Little is not a word usually associated with New York City. With grand avenues, towering buildings and mammoth parks, it’s called the Big Apple for a reason.
Yet the over-the-top scale of NYC is precisely the reason why petite hidden treasures – from pocket-sized bars to intimate gardens – are such a pleasure and so worth seeking out for a moment of respite from the super-sized madness.
Here are some of the best little things to see and do in New York City:
Wander down graffiti-stained Cortland Street in Chinatown and you’ll discover the smallest museum in the city, housed inside a freight elevator. Mmuseumm is a treasure trove of curiosities and allows only three people inside at a time to see a regularly changing collection of oddities such as the shoe thrown at George W. Bush in 2008. A second branch of the museum (the size of a cupboard) recently opened on the same street and is equally quirky. Both venues are open from noon until 6pm on weekends but also have external viewing windows, so the collection is visible 24/7.
Other times, you can enjoy a special, intimate experience without spending a cent. Such is the case at Greenacre Park, a tiny green pocket located in the midst of all the action in Midtown that features its very own… wait for it… 25-foot waterfall. Located on 51stStreet, between Second and Third Avenues, this sanctuary (complete with leafy trees and a handful of tables and chairs) feels a world away from the nearby Times Square.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
With only 18 seats up for grabs, it’s not easy to get a booking at Chef’s Table. But it’s worth trying because this pint-sized restaurant (the first in Brooklyn to boast three Michelin stars) offers a memorable dining experience. Guests are seated at a bar surrounding the kitchen, so you can watch the chefs’ every move as they serve up a degustation meal of French and Japanese-inspired dishes. At more than $US300 per person for the set menu, it’s a costly option but sometimes exclusivity comes at a price.
The Whispering Gallery at Grand Central
Grand Central Terminal is one of the city’s biggest and busiest transport hubs, but venture below ground and you’ll discover a delightful little secret. The archway opposite the famous Oyster Bar has a magical acoustic ability: when two people stand next to the arches, diagonally across from each other, and whisper a message into the wall, the sound is carried all the way around to the other person. It’s popular for whispered marriage proposals and general sweet murmurs.
The Tasting Room at MilkMade
The only time it is acceptable to consume ice-cream in tiny quantities is when it’s part of a tasting flight – which is exactly what you get at Milkmade, a gourmet ice-creamery in the chic Carroll Gardens neighbourhood of Brooklyn. Roll up to their charming little “tasting room” and test out a huge selection of delicious ‘sream flavours, including the popular and irresistible Tim Tam Slam.
The Hess Triangle
Property disputes are commonplace in Manhattan – and sometimes the disagreements can turn petty, which is how the Hess Triangle came into existence. When the city government forcibly claimed a section of land in the West Village in the 1910s, the disgruntled former owners of the site realised a corner of their property, in the shape of a miniscule isosceles triangle, had been overlooked. After refusing to donate the land back to the city, the Hess family held on to what is now the smallest piece of private property in NYC and installed a mosaic plaque that is still in place today. Find it on the corner of Christopher Street and 7thAvenue, outside the Village Cigars shop (current owners of the mini-landmark).
The Naked Lady Room
Plenty of bars in New York have secret back rooms for those in the know – but none are quite so intimate as the Naked Lady Room hidden in the rear of the Bell Book & Candle gastropub in West Village. Hidden behind a fake wall, this cosy private dining room features a chandelier and saucy wallpaper (hence the name) and only fits between two and six people. Definitely one to book in advance.
Life Underground Sculptures
Generally, the best strategy is not to look too closely at small creatures spotted in the New York subway. The exception is when they have been created by sculptor Tom Otterness. The artist was commissioned by the city’s transport authority to make and install a series of more than 100 whimsical little bronze sculptures throughout the subway station at the corner of 8thAvenue and 14thStreet. Look for an alligator escaping from a manhole, a little man clutching a moneybag whilst waiting for a train and tiny subway workers sweeping up tokens.
There’s no shortage of places to get a burger in NYC. But if you are looking for something a little special, track down Burger Joint, hidden down a corridor off the foyer of the Le Parker Meridien hotel in Midtown. Marked only with a neon sign in the shape of a burger (and, often, a queue out the door) this petite eatery has a limited menu (just burgers and fries, that’s it) and only half a dozen booths, so it’s best to go at off-peak times if you want to sit down. They’ve also opened a second venue in Greenwich Village that is worth checking out.
Baby Grand karaoke bar
If the prospect of belting out songs in close quarters surrounded by a gang of strangers is a terrifying prospect for you, then Baby Grand might not be your bag. This intimate karaoke bar on the hip Lower East Side is best visited in small groups and gives punters a chance to get up and serenade the crowd. Arrive early, because it gets full quite quickly, and visit on the first Wednesday of each month for karaoke performed with a live rock band.