This is what makes Manhattan Manhattan

By Michael Schuman

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26 2013 3:10 p.m. MDT

Where else but Greenwich Village? The Café Wha at 115 Macdougal, where Bob Dylan and Bill Cosby passed the hat in the early 1960s, still hosts up and comers, while Stanford White’s commanding arch in Washington Square Park watches over the scene like a silent sentinel. The row houses and brownstones make this an otherworldly setting compared to the skyscrapers of Midtown. Incense wafts through the air in cozy shops where merchandise includes vintage clothing and vinyl records — remember vinyl records? New York is a prime city for walking, and Greenwich Village is the best neighborhood to get lost in.

5. How the top 1% lives

Head to Fifth Avenue in Midtown. Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co., Prada and Gucci all maintain stores there between East 49th and East 59th streets. We decided to check out nearly all the above brands at the department store for the rich and famous: Saks Fifth Avenue, where a $3,500 Gucci purse is standard fare. For browsers, the women’s shoe department on the eighth floor, with its light and spacious décor and shoes by Jimmy Choo and Oscar de la Renta, is the most popular stop. Don’t expect snooty clerks looking down their noses at you, like the restaurant host in "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off." The staff was exceedingly friendly even though they had to know that Saks’ wares are well beyond our budget. Yet I was even encouraged to try on outerwear and sports coats. For a couple of minutes I was high society.

6. How the rest lived

People who lived a century ago in the tenement at 97 Orchard St. on the city’s Lower East Side couldn’t wait to get out. Today, people can’t wait to get in. A three-room apartment measuring a few hundred square feet was home to Polish immigrant Harris Levine, his wife and extensive family in 1898. Levine also ran a simple textile business here. Our guide asked if we’d want to live or work here. Why not? How about the claustrophobia, the innumerable odors, the intense summer heat in these days before screen windows? Any why yes? Well, the commute is short.

The Tenement Museum preserves this building where a human mosaic of families lived from the 1860s until 1935. Standard guided tours offer insight into the lives of German, Italian, Irish and eastern European families, but living history tours are also offered; ask teenage Greek Sephardic Jew Victoria Confino how it was sharing a bedroom the size of a Toyota with five brothers. Reservations are highly recommended.

7. The hidden gem

Apologies for the oxymoron, but it doesn’t take long to find hidden gems in this city filled with small museums and historic sites. Our favorite is the birthplace of national historic icon Theodore Roosevelt, officially Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site. A 25-minute-long biographical film, a guided tour, TR‘s personal possessions and 60 percent original furnishings in the reconstructed brownstone home tell the story of a wimpy, asthmatic child who grew up to be a robust outdoorsman and larger than life 26th president.

A walk through the home at 28 East 20th Street also offers a surprising look at the spaciousness of New York’s narrow brownstones. Based on Dutch canal houses, brownstones like this are much longer than wide. This one offers up a stunning 4,500 square feet of living space.

8. Behind the scenes tour

In the nation’s media capital, it makes sense to take in the NBC Experience, a walking tour through NBC headquarters at 30 Rockefeller Center. Depending on production schedules, visitors enter one to four studios. The most common reaction from visitors entering Studio 8H, home of "Saturday Night Live," concerns its diminutive size. Near the tour’s end, two volunteers become Brian Williams and Al Roker, anchoring faux news and weather reports as a full green screen is transformed into a map of the nation. Reservations are highly recommended.

9. The 9-11 Memorial

Mist and rain shrouded the memorial when we visited, but it was appropriate. Names of the victims, arranged by group (flight passengers, rescuers, World Trade Center office workers) are inscribed in bronze parapets surrounding pools set inside the massive footprints of the two towers. Cascading into the pools are 30-foot waterfalls. One World Trade Center, 1,776 feet high, loomed behind our shoulders. One must go through a maze of security to get here, but that in itself is a lingering legacy of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida-operated massacre of nearly 3,000 people. Advance tickets are necessary.