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Theater District: With Times Square at its center, residents adapt to living among tourists

Living in the Theater District is all about compromise.

It has a vibrant energy and is a convenient place to live for those who work in midtown, but it is also home to one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations.

There’s a huge amount of retail stores, but neighborly cafes are hard to come by.

And, while residents have their pick of musicals or plays to see most nights, regular tickets to Broadway shows can put a dent in household budgets.

With Times Square in the center of their neighborhood, residents have to adapt to living among the tourists. They dine out between 8 and 10 p.m., while Broadway shows are in session and local restaurants are less packed, grab coffee at Simon Sips, a cafe hidden in an office building at 1185 Sixth Ave., and look forward to the city’s offseason between January and March.

They must also accept that life in the Theater District revolves around Broadway.

At St. Malachy’s-The Actors’ Chapel, on 49th Street off Eighth Avenue, a mass is held at 11 p.m. on Saturdays for those who want to go by church after a show or prefer to sleep in on Sundays.

The church bells play “There’s No Business Like Show Business” on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.

About half the churchgoers are tourists, noted its pastor, Rev. Peter Colapietro.

“There’s a lot of new faces all the time,” he said. “As far as our regular parishioners ... we have a lot of actors, actresses, people who sing in our choir, stagehands, carpenters, electricians.”

Eric Straus, 57 — the president of Transworld Business Advisors, which brokers sales of companies — has lived in the district for eight years and said he loves being so close to the Great White Way.

“At intermission I use the bathroom at my apartment, and then I walk back to the theater,” he said.

Straus added that he and his wife also chose to live here because they felt it is safe for their five kids.

“It’s always noon outside because of all the lights, and there are cops everywhere,” he explained.

But what the Theater District offers in twinkling lights, some say it lacks in a neighborhood-feel. It is void of the mom-and-pop shops found in more residential neighborhoods, and is abundant in Duane Reades.

And with its 24 hour bustle of rehearsals, tourists and performances, the nabe isn’t for those wanting peace and quiet.

Lizzy Rainer is the director of programs and evaluation at the nonprofit Artists Striving to End Poverty, which is headquartered on 46th Street off Seventh Avenue. She has worked in the area for five years and said spending so much time in Times Square is a blessing and a curse.

“It’s really nice — but also sometimes bad for my blood pressure, to have to walk through it every day,” she said.

In terms of real estate, Theater District housing stock varies, but prices are mostly high, with the median sales price at $1,603,743 in 2015, compared to $985,000 in Manhattan as a whole, and the median rent at $3,700, compared to $3,195 borough-wide, according to the listings site StreetEasy.

The district offers luxury buildings — such as 1600 Broadway on The Square which has an average sales price of $2 million on StreetEasy, and the Platinum at 247 W. 46th St. where the average is $1.9 million — along with numerous pre-war buildings.

The five-story walk-up at 852 Eighth Ave. was built in 1915 and has an average rent of $1,865 on StreetEasy, and 138 W. 46th St., also five stories, has an average of $1,900.

Despite the prices, local Citi Habitats sales broker Elena Ravich said the Theater District has thriving population of Millennial residents.

“There’s a lot of young professionals because [it’s near] the Midtown business district,” she said. “So it’s very conveniently-located for people to get to their offices.”

And many said there is a sense of community in the small neighborhood of 26 blocks, especially between residents and those who work in hospitality.

Favorite hangouts for locals include Toloache at 251 W. 50th St. for Mexican fare, Jake’s @ the Knick hotel at 6 Times Square for breakfast, and Carolines on Broadway at 1626 Broadway for dessert and stand-up comedy.

“If I go out, I’ll run into all kinds of people on the street, people from restaurants, and say‘Hey, what are the specials tonight?’“ mused Charles Kipps, a TV, movie and music producer who also writes mystery novels.

A bond is felt within the performing arts scene as well, noted Patricia Schwadron, who for 17 years has worked at The Actors Fund nonprofit, which has its national headquarters on Seventh Avenue near 49th Street.

Although many performers live outside of the district, with 38 theaters and numerous rehearsal spaces for dancers, actors and singers, it is the home to a transient performer community, she explained.

“Your community as a performer is the show you are in, that becomes your family,” Schwadron said. “It’s something about the nature of communities being formed around interests, rather than around geography.”

Find it

The Theater District runs from West 40th Street
Photo Credit: Google Maps

The Theater District runs from West 40th Street to the south to West 53rd Street to the north, and sits between Eighth Avenue to the west and Sixth Avenue to the east.

Theater District restaurants

City Kitchen at Row NYC (pictured)700 Eighth Ave.Times
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

City Kitchen at Row NYC (pictured)

700 Eighth Ave.

Times Square's home for the city's food hall craze, this cafeteria features vendors including Dough and Gabriela's Taqueria.

Blue Fin

1567 Broadway

This trendy seafood and sushi spot is popular for pre-theater dining. It features a raw bar, complete with Alaskan King Crab legs and Petrossian caviar.

The Lambs Club

132 W. 44th St.

Saturday brunch through November features cast members from "Chicago The Musical," who perform jazz as patrons sip on Bloody Mary's.

Bars and nightlife

Jimmy's Corner140 W. 44th St.Escape the tourists in
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Jimmy's Corner

140 W. 44th St.

Escape the tourists in this laid-back, inexpensive no-frills sports bar. Beer is cheap, and the house cocktail, Jimmy's Hurricane, is made with spiced rum. If you hang around long enough you may get to meet Jimmy himself, who occasionally worked with Muhammad Ali back in the day.

Copacabana Times Square

268 W. 47th St.

Scenes from "The French Connection" and "The Mask" were filmed in this four-floor nightclub. Open for more than 75 years, it has also been a hangout for everyone from Frank Sinatra and Andy Warhol to Nicki Minaj and Snoop Dogg.

The Iridium (pictured)

1650 Broadway

Head to the Iridium for an intimate jazz experience, where Les Paul played for many years. It has an Italian menu and is a great way to experience a New York-style dinner and a show.

Things to do in the Theater District

Bowlmor Times Square (pictured)222 W. 44th St.Bowlmor is
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Bowlmor Times Square (pictured)

222 W. 44th St.

Bowlmor is part-nightclub, part-bowling alley. You can hit the lanes to bowl, and then have a cocktail or two.

AMC Empire 25

234 W. 42nd St.

This is the one of largest movie theaters in the country and screens the latest blockbusters, old classics, indie movies and foreign films.

The Church of St. Mary the Virgin

145 W. 46th St.

St. Mary's, aka "Smoky Mary's," a Gothic-inspired church built in 1868, hosts choral concerts and orchestral performances throughout the year.

Where to shop

Theatre Circle (pictured)268 W. 44th St..Visit the gift
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Theatre Circle (pictured)

268 W. 44th St..

Visit the gift shop for all Broadway souvenirs and collectables, designed to look and feel like an old-fashioned store. All employees at the Circle work or have worked in the performing arts industry, and the store sells sheet music, scripts, tote bags, posters and more.

Drama Bookshop

250 W. 40th St.

The drama bookshop sells classic and new plays, production guides, writing manuals, and stand-up comedy tutorials. It also hosts regular events, such as free monologue workshops, book signings and discussions with local playwrights.

Disney Store

1540 Broadway

Find collectables from Disney Princess toys to Mickey & Friends T-shirts.

Transit basics

Trains:1 to Times Square/42nd Street, 50th Street2, 3
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier


1 to Times Square/42nd Street, 50th Street

2, 3 to Times Square/42nd Street

N, Q, R to Times Square/42nd Street, 49th Street

B, D, F, M to 42nd Street/Bryant Park, 47-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center

B, D to 42nd Street/Bryant Park, 47-50th Streets/Rockefeller Center, Seventh Avenue

A, C to 42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal

C to 42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal, 50th Street

E to 42nd Street/Port Authority Bus Terminal, 50th Street, Seventh Avenue

S to 42nd Street-Times Square


M5, M7, M20, M34A, M42, M50, M104

Theater District real estate data

Median sales price: $1,603,743 Number of units on
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Median sales price: $1,603,743

Number of units on market: 131

Median rental price: $3,700

Number of rentals: 915

(Source: StreetEasy)

Fun fact about the Theater District

The Belasco Theatre at 111 W. 44th St.,
Photo Credit: Meghan Giannotta

The Belasco Theatre at 111 W. 44th St., which opened in 1907 and is named after the late playwright and director David Belasco, is rumored to be haunted by its namesake's ghost. There have been frequent "sightings" of Belasco's ghost since he died in 1931 at age 77, with actors and theatergoers claiming they saw a man dressed in a clerical collar, which Belasco wore when he was alive, in the theater balcony watching the show.

The buzz

The Theater District is humming with excitement over
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

The Theater District is humming with excitement over several new attractions coming to Times Square in the next year.

Among the new projects is National Geographic's ENCOUNTER: Ocean Odyssey, which will take over 226 W. 44th St., formerly occupied by Discovery Times Square, next summer.

It will transform the 60,000-square-foot space into an underwater experience, where visitors can go for simulated dives complete with stingrays, dolphins, a coral reef and more.

"National Geographic believes in the power of storytelling to change the world," said Andy Reif, of National Geographic Partners. "The experience allows the consumer access to an underwater world in a whole new way."

Also on the way is Gulliver's Gate, a 49,000-square-foot miniature world at 216 W. 44th St.

Artists and engineers are currently building the attraction, which will feature a mini New York City, along with international locations such as the Panama Canal and Jerusalem. It is slated to open next spring.

And in April, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry is opening the Opry City Stage, a four-level entertainment complex at 1604 Broadway featuring a restaurant, bar and live performance space.

Q&A with Saira Nicole, Times Square desnuda

Saira Nicole, 30, a Brooklyn native and Bushwick
Photo Credit: Rosa O'Hara

Saira Nicole, 30, a Brooklyn native and Bushwick resident, has worked as a desnuda -- or painted lady -- for three years. She became interested in performing while studying theater and modern dance as a child, and worked in music management after graduating from Hunter College. Nicole works in Times Square during the warmer months, and spends winters in Las Vegas, where she also works as a topless street performer.

Why is your job important to you?

It means representing my city as a native New Yorker. I'm one of the few people doing is who is actually from New York, so it just means a lot to me because I do feel like an ambassador. We are one of the first things people [see] when they get here. People still have their luggage, they're walking through Times Square and they take a picture with us. So it's being that welcome committee, and I feel like being topless, being in paint, is kind of head-on with what they could expect with being in New York -- you know, being shocked, being challenged. Their ideologies being challenged as soon as they walk in. I feel like that's what being topless in New York represents to me.

What do you like about the Theater District?

There's really no place in the world quite like Times Square, where you not only have the grit and the rawness that New York City has to offer alone, but then you have an influx of all these people experiencing that for the first time together. There's not a day that goes by that I don't meet someone. I met somebody from Croatia today already. I don't know too many places in the world where you can cover that many continents in such a small space.

Do you meet any interesting locals?

There's a man here, who I met just working here. He lived originally in Florida, where typically that's the place people retire. He decided to retire to New York and he lives in that building right there. Him and his wife retired and decided to move to New York, and he said it was just for this reason: He knew that if he came here, he wouldn't have to go anywhere else. He could literally walk outside his door and be entertained, and have this shock of culture every single day, without having to go anywhere. He just walks outside his door and he's meeting people from across the world. He has food from across the world available to him as he walks out, instead of retiring somewhere like Florida, and feeling like that's it. And so he's able to really enjoy his retirement. So that was his reason, and I thought that was pretty interesting. I don't think that's typical for people to want to retire in a place like this.

New Yorkers say they never go to Times Square. Is that true?

Before I started working here, I would never be here. If I did, it would be like, "haha, what am I doing in Times Square?" I see New Yorkers here every day, and they still have this look of bewilderment ... when New Yorkers come here they're still kind of like tourists all over again, eyes wide, it's insane. It still shocks you. Even if you haven't been to Times Square for three years, it's still something new and different, there's new stores, there's a new vibe. Each year brings something different. It's constantly evolving.


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