A Literary Walking Tour of Midtown New York City

For most visitors to New York, Midtown means the theater district and shopping.  But, it also offers great strolling opportunities for lit lovers.  I often start my mornings in this area with breakfast at Pain Quotidien (40th and 6th).  It’s a chain, but very cozy, especially on a blustery New York winter day, and they offer great bread, pastries, fresh OJ, and killer oatmeal.   If it’s warm, get coffee and croissants to go and eat across the street in Bryant Park.

Carb-fortified, I started my walk at the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue at 42nd, adjacent to Bryant Park and gave a nod to Patience and Fortitude, the lions that guard the entrance.  They’ve had several names since the library was dedicated in 1911, but Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia gave them these names in the 1930s because these were the qualities he felt New Yorkers needed during the Great Depression, qualities we need now, actually.

Books aside, the building’s colossal Beaux
Arts architecture and majestic ceiling frescos make the library worth the trip. Yet, for book lovers, the sheer size and solidity of the place, with its grand staircases and the giant Rose Reading Room, give a feeling that books—in  whatever form–will never go away.  They also have a great gift shop. Check the Web site for current exhibitions.  When I was there, among several others, they had a exhibit on Mark Twain, “The Skeptic’s Progress,” held jointly with my next destination, the Morgan Library & Museum at 225 Madison (at 36th ).

Financier and book/manuscript collector Pierpont Morgan built this library to house his collection (If this was his library, I’d love to see his house!) and the library has been adding to the collection ever since.  They also added a modern wing.  The original section of the library was restored this year.

When I was there Charles Dickens’s hand-written manuscript of A Christmas Carol was on display. And the Mark Twain exhibit, in honor of the 175th anniversary of his birth, was a treat for any Twain fan, loaded with photos and original hand-written letters and manuscripts.

Then, I hiked and window-shopped my way back up Fifth Avenue.   Since it’s the holiday season, the tree at Rockefeller Plaza (at 46th) and the store windows along Fifth Avenue are worth the exercise.  Pay homage to Holly Golightly at Tiffany (at 57th) (see also the story of Summer at Tiffany) and check out the jewelry boxes in the windows at Cartier (at 52nd) from which truly breath-taking jewelry emerges. I spent quite a bit of time gazing at the crazy gorgeous windows at Bergdorf-Goodman (at 58th), which are works of art every year.   Then, with Eloise in mind, I wandered by the Plaza Hotel. If you’re feeling wealthy, stop in for lunch or afternoon tea (including a Tea with Eloise menu) at the Palm Court. If you’re feeling really wealthy, you can stay in the Eloise Suite, which starts at $1125  a night.  If not, looking around is free, which is what I like.

And, if you can’t make it to New York during the Christmas season, it’s also free to take a video trip to see Bergdorf’s windows, entitled “Follow Me.”

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