Fall walking tours
Here's a rundown of guided excursions that are new for the season. We hit showrooms for shopaholics and downloaded an MP3 for the antisocial, and even checked our guides on factual accuracy.
Tue Oct 21 2008
The Garment Center Insider Shopping Tour
(212-209-3370, shopgotham.com). Wed, Fri 10am; $65.
Duration: 3 hours
Distance: 1/3 mile
The gist: Fashion-hungry tourists hit five hidden, private showrooms, plus sample sales if there’s time. On our tour, crystal-studded hair clips were under $20 in one little ninth-floor showroom; and an elegant cashmere-blend overcoat was $398, about a third of the retail price. You can also hit similar spots (but with a focus on $50-or-less items) during Shop Gotham’s Cheap & Chic Holiday Fashion Gift Tour, which begins November 10.
Who goes: Mothers and daughters from out of town.
Correction: “There are about 5,000 showrooms [in the Garment District] strictly for women’s fashion,” says our guide. Actually, the Fashion Center’s 2008 survey estimates that there are 1,500 womenswear showrooms in the district.
High: There’s nothing like finding Bendel designers at Gap prices.
Low: The few husbands in the group were bored, because this is purely shopping—there’s little neighborhood history or context.
The Rock and Roll Tour
(a self-guided tour available for download at citylisten.com). $7.95.
Duration: About 2 hours
Distance: 3.5 miles
The gist: Download this tour—concentrated in the East and West Villages —onto your MP3 player. Its stops were mostly chosen by NY-born Q104.3 DJ (and voice of the tour) Ken Dashow. Expect to see sites like the Bitter End, and other familiar destinations like the location of the cover photo for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan—all with snippets of songs.
Who goes: Loners and music freaks.
Correction: “Webster Hall was an official New York City landmark in 2007.” We hate to be anal, but according to Webster Hall’s press release, it was declared a landmark on March 2008.
Highs: The former residences of John Lennon and Pete Seeger suggest a less commercial West Village. And bonus points for Dashow’s listener-friendly voice.
Lows: The now-vacant Tower Records (Broadway at 4th St) is oddly the only record store mentioned.
Explore Chinatown Food & Culture Walking Tour
(212-209-3370, foodsofny.com). Mon, Wed noon; $65.
Duration: 3 hours
Distance: Minimal walking around the neighborhood
The gist: Your fast-talkin’ guide, Raheem Vaziralli, will point out historical spots and lead you through tastings. Walk away with fascinating tidbitsand a full belly from the dumplings, scallion pancakes and more.
Who goes: Adventuresome visitors from out of town
Correction: We’re told that there are 450 restaurants in Chinatown; however, “The number is between 300 and 400 restaurants,”says Wellington Chen of NYC marketing campaign Explore Chinatown.
High: There is a delicious justification for Peking Duck House’s popularity.
Low: The menu is full of animals and doesn’t offer much for vegetarians.
Chelsea Art Gallery Tour
(212-946-1548, nygallerytours.com). Nov 8 at 1pm, $20.
Duration: 2.5 hours
Distance: Five-block span between Tenth and Eleventh Aves
The gist: Rafael Risemberg, a former Kean University professor of educational psychology, whittles Chelsea’s more than 300 galleries to a digestible eight. He led us to the Max Protetch gallery (511 W 22nd St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves) at one point and showed us the cool interactive work New York Windows by Siebren Versteeg; its touch screen randomly generates a collage of Internet images.
Who goes: 100 art lovers, mostly of the over-30 crowd.
Correction: Risemberg tells us artist Louise Bourgeois is 97 years old. Er, she is actually 96 and turning 97 in December, according to the Guggenheim Museum’s website.
High: It’s cheap. Many other companies charge $40–$50 for similar tours.
Low: The tour hustled us from one gallery to the next with barely enough time to contemplate the phallic symbolism of the Louise Bourgeois sculptures.
Rich and Famous Tours’ Central Park Celebrity Tour
(212-209-3370, richandfamoustours.com). Fri 2pm, $25.
Duration: 2 hours
Distance: 1.5 miles
The gist: This tour bills itself as a mapping of stars’ homes, but it features more history than celebrity. No star sightings, but we saw Madonna’s elliptical machine through her fourth-floor French doors!
Who goes: Tourists from all over and of all ages, but sometimes a few locals.
Correction: Our guide says “Carol Matthau was Truman Capote’s inspiration for Holly Golightly.” To nitpick, Matthau was one of many women who inspired Holly Golightly, according to Peter Kramer, a senior lecturer at the University of East Anglia.
High: Tour leader—Jim Dykes’s goofy delivery and vast historical knowledge, fleshed out by a binder of 19th-century photo clippings!—made us feel like we were on a social-studies field trip with the “cool teacher.”
Low: Much of the superstar scoop was either outdated (Red Buttons, anyone?) or obvious (“The Dakota is a hotbed for celebs!”). NYC trivia is great ’n’ all, but it’ll hardly prepare you for a career as a paparazzo.
A Slice of Brooklyn: Neighborhood Tour
(800-979-3370, asliceofbrooklyn.com). Sat 10:30am, $65.
Duration: 4 hours
Distance: This is a bus tour—there’s just a little walking at stops.
The gist: Run by Brooklynite Tony Muia, with some tours given by his cousins Maria and Paula, this brand-new bus tour swings through areas such as the pagoda-like house in Victorian Flatbush, the sorry lot where the Brooklyn Dodgers once played and the stunning view from Green-Wood Cemetery’s Battle Hill.
Who goes: A maximum of 27 people, staycationers and foreigners alike.
Correction: While at the Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims, Tony tells us famed pastor Henry Ward Beecher would conduct fake auctions of Brooklyn children and use the money to assist slaves. He’s close; the Plymouth Church historian tells us that Beecher held mock auctions of real slaves.
High: Up your Brooklyn cred by finally trying an egg cream and cheesecake at Junior’s on Flatbush Avenue.
Low: We didn’t enjoy the smooth-jazz CD playing on the bus or watching Tony’s appearance on the Today show during the drive home.
Big Onion’s Green-Wood Cemetery
(212-439-1090, bigonion.com). Nov 1, Dec 6 at 1pm; $15, seniors and students $12.
Duration: 2 hours
Distance: About 2 miles
The gist: The company is known to employ graduate students as guides and to rewrite their tours once a year. We stopped at important gravesites, such as Louis Bonard, the original benefactor of the ASPCA—he donated his estate after having reccuring dreams of being reincarnated as a horse.
Who goes: The walkers’ ages ranged from teens to fifties.
Correction: Guide, NYU sociology Ph.D. candidate Brian McCabe, tells us “Green-Wood is a cemetery that has 438 acres.” Close enough, but its website says 478.
High: We enjoyed the statue of the Roman goddess Minerva, who’s waving at Lady Liberty
Low: The tour could dig deeper on its underground residents. For example, we never stopped by famous graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Wall Street Panics and Crashes
(212-209-3370, wallstreetwalks.com. Mon, Fri 11am; $23.
Duration: 1.5 hours
Distance: 1.25 miles
The gist: Annaline Dinkelmann (a former Morgan Stanley employee) guides the group through the Financial District—including the outside of the Federal Hall and the bronze bull at Bowling Green—and speaks about the journey from Wall Street’s humble beginnings to today’s bear market.
Who goes: Our group included mostly middle-aged folks, a good mix of locals and tourists.
Bull’s-eye accuracy: All the facts checked out, including Dinkelmann’s mention of the first car bomb on Wall Street in 1920, when a terrorist blew up dynamite in a donkey cart.
High: We found the small side streets more interesting, like the designated historic landmark Stone Street. The narrow alley features a slew of restaurants and bars.
Low: We’re hard-pressed to find anything to bad-mouth about this tour, unless you count the anxiety at the thought of a recession as bad as the one after the market crash of 1929.