Best of the Decade
Distilling 10 years of Best of Westchester issues into a must-have guide to everything stupendous, supreme, sublime, sophisticated, and superlative in the county. Our Best of the Best of Westchester.
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Arts, Leisure, & Nightlife
What's kept culture vultures entertained for the past decade.
You don’t have to be born on a bayou to have a good time there. No other restaurant in Westchester can get us dancing like we’re in the Big Easy. Every weekend, the joint is filled with the sounds of blues, bluegrass, zydeco, and good old rock 'n' roll, spanning the musical gamut from authentic acts straight from New Orleans to Italian tributes to the Rolling Stones. And what goes better with N'awlins sounds than hush puppies, mudbugs, and BBQ 'gator?
Liz and Bob Hyland preside over sports-gazing at the Bob Hyland's Sports Page Pub in White Plains.
Photo by John Fortunato
Bob Hyland’s Sports Page Pub
Who knows how to do a sports bar better than an actual professional athlete? Now in its new location, the Sports Page Pub, owned by onetime New York Giant Bob Hyland, is hooked up with a grand total of 46 TVs and 14 DirectTV receivers, so you always have a good view of the game—practically any game. (College football fans rejoiced that the bar broadcast every televised college game available through Cablevision and DirectTV.) On the rare nights that sports are slow, there is Guitar Hero and Rock Band to take its place.
A decade ago, who would’ve thought that White Plains would become so in? Credit Brazen Fox as one of the hotspots that revived downtown WP nightlife. The bar gets the crowds going by putting music first—there’s a stage front and center to showcase local, fun, bar bands. But, if that’s not your scene, there are three levels of space (and some outdoor seating, too) for you to move on to.
Bronx River Parkway Bicycle Sundays
White Plains to Yonkers
It’s easy to see why Bicycle Sundays have been so popular since 1974 (before fixed-gear bikes became a trendy must-have). More than 13 miles of the prime highway is cordoned off for bikers, skaters, and even strollers, allowing for plenty of open-air coasting on easy turf. It’s much more fun to enjoy the scenery when you’re not stuck in traffic.
Caramoor International Music Festival
For some, summer is set off by beach visits, barbecues, or camp carpools. For us, summer doesn’t officially begin until Caramoor’s International Music Festival gets underway. It can’t get much better than that: world-class acts—think Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, and Audra McDonald—perform outdoors in the take-your-breath-away beauty of Caramoor’s Venetian Theater. And, in 2009, we got even luckier with Caramoor’s introduction of a one-weekend Fall Festival—one last hurrah right when the scenery is at its most inspiring and the weather is at its most comfortable.
The Castle on the Hudson
Who cares if it’s an authentic castle or not? The AAA four-diamond hotel has everything you could need for a romantic getaway—secluded turrets, marble baths, four-poster beds, a four-star restaurant, and views of the Hudson River.
Clay Art Center
We loved it dearly before it added to its size, with a new 650-square-foot gallery dedicated to showcasing works by the leading clay artists in the field. Now, we adore it even more.
Clearwater Great Hudson River Revival
Our own mini-Woodstock— without the clogged Portosans and brown acid. Instead, we’ve got the roaring river. And environmental activism. And folk’s elder statesman, Pete Seeger, who founded the festival, which planted roots in Croton Point Park in 1978. Today, the festival has grown so that almost every inch of the park teems with activities and performers: storytellers, dance troupes, craft artists, green-living vendors, puppet shows, jugglers, and clowns—plus two stages of music performances, which feature some of the top acts in the business. And it works; thanks to funds raised through the festival, Clearwater has been credited with leading the way in passing environmental laws, making our Hudson clean again.
Copland House's Artistic and Executive Director Michael Boriskin keeps classical music vibrant in the county.
Photo by John Fortunato
Copland House at Merestead
Copland House had us at, well, Copland’s house. But now we’ve got Copland House at Merestead, which burst onto the county’s cultural landscape in 2009 with claims that it would establish a new center for American music and the arts. Lofty goals—but we don’t doubt they all will be achieved. The historic (but previously little-used) Merestead Estate in Mount Kisco is now home to a slate of performances from both emerging and established performers. Last year, for example, you could have seen cabaret superstar Andrea Marcovicci—and her protégé, Jennifer Sheehan.
Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Garden
PepsiCo HQ, Purchase
Kudos to PepsiCo for not locking up its impressive art collection in some employees-only location—and instead making it free and open to the public. There are few places in the world where you can see sculptures by Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Henry Moore, and Auguste Rodin without paying a dime (even for parking). Plus, the layout—the 45 works of art are spread out across 168 acres of sprawling lawns, wooded paths, serene ponds, and other beautifully manicured landscapes—makes it the most perfect picnic spot.
Photo by Kevin Birmingham
Grand Prix New York
Grand Prix New York is a great place to visit when you need a little (or big) thrill. Visitors suit up like NASCAR drivers, get behind the wheel of a 6.5 horsepower Honda kart, and speed down the quarter-mile tracks the way they wish they could do on our highways. It’s the quickest way to inject some adrenaline into the daily routine. Kids get to race, too, on kid-sized tracks, in kid-sized vehicles.
Photo by Matt Gillis
Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze
You can carve pumpkins, you can cook pumpkins—but you’ve never really seen what pumpkins could do unless you’ve been to the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze. More than 4,000 pumpkins are carved, lit, and incorporated into intricate Jack O’Lantern dioramas. The Blaze has made Westchester the area’s premier Halloween destination, attracting 65,000 visitors last year, putting us on the spooky map for something other than that famous Headless Horseman.
Hudson River Museum
Of course, the Hudson River is inspiring to artists—Hudson River School of Painting, anyone? So it makes sense that there’d be a museum dedicated to the area and the artists it influenced. It’s the place to go to gawk at our own beauty—even the parking lot has a terrific view of the River. (Check back soon for an exhibition of Susan Wides’s Hudson Valley photographs, inspired by Hudson River School painters.) The Museum also has one eye out for our skies, being home to the county’s only planetarium.
Jacob Burns Film Center
The Jacob Burns Film Center is not just the best film center in Westchester—it’s one of the best anywhere. Otherwise, how else would it have attracted more than a million visitors since its opening in 2001? And it’s easy to see why crowds of cinephiles flock to it. Not only does it present the most engaging independent movies, foreign films, and documentaries—it also brings filmmakers in to keep the discussion rolling. (Visitors to the center have included Werner Herzog, Harvey Weinstein, Danny Boyle, and Salma Hayek.) And, just down the street, it recently opened a state-of-the-art Media Arts Lab to train future filmmakers and to ensure great programming for years to come. Consider yourself lucky.
Man, those Rockefellers sure knew how to live. And aren't we fortunate that we can live out our Rockefeller daydreams by touring Kykuit, home of John D. Rockefeller and the next three generations of the Rockefeller family? If you’re not into seeing how the other half lived, the tour is worth it just for the collection of art that can be found on the property. It rivals many museums, with works by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Isamu Noguchi, and Louise Nevelson.
Lazy Boy Saloon
One word: beer. If you’re a beer drinker, there’s no greater variety in Westchester than at the Lazy Boy Saloon. On tap, in bottles, from Japan or the Czech Republic, Lithuania or Louisiana, there's a beer for every mood, taste, or desire (yes, even if you just want to sit back with a Michelob Light). Because the massive beer list is constantly in rotation, it’s never quite the same experience twice.
News 12 Westchester
News 12 Westchester is indispensable. Tune in to this hyper-local news source at any time for a primer on the good (and, sometimes, bad) stuff: headlines, weather reports, traffic updates, and school closings—covering places like Vista and Mount Kisco, not Manhattan and Hoboken.
Old Croton Aqueduct State Park Trailway
Yonkers to Croton-on-Hudson
We don’t need a treadmill or a gym card when we have the Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway, a favorite of hikers, bikers, and dog-walkers from Northern Westchester to the Bronx border. Along the easy-to-hike, 26-mile path, you’ll pass Irvington’s cool Octagon House, the Rockefeller State Park Preserve, and plenty of Hudson River vistas. The family-friendly walk is also absolutely free—something else you can’t say about your gym membership.
Photo by Dan Shearer
Paramount Center for the Arts
When Paramount Pictures built this movie palace in the 1930s, it probably never figured that it would still be the center of Peekskill’s cultural nightlife 80 years later. And, yes, the landmark building is still home to movies—good ones, too, like Winter’s Bone or The Kids Are All Right. But it has expanded beyond film to showcase innovative theater, experimental and established music, and cutting-edge comedians. This fall alone, they’ve had comedian Lewis Black, Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, actor John Lithgow, and jazz legend Pat Metheny on its stage, keeping us current without having to leave the county borders. We applaud that heartily.
We love The Peak not just because it provides the soundtracks to our day—from older, forgot-about-it tunes with the “10 @ 10” to brand-new, haven’t-heard-them-yet songs on Next. We adore it because it’s our local station, and we can treat The Peak like a neighbor. Love a song you heard on Next? Let the DJ know by voting in his weekly online poll (or by sending a friendly tweet @NextMusicShow). Wanna give the station more feedback? Join the “Listener Advisory Board,” where members often win cool prizes and get to attend intimate concerts with the station’s staff. Still hungry for more? Mingle with listeners at the periodic Happy Hour/Mix CD Swaps. You can’t do that with your favorite satellite station.
The Performing Arts Center
Where would we be without the PAC? The offerings at the Performing Arts Center are so consistently strong that it might prompt classical music fans to dream of boarding on the campus of Purchase College. The roster is full of world-renowned orchestras parading in and out, with master solo performances thrown in there as well (with some dance and film for good measure). Not convinced? Look for upcoming performances with New York’s Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Japan’s NHK Symphony Orchestra, British violinist Daniel Hope, and Broadway legend Bernadette Peters.
The Picture House
No, the offerings here are not yet as extensive as its counterpart to the north, the Jacob Burns Film Center. But the fact that the Picture House is even still here is remarkable. The 1921 theater found itself—after surviving the Great Depression and World War II—on the chopping block, before a group of concerned citizens deemed it worth saving. Today, the theater is in the midst of a top-to-bottom renovation. And, if you build it, they will come. Indeed, stars like Richard Gere, Alan Rickman, and Charles Grodin already have. We plan to drop by as often as time allows. You'd be foolish not to do the same.
There’s a reason we all have Playland bumper stickers on the back of our minivans (and it’s not just because they're given out for free). It’s that a summer trip to Playland is one of Westchester’s most hallowed traditions, and taking a spin on the Dragon Coaster is a rite of passage for every local youngster. (And you can picture it being like that all the way back to 1927—we love seeing historical photos of men in hats and ladies in pearls enjoying the rides.) Sure, Playland’s future is in doubt, but you’ve made it known that you value the amusement park: in a recent online poll conducted by us, an overwhelming 79 percent of you want Playland to remain open, no matter the cost.
Rockefeller State Park Preserve
Sometimes, we’re not looking for a night out or a great meal. Sometimes we just want…quiet. Enter the Rockefeller State Park Preserve. The park offers more than 1,400 acres of serene scenery. There are trails to hike (carriage roads courtesy of John D. Rockefeller, Jr.). There are birds to watch (it was named an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society). There are bass to catch, and, when you feel like rejoining society, the fact that it abuts the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture doesn’t hurt, either.
Author readings can sometimes be a very sober affair. The writers get up, they clear their throats at the podium, and read their very serious works of fiction. Produced by the friendliest host this side of the South, DeLauné Michel, Spoken Interludes is our favorite reading series because it breaks the stuffy atmosphere. Instead, you’re more likely to think of it as a cocktail party—a very fashionable one, where authors happen to drop by and read their recent work. Folks who have recently dropped by include Frank Bruni, A.J. Jacobs, Sloane Crosley, and Marilyn Johnson. And, man, do their words go down nicely with Chutney Masala’s samosas.
Tarrytown Music Hall
In a time when many cultural venues are struggling, the Tarrytown Music Hall is thriving—and it’s easy to see why. The Hall books the acts we most want to see, from indie musicians like Neko Case and Andrew Bird to critically acclaimed acts like Brandi Carlile to crowd-pleasers like Cyndi Lauper and Barenaked Ladies. Add to that roster children’s school shows, classic movies, and even a few comedians. It’s hard to find someone who wouldn't be smitten with the Hall. Any wonder attendance is up 400 percent since 2005?
Teatown Lake Reservation
We love the Teatown Lake Reservation in summer, when the two-acre Wildflower Island bursts with more than 200 species of flowers (some endangered). We love Teatown in the fall, when it’s best to take a quick loop around the pond to appreciate the vibrant colors of the foliage. We love Teatown in winter, when it’s fun to see the pond frozen over with ice. Teatown also has acquired more open space that was made available across the street from its nature center, and, if the current Reservation is any indication of how it will be maintained, we’re all for it—in any season.
Union Church of Pocantico Hills
The church is teeny; the art is major. Yes, stained-glass windows by Henri Matisse and Marc Chagall. There’s never been a better reason to go to church.
Ward Pound Ridge Reservation
The county’s largest park also happens to be one of its loveliest. It’s easy to lose yourself—in the good way—among the park’s more than 4,500 acres of wooded terrain. Bikers and hikers sing the praises of its trails, and our county’s writers and artists often cite the Reservation as the place they go to for inspiration, Thoreau-style. (There are two galleries and a museum on-site for another boost.) It’s basically our Central Park—only five times larger and 10 times prettier.
Westchester Broadway Theatre
Dinner theater is one of those retro pleasures, like drive-in movies or really good malted milkshakes. Sure, the tablecloths are vinyl, the seats roll like your desk chair, and the dinner portions are unfathomably huge—but we wouldn’t want it any other way. Plus, when it comes to the talent that performs at the WBT, there’s nothing retro about it. For shows, which have recently included Rent, Aida, Nine, and Phantom, the WBT always rustles up a mix of Broadway vets and astonishing up-and-comers. People who got their start at the WBT include Chicago director Rob Marshall and The Producers director Susan Stroman, and the next big thing just might be on stage after they clear away your giant plate of food.
Itzhak Perlman is one of the most celebrated violinists in the world, performing for everyone from Queen Elizabeth II to Sesame Street fans. And, when he picks up a baton, he does it for us. Since 2008, the maestro has been the artistic director for the Westchester Philharmonic (which, in our opinion, was already pretty darn good). In addition to having a world-class musical director, the Philharmonic keeps us up-to-date on the classical music scene by introducing us to new musicians and new works, while mixing in the timeless classics of Mozart and Beethoven.