By Steve Dollar
Every New Year’s Eve since 1907—save for a two-year gap during World War II—a glowing ball has dropped at midnight in Times Square, signaling the beginning of a new year. This December 31 is no exception, as a million celebrants are expected to gather in Manhattan’s neon crossroads. They’ll be entertained for a few hours, by the likes of Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen and K-Pop sensation PSY. And then, the ritual “10-9-8-7-6…” countdown begins.
Not everyone, obviously, wants to squeeze into a screaming crowd, no matter how much cheap champagne they’ve consumed. But there are more intimate crowds to party with—and all kinds of ways to revel before the skies erupt with light and the city echoes with choruses of Auld Lang Syne. Demand is high, so secure your tickets soon. (And if you’re traveling to New York for the festivities, make sure you have somewhere great to stay.)
1. The Punch Brothers at Bowery Ballroom. The adventurous string band, fronted by former Nickel Creek vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Chris Thile, is notorious for its avant-bluegrass shindigs—and pure harmonies, even when covering Radiohead and hip-hop. The quintet closes a three-night stand at New York’s best small concert hall, taking over the annual gig from former stalwart headliner Patti Smith.
2. On the most festive night of the year, what could beat Bach? On a barge? In Brooklyn? The innovative outfit Bargemusic has presented live chamber music performances since 1977, welcoming audiences onboard a floating barge at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. Its last program of 2012 features Mark Peskanov (violin) and Steven Beck (piano), performing six Bach sonatas.
3. New York is the jazz capitol of the world and the late, great Charles Mingus was one of the music’s most singular giants. The Mingus Big Band, a long-running ensemble dedicated to the burly composer’s repertory, holds forth with boisterous blues anthems and walloping horns at the Jazz Standard (which also happens to share a killer BBQ menu with Danny Meyer’s Blue Smoke, located upstairs from the city’s swankest jazz basement).
4. Maybe you want more variety—and pageantry. Dig deep into the closet, or maybe visit the costume shop, and get ready to masquerade at this revival of Truman Capote’s legendary Black and White Ball. “Expect the surreal and the sublime in shades of black and white,” promises the website, which also offers details on appropriate dress. Entertainment includes some of the city’s finest postmodern Vaudeville artists, burlesque dancers and sideshow accordion-grinders.
5. You can also escape the city entirely…and go sailing through New York Harbor. The New Year’s Eve Fireworks Cruise isn’t cheap—$150 per head—but it offers an unparalleled perspective on midnight pyrotechnics. The three-hour trip includes an open bar, a DJ and dancing, and other party-starters.
Thinking about traveling to New York? Check out our complete travel guide to the city.