Bright Lights, Big City
Enjoying NYC’s Eccentric Flavor
An epic journey for our exclusive travel blog, examining various geeky and nerdy scenes. Today we’ll examine all the great opportunities New York City has for appreciating fandom.
Editor’s Note: Much of this travelogue was written prior to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic that shut down much of New York City’s restaurants, cinemas, and theater houses. We have noted this where appropriate, but your post-coronavirus experiences may vary.
The first stop in our trip to find all the best places where we, as geeks, can find our home is New York City. I grew up in Rockland County, just barely outside of New York City. As a result, it’s like a second home to me, an incredibly busy (and sometimes intimidating) nerdy playground that will leave you breathless with every visit—even for someone like me who grew up right on its doorstep. There’s simply no denying it: New York City has a little bit of everything. It’s almost as if someone took the whole of modern civilization (with a few dashes of some olden days) and condensed it down to one, massive city. And the people are just as myriad as the adventures you can have. Not only can us nerdy folk find over a hundred fun and interesting things to do here, but almost any group, sub-culture, or fandom can do the same. Most people don’t get involved with people they don’t know and will most likely just leave you to do your own thing, but if you give New York City a chance to join in they will happily accept any invitation for the fun and the weird.
Just walking down some of the busier areas of New York City, especially in Manhattan, you can get a taste for some of the eccentric flavor it has to offer. It wouldn’t be strange to see people walking around in cosplay, either on their way to or from some event, or there for a fun, touristy photo op. (Just make sure you have a few dollars for them if you go in for a picture.) Most commonly there are dozens of people around Broadway and Rockefeller Center dressed up as popular superheroes, but you’ll also see plenty of Disney and Sesame Street characters, as well.
Dinner and a Show
If you want to take in a show while you’re in the Big Apple, then there are going to be a bunch of great shows on and off Broadway thanks to 2021 bringing back Broadway after the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of the best nerdy shows that have been performed in the city in the past are Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a bunch of Disney shows (let’s face it, we never grow out of Disney), and even a stage musical version of the ever-popular Beetlejuice. Personally, I’m a big fan of Avenue Q and Newsical; even if they aren’t particularly nerdy, they are incredibly funny. Even so there are plenty of great shows that, even though they aren’t nerdy themselves, we all fall in love with them anyway. There are also a few places, like Chelsea Cinema, that would put on performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday and Saturday night at midnight, and those shows always turn into quite the party. If you’ve never been to a “live” show, you owe it to yourself to go once coronavirus lockdowns are completely lifted. Prepare yourself, though—they’re not for the faint of heart!
There are also hundreds of great restaurants in New York City, and with so many different places to eat, you end up finding quite an eclectic mix of themes, many of which pull at the heartstrings of numerous many fandoms. Thankfully, pandemic limitations are largely lifted for many NYC restaurants, so you’ll be able to enjoy many of these same places post-COVID as well. For all of us otaku nerds there are many great places, but some of my personal favorites are in Saint Mark’s Place. Yakiniku West was a lovely place where you kick your shoes off at the door, sit at the table, and grill up your dinner. It was just like in anime! Sadly, it has since closed, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other incredible eating experiences for otaku in the city. Now, for example, there’s also Ninja House, on Hudson just off Broadway, which serves delicious Japanese cuisine and is designed to look like a ninja village, complete with mazelike paths, strange contraptions, and there may even be ninja who might just sneak up on you if you’re not careful. I mean, if the Venture Brothers visited the place, it must be good! [ 1 ] On 6th Street, the more gothic-inclined will find themselves drawn to Beetlehouse, the Tim Burton themed restaurant [ 2 ]. I haven’t been myself yet, but I am just dying to go. Be sure to make a reservation for dinner though as they are quite popular. But if they are full up you can just head over to 7th Street to find Jekyll and Hyde Restaurant and Bar, probably my favorite restaurant in New York City. With lively actors and some hilarious animatronics, the whole experience is a riot from start to finish [ 3 ].
Celebrating the Nerdy Condition
I could go on forever listing all the amazing museums and art exhibits, not only for the history, science, and art lovers, but also so many exhibits for different fandoms, as well. The Conjuring Arts Research Center can help you learn all those mystifying magicians’ tricks from over the years, with plenty of oddities exhibits and museums [ 4 ]. Every now and again, fun art exhibits featuring superheroes, comics, popular movies, or other such fandom will pop-up at even the most mainstream museums. An example of this was how, until the end of January 2018, the Museum of the Moving Image was showcasing a Jim Henson exhibit with everything from Sesame Street to The Dark Crystal [ 5 ]. Meanwhile, the number of traditional museums and libraries in the city—Manhattan especially—needs no introduction. From the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, the Museum of Natural History, the Hayden Planetarium, the Guggenheim Museum, the Intrepid Air and Space Museum, the Central Park Zoo, and the New York Public Library’s Manhattan branch, there’s something for everyone, nerdy or not.
The best way to get all the nerds together in one place though has had to have been the New York Comic Con. Easily the largest comic book and pop culture convention on the East Coast, more than 200,000 people attended in 2018 and while the October 2019 figures haven’t been released to the public as of this writing, it’s almost a guarantee that it’s going to continue to grow even bigger as time goes on, especially when it’s safe to gather en masse once again. When the con rolls around people in the city see a huge increase in costumed fans everywhere from the subway to all the major streets, taking up all the available hotel space near Javits Center. When NYCC comes to town it takes over. The Hammerstein Ballroom, Madison Square Garden, and Pier 94 all get swamped with fans and events dedicated to those fans. It’s become an accepted time of year for all those that live in the area that early October is given to the all the nerds, geeks, and otaku who have come to express their love for their fandoms. With a giant influx of tourism, New York’s economy (and most of the citizens) welcome the convention with open arms, even if New Yorkers like to grouse and complain about crowded subways and streets [ 6 ]. It has also made fans feel more welcome in the city, not to mention in the fandom community in general. Comic Con has done a lot (actively and passively) to let fans of all backgrounds in on the fun! That doesn’t just apply to women in the community like myself, but also people of color, people from varying religious backgrounds, and people who just wouldn’t have been an expected sight in the convention scene years ago! [ 7 ]
This is, of course, typical of the Big Apple. As one of the biggest cities in the world, and one that was the epicenter of so much immigration in the early 20th century, the city and its residents have long become used to the idea of new people joining in with the fun—people who bring their own unique customs and ways of life. Between Chinatown, Little Italy, Harlem, the Garment District, Greenwich Village, and countless other cultural enclaves throughout the city, Manhattan and the other boroughs have a long history of welcoming one and all, taking them in and providing them a home. The result is that New York City is the most cosmopolitan in the world—and one with a citizenry that’s pretty much blasé about anything weird or strange. Nobody bats an eye in the city when they see something they haven’t before, whether it’s a gaggle of otaku Naruto-running in Washington Square Park or it’s a rat feeding pizza to his four turtle sons in the subway. Even a pandemic can’t keep New Yorkers down for long. As long as it’s not giving them a hard time on their way to work, the weirder and more interesting, the better! Like I said, New Yorkers might complain about tourists on the surface, but the city just wouldn’t be the same without them.
Just Another Day in the Best City in the World
For those who want a more day-to-day nerdy experience, New York City has plenty to offer. There are tens-of-dozens of comic books shops, hobby stores, and video game stores littered throughout the city. From Kinokuniya for the anime and manga fans, to Midtown Comics for all sorts of comic books, to Metropolis Collectibles for your vintage comics, and to the Lair for various types of collectibles and some fun Magic: The Gathering games, there are so many places that I don’t even have the brain capacity to fully envision. You will always find what you are looking for in New York.
Let me go out on a limb for a sec and mention that the city has a TON of gaming celebrities. Well, in their own way. The stars of YouTube’s various gaming communities mostly can be found in the major cities, and there’s no doubt that New York City is the most major of U.S. cities! Again, you will always find what you are looking for in New York. Some are niche, such as Ego Queen Alexis for the Warhammer 40,000 crowd [ 8 ]. Others go for the widest audience possible, like Dezah (@itsdezahh on YouTube). A few of these content creators do tours of local gaming shops and the like, promptly posting the contents to their channels. I think viewing these in a few years will be a great way for visitors to get a handle on what they might find in the Five Boroughs.
Most importantly, in New York City, no matter who you are or what you are into there is a place for you. It could be in the center of a massive, candy-fueled nerdy rave at NYCC, browsing through rare and exotic memorabilia at a museum, or just in a quiet corner of a library or cafe, but there’s a place for you. No matter how weird or eccentric you think you are, New York City has seen it and they have accepted it. Do the weird, nerdy thing and no one will bat an eye. You do you, my friend. And when you want someone to do the weird, nerdy thing with, then you won’t have to look far to find some like-minded fans to join in the fun.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Times Square, the most well-known locale in all of New York City, if not the world, lit up like a Christmas tree 24/7.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “A wild Pikachu appears!” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Broadway, the beating heart of music and live theater culture in Manhattan.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Beetlehouse, a place to make all your Goth fantasies come true. Hot Topic apparel not included.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “The Edward Scissorhands exhibit at the Museum of the Moving Image.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “One of the many live shots of cosplay taken in the heart of New York City.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “Gaming outdoors in the dozens of parks in the city is common.” 2020.
The outsider goth kid in high school, Charlotte adapted quickly. Upon her discovery of anime fandom, she dove in headfirst, feeding her interest in research from linguistics to anthropology, as well as her pastimes of gaming and cosplay. Since then, she’s been a contributing partner for the otaku blog RoyalNerd, and began work on her first novel. Her content for The Unconventional are the series Otaku Obsession and Fandom Without Borders, reflecting her twin passions for anime and travel.
- Feldman, Zachary. “Ninja New York Makes a Stunt-Filled Cameo on ‘The Venture Bros.’.” Village Voice, Village Voice, LLC., 7 Mar. 2016, www.villagevoice.com/2016/03/07/ninja-new-york-makes-a-stunt-filled-cameo-on-the-venture-bros.
- Kravitz, Melissa. “Look inside NYC’s Tim Burton-Themed Bar.” Am New York, Am New York, 5 May 2016, amny.com/eat-and-drink/beetle-house-tim-burton-themed-bar-opens-in-nyc-1.11761613.
- Friia, John. “NYC’s Best Themed Restaurants, From Jekyll & Hyde To McGee’s And More.” CBS New York, CBS Local, 27 Feb. 2017, newyork.cbslocal.com/guide/themed-restaurants-in-nyc.
- “Conjuring Arts Research Center.” Edited by Aron Prins, Conjuring Arts, CARC, 2018, conjuringarts.org.
- Museum of the Moving Image, Museum of the Moving Image, 2019, movingimage.us.
- Salkowitz, Rob. “NYCC Prepares For Its Biggest Show Yet.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3 Oct. 2018, forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2018/10/02/nycc-prepares-for-its-biggest-show-yet.
- Liao, Shannon. “The Focus on Diversity Gained Momentum at This Year’s New York Comic Con.” The Verge, Vox Media, 12 Oct. 2017, theverge.com/2017/10/12/16442134/new-york-comic-con-diversity-representation-women-color-people-social-issues.
- Ego Queen Alexis. Youtube. youtube.com/channel/UCTRMzE8VJ4WH1F8kKdbYlzw.