(NOTE: This post has been updated as of October 2019.)
Not running the marathon this year? Aren’t you the lucky one! While the runners are suffering (and oh, how they will be suffering – sure, they’ll be all smiles in Brooklyn, and some will be grinning and pumping their fists as they cross the finish in Central Park, but somewhere between, believe me, they will suffer), you can be eating. And exploring some great neighborhoods. And cheering, too, of course.
2017 is the third edition of this guide. You can find the 2015 and 2016 versions here and here. Rather than repeating myself, I’m letting these two posts stand on their own merits, with minor updates (closings, in particular, are noted). To get a full sense of your options, as well as general race viewing advice (and some great writing, of course), do check out these older posts.
So what’s new this year? For starters, by popular demand (translation: stray comments by several friends), I’ve ventured beyond Brooklyn to cover Long Island City, Harlem, and the Bronx. (If you want to join the hordes cheering along First Avenue below 96th street, my least favorite part of the course as a runner, or anywhere in or alongside Central Park, you’re on your own.) I’ve also included more spots that aren’t strictly on the course, but are close enough – and “worth a detour,” as the Michelin folks would say – along with a new star system to flag my idiosyncratic personal favorites.
First, though, a few marathon spectating do’s and don’ts:
DO understand the various color-coded starts, as well as the timing of the various waves. Along Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, runners from the Blue and Green starts will be on one side of the street, Orange runners on the other.
If you are following the runners along the course – perhaps you’re cheering for an individual (that’s so nice of you!) or maybe you just want to see different parts of the race – then DO get a 7-day unlimited metro card. Not only will this allow you to get from point to point, you can also use subway stations to cross from one side of the course to the other without wasting a $2.75 fare. (Not all stations allow you to exit on either side of the street, but many do.)
Other than the above, DON’T even think about crossing the course during the race, for fuck’s sake.
If you’re cheering for an individual, DO make specific arrangements about where you will be, and stick to them. “Specific” here doesn’t mean “Fourth Avenue in Park Slope” or even “Fourth Avenue and Third Street.” It means, “the east side of Fourth Avenue, just north of Third Street.”
DON’T assume that your runner will hear you screaming their name, especially if they’re wearing their name on their shirt – in that case, lots of people who are not you will also be screaming their name.
DO cheer like a maniac for random runners – especially the ones who aren’t wearing earbuds.
And please . . . DON’T break my heart by eating at a chain restaurant.
Early – miles 2 through 8 (Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and Park Slope/Gowanus)
Once the runners exit the Verrazano Bridge, they hit Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue -immediately, in the case of runners in the Blue and Orange starts, and after a few zigs and zags, in the case of runners in the Green start. And there they will remain for the next six miles (five, in the case of the Green start). It’s the longest stretch of road in the entire race.
It’s also, arguably, the ugliest. Fourth was conceived as Brooklyn’s answer to Park Avenue: a broad, landscaped avenue for strollers and gentry in their carriages. The construction of the subway put an end to that. While the Bay Ridge section is still rather pretty (if staid), much of the avenue’s length is lined with auto repair businesses and, in its northern stretches, hulking new condo towers.
But none of that matters on marathon day, when even the muffler and rim shops take on a festive air. And there’s plenty of good food to be had along the way.
Bay Ridge, the neighborhood closest to the bridge, is my go-to destination for Middle Eastern food. Unfortunately, most of those places are off the course, on either Fifth or Third avenues. (If you can tear yourself away from the race, consider heading up to Fifth around 72nd Street and ducking into Cedars Pastry – they open early, stay open late, and the ice cream is even better than the pastries. Better still, and harder to find: their version of the smooth, perfumed pudding known as muhallabia.)
At the very end of Fourth Avenue, right where the runners in the Blue and Orange starts will be coming off the bridge, you have two good choices. One is the charming Coop (2019 update – CLOSED). The other is Pasticceria Rocco, an outpost of the venerable West Village institution, which in years past has set up a sidewalk table to serve the throngs of marathon spectators gathered outside. (You can also go inside, of course, for freshly-filled cannolis or, if you prefer, a full breakfast.)
Heading south, past blocks of apartment buildings and doctors’ offices, your best Sunday-morning-in-Bay-Ridge bet is a diner or coffee shop like the 24-hour Emphasis (also written up last year) or, across the street, Eddie’s Hero Place. (2018 update: it breaks my heart to report that Eddie’s has CLOSED.)
I’ll admit to adding Eddie’s because of the paucity of other recommendations between 94th and 64th streets. Then I actually ate there, and now I have a new favorite breakfast spot. It’s tiny – a counter and a handful of tables – but the big windows face directly out onto the avenue for race-day viewing, the food is way better than it needs to be in such a modest place (exhibit A: the sauteed green peppers that add a grace note to the home fries), and the owner is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. When he’s not whistling, he’s carrying on conversations with customers in English or Spanish or an easy mixture of the two, or maybe slipping a treat to a customer’s child. Come here if you want to talk about running, bicycling, places to visit in Mexico, or stargazing. You will leave well-fed and feeling like family.
Your choices multiply when you reach Sunset Park, on the other side of 65th Street. This is the best place along the course (or at least its Brooklyn portion) to sample the cuisines of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, El Salvador and – above all – Mexico.
As you can tell from the long list of restaurants profiled in 2015 and 2016, this section of Sunset Park is one of my favorite eating destinations in the city. I will confess: I’ve accumulated so many favorites over the years that my zeal to explore has slackened. Why stray from the meltingly tender tamales at Alimentos Saludables (2018 update: CLOSED) or the consome de chivo at Tacos El Bronco, or the sugar-dusted empanadas filled with rice pudding at Ines Bakery? And for purposes of this post, why make a list that’s already long even longer?
I’ll offer up just one 2017 addition for the Sunset Park portion of the course (basically, from 65th Street to either 36th Street or somewhere in the 20s, depending on how one feels about Green-Wood Heights), a charming café called Slimák. Located between 41st and 42nd Streets, on the west side of the avenue, its provenance is vaguely Central/Eastern European, its coffee excellent, and its ambience hipster-rustic (and yet, somehow, not annoying). Were I made of sterner stuff, I’d no doubt be criticizing it as a redoubt of gentrification. But the diverse crowd disarmed me, and once I’d sat down with my egg-topped avocado toast on 7-grain bread with pistachio pesto (a bargain at $6), I was a goner. (I also eyed, but did not try, a goat cheese, butternut squash and pepita quiche.)
And do keep an eye out for the Latino food vendors who set up shop along this section of Fourth Avenue, particularly by subway stations and churches, serving champurrado and arroz con leche from giant thermoses and homemade tamales from picnic coolers. If you’re lucky, someone will have mole de olla, a mildly spiced beef-vegetable soup. Your purchases support entrepreneurialism and help immigrant families hold things together in inhospitable times.
As the numbered cross streets fall into the low 30s and 20s, the food options become fewer (the options for repairing your car, in contrast, go way up). If you’re willing to venture a block off the course, consider Lopez Bakery up on Fifth Avenue (between 18th and 19th streets) for a café bombón (espresso with sweetened condensed milk); freshly-made, custard-filled doughnuts; a smoothie (the “Brazil” combines avocado with more of that sweetened condensed milk and is delicious); or a sit-down breakfast (try the chilaquiles, or the French toast made from their famous, Puebla-meets-the-Upper-West-Side challah). Lopez is one of my favorite weekend breakfast spots, for its food and as a Brooklyn success story: husband and wife immigrate to New York City from rural Mexico, husband goes to work for Eli Zabar (hence the excellent challah), achieves dream of a family-run bakery in Brooklyn, bakery burns down, wife sells tamales on the street and husband drives for a car service to scrape together enough to reopen. The second Lopez Bakery – now run by the original owners’ kids – has been going strong for more than ten years now. (2019 update: Lopez has CLOSED.)
Back on Fourth Avenue (at 15th St. on the west, or Orange, side), A&E Supply Co. (2018 update: CLOSED) is a combination coffee shop, butcher, cheese monger, restaurant and bar. (One thing it is not: a hardware store. That was the gist of a joking sign outside the other day, which inadvertently raised the question – in my mind, at least – of whether the neighborhood might not benefit from more hardware stores and fewer hipster coffee places. But I digress.) Their kitchen was closed for much of the summer because of some kind of utility disaster, but the coffee shop stayed open and, as of last Tuesday, they’re cranking out sandwiches and burgers again (and hope to be serving their beer-can chicken soon). Even in the absence of beer-can chicken and other retro fare, go there for the excellent Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee, the Gowanus hipster vibe, and the Billy Joel-intensive soundtrack.
By this point in the race, the course straddles the Park Slope (east, up the hill) and Gowanus (west, down the hill) neighborhoods. If you were to venture half a block up 7th Street on the Park Slope side, you’d encounter J-Collabo and ask youself – “what is this place?” Is it a beauty salon? A fashion boutique? A gift store? A Japanese cultural and educational center? A performance space? A café? It’s all those things, and definitely worth poking around. Their artfully-prepared (and graciously served) coffee and tea will revive you.
Or go a few blocks farther, where 4th Street would be if it went through, and walk alongside Washington Park to the Sunday farmers’ market. There you’ll find flowers, produce, pickles, baked goods (don’t miss the Runner & Stone stand), artisanal soda flavorings, locally-distilled spirits, a wide variety of snacks and prepared foods (Korean pancakes! South Asian samosas! Southern biscuits and barbecue!) and, of course, a zillion Park Slopers with their dogs and strollers.
On the Gowanus side of the avenue, with the Orange runners, a detour down Carroll Street brings you to My Cuban Spot for strong, sweet coffee and sandwiches overflowing with pork slow-roasted to savory oblivion (reviewed here). It doesn’t open until noon on Sundays, but if you’ve seen the runners in Wave 4 go by and are ready for a break, might I suggest a cortadito while you wait for your sandwich, packaged to go, which you can then take to the Strong Rope brewery (around the corner on President, outside food permitted, even encouraged) to enjoy with a beer? You’ve earned it.
The list (including selected 2015 and 2016 rec’s):
The Coop, 9504 Fourth Ave, 7 am-10 pm (2016)
Pasticceria Rocco, 9402 Fourth Ave, 7:30 am-10 pm
*Cedars Pastry, 7204 Fifth Ave, 8:30 am-10 pm
Eddie’s Hero Place, 6917 Fourth Ave, not sure of exact hours but yes, they will be open
Emphasis Restaurant, 6822 Fourth Ave, open 24 hours (2016)
Alimentos Saludables, 5919 Fourth Ave, 6 am-11 pm (2016)
Las Rosas Bakery, 5824 Fourth Ave, open 24 hours (2016)
*Zona Sur, 4314 Fourth Ave, 9 am-4 pm (2015 and 2016)
*Tacos El Bronco, 4324 Fourth Ave, 10 am-1 am (2015)
Slimák, 4110 Fourth Ave, 7 am-4 pm
Inés Bakery, 948 Fourth Ave, 7 am-10 pm (2016)
*La Reina de la Nube, 928 Fourth Ave, no published hours but generally open (2015 and 2016)
Lopez Bakery, 647 Fifth Ave, 6 am-4 pm
A&E Supply Co., 548 Fourth Ave, 8 am-8 pm
*Reyes Deli & Grocery, 532 Fourth Ave, 7 am-1 am (2015)
Olivier Bistro, 469 Fourth Ave, 7 am-10:30 pm (2016)
J-Collabo, 300 7th St, 11 am-7 pm
*”Down to Earth” Farmers market, 4th St between Fourth and Fifth Ave’s, 10 am-5 pm
My Cuban Spot, 488 Carroll St, noon-9 pm
Strong Rope Brewery, 574A President St, noon-8 pm
*Personal favorite for food, personality and neighborhood flavor
Still kind of early, so why are those people walking? – miles 8 through 10 (Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bed-Stuy)
After a quick turn onto Flatbush Avenue, the runners from all three starts merge together onto Lafayette, which will take them through the neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the course turns north at Bedford. Lafayette is the prettiest section of the course, and one of the most enthusiastic – though the mature trees and narrow sidewalks that give the surrounding neighborhoods their character, combined with the big crowds, make it a bit challenging for spectators. (Not to mention for the runners, squeezed together on one relatively narrow, uphill street. This is where, in the past, I’ve noticed a surprising number of marathoners begin to walk. Do not, under any circumstances, shout out “You can do it!” to these individuals. Your words of encouragement will just embitter them.)
As far as where to stop for a bite to eat or something warm to drink goes . . . this year’s additions are all slightly off the course (but close enough that you won’t miss much and, honestly, you deserve a break).
If you’ve always wanted to shop for tasteful vintage goods while sipping locally roasted coffee and nibbling on a truffled grilled cheese sandwich, then Urban Vintage in Clinton Hill has you covered. Even if vintage shops aren’t your thing and truffled grilled cheese makes you roll your eyes, you might still enjoy the glimpse it offers of a certain segment of contemporary Brooklyn society. And the space, I have to admit, is awfully pretty. You’ll find it on Grand Avenue, just south of Lafayette (i.e., on the right side of the course, if you’re moving in the direction of marathon traffic).
In Bed-Stuy, should Dough be too crowded, there’s also the Bedford Hill Coffee Bar (2018 update: CLOSED) a couple of blocks south on Franklin. It won my affection with its hummingbird mural, mid-century modern decor, and daring no-laptop/no-wifi policy (you have been warned). Aside from that, the fare is pretty standard – coffee, tea (a better-than-average selection), sandwiches, pastries and, as the day wears on, beer and wine.
Fail to stop for tacos in Sunset Park (shame on you), and craving them now? Both the bar and the backyard taco truck (a bit of a gentrified Brooklyn cliche) at Chilo’s Tacos open at noon on Sundays. You won’t find lengua, tripas or buche here, but you will find duck and pork belly (as well as vegetarian options, like nopales and huitlachoche) – not to mention some cool art on the Clifton Place side of the building.
It’s good preparation for what awaits you just down the road, in Williamsburg.
The list (including selected 2015 and 2016 rec’s):
The Smoke Joint, 87 S. Elliott Place, 11 am-10 pm (Closed; Peaches HotHouse, a fried chicken joint run by the same owners, now occupies the space.)
Baba Cool Café, 64B Lafayette, 8 am-9pm (2015 and 2016)
Olea Mediterranean Taverna, 171 Lafayette, Sunday brunch served 10 am-4 pm (2016)
*Choice Market, 318 Lafayette, 6 am-9 pm (2016)
Urban Vintage, 294 Grand Ave, 9 am-7:30 pm
*Dough, 448 Lafayette, 6 am-9 pm (2015 and 2016)
Bedford Hill Coffee Bar, 343 Franklin Ave, 7 am-7 pm
Chilo’s Tacos, 323 Franklin Ave, noon-11 pm
Pilar Cuban Eatery, 397 Greene Ave, 11 am-11 pm (2016)
*Personal favorite for food, personality and neighborhood flavor
Almost halfway there – miles 10 through 13 (Williamsburg and Greenpoint)
Just when I think I’ve overcome my Williamsburg aversion, I find myself on Bedford Avenue in the vicinity of the L train, and it hits me all over again: this place is not for me. Both the people and the food are far too pretty. But others love it, and it definitely offers a dizzying array of eating and shopping opportunities. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bedford Ave and its intersecting streets between, roughly, Grand and N. 8th offers the highest density of restaurants, locally-roasted barista coffee, boutiques and resale shops of any other section of the course. So don’t let my negativity dissuade you – go there, and have a ball.
People who are not me certainly love Sweet Chick, a wildly popular spot for gussied-up Southern cooking. (It’s not that I don’t like it – their food sounds delicious, in fact – I just haven’t been.) If it’s too packed with chicken-and-waffle-brunching Williamsburgers to snag a seat on marathon day, there are plenty of other options in the area. You really don’t need a guide to find one . . . just a high tolerance threshold for pretty young people with unsettlingly large disposable incomes (and that’s the end of my Williamsburg-bashing, I promise).
Past McCarren Park, the confusing triangle defined by Bedford, Lorimer, Nassau, and Manhattan now hosts a cluster of upscale restaurants, some of which offer outdoor seating. I wrote about Frankel’s last year, and it would still be my first choice. But if deli food is not your thing (and why on earth isn’t it?), you have options that range from eclectic, boozy brunch at One Bedford (2019 update: CLOSED) or Five Leaves to fried chicken and biscuits at Pretty Southern (2018 update: CLOSED) to French fare at Sauvage. And should you be running low on cash, One Bedford features an ATM cunningly disguised as a British phone booth.
Manhattan Avenue, onto which the runners turn at this point, is the main commercial street of the formerly working-class and Polish, now gentrifying, Greenpoint neighborhood. Neither Polish nor Thai nor especially gentrified is the brand-spanking new Bulbap Grill on the east (right) side of Manhattan immediately after the turn. Opened late last spring (but still advertising “grand opening” specials through October), it offers a mix of classic Korean dishes and fusion fare (think sliders and tacos), with a number of vegetarian options.
Highlights of the short Manhattan Avenue segment of the course – all covered in past years – include Christina’s and the adorable Polka Dot Café for Polish food and cult favorite Peter Pan Donut and Pastry Shop for, well, doughnuts (my friend and editor JJ drilled that spelling into me). If you stay on Manhattan for another block after the runners turn onto Greenpoint Avenue (this will require you to be on the west, or left, side of the street, or else cut through the subway station), you’ll find more doughnuts at the Old Poland Bakery. These are hulking, jelly-filled paczki (familiar to me from Fat Tuesday in Detroit), but if that’s too much to take on, they very thoughtfully offer a doughnut-hole (see, JJ?) version for something like 35 cents. Or go for their babka, or poppy seed rolls, or (not-so-Polish) croissants, or an entire loaf of fresh-baked bread to take home with you.
You’ll also find what seems like a disproportionate number of Thai restaurants along the way. The only Greenpoint Thai I’ve personally tried, and enjoyed, is the quizzical Hungry? just off the west side of the course on Norman. This tiny spot prepares not only Thai food but also – because one of the cooks used to live in New Orleans – a mean gumbo (not always available). If it’s a warm day, consider picking up a basil lemonade, or their version of an Arnold Palmer – half basil lemonade, half Thai iced tea.
The list (including selected 2015 and 2016 rec’s:
Sweet Chick, 164 Bedford Ave, 10 am-2 pm
Sauvage, 905 Lorimer St, 8 am-11 pm
Five Leaves, 18 Bedford Ave, 8 am-1 am
One Bedford, 1 Bedford Ave, 7:30 am-3 am
Pretty Southern, 14 Bedford Ave, 11 am-10 pm
*Frankel’s Delicatessen & Appetizing, 631 Manhattan Ave, 8 am-4 pm (2016)
Bulbap Grill, 646 Manhattan Ave, 11:30 am-12 am
Manhattan 3 Decker, 695 Manhattan Ave, 6 am-9:30 pm (2016)
*Hungry?, 77 Norman, noon-10:30 pm
*Polka Dot Café, 726 Manhattan Ave, 8 am-8 pm (2016)
*Peter Pan Donut, 727 Manhattan Ave, 5:30 am-7 pm (2015)
Christina’s, 853 Manhattan Ave, 9 am-9 pm (2015)
*Old Poland Bakery, 926 Manhattan Ave, hours not posted
*Personal favorite for food, personality and neighborhood flavor
The big bridge is coming – miles 13 through 15 (Long Island City)
We’re entering new terrain for this blog, which makes it a little nervous – not least because it still hasn’t cracked the code of Queens street names, with numbered drives, roads, avenues and streets sometimes paralleling one another, and sometimes intersecting. This section of the course also poses some unique transportation challenges. It’s shaped like a sideways U between two bridges, the Pulaski and the Queensboro, and as far as I can tell, there are few, if any, ways to cross the course. If you get off the 7 train at Vernon Blvd-Jackson Av, you’ll be on the outside of the U. If you get off the G train at 21 St-Van Alst, you’ll be on the inside. If you get off the G, 7, M or E at Court Square, you’ll be confused. (I think that last station may actually offer an opportunity to follow either the inside or the outside of the U, but good luck figuring it out.)
All this only matters if you have your heart set on a particular destination. If you’re prepared to be flexible, I can assure you that there are great places to eat on both sides of Vernon Boulevard and 44th Drive (not to be confused with 44th Road or 44th Avenue).
Coming off the bridge, the runners first make a quick turn onto 48th Avenue. Should you find yourself on the inside of the U along this section of the course, my advice is to check your watch: is it pisco’clock? If the answer is “yes,” then duck into Jora, on the corner of 48th Avenue and 11th Street for a pisco sour or chilcano and tasty Peruvian food. (Pisco’clock is an actual thing here, with $8 drinks and $5 appetizers, but that pricing doesn’t start until 4 pm.)
The four blocks of Vernon between 48th and 46th avenues (it’s four blocks, not two, because 46th and 47th appear as both avenues and roads, because it’s Queens) are chock-a-block with food options on both sides of the street. During my run-through, I tallied burgers (multiple spots), pizza (ditto), Thai, ramen, Cuban and Chinese, and I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting. None are particular standouts, at least in my mind, but that just makes life easier: if you find yourself on the wrong side of the street for ramen on marathon day, settling for lechon asado isn’t such a terrible thing.
One place you can’t eat, but that I’ll mention anyway for the sake of neighborhood color, is the members-only Societa Sant’ Amato di Nusco social club, established in 1904. You’ll find storefronts like this in many historically Italian city neighborhoods, vestiges of the town- and community-based support system drawn on by immigrants in the early 20th century. The Societa sets up chairs for marathon viewing on the sidewalk outside its hall, but even if they’re unoccupied (as they mostly were when I went by last year), it’s probably best not to sit in them.
After the runners turn onto 44th Drive, hungry spectators have two fine options, one on each side of the street. If you’re very hungry, wouldn’t mind a beer, and are on the outside of the U (meaning, the north side of 44th), John Brown Smokehouse – the place that brought Kansas City-style barbecue to New York City – is there for you. Their burnt ends (of brisket) are legendary, but I went for the pork ribs (excellent), a side of collards (simmered with so much pork they could pass for a meat dish) and half of Eric’s cornbread (really a spoonbread, or even a corn pudding, and so good I’m still thinking about it). I appreciated the list of “people who eat for free” chalked up on the giant menu blackboard by the counter, even though I wasn’t on it (Barack Obama and “Sully” Sullenberger are).
Oh, and props to them for paying tribute to the real, historical John Brown, who’s depicted throughout the restaurant.
Across the street at The Mill, there’s no beer and the food isn’t quite as rib-sticking, but it’s (a) healthier and (b) very good. On my first pass, I noted the “Try Our Gluten Free Vegan Organic Treats” sign out front, and prepared to loathe – or at least – mock this little outpost of gentrification in LIC. But the people working inside that morning were so sweet, and the atmosphere so pleasant, I changed my coffee order to “stay” and – what the hell – added a sandwich to it. (A very nice thing about this place is that sandwiches come both full-sized, for $9, and snack-sized, for $3.50.) Sandwich offerings include pastrami (cold cut, not real deli pastrami) with Swiss, sauerkraut and sriracha mayo; fig jam with prosciutto and blue cheese; and salami with manchego. There’s also something called “picnic bread,” a rustic sesame loaf stuffed with arugula, sweet corn, and cheddar that sold out as I lingered. And, of course, there’s avocado toast.
You’ll find The Mill’s polar opposite a few blocks farther up 44th, on the other side of 23rd Street (which is only two blocks from 11th, because we’re in Queens). American Hero Subs promises “sandwiches fit for a hero,” and I guarantee you will not see a stem of arugula nor a spoonful of fig jam in the place. It’s a dive, in other words, but as good a vantage point as any from which to contemplate the impact of gentrification on working class communities while munching on a hero and watching the runners head for the Queensboro bridge, and on into Manhattan.
Jora, 47-46 11th St, 12:30 pm-10:30 pm
*John Brown Smokehouse, 10-43 44th Dr, noon-9 pm
The Mill, 44-61 11th St, 8 am-6 pm
American Hero Subs, 23-08 44th Dr, 6 am-6 pm
*Personal favorite for food, personality and neighborhood flavor
Where did all the crowds go? – miles 18 through 23 (East Harlem, the Bronx and Harlem again)
When the runners come off the bridge into Manhattan and turn up First Avenue, the crowds are thick and frenzied. As a runner, I always found them horrible. I appreciate support, but this was a mob, and the roar it emitted was impersonal, even a little threatening.
All the bars along (or just off) First Avenue in the 60s, 70s and 80s don’t help matters.
By the time runners reach the 18-mile mark around 96th Street, though, the crowds have thinned considerably. The upper stretches of First Avenue are pretty empty – the Bronx, even emptier. And while the crowds start to build again as the runners reenter Manhattan and make their way to the top of Central Park, the stretch of Fifth Avenue between 138th and 110th draws fewer spectators than the stretch that runs alongside the park. Which is to say, these are all areas where (a) your support will be noted and appreciated; (b) if you are following a specific runner or runners, you will be better positioned to spot them and (c) it will be easier for the runner or runners you’re following to see you.
Unfortunately, with a few notable exceptions, this section of the course doesn’t offer an abundance of food and drink options. Your best options are along (or just off) First Avenue from 108th to 120th. On E. 108th, a few storefronts west of the avenue, you’ll find pretty-as-a-picture Café Ollin (the name on the awning is, confusingly, Restaurant San Cristobal – the two are one in the same), a neighborhood Mexican restaurant particularly lauded for its cemitas (and since it’s getting to be afternoon by now – yes, they have beer and sangria).
If your craving is for something sweet and French, La Tropezienne is an enduring East Harlem fixture that makes all its bread and pastries (think macarons, eclairs, fancy little cakes) on the premises. A few blocks farther up the avenue, Evelyn’s Kitchen turns out plump drop cookies called “pudgies” in flavors like banana pudding and s’mores. (They also make alfajores, which I found disconcertingly puffy – though the salted dulce de leche filling will tempt you to go home, pull the blinds, and lick it off the cookie. Not that I did anything of the sort.) Both bakeries also offer sandwiches and salads.
Though no longer owned by its founding family, Patsy’s Pizzeria – one of the city’s earliest coal-oven pizzerias – is still in its original location in what was once a heavily Italian neighborhood. It’s now a franchise, and while it shames me a little to say so, I’ve never been to the original. (My excuse is that I can get coal-oven pizza considerably closer to home, but if you can’t, now’s your chance.)
Your choices expand exponentially if you take a detour off the course at E. 116th Street – perhaps stopping first at La Avenida for a drink – and walk up to Second Avenue. Or maybe to Third. Or, if you’re having fun, all the way to the 6 train at Lexington. On weekends, in particular, the street is lively with strollers and shoppers and street vendors, and you can definitely find some good eats – mainly Mexican, but with a number of Puerto Rican and Dominican spots in the mix.
Across the Harlem River, in the Bronx, the marathon course cuts through an area that’s primarily commercial and industrial (with an odd circuit of the Western Beef supermarket). You’ll find a few taquerias (Santa Clarita, slightly off the course on Willis, looked the most promising, but I was too full at that point to actually try it), a Dominican place on 138th that has cycled through way too many names (El Crucero? El Arca? Tropical Grill? Latino Grill?), and a diner (Nick’s Blue Diner) that’s closed on Sundays. There are tons of great places to eat in the Bronx, but not, alas, along the course on Marathon Day. (If you do find yourself on this section of the course, take a few minutes to admire “La Finca del Sur” community garden, just before the runners veer onto the Madison Avenue bridge, and the street art on the overpass.)
There are also very few places to eat along the upper stretches of Fifth Avenue when the runners cross back into Manhattan. My suggestion, if you’re cheering here, would be to grab something to eat before or after (consider heading to Lenox Ave/Malcolm X Blvd – you’ll find way more food there), and spend your time along the course itself marveling at the gorgeous residential architecture of historic Harlem.
Café Ollin, 339 E. 108th, 11 am-10:30 pm
La Tropezienne, 2131 First Ave, 6 am-6 pm
La Avenida, 2247 First Ave, 11 am-12 am
Patsy’s Pizzeria, 2287 First Ave, 11 am-11 pm (cash only)
Evelyn’s Kitchen, 2317 First Ave (Hours? The guy working on a Friday told me they opened at noon on Sundays. Or maybe 11. The website says 3 pm . . . so who knows.)
Santa Clarita, 237 Willis Ave, noon-11 pm
(No stars here – I’m too humbled by my lack of knowledge of the neighborhoods to play favorites.)
. . .
That’s it, folks. Enjoy the race, eat well, and please – if you try any of the spots in this guide, I’d love to see your reactions in the Comments section. Recommendations for next year’s edition are welcome as well.