Summer in New York City is great, but for our money, winter is the time when the Big Apple most comes alive, as locals and tourists alike bundle up to skate in Central Park, gaze at the Rockettes’ kick line, or window-shop along Fifth Avenue. And while some of the seasonal delights are, ahem, evergreen—like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, which is 80 feet tall this year—there are plenty of new restaurants, hotels, bars, plays, and exhibits to get excited about this winter. From a trio of Sondheim musicals to a new wood-fired restaurant from a Danish culinary genius, here are seven exciting ways to explore the city this holiday season.
See the stars on Broadway
After the pandemic wreaked havoc on the American theater, Broadway is slowly mounting a comeback with a slew of A-lister-led musicals and plays. Though Merrily We Roll Along was a notorious flop when it opened in 1981, the Stephen Sondheim musical is getting raves in a reimagined revival starring Jonathan Groff, Tony winner Lindsay Mendez, and Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. On the other side of Times Square, Josh Groban and Annaleigh Ashford are starring in another Sondheim classic, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, until February 9, when they’ll hand off their bloody roles to Aaron Tveit and Sutton Foster. And at the newly renamed and renovated James Earl Jones Theatre, Book of Mormon duo Andrew Rannells and Josh Gad are showing off their megawatt comedic chemistry in Gutenberg! The Musical! (Spoiler alert: Each performance includes a special guest star, and previous cameos have included Lin-Manuel Miranda, Vanessa Williams, and Cynthia Erivo.)
If you prefer your theatrical offerings nonmusical, Danny DeVito stars alongside his daughter, Lucy, in the sweet hoarder dramedy I Need That, by Smash creator Theresa Rebeck, through December 30. And two-time Pulitzer finalist Branden Jacobs-Jenkins will make his Broadway debut with Appropriate, about a family battling over their father’s inheritance at a crumbling Arkansas plantation. The star-studded ensemble includes Sarah Paulson, Elle Fanning, and Corey Stoll.
Embrace Gilded Age glamour at the new Fifth Avenue Hotel
HBO’s lavish period drama The Gilded Age is finally back for its much-anticipated second season. Fans who want to embrace the late 19th century’s glamorous spirit should book a stay at the recently opened Fifth Avenue Hotel, which occupies a new-build glass tower and a landmark Italian Renaissance–style bank by McKim, Mead & White, the architectural firm behind the Brooklyn Museum, the Columbia University campus, and the arch in Washington Square Park.
Behind the hotel’s stately facade is a maximalist riot of colors and textures that reference the go-for-broke exuberance of the era: Expect jewel-toned chandeliers with crystal baubles that look like fruits and flowers and melting hard candy, arched green windows that serve as room dividers, statement rugs that burst with oversize floral patterns or tiger stripes, inlaid bar carts with lizard-shaped handles, and vanities with colorful Chinese dragons painted inside their doors. In the wood-paneled Portrait Bar, bar director Darryl Chan whips up both modern and classic cocktails (he describes the St. James in London as “afternoon tea meets English milk punch”) alongside elevated snacks, while celebrated chef Andrew Carmellini serves lavish dishes like rabbit cacciatore and lobster cannelloni with caviar at Café Carmellini.
Celebrate a local legend at the Brooklyn Museum
Want to know what makes director Spike Lee tick? Then do the right thing and head to the Brooklyn Museum for its expansive new retrospective Spike Lee: Creative Sources, which runs through February 4. The Oscar-winning director forever shaped the public imagination around his adopted borough (he moved to Brooklyn as a child after being born in Atlanta in 1957), and this exhibit includes more than 450 works from his personal collection that reveal his creative inspirations. Pieces by such prominent Black artists as Kehinde Wiley, Deborah Roberts, and Michael Ray Charles share the gallery space with old photographs, sports and movie memorabilia, and instruments played by famous musicians.
Embark on a “Nutcracker” crawl
George Balanchine revolutionized the holiday season with the 1954 debut of his version of The Nutcracker. The New York City Ballet still performs his original choreography at Lincoln Center each holiday season (November 24 to December 31), but the Big Apple is brimming with newer versions of the classic ballet.
Kings Theatre, a gorgeously restored 1929 movie palace deep in Brooklyn, is hosting both the touring Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet (December 6), and The Brooklyn Nutcracker (December 16), which incorporates global dance genres (flamenco, hip-hop, Ukrainian hopak, Native American hoop dancing) as the characters travel across the borough. Finally, leave the kids at home for Company XIV’s Nutcracker Rouge (November 16 to January 27), a boozy burlesque take on the classic with plenty of risqué wit and sex appeal.
Warm up in front of the fire at a hot new restaurant in Greenpoint
To experience one of the city’s most exciting new restaurants, take the G train to Brooklyn’s northernmost neighborhood, Greenpoint, where Danish-born chef and Noma cofounder Mads Refslund has opened his culinary playground inside an old rubber factory warehouse. Ilis, which takes its name from the Danish words for “fire” and “ice,” is a wildly creative dining spot where, instead of a prescribed tasting menu, you build your own à la carte meal (with a five-course, $150 minimum). The night’s seasonal ingredients—such as eel, scallop, bison, or beets—can be ordered either cold or cooked over a wood fire. The menu changes constantly, but you might find dishes like grilled tuna with sunflower miso, bison tartare served in a beet, or barbecued eel served with a marigold for painting on extra Japanese tare glaze. And the drinks are no less whimsical: A smoky clam and tomato water concoction is served inside a surf clam shell that’s been sealed back together with beeswax.
Pick up holiday party outfit ideas at the Met Costume Institute
’Tis the season for dressing up, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art is donning its finest for its winter Costume Institute show Women Dressing Women (December 7 to March 3), which focuses on female designers and women-led fashion houses. Among the roughly 80 looks on exhibit are pieces by big names like Elsa Schiaparelli, Miuccia Prada, Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan, and Vivienne Westwood, plus lesser-known figures from 20th-century fashion history, including Ann Lowe, who designed Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1953 wedding dress.
During the exhibition, there will be numerous creative ways to engage with the fashion, including curator talks, a touch-centered event for visually impaired museumgoers (January 15), and an immersive workshop with designer Hillary Taymour of Collina Strada in which guests will learn about sustainable fashion and make their own upcycled garment. Downtown, indie cinema Metrograph is hosting a complementary film series called Women Dressing Women: From Runway to Screen, starting December 8, which focuses on actresses who wore onscreen looks from iconic female designers.
Catch a show in one of the city’s newest cultural centers
In 2019, the Shed arts center shook up the city’s cultural scene when it opened in a show-stopping building in Hudson Yards; this winter, it’s housing the premiere of yet another Sondheim musical, Here We Are, which was completed after the musical master’s 2021 death. Much farther downtown, the Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC NYC) joined its ranks this fall when it opened in a marble-clad cube just next to One World Trade Center. The space’s inaugural season includes conversations with Jada Pinkett Smith and Kerry Washington; concerts by Ben Platt and Brian Stokes Mitchell; a new one-man show written and performed by Laurence Fishburne; and a play by the intertribal Native sketch comedy troupe the 1491s.
Another New York City icon, chef Marcus Samuelsson, will be on hand with his new restaurant Metropolis, located in the PAC NYC lobby. The James Beard Award–winning chef was inspired by the immigrant communities that make up neighborhoods across all five boroughs, and you can expect dishes like Flushing-style oysters with XO sauce and oyster leaf, smoked hamachi tacos, and an aged Long Island duck with mole and winter plums.
And if you come back to PAC NYC next June, the theater will be hosting what is sure to be one of the most talked-about shows of 2024: a reimagined version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats set in the world of New York’s queer ballroom scene.