Sometimes you stop paying attention. Sometimes you can live somewhere forever and forget to look around. Sometimes you just have to take a break and enjoy your neighborhood. That's what I did recently. And it all started with a nude drawing class I took in the spring as part of my commitment to try new things each week for my blog, www.the52weeks.com.
And then I thought about it: if I discovered a great art studio that I didn't know existed despite living in the same neighborhood for many years, maybe it was time to brush myself off and rediscover or discover some places that make this little area of New York so great. So that's what I did.
Yorkville is named after York Avenue which runs down its center. It was once New York City's Germantown and home to German, Czech, Hungarian, Jewish and Albanian immigrants. The area runs south to north from 80th street to 96th street and west to east from 3rd Avenue to the East River. According to my research, it is not well known among tourists and Yorkville is "the everyman's Upper East Side." It's residential, but also assimilated, filled with small businesses, restaurants, bars and coffee shops of all kinds. With the exception of 86th Street, it's a pretty quiet place to live. It has a rich history and some great places. If you live downtown or on the West Side it's worth a detour.
The Two Little Red Hens, at 1652 Second Avenue (between 85th and 86th Street), is the perfect place to start your day. It's the complete opposite of a Starbucks. You feel the passion for desserts and old-fashioned service the minute you walk in. It's not rushed and the people that work there seem to care about your time and your taste buds. Each pastry is a work of art and people seem to stay, relax and savor their decadent selection du jour with a great cup of coffee. The variety is endless; you almost don't want to eat your choice (not only because of the calories but because each one is a work of art!). Birthday cakes come in 14 varieties, with a choice of 19 between-layer fillings and 14 frostings. You can order them with an inscription, flowers, or fresh fruit, not to mention other custom requests. Further research reveals that Dean & DeLuca is one of the bakery's many wholesale clients – further proof that I am on to something. Trust me, it's worth the trip uptown and it may just encourage you to skip the Grande Cappuccino or Tall Iced Skim Latte for a while. Just ask for a cup of coffee.
After your guilty indulgence, head over to Carl Schurz Park for a brisk walk or a bike ride along the East River to burn some calories. I know Central Park is the quintessential New York City park but if you are looking for a little more of a laidback environment this is your place. Sometimes I am amazed when I talk to friends who have not yet discovered Carl Schurz. The Park has a great history and has dog runs, playgrounds, and a real neighborhood feel. It is also the home of Gracie Mansion – the elegant home of New York City's Mayor. There are some incredible free events for kids and adults, including the upcoming 38th Annual Grace Square Art Show taking place on Saturday and Sunday October 2nd and 3rd. I've been to the show before and it's worth the trip. According to the most recent information, the show features almost 100 artists selling gallery quality art, ranging from watercolors and oil paintings to sculpture and photography. There is also The Annual Halloween Howl on Sunday, October 24th featuring a pet costume competition. But all I can say is you don't need an Art Show or Halloween event to truly experience this park. In fact, if you choose to go for the first time during special event days, make sure you wander away and walk along the river to get the true feeling of Carl Schurz. I've also biked all the way up to Randall's Island from the southernmost part of the bike path. Carl Schurz's bike paths are really incredible and there are also designated running lanes. The water is on one side and the FDR is on the other. But for some reason you just don't think about the cars speeding by. It's really a perfect NYC place to ride.
If you've biked or walked for miles it's time to refuel again and you have to check out Shake Shack's newest location on 86th Street. Leave some time to wait on the inevitable line and then bite into one of their delicious burgers. I recommend the ShackBurger®. I am not sure how Danny Meyer does it but people keep lining up for them all over the city.
After Shake Shack, head over to Third Avenue and get ready to discover your inner Picasso at one of the best kept secrets on the Upper East Side: Fabrizio Art Studio. When I discovered this place in the spring, I was especially excited because I wanted a place where I could take an art class without committing to a series of classes that required a lot of time or money. Dino and Patricia Fabrizio, husband and wife owners, greeted me warmly when I entered the studio. It's a cozy room. About 10 stations were set up with stools and tilted art tables. I liked how the room felt. I loved the supplies. Easels were available upon request. I had chosen a nude drawing class but they offer all kinds of classes. A live model, charcoal, and an adorable studio on the Upper East Side that has been there for 25 years, and I never knew it existed. The place seems to attract people of all ages and levels. I loved the class. It was a great experience and a perfect way to just relax, try something new and tune into your creative side.
After a great creative afternoon head back over to 2nd Avenue and stop for an authentic German Beer at Heidelberg Restaurant right near the Two Little Red Hens. Billed as the "last vestige of Old Germantown", Heidelberg is a wonderful authentic German restaurant and has a great beer garden serving a variety of German beers. There is a great menu that includes amazing potato pancakes, sausage, herring and other German delicacies.
If there is still time before dinner, head to the Yorkville Branch of The New York Public Library. Considered "one of New York's most elegant turn of the century adaptations of Palladian-inspired architecture", the library was designed by architect James Brown Lord. The branch officially opened on December 13, 1902. It is a relaxing change from the busy, Midtown New York Public Library at 42nd Street and worth a visit just to remember that there are places to read other than Barnes and Noble! They have story times for kids, special events, author readings and other programs. Most of all it's just a great place to read.
Finally, after a great day of "mini" palette pleasing stops, an artistic endeavor and a great bike ride at a picturesque park, head over for the grand finale to The York Grill for a special dinner with a friend or significant other. I have known the amazing, dedicated owners since the place opened. They consistently take care of neighborhood regulars like me who have come year after year, and warmly embrace newcomers who wonder why it took them so long to get there. If you're lucky, you just may spot an occasional celebrity or two. There is a great lounge area in front and another cozy spot for drinks and appetizers in the back. I am always amazed at how they achieve this perfect balance of "calm" with just the right energy and noise to make it feel alive. My husband and I recently had drinks and appetizers there again and, like many times before, ordered their amazing Gorgonzola Bread and Crab Cakes. Their Skirt Steak is one of their signature dishes and we have been ordering it as a main course for many years. I don't think we're the only ones; I've heard people come back just for this dish week after week. We also frequently order the Sea Scallops which are out of this world. York Grill is currently offering a fall Prix Fixe menu Monday-Thursday all night long. For $19.95 you get a 3 course meal. Sounds like a great deal but I know I'll be back regardless. Oh, and did I mention the fabulous bartender and one of the best martinis in Manhattan? See you uptown!