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Meet 42nd Street

Each district of New York flaunts some aspect of the city’s character. Farther south, in the East and West Village and near Union Square, the environs were more residential, replete with trendy bars and restaurants, boutiques, little diagonal streets and just a touch of the past. 42nd Street, a major milestone for the Sideways team, in the heart of midtown, adds an entirely different dimension to this great city in both its powerhouse architectural structures – be it contemporary or one hundred years strong – and the singular excellence of the theater district.

When walking between First and Second Avenue, on either side of 42nd, there are grand staircases that lead to Tudor City with its tranquil parks, playgrounds, and a splendid view of the East River and the United Nations. A vast sea of distinguished high-rise office buildings made me aware of what great things we are capable of creating. On a short stretch, there is the impressive Ford Foundation, known as “the Center for Social Change,” where guests are invited to meander through an atrium filled with green foliage. The Pfizer World Headquarters, making major global health decisions, and across the street, the Simon Wiesenthal Center – Museum of Tolerance focuses on Holocaust remembrance in an effort to increase tolerance and understanding in the world today. Nearby, The News Building, former home of America’s first major tabloid newspaper The Daily News, juts skyward majestically. The gigantic globe in the lobby is iconic from its star turn as Clark Kent’s place of work at The Daily Planet.

Next up is the opulent event space of Cipriani, converted from the former Bowery Savings Bank, and the 1950s Mobil building exuding industrial stainless steel chic and recently purchased for $900 million. Across the street is the iconic art-deco Chrysler Building, a fixture of the skyline and one of the most recognizable landmarks in Manhattan. A New York center of gravity, Grand Central Terminal not only delivers thousands of commuters to and fro on a daily basis, but is one of the true treasures of our city, and its historic splendor enshrined with National Historic  Landmark status. Past the Terminal, I entered both Barclay Rex and Nat Sherman, two old tobacconists hell-bent on selling quality cigars and pipes while cultivating good vibes. Barclay-Rex was perhaps more intimate, Nat Sherman more avuncular GQ, but both were incredibly fun stops along our journey. Always causing me to pause, the sublime New York Public Library has a side street entrance between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, with the glorious Bryant Park situated right behind it.

And then there is the Theater District. For over one hundred years, many of these venues have been delighting audiences with a variety of productions. An early twentieth century heyday in the area gave way to a general decline over the course of the 1900s, and several theaters turned burlesque or cinematic. Drugs and prostitution both reared their ugly heads. In the early 1990s, however, the city took over a group of the theaters in a revitalization effort, putting them under the charge of the New 42nd Street organization, renovating and getting them back on their feet. Today, Broadway theaters wow audiences every day of the week, and the district is booming once again. Sprinkled throughout these blocks, the theaters have been joined by such tourist attractions as Madame Tussauds and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, all of which adds to the kitschy grandeur.

A bit farther west from many of the theaters, but still in the heart of the district, is an exceptional restaurant that has been thriving on 42nd since 1986. Chez Josephine, so named for American expat Josephine Baker, the adoptive mother of the owner, has been a favorite of mine for years. And, what better way to end a day on 42nd than by going bowling at Lucky Strike on the corner of Twelfth Avenue or crossing the highway and taking a tour of New York, by boat, on the Circle Line.

42nd is filled with enthralling surprises – the people, the history, the architecture, the library, the theaters – so much is happening at absolutely any hour of the day. While walking this vast street, I continuously allowed myself a moment to simply stand and observe the thousands of tourists flocking to the United Nations on the east side, and farther west, the chain stores, restaurants, shows and so much more. Initially, it can feel overwhelming, but as I tell our Manhattan Sideways team, “just stop, breathe and absorb.” People the world over are passing by in so many different directions, and to witness them, as they, too, are taking in this captivating city, is nothing short of miraculous.

Read more about every place on 42nd Street!