’t just find stylish duds for zaftig New Yorkers; she also ensures that items are affordable, with few costing more than $250. 374-249-4404, curvaceousk.com
Opened by neighbors Rebekah Witzke and Jillian Tangen in 2012, this Long Island City shop caters to both regular folks and the actors, sports stars and other big names who work or live in the area. (Ethan Hawke has been spotted buying children’s clothes with his wife, Ryan, here.) Witzke and Tangen stock popular apparel, home goods and accessories brands (James Jeans, Toms), as well as hard-to-find Nordic labels like Container. And they often host neighborhood-focused events, such as open-house nights (with free booze!) and fund-raisers for local schools. 718-361-5650, licliving.com
A burly mountain man—or, perhaps, a Scotch and red-meat enthusiast from Pawnee, IN—would feel perfectly at home in this sporting-goods shop. Owner Peter Buchanan-Smith ran an online store for several years before putting down roots in Tribeca this year. In addition to its line of handmade axes ($140–$350), Best Made Co. sells everything else a modern woodsman could want—tools, clothing and home goods—and offers workshops like Axe Restoration and Forage Cocktail Mixing. We’re sure a certain mustachioed libertarian would approve. 646-478-7092, bestmadeco.com
Where better to hop on the candy-colored-lipstick bandwagon that has dominated runways for the past few years than this natural-beauty brand’s Manhattan shop? Bite’s first dedicated location—previously, you could only find its products at Sephora—focuses on bespoke, eco-friendly lip color: There are stations where lipstick lovers can mix and match pigments and blend custom hues, scents and finishes. (Ready-made shades and treatments are available for lazy folks.) Plus, the makeup is free of harsh chemicals and full of antioxidants, so the benefits go beyond simply looking good. 646-484-6111, bitebeauty.com
Chris Thile (punchbrothers.com), musician, solo and with Punch Brothers
"Sasha Petraske’s Milk and Honey (30 E 23rd St between Madison Ave and Park Ave South, mlkhny.com) is a living legend, recently relocated. Sam Ross and Michael McIlroy’s Attaboy (134 Eldridge St between Broome and Delancey Sts, no phone) is its most promising protégé, recently opened in Milk and Honey’s old space. Get Theo Lieberman to make you a McKittrick Old Fashioned at the Honey, and get Sam and Michael to make you a Penicillin and an American Trilogy (respectively) at Attaboy. Tell them all I sent you! Ken Rockwood from Rockwood Music Hall (196 Allen St between E Houston and Stanton Sts; 212-477-4155, rockwoodmusichall.com) understands that contented musicians give better performances. All three stages sound great, the crowd comes to listen (hell, it’s usually at least half musicians, ’cause there’s nowhere we’d rather hear each other play!), and the drinks are served quickly and quietly by an uncannily aware staff."
Claire Chase (clairechase.net), artistic director, CEO and flautist; International Contemporary Ensemble
“Mayfield Restaurant (688 Franklin Ave between Park and Prospect Pls, Crown Heights, Brooklyn; 347-318-3643, mayfieldbk.com) is hands down my favorite restaurant in Brooklyn. I’m on the road constantly, and there’s nothing like coming home to this favorite neighborhood spot—named after the great Curtis Mayfield—with its unparalleled food (chefs Lev Gewirtzman and Jacques Belanger are total badasses), delicious drinks and convivial, down-home atmosphere. Even though I live two blocks away, I often go straight there from the airport—suitcases, gear and flutes in tow—because I just can’t wait another minute to eat the world’s greatest kale salad.”
Marina Franklin (marinafranklin.com), comedian
“Levain Bakery (locations throughout the city, levainbakery.com) is a bakery made by the gods, in my opinion. It has found a new home in Harlem, and I’m happy for it. That part of gentrification works out in a great way: chocolate chips! I fight to not eat here weekly; the tempting item for me is the banana-chocolate-chip bread. I have to go to the gym four times a week because of this place. I had to take up boxing; it helps for when I consume the chocolate-chip-walnut cookie…by myself. No shame in my chocolate-chip game.”
Eugene Cho (weareescort.com), musician, Escort
“Xi’an Famous Foods (various locations; visit xianfoods.com) represents so many good things about this city: flavor, vision and hustle. They stand out by simply delivering something authentic and meaningful to themselves. Offering flavors that are truly foreign, their excellence is easily recognized by everyone because there’s an uncompromising vision that has been proven for centuries on the other side of the globe. It certainly doesn’t hurt that there’s a young hustler leading the way. The Bowery Ballroom (6 Delancey St between Bowery and Chrystie St; 212-533-2111, boweryballroom.com) is arguably the best club in the world. It is a chapel for live music, right in the middle of downtown. When the room starts to shake, and people start going crazy, you begin to realize that there’s a cumulative effect. A part of every great show that goes on there somehow gets absorbed into the walls, and then next time the speakers wake up, the room releases all of that energy out again. It feels as good as it sounds in there, and it just always sounds great.” Escort plays the Bell House (149 7th St between Second and Third Aves, Gowanus, Brooklyn; thebellhouseny.com) Nov 23 at 9pm; $20–$22.
Mark Morris (markmorrisdancegroup.org), founder, Mark Morris Dance Group
“I am a devotee of the great Canadian newsreader Pat Kiernan. I plan my morning around ‘In the Papers’ on NY1 at 40-something after the hour. I arise at 8:22, make coffee, take a shower, and bathe in the glow of Mr. Kiernan’s kind and wry selection of headlines.”
Erica Domesek (@psimadethis, psimadethis.com), author of P.S. I Made This (Abrams Image, $18.95)
“Economy Candy (108 Rivington St between Ludlow and Essex Sts; 212-254-1531, economycandy.com)—I love buying candy in bulk to keep in my office. They have everything from retro candies to every flavor of gummy. Ess-a-Bagel (831 Third Ave between 50th and 51st Sts; 212-980-1010, ess-a-bagel.com) is hands down the best bagel place in all of New York City. Just don’t ask them to toast your bagel…that’s a big no-no. Jonathan Embroidery Plus (256 W 38th St between Seventh and Eighth Aves; 212-398-3538, jeplus.com) is my secret go-to place that does the best custom embroidery. It’s great for personalized gifts! Greenwich Letterpress (39 Christopher St between Seventh Ave South and Waverly Pl; 212-989-7464, greenwichletterpress.com) houses the cutest and quirkiest cards and novelty gifts. I mean, where else can you find pencils that have the best TV couples from the ’90s? M&J Trimming (1008 Sixth Ave between 37th and 38th Sts, mjtrim.com) is my candy land for crafty bits and bobs. They have everything from pom-pom trim to the perfect peacock feathers, chains, patches and more.”
John Flansburgh (@tmbg, theymightbegiants.com), musician, They Might Be Giants (at left)
“Angel’s Share (8 Stuyvesant St between Third Ave and E 9th St, 212-777-5415) is just a great name for a bar: In the Middle Ages, when monks were in charge of the booze-making, they would nail up their fermenting barrels and leave ’em for a while to get going. When they opened them up again, to their surprise, a portion of the liquor had evaporated. With no easy explanation available, the monks determined the angels must have taken their share. When I was first taken to this quiet East Village institution (you can see Joey Ramone’s apartment from the window), I was told it was a secret. Considering its size (relatively tiny) and location (a second-floor walk-up through an unmarked door in the back of a Japanese restaurant), it seems like a secret. It’s not. It’s open to the public. That said—it is a bar with a simple rule: only groups of two to four. What is great about this? Everything. No lurkers, no sad drunks and no groups of advanced-beginner drinkers. This is the perfect civilized bar for thoughtful adults to enjoy each other’s company and a fine cocktail. And the cocktails are superior—a very wide selection of booze, and the drinks are all prepared with care and craft. I recommend the lychee martini. And they have good food, too. It’s not super expensive, and considering all of Angel’s Share’s built-in awesomeness, that might be the biggest surprise.” They Might Be Giants plays Terminal 5 (610 W 56th St at Eleventh Ave; terminal5nyc.com) Sat 2 at 8pm; $29.50–$33.
Larisa Fuchs (@gemini_scorpio, geminiandscorpio.com), party producer, Gemini & Scorpio
“One of my favorite events in New York is the annual boom-box caroling procession, Unsilent Night (unsilentnight.com) by composer Phil Kline. Now going for more than 20 years, it’s an intimate participatory parade in the depths of December where each participant plays one of the previously downloaded four tracks of the full 45-minute composition. The result is a glorious cacophony of echoing bells, with all of us in the parade becoming one block-long sound system, and the music reverberating off buildings and enveloping us and the passersby in a diaphanous, ever-morphing mobile sound sculpture. It’s one of those magical New York moments.”
Vijay Iyer (@vijayiyer, vijay-iyer.com), composer and pianist
“The guys at Downtown Music Gallery (13 Monroe St between Catherine and Market Sts; 212-473-0043, downtownmusicgallery.com) have been at it for decades. They deal in underground music from all corners, including a lot of creative, improvised and experimental music, and they genuinely love it. This place is a no-nonsense American treasure.”
Katie Longmyer (@GoodPeoples, good-peoples.com), brand architect, Good Peoples
"The best part of New York for me is the discovery. There are hidden gems all over the city. New York encourages you to walk down the street you never walk down, or go into that bar you've never been to and talk to a stranger. On the other side is always a unique experience that gives a good story. One fun new gem is Maison O(98 Kenmare St between Centre and Mulberry Sts; 212-274-9898, maisononyc.com). Upstairs is a sushi and yakitori bar, and downstairs is a sexy and playful Japanese karaoke bar filled with some of the most interesting people you'll ever find in New York. Catch them at 2am and they might be singing Nirvana. Only in New York."