Embedded in the sidewalk outside a cigar store in Greenwich Village that sits on the fairly chaotic intersection of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue South is a tiny triangular plaque that thousands of people step on but few bother to notice.
The mosaic, which reads “property of the Hess Estate which has never been dedicated for public purposes” is a miniature marker of a piece of New York history, one in which a family resisted the city’s efforts at eminent domain and held onto a tiny parcel of private land, seemingly out of spite.
I only learned this history lesson — which my colleague James Barron wrote about for The Times in 2019 — because I dropped my phone and happened to look down.
New York is a city that beckons the gaze upward; much of its popular identity, especially in Manhattan, is tied to dizzyingly tall buildings whose spires make their mark on the sky. But shift your focus toward the ground, and you can see the city in ways you haven’t before.
The Financial District, whose tall towers draw the eye, offers several examples. Among them is a brass-encircled clock embedded in the sidewalk at Broadway and Maiden Lane. The timepiece was installed around the turn of the 20th century — its exact age is a bit in dispute — by the William Barthman jewelry store as a way to draw the attention of pedestrians scurrying by. The store has since relocated, but the clock remains — though it has changed form a few times over the decades.
Keep your head down as you traverse Broadway (being careful not to bump into Wall Street types and tourists), and you’ll spot scores of dark granite plaques, with the date and name of every ticker-tape parade in the city’s history. The plaques mark the Canyon of Heroes, the city’s standard parade route, and reflect the moments that have given New Yorkers cause to celebrate in the past, from the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886 to the parade this year honoring essential workers.
About six miles uptown, if you’re getting sun in Central Park or beating the heat with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, make a quick detour to Madison Avenue between 78th and 79th Streets. The black-and-white lines and swirls under your feet were designed by the artist Alexander Calder, who is better known for his mobile sculptures, in 1970. (It has been restored a few times since, as you might expect for an artwork on a busy stretch of the Upper East Side.)
If you want to look so far down you’re below ground level, the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn offers occasional after-hours tours of its catacombs. Its next one is this Friday, and tickets are required. The cemetery also hosts occasional concerts in that underground space. On Sept. 21 and 22 — still summer by some measures! — you can see the jazz musician William Parker perform there.
Back in Manhattan, the Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral — this one is in NoLIta — also offers a 90-minute candlelight tour of its catacombs. The cathedral was the largest in the United States when it was finished in 1815, and its vaults were once the final resting place for notable New Yorkers who have largely faded from historical memory.
New York’s most robust underground space is, of course, its network of subway tunnels. But it is illegal and highly dangerous to trespass on them (seriously, don’t do it!).
Instead, descend two flights of stairs in Brooklyn into the decommissioned subway station that hosts the New York Transit Museum. The exhibits there will give you a better understanding of the sprawling network of tunnels that keep the city going. And they’ll make a compelling case for why the key to the city is not what’s going up, but what’s going down.
The Bounty of Summer
Every year around mid-August it starts to dawn on me that summer is coming to a close and I feverishly try to embrace the humid beach days and outdoor dining opportunities still left in the season. One of the best places to get all you can out of late summer might be at the city’s farmer’s market, where summer produce from all over the region awaits. Of course, cooking with these vibrant ingredients is fun but this kind of produce demands to be eaten quickly.
My brilliant former colleague and contributor to this newsletter, Julia Carmel, once extolled the virtues of the “lazy picnic” in which you grab takeout from restaurants and make a picnic out of your rewards. I would add that a makeshift crudité board of summer veggies with dips and spreads, some bread and cheese, and a serrated knife, would also fit the bill. (Just make sure you bring some water to give the produce a good wash first.)
Here are some of the cities best farmer’s markets to land the best of late summer produce and more. A complete list, including dates and vendors, can be found at grownyc.org.
I’m listing this one first because it’s the city’s best, with a variety of produce, herbs, meat, bread and seafood on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. If you go early enough you may even see chefs from some of the city’s best restaurants picking ingredients that will be turned into dishes that day.
When I find myself near Lincoln Center on a Thursday or Saturday I try to stop by this farmer’s market and see what’s available. It’s not as big as some of the others in the city but the produce and even the flowers and the bread are always high quality.
I’m always partial to farmer’s markets where it feels like vendors and neighbors know one another, and this market in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood feels just like that. If I lived in the neighborhood, I would make it a weekly Saturday morning stop with coffee in hand.
In Jersey City, where I live, the Grove Street Farmers Market is perfectly situated right at the top of the Grove Street PATH station on Mondays and Thursdays — ideal for commuters looking to shop for groceries before they head home. I like visiting this market because it features local Jersey City producers as well as produce from the broader area.
A Few More Ideas
Make your move from masterworks to modern music at the Cantor Roof Garden at the Metropolitan Museum and soak up Sun Sets at the Met, Fridays and Saturdays till September.
Pop in the City, in Midtown Manhattan, is bringing a bouncy castle to the block party with soft slides and a selfie staging area for anyone who makes their way through the (disco) ball pit before the pop-up wraps-up on Aug. 28.
The summer of the cyclist rolls on with over eight miles of car-free streets in the Five Boro Bike Club’s Harlem to Summer Streets riding event on Saturday, Aug. 20.
Don’t hold off if you’ve been waiting to try out that neighborhood hot spot: NYC Restaurant Week is finishing off with its fifth week of prix fixe dining, so get your fill before the feast ends on Sunday, Aug. 21.
Combine your park day and movie night with Movies Under the Stars, featuring over 150 screenings of cinema classics and Hollywood hits throughout the five boroughs, all summer.