“I wish I had a river I could skate away on,” sings Joni Mitchell in her iconic and wistful 1971 classic “River.” She wasn’t the first to make this wish and she certainly won’t be the last. There is something utterly transportive about getting on blades and losing yourself in the process of the glide, even for those of us who aren’t very graceful at it. Maybe it’s because I’m too tall and have a long way to fall. Maybe it’s the bad ankles. Who knows, I ask myself as I lace up to engage in the metaphor of winter’s most sublime activity.
Because the Hudson and East Rivers are too busy to stand still, chill out and freeze over (typical New Yorkers), one must look elsewhere for ice skating bliss. And while the legendary Rockefeller Center midtown rink is open through April, some of us may want to get away from the cameras and commerce typically associated with one of the most popular winter tourist attractions in the city.
Brooklyn’s Lefrak Center at Lakeside in gorgeous Prospect Park houses two options. One has been there for quite some time and has been home to many memories for the locals. The workhorse for family fun, first dates and friendly mischief. But a new, modern addition connected to the old rink promises to expand the possibilities at Lakeside and host more parties, hockey games and whatever else might happen on ice. The LeFrak Center café is a good pit stop away from the action and will feature local artisans and food choices. It’s also a great place to take a break and reflect on the surreal juxtaposition of Rihanna blasting out over the pines of the park while the dreamers practice their pirouettes just outside the glass. And if the skating pavilion is not enough for a day trip into Brooklyn, the botanical garden, the public library and the art museum are minutes away.
Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is also a great alternative. Contrary to what the mega-corporate moniker and midtown locator might suggest, the rink at the Winter Village is actually intimate, family-friendly and (believe it or not) free, but rentals are not included. There are some fine dining options on premises as well as lots of snacks and “ice bites” and, for those who want an extra edge, skate lessons and skate sharpening, which sounds absolutely terrifying to this novice but probably will make some avid glider pumped for the final few soars of the most magical season. Yeah. For me, it’s two or three laps (on dull blades) and then hot cocoa and Joni Mitchell for the rest of the evening.