The city has its share of memorable park-going destinations with Washington Square Park and Central Park. But each green city spot seems to come with its own personality. With Union Square Park, it’s all about the people-watching. For years, the park has attracted the most colorful characters in the city. On any given day, you may come across people that want to give you free hugs or free poems. Others may put on a free art performance extravaganza. Chess tournaments are a daily occurrence, attracting some of the best chess players in the world. The park itself is quite a spectacle, with a renovated pavilion at its north end, and numerous statues of Mahatma Ghandi, as well as the massive statue of George Washington at the corner of 14th Street and Fourth Avenue.
One of the city’s most extensive and popular green markets is smack in the middle of the neighborhood. The Union Square Farmers Market, established in 1978, is open four days a week (Mondays, Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays) and runs from 8 am to 6 pm year-round. Local farmers traditionally feature an array of organic meats, cheeses and vegetables. During the peak season in the warmer months, the greenmarket attracts around 250,000 customers each week. Local restaurants utilize the farmers market in Union Square more than any other resources or markets in other parts of the city, given the market’s broad variety of produce. In the holiday season, the greenmarket changes to the Union Square Holiday Market (November 23rd to December 24th). The vendors offer an array of handcrafted gifts such as soaps, perfumes, candles, and knitted scarves.
Union Square houses one of the most famous art installation in the city. The Metronome at the southeast end of the park was installed in February 1999, the largest privately-commissioned public art piece in the city. The artwork, created by Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, is made up of several sections. There’s a round circular void that puffs white steam throughout the day and the main piece is a gigantic clock made of 15 orange LED digits. The clock shows a conventional 24-hour format which consists of hours (2 digits), minutes (2 digits), seconds (2 digits) and tenths of a second (1 digit). The next seven digits represent the time remaining in the 24-hour day. There’s a tenth of second (1 digit), seconds (2 digits), minutes (2 digits), hours (2 digits) and the final center number represents hundredths of a second.
The area has long been an artist enclave. Many art establishments surround the parameter of Union Square Park. The most recognizable building is the former Union Square Savings Bank that has transformed into the off-Broadway destination that is Daryl Roth Theatre. The landmark building has long been the host for a popular acrobatics show Fuerza Bruta. The three-part complex also features a smaller, DR2 Theater, which hosts local productions, as well as the D-Lounge, a basement-level cabaret.
The nightlife in Union Square could be a decision-maker’s challenge, all with the endless bounty of trendy bars lining the park’s boundaries – from the hotel bar at the W Hotel at the northeast corner to the Sidebar in the middle east section. Still, little beats cocktails at the Raines Law Room. The bar is a speakeasy, named after the 1896 law that meant to curb New Yorker’s liquor consumption. The windowless space is accessed through a door with a bell at 48 West 17th Street. Once inside, you are exposed to a sexy 1920’s vibe with Chesterfield furniture, vintage wall hangings and a wallpaper panel that displays a flapper-silhouette montage. Easily the best drink here is the Garden Paloma, comprised of one-part tequila, one-part jalapeño agave, Perrier, grapefruit and a touch of salt.