Close-Up on Times Square

Having just celebrated its 100th birthday, Times Square would appear poised to settle into the dull senescence of any toothless geriatric. But despite the inescapable chain stores, the relentless gentrification, and such kiddie fare as The Lion King, labeling Times Square dull would be like calling Keith Richards a quiet old man—it's just not true. As James Traub writes in his new history of Times Square, The Devil's Playground, "Times Square was, from the beginning, a 'theatrical' environment—a place that not only had theatres but was a theatre."

Those dramatic origins started in 1895, when Oscar Hammerstein opened the Olympia Theatre. It wasn't long before Longacre Square, as it was then known, became a garish playground for New York's dissolute masses. On April 8, 1904, Mayor George McClellan renamed the area Times Square, in honor of The New York Times' new headquarters. But even the stolid presence of the Gray Lady couldn't keep the place down, and for the next 90-odd years, Times Square was known for little more than the consumption of alcohol and the contraction of venereal disease. Enter Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his corporate clean up crew.

By the end of Giuliani's first term, Times Square had become Disney-fied and sterilized: The newly family-friendly Times Square offered something for everyone. Today, screeching teens from Jersey throng outside MTV Studios, skirling toddlers on sugar highs crowd Toys R' Us, and everywhere in between is rendered impassable by gawking tourists. Despite all appearances, people do work in Times Square - Ernst & Young, Reuters, Condé Nast, and countless others all have their headquarters here. And in the unlikely event you're ever tempted to enlist, the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting Station can be found dead center in Times Square.

Times Square: often crowded, rarely dull.
photo: Holly Northrop www.hnorthrop.com
Times Square: often crowded, rarely dull.

Boundaries: Times Square is defined by the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue at 45th Street. However, the neighborhood itself runs from West 40th Street to West 53rd Street, west from Sixth Avenue to both sides of Eighth Avenue.

Transportation: Truly, all roads, subways and buses lead to Times Square. The Port Authority Bus Terminal serves New Jersey commuters. The B, D, F, and V; the N, R, Q, and W; 1, 2, 3, and 9; and the 7 lines will all bring you within spitting distance of Times Square.

Average Price to Rent: According to Pierre Fraiture, a broker with Douglas Elliman, a one-bedroom apartment in the Times Square area rents for up to $2,500 per month; a two-bedroom, up to $3,500; a three-bedroom, up to $4,200

Average Price to Buy: A one-bedroom, up to $700,000; two-bedroom, up to $1 million; three-bedroom, up to $1.8 million

Museums, Galleries: With over 40 legit theaters, the NBC's Jumbotron and 10 movie theaters, who needs museums? The only "museum" to speak of is Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum (234 West 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues), which includes a thoroughly bootylicious and interactive wax J.Lo.

Green Spaces: You're not going to find much green in Times Square itself, but Bryant Park is only a few blocks away, located between 40th and 42nd streets on Sixth Avenue.

Best Restaurants: It should go without saying that Times Square's Applebees, California Pizza Kitchen, et al., are to be avoided. Above (234 West 42nd Street), Larry Forgione's new restaurant, serves spectacular views of Times Square and contemporary American cuisine. Frankie & Johnnie's Steakhouse (269 West 45th Street) is an old Broadway staple offering truly Runyon-esque atmosphere. The Edison Coffee Shop at the Edison Hotel (228 West 47th Street) is known as the "Polish Tea Room"—it serves classic deli food. And Restaurant Row (West 46th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues) offers an endless array of options. Among the best are Firebird Russian (365 West 46th Street) and Becco (335 West 46th Street).

Bars/Clubs: Unless ESPN Zone (1472 Broadway) is your idea of a good time, you might have better luck traipsing west and finding a bar in Hell's Kitchen. Cellar Bar (40 West 40th Street) is a trendy Mediterranean setting located in the Bryant Park Hotel.

"Adult" Entertainment: Yes, Virginia, there are no prostitutes (unless you walk a few blocks west), and no, there aren't many peep shows left either (head south toward Penn Station instead).

Happenings: You might have heard of a little event held every December 31, when all of Times Square celebrates New Year's Eve. MTV's Total Request Live tapes from Times Square Monday through Friday and occasionally hosts live performances outdoors. Good Morning America also tapes from its Times Square studios and runs a live concert series through the summer months.

Politicians: City Councilmember Christine Quinn, State Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, all Democrats.

Crime Stats: Times Square is served by two police precincts, Midtown South and Midtown North. As of April 4, Midtown South reported zero murders (same as last year); five rapes, up three from the previous year-to-date; 75 robberies, down 24; 48 felonious assaults, down 22; and 149 burglaries, down 49. Overall crime has dropped 10.9 percent. Midtown North, also as of April 4, has reported one murder, down one from the previous year-to-date; five rapes, up two; 62 robberies, down three; 40 felonious assaults, down seven; and 96 burglaries, down one. Overall crime has increased 6.49 percent.

 
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