Category Archives: Out on the Town

Living it up at Madame Tussauds

by Louise, Director of Operations

Last night we were lucky to be invited to check out the expanded exhibits at Madame Tussauds in Times Square. This branch of the famous wax museum (which originated in London over 175 years ago) has been open since 2000, and is one of the most popular additions to the area. It is well worth a visit on your next trip to New York!

Leo and Ash wore the same outfit. Awkward.

Leo and Ash wore the same outfit. Awkward.

The exhibition encompasses 6 floors – you’ll be brought to the top by elevator and make your way down. On the way you’ll find dozens of stunning replicas of movie stars, historical figures, famous athletes, fictional characters, and more, all ready for wonderful photo ops in a variety of poses. Some of the more distinctive displays (ET, the Obamas, etc) are manned by professionals to snap a high quality photograph of you, but most are available for casual smart phone photos (or real cameras, if you are still doing that).

Melba tries her hand at being Don Draper's secretary

Melba tries her hand at being Don Draper’s secretary

We’d had a glass of wine or two before embarking on the exhibit, and while it’s fun and silly no matter what I don’t NOT recommend being a little loosened up. It definitely makes for some fun pictures! You can also get wine, beer and snacks at a few different snack bars on your way through.

I might identify a little too closely with Dorothy Parker

I might identify a little too closely with Dorothy Parker

The work, of course, is stunningly accurate. You may find yourself staring into the eyes of Anderson Cooper, certain that at any moment he will suddenly spring to life. Or maybe that was just me. I can guarantee, however, that the lifelike nature of these figures is nothing short of remarkable.

Kelly loves the Jonas Brothers and she doesn't care who knows about it

Kelly loves the Jonas Brothers and she doesn’t care who knows about it

Madame Tussauds is great fun for all ages, and the location makes it a fantastic way to bridge the gap between say, your day of sightseeing and your pre-theater dinner. It is included in a number of our sightseeing packages, including the Freestyle Tour and the New York Pass, or as a standalone ticket. We can also include it in your customized New York City Vacation Package – e-mail us at to start planning, and you, too, can find yourself soon contemplating life with Dorothy Parker, or performing with the Jonas Brothers.

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Manhattanhenge: The Beauty of the Grid and Sun

Manhattanehnge3New York City was one of the first modern cities to embrace the grid plan. The streets are divided into parallel axes from north to south and then east to west – making it easy to trek across the city using cardinal directions. The lower portion of Manhattan does not follow this grid system (which is why it’s the most common area in which to get lost – even if you live here!)

While the Manhattan grid makes getting around the city considerably easier, the grid also allows for a natural phenomenon twice a year – Manhattanhenge (so dubbed in 2002). Twice a year the full sun aligns perfectly with the Manhattan grid at sunset creating a beautiful sight that attracts more and more viewers and photographers each year. The phenomenon can be viewed by facing west from any street in midtown Manhattan. 42nd street tends to be the most popular, with some folks viewing from as far east as possible to get the full spectrum, and some choosing to go further to the west for a close-up view.

Manhattanhenge1This year Manhattanhenge will happen on May 28th, 29th and 30th around 8:18 PM and July 11th, 12th and 13th at 8:24 PM. The middle dates will always have the most impressive display, with the full sun positioned exactly between two buildings. The surrounding dates will afford you a view of half the sun – still spectacular, but not quite as majestic.

Happy viewing!

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Broadway’s Hottest Ticket (in more ways than one)

by Louise, Director of Operations

hedwig1I bought my tickets for Hedwig and the Angry Inch back in January to be safe, knowing the combination of the 2001 film’s cult following and Neil Patrick Harris’s rabid and widespread fanbase would make it the toughest ticket of the spring, and the anticipation proceeded to kill me until I finally got to attend last night. I’ll confess I’ve never seen the Hedwig film (something I will fix soon) so everything was new to me. It was rather delightful to not really know what was coming. Hedwig and the Angry Inch is, in essence, a concert that tells a story. The band is The Angry Inch, and its leading lady Hedwig is a transsexual from East Germany who has landed a “one-night-only” gig at the Belasco Theater hedwig3after the untimely closing of Hurt Locker: The Musical (this and many other timely jokes have been added to the Broadway production). Through the 100 minute performance, she tells the story of her early childhood interest in music, how she escaped East Berlin, her botched sex change operation, her life in America, and her history with acclaimed rock star Tommy Gnosis, who happens to be performing a “redemption concert” immediately outside the theater.

hedwig4While very funny (mostly full of jokes I wouldn’t dare to reiterate here), Hedwig is also incredibly poignant and moving. She initially appears as sort of a caricature, but the more you learn about her the more you see her for her fragility and humanity. The character’s costumes reflect this exposure – she makes her entrance in a costume and wig combination that covers everything but her face, and by the end of the show she is nearly naked. I laughed more than I have laughed at a show in recent memory, but I was also deeply moved and a lihedwig5ttle teary at times. The emotional breadth is what pushes the show from great fun to amazing theater – it would be easy just to watch a talented actor perform in drag and make crass jokes for an hour and a half, but of course it would not be easy to be young transgender woman with a botched sex change from East Germany trying to make it in America. To really get to know Hedwig as a person is the honor of watching this show.

Ohedwig2f course, it’s also very very funny, and Neil Patrick Harris is predictably incredible. He walks in heels about 100 times better than I do, and moves like a man half his age. He looks and sounds amazing and every move, glance and gesture is spot on. This is the performance of a lifetime for him. Watching him do this, I couldn’t help but think that it was only about eight years ago that Neil Patrick Harris revealed his homosexuality, and how remarkable it is that in under a decade he could go from being closeted to being a gay icon and playing a trans icon on Broadway. And it was merely two years before that that he filmed an episode of Law & Order: CI in the chocolate factory where I was working at the time, and I got to hang out with him a little bit and I had absolutely no inkling of how cool that was. He was still Doogie Howser to me back then. It’s been quite a decade to be Neil Patrick Harris, and such an honor to watch his star so rightly rise.

Hanging with NPH back in '04

Hanging with NPH back in ’04

That tangent aside (though I’ve included a picture from when I hung out with him, because of course I did) GO SEE THIS SHOW. You’ll want to buy your tickets before June 8th. After the Tonys they will be impossible to get. I mean it. Seriously. Feel free to e-mail me at with questions or for custom packages including tickets to Hedwig and the Angry Inch!

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Where to Find a Fireplace in NYC

by Louise, Director of Operations

So far, it’s been a pretty cold winter in NYC (and everywhere else!) We’ve seen temperatures in the teens enough times that there’s nothing more we’d all like to do than huddle around a nice fireplace – unfortunately, working fireplaces are not so common in New York hotels and apartments. But if you know which bars or restaurants to visit, you can still hear the satisfying crackle and feel the decadent warmth. Here are some of our top picks:

179 Smith Street, Brooklyn.
You’ll have to venture into Brooklyn for this one, but you should visit Brooklyn on your trip no matter what! Camp is located on Smith Street in Cobble Hill, one of the best neighborhoods in Brooklyn for dining and bars. The cozy layout with a generously sized fireplace, faux animal heads on the wall, board games and make-your-own s’mores could not be more inviting, especially when the mercury drops!

fp_ninthwardNinth Ward
180 2nd Avenue, Manhattan
In addition to the quintessential fireplace, Ninth Ward offers rustic décor, mood lighting, inviting booths, and some of the best poutine in the city – it comes with andouille gravy and gouda! Also try their signature cocktail, the Laura Palmer: Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka with fresh lemon juice. You might forget that it’s winter entirely.

fp_lanternskeepLantern’s Keep
49 W 44th Street, Manhattan
If you want this cocktail snob’s opinion, midtown is rather bereft of really special cocktail bars. Lantern’s Keep, in the Iriquois Hotel, is a notable exception. The intimate atmosphere feels like a step back in time, and the traditional speakeasy-style cocktails are all expertly crafted. If you’re trying to avoid a crowded bar scene, this spot is for you – make reservations at least 24 hours in advance (more is recommended) and a table will be waiting for you.

fp_blindtigerBlind Tiger
281 Bleecker Street, Manhattan
On the other hand, if you’re into the “scene,” there aren’t many more active spots than the Blind Tiger, in the heart of Greenwich Village. They have one of the best and most extensive beer collections in the city, a delectable small-plates menu that is above and beyond your traditional bar food, and a very devoted clientele. If you want to avoid the crowds, pay them a visit for lunch.

These are just my favorites – if you have your own top spots for blaze-gazing in the city, leave them in the comments!


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Mangia! The Brooklyn pizza tour!

by Tara, New York Guest Concierge

pizza5When boarding the bus for the Brooklyn Pizza Tour, I was not sure what else to expect besides getting pizza from two of the best pizzerias in Brooklyn without having to wait in line (which by itself is worth taking the tour!) Our tour guide, Paula, was very entertaining and informative, telling a lot of great stories about the Brooklyn Bridge (and the woman who made it finally happen), the Grimaldi’s pizza feud, sites of attempted mob hits, and other little known facts about Brooklyn.

pizza4The views coming in were wonderful; within the first half hour or so, we passed over the Manhattan Bridge, (which included photo ops for the Brooklyn Bridge), saw work being done on Jim Carrey’s new NYC apartment, and made our first stop into DUMBO where we were able to walk around Brooklyn Bridge Park and take pictures of the beautiful skyline.

We boarded the bus again for Grimaldi’s and Paula showed us a few spots that were used to film major motion pictures. She used the television screens on the bus to show us the movie clips and paused the screen when we approached the exact site. We reached Grimaldi’s to see a long line of people wrapped around the corner and were advised to not make eye contact (a standard NYC rule of thumb). Whenpizzatour1 exiting the bus I could see why. We were able to walk right inside where our tables were waiting, and received their delicious thin crust Margherita pizza within minutes. All of the ingredients are fresh (with the cheese brought in every morning) and are cooked in one of the few coal brick ovens left in the city for about 3 minutes. The basil adds a touch of flavor and color (The colors of the Italian flag!)  They also have a nice selection of bottled sodas; the Black Cherry was popular choice at our table.

After our first pizza stop we learned more about Brooklyn’s pizza history from Paula as we headed toward Bay Ridge and other Brooklyn neighborhoods. She took us past beautiful mansions and brownstones and showed us a few more movie locations complete with scenes (Goodfellas and Annie Hall to name two). We then headed over to our second pizza stop L&B Spumoni Gardens but not without driving along 86th street, location of the opening of Saturday Night Fever, complete with the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive.

pizza2We arrived at our next pizza location, L&B Spumoni Gardens, where we were able to, once again, skip the line. This restaurant was voted to have the best Sicilian pizza in the city by an NYC magazine for so many years in a row that they eventually did away with the contest altogether. L&B were also featured on a Travel Channel favorite, Man vs. Food. Due to the special way they prepare their pizza (you’ll find out how when you take the tour!) it is light, fresh and simply heaven on a plate. I hope my favorite pizzeria in Jersey City, NJ never sees this write up, because I can say L&B has the best Sicilian slices I have ever had. Even as I write this I am contemplating the next time I can go back.

By this point, my friend and I were just about full, but we still had it in us to get a small cup of their spumoni. Spumoni, as I learned on the tour, is a type of Italian ice cream that is typically layered. The Spumoni Gardens’ spumoni consists of vanilla, chocolate and pistachio. I advise, even if you couldn’t eat another bite, to at least ask for a free sample of spumoni (after all L&B’s is famous for it!) It makes for a sweet, refreshing end to your meal.

pizza3Our group then boarded the bus to make one last stop at Coney Island to walk the boardwalk, (no stops at Nathan’s, but then we didn’t need it!) though our tour guide did offer to give subway directions back to the city for those who wished to stay at Coney Island, and walk more of the boardwalk or check out the rides at Luna Park. As we walked the boardwalk, our guide walked among the group to talk to us and answer any questions we had. Once we passed the Cyclone, it was time to board the bus one last time to come back to Manhattan.

During the ride back, Paula played one last video of all the famous actors, musicians and athletes to come from Brooklyn. Just before we entered the tunnel, she put on some Frank Sinatra which felt appropriate as we rode back to NYC relaxed, full, and happy. I highly recommend this tour for anyone who wants to try amazing pizza without waiting in long lines, and also those that may have done most of the Manhattan tours and is looking for something different. This tour definitely has something for everyone; a great neighborhood tour, some movie sites, and of course great pizza.

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See NYC Without Waiting In Line

by Leslie, New York Guest Concierge

New York City has a million things to see and like most of us have very little time to see it!  This post shares some insider tips from a New Yorker who made all the touring mistakes. In the hope that it helps the fellow traveler, the man or woman who wants to see everything in New York in a short amount of time.

noline1Let’s start with those major sites that are featured in every high budget action flick, The Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building.  You will be one of the millions that come to NYC each year to see these sights so avoid the Lines to Liberty Island by taking a harbor cruise.   The City Sights Midtown Cruise sails by Lady Liberty daily while a tour guide provides vast knowledge of the statue.  While learning about all of her secrets you can take amazing pictures and view other architectural wonders like the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge and get shots of the iconic NYC skyline.

The Empire State Building offers fantastic views but also fantastic long lines.  Consider visiting the Top of The Rock at Rockefeller Center instead.  The large viewing area guarantees a crowd free experience and provides a fantastic view of The Empire State Building as well as The Chrysler Building and Central Park.

noline2One of the most famous treats in New York City is the Cupcake.  Rising to fame on the coattails of the HBO comedy Sex and The City, Magnolia Bakery has become a hotspot for the individual with a sweet tooth.  While the cupcakes are delicious I don’t want to wait in line when the craving hits.  Check out Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery on the Lower East Side for a cupcake that isn’t too sweet.  The bakery is decorated with a hippie flair making you feel like a time traveler.  Billy’s Bakery in Chelsea is a posh bakery with pretty cupcakes.  The frosting is delicious and is generously atop each cupcake.  Lastly is Sprinkles Cupcakes, this bakery claims to be the world’s first cupcake bakery and talk about adorable, this bakery gets me over to the East Side of Manhattan on a regular basis.

noline3Before moving on from sweet treats let’s talk about Dylan’s Candy Bar Café.  I’m not going to lie to you; Dylan’s is probably the cutest candy store I have ever seen, probably due to the fact that the owner is the daughter of fashion designer Ralph Lauren.  But the long lines and gobs of loud children keep most locals out of the store and on their way to Economy Candy.  Located on the Lower East Side Economy candy has an old fashioned charm.  The doors opened here in 1937 and offer a wide variety of classic candy and new favorites.

Looking for a great restaurant but don’t want to wait in line for an hour or more to get a table?  Check out Restaurant Row located in the theater district on West 46th Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenue.  Even the pickiest eater will find a restaurant to his or her liking and hungry travelers can do cuisine window shopping before deciding on one of the sixteen eateries.   Also remember that a hotel concierge is available to make dinner reservations for you at any restaurant and can also make great recommendations of the best places to dine.

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Hot Summer in the City

by Louise, Director of Operations

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s definitely summa-time here in NYC, and if you’re going hard on the sightseeing chances are you’re going to want a nice cold treat at some point. But you’re on vacation! You don’t want to hit up a chain you could easily patronize at home. Resist the millions of Starbucks, Haagen Daaz, and frozen yogurt shops of all ilks and indulge in some treats you can only get in New York City.

schmackarysSchmackary’s is a haven for those seeking delicious snacks before or after a Broadway show (or really anytime) – and that includes the stars of the shows themselves! Located on 45th street near 9th avenue, just on the border of Hell’s Kitchen and Times Square, Schmackary’s opened just over a year ago by a former aspiring actor from Lincoln, Nebraska. Since then, it has taken the theater district by storm with inventive and ridiculously delicious cookies. As if their cookies weren’t awesome enough on their own, they will take any two cookies and sandwich them with a scoop of ice cream for a treat you won’t soon forget. Their shakes are also pretty insane – the malted milkball shake haunts my dreams.

Blue Marble Ice Cream
Blue Marble owns and operates NYC’s only certified organic ice cream plant – located in Brooklyn. They also use locally sourced ingredients, biodegradable bowls/spoons/etc, “green” building materials for their shops, and on and on. Plus they have a partnership with a group of women in Rwanda, whom they helped to open the country’s first ice cream shop. “So,” you’re thinking, “They sound like great people but WHAT OF THE ICE CREAM?” Don’t worry. It’s freaking amazing. You should eat all of it.

Big Gay Ice Cream
biggayWhere else but New York could an ice cream truck bill itself as the “Big Gay Ice Cream Truck” and launch a successful business with two brick-and-mortar locations? Okay, San Francisco…but still! It’s a pretty New York thing. The owners of BGIC combine traditional Mister Softee-style softserve cones with a variety of toppings I can pretty much guarantee you haven’t had on ice cream before – wasabi pea dust, sriracha, curried coconut and much more. Supporting small business, enjoying an old comfort food, AND trying something new all it once? It’s almost too much awesome. BGIC has two locations now, one in the East Village and one in the West Village, serving the combos that made them famous and a variety of other treats. Make the trip!

il laboratorio del gelato
You can buy pints of this these fresh, unique gelato and sorbet flavors at several retail locations around the city, but for the full experience you should go to the storefront on Orchard Street, where you can watch the desserts being made in the open kitchen before your eyes! There are over 200 flavors (though only 48 are available at the café at a time), so bring your appetite and at least a few friends.

Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream
vanleeuwenLaunched in 2008 by some more of those crafty Brooklyn kids, Van Leeuwen produces some of the best ice cream you will ever taste, made primarily from local ingredients and supporting small producers and artisans. Everything is delectably rich and creamy while not being overly sweet and with nothing artificial. They have an unbeatable mint chocolate chip flavor that is (gasp) NOT bright green. They’re signature yellow trucks can be found around the city and they have several stores too.

I could go on and on, but you’re probably thinking you need to stop reading and go get some ice cream…so please, I implore you, when you visit NYC this summer walk past the Mister Softee and the Baskin Robbins and find a real New York ice cream shop!

Recommendations of your own? Post them in the comments!

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