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Destination New York

New York in times of COVID

After months of colossal losses and empty streets, New York began to come back to life in late June 2020. I watched hopefully as restaurant tables and chairs started to take over the streets and the sound of silverware announced the reopening of outdoor dining venues.

Text and Photos: Sofía Verzbolovskis

 

If there is one word to describe New York City, it is resilient. Like no other, this city knows how to bounce back and, more importantly, transform itself. After months of despair, during which many residents lost their lives and countless others lost their jobs, the city slowly started to hum again in late June. I was delighted to watch chairs and tables creep onto the streets—taking the place of parked cars— and to hear the sound of clinking cutlery announce the beginning of al fresco dining. On weekends, certain streets are dedicated to pedestrians, allowing restaurants to expand their open-air seating while giving New Yorkers more outdoor space. With Broadway theaters, music venues, and bars closed, musicians and buskers have expanded their use of the city as a stage, performing everywhere from parks and street corners to rooftops and terraces. Drive-in cinemas popped up, temporarily replacing the shuttered movie theaters that have just recently re-opened their doors. And New York City’s iconic museums and galleries are open once more, albeit at a reduced capacity, with a variety of new and exciting exhibitions.

While its streets may be less crowded with tourists, the city’s pulse is unmistakable.

 

Restaurants

The new temporary restaurant terraces have been so successful that the city has decided to make them permanent. Restaurant owners have become more and more creative, decorating their areas with plants, lights, colors, and umbrellas, while creating safe eating spaces that allow for social distancing. But not everything has been easy; owners have had to adapt to unexpected circumstances such as torrential rains and hurricane winds that appear out of nowhere after an idyllic sunset. It is all a learning process. Under the scaffolding in the above photograph, the very popular Soho Mexican restaurant La Esquina is packed with people. In the photo below, Jack’s Wife Freda. 

 

The pandemic has made New Yorkers eager to find more public outdoor spaces to enjoy. Thanks to a program called “Open Streets,” restaurants and business owners can apply to close a street to car traffic and make it pedestrian-only from Friday evening to Sunday each week. In the above photo, you can see people using the street to get some air, socialize, and wait for their tables on the Lower East Side.  

Thai Diner, a popular spot in the Lower East Side. The owners, Ann Redding and Matt Danzer, also owned another restaurant called Uncle Boons where, during pre-pandemic days, swarms of people would stand outside waiting for tables. Unfortunately, Uncle Boons had to close due to Covid-19, but Redding and Danzer kept the more casual Thai Diner open. 

 

Museums

New York without its museums is not New York. At end of August 2020, the entire city buzzed with excitement when it was announced that museums could reopen at 25% capacity. Museum after museum opened their doors, with an added array of health and safety measures in place, include a requirement at some museums to make a reservation before you visit. When you enter most museums, attendants check your temperature and ensure that you are wearing a mask and, once inside, you’ll find some smaller galleries are closed and others where you are required to walk only in one direction to control the flow of traffic. But these new requirements have not kept New Yorkers from visiting their beloved museums. Even today, they wait in long lines to see new exhibits and old favorites. In these photos, you can see the line at the Metropolitan Museum of Art soon after it reopened. 

The Hector Zamora installation on the rooftop of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in November 2020. The new requirements mean the elevator can only carry one person or household at a time, which can lead to long waits, but once you reach the rooftop you’ll want to linger and admire the views of southern Manhattan.

 

Music

New York City moves to the beat of a variety of musical styles and this has been as true as always this past year. Musicians have transformed the streets into a giant stage, creating a sense of community and optimism. In parks and on random street corners, you might encounter jazz, hip-hop, folk, or even opera. It is estimated that more than two thousand concert halls, bars, theaters, and entertainment centers have closed since the beginning of the pandemic, but hope is gradually building that they will reopen soon. 

In February, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a new initiative called “NY PopsUP.” Through this project, the State of New York will provide support for diverse cultural events—from concerts to theater and dance—in the city this spring. 

 

Movies

After a year of being shuttered, movie theaters in New York City were finally allowed to reopen at the beginning of March. With social distancing, assigned seating, and masks required at all times (except while eating), an essential part of NYC’s cultural life has returned. The first day it opened, the Angelika Cinema (on the right) was filled with cinephiles excited to finally exchange Netflix for the unparalleled big screen experience.