You might not expect to find traces of Paris in New York, but the city is actually home to many locations, some obvious and some more discreet, that illuminate the long history of diplomacy, artistic collaboration and mutual admiration between France and the United States.
For those hoping to channel your inner Francophile during your next trip to New York City, this one’s for you.
Start your day by visiting one of many French bakeries in New York like L'imprimerie (1524 Myrtle Ave) in Bushwick or Ceci-Cela (14 Delancey Street) in the Bowery. With your pain au chocolat in hand and Édith Piaf playlist ready to go, you have many options as to how to spend your day.
Travel tip: A lot of the locations below are spread across different areas in the city so it’s best to decide in advance which neighborhoods you want to visit each day and budget your time accordingly.
We’ll start with the most obvious: the Statue of Liberty.
Presiding over New York Harbor is the Roman goddess Libertas, reincarnated in greened copper with a wrought-iron skeleton that supports 450,000 pounds. Lady Liberty’s torch is 24-carat gold, her seven-pointed crown a symbol of the seven continents and seas.
The broken shackles that lie by her feet thwart the twin threats of oppression and tyranny. These metaphors are heavy-handed for a good reason. Monuments are only as powerful as we make them. The Statue’s original name was “Liberty Enlightening the World.” And that kind of says it all. Lady Liberty is meant to be a messenger of sorts. Her transcendent pose and unwavering gaze continue to send out a message beyond the waters of New York Harbor.
Here’s some helpful advice if you’re planning a visit to the Statue of Liberty.
Wandering farther north in Upper Manhattan, you’ll want to check out the Cloisters.
Peering up at the bluffs of Fort Tryon Park, you might feel like you’ve time traveled back to medieval France. That’s because these buildings contain actual elements from monasteries in Occitanie, France’s southernmost region. In case you’re not familiar, a cloister is a covered walkway leading to a monastery or cathedral, and this far-flung wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art has four of them.
The Romanesque and Gothic exterior of the Cloisters is a perfect match to the artwork inside. The museum features masterworks of European medieval painting and sculpture originating from the collection of George Grey Barnard. Barnard himself was an art dealer and sculptor, a student of Rodin. Always a daydreamer, he gained a reputation around the French countryside for telling tall tales. His collection dazzled New Yorkers, a slew of architectural fragments and other works of art that filled an installation he called George Grey Bernard’s Cloisters. This was a big deal at the time, in the interwar years. New York had never seen a display of medieval art at this level before. Eventually, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. acquired the collection and moved it to Fort Tryon Park to become part of the Met, and the Cloisters opened in 1938.
It’s easy to lose an entire afternoon among the museum’s 5,000 pieces, a kind of time warp that also collapses the distance between Europe and New York. Here’s some helpful information about their hours and how to purchase tickets for your visit.
Walking through the Upper East Side, be sure to make time for a stop at Albertine.
Albertine is nothing short of breathtaking. Get lost in the dreamy celestial ceiling or the collection of Marcel Proust tomes, and you could almost forget that bookstores like Albertine are a dying breed.
Named for the sixth volume in Proust’s seven-part novel, In Search of Lost Time, this French bookshop opened in the French Embassy in 2014. The Embassy is housed within the historic Payne Whitney Mansion on Fifth Avenue. Located on the first and second floors of the Embassy, Albertine is the only bookstore in New York dedicated to stocking literature in French and English, boasting 14,000 titles from 30 Francophone countries.
If that’s not enough for you, the ceiling of Albertine is truly a thing of beauty. The spread of constellations, stars, and planets is an homage to Franz von Stuck’s mural in the music room of his villa in Munich. Albertine’s founder, Antonin Baudry, envisioned the bookshop as a place to give yourself up to fate and make a connection with someone, like you might at a café in Paris or Madrid. If the ceiling is any indication, Albertine’s fate is written in the stars.
While you’re there, if you need some French inspired book recommendations for when you’re passing time in the airport, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy has a bunch of book recommendations that you can search through here.
Make your way across Central Park to the Upper West Side, and you’ll find the Ansonia.
In 1904, the New York World called the Ansonia the monster of all residential buildings. At 550,000 square feet and 1,400 rooms, with a labyrinth of pneumatic tubing through which the staff delivered messages to tenants, the word “monster” doesn’t feel at all like an exaggeration. The designer who did most of the heavy lifting was a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts named Paul-Emile Duboy.
Duboy was the creative mind behind the hotel’s powerful Beaux-Arts façade, turrets, and balconies. He added massive terracotta decorations and topped it off with a Parisian Mansard roof. The style was distinctly French, the super-size scale unapologetically American. When the Ansonia opened, it occupied more space than an ocean liner.
Decades later, the Ansonia remains a Beaux-Arts gem on the Upper West Side. Duboy’s longing for the Parisian streetscape reflects itself in the Haussmann façade. The immense building invokes a sense of architectural wholeness, much like the apartments along the boulevards of Paris, except on a much larger scale. Against the backdrop of Manhattan’s boxy architectural styles, the Ansonia stands apart.
Making your way to Midtown, maybe you'll want to find a nice spot to people-watch in Bryant Park and observe a game of pétanque, imagining you're in the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, (sans the high bridge and cool water features).
Like many French traditions, pétanque is actually older than the country itself. Back in the age of the Roman Empire, people played the game in ancient Gaul, the territory we now call France. The rules transformed through the years into Pétanque’s current iteration.
Pétanque fits in pretty seamlessly here in Bryant Park, also known as Manhattan’s Town Square. It’s a favorite outdoor spot beside the library for basically anything and everything New Yorkers have dreamed up. The main thing that cramps the Pétanque Club’s style? They can’t clink glasses of Ricard on the court. New York liquor laws aren’t as loose as they are in Provence. Ricard is a brand of pastis, an anise and licorice-flavored aperitif that has become the pétanque player’s drink of choice. Fortunately, there are plenty of bars around Bryant Park that are well-stocked.
While in Midtown, keep an eye out for some Art Deco masterpieces hiding in plain sight.
Look for a bronze relief near 610 5th Avenue and you’ll discover La Maison Française.
The symbolism isn’t exactly subtle. Two heroines hold hands in friendship. The woman on the left clutches a replica of Notre-Dame cathedral on her lap. Her friend gazes serenely out from the Manhattan skyline. If the figurative alliance between France and America isn’t obvious, take a look at the serpentine ribbons that levitate behind their bodies. On the left side ribbon, the motto of Paris appears in Latin, fluctuat nec mergitur -- “she is tossed by the waves but does not sink.” On the right, a far more basic nametag -- “New York.”
Rockefeller enlisted French artist Alfred Janniot to create this gilded relief. The three women below Paris and New York represent values shared between the two nations: poetry, beauty, and elegance. Check out the soaring Pegasus in the bottom left corner. It’s a mythological signifer of inspiration and imagination.
If you walk over to the side entrance of La Maison, you’ll see another gilded Art Deco flourish showing a woman planting stylized seeds that resemble the fleur-de-lis, a classic of French iconography. Lee Lawrie was the artist behind this embellishment. If his work looks familiar, it should -- he created Rockefeller Center’s famed Atlas sculpture just a short walk down Fifth Avenue.
Bonus: If you’re interested in discovering more Art Deco masterpieces hidden around Midtown, enjoy this audio walking tour we made in collaboration with Rockefeller Center.
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