Category Archives: New York City

Where to Learn About the Irish in New York City

 

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Creative Commons Flickr photo / Ritchie S

 

Even being of full Irish heritage, as both a first- and third-generation Irish American, I’m embarrassed to say that I seem to forget to acknowledge St. Patrick’s Day. For shame! But in New York City, there are many reminders of the legacy of the Irish around me. Along with St. Patrick’s Day Parades and Irish pubs throughout its five boroughs, there are noted locations that can put you directly in touch with Irish culture and history – all the way up to the present day.

Here is my list of suggested places to learn more about the Irish in New York City. While most of these locations can be seen by the general public, it’s best to check their websites for hours of operation and ticket prices.

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Credit: NPS photo

Ellis Island
From 1892 to 1954, 12 million immigrants came through this immigration inspection station, arriving via boats. Did you know that the first passenger to be processed through Ellis Island was said to be Irish? Annie Moore, a young woman from County Cork, was that person was initially registered through. Part of the National Parks Service, visitors can head to Ellis Island on daily cruises and walk through its great hall that once had clerks interviewing and inspecting new arrivals. Make plans to spend time in its immigration museum and sign up in advance for a guided hardhat tour, offered through Save Ellis Island, of an area that once functioned as a hospital.

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Photo by Liz Clayman, courtesy of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
This former tenement turned museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side is a prime example of how immigrants such as the Irish settled in and built new lives in their new homeland. In fact, an Irish family once resided in this building, a former tenement at 97 Orchard Street that had housed nearly 7,000 working class immigrants. In 1869, the Moores came to live here. Their restored home inside this museum can be visited on guided tours. This tour, called “Irish Outsiders,” also delves into some of the hardships the Moore family faced. (Note: Ticketholders meet at the Visitors Center at 103 Orchard Street.)

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Credit: Merchant’s House Museum Facebook page

Merchant’s House Museum
As for finding work, the Irish took on various labor-intensive jobs, one of them being as household servants. Between what’s now the Bowery and Lafayette Street, the prominent Tredwell family owned this 19th well-preserved rowhouse on East 4th Street for nearly a century (the last member lived here until her death in 1933 at age 93). While the Tredwells are much discussed, their Irish servants also get attention. Most information known about these four female employees is from census records. However, it’s common knowledge that their hours were long and pay was low, but they definitely were instrumental in running a household. On St. Patrick’s Day 2017, the museum will host guided tours relating to these servants throughout the day, plus a candlelight version at night.

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Creative Commons Flickr photo / Ken Lund

Basilica of St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral
Most people know about St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Midtown, but its older cousin is set in NoLita. On the corner of Mott and Prince streets, this minor basilica once surrounded an improved Irish neighborhood but now caters to a multicultural congregation. During the mid-1800s, at a time when Irish Catholics faced much backlash and bigotry, the church got an outer brick wall for protection after an attempted ransacking and the threat of being burnt down. The church’s history also states that young Irish lads from the neighborhood also provided security as a militia that would become New York’s 69th Regiment (also known as the Fighting Irish). The cathedral has underground mortuary vaults and a cemetery, featuring a who’s who of prominent Catholic New Yorkers from the 16th through 18th centuries. You’ve also may have seen the church in “The Godfather” and “The Godfather Part II” movies.

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Creative Commons Flickr photo / Ana Paula Hirama

Columbus Park
The surroundings of this public park in Chinatown were once adjacent to the Five Points, a rough neighborhood slum known for its portrayal in the film version of the book, “Gangs of New York.” Conditions were so bad here, that photographer/social reformer Jacob Riis made an entire chapter about the Five Points in his book, “How the “Other Half Lives.” At one point in its history, the Five Points had an Irish population that was referred to being the largest outside of Dublin. Other ethnicities that came to live here throughout the mid-to-late 19th century included African Americans, German Jews, and Italians (who would go on establish another neighborhood, Little Italy). In the early 20th century, the area around the Five Points was consumed by a growing Chinatown. The area got some new life too, with plans to replace tenements with trees and flowers within a park setting. A developed green space called Mulberry Bend Park (what Columbus Park was once called) opened in the summer of 1897. Columbus Park got its present-day name in 1911; it’s for Christopher Columbus.

Irish neighborhoods within Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx
Irish culture in NYC goes beyond Manhattan, as past and present communities developed. So definitely put extra money on your subway card for trekking to these areas in the outer boroughs. For starters, The Bronx section of Woodlawn, nicknamed “Little Ireland,” has a hearty Irish population, with pubs like Behan’s Pub and the expansive Van Cortland Park. Queens has Rockaway Park, Woodside, and Sunnyside, and Brooklyn’s got Bay Ridge, Windsor Terrace, and Gerritsen Beach, plus Vinegar Hill has a lengthy Irish history.

Woolworth Building Lobby Tours

photo 4(18)This past Sunday, I was invited as a media guest of WoolworthTours on a tour of The Woolworth Building’s lobby area. Built in 1913, this neo-Gothic-style skyscraper in downtown Manhattan was once the office building for Frank W. Woolworth, founder and owner of the five-and-dime retail chain.

For years, workers were able to pass through the lobby of The Woolworth Building — even my WoolworthTours guide in his previous job —  but then after 9/11 the area was off limits to the general public. It wasn’t until the building’s centennial two years ago was marked with a gala where talks began about reopening the lobby to the public. The only way you’re allowed to see this area is through the tour, and, from my experience, it’s worth doing so.

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The Woolworth Tours vary by time (from 20 to 45 minutes) and the sections you’re taken too. I went on the 45-minute tour, which includes the lobby, the lower level and the mezzanine. Whatever tour you go on, you’ll hear a history lesson about not just The Woolworth building but also its namesake, Frank Woolworth.

According to my guide, The Woolworth Building is literally a monument to Woolworth’s legacy. It’s a visual reminder of his retail empire as his five and dime store spread across the nation and even overseas. Inside the building, you find the exterior as a canvas of fine craftsmanship from ceiling to stairways.

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 Considered to be the tallest building in the world at one point, this structure once contained Irving National Exchange Bank, which financed its construction; a Parisian shopping arcade (we could call it a mall now but there was no Woolworth’s in it); a health club with swimming pool; and a medieval beer house known as a rathskeller that catered to the building’s tenants.

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Today, its occupants on the lower floors include NYU’s global affairs center, a technology firm and a travel agency. There’s also a chance that the building will hold residents in the future, as an investment group that has purchased the top 30 floors plan to convert the space into luxury apartments and covert the penthouse into a five-level living space.

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You’ll be pointed to embellishments with Ws along with other markings that show the building’s stance as a center of commerce. And, of course, Woolworth’s own character is reflected here. For example, about a dozen or so gargoyles are placed around the interior but they’re not of the usual creatures. Instead, they resemble Woolworth and other key figures involved in the building’s construction. As just as important as Woolworth, architect Cass Gilbert designed the building and he is shown holding with his creation.

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I recommend going on the 45-minute tour as you also get to see the vault of the Irving Bank, which keeps some old safety deposit boxes. There are also neat murals on different period of Colonial New York in this area as well. So definitely see this landmark!

On Location Tours Unveils Romantic Movie Moments Tour

cafe-lalo-webresIf you’re a big fan of romantic movies or you really “heart” NYC like I do, here’s some news that might make you swoon. Since the Big Apple has provided the scenery for many memorable tearjerkers and rom-coms, On Location Tours has launched its “Romantic Movie Moments Tour” that takes you en route to famous Manhattan sites featured on the big screen.

Led by a local actor, this tour goes to sites such as the bookstore where Billy Crystal spots Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally”; the venue where Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw almost marries Chris Noth’s Mr. Big in the film series of “Sex and the City”; and the cafe where John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale share a frozen hot chocolate in “Serenity.”

Without giving too many scenes away, other film spots featured include ones in “Sweet Home Alabama,” “You’ve Got Mail,” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

The tour departs Saturday and Sunday afternoons throughout February at 3 p.m.

Tips for Your First Stay at a Hostel

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The site of my first hostel stay: Hostelling Interational-New York City

Up until last month, I had never stayed in a hostel. There’s no real reason why I didn’t; perhaps I just didn’t considered using them. Yet as I start to do more solo travel, and realize that my budget needs to better adjust to this fact, I figured it would be interesting to see what a hostel stay is like.

In brushing stereotypes and horror stories aside, hostels primarily have a good reputation as being a safe and affordable option for accommodations. They also attract more travelers from different age groups and backgrounds. Recently, for a work assignment, I spent a weekend at Hostelling International-New York City, the Manhattan location for Hostelling International, a worldwide organization.

Overall, my first experience went well, and I wanted to use it to share some first-time tips for staying in a hostel with other newbies.

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The room I stayed in at Hostelling International-New York City.

 

Here they are:

  • Of course, do your research. Just like with looking up hotels online, there are a number of websites on hostels complete with pictures, personal reviews and rankings (definitely pay attention to comments on amenities and cleanliness). Search engines such as hostels.com, hostelbookers.com or hostelworld.com provide lists on hostels in your destination. Hostelling International also is a good source, as their brand has hostels in just about every country and throughout the U.S. Another plus with all of these sites is that you can obtain the address of your potential hostel and be able to Google Map it to get specific directions.
  • Weigh what you’re comfortable with. Especially as a woman, I think it’s important to really make sure you’re comfortable with your choice of setup in the hostel you’re heading too — way before you go. Hostels have a number of room options, varying in cost, occupancy and availability (plus an upfront deposit can be required). There can be a private room/with bath but it will cost more than let’s say a shared room with other women. “Shared” can number out to four to a room, perhaps even more than at. In some cases, you could choose to stay in a co-ed shared room. It’s up to you. At Hostelling International-New York City, I was assigned to a room set up for four people. My bed was one of the top bunks.
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The showers at Hostelling International-New York City

  • Bring comforts and essentials. Most hostels will provide lockers or offer additional space for rent. Locks can cost extra. I brought a travel combination lock with me and my suitcase was small enough to be squeezed into my given locker. Bedding is supplied, and often towels are as well (I brought one along just in case). I would recommend bringing along flip flops, just in case, as you can wear them in the shower as well as go back and forth from your room. Earplugs are helpful to block out noises and late-night arrivals. Bring small bills, too, to cover any popup or not-covered expenses from laundry machines to a mid-afternoon coffee.
  • Get secure. As with using lockers, don’t get too casual with your stuff. Travelers often go in and out of hostels as they please, and particularly the rooms they sleep in, so it’s best not to leave your phone or other electronics and valuables lying around in the open. (I had a bottle of water I bought and put on the side of my room taken, but still, it was MINE). With building security, a hostel should have knowledgeable staff that can give you directions and might also be able to book transportation to and from the airport. When I stayed at HI-NY, my keycard doubled for both getting into my room and past the check-in area.
  • Be sociable. Hostels often have communal hangout areas like lounges and café seating areas to relax in or make small talk with other guests. At HI-NY, breakfast was included in the cost of my stay, so during my morning meal I got to chat more with one of my roommates, a Canadian, as well as two girls from England and Fiji, respectively. Check to see if the hostel organizes group outings too. HI-NY has guided excursions such as bar crawls or borough tours. I was there on Halloween night, so I signed up for a group outing to go watch the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.
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A lounge at a hostel is a good place to relax or chat with fellow guests.

Staying in a hostel could feel like reliving your college dorm days. Yet, it’s a place to meet new people or even get some different tips on what’s in your destination. If you’re still going solo, your hostel is a good base to head back to, especially if you need help.

Editor’s Note: As part of my assignment, I was comped for my stay at Hostelling International-New York City.

Tauck and Ken Burns Explore the Roosevelts in NYC

Ken Burns head shot (credit Univ. of TX - Arlington)

Credit: The University of Texas at Arlington

If you’re a fan of Ken Burns, and faithfully tuned in to The Roosevelts: An Intimate History, here is a bit of travel news to consider. The filmmaker has an ongoing partnership with Tauck, a tourism company, and together they’ve created another chapter on the presidential family: seeing New York City in the way that Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor knew it.

Set for October 1- 5, 2015, the Tauck-Burns New York City event will take attendees around the Big Apple, where all three prominent Roosevelts once lived. It will also highlight Burns’ other New York inspired films such as his documentary on the Brooklyn Bridge.

This one-time only event will feature an appearance by Burns at Lincoln Center’s New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. He will give a presentation featuring clips from his documentaries along with his longtime collaborator, Geoffrey C. Ward, who co-wrote the companion book to the Roosevelts film with Burns.

Attendees will also go on an in-depth tour of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelts’ home on East 65th Street. This townhouse was a wedding gift from FDR’s mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, who then moved into the home with the newlyweds. Many of FDR’s famous “fireside chats” happened here as well.

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Photo Credit: Roosevelt House on East 65th Street

New York City has been a focal point in several of Burns’ documentaries, from his very first PBS film Brooklyn Bridge to The Statue of Liberty, The Central Park Five and Prohibition.  The Tauck New York City Event will also delve into many facets of NYC’s history and culture through themed daily sightseeing “tracks.” They include:

– “New York’s First Families: The Gilded Age,” exploring uptown Manhattan and residents of that era including the Roosevelts, Carnegies, Astors and Fricks.

– “Land of Opportunity,” heading downtown to examine the experiences of newly-arrived immigrants during an exclusive tour of the Tenement Museum. This track also examines the other side of the coin by chronicling the exploits of Wall Street titans.

– “New York Innovation,”  focuses on midtown Manhattan locations and the people who shaped the city’s past and influence it today.

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Photo credit: The Tenement Museum

The Tauck New York City Event starts at $6,990 per person, including accommodations, gratuities and most meals. Budget conscious travelers could also do a self-guided tour of most of these NYC icons. Note: The Roosevelts’ home on East 65th Street now is owned by Hunter College, so double check on its visitor policy before going there. The public can also walk by and go inside Teddy Roosevelt’s birthplace (a replica) at East 20th Street. I also highly recommend visiting the Tenement Museum. Tickets are required and it’s best to get them in advance.

Get Adventurous in Urban NYC with OutdoorFest

If the thought of exploring the great outdoors in New York City involves a lot of head shaking, Sarah Knapp will be quick to change your mind. She’s the organizer of OutdoorFest, a 10-day outdoor/adventure festival (May 30-June 8) happening across all five boroughs.

offmetrobanner4Using local resources to offering everything from hiking excursions and yoga classes, to sailing and surfing lessons, and even community service projects, OutdoorFest’s schedule of curated events cater to different activity levels and personal interests. Knapp recently shared with me what went into putting on this event and what she hopes New Yorkers get out of it.

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OutdoorFest Founder Sarah Knapp -Credit: Larson Harley


Tell me how and why OutdoorFest got started.

OutdoorFest began in October 2013 when I left my job at an outdoor guiding company. I knew that the idea of an outdoor festival within a city was something that had enormous potential and was something that not only I needed, but many other New Yorkers I had met along the way as well.

How will this event change perceptions about having to leave NYC to enjoy the great outdoors?

One of our goals at OutdoorFest is to change the way we view our lives as city dwellers. Yes, part of New York’s identity is the “concrete jungle” but that doesn’t mean we can’t find hidden gems, that we can’t continue to pursue our passions in an urban environment, and that we can’t connect with people who do the same.

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Where there any places within NYC that you were surprised to learn about? 

I always knew about surfing in the Rockaways but I never knew about the vibrant surf community out there. It’s really an incredible, supportive network for local outdoor athletes.

Are these various activities suitable for different levels?

They are definitely for different levels – which is actually one of my favorite parts of the outdoor community. OutdoorFest will be accessible to die hard enthusiasts as well as newbies looking to dip their toes in the water for the first time.

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Offhand, I wouldn’t think of NYC having an outdoor community. What is this community like? And, of course, what would they get from participating in OutdoorFest?

New York’s outdoor community is definitely still growing – and I hope that OutdoorFest can provide support as well as inspiration for that year round. The community now is very much centered around niche sports – climbing, caving, running, surfing and on. I think the assumptions are that outdoor enthusiasts don’t live here when in fact they very much do. I think the contrasts that you find in New York’s community are fascinating: doctors, artists, and attorneys who also double as cyclists, paddlers and more.

OutdoorFest provides the structure to connect people to the local resources – that means both organizations and people. For both amateur and more experienced outdoor athletes this means new people to explore with, new places to go, and more organizations that support/share their passions.

Registration for OutdoorFest events is now under way. See a full schedule and sign up at www.outdoorfest.org. Spaces can fill up quickly.

Taking a Walk in Midtown with Walks of New York

Taking a walking guided tour can be one of the best ways to learn more about a destination. In New York City, one of the newest tour companies is Walks of New York. Recently, I went on a media-only preview of their “Highlights of New York Tour” through major iconic sites in New York City’s Midtown area.

Launched in late April, Walks of New York hosts small, customized tours that center on the city’s cultural marvels. It’s ideal for visitors interested in NYC history and architecture as well as those who enjoy art and photography (more on that later on).

Walks of New York’s “Highlights of New York Tour” takes you along the most well-trafficked sections of Midtown: from Rockefeller Center to Grand Center and then ending in Times Square. Meeting our guide at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, my group walked across Fifth Avenue to spend some time around Rockefeller Center to get a closer look at the first of the many signature Art Deco statues and buildings featured on this tour.

DSCN2643 copy DSCN2641We began our tour with a stop at Atlas, a bronze sculpture installed in 1937 that got a lot of flack because of its resemblance of a world leader at that time. The building behind him was once said to house a covert spy organization set up by the British Secret Intelligence Service in the early 1940s.

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Of course, we spent a good amount of time in Rockefeller Center, a commercial building complex which gets its name from the late John D. Rockefeller Jr. On the site, he was originally going to build an opera house for the Metropolitan Opera but the Crash of 1929 put a major dent in his plans. So he decided go ahead and build this complex – and financed the project entirely with his own money.

DSCN2658DSCN2662We moved along to Grand Central Terminal, another key stop on the tour that often gets passed through. We heard information on everything about this place, from its celestial ceiling to its unique floor plan to handle heavy commuter traffic. Plus, those who haven’t seen the lower level of the terminal will be led down to see and try out a section known as the  “Whispering Gallery.”

DSCN2689 DSCN2684 DSCN2683As our media tour was an abridged one – due to our schedules and our knowledge of New York City – this Walks of New York Midtown tour also takes attendees along Fifth Avenue to the great New York Public Library and its neighboring Bryant Park.

The tour ends in Times Square with a great rooftop view over this vicinity at a great chic hotel. It makes for great photo taking too, like my picture below.

photo(111)Other tours offered by Walks of New York include “Highlights of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” “New York City Photography Tour of the High Line,” and “Lower East Side Stories.” Check them out! Take walks!