Untapped Cities is a publication dedicated to unearthing quirky stories and information about places you didn’t know about in your city. The lens is photography, the writing powered by inquisitive city dwellers along with experts in architecture, culture, food, and travel.
We’re proud to be a partner of Let’s Go, with our shared vision for off-the-beaten path exploration in your own city and while traveling. To launch the collaboration, we've curated a list of our top “Untapped” places from our home base in New York City. These are all tried and true urban exploration sites that we've gone behind the scenes to cover. How many have you been to? What others would you add to the list?
Decommissioned in 2001 after the construction of the Jet Blue terminal, this cathedral to aviation by Eero Saarinen fills you with the pride and optimism the aviation industry had in the 1960s. Preservation efforts have saved it from the wrecking ball and there are proposals to turn the space into a hotel.
In the concrete jungle that is New York, it’s surprising to see nature in its chaotic, uncontrolled form. The celebrated High Line still has a section yet to be converted into a park and you can sneak onto it if you know where to enter. Groundbreaking happened earlier this year on this section, which will become part of the Hudson Yards development, so see it soon.
On notorious Doyers Street in Chinatown, nicknamed "The Bloody Angle" because the curvilinear street enabled gangs to creep up on each other, you can still visit one of the tunnels which enabled some escapes. One entrance to the tunnel is in the middle of Doyers Street, near the the trendy bar Apotheke, and takes you out into Confucius Plaza on Bowery. The tunnel is populated by small businesses, ranging from medicinal shops, employment agencies, travel agencies, law firms, and reflexology.
Once dubbed the "Crown Jewel" of the New York City subway station, this is a station unlike any other in New York—filled with stained glass, Roman brick, tiled vaults, arches, and brass chandeliers. Though not currently in use (the now standard longer trains could not platform properly on the curved track), the station sits only 600 feet south of the current Brooklyn Bridge station that houses the 4, 5, and 6 lines. You can see the station by riding on the 6 train after it ends at Brooklyn Bridge Park (if the lights happen to be on in the old station) or by taking a tour with the Transit Museum.
If you’re 8, 18, or 80 and decide the next big step in your life trajectory is to become a superhero, the perfect one-stop shop for your success can be found tucked away in Park Slope. Brooklyn’s Superhero Supply company, an unassuming free-standing store that serves as the front for 826NYC, a not-for-profit writing lab for kids, is often mistaken for a hardware store, but actually houses shelves of fun things like cans of Courage, Gumption, invisibility paint, and tools to help you scale walls. An easily missed trap door leads you into the writing lab.
A familiar sight along the 7 subway line, 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center is the largest legal aerosol art exhibit in the US and possibly the world. It was first established in 1993 as a haven for aerosol artists to hone and showcase their craft. There are approximately 350-400 pieces on the building at any given point. Its contributors, many of whom work under a different alias, come from all over the world to visit and work at the “graffiti mecca.” Check it out before it's demolished next year.
This little faux-dive has a deserved cult following. Known as Burger Joint or Secret Burger among fans, it’s hidden inside the lobby of the Parker Meridien hotel, tucked behind thick floor to ceiling curtains with only a neon burger sign to denote what lies beyond. Visually, the interior features vinyl booths, 1970s-era wood veneer paneling with sports and movie posters taped haphazardly, and no shortage of graffiti. It’s as if a mid-century burger joint was preserved and the hotel was built around it, but it actually opened only in 1999. Know your order or you'll be sent to the back of the always long line.
Between the new FDR Four Freedoms Park and Southpoint Park on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island sits the abandoned Smallpox Hospital designed by James Renwick. It's landmarked as a ruin, and FDR Four Freedoms Park hopes to stabilize it for us as a welcome center. Once only viewable from a distance along the East River (or for the intrepid urban explorer), the new parks enable the public to get up close and personal like never before.
Just near the Rockaways sits Dead Horse Beach, which not only contains the remnants of dead horses, but also a sea of vintage garbage from over a hundred years ago. The landscape is dotted with bottles, among which you can find perfume bottles from the early 1900s, creepy toys, plenty of household nicknacks, decaying boats, and even (reportedly), old hand guns. The beach gets its name from the days it was was a horse-rendering plant, where dead horses were disposed of, and you can still find horse bones in the flotsam.
10. Rikers Island
We spent six weeks inside the infamous Rikers Island prison teaching the Bill of Rights to incarcerated juveniles as part of the Rikers Island Project. Over the years, the MTA has both included and omitted Rikers Island from its maps, undecided as to how public or private the place truly is. But the Q100 MTA bus takes you across the bridge to the entrance of the Rikers facility, for those interested in setting foot on this island.
Perhaps you’ve heard of an elephant graveyard, but what about a boat graveyard? Does such a thing exist? Turns out it does, and New York City has one. Known as the Witte Marine Scrap Yard, the Arthur Kill Boat Yard, or simply the “Staten Island Boat Graveyard,” the city’s only remaining commercial marine salvage yard is located in Rossville, Staten Island, near the Fresh Kills Landfill. It's worth a visit, but be careful.
Don’t be fooled by the building exterior at 58 Joralemon Street in Brooklyn Heights. The middle brownstone is actually a ventilation facility for the MTA.
One of the many opulent theaters that once entertained New York's finest, the Loew's 46th Street theater was the first atmospheric theater in New York City. It was designed to look like a night sky in an Italian garden. Though in a state of architectural decay, it has not (yet) been demolished and serves as storage facility for a furniture company.
Nestled between symbols of urban industrialization and modern residential development, Vinegar Hill is a five-block square cobblestoned neighborhood next to the Manhattan Bridge that seems to have been preserved in time circa the nineteenth century. Catch a glimpse of the Commandant's House in the Brooklyn Navy Yard and grab a bite to eat at appropriately vintage Vinegar Hill House.
We checked out the Campbell Apartment as part of our recap of the top 10 hidden bars of New York City. The bar is situated in Grand Central Station, denoted by a small plaque in front of an unmarked elevator, and is a testament to the grandiosity of a different area. The space originally served as a private salon for 1920′s financial mogul John W. Campbell and has been restored to give prominence to the intricately crafted woodwork on the ceiling, the stained glass windows, the dark wood paneled bar adjacent to the balcony and the large fireplace.