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William Cullen Bryant, the man whose memorial statue gives Bryant Park its name, was once a prominent New Yorker—a famous poet, editor-in-chief of the Evening Post, and naturist who led the campaign to create Central Park. So it stands to reason that Bryant Park, with its wide green lawn stretching atop the venerable halls of New York Public Library and a location more central to Midtown than Central Park, would brim with the highlights of the seasons: daffodils and tulips in spring. And summer in Bryant Park brings even more activities.
Walk the perimeter or stroll the stone paths to experience the park’s obvious beauty, but stay a while to discover the pulse beneath the facade. Bryant Park comes alive with activity and culture at every corner and through every hour of the day during summer. Check the calendar for an extensive list of events, and here are a few iconic ones that should not be missed. Here’s our guide to summer in Bryant Park.
There are a handful of New York City summertime “must-do” events, and happy hour in a sunny park is one of them. Few moments vibrate with such energy as when well-dressed New Yorkers kick back with a cocktail or a couple of beers on the fresh air café of Bryant Park’s Upper Terrace. Join the fray starting around five every weekday and be one with the feeling.
In New York, summer and live music are like Fifth Avenue and shopping, they just go together. Thousands commune in the park for public arts and cultural events during the season, and Bryant Park is known for live performances of Broadway’s hit musicals. Through July and August, songs from the most popular and award-winning shows like Chicago, Les Miserables, Wicked, and Beautiful are performed free-of-charge to the delight of passers-by and audiences on the main lawn. Plan a visit on Thursdays at midday. And on Mondays at sunset, Bryant Park’s excellent neighbor HBO broadcasts classic movies like The Big Chill and High Plains Drifter. The lawn opens at 5 and you should be ready with your entourage then: pack a blanket, a bottle of wine and snacks to enjoy while the sun goes down.
Activities and games draw players of every type to the park come summer. Though bocce ball has a long history in the city thanks to Mayor LaGuardia who brought it to upper Manhattan in the 30s, Petanque or “Boules” was introduced to the city in the 60s by two French restaurateurs from Times Square. But the two games are relatively the same. Every day on the west side of the park intent and studious-looking men throw balls across the dirt like high-stakes marbles for grown-ups. Join the fun at any time and try your luck with the little metal ball. If more thinking games suit you, there are chess, backgammon and mah jongg tournaments nearby.
Exercise is one of the best ways to enjoy the outdoors in summer, and this Chinese martial art for health and self-defense fills the park’s west side plaza on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at 7:30. Come watch hundreds move in quiet, focused unison or join in yourself. Train under a master with classes provided by Tai Chi Chuan Center, it’s an excellent way to align the body and spirit for a high-powered day of business meetings. Yoga, fencing, dance and fitness boot camp are exercise classes of all kinds offered freely in the morning hours and early afternoon during summer in Bryant Park.
From late spring to early summer, the NYC Audubon society leads birding walks through Bryant Park to spot more than a hundred different varieties that travel through the area during migration. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of scheduled events to satisfy one’s curiosities. Language skills, beading workshops, fly-fishing lessons and juggling are just a few of the many skill-building opportunities that take place all season long. Make time for a talk on bipartisan capitalism or try conversational Brazilian Portuguese.