On a nose-numbing December day, I could actually feel my pulse quicken when I saw the necklace that I just knew would be the perfect Christmas gift for my wife.
What was going on?
I am not a shopping kind-of-guy. But this necklace was more than something to buy. With its asymmetrical, hand-forged gold ring dangling from a delicate chain that was accented with nine raw-looking but glistening Keshi pearls, this was a one-of-a-kind of work of art.
The necklace – crafted by Alexis Russell of Buffalo - wasn’t like anything I’d ever seen in a mall. No wonder. The place I found it – the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, on the edge of Central Park in New York City – isn’t just any old collection of shops, or even craft-sellers. This is one of the biggest and best holiday markets in the greatest city in the world – just a few blocks from the ultimate symbol of Christmas, the 72-foot tall, 12-ton Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which this year just happens to have grown up right here in the mid-Hudson, at the home of Lissette Gutierrez and Shirley Figueroa, in the Town of Newburgh.
So what are you waiting for?
It’s time, once again, to bundle up, grab this article – or bookmark it on your iPhone or Android – and follow the 2018 Insider’s Guide to Christmas in the City, which this year focuses on four of the best holiday markets – Columbus Circle and its downtown partner, the Union Square Holiday Market, the Winter Village at Bryant Park and the Grand Central Holiday Fair - and where to eat, relax and savor other Christmas in the City Insider sights once you’re there.
Columbus Circle Holiday Market
59th Street and Central Park West. Through Dec. 24. Mon.- Sat. 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.-7 p.m. urbanspacenyc.com
You won’t find that Alexis Russell necklace at Columbus Circle, since she no longer sells at markets. But you just might discover a handmade piece of jewelry or work of art just as original and inviting among the more than 125 vendors on the corner of Central Park West and Central Park South. They’re vendors that sell everything from chopstick sculptures and punk rocker onesies to rare books from the Strand book store, Swedish dish cloths and Ruth Bader Ginsburg T-shirts – all at a fraction of the price of the gifts you might find a few blocks away, on Fifth Avenue.
But the extra added attraction of this market is how close you are to some of the world’s most renowned holiday attractions – and Insider treats.
• Walk east along Central Park, past the horses and buggies, and you’ll find the Plaza Hotel, where the cheapest room goes for $925 per night. Head downstairs to the Plaza Food Hall and you’ll find gourmet treats from celebrity chefs like Todd English and Daniel Boulud – at Insider prices ranging from $2 bagels to $12 sushi.
• And if you want to warm up and use a restroom, just stop in any of the swanky hotels of Central Park South, where the lobbies have plush chairs and couches. The doormen don’t mind.
• Keep walking down Fifth Avenue, and you’ll pass some of the world’s most creative and adventurous Christmas window decorations, particularly Bergdorf Goodman’s. Once you reach Rockefeller Center and its Christmas tree, you can head below ground to the concourse where there are plenty of free seats to watch the ice skaters and many inexpensive spots to eat, including Cucina and Co., where a roast chicken dinner with sides is $10.50.
Winter Village at Bryant Park
40th-42nd Streets, between Fifth and Sixth avenues. Through Jan. 2. Mon.- Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. bryantpark.org
No wonder this holiday market calls itself a Winter Village. Not only does it feature more than 170 shops and food vendors offering everything from baked cheese dishes and beet and ricotta doughnuts to handmade bow ties and hand woven rugs, the Winter Village has New York City’s only free ice skating - on a 17,000 square foot rink - tables to dine al fresco and, for those looking for a bit more pampering, two fine indoor restaurants, the Bryant Park Grill and the Bryant Park Café.
• New this year is The Lodge, with a glass-ceilinged bar and food hall with a dozen restaurants, including a champagne bar. And don’t miss the ultimate Insider find: the new bathrooms of Bryant Park, which have fresh flowers, an attendant and piped-in classical music.
• All of this, and, on Fifth Avenue, one of the world’s great libraries, the New York Public Library.
Grand Central Holiday Fair
Grand Central Station, 89 East 42nd St., between Madison and Lexington avenues. Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. grandcentralterminal.com/event/grand-central-holiday-fair
Sure, the Grand Central Holiday Fair features some 40 curated vendors from across the country offering everything from astonishingly intricate and colorful glass pottery to hand-painted handbags and hand-crafted ties that seem too gorgeous to use. But the Holiday Fair is just one of many marvels to feast your eyes and appetite on beneath the celestial-patterned ceiling of Grand Central.
• The Christmas Train Show (through February) is a 34-foot long, two-level display of vintage Lionel trains zooming and tooting their way through a miniature recreation of New York City and the surrounding countryside.
• Along with some 65 permanent shops including an Apple Store, Vineyard Vines and M.A.C. Cosmetics, Grand Central offers an array of fine dining at some of New York City’s finest restaurants, including Cipriani Dolci (northern Italian), the Grand Central Oyster Bar (seafood) and the Michelin-starred, Agern (Nordic).
• For a more casual and inexpensive meal, the Lower Level Dining Concourse boasts 20 fast fresh food stands, including Shake Shack (hot dogs and burger fare), Magnolia Bakery (cupcakes) and Mendy’s Kosher Deli. There’s even a market offering fresh, fine food to take home from some of New York City’s best-known purveyors of quality fare, like Murray’s Cheese, Pescatore seafood and Eli Zabar’s bread.
• And to make sure you don’t lose track of time as you sample all of these Insider delights, gaze at any of the clocks in Grand Central. They’re accurate to within one second every 20 billion – that’s 20 billion - years because they’re run by the atomic clock at the Naval Observatory in Bethesda, Md.
Union Square Holiday Market
Union Square Park (East 14th Street). Through Dec. 24. Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. urbanspacenyc.com/union-square-holiday-market
This market with some 200 vendors may be blocks away from all of the traditional holiday sights, but it has something that none of the other holiday markets have: a green market with more vendors from Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties than you can count. A sampling: Tonjes Dairy from Callicoon, Gorzynski Ornery Farm from Cochecton, Bread Alone from Boiceville, Orange County Distillery from Goshen and a slew of growers from the black dirt region in Pine Island.
The Holiday Market also has a stand with one of my favorite names: the Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild, selling some of my favorite Insider gifts: Sigmund Freud After Therapy Mints, the Albert Einstein Little Thinker Doll and the no-nonsense Nihilist Soap.
Along with many of the same vendors you’ll find at the other Urban Space-sponsored market at Columbus Circle - and at least one local vendor, Rosehaven alpaca fiber from Bethel - you’ll also find many who specialize in food products, such as Veselka Pierogi Bar and United Chocolate Works with such edible creations as chocolate wrenches, horseshoes and lightbulbs.
• All this, and something much-needed on a cold winter’s day: a warming station, with live music.