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Sweat the small stuff

New York is famous for its size. It’s towering skyscrapers, it’s jaw-wrecking deli sandwiches, and it’s massive population. But a city of this large can accommodate things of all sizes, large and small. And this week we focus on the some of the smallest things you can find in NYC.

Shortest Street

edgarstreet

This is Edgar Street, all 63 feet of it. It’s in the financial district and nowadays and has all the charm of a parking lot. It was named after a shipping magnate who had a mansion nearby.

Smallest Park

Septuagesimo Uno. It means Seventy-One, in Latin after the fact it is located on 71st. Street. You can find it snuggled between West End and Amsterdam Avenues. It was part of a 1960’s effort to increase parkland by converting unused lots into public space. Originally it was called the “71st Street Plot. It acquired it’s more glamorous name in 2000.

Smallest Museum

Mmuseumm, it is 60 square feet in size, barely able to handle four people at a time. The exhibit is quirky and eclectic. In their permanent collection is a bag of gummy worms, a screwdriver, and the shoe thrown at President George W. Bush during a press conference in Iraq in 2008. Can they prove it’s the actual shoe? You’ll have to take their word on it.

– Mark Gilman, Tour Guide

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Great Views

The High Line. It’s a 1.5-mile long elevated railroad track that has been turned into a public park. Great views of the sun setting over New Jersey. It’s one of the smartest things ever to happen in NYC and the City government can’t take credit for it. In the 1990’s Mayor Guiliani wanted to tear down the aging and unused elevated railroad track. However, the city was sued and the line was saved. Money was raised privately to transform the line into a public space and now is a park 1.5 miles long. Now high-end luxury housing is exploding all along its route and the city is raking in the dough. The views are stunning.

George Washington Bridge. Yes, you can walk across the George Washington Bridge, all 4,760 feet of it. It’s length posed quite a challenge, so much so that it was placed at 178th street because it was the narrowest point of the Hudson river. It’s an engineering masterpiece, whose criss-crossed steel towers are an immediately identifiable NYC landmark. What is great about walking along this bridge is to see all of Manhattan spread before you along the Hudson. Admire how the mighty towers shrink off into the distance, and watch the ships lazily go by.

High Bridge. This is the oldest Bridge in NYC. It was originally completed in 1848 and it’s walkway in 1864. It was actually built for the aqueduct system which brings in fresh drinking water from over 200 miles north of the city. It was a very popular public space until the 1970’s when it closed to the public. But after a renovation of $68 million you can enjoy gorgeous views of the Bronx River and Northern Manhattan.

– Mark Gilman, Tour Guide

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Food Trucks!

Food trucks. No longer the province of taco dealers and ice cream peddlers, the restaurant on wheels has become a major part of life in New York City. Lobster rolls, pad thai, grilled cheese, waffles, you name it, we got it. But where did this explosion of mobile culinary laboratories come from?

Thank the 2008 recession. As the value of mortgages and derivatives vanished, so did the clientele of restaurants all over country. And in a major culinary city like New York, a small army of dazzling talented and hard working chefs were left out of a job. With scant prospects and nothing to loose, the idea of re-inventing the humble food truck seemed reasonable. They are cheap to buy, cheap to run, and far simpler to manage than a three-star kitchen.

Thankfully these mobile delish dealers have become and ingrained part of life in NYC. Here are some choice cuts for you to try. All locations can be found on the links below.

Snow Day –  Beer Braised Beef sliders, Fried Smoked Pork Rib, Beet and Potato salad and everything features a little maple syrup. See, your mouth is watering already. Even better, the money goes to the non profit Drive Change which operates food trucks to employ formerly incarcerated youth. Now you have to go.

Taim – Tunisian spice falafel? Hello bliss! This celebrated 2 location restaurant decided to break out into the food truck biz and they are definitely raising the bar. Their 3 varieties of the fried chickpea ball add a new twist to the classic, and their melange of spiced veggies are a ticket to heaven.

Morris Truck – Grilled Cheese. No proper list of hip NYC eateries ignores grilled cheese. And that is all Morris Truck does. Check out their Green Machine (Fontina + Fennel Butter + Kale 2 Ways), or their Habanero Chicken (Blue Cheese + Chicken Chorizo + Habanero Hot Sauce + Pickled Celery). How can you say no to that?

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Tips for driving in New York City

As a tour guide, I often get asked about driving in New York City and the advice I always give is: NEVER EVER DRIVE IN NEW YORK CITY. Most of the streets were designed before 1812, when everyone traveled on horses, bicycles, or on the backs of their servants. For reasons beyond all comprehension this does not stop New Yorkers from driving SUVs and four-door sedans that can easily hold a month’s groceries. Also, New York drivers are aggressive as hell. Every New York driver has an imaginary woman in labor in the back seat, and they’ll be dammed if you make them wait another 90 seconds.

Know what’s worse than a New York City driver? New York City pedestrians. New Yorkers have PhD’s in jaywalking, we can mentally calculate exactly how long we have to cross the street before we get killed. It’s live-action Frogger, and we will brazenly run across the street because what are you gonna do? Hit us? We treat drivers how unruly schoolchildren treat substitute teachers: we both know you have no power, so don’t even try. Does it mater that you are trying to delicately turn into a cramped intersection? Well, my latte is getting cold and I have a presentation at work, so I’ll just walk right in front of you like it’s rush hour in Calcutta.

Your best bet is the subway. Yes, it’s cramped and smelly and you may have to squeeze yourself through a high-powered attorney and questionably hygiened photographer for a place to stand, but it’s far more humane than the alternative.

Or you can walk. Enjoy stepping in poo.

– Mark Gilman, Tour Guide

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How Times Square Got Started

It is fitting that New York’s most famous neighborhood began with a hunger for real estate development. In the first years of the 20th century, the City’s first subway line was under construction. Its owner, August Belmont, wanted a vibrant neighborhood at the center of the system, at 42nd street and Broadway to aid his venture’s success. So he went to his friend Aldolph Ochs, the owner of the New York Times with a proposition: build a new tower for the writers and printers at 42nd Street and Broadway. The building would have direct access to the station, this way his newsboys could get a jump on the competition, getting their papers to the Upper West Side of Manhattan before anyone else could. Belmont owned shares in the paper so he saw the paper and the subway as natural business allies. Ochs agreed to the idea. Belmont then pressured Mayor George McClellan Jr to change the name to Times Square, since the Time’s rival, The New York Herald and it’s own neighborhood — Herald Square.

When the subway opened on October 27th 1904, it was a massive success. So was the New York Times’ move. It had built the second tallest building in the city, boasting that it could be seen from 12 miles away. To celebrate Ochs had a New Year’s eve party in front of the building, celebrating with fireworks. Three years later the city banned the practice, they feared the new buildings in the neighborhood could catch fire. In response, the Ochs, decided to drop a ball to ring in the year 1908. The dropping of the ball has been done ever since. The original Times Building remains, now covered in billboards and an electronic news ticker. The ball still drops from there every year.

– Mark Gilman, Tour Guide

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Random NYC Questions Answered

Why is there so much garbage placed in the streets? It stinks!

So you may see bags of trash piled on the sidewalk, usually in residential neighborhoods. Here is why. New York City has no alleyways. The city is designed to be as compact as possible. Alley ways are valuable real estate that don’t earn their keep. Because of this, garbage collection happens on the street. Sorry. Yes it does stink, and no one likes it.

Why is the Statue of Liberty Green?

It was made of copper and it oxidized. Simple as that.

How many Taxi cabs are there?

13600

Why is everything so expensive?

That is a for a few reasons. Primarily the rent, especially in Manhattan, since everything is so dense, the rents are really high, and that gets passed on to the costs of all goods. However Many New Yorkers don’t drive, so we don’t have to deal with paying for that. Also there are lot of rich people here, they will pay more, so things will cost more. Some neighborhoods are cheaper than others.

People here don’t have a New York Accent, what gives?

A lot of the “New York Accents” you hear are on TV and in Film, and actors are told to use them so their characters sound more ‘authentic’. Those accents exist, but not all New Yorkers use them. Also a lot of those accents are dying out as generations are growing up watching TV and sounding more like that.

– Mark Gilman, Tour Guide

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Bits Of Old New York Here Today

New York City is 401 years old. It has survived hurricanes, fires, riots, economic upsets, and rampant urban renewal. In spite of all of that there are still vestiges of the city left from eras gone by, some large some small. Here are a few places to check out.

42nd St. Subway Station, Knickerbocker Hotel Entrance

If you ever walk towards the Times Square S train platform look to your right and you’ll see this door with the word “KNICKERBOCKER” emblazoned on the top. The door was part of the Knickerbocker Hotel which opened in 1906 almost 2 years after the NYC subway began operations. This the hotel was a masterpiece of Beaux Arts Architecture, fifteen stories tall located on the corner of Forty-Second Street and Broadway. It’s existence was proof that the subway turned this neighborhood to the new must-go destination in Manhattan. To capitalize on the subway’s ability to move people, the hotel arranged to have an entrance into the station, allowing guests to enter its underground bars and restaurants.

In spite of it’s ideal location, the hotel closed in 1920. In 2015 it officially re-opened, branding itself on the hotel’s original glamour. The door unfortunately will remain closed.

Financial District, St Paul’s Chapel

The oldest church building on Manhattan Island, and one of the oldest buildings left in the city. Built in 1766, 10 years before the American Revolution, it has remained in operation ever since. It lasted so long because it was made of stone. It survived a massive fire in the year 1776, that burned down 500 buildings. The building was also spared damage on 9/11 even though it was across the street from the disaster site. This house of worship was used by countless New Yorkers including George Washington, who worshiped there whenever he was in New York, including the year that New York City was the US capital. In his honor, the church sectioned off the pew where he used to sit.

The Lone Dirty Brick In The Grand Central Ceiling

Granted Grand Central Station itself is a historical throwback, built by the Grand Central Railroad in 1871, it’s now the destination for commuter trains that feed the city with office workers, sports fans, and tourists. It existed back when the trains were originally at street level, and lasted through a massive construction project to bury the adjacent train-yard and train tracks under park avenue. However one little anachronism is left on the ceiling of the main waiting room from the massive cleaning of the station back in the mid 1990’s. Decades of smoking left the ceiling black, and after painstaking restoration we can now see the stunning designed map of the constellations. One spot, was left untouched, to prove to future New Yorkers the extent of the dirt (and the dangers of smoking). It shows the ceiling as it was, before the renovations.

– Mark Gilman, Tour Guide

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