Your go-to guide for entertaining holiday guests

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Rolf’s nails the Santa’s Grotto vibe. Photo: @rolfsnyc

‘Tis the season for holiday lights, ustagical snowfalls, giving gifts…and a never ending stream of out-of-towners trickling through your front door. Besides blowing up the air mattress and pouring some mulled wine, how else can you keep friends and family busy without losing your mind this holiday season? Let us count the ways…

For your fashion-forward friends, the MoMA exhibit, Is Fashion Modern?, provides plenty of eye candy. Photo: Museum of Modern Art

Find Art in Some Unusual Places

Give guests the culture they crave by bringing them to NYC’s world famous museums and galleries. Even if your friends and family aren’t art connoisseurs, there’s something here for everyone this time of year. For your college girlfriends who fly into town wanting to do more than brunch and shop, entice them to The Museum of Modern Art for Items: Is Fashion Modern, an exploration of past, present and future clothing and accessories that have made an impact on our world (11 53rd St., Manhattan, through January 28th). And then don’t miss the FREE Louis Vuitton exhibit, tracing the history of the house from 1854 to present (The American Stock Exchange Building, 86 Trinity Pl., Financial District through January 7th). For your Los Angeles transplant friends who came back East for the holidays, go classic with a day at the Met for David Hockney’s poolside view of La La Land (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Avenue, Manhattan through February 25th). Siblings who descend upon your apartment might enjoy exploring the High Line and visiting The Whitney, where you can visit a mid career survey of artist Laura Owens, who the Whitney calls “one of the most influential artists of her generation” (99 Gansevoort St., Meatpacking District. Through February 4th). For your pretentious friends who scoff at the hierarchy of institutionalized art, impress them in Chelsea by gallery hopping through some major shows like Richard Prince at the Gladstone Gallery (515 W. 24th Street, Chelsea through December 22nd). Finally, there’s even a museum for your philistine parents who wonder what to do in the afternoon before their broadway show. Downton Abbey: The Exhibition (218 W. 57th Street through January 31st) showcases props, costumes and rooms of the house for fans of the beloved show.

Spongebob Squarepants is one of the hottest ticket in town. Seriously, the songs are by legends like David Bowie, John Legend, Cyndi Lauper, They Might Be Giants and Lady Antebellum. Photo: Spongebob Squarepants

See a Show

The holiday spirit resides at TKTS, according to all of the tourists jovially lining up at 5am for discounts to Broadway shows. You can impress out of town guests with your inside knowledge by bringing them to the Brooklyn TKTS booth (1 MetroTech Center, Downtown Brooklyn) and cut their wait down by hours. Although you won’t find Hamilton tickets on discount, you could be one of the first to check out Spongebob Squarepants which opened on December 5th to surprisingly good reviews. For your disbelieving guests, remind them that the songs have been written by pop-rock favorites like John Legend, Cyndi Lauper and Lady Antebellum (Palace Theatre, 1564 Broadway, Theater District). Off-Broadway choices abound, but for real wizardry, why not a magic show? In & Of Itself, a solo show by Derek DelGaidio, directed by Frank Oz, produced by Neil Patrick Harris, with music by Mark Mothersbaugh, delivers deception where magic is not just used to entertain, but to question ideas of identity. It’s on the somber side, but there is a powerful moment at the end worth the price of admission (Daryl Roth Theatre, 101 E. 15th St., Union Square). If your out of towners just want some seasonal escapism, you could do worse than Elf The Musical. If you’re familiar with the film, then you know it’s about Buddy, a child who by accident ends up at the North Pole and grows up as an elf. At the very least, there will be laughs (The Theater at Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plz, Midtown). Or if it’s something classic you are after, why not dress to the nines and go to the opera? The English-language Holiday presentation of Hansel and Gretel at the Met Opera through January 6 would be a perfect entree into the world of opera, and with high balcony tickets, it can even be affordable (30 Lincoln Center Plaza, UWS).

Pinwheel Lasagna? Only in New York! Photo: @donangienyc

Wine and Dine Them

Out of town guests want the fancy Nobu treatment but balk at the top of the line prices. Luckily, there are still some impressive restaurants that won’t leave your guests too broke for brunch. After trolling the holiday windows, skip tea at the Plaza, and take the escalator downstairs to the Todd English Food Hall. There you’ll find celebratory choices like Olma Caviar Bar, Lady M Confections or Vive Le Crepe, in a casual setting (Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at Central Park South). If your guests expect a little more Truman Capote than Eloise, promise them Breakfast at Tiffanys and make a reservation at the new Blue Box Cafe on the 4th floor of Tiffanys. If you can score a reservation (nearly impossible!), the prix fixe prices are not outrageous (Tiffany & Co., 727 Fifth Avenue). For a classic choice, wow your visitors with a seat at Grand Central Oyster Bar. Take a seat at the bar and order up a dozen freshly shucked oysters and a nice glass of wine and take in the grandness of this decades old spot (Lower Level, Grand Central Station, 89 E. 42nd St.). If your guests are foodies who came to New York to update their food blogs, then you’ll want to bring them to hotspot Don Angie where every option on the Italian menu is Instagram pretty (103 Greenwich Avenue, West Village). Maybe your guests would prefer to see what the buzz in Brooklyn is about. In that case, book a table at Insa Brooklyn, a Korean BBQ place by the chefs behind Red Hook favorite, The Good Fork. It’s a great place for groups with long communal tables, and afterwards settle into a karaoke room for a night of loud debauchery (328 Douglass St., Gowanus). If none of this is enough for your difficult houseguests, who have a had time feeling the holiday cheer, then there’s only one place left to go. Brave the line at lunchtime at Rolf’s (dinner is booked through December 26). Like eating inside a Christmas tree, this German restaurant has overpriced food set inside a winter wonderland consisting of over $65,000 worth of ornaments, lights, dolls and decorations. If this doesn’t impress them, send your guests home immediately (281 Third Avenue, Gramercy). 

Although you can’t see movies here, this gorgeous renovated movie palace will impress any cinema buffs you have in town. And buying tickets to The Hip Hop Nutcracker will give them an unforgettable experience. Photo: @kingsbklyn

Take Them Back in Time to a Classic Movie Palace

A night at the cinema might not usually include dressing up or riding in a limousine (ala Daddy Warbucks and Annie at the 1936 film “Camille”), but are there any opulent theaters left? The storied Ziegfeld theater in midtown closed last year to become an event space known now as the Ziegfeld Ballroom. But that cinematic splendor can still be found in NYC. For movie buffs who want the curated cinematic experience, there’s Metrograph, a movie theater whose mission includes creating “a world of hospitality harkening back to the great New York movie theaters of the 1920s.” With a mix of newer and older films, it’s a dream for film enthusiasts. Stop by for their out- of-the-box “Christmas at Metrograph” series which include unusual holiday fare like “Edward Scissorhands” and “Eyes Wide Shut.” Afterwards, make sure to stop in the Metrograph Commissary for a Jack Lemmon salad or a Banana Split. (Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St., Lower East Side)

Step into a sci-fi movie set, and shop your way through this architectural feat (and the attached Westfield Shopping Center.) Photo: @oculuswtc

Shop Till They Drop

Lots of guests from out of town like to go shopping while they are here. But with temperatures in the 20s and frigid wind tunnels around every corner, it’s not so easy to traipse through the Lower East Side or Williamsburg. Head instead to indoor markets that allow serious spending with all the comforts of a mall. Chelsea Market offers so much more than quick lunches for busy Google execs. From finding unusual gifts at Artists & Fleas to exotic scents at Spices and Tease, there’s lots to see and shop. Just choosing a place for lunch from all the incredible choices will keep guests busy for an entire afternoon. (75 9th Avenue, Chelsea) Further downtown, the Oculus/ Westfield World Trade Center is a jaw-dropping transportation hub that looks like the bones of a giant whale. Connected to this architectural behemoth is the Westfield Shopping Center that includes luxe stores such as Apple, Montblanc and Stuart Weitzman. Plus, through January 7th, a Holiday Marketplace will be set up in the Main Concourse with vendors and entertainment. After your group has built up an appetite, take the escalators all the way up to the downtown branch of Eataly. Mario Batali’s recent sexual assault allegations had him step down from his businesses, so your money spent here shouldn’t be going into his pocket. (Westfield Shopping Center, 185 Greenwich St., World Trade Center) Too cold to even trek into Manhattan? Industry City seems to have an ever rotating schedule of markets, fairs and events that will entice your guests. From the Renegade Craft Holiday Fair to Brooklyn Flea, all holiday shopping can be done here. And for all your design friends, ABC Carpet, Flavor Paper and DWR all have outposts here. End your shopping day with dumplings from Yaso Tangbao or Avocado toast from Avocaderia, the world’s first avocado bar. (Industry City, 220 36th St., Sunset Park)

The holidays practically begs for a booze tour. join Kings County Distillery to taste spirits for holiday spirits. Photo: @kingscountydistillery

Tour NYC’s Food and Drink Scenes

New York is known for some of the best specialty food in the world. Your out-of-town guests will expect you to know all the secret spots. Don’t stress! Let someone else do all the planning, and sign up for a culinary tour, cooking class or walking guide through some of the best eats in the city. You can book a food-focused tour through Airbnb’s Experiences section (which is not just limited to the culinary treasures of the city). Gain thorough knowledge of the dim sum scene as you eat you way through Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens with this handy guide/ map by The Infatuation. Everyone knows that New York pizza is the best, but there is much discrepancy of which pizzeria slings the best pies. Join up with one of Scott’s Pizza Tours ($45-$65 per person) and taste some of the finest slices through Manhattan or even the outer boroughs, while you learn the difference between coal, wood and gas fueled ovens and debate the importance of imported tomatoes. If your guest has a sweet tooth that only chocolate can cure, there are four chocolate factories in Brooklyn we recommend, where you can go behind the scenes taste testing along the way. But maybe your friends want to focus on just drinking, and there’s a tour for that as well. For beer, nothing beats Brooklyn Brewery where a two hour tasting tour ($15) can be reserved ahead of time or a free ten minute tour happens every half hour during the weekends (79 N. 11th St. Williamsburg). For the hard stuff, there’s lots of options, but why not discover the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Kings County Distillery? Tours are $14 and include a hour long tasting tour and a visit to the “boozeum.” On December 27th, you can even sign up for a ”Learn the art of tasting whiskey” class which includes a tasting of five whiskeys (299 Sands St., Brooklyn Navy Yard). For something brand-spanking new, bring guests to the recently opened Brooklyn Cider House, Brooklyn’s first cidery, which looks great for large groups (1100 Flushing Ave., Bushwick). 

Tire out even your most active guests, with a glide around Bryant Park’s winter village. Except for the crowds and noise, it’s a peaceful experience to remind you why this is the most wonderful time of the year. Photo: Bryant Park

Lace up Your Skates

When in doubt, embrace the winter weather and enjoy some of the most beautiful outdoor rinks anywhere. Although it seems like a headache to rent skates, and dangerous to flail around on razor blades, once you are out there gliding it is actually an overwhelmingly pleasant experience. The Rink at Bryant Park is one of the most charming surrounded by skyscrapers and centered around a giant Christmas tree. Allso it’s free if you have your own skates, but otherwise skate rental is only $20 for an entire day of fun (Bryant Park, between 40th and 42nd St.). The Standard Hotel’s Ice Skating Rink is tiny in comparison, but is often times less crowded and offers heated ringside seats and an incredible food and drink menu if you’d prefer to get your hot toddy on. Adults pay $13 to get on the rink and $4 to rent skates (The Standard Highline, 848 Washington St., Meatpacking District). Brooklynites don’t need to leave their burough for perfect skating opportunities. LeFrak Center at Lakeside is a lovely place to glide no matter what skill level. It’s a large space with indoor and outdoor ice, and a cafe area that serves pretty good food, where you can eat without unlacing. Weekdays $7/ Weekend and Holidays $10 plus $7 skate rental (Prospect Park, Lincoln Road and Parkside Ocean Avenue entrance). If your guests have their heart set on skating en masse at The Rink at Rockefeller Center, remind them that peak rates through the holidays run $32 per person, but if you want VIP passes, which include access to the “heated igloo” and 90 minutes of skating, it could run up to $150 person. Is your guest still interested? Have them treat (The Rink at Rockefeller Center, 5th Avenue between 49th and 50th).

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