Though Times Square is now seen by many as representative of New York City – home to its iconic theaters and its yearly New Year’s celebration, this hasn’t always been the case. The area started out in a familiar Broadway fashion, showing off the world’s first electrified advertisement (displaying a sign in lights would later become an actual legal requirement for landlords in the area) but the area took a dive during the Great Depression, developing into a ghetto of sleazy pornographic theaters and sex shops. This lasted until the 1990’s, when Mayor Rudy Giuliani forced these stores and theaters to close down or move to other areas of the city. An exhibit about this era of Times Square’s history is on display at the Times Square Visitor Center at 1560 Broadway.
After Guiliani, Times Square developed into a playground for the musically or touristically inclined. This trend continues today, as tourists have been visiting the district in record numbers each year.
Times Square: the hub of New York’s theater industry
Stretching from 42nd to 47th Street at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, Times Square now serves as the hub of New York’s theater industry, particularly “Broadway” – the name used to describe the city’s 39 theaters that have 500 seats or more. Broadway has launched some of the world’s most recognizable musicals and plays, including The Lion King, Wicked and Annie. A typical trip to New York often includes a Broadway musical in addition to visits to the city’s tourist attractions.
If you’re planning on dining before a show, a number of local restaurants have theater menus, designed to get you to the theater in time for your show. There are some decent restaurants in the area, even some good ones, but most are not cheap. For a more reasonable value and possibly better food we would recommend heading a few blocks west to “Hell’s kitchen”. This is a neighborhood populated largely by the singers, actors, dancers, directors and other creative types that make up the Broadway community. A thriving gay scene has also developed in the area. Here are some of the restaurants we would recommend in the Broadway Area and Hell’s Kitchen:
Gourmet burgers by celebrity New York Chef Danny Meyer
691 8th Avenue
Stylish and tasty Thai Restaurant
166 8th Ave
A small Latin restaurant with delicious empanadas, arepas and more
763 9th Ave
For more restaurant info, please check out our other blog entries in the NYC restaurants category!
The world’s most-visited tourist attraction
In addition to its important role in New York’s and the world’s theater industry, Times Square has recently become the world’s most-visited tourist attraction, with over 39 million visitors passing through the area each year. The area has grown in popularity significantly since it was closed to traffic in 2009. A pedestrian plaza has since been constructed that attracts locals and tourists alike (though mostly tourists), especially at nighttime.
Of course Times Square is now also home to the American headquarters of MTV, ABC’s Times Square Studios and a number of major retail stores (such as Toys R Us). We would definitely suggest a trip to this area, if only to catch a show and take in the lights.