Here is one of my favorite places in New York City — and, like Brigadoon, it’s a magical, fleeting vision. The Bryant Park skating rink opened November 6 and will close January 24. It’s the city’s first and only free skating rink. If you have the chance to visit the city, and have any skating ability at all, don’t miss it.
The rink is huge, filling much of the park, the rest of the space, only for the holidays, temporarily housing a hundred small booths selling crafts and gifts for Christmas. The rink’s music is fantastic and the whole thing, in midtown Manhattan mid-recession, is free. It’s the happiest place I know.
If you’re a serious skater, which like many Canadians, I am, you have to arrive right when it opens and get your licks in, whizzing around the oval with freedom to move safely. By noon, the happy hordes have arrived, many of them utterly terrified of falling, who clutch the sides of the rink and shuffle around it. Or, like really dangerous drivers, skate directly in front of you with no warning, causing nasty, painful collisions. They rent blue plastic skates for $12 for unlimited time and there are lockers for your stuff; veterans know to bring thick socks and their own lock.
After you’re pooped, you can sit on the sidelines at a cafe, sip a hot chocolate and pinch yourself. There’s the Empire State building, mere blocks south. There’s the Public Library directly in front of you. You’re in the heart of Manhattan — 42d and 6th — and you’re doing what ecstatic little kids in Minnesota and Winnipeg are doing in their backyards these frosty winter mornings. Skating.