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It’s easy for New Yorkers to forget that this bright-and-bustling ’hood exists outside of work hours. But don’t write off the whole area. There are Michael Scott–approved Sbarros aplenty, yes, but the district is also full of tucked-away gems, whether you’re looking for real-deal dive bars, classy bookstores or great sandwiches.
RECOMMENDED: Great days out in New York
Before venturing into the madness that is Times Square (it will be at the end of this journey, friends—but we’ll send you to a really cool place, we swear), gather your strength in Greenacre Park (217 E 51st St between Second and Third Aves, 212-838-0528), a small patch of grass complete with waterfall, reflecting pool and a noticeable lack of out-of-towners. Grab a table in one of the multitiered seating areas, take a deep breath and absorb the bucolic (yet sleekly urban) atmosphere.
On your way to the next stop, hook a right on Third Avenue and pause for a moment at 53rd Street. The Ramones song “53rd & 3rd” chronicles the area in the 1970s, when it was, let’s say, seedier—as in, it was packed with male prostitutes “tryin’ to turn a trick,” to quote the punk icons. After your pop-culture pilgrimage, beef up your book learnin’ at Bauman Rare Books (535 Madison Ave between 54th and 55th Sts; 212-751-0011, baumanrarebooks.com). This bi-level bibliophile haven is lined with handsome leather-bound tomes. First editions can go for upwards of 300,000 bones, but don’t worry—autographed ones by the likes of Frank McCourt will set you back only $100 to $200. On our wish list: The Catcher in the Rye, inscribed by the reclusive Salinger himself and available for a measly $65,000.
Refuel for the rest of your walk at the Carnegie Deli (854 Seventh Ave at 55th St; 212-757-2245, carnegiedeli.com). Yes, we know—it’s a straight-up tourist destination. But digging into a piled-high corned-beef sandwich ($17.99)—amid bowtied waiters wandering the cramped, old-school interior (which doesn’t look all that different than it did in the 1984 Woody Allen flick, Broadway Danny Rose)—is a retro experience that’s tough to come by in modern midtown.
Now that you’re stuffed, walk a few blocks south for a bit of free-of-charge art appreciation: Roy Lichtenstein’s Mural with Blue Brushstroke, located in the lobby of the AXA Equitable Center (787 Seventh Ave between 51st and 52nd Sts, lichtensteinfoundation.org), is a nearly 70-foot-tall, vibrantly colorful piece by the Pop Art great. Round out your day with a drink at Jimmy’s Corner (140 W 44th St between Sixth Ave and Broadway, 212-221-9510), situated smack-dab in the middle of Times Square. This dim, narrow dive bar is decked out with framed boxing pics, and features a soul-heavy jukebox and $3 to $4 brews. In this seemingly characterless slice of Manhattan, tipping back a few in a storied staple is pretty damn comforting.