Spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square is one of those crazy things that everyone should try before they die. But if the thought of standing in the cold for twelve hours with a million of your closest friends and no bathrooms has you putting it off for another year, plenty of other fun things will be happening that night. Here’s a guide to the city’s best alternatives to New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
Fireworks Starting at 10pm, New York Road Runners will be hosting a free party in Central Park, with dancing, a laser show, and a costume parade, followed by fireworks at midnight and a four-mile run. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to participate in the run.) Activities center around the Bandshell, which is easily reached on foot from the Surrey Hotel New York.
Not to be outdone by Manhattan, Brooklyn will put on a fireworks display of its own over Prospect Park. Entertainment and refreshments will be available from 11 pm on at Grand Army Plaza. Stay at the Smyth Hotel New York, and take the 2 or 3 train from Chambers Street to Grand Army Plaza.
Comedy The National Comedy Theater, known for its hilarious all-ages improv, is hosting a special New Year’s Eve show (with a catered buffet) starting at 8:45 pm. A good choice for families and a quick from the Affinia Manhattan, New York.
Further downtown and higher up the age scale, the Comedy Cellar in Greenwich Village is putting on back-to-back all-star shows, hosted by Keith Robinson and featuring folks like Tom Papa, Sherrod Small, and Dave Atell. The Comedy Cellar is so close to the Washington Square Hotel New York you could probably hear the laughter from your room.
Live Music On New Year’s, many bands play multiple sets and prolonged shows to take fans past midnight. Some of the highlights of this December 31st: back-to-back-to-back performances by The Roots at Brooklyn Bowl (which will stay open until 6 am on January 1st); the inimitable Patti Smith at the Bowery Ballroom; Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings at the Best Buy Theater; Marva Whitney and Billy Prince at the Bell House; Guided by Voices at Irving Plaza; Phish at Madison Square Garden; and the one and only Chuck Berry at B.B. King’s.
Jazz at Lincoln Center will put on a Celebration in Swing at Dizzy’s; the 55 Bar will be home to the Brooklyn Boogaloo Blowout; the Bad Plus is at the Village Vanguard; and Small’s has its All-Star New Year’s Eve Band, followed by Johnny O’Neal on the piano, then a jam session from 1 am until they shut out the lights.
On a classical note, the New Year’s Eve performance by the New York Philharmonic features Alan Gilbert conducting a night of Tchaikovsky with pianist Lang Lang. About 200 feet away, the Metropolitan Opera will be performing a new production of La Traviata.
With so many great concerts all over town, best to stay at the Chelsea Hotel New York and feel like a rockstar yourself.
Dinner and Dancing The Tribeca Grill, Robert DeNiro’s beloved neighborhood restaurant, hosts a New Year’s Eve party with a five-course meal and dancing to the Ron Sunshine Band. The last dinner seating is at 10.30; the music and dancing lasts until 2am.
It’s tough to get more ‘classic New York’ than dinner and dancing at 21. They’ll feature a four-course menu, a champagne toast, party favors, and live music from Double Down.
Swing 46, a recreation of the supper clubs of yore, will have dinner, an open bar, a midnight champagne toast, and live music from The Crescent City Maulers. The only downside is that Swing 46 is quite close to Times Square, so give yourself some extra time to make it through the crowds.
Guantanamera combines flavorful Cuban food with strong drinks and lively music year-round; on the 31st, it’ll be open until 3am with a performance from Gerardo Contino, a champagne toast, and an on-site cigar roller. SOBs (no, it stands for “Sounds of Brazil”) has a tropical theme night planned, featuring dinner, live music, dancing, a champagne toast, and breakfast at dawn.
If you’re famous or look like someone who is, you might try your luck at The Darby, a stunningly designed throwback supper club that’s become the hottest nightspot in New York. Have a backup plan in case the doormen don’t buy your “Don’t you know who I am?” routine.
The Standard Hotel New York puts you in good walking or subway distance from all of the above.
Just Dancing New Year’s Eve can be a dance club minefield in New York, as prices go through the roof and bulk package sales abound. Skip the $250 tickets to the big scene-y clubs and check out the Sullivan Room instead. They’re having an incredible 15-hour dance marathon from 9 pm on the 31st until noon on the 1st, with 12 DJs spinning for only $20 in advance. Stay at the Bowery Hotel New York so that your friends only have to carry you a short distance afterward.
If you don’t have the stamina for the Sullivan Room, consider the $25 party at Mehanata, a Bulgarian bar and club on the Lower East Side with its own ice cage lounge, or the Fela-themed party with performances by members of Antibalas and the dancers from the Broadway show Fela! at the Knitting Factory.
Theater, Shows, and Burlesque Many people avoid Broadway shows on New Year’s Eve because they don’t want to deal with the massive crowds around Times Square. But that doesn’t mean fans of the stage need to stay home. Lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan won’t want to miss the full production of The Mikado, accompanied by a champagne toast and an after-party with the cast, that’s happening at Symphony Space, right across the street from the Newton Hotel New York.
For people with children in tow, there’s a special 10 pm performance by the always popular Blue Man Group. If you sit near the stage, prepare to get dirty --- stay at the nearby Cooper Square Hotel New York, so you can easily change.
These days, theatergoers with more adventurous tastes make for Brooklyn. At Galapagos Art Space, the Floating Kabarette will return for a night of dancing, acrobatics, performance art, songs, vaudeville, and more, with a midnight champagne toast.
Also in Brooklyn, impresario and local institution Mr. Murray Hill will preside over an evening of dancing, comedy, burlesque, drag, trapeze artists, and all-around zaniness at Southpaw. Murray Hill plans on trading off DJ duties with Mel Huckabee for the post-midnight party, set to run until dawn.
Splurges The Russian Tea Room remains one of the city’s classiest venues, and never more than on New Year’s Eve, when $750 buys you a five-course meal, an open bar, and a performance by Alexander Markov on his golden electric violin. Close to the Jumeirah Essex House New York.
The gala at the Mandarin Oriental New York includes a four-course meal with an open bar and live music in their 36th-floor ballroom overlooking Central Park and Midtown. Black tie required, but at $1000 per person, you probably figured as much.
--Jess and Garrett of We Heart New York
[Photos: Flickr/gsz (Garrett Ziegler)]