New York City Walking Tour: Columbus Circle
Take a spin around Manhattan’s only traffic circle to take in great museum, shops, and restaurants—all nearby.
Occupying a trapezoidal island diagonally across from Central Park, the 12-story, white-marble building by Edward Durrell Stone stood for close to half a century at 2 Columbus Circle, near the geographic center of Manhattan; but around it lay a cultural wasteland. Today, it is the new home of the Museum of Arts and Design (also known as MAD) which, with the Time Warner Center and a revitalized Central Park, completes the rebirth of Columbus Circle as a major destination.
Museum of Arts and Design
Occupying a trapezoidal island diagonally across from Central Park, the 12-story, white-marble building by Edward Durrell Stone stood for close to half a century at 2 Columbus Circle, near the geographic center of Manhattan. In a controversial redesign, Brad Cloepfil, founder of Allied Works Architecture, based in Portland, Oregon, has remade the building from top to bottom. He preserved its quirky, curving shape, restored its auditorium, and kept its signature ground-floor arcade of lollipop-shaped arches, enclosing them in glass. (They now offer street views into the lobby and the museum’s gift shop, which sells mostly one-of-a-kind, artisan-produced objects.) But he also removed 300 tons of concrete from the structure, sheathing its exterior in iridescent ceramic tile and perforating it with strategic cuts that flood the once-windowless galleries with natural light. Art, craft, and design also rub shoulders in the third-floor display dedicated to the permanent collection, which benefits from its own gallery for the first time in the museum’s history. Take just the ceramics, for example. The works on view range from a large blue-green bowl made in 1946 by Viennese exiles and West Coast husband-and-wife potters Gertrud and Otto Natzler, whose signature crater glaze gives it the appearance of some volcanic artifact; to contemporary avant-gardist Eva Hild’s undulating abstractions in stoneware. There are pieces by fine artists—dabblers in the medium such as Cindy Sherman, whose image, disguised as Madame de Pompadour, appears on a Nymphenburg porcelain soup tureen—and lifelong potters like Betty Woodman, whose classically puffy Pillow Pitcher seems endowed with a quirky, Etruscan grace. Just below, in the jewelry gallery (among the first of its kind in this country), the works of 1940’s Greenwich Village bohemians like Sam Kramer—a silver bird pendant, for example, set with a taxidermied eye and betraying the twin influences of biomorphism and surrealism—share space with a distinguished collection of ethnographic jewels and pieces by contemporary conceptualists such as Otto Künzli, whose ironic commentary on our fixation with precious metals takes the form of a gold bracelet entirely encased in black rubber.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill
A sushi place? For fried chicken? Wince all you like, but once you try the wildly eclectic twist on this southern delicacy, you’ll see. First, the chicken is dredged in a daring invention of matzoh meal, flour, paprika, togarashi peppers, cayenne, and sea salt. Second, chefs bed the fried glory atop shredded cabbage with a wasabi-honey dipping sauce on the side. Third, when devoured, a state of blissful confusion sets in: am I in a Tokyo brasserie or central Kentucky? The Midas touch of brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg strikes again on Columbus Circle.
Located a block west of Central Park, Lincoln Center spans over 16 acres and is home to a dozen performing arts organizations, among them the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and New York City Ballet. All together the complex features 29 separate performance venues, where the 12 institutions present thousands of performances, programs, and events each year. Guided tours of the campus begin in the David Rubenstein Atrium and include visits to the Metropolitan Opera House, Avery Fisher Hall, David H. Koch Theater, Vivian Beaumont Theater, and Alice Tully Hall.
Boulud brings his bistro classics to New York's Lincoln Center neighborhood. The vaulted space is designed with clever riffs on the wine-making theme: floors of rough-hewn farmhouse stone, booths fashioned from the same white oak used to make wine barrels, and a backlit wall of gravel recalling the terroirs of Burgundy and the Rhône. Boulud has called upon Parisian charcutier Gilles Verot, a third generation butcher whose two Left Bank shops are the stuff of foodie lengend. The result? Silky terrines, peppery saucissons, and sumptuous fromage de tête (head cheese). Grab one of the two dozen stools surrounding the spotlit charcuterie bar or take over the private table for wine tastings.
Jazz at Lincoln Center
The standout success within the controversial Time Warner Center Mall is the slick Jazz at Lincoln Center venue, largely thanks to artistic director Wynton Marsalis's far-reaching connections. Rafael Viñoly's design just adds to the hipness quotient. Its three separate performance spaces include the 1,200-seat Rose Theater and the 480-seat Allen Room, which both draw headlining acts. Pick of them all, though, is the tiny, jazz-joint-style Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, with its speakeasy atmosphere, gorgeous views across Central Park, and space for just 140 guests. You might catch the Ryan Cohan Quartet, the Eliane Elias Trio, or Exegesis on the bill (as well as fried chicken, catfish po'boys, and bananas Foster bread pudding on the menu). Cover prices at Dizzy's range from $20 to $35, plus a $10 table minimum and a $5 bar minimum.
With a faux fur–clad lobby, Jetsons-style leather chairs, and mod prints by photographer Guy Bourdin, 6 Columbus presents an opportunity to revel in 1960’s nostalgia. The hotel’s 88 rooms—designed by Steven Sclaroff, the man behind the look of the Kate Spade stores—have Eames bedside lamps, groovy backlit circular mirrors in navy-tiled bathrooms, custom linen–dressed beds, and lots of teak paneling. An outpost of downtown’s perennially packed Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill, off the lobby, is a popular spot where you may find yourself sipping saketinis beside media moguls from the neighboring Time Warner Center.
Mandarin Oriental, New York
Located in the Upper West Side and, more importantly, on the top floor of the Museum of Arts and Design, Robert (named for famed party planner Robert Isabell) is predictably posh and trendy. The interior sports a variety of lighting and video art installations, along with sleek surfaces that reflect the yellow walls and bright cushioned furniture, but the true show-stopper at Robert is the view. Sweeping views of Columbus Circle, Broadway, and Central Park delight patrons as they dine on the house specialty (a hearty, Tuscan vegetable soup) and sip Prosecco and elderflower cocktails.