Your Guide to the Best June Events in NYC Parks
First, it's important to note that you don't have to "do" anything to enjoy virtually any one of New York City's more than 1,700 public parks, stretching out over 28,000 acres across the five boroughs (and that doesn't include the 18 miles of public beaches!). True, there are some spaces among that number that remain in a state of neglect, sad holdovers from the general decrepitude of 1970s and '80s, but for the most part NYC parks are in better shape, with more community activity, than they've ever been, certainly in my lifetime. And a big driver and consequence of all that renewal are the countless special events–often organized with the help of private organizations and commercial sponsors–that have become an integral part of the greener parts of the city's landscape. Here's a quick look at a tiny fraction of some of these upcoming or ongoing events and exhibitions.
Hudson River Park: The Games!, June 13
If you didn't qualify to represent your country at next summer's Rio Olympics, Hudson River Park's epic competition The Games! is a not-bad consolation. Happening on June 13 at Piers 25, 26, and 40 (the first two are in Tribeca near North Moore; the latter across from Houston Street), and structured as fundraiser for the park, The Games! allows you to participate by joining one of the Team Pentathlon squads (competing in dodgeball, obstacle course races, kayak races, beach volleyball, and flag football), or by trying out something new through the "premium activities" programs, such as trapeze, boot camp, extreme pogosticking, and cardio kickboxing. And because no NYC event is complete with food these days, they've set up a Games Village at Pier 26 with a variety of vendors and even a "beer garden", which will just be a roped-off area with a temporary liquor license.
Madison Square Park: Big Apple BBQ, June 13 and 14
The once-forlorn Madison Square Park has become sort of the poster child for how private enterprise can vastly improve your public experience. Case in point: the annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party. Now in its 13th year, the Big Apple BBQ attracts huge crowds to the park, with smoked-meat lovers plunking down between $9 and $12 for a taste of some of the country's best 'cue. Pitmasters include Mike Emerson from Pappy's in St. Louis (his ribs are my personal favorite); Garry Roark from Ubon's in Yazoo City; Tim Love from The Woodshed in Dallas (serving Lamb Brisket this year); and Chris Lilly from Big Bob Gibson in Decauter. There's local talent as well, with Hometown, Blue Smoke, and Dinosaur among the NYC participants. I've been to this several times, and advise you to go early–like, right when it opens at 11:00–to avoid what can be torturous lines.
Bryant Park: HBO Film Festival, June 22 – August 24
Midtown's Bryant Park is another huge success story, and a big part in its initial turnaround was the HBO Summer Film Festival. This is the 23nd year hundreds of movie buffs (and dinner-picnic lovers) have scrambled their way onto Bryant Park's big lawn at precisely 5:00 p.m. to secure a spot for an evening of eating, (surreptitious) drinking, hanging with friends, and watching a classic. The line-up this summer includes opener Ghostbusters (6/22), the original huge-cast disaster movie The Poseidon Adventure (7/6), the cornily exuberant Footloose (7/27), and series closer Back to the Future (8/24). This is crazy popular–a NYC bucket list sort of thing, even–so don't wander over near showtime and expect to find a place for your blanket.
Damrosch Park: Midnight Summer Night Swing, June 23 – July 11
On the Upper West Side, once again taking over the southwest corner of the Lincoln Center campus, one of the city's best dance parties is rolling out the hardwood for the 27th year starting in a few weeks. Midsummer Night Swing's lineup this summer is, as usual, filled with genuine stars inspiring a packed dance floor to get all sweaty and giggly and wild to a wide variety of dance styles, including mambo, big band swing, disco, funk, tango, salsa, and jump blues. As always, a $17 ticket gets you onto the floor itself (where you can really see the band), as well as a dance lesson prior to the party, but your should know that hundreds of people always show up to watch and listen and dance on the sidelines. Really feels like a block party.
Brooklyn Bridge Park: Smorgasburg (Sundays) and Please Touch the Art (everyday)
There are dozens of reasons Brooklyn Bridge Park has become something of a destination among New Yorkers, and these two recent additions only add to wealth of fun and food you'll find here. First, the magnificent Smorgasburg is back every Sunday, with 100 vendors sprawled across the uplands of Pier 5. In addition to all the old favorites (Ramen Burger, People's Pops, Milk Truck, Mighty Quinn's, Red Hook Lobster Pound, etc), newcomers of note include Big Mozz and their injected-with-pesto Mozz Bombs; Best Buds, serving amazing "San Diego style" burritos, with french fries instead of rice; and Rise and Swine, whose French Toast breakfast sandwiches are a hangover must. And to work off all those calories, walk the length of park playing on Jeppe Hein's 18 new artworks, including all kinds of crazy benches, a mirror labyrinth, and a water sculpture called Appearing Rooms, pictured at top, which uses high-powered water jets to construct and take down the "walls" to four separate chambers.
Central Park: Philharmonic, Shakespeare, SummerStage
Finally, as is its custom, Central Park is playing host to their usual bounty of summertime cultural events and performances. The New York Philharmonic is coming to the park on back-to-back nights, June 17 and 18, performing on the Great Lawn to presumably tens of thousands of blanket-loungers. This season's run of Free Shakespeare in the Park is already under way at the Delacorte Theater with The Tempest, starring Sam Waterston and Jesse Tyler Ferguson in the leads (through July 5), followed by the fairy tale Cymbeline, featuring Lily Rabe and Hamish Linklater, which runs from July 23 to August 23. And, of course, there's the premier concert series SummerStage, now celebrating its 30th season of free shows with a full slate at Rumsey Playfield.