NEW YORK CITY – For many Capital DIstrict residents, New York City remains a popular holiday destination for adults and children. The intrepid and curious can venture beyond Times Square after the New Year’s Eve ball drops and experience the splendors of New York City’s lesser known museums and art attractions, which don’t require standing outside in the freezing cold and offer even more reasons to take the trip to “The City” this time of year. In no particular order, be sure to check out:
Art in the Subway, Second Avenue
Get there by the Second Avenue Subway, the city’s newest subway and part of the Q line. Art exhibits appear right on its 72nd, 86th, and 96th street station platforms. For the cost of a single subway fare ($2.90), riders can behold the artistry of Vik Muniz, Chuck Close and Sara Sze, simply by traveling on a subway car from one station to the other. The art is commissioned by MTA Arts & Design. Muniz, a Brazilian artist, portrays photographs of people one might see on the subway recreated in mosaics. Close’s art breaks down faces. He also has works in the National Portrait Gallery and the Whitney. Sze creates a sense of movement across a wall of murals.
NYC Barbershop Museum, 405 East 70th Street
Admission to this museum is free. Arthur Rubinoff, a fourth-generation barber who immigrated here in the 1980s from Uzbekistan, will provide a tour and/or a shave and a haircut at his barber shop museum. The shop, stuffed with barber artifacts coming from all over the world, include six working antique barber chairs. The 55 other barber chairs in Rubinoff’s collection are rotated into the shop periodically. Rubinoff’s favorite chair, which he calls “my baby” is an 1898 prototype that is one of a kind and is worth thousands of dollars. He said the artifacts often just “come to me.”
“If you want something in life, it comes to you if you are passionate about it and truly believe in it,“ said Rubinoff.
His passion was evident as he talked about the chairs and several working barber poles that adorn his shop and described many of its antique barber tools. He pointed out that only modern barber tools are used for the barber services the shop provides. The tour, which is given to school groups and individuals, is free. He said he usually gives tours to up to about 20 people each day. Patrons only pay for barber services, which come in three package levels.
“The tour is free, but if they want a haircut, I’ll do that too, with pleasure,” he said.
The important thing, he said, is “I want to give this to many generations to come because barbering is not just a vocation, it’s an art and without the past we will not have a a future so I am surrounded by antiques.”
The Museum of Interesting Things, 60 East 8th Street
This museum’s name says it all. Created by Denny Daniel, a soft spoken, passionate filmmaker who decided he wanted to do something “that means more in life,” the museum grew from a personal collection of historical artifacts. Now a collection of more than 1,000 items that have been acquired or are sent to him unsolicited, these artifacts relate to topics such as photography, music, invention and medicine. Daniel’s favorite items include an Edison Record player and a mutoscope. He keeps looking for a suffragette sash. Daniel uses his collection to teach history.
“The only thing you leave behind in life are the people you teach, you inspire,” he said. “And this tour does that by combining the energy, curiosity and love of the maker of the item, of the people who owned it and us.”
While he takes his tour to outside groups, such as schools — K-12 and colleges —and senior venues, his home tours are also popular. And these are literally “home” tours that take place in his one-bedroom 8th Street apartment. The living area is stocked with hundreds of items Daniel uses during home tours so individuals and small groups “can experience history first hand.” Tours are held by appointment only (contact [email protected] or call 212-274-8757), with sometimes several tours given in a day. Depending on the requested tour topic, which may be invention, toys, math, medicine, music, literature, photography or household management, he curates items for the discussion. At the end of each tour, an “unboxing” takes place in which the tour attendees get to open an item that is new to the collection and that Daniel himself has not previously viewed. Daniel won’t talk about the value of his artifacts because “that becomes consumerism instead of knowledge, and this is supposed to be about knowledge. … People take away such happiness, positivity and curiosity from the tour.“
The Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, 615 West 129th Street, 6th Floor
The gallery is free to visit and open to the public Wednesdays-Sundays, from noon-6 p.m. Open since 1986, the gallery houses rotating exhibits in an open airy space, focusing on contemporary artists who are part of the Columbia campus and communities. Sketching is permitted, but no easels or oil paints. After taking in the art, wander down Broadway to 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue to the Hungarian Pastry Shop for the best apple strudel in the City. And bring any leftovers along on a visit up the street to 600 W. 114th Street’s Rat Rock, a huge 30-foot schist boulder straddling between two apartment buildings. Visitors to Rat Rock can watch the city’s notorious wildlife peeking in and out among the schist.
McSorley’s Old Ale House, 15 E. 7th Street
At the end of a long day of museum trekking, cool down with a cold brew from McSorley’s Old Ale House. McSorley’s, a New York landmark since 1854, which only began admitting women in 1970, is famous for offering but two kinds of beer — light and dark. Ask bartender Shane Buggy, who has tended bar there for 15 years, which beer to get, he will answer, “both.” While McSorley’s beer is renowned, its status as a museum is less obvious. Walking into the establishment and up to the bar, a fixture hangs directly overhead. Twenty-four wishbones covered in a thick, opaque layer of dust crowds the fixture’s backbone. These wishbones have collected that dust since 1917, when a cadre of young McSorley’s regulars went off to fight in World War I from the fighting Irish 69th Infantry. To send the boys off “into hell,” recounted Buggy, McSorley’s “fixed them up” with one last hot meal. At the end of the meal, each soldier hung his dinner’s wishbone from the ceiling fixture for luck with the idea that when he returned from war, he would take back his wishbone. Many did, but 24 remain unclaimed.
The New York Transit Museum, 2 Broadway, Brooklyn
This museum, just a block away from Brooklyn’s ornate Borough Hall, tells the story of New York City’s public transit system for history buffs, train enthusiasts and families alike. Walk down the steps of an old, decommissioned subway station into the museum’s lobby and step into history itself. The museum includes exhibits about the city’s subway system, covering how it was built, who built it and the sacrifices that came with its building. Visitors can also walk through actual subway cars from different eras in the system’s history. A children’s area with interactive exhibits provides an extra treat for families.
The National Museum of Mathematics, 11 East 26th Street
Math is hard. Not at the National Museum of Mathematics, which strives to expand math knowledge for every age group and math level and, according to Executive Director and CEO Cindy Lawrence, even those who hate math. The museum began as a traveling exhibit and was so popular that a permanent site was created in Manhattan 11 years ago. Before the pandemic, it saw 160,000 visitors annually and is working to return to that level, said Lawrence. Visited by both kids and math theorists, the museum prides itself on showing how math is relevant in everyday life, such as in shapes, video games and design. Lawrence said the museum is the only place in North America where you can ride a bicycle with square wheels, dance on an ever changing Moroni pattern, turn yourself into a human fractal and use math to create “amazing” three-dimensional sculptures. The museum gets children engaged with math by presenting these interactive exhibits. Its exhibits constantly evolve, and visitors can learn something new every day.
The Museum of Sex, 235 5th Avenue
The Museum of Sex, AKA MoSex, hosts exhibits dedicated to the history, evolution and cultural significance of human sexuality across a variety of sexual orientations and subcultures. Its mission is to encourage open discussion of these issues. Current exhibits include “Radical Perverts — Activism in Queer Public Space” and “Erotic Content and the Mainstream 1960-today.” After touring the exhibits, museum goers can visit the ample gift shop that includes sundry museum related items for purchase. Visitors must be 18 or older and have a valid ID.
The AKC Museum of the Dog, 101 Park Ave.
Enter Museum of the Dog, open since 1983, and be greeted by an exhibit featuring photographs by four contemporary photographers celebrating the unique instincts of dogs. The museum, dedicated to interpreting and celebrating the role of dogs in society, also educates people about the human-dog bond. It welcomes people of all ages and “everyone who loves dogs,” said Curator Alan Fausel, who has his own two dogs — a Welsh Springer and an English Cocker. About 40,000 people visit annually. Visitors can browse through its 1,700 piece collection of rotating exhibits and its temporary exhibits, currently including “Dogs In Fashion,” which explores how certain dog breeds move in and out of fashion. The museum also features one-of-a-kind interactive exhibits on puppy training, finding your dog doppelganger, and meeting the breeds with information on trainability, energy level and temperament. For more serious research, the museum contains a library boasting 4,000 dog-related volumes on its shelves, with 10,000 more in its archives The library contains books on every dog breed, which are available for public use to learn about a particular breed or to get information for class projects. Fausel said visitors are also welcome to join in on “Furry Fridays,” an after-hours twice/month event limited to 20 dogs, their owners and anyone who wants to come join the fun of meeting and playing with our furry friends.
Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace Museum, 28 East 20th Street
Spend an hour on tour with a U.S. park ranger to hear history and anecdotes about our 26th president’s boyhood home and its famous occupant. Admission is free. Although the museum receives between 20,000-25,000 visitors annually, it is only 100 feet by 25 feet, with four floors and three rooms on each floor. Fun fact: The charter for the American Museum of Natural History was signed in the house’s parlor room because Roosevelt’s father was a supporter and nature advocate, which clearly impressed his son, Teddy. Park Ranger and tour guide Joe Kurber made no excuses for his favoritism.
“He was one of our top presidents in the history of the United States,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you come here to visit?”
Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street
Admission here is free. Since its founding in 1980, MoCA has celebrated the history, culture and heritage of Chinese Americans. Designed on the inside by Maya Lin, the architect who designed the Vietnam war memorial in Washington, D.C., its simple exterior belies the power of the exhibits and physical space inside.
“It is an important story to tell,” said Interim Executive Director Nina Curley. “The story of Chinese Americans coming to America has not been incorporated in the same way as other immigrant groups. … The impact and contribution of this important immigrant group is significant, broad-based and the impact of those contributions need to be part of our awareness.”
That story, as told there, balances the victimization of discrimination with a contribution narrative, according to Curley. She said MoCA’s visitors include school groups, tourists, New Yorkers who are “culturally curious” and people visiting from China interested in the Chinese diaspora in America. With 30,000 visitors annually, MoCA serves as a “hybrid” museum/community center by responding to issues of the moment and providing a variety of programs, including musical performances, story hours and author talks.
“We try to be an oasis to make sure there is humanity and honor in telling this story, and if we can dispel some stereotypes in telling that story, even better,” said Curley. “We hope you’ll come see us. We are a very welcoming and open place and you can stay as long as you like and we hope you learn something and feel welcome.”
This story was featured on page 1 of the January 3rd , 2024 print edition of the Spot