Apollo Theatre: A Standing Tribute to the History of African-American Arts and Music

by Nick David

The Apollo Theatre stands on West 125th Street, just north of Central Park and right in the heart of New York’s Harlem neighborhood. It is a music hall, a national landmark and a beacon of American music history.

From its heyday in the late 1930s to its modern incarnation, the Apollo has come to stand for all that is great about American music and the contributions of African-Americans to the soul of New York City and the country as a whole.

Apollo Theater

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History of the Apollo
The Apollo Theater began life as the New Burlesque Theater; a neo-classic theater which opened its doors in 1914 as a whites-only venue. It ran popular burlesque shows for years, until it fell into disrepute and disrepair in the 1930s. In 1933, the building was sold after soon-to-be New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia campaigned to close down burlesques.

The building was renovated and then reopened in 1934 as the Apollo Theater. This time it was open to patrons of all colors, and it began showcasing African-American acts, featuring performances by everyone from swing acts and jazz musicians to gospel singers and comedians.

The theater grew to its heyday in the pre-war era, when it labelled itself as the “place where stars are born”. The list of performers who graced the stage at the Apollo is nothing short of legendary; including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Sam Cooke, Mahalia Jackson, Bill Cosby, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and Otis Redding, to name just a few of its most legendary acts.

The Apollo, and its Harlem community, hit hard times in the 1970s, but both have since rebounded to embrace a new era.   After the turn of the 21st century, the theatre was renovated and restored to its original glory.

Amateur Night at the Apollo
Since it re-opened its doors in 1934, the most popular nights at the Apollo have been Amateur Nights, complete with “The Executioner” who sweeps bad acts off the stage, and full participation from a famously critical and vocal audience.

The list of people who got their start at Amateur Night reads like a who’s who of American culture. A 15-year-old Ella Fitzgerald won $25 here on one of the first Amateur Nights. Other stars that got their debut at the Apollo include Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Mariah Carey and Sammy Davis Jr.

Visiting the Apollo
The best way to visit the Apollo Theater is to come for Amateur Night. Amateur Night celebrated its 80th season in 2014, and is still held every Wednesday at 7:30pm from January to October. You can buy tickets in person at the box office, or at ticketmaster.com. Tickets range from $20 to $32, but plan far in advance as this popular event sells out incredibly fast.

You can also buy tickets to any of the remarkable concerts staged at the Apollo all year round. You can see anything here from a cutting edge comedy act to a dance recital to a world class concert by one of the world’s biggest stars. The Apollo seats about 1,500 people for one concert, but every year, more than a million people visit the theater.

If concert tickets are sold out, you can take a walking tour of the Apollo Theatre, led by the theater’s resident historian, Billy Mitchell, who has been with the Apollo since he started as a teenaged stagehand in the 1960s. Tours last an hour and cost $16 on weekdays, $18 on weekends. Call 212-531-5337 to make tour arrangements.

Coney Island: Where New Yorkers Come to Play

by Nick David

New York City may be famous as the city that never sleeps, but this urban jungle does offer a special place where people can still enjoy a day at the beach. Coney Island is residential neighborhood on the Atlantic Ocean that has become home to a world famous boardwalk and amusement park that draws visitors all summer long.

Coney Island

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History of Coney Island
Nestled at the southern tip of Brooklyn, Coney Island was once a barrier island, separated from Brooklyn by a small creek; however it has been transformed into a peninsula over the centuries by development.   The Native American people who originally lived on the island called it “the land without shadows” because the beach gets sunlight all day long. It was the Dutch settlers to this area who gave it the name Coney Island, after all the rabbits and rabbit hunting in the area.

Coney Island began attracting visitors in the 1800s, because it became accessible to areas around New York on newly built roads, and yet it was still far enough away to offer a taste of a real vacation. The first hotels were built in the 1830s, streetcars reached the area in the 1860s and steamships began coming in the 1880s.

It was at this same time that Coney Island began to develop its now iconic amusements. The first carousel opened in 1876, the first hot dog stand came in 1916.

Visiting Coney Island
Coney Island is open all year round, as it is a residential neighborhood, but most of its rides and attractions are only open seasonally, from about April through to the end of October.

There are many ways to get to Coney Island. The easiest is to hop on the subway from Manhattan to the Stillwell Avenue, which is the stop nearest to the beach. The trip takes roughly 45 minutes. There are also express busses from Manhattan, which take a little longer. You can also drive along the Belt Parkway to exit number 6.

What to do on Coney Island
While many of the big name amusement parks closed down on Coney Island back in the 1960s, there are still many rides, attractions and things to do along the boardwalk. Luna Park on Coney Island is home to the Cyclone Roller Coaster, which has been a mainstay here since 1927, as well as newer roller coasters and an extreme sling shot ride. Don’t worry if you don’t like rides, there are also plenty of classic arcade games to play here including Whac-a-Mole and Duck Pond.

Right next to Luna Park, the New York Aquarium is open all year long, and features incredible exhibits with sea lions, otters and Pacific walruses. It’s one of the oldest continually operating aquariums in the United States, and has been a big attraction on Coney Island since the 1950s.

Friday nights are a fun time to visit the Coney Island boardwalk, because of the weekly fireworks display on the beach.

Coney Island & Hot Dogs
When you come to spend the day on Coney Island, you simply must have a hot dog. Coney Island is one of a few places that claims to have invented the modern version of hot dogs, back in 1870 when a German immigrant to named Charles Feltman began selling German sausages in fresh bread rolls right here on the island. Today, there are dozens of hot dog vendors all up and down the boardwalk. The most famous is the original Nathan’s hot dog stand, which was the beginning of a massive hot dog empire, and which still hosts the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest every year.

Grand Central Terminal: None Busier, Prettier or More Historic

by Nick David

Grand Central Terminal is one of the busiest and most historic of New York’s National Landmarks. More than 80 million people pass through this building every year. When the original building opened in 1871, its 42nd Street location was well north of most of Manhattan’s homes and business. Today, it sits in the heart of the city; a jewel of Beaux Arts style and an echo of New York’s glamorous past.

Grand Central Terminal

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The History of Grand Central Terminal
Grand Central Terminal began as Grand Central Depot in 1871, an innovative new train station servicing New York’s biggest rail lines. It was almost entirely torn down and rebuilt in the years between 1903 and 1913, reborn as the Beaux Arts gem now called Grand Central Terminal.

Today, Grand Central Terminal is a hub for New York’s many commuter trains. By the mid-1940s, the Terminal was at its peak, with more than 60 million people passing through every year; almost half the population of the United States.

Dozens of television shows and movies have been filmed at Grand Central Terminal, including The Avengers, Carlito’s Way, Midnight Run, even the cartoon hit Madagascar.

Design Elements in Grand Central Terminal
The central attraction is the information booth in the center of the concourse, and its four-faced brass clock is probably the most recognizable feature of Grand Central.

Visitors to Grand Central Terminal should stop for a moment to soak in some of the incredible design in the building. Look for the sculpted oak leaves and acorns that were symbols of the Vanderbilt family, who once owned the station and whose family motto was “from the acorn grows the mighty oak.” You can see some in the chandeliers of the main waiting room.

The floors are marble, imported from Tennessee. The walls are adorned with Botticino marble and Caen stone. Outside, on 42nd Street, you can find an imposing Tiffany clock, as well as statues of Minerva, Hercules and Mercury.

Don’t forget to look up. The ceiling of Grand Central Terminal is designed to reflect the starry night sky, complete with constellations, including Orion and Gemini. You can lose count of the more than 2,000 stars painted there, and on a dark day, you can see that the stars even twinkle, thanks to some help from electric bulbs.

In order to see everything that Grand Central Terminal has to over, visitors can download the Grand Central Terminal tour app to their smartphone, or take a Grand Tour or an audio tour of the terminal. For either tour, just head to the GCT Tour window on the main concourse.

Come Hungry
Grand Central Terminal has lots of places to eat, offering everything from a Starbucks coffee or a quick burger at Shake Shack, to some of the most historic fine dining in Manhattan.

Grand Central’s Oyster Bar is the oldest restaurant on the Dining Concourse, having served world class seafood since the building opened itself in 1913. It’s as famous for its design as the building it calls home, with its vaulted tile ceilings providing the best acoustics for quiet conversation in the city,

For a step back in time, head for a drink at the Campbell Apartment, a trendy cocktail lounge often called one of the best bars in the United States. The room used to be the private salon of tycoon John W. Campbell, and its impeccable architecture has been completely restored to breathtaking effect.

If you don’t feel like stopping for lunch or a drink, you can spend your time in one of New York’s most popular activities: shopping! Grand Central Terminal has nearly 70 shops inside where you can buy everything from computers and shoes to bath products and sportswear.