21 Can’t-Fail Date Ideas for Art Lovers in New York, From MoMA and a Martini to a Romantic Land-Art Pilgrimage Upstate
There are hundreds of things to do on date night in New York. Here are our favorites.
Is there anything more exciting than date night in New York? Bright lights, big city, limitless options. But with so many choices, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Not to worry, your friends at artnet News have you covered. Here are our best art-date ideas around New York, from uptown to downtown and everywhere in between.
Stop by the Judd Foundation and Sit by the Fire at Balthazar
Nestled among boutique handbag shops and bespoke athleisure outfitters, the legendary building where artist Donald Judd lived and worked in the 1960s is a sight to behold. Book a free appointment (all tours have to be pre-scheduled) and walk up the rickety wooden stairs into what feels like an alternate dimension. The building, a cast-iron behemoth soaring five stories, was purchased by Judd in 1968, and became his primary residence and his studio. Each floor was designed by Judd with a specific goal in mind, and the furniture and artwork are all in service of a purpose. Nothing is extraneous; as Judd wrote in 1989, “everything from the first was intended to be thoroughly considered and to be permanent.”
If you take a late afternoon tours, you’ll be treated to a sunset through the floor-to-ceiling windows. And make sure tovisit the top floor—Judd’s bedroom—in time for to see the Dan Flavin installations light up the dark. Finish off your evening with a trip to SoHo-stalwart and inspired french brasserie Balthazar, and sit by the fire with a cocktail.
Check Out the Earth Room and the Broken Kilometer
If you want to be especially impressive to your date, take him or her to two of the less-trafficked art destinations in the city. Both are by the artist Walter De Maria and are hiding in plain sight in SoHo, one of New York’s busiest neighborhoods. First, stop by The Earth Room in a loft on 141 Wooster Street. You’ll feel extra in-the-know when you buzz the doorbell and walk up the narrow stairwell to find the surreal, musty-smelling space, which is filled with 250 cubic yards of packed dirt. Once you’ve taken that in, take a short walk over to The Broken Kilometer, which hides behind a similarly unassuming storefront at 383 West Broadway. Inside, 500 brass rods sit in parallel rows on a wooden floor. Like The Earth Room, this sounds fairly banal—until you see it in person. Just trust us: you’ll be a hero.
Get Some Free Wine at a Thursday Night Gallery Openings and Some Delicious Noodles at the Jun-Men Ramen Bar
Select Thursday nights are opening nights in galleries across Chelsea, so odds are you’ll find a few new shows to pop into on any given week between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. (To plot a course in advance, check the artnet website for what’s coming up.) The neighborhood is home to some of the city’s biggest galleries—think Gagosian, David Zwirner, Hauser & Wirth, and Pace—but you’re more likely to score free wine (or at least a PBR) at the smaller, non-blue chip outfits. And the art can be just as good, if not fresher and more exciting!
A great place to end the night is Jun-Men Ramen, where you can get an excellent BBQ pork bun and a piping hot bowl of pork bone ramen. They have plenty of beer and sake to wash it all down, plus an inventive “sake-tail” with grapefruit and yuzu, if the wine wasn’t particularly free-flowing earlier in the night.
Jun-Men Ramen is at 249 Ninth Avenue; Chelsea’s art galleries are mainly located between 10th and 11th Avenues and 19th and 28th Streets.
Visit MoMA and Eat at Fabulous French Meal at Brasserie Ruhlmann at Rockefeller Center
In addition to its tremendous temporary exhibitions, the Museum of Modern Art has one of the world’s most famous permanent collections, and it never disappoints. From Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942–43), to Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror (1932), there’s no shortage of sights to see. And what could be more romantic than Vincent van Gogh’s brilliant Starry Night (1889)?
Afterwards, walk a few blocks east to Rockefeller Center and find Brasserie Ruhlmann, an elegant restaurant decked out with red velvet chairs and banquets in homage to legendary French designer Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann, whose style epitomizes 1920s French Art Deco.
Grab Some Cheap Eats and Fancy Cocktails
If you’re willing to wait in line for the perfect New York street food, the Halal Guys cart is a good place to begin. But if you want something equally delicious and quick, you can fuel up at Xian Famous Foods, where the cumin lamb noodles are only $11. Afterwards, now that you’ve saved a dime, splurge on cocktails and dessert at the bar room of Danny Meyer’s super classy restaurant at MoMA, appropriately named the Modern. And if you’re still craving something savory, you can’t go wrong with the Alsatian bacon-laden tart flambée.
MoMA is at 11 West 53rd Street; Brasserie Ruhlmann is at 45 Rockefeller Plaza; Xian Famous Foods is at 37 West 54th Street; the Halal Guys cart is at 53rd Street and 6th Avenue; The Modern is at 9 West 53rd Street.
Head to the Whitney’s Outdoor Galleries and Take a Walk on the High Line
Take your time—if crowds allow—promenading along the High Line, a former elevated rail line, and admire the beautifully landscaped vegetation (based on native plants that sprang up after the freight trains stopped running in 1980) and the art, which in the past has included works by Zoe Leonard and Tony Matelli. It’s best to start at 34th Street and work your way down, stopping off at the Whitney Museum in time to enjoy sunset from the museum roof.
Or, come May, make the journey in reverse and check out the new Hudson Yards, where highlights will include Thomas Heatherwick’s Vessel, a massive climbable monument made of interlocking staircases (timed entry tickets are free, but we expect you’ll want to reserve in advance). you can also check out the Shed, a cultural center offering exhibitions and performances. We suggest a food court—Gotham West Market, Gansevoort Market, and Chelsea Market are all great options—for a low-key dinner sure to cater to your date’s culinary preferences.
The High Line can be accessed along numerous points along Manhattan’s West Side; the Whitney Museum of American Art is at 99 Gansevoort Street; the Shed is at 545 West 30th Street; Gotham West Market is at 600 11th Avenue; Gansevoort Market is at 353 West 14th Street; Chelsea Market is at 75 9th Avenue.
Lower East Side
Visit the New Museum and Have a Cozy Supper at Supper
Smack in the middle of New York’s Lower East Side, right on the Bowery, the New Museum always has an exciting lineup of exhibitions by buzzed about contemporary artists, from Sarah Lucas to John Akomfrah to Genesis Belanger.
From there, it’s a ten minute walk (or two-minute cab ride) to longstanding Italian favorite Supper, a warm, rustic, and inviting restaurant, run by restaurateur Frank Prisinzano. (His other nearby spots, Lil Frankie’s and Frank’s, also deserve their rave reviews.) If there’s a wait for a table, step into Supper’s next-door wine bar and pick from a wide range of Italian favorites, for the red and white wine drinker alike.
Little Italy and Chinatown
Grab Some Dim Sum and Visit the Elizabeth Street Garden
Impress your date with your dim sum know-how by picking all the best dumplings from the roving carts at Chinese food palace Jing Fong. (Most of the staff doesn’t speak English, so just point at what you think looks good, or study up in advance if you want to look like a pro.)
Walk off your big lunch by heading north to the Elizabeth Street Garden, stopping along the way for a cup of joe at Gimme! Coffee. You can buy freshly roasted beans to take home, plus a drink to go, which we suggest you enjoy one block over at the bucolic garden, which is free and full of antique sculptures and architectural elements. Finish off the afternoon at with nearby galleries ARSENAL contemporary and Andrew Edlin Gallery.
Jing Fong is at 20 Elizabeth Street; Gimme! Coffee is at 228 Mott Street; the Elizabeth Street Garden is on Elizabeth Street between Prince and Spring Streets; ARSENAL contemporary is at 214 Bowery; Andrew Edlin Gallery is at 212 Bowery.
Upper East Side
Head to the Met Breuer and Grab a Drink at Bemelmans Bar
The Met Breuer’s days are numbered, and now is the perfect time to visit the Marcel Breuer-designed building before the former Whitney flagship gets turned over to the Frick collection.
After taking in the exhibitions, grab a bite at Flora Bar, the delectable eatery on the museum’s lower level—which boasts outdoor eating if the weather is nice—and finish off the day with a night cap at the Carlyle Hotel’s swanky Bemelmans bar, named after the illustrator and creator of the beloved Madeline books. A longtime New York City resident, Bemelman painted the bar’s atmospheric murals.
Stroll Through the Cloisters and Eat on Indian Road
If you’re looking for an active date, hop on a bike and ride along scenic Riverside Park up to the Cloisters, the Met’s northern satellite. (Be forewarned: CitiBike has yet to colonize Manhattan north of 130th Street, so you’d have to do a round trip rental.)
Housed inside a gorgeous stone building made up of several real medieval cloisters shipped over from Europe in the 1930s, the museum has an incredible collection of medieval art and a real monastic herb garden, not to mention a stunning view from its perch in Fort Tryon Park at the north end of Washington Heights. By this point, you’ve undoubtedly worked up an appetite. There is a beautiful eatery, the New Leaf Restaurant, inside the park (which you might recognize from the Matt Damon and Emily Blunt film The Adjustment Bureau), but if you’re not up for the wait or price, head north towards Spuyten Duyvil Creek to the Indian Road Cafe. The brunch menu includes vegan sausage, there’s often live music (they have a piano in the dining room), and there’s pub trivia on Wednesday nights.
Explore the Harlem Galleries and Eat at Red Rooster
Unfortunately, renovations are still ongoing at the Studio Museum in Harlem, but a great, free alternative is the nearby Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, which represents artists including Latoya Ruby Frazier, Rob Pruitt, and Martin Creed. The massive gallery space, formerly a brewery, has been equipped with a kitchen designed by Rirkrit Tiravanija, and there’s typically something cooking on Sunday afternoons.
But if you want to really impress, snag a reservation at Red Rooster, a Harlem hot spot from chef Marcus Samuelsson, who blends Southern soul food favorites with the cuisine of his native Ethiopia, and Sweden, where he was raised by his adoptive parents. The atmosphere is particularly great during the boozy Sunday jazz brunch.
Check Out the Public Art in Madison Square Park and Grab a Cocktail at Eleven Madison Park
Madison Square Park’s ambitious program of contemporary art pretty much guarantees that all installations are a must-see experience. Steps away from the park is the storied Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant that has garnered near-mythic status among foodies and restaurant critics alike. Of course, it’s not cheap, so if you’re against taking out a small loan or a second mortgage on your house to foot the dinner bill, splurge on one of the eatery’s many inventive, delicious cocktails instead.
South Street Seaport
Walk Across the Brooklyn Bridge and Visit the South Street Seaport Museum
Believe veteran New Yorkers when they tell you that the absolute best views of the Manhattan skyline are from Brooklyn and New Jersey. To get the best out of this date, start at the south end of the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, soak in the sights of the East River and the city, and walk north toward the Brooklyn Bridge. The pedestrian walkway and bike lane begins at Tillary Street and Adams Street. Once you’ve made it across the bridge, head south to Fulton Street and then east until you hit South Street Seaport and the eponymous museum. It’s dedicated to telling the story of the rise of New York as a port city and its crucial role in the development of the US. Historic buildings and ships provide context to interactive exhibits.
The South Street Seaport Museum is at 12 Fulton Street.
Visit the National Museum of the American Indian and Crack Open a Beer on the Staten Island Ferry
The National Museum of the American Indian is one of the city’s great free institutions. After you’ve checked out its exhibits (which are also fun for kids), make time for a truly only-in-New-York moment aboard the Staten Island Ferry. Tickets are free and you’ll see some stunning views of the city’s skyline, harbor, and—of course—Lady Liberty herself. Stand on the stern for the best vantage point, which is unobstructed by dirty window glass. Delightfully, it’s also legal to drink on board, with affordable beers for sale from the ferry concession stand. So crack open a tall boy and watch the sunset for a surprisingly romantic end to your date.
Amble Through Bronx’s Little Italy and Visit the New York Botanical Garden
If the New York Botanical Garden’s annual art exhibition is on view, don’t have a second thought about making the journey up to the Bronx: recent must-see outings have been dedicated to the likes of Frida Kahlo and Georgia O’Keeffe, so we have high hopes for whatever they cook up for the future.
After wandering the grounds and checking out the seasonal blooms—we love to catch the peonies, or, earlier in the year, the daffodils—head over to Arthur Avenue, the city’s real Little Italy. You can splurge for world-class pasta at Roberto’s, or go more casual at one of several amazing sandwich joints: Casa Della Mozzarella, which has the tenderest, most delicious fresh mozzarella this side of Roma, or Tino’s Delicatessen or Mike’s Deli, of Throwdown! With Bobby Flay fame. Finish up with the cannoli at Madonia Brothers Bakery (you’ll finally understand that scene from The Godfather)!
The New York Botanical Garden is at 2900 Southern Boulevard; Roberto’s is at 603 Crescent Avenue; Casa Della Mozzarella is at 604 East 187th Street; Tino’s Delicatessen is at 2410 Arthur Avenue; Mike’s Deli is at 2344 Arthur Avenue; Madonia Brothers Bakery is at 2348 Arthur Avenue.
See the View From Wave Hill and Get Some Carrot Cake at Lloyd’s
Wave Hill is a special place. Built as a country estate for a jurist in 1843, it later served as a temporary home for distinguished guests such as Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Bashford Dean, the eminent zoologist who also founded the Metropolitan Museum’s department of arms and armor. In 1960, it became a city-owned public institution (today, it is one of 33) and is now a beloved pleasure garden that offers unparalleled views of the Palisades of New Jersey. There’s even a small art gallery that hosts exhibition by local and international artists.
When you’re done perusing the gardens, head over to Broadway and stop in at Lloyd’s Carrot Cake, a Bronx institution that routinely ships its famous cakes out to China, Nigeria, and the Philippines. If you don’t love carrots, don’t fret: you can also get a delicious slice of pineapple, chocolate, or red velvet cake. Treats in hand, cross the street into Van Cortland Park and enjoy the sunset.
Take in the Noguchi Museum and a Picnic at Socrates Sculpture Park
The Noguchi Museum is one of the city’s under-appreciated gems. Spend an hour or two admiring Isamu Noguchi’s sleek sculptural forms, then repair to nearby Socrates Sculpture Park, which was founded in 1986 by sculptor Mark Di Suvero in what was then an abandoned lot. This neighborhood treasure has hosted exhibitions by the likes of Agnes Denes, Vito Acconci, and Nari Ward, plus an annual exhibition highlighting new sculptural talent. Located right on the water with a stunning view of the Manhattan skyline, it’s the perfect place to set up a romantic picnic, with provisions purchased at nearby sandwich shop Compton’s.
Visit the Queens Museum and Hit a Mets Game
One of New York City’s greatest unsung landmarks is undoubtedly the Unisphere, built for the 1964 World’s Fair. Catch the 7 train out to Queens’s Corona Park to see it for yourself, along with the flying saucer-esque Observatory Tower, another remnant from the international exhibition. The park is also home to the Queens Museum, with its stunning Panorama of the City of New York, showcase of Tiffany lamps from the Neustadt Collection, and world-class temporary exhibitions.
As the afternoon draws to a close, walk back toward the 7 train and head to Citi Field for a Mets game. The team hasn’t been successful in recent years, but they have a beautiful ballpark, excellent concessions—and hey, ya gotta believe!
Take in a Show at Pioneer Works and Watch the Sunset from Sunny’s Bar
There isn’t great public transit to Red Hook—although now there’s a ferry line that goes there for the cost of a swipe on the subway—but it’s worth the trip. On the quiet streets, the nonprofit arts space Pioneer Works is just a stone’s throw from Sunny’s, the stalwart waterfront saloon that’s held court for decades. If you’re really jonesing for a nostalgia trip, make it an all-inclusive trip and check out the regular rotation of local artists who show on the walls of Sunny’s backroom, often accompanied by live music around 10 p.m. And for a bite to eat, there’s the famous Red Hook Lobster Pound, plus dessert at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies in nearby Louis Valentino Jr. Park and Pier, with its gorgeous view of the Statue of Liberty.
Pioneer Works is at 159 Pioneer Street; Sunny’s Bar is at 53 Conover Street; Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies is at 185 Van Dyke Street; Red Hook Lobster Pound is at 284 Van Brunt Street, Red Hook, Brooklyn.
Head Out to Dia:Beacon and Grab a Bite at Blue Hill
if you’re up for a trip outside the confines of the city, take the MetroNorth’s Hudson Line train from Grand Central to Dia:Beacon, one of the most cerebrally romantic museums in the United States, where the estimable director Jessica Morgan’s enhanced focus on overlooked women artists is warming the cool Minimalist collection with a new sense of discovery. Afterward, grab your (art) lover and shoot down Route 9 to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Dan Barber’s temple to sustainable, farm-to-table gastronomy that is as much a pilgrimage site for the culturati as is Dia.
– Andrew Goldstein
Check Out Storm King and Have a Beer at the Peekskill Brewery
This one comes with a stamp of approval from actor Aziz Ansari, who goes leaf-peeping at the Storm King Art Center with love interest Francesca in the second season of his Netflix hit Master of None. But don’t feel the need to wait until fall to make the trip: the sculpture park is open April through November, plus on select winter weekends, and it’s always a good time to pose for photos with Maya Lin’s Storm King Wavefield, a stunning piece of landscape art in the form of ocean-like hills, or with with monumental works by the likes of Alexander Calder and Mark di Suvero. Hit up the Peekskill Brewery afterward for beers in the taproom and tasty pub food. While it’s easiest to escape the city in a car, you can also access Storm King via the New Jersey Transit, catch Metro-North‘s Getaway Package, or jump on one of Coach USA’s Short Line Buses.
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