By Lauren Barack and Sarah Bayliss
Looking for some places to hang during downtime at Book Expo America (BEA)? We’ve compiled some of our favorite spots in Gotham—literary and otherwise—all within a few miles of the Javits Convention Center. We’ve thrown in some recommendations for good eats along the way. So lace up some sneakers or make like a New Yorker and hail a cab.
You may need some serious sustenance before starting your explorations. If so, stop by Daisy May’s BBQ on 46th Street off 11th Avenue for the “best barbeque in the city,” according to Zagat. You’ll find cafeteria-style dining with a cowboy-infused vibe; perfect for a crowd. Alternately, try one of New York foodies’ favorite storefronts, the Sullivan Street Bakery, at 533 West 47th Street, offering heavenly panini, pizza, and dolce. Eat at the counter or on a bench outside.
1. Now, on with the tour. Start with a drink at the fabled Algonquin Hotel, home of the infamous round table where New Yorker writers, including Dorothy Parker and Edna Ferber, held court. Reservations are recommended. The Algonquin’s Blue Bar features art by theater cartoonist and Algonquin regular Al Hirschfeld.(1.5 miles)
2. Care to transform into a live-gaming avatar? Head over to the Sony Wonder Technology Lab in midtown where visitors can control robots, record their own newscast, perform a virtual surgery, and program an animated avatar through motion detectors. While free of charge, reservations are a necessity. (2.2 miles)
3. Further uptown in the heart of Morningside Heights, home to Columbia University, Bank Street Bookstore is renowned for its broad selection of children’s books. After perusing the stacks, head across the street for gravy fries and a cheeseburger at Tom’s Restaurant, the iconic diner as seen in Seinfeld and a favorite of President Barack Obama while he was a student at Columbia. But bring cash—Tom’s does not take credit cards. (4 miles)
4. Walk one block east to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a Gothic Revival church started in 1892 and still under construction. Author Madeline L’Engle worked as a volunteer librarian there in the 1960s, after the publication of A Wrinkle in Time (Farrar, 1962) and later as writer-in-residence. (4 miles)
5. Martinis at Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel: a must. Creator of the Madeline series, Ludwig Bemelmans and his family spent a year and a half as guests of the hotel as he painted the murals of picnicking rabbits and other Central Park scenes throughout the Art Deco space. The homemade potato chips are to die for. (3 miles)
6. Central Park is rich with literary treasures from the Alice in Wonderland and Hans Christian Anderson statues (both near East 74th Street and Fifth Avenue) to the pond, formally known as the Conservatory Water where Stuart Little sailed his boats (3 miles). On Central Park South sits the Plaza Hotel, where Eloise held court with Nanny, Skipperdee, and Weenie. Recently remodeled, the food court downstairs offers nibbles. Or if you have some time, settle in for an afternoon tea in the Palm Court. Reservations strongly suggested. (2.5 miles)
7. E. L. Konigsburg’s Jamie and Claudia found refuge amidst great art when they ran away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in the park at Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street. Choose a Met blockbuster to suit your mood this week, whether it’s the fashion retrospective “Punk: Chaos to Couture,” the acclaimed “Photography and the American Civil War,” or “Birds in the Art of Japan.” You can grab a bite at one of two French bistros nearby: Pascalou at 1308 Madison Avenue and Le Paris Bistrot, up the street at 1312 Madison. Duck into the Corner Bookstore, an independent bookseller just on the corner for a great selection for adults and kids. (4 miles)
8. What visit to Manhattan is complete without a proper pilgrimage to Patience and Fortitude? The two majestic stone lions stand guard before the main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, opened in 1911. The Stephen A. Schwarzman building, as the main branch is formally known, underwent a restoration a few years ago. Walk inside and upstairs to take in the Rose Main Reading Room, with its long oak tables and brass lamps. The Schwartzman building’s new children’s area is also home to the real Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed animal, on view along with Kanga, Piglet, Eeyore, and Tigger. After your immersion in Milne, head outside to the library’s “back yard,” Bryant Park, where kiosks dot the borders offering sandwiches, soup, and salads, which you can enjoy at one of the cafe tables nestled under towering London plane trees. If you need a mini-workout, sign up for a free ping pong match at one of the outdoor tables set up during clement weather. Kids in tow? Walk over to the park’s Le Carrousel, then stop at the outdoor children’s Reading Room on the north side if the park, and flip open your laptop to surf the free wifi. (1.5 miles)
9. If you’re there for the weekend, bring your little one to the Morgan Library’s Spring Family Fair, with a circus theme inspired by the current Degas exhibit, on Sunday May 28. Expect clown-inspired crafts and activities, and circus-style snacks. (2 miles)The New York Times called Kinokuniya Bookstore (1073 Ave of the Americas aka Sixth Avenue) “the mother lode of manga” in both Japanese and English. Here, too, find Tokidoki, Hello Kitty, and a variety of gelpens.
10. The book lover in you will probably appreciate a stop at the Center for Book Arts on West 27th Street, an upstairs space where artisans exhibit their work from hand-bound books to letterpress novels. (1.5 miles) Kids will also love the new Museum of Mathematics at 11 East 26th Street, recently named the Best Museum for Kids by New York magazine. You’ll find engaging items like the Math Square, offering full-body math puzzles and games, and a square-wheeled trike.
For a non-fussy al fresco lunch, meander to Madison Square Park and to Danny Myer’s original ShakeShack, which also has outposts along the east coast and internationally now. Don’t let the Shake Shack long line put you off; it moves fast. New Yorkers stand in the rain for the legendary burgers. (1.8 miles)
11. Time to head downtown to beloved children’s bookstore Books of Wonder, where you can find a carefully curated selection of new releases as well as collectible classics (kept in the back). Weekly storytimes run Fridays from 4:00 to 5:00 pm and Sundays from noon to 1:00. Cupcake Café, conveniently located inside the store, is famous for its buttercream-iced confections, which you can nibble after your purchases. Or head across the street to City Bakery for lunch or a snack, like one of their popular pretzel croissants, and yummy hot chocolate. (1.8 miles)
12. Continue downtown to Greenwich Village, a neighborhood rich in kidlit history. First, stop by the apartment where Robert McCloskey wrote Make Way For Ducklings (Viking Press, 1941), at 120 West 12th Street, #4C. A few blocks south, grab a treat from Magnolia Bakery—another cupcake? Why not?—or hit up L’Arte del Gelato and meander several blocks east to the farmhouse where Margaret Wise Brown wrote Goodnight Moon (Harper, 1947). Originally located at 71st Street and York, the house was moved to 121 Charles St. in 1967. (2 miles)
13. From the Village it’s a short walk to Soho, where you can grab some souvenirs at the Scholastic Store, which local parents refer to as the Clifford shop for its mechanical ride inside the main entrance. (Bring quarters.) And grab some lunch at another local favorite, Spring Street Natural for its organic options (and its vegan and allergen-friendly menu.) The French café Ceci Cela Patisserie at 55 Spring Street offers scrumptious croissants, tarts, and other pastries. But if you’re looking for something more posh, try Balthazar, a French bistro open from 7:30 am (think pre-BEA) to midnight. Consider heading west with your kids to the recently relocated Children’s Museum of the Arts, where the current portraiture exhibition, “Face to Face,” offers kids the chance to express themselves by making images in a media lab. Pictures are streamed into a photo montage that’s part of the exhibit.
14. Pop by the Tenement Museum in the heart of the Lower East Side for an unusual offering of children’s books (and adult ones, too) about New York’s rich history and consider signing up for a tour of the neighborhood. Then grab some tacos at Barrio Chino a block away, or pop into Lucky Jack’s, a bartender’s bar for a cold beer and quick game of pool before heading back to the show floor. (3.5 miles)
15. Not tired yet? If you’re craving some fresh air and urban greenery, head far west and stroll north toward the Javits on the High Line, a 1.45-mile park located on former elevated freight train tracks running up Manhattan’s West Side from Gansevoort Street to West 30th street. Featuring grasslands and a wildflower garden, the High Line also offers public art, including the large, spiraling Caterpillar sculpture Carol Bove. Rest and refuel at one of many food vendors in the park, including the seasonal wine bar Terroir.
16. Back near the Javits, the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, located on a former World War II aircraft carrier docked in the Hudson River at Pier 86 (12th Avenue and 46th Street), is always a fun stop with children. If you’re in town early and staying nearby, consider attending the panel discussion “African Americans in World War II,” with Tuskgegee airman Roscoe Brown and others who served in the segregated armed forces, on May 28 from 6:00 to 7:30 (free, but reservations required).
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Have more recommendations for the bookish community? Please share in the comments.