Marijuana still isn’t legal in the city that never sleeps, but you can usually get away with it if you know where to light up.
I grew up in Manhattan. On the Upper East Side, to be more specific, and while I usually admit that with a sheepish smirk and dismissive shrug (yes, I went to private school, at least for high school, and yes, I wore silver nameplate jewelry from Tiffany’s and my tenth-grade school bag was by Fendi), it means my adolescent years were spent sneaking around sidewalks, parks, dive bars, swanky lounges and parents’ penthouse homes where we would get away with as much elicit behavior as humanly possible.
Naturally, smoking blunts, with Phillies rolling papers usually purchased at my favorite bodega on 101st and Broadway, where you could also obtain loosies for 50 cents a pop and full whippets kits (balloons, metal crackers, the whole deal), was an activity always high on the priority list. So was using bowls and bongs; those came from places like Whatever, a much-fabled and long-forgotten teenage haven on Christopher Street, where with the magic words, you’d be granted access to the tucked-away backroom, then get your photo taken, passport-style, and purchase a fake ID in under 15 minutes. Sure, everyone in the city says it was so much easier to do illegal stuff in public before the reign of Rudy Giuliani and his “quality of life” campaign, followed by Mike Bloomberg’s fight on junk food, cigarettes and various scum, and undoubtedly it was.
Indeed, the city went from 3,000 cannabis arrests a year, when Giuliani began his crackdown in 1994, to today’s staggering number of 30,000. (A few years ago, it had climbed to a whopping 51,000.) In the first four months of 2014, under the charge of Mayor Bill de Blasio, the NYPD arrested an average of 80 people a day for low-level possession (sadly but not surprisingly, 86 percent of those people were black and Latino). Luckily, this number is falling once again. So in the spirit of looking on the high side, with the right attitude and appreciation of location, you can still light up without going home. Also, not that this is news, but excluding edibles, a vaporizer or one-hitter that resembles a cigarette is the way to go when getting high while you’re out and about.
1. “The Wall” of Riverside Park
I’ll start with a location that’s quite personal to me, since I’m a narcissist. Back in my day, which was the early-2000s and I was attending high school on the Upper West Side, the edge of Riverside Park was the place to go for smoking joints and blunts. My wannabe-ghetto cohorts and I would sit, legs dangling, on the wide, stone wall that separates the 330-acre park from Riverside Drive during free periods and after school. It still gets a relatively low amount of foot traffic, but do watch out for creepy old men who like to masturbate in the grass right below the wall. No joke. If you stroll by at around 3:15 p.m. on a weekday and see a bunch of suspicious-looking teenagers, then, what do you know? The tradition apparently continues.
2. The private areas of The Box
Chrystie Street burlesque bar and restaurant The Box calls itself a “Theatre of Varieties.” That’s no overstatement. Their nightly shows are known to feature penis-swinging rabbis, cornucopias of dildos, filthy-minded little people, guys who shit in bags (so happy I wasn’t there that night) and friendly, whip-wielding dominatrixes. Oddly enough, I almost got thrown out one night for pelting ice cubes at my friend, until I begged the bouncer to let me stay in my annoyingly apologetic girl voice. The best part of this vintage-throwback cabaret just might be the tucked-away lounge areas that frame the second floor. Pull the velvet curtains shut and have someone keep watch for nosy cocktail waitresses.
3. Along the East River in North Williamsburg (…pretty much anywhere in Williamsburg)
It’s almost weird to walk along the river, just east of Kent Avenue, on the North Side of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and not smell cannabis. The same goes for McCarren Park and the side streets of the South Side. It smells like weed everywhere. But there’s something nice and easy about strolling the newly renovated boardwalk, which runs between North 3rd and North 6th Streets. Yes, it’s a short boardwalk. But it’s breezy and quiet, save for canoodling couples, stray fishermen and copious amounts of Jewish-Orthodox families, and allows for a lovely view of Manhattan. The Williamsburg Bridge works, too.
4. Washington Square Park
This is a classic. Before the city renovated Washington Square Park, a job that lasted six years (2007 to 2014), this place was a different story. In the, you know, “good, old days,” the dusty ground was consistently littered with crack pipes and heroin needles. Up until just over a decade ago, you couldn’t walk through it at night without a dark, shadowy figure lurching towards you urging, “I got weed. I got dope. Got coke. Got ecstasy…” On the classier end of things, the southwest portion is known as part of Manhattan’s very small “chess district.” These days, talking to the remaining drug-dealers won’t do much more than bring back some nostalgia. It remains a perfectly fine place to get high, if only for its iconic status. As a matter of fact, on the recent Season 2 premiere of Showtime’s The Affair, scorned-wife Helen goes to the park to put her one-hitter to good use.
5. Le Bain at the Standard High Line Hotel
While the Boom Boom Room is unarguably the swankier nightlife venue of the Meatpacking District’s Standard Hotel, Le Bain, a.k.a. their “penthouse discotheque,” has a wide-open rooftop section. That’s Astroturf-covered, no less. Push by the swarms of dance-floor revelers, be careful not to slip on the puddles by the plunge pool (I once saw Lindsay Lohan do it with my very own drunk eyes), and head into the open air, where most people out there are smoking something, for sure. If you get the munchies, there’s also a crêperie.
6. The High Line
Speaking of the Meatpacking District, when the weather permits, the pristinely kept, elevated public park known as the High Line makes for a nice, chilled-out walk. That is, if it’s not swarmed with families and tourists. Going there mid-afternoon on a weekday is ideal. Don’t even think about it on the weekends, especially now that the ferociously popular Whitney Museum is in the neighborhood. If you prefer a semi-educational evening session, the High Line hosts “Stargazing” every Tuesday night from April through October, where you can utilize telescopes and talk to amateur astronomers. Besides, the High Line’s name is eerily apropos.
7. The Ramble of Central Park
If Washington Square is the reformed, formerly bratty prince in the city’s royal family of parks, then Central Park is the long-ruling king. Spanning more than six miles in width and more than 50 city blocks in length, it welcomes 42 million visitors a year. I wonder how many of them are high out of their minds. One of the most special parts is The Ramble, a 36-acre “wild garden” in the middle of the park from 73rd to 79th Streets. It was created for people to explore what feels like a forest, saunter along winding paths and get totally stoned if they feel like it, unofficially speaking. It’s the closest thing you’ll find to getting lost in the woods without leaving the island of Manhattan, that’s for sure.
8. Madison Square Garden
One of the first times I ever smelled the pungent, earthy scent of marijuana was at Madison Square Garden. I was 11 and attending a Bob Dylan concert with my parents and all their pothead friends. Needless to say, nobody really cares if you light up a joint in the somewhat-rundown Garden concert arena, which has played host to Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Phish, Madonna, Elvis Presley and the Rolling Stones (24 times between 1969 and 2006, no less), to name a few. As for upcoming events Disclosure, Blur, The Weeknd and Stevie Wonder, as well as plenty of New York Rangers games, are all on tap.
Photo courtesy of NYC & Company + Alex Lopez.