11 Normal-ish Things We’re Looking Forward to Doing This Year in NYC

The new year is already looking brighter.

One Vanderbilt
One Vanderbilt
One Vanderbilt

It’s the first week of 2021, and let’s be honest... life isn’t really all that different from just a few days ago. Sure, we’ve still got a lot of work to do to curb COVID-19, but the good news is, each day brings us one step closer to getting there. And with each passing moment, the heartbreak and shenanigans NYC endured last year become just a little more distant, allowing us to collectively look ahead and get excited about the fresh start upon us.

The new year in NYC is already looking brighter. From Penn Station’s long-awaited makeover, to restaurant openings and new public parks, we’ve got you covered to keep you going through the cold winter months (in addition to lots of exciting new happenings later on). So grab your mask and hand sanitizer as you social distance responsibly, because there are plenty of things to look forward to in 2021.

Opening date: Just opened this week
With the recent debut of the Moynihan Train Hall, Penn Station’s once gloomy reputation is off to a much brighter start for 2021. Located across Eighth Avenue from the main terminal, the new $1.6 billion renovation of the more than century old James A. Farley Building Post Office Building features a 92-foot-high sky-lit atrium (one-acre in size!) and boosts Penn Station’s overall concourse space by 50%. For the busiest transportation hub in the Western Hemisphere that accommodates more travelers daily than all three nearby airports combined, the much-needed expansion also includes the new East End Gateway, the gorgeously renovated entrance at 33rd Street and 7th Avenue featuring three state-of-the-art escalators and a 1,988 square-foot map of the NYC region.

New Museum
Photo courtesy of New Museum

Lower East Side
Opening date: February 17
As we continue 2020’s important conversations about the racism and injustices faced daily by Black Americans in this country, an upcoming exhibit at the New Museum brings further perspective to this shameful American problem. Opening next month, Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America, is centered around the idea that the racist violence regularly directed towards Black communities has made the concept of mourning a pervasive element in the lives of Black Americans everywhere. Featured in all three main exhibition floors of the museum, in addition to the lobby and public spaces, this intergenerational showing curated by Okwui Enwezor before his death in March of last year, includes the works of 37 artists across various mediums.

East Village
Opening date: Late February
Before they were relegated as $1 items of happy hour menus, oyster consumption in the region now known as NYC has a long history dating back to the Lenape people. And oysters were so plentiful around the local area that they can also be considered as one of NYC’s original street foods from centuries ago. With such significant history, a new restaurant from Joshua Richholt (The Wick and The Well) celebrating oysters, Down & Out, is set to open in late February. Located in the East Village inside a 6th Street building that once housed an oyster saloon in the 19th century, this upcoming spot offering sustainable seafood and cocktails was forced to delay its original opening due to COVID-19, and currently has a Kickstarter campaign to help purchase equipment and see the project through in its final stages.

Old John’s Luncheonette
Photo courtesy of Old John’s Luncheonette

Upper West Side
Opening date: Late February
In a heartbreaking landscape where restaurant closures continue, the return of Old John’s Luncheonette is a 2021 comeback we’re welcoming with open arms. After operating for more than 70 years, the diner closed this past October due to the challenges faced by the pandemic. But restaurateur Louis Skibar of Toloache Restaurant Group (Toloache, Tacuba, Coppelia, El Fish Shack) is bringing the eatery back at its 67 Street and Amsterdam Avenue location, with an upgraded interior while still holding on to that classic diner aesthetic. Skibar has a special history with Old John’s Luncheonette. When he emigrated to NYC from Bolivia in 1984 at the age of 16, it was where he got first job as a deliveryman before working his way up the ranks to eventually open his own restaurants. At its relaunch, chef Grayson Schmitz (Jean-Georges, Fiamma, BKLYN Larder) will oversee the menu of classic comfort fare and desserts will be helmed by pastry chef Tanya Ngangan (Fauchon, Maze by Gordon Ramsay).

New York Botanical Garden
Photo courtesy of New York Botanical Garden

Bronx Park
Opening date: Spring
World renown Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, is bringing her signature polka-dots, Infinity Rooms, and more to the NY Botanical Garden. Originally set to open in 2020 but rescheduled to this spring due to COVID-19, KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature will be a multisensory presentation on the artist’s fascination with the natural world. Showcased through multifaceted installations—including a seasonally changing flower show, nature-based paintings, and biomorphic collages—explore Kusama’s themes centered around the cosmos, infinity, and eternity across the 250-acre garden (the largest in the country) of the Bronx institution established in 1891.

Roosevelt Island
Opening date: Spring
With a curated portfolio of hotel properties across university towns in the U.S., Graduate Hotels’ newest and 29th location will be at the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. On this sliver of land in the East River nestled between Queens and Manhattan, the 18-story Graduate Roosevelt Island will debut this spring and offer one-a-kind (and unobstructed) views of the NYC skyline from each window of every guest room. In addition to cool features like floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the 5,000-square-feet lobby, expect a full-service restaurant, indoor/outdoor rooftop bar, and meeting spaces conceptualized and operated by LA-based hospitality team (and NYC natives), Med Abrous and Marc Rose.

little island
Photo courtesy of Little Island

Pier 55
Opening date: Spring
With NYC’s renewed love for outdoor spaces due to the pandemic, Little Island, a public park at Pier 55, is one of the year’s most highly anticipated openings. Located in the Hudson River off of the Meatpacking District, the design of this human-made island was inspired by a floating leaf, and is composed of 280 individual concrete structures joined together for an undulated topography featuring 35 tree species, 65 shrub species, and hundreds of types of grass, perennial, and more. From June to September, local artists from the park's open call, Perform in the Park, will be featured in a multitude of shows and programming throughout the season.

Meatpacking District
Opening date: Spring 
If there are two beverages that bookend the average day of global citizens everywhere, it’s going to be coffee and cocktails. This drink duo is also the inspiration behind a new open-air lounge and bar slated to debut this spring at the Gansevoort Meatpacking hotel: Coffee & Cocktails. Inspired by European cafes that line cobblestone streets of Paris, Italy, and Spain, Coffee & Cocktails will offer views of the area’s historic neighborhood and transition from a cafe during the day to a cocktail destination at night, with a drinks menu (not of the caffeinated kind, but alcoholic) focusing on the staff’s favorite libations from popular global destinations none of us can travel to right now.

Clinton Hall
Photo courtesy of Clinton Hall

St. George
Opening date: Spring
The original FiDi location of beer hall, Clinton Hall, first opened in 2013, and since then, the brand has expanded further north to Midtown, in addition to Brooklyn and the Bronx (the 51 Street and Williamsburg spots remain temporarily closed). Its newest locale in 2021 will be at the Empire Outlets in Staten Island near the St. George Terminal of the Staten Island Ferry. Slated to debut in two phases starting in the spring, first will be a 4,000-square-feet outdoor space with views of downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, followed by a 6,000-square-feet indoor space when it’s allowed to resume. Expect nearly two dozen beer selections including local Staten Island brews and food from executive chef Darryl Harmon, including the award-winning Double Smashed Burger. Come spring, hop on the ferry at no cost and cruise on out to this new beer destination.

Opening date: Summer
Scheduled to open this summer in Brooklyn (exact neighborhood TBD), Agi’s Cafe will be chef Jeremy Salamon’s (The Eddy and Wallflower) cafe and pastry shop focusing on breakfast and lunch. The venture will be an homage to his grandmother’s Jewish and Eastern European heritage, and New Yorkers recently had the opportunity to taste Salamon’s fare through holiday collaborations with spots like Winner Bakery and Emma’s Torch. When it debuts, expect a seasonal menu with semolina dumplings in broth with crispy chicken skin and wild confit dumplings; desserts like blackberry bay leaf jelly donuts; specialty order cakes; Shabbat dinner boxes; and lots more.

One Vanderbilt
Photo by Max Touhey

Grand Central
Opening date: Fall
Located just steps away from Grand Central, the state-of-the-art commercial office tower, One Vanderbilt, will debut their observation deck, Summit, in the fall. This exciting new attraction will transport visitors to what could be considered Midtown’s highest vantage point for selfies at 1,203 feet, and as a refreshing change, offer views of The Chrysler Building and Empire State Building as background characters instead of where your snaps are being taken from. In addition to a stunning panorama from the heart of Manhattan, a multi-sensory experience is also in the works.

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Tae Yoon was born and raised in Queens, and is the Editor of Thrillist New York.