Urban Oases

Curl up in an overstuffed chair and exhale into the quiet sanctity of a space dedicated to the art of reading. You make a donation to charity each time you buy something at Housing Works Used Book Café (126 Crosby Street, 212-334-3324): This bookstore gives its proceeds to a nonprofit group that offers health care, advocacy, and housing for homeless New Yorkers who are HIV-positive. No need to pack a lunch, as the café serves up coffee and snacks. Around the corner, Poets House (72 Spring Street, 212-431-7920) is tucked away in a Spring Street building. Here 40,000 books of poetry are archived, and hardwood floors, large area rugs, green glass reading lights, tall freestanding bookshelves, and comfortable couches make the "house" feel more like a cozy den than a library. Those who like to linger can quickly lose track of time in either place, browsing through rare and out-of-print titles, and relishing a respite from the steamy city streets. [winterton]

The Russian and Turkish Baths, on East 10th Street
photo: Greg Miller
The Russian and Turkish Baths, on East 10th Street

Yogis looking to add a bit of oomph to their shanties or beginners searching for inner peace should consider slipping in a little sunshine with their downward-facing dogs. At Central Park's North Meadow Recreation Center (mid-park at 97th Street, 212-348-4867, ext. 10; Sat at 11:30 and Sun at 1:30, $3 with mats) a soothing walk through the park serves as a precursor to an hour-and-a-half yoga session. On Saturdays, massive windows allow for outdoor viewing as Yoga to Help Heal instructors guide followers through various forms, while the Sunday class is great for hatha lovers. Upping the ante, Body Evolution (221 Second Avenue, 212-228-4202, $12) offers evening ashtanga and vinyasa classes on a remote, outdoor wooden deck replete with plants and shrubbery. Just stay put on your mat while laying in shavaasana to avoid splinters. [franklin]

Find secret-garden bliss in midtown at New York Plaza—adjacent to the office tower on 1166 West 46th Street and around the corner from the tasty takeouts on Little Brazil Street. It's got chirping birds, fields of white daffodils, and loads of seating. Further east you'll find perfectly quaint Paley Park, a minuscule cobblestone courtyard covered in ivy, located on 53rd Street between Fifth and Madison avenues. Meditate on the water rushing down the back wall like some passageway to another place, or grab one of the little white tables by a planter bursting with yellow tulips. If the park's full, and it's likely to be if it's lunchtime, you'll find more seating next door at the flower-filled office plaza outside 520 Madison Avenue. Or keep strolling till you get to the steel-girder entrance of luscious Greenacres Park, the mother of midtown pocket parks, on 51st Street between Second and Third avenues. The pots of pink, yellow, and purple flowers make it more fragrant than a Bloomingdale's makeup counter. The multi-tiered oasis has a delightful river running around its perimeter that leads to a giant waterfall—grab a nearby table and get splashed. [spartos]

The two most nerve-racking things about shopping? Poor selection and sticker shock. But trolling the city's sidewalks for abandoned treasures is the opposite of stressful. You don't know what you want till you find it, and then it's free, free, free! It's an exercise in serendipity, an excuse to drift through undiscovered neighborhoods, gleaning the bounty of New York like a beachcomber. For those materialistic souls who claim that the quality of discarded merchandise is inferior to that on sale, I offer for inspection these recent real-life finds during sidewalk scavenging: A cotton deep-pile carpet with a single gorgeous pop-art red rose unfolding in the center (Broadway and 9th Street); an erhu, a snakeskin-covered Chinese two-stringed instrument (6th Street and Avenue A); and one perfectly fitting pair of Barneys New York trousers in navy blue (13th and 5th streets). [kamenetz]

Recipe for the Ultimate Superbien Cheap City Date: Breezily invite a "friend," toward whom you have unchaste intentions, to meet you at Casa Adela Restaurant (66 Avenue C, 212-473-1882). Then beguilingly order up a $4 heaping plate of yellow rice with pigeon peas and beans; a $3 avocado salad; and two fresh banana batidas, $3 each. Now take your plastic picnic sack and walk four blocks to the 9th & C Community Garden (East 9th Street and Avenue C). Four balletic weep-ing willows majestically border the grounds. And the top of the chain-link fence is crowned with pinwheels fashioned from Welch's grape soda cans, and daisies with laundry detergent cap centers. There are wooden picnic tables, canopies of twinkling lights, hushed English garden nooks, and chipped ceramic angels trumpeting l'amour from clay pots. Also a stage for free live music and theater after dark—I swear to you, it is like heaven here. Hey, it worked for Victor Vargas, sort of. [rao]

Manhattan's East River bridges provide 24-hour access for pedestrians and bicyclists and the summer is super for strolling. (For updates on crossing conditions, visit Transportation Alternatives, transalt.org.) Though I dream of throwing my own birthday brunch on the wondrous and wide walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge (Manhattan entrance: Park Row and Centre Street; Brooklyn entrances: stairs to Cadman Plaza East and Prospect Street, ramp to Tillary and Adams streets), I'll settle for this summer's Williamsburg Bridge 100th Birthday Bash in Continental Army Plaza (Roebling Street and South 4th Street, Brooklyn). On June 22, a day-long festival will mark the centennial of the bridge (Manhattan entrance: Delancey Street at Clinton Street; Brooklyn entrance: Roebling and South 4th streets) with cake, walking tours, music, art, and game tournaments. [snow]

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