Kips Bay: How to spend the day in this historical Manhattan neighborhood

By Shaye Weaver

Kips Bay might not be as hip as the East Village to the south or as swank as the Upper East Side to the north, but it has a history and character other neighborhoods don't have.

Bounded by East 23rd to East 34th streets, from Lexington Avenue to the river, Kips Bay was named after the Dutch farmer who once owned the land, Jacobus Hendrickson Kip, and after the streams that snaked in from the river.

The neighborhood, accessed from the 4, 5 and 6 subway lines, is bustling with chain restaurants and shops but still has remnants of its history, from a wooden home built in the 1700s to elegant brownstones and an old armory. Kips Bay was also where the British landed during the Revolutionary War in 1776 and where Bellevue, the city's oldest hospital, still remains.

It's rich in history but also in fun -- you'll find a lot to do here, like a pinball arcade and great thrift shopping. If you find yourself in Kips Bay, here's what we'd recommend.

Start with a breakfast of champions at Penelope

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Fuel up for your day out in Kips Bay at this shabby chic comfort food spot at 159 Lexington Ave., where the service is quick and the meals hit the spot. At this first-come, first-served eatery, you'll be seated on one of the restaurant's wooden chairs, benches or church pews, where you can order a never-ending cup of Kobricks coffee ($3) to start. Breakfast is just what you'd hope for. The menu includes "sweet blue," blueberry waffles (pictured), French toast, a three-egg omelet, avocado toast and more. There are separate menus for brunch (which includes monkey bread, Nutella French toast), lunch and dinner. We walked out paying $20 (including tip) for coffee and sweet blue waffles.

Go sightseeing

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Kips Bay has a long history and there are still some buildings that call back to bygone eras, including the First Moravian Church (154 Lexington Ave.) across from Penelope. The aging church was built around 1849 for the Rose Hill Baptist Church but now holds the First Moravian congregation, which has been there since it bought the building in 1869.

If you want to see a rare building built in the late 18th century or early 19th century, head to 203 E. 29th St., where you'll find an old wood frame house, which is one of only a handful like it left in the city.

Take in the quiet streets

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Kips Bay has busy avenues, but its streets are largely residential with leafy trees and a few small businesses dotting the blocks. You'll see very old brownstones recalling the days of horse-drawn carriages.


Look up to the brick row houses and old tenements

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Fire escapes give the neighborhood an old-school character.

Check out the 69th Regiment Armory

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This huge building at 68 Lexington Ave. is on the state and national registers of historic places because it was built in 1904-1906 for the, you guessed it, U.S. Army's 69th Regiment. The group was largely made up of Irish soldiers at the time, earning it the nickname "The Fighting Irish." Now the building hosts art shows, large events like fashion shows and more.

Discover the quirkiness that is Holographic Studios

Photo Credit: Holographic Studios

Enter this former blacksmith's forge to discover a world of holography by Jason Arthur Sapan, who goes by Dr. Laser. Inside, you'll find a gallery of holographic art (portraits of Andy Warhol, sculptures from Russian museums and more) and underground laser labs. Dr. Laser is happy to lead folks on a tour and explain how holography and 3D art works. In the subterranean labs you'll see how holograms are made. It has to be one of the most off-the-beaten-path places in the city. Stop by at 240 E. 26th St., 2 to 6 p.m. on weekdays or call for a special appointment.

Take a walk along the esplanade

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If you're full from a big breakfast and want some air, head over to the East River Esplanade. You'll pass NYU's medical schools, the U.N. International School and Bellevue Hospital on the way, with lots of students and doctors in white lab coats, as you head east down East 25th, 26th or 29th streets. Once you reach your destination, you'll have a sweeping view of Long Island City, the Queensboro Bridge and the choppy blue water. The Water Club, a fancy restaurant on a yacht, probably has the best real estate in the city. Past that, you'll find a nice resting spot with wooden benches.

Spot 'Spot,' the 38-foot-tall statue of a Dalmatian

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Perfectly balancing a yellow cab on its nose, Spot sits outside the new NYU Langone Helen L. and Martin S. Kimmel Pavilion at 34th Street and First Avenue. It was constructed with fiberglass and steel beams in a factory in Wisconsin by artist Donald Lipski before it was trucked to the city. The taxi cab is a donated Prius that has been stripped of its motor -- when it rains, its windshield wipers activate. It's a cute sight and offers a happy moment to those passing by.

Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

A close-up of Spot.

Find treasures at City Opera Thrift Shop

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

While there are several thrift shops in the neighborhood, you'll want to scan the racks at the City Opera Thrift Shop. Benefitting the NYC Opera, the second-hand store at 222 E. 23rd St. has it all -- gently-worn clothing, accessories, furniture, china, art, books and more. If you get there early enough, you may find some really great furniture, and every once in a while, a costume from NYC Opera. This place warrants more than one visit.

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

The two-story shop, which is operatic in design, has unusual items like these cool red chairs.

Find your hero at JHU Comic Books

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Kips Bay has a great comic book store tucked away at 481 Third Ave. JHU Comic Books has thousands of books, including at least 10,000 back issues. You'll find classic Marvel heroes (Spider-Man and Black Panther included) plus indie comic books and small press books, manga, and even a nice collection of all-female cartoonists (Roz Chast and Minnie Goetze, for example). The staff is very knowledgeable, too, and can recommend or point you in the direction of what you want. Co-owner Nick Purpura said the new shop opened in April this year after its former landlord wouldn't renew its lease for its spot on 32nd between Madison and Park avenues. It had been there since 1989, but it worked out -- the shop is doing fine.

"It feels like a little comic book shop again," Purpura told amNewYork. "We see families and regulars come in all the time. We have no intentions of moving."

JHU's first shop and headquarters is on Staten Island and has been around since 1983. As a well-established comics shop, there are frequent signings and sales, so check its website to find out when.

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

"Black Panther" is among the thousands of books to choose from.

Try a tarte for dinner

Photo Credit: La Tarte Flambée

It's not what you think. La Tarte Flambée at 153 E. 33rd St. uses a wood-burning oven to make tartes flambée -- a grilled flatbread popular in Alsace, France. They are savory and resemble pizza but are flat like a crepe, with flavors pulled from French and German cuisine (Alsace borders Germany). Prices range from $14 to $20 depending on the toppings. Of course, you can order the sweet stuff, which include tartes made with apples, chocolate and strawberries, banana split, oreo and s'mores. The family-owned restaurant has a beautiful patio, offering a nice getaway that might make you feel transported to France.

or get some Indian Food...

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...because there are so many places to choose from. Kips Bay and Murray Hill (nicknamed "Curry Hill") have an incredible number of Indian restaurants -- many down Lexington Avenue. Take your pick. We recommend Mughlai Indian Cuisine (329 Third Ave.) or Sahib (104 Lexington Ave.).

Spend your coins at Modern Pinball

Photo Credit: Shaye Weaver

Feel young again at Modern Pinball (362 Third Ave.), where you have a wide selection of pinball machines to play: Addams Family, Aerosmith, Game of Thrones, Terminator 2, Star Wars, Spider-Man, Blackhole and more. There's also an arcade game console if you feel like playing Pac-Man, Robotron, Frogger or Mortal Combat. It's open until midnight so take your time eating dinner or getting drinks. A price of $14.95 gets you an hour, $16.95 two hours, $19.95 three hours and $29.95 a day pass. Admission gets you free play on all the games and 10 percent off food and drinks at Mad Hatter next door. College students also get 5 percent off.

Get a little buzzed from Tipsy Scoop

Photo Credit: Tipsy Scoop

This boozy ice cream parlor at 217 E 26th St. offers scoops, ice cream sandwiches and cakes made with seasonal wines and liquors. Flavors include "strawberry rhubarb bourbon," "maple bacon bourbon," "cake batter vodka martini" and seasonal flavors like "frosé all day." And yes, you need to be 21 and older to partake.