Skating in Manhattan: Have an Ice Time

Skating at the Pond at Bryant Park won't break the bank. It's the only free rink in Manhattan.
Skating at the Pond at Bryant Park won't break the bank. It's the only free rink in Manhattan. (By Ben Chapman For The Washington Post)
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Sunday, December 21, 2008

In Manhattan, the magic of Christmas is frozen in ice -- and time. The city's many skating rinks capture a more innocent age, when kids believed in Santa, not gift cards. "It's a romantic idea to skate in New York, to look up and see the Christmas tree and have the snow falling down," said Peter Eurich, a vice president of the Skating Club of New York, the country's second-oldest organization of its kind (established in 1863). "It's definitely New York, and it's definitely an attraction."

Eurich's favorite venue is Wollman Rink in Central Park. For one thing, this competitive ice dancer learned to skate here a dozen years ago, at age 59. In addition, during the club's early years, members practiced on a pond across the street from the Plaza Hotel, near the Wollman. Yet no matter where you carve your figure eights -- in midtown or uptown, surrounded by parkland or skyscrapers -- each of the rinks below is Claus-certified. (Note: Seaport Ice, a rink at South Street Seaport in Lower Manhattan, is expected to open this season as well. Info: http://www.thenewseaport.com/icerink.)

-- Andrea Sachs

American Museum of Natural History

Background: The museum makes history again with the opening of the Polar Rink, a state-of-the-art venue constructed of a recyclable synthetic (a.k.a. fake ice) that is kind to Mother Earth (no refrigeration needed) but still tough on the derriere. A 17-foot-tall polar bear sits in the center of the 12,000-square-foot rink, twinkling with tiny lights and looking slightly stranded. Skaters also have views of the solar system hanging inside the Rose Center for Earth and Space, which abuts the outdoor venue. On the adjacent Arthur Ross Terrace, a placard teaches visitors about the plight of frozen regions because of global warming. Closes Feb. 28.

Extras: Cool down with a stroll through Theodore Roosevelt Park, below the rink. . . . Find warmth and sustenance at the Polar Bear Cafe in the North Galleria, which serves such skater delights as panini with Nutella and chocolate-covered animal crackers. . . . Learn about environmental perils in the museum's new exhibit "Climate Change: The Threat to Life and a New Energy Future," or see a diorama of a polar bear mid-snack.

Best for . . . skaters who want a more active museum experience.

Info: Central Park West and 79th Street, 212-769-5100, http://www.amnh.org; $10, including skate rental.

Bryant Park

Background: Now in its fourth season, the Pond at Bryant Park is Manhattan's only free skating rink. The 17,000-square-foot facility is a small oasis in midtown, with a smattering of tables and chairs around the edges, a 51-foot balsam fir covered in 30,000 lights, and the Empire State Building peeking overhead. Closes Jan. 25.

Extras: Until Dec. 28, more than 120 artisans sell their wares from glassed-in market stalls set up near the rink. . . . The new Celsius lounge serves Canuck comfort food and cocktails, such as the croque-monsieur Canadian (with Canadian bacon, of course), macaroni and cheese gratin with Canadian cheddar, and the Maple Leaf Cosmopolitan. Sit indoors on low, swank couches or outside on a two-tiered terrace warmed by heat lamps. For lighter fare, grab a nibble at the Ice Bites Cafe in the Skating Pavilion, which also includes the Pond Shop. . . . Take a free lesson through Citi Coaching Sessions, held 9-11 a.m. Friday-Sunday.

Best for . . . those who want Manhattan dressed in its winter best.

Info: Sixth Avenue at 41st Street, 866-221-5157, http://www.thepondatbryantpark.com; free, $12 rental.


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