Along the perimeters of the Little Apple (and beyond) the natural beauty of the outdoors is in itself a secret spot. The perils of social distancing have prompted the rediscovery of many places around us, some that exist on the basis of a cultural tradition; enjoyed by generations of Manhattanites, and others which have just recently come to fruition. Lovely places such as Pillsbury Crossing, Manhattan Hill and Top of the World are given their due, however, other spaces go unspoken about. Use this as your guide for Manhattan’s best kept secret spots.
The Stockdale campground is a tremendous area (about 180 acres) offering a seemingly never-ending nature trip. After a dive down a gravel road surrounded by a vibrant forest, the lake appears and leads you to the main rest area. Here, you can walk and adventure further into the rocky coastline, fish along the easy water, walk up the hills of forest or set up camp. At night, the stars can be seen clearer than many places in the county. This biologically diverse area can help you escape the busy city. Sights and relics of the past hidden in between the paths are perfect for the adventurous spirit.
Warner Park and Annenberg Park
Only a few places in Manhattan can offer wide-open spaces with recreational accessibility and diversity, all within close proximity to the main areas in town. The wondrous Warner Memorial Park remains an ever undeveloped natural area filled with trails, woods and select native prairie grass. Do a quick workout or take a walk in the morning to enjoy the calm of Kansas that’s not too far from home. Further on the west side of town lies a lesser-known recreational area with excellent synthetic soccer fields, running trails, a BBQ and picnic area, batting cages, baseball fields and an eclectic pond with ducks. Frank Annenberg Park embodies a midwestern America, a picturesque recreational area that has something for everyone and serves as an oasis to the sometimes tumultuous college and work life.
Some may say Auntie Mae’s isn’t secret and they may be right. However, this staple of alternative and underground culture is surprisingly unknown to many young people who prefer a more pop-based nightlife. Featuring a classic pub feel below the surface of downtown Aggieville, the bar/music venue is built with a taste in local music and drinks, one that is hard to find at commercial places in town. Its core foundation promotes the local arts, as embodied by its walls of countercultural decoration, band stickers and usual (pre-pandemic) live music spectacles. Everything from Blues, West Coast-inspired Psychedelic Rock and Jazz can be heard at Mae’s, even with touring bands. When the pandemic hit, the bar/venue decidedto take a safer approach to business and now has a window open for drinks. A membership of $25 a month allows customers to access the inside area Thursday through Saturday. The community hopes Auntie Mae’s can come back as young, loud and conscious as always.
International Food Spots — Taco Truck, The Little Grill, Hillside Cafe
The most authentic Mexican food in town exists next to a gas station, facing a fast-moving road. The Taco Truck on Seth Childs, also known as Taqueria Los Burritos, is a vortex into Latin American culture, not only because of its tacos and rich Mexican sauces and flavors, but colorful and humble nature. It serves a broader Hispanic population in town, as well as the rest of Manhattan. There is a perfect spot to sit and chow down in the back, with tunes from past eras of Latino culture. The international food trend continues with The Little Grill, a Jamaican food staple with a loyal crowd. Featuring everything from live music, creative drinks, catfish and traditional Jamaican recipes, The Little Grill stands out as one of the most cultural places to dine in town. Another secret local spot is Hillside Cafe, a family-run chicano-style diner that serves some of the best tacos and tamales in town. It is located at the base of an area known around town as Stagg Hill, next to a biker bar.
The circuit of underground live music houses
From the obscure Tecumseh Clube, to long time cult favorite “Church of Swole” close to downtown, to the sporadic ‘Ratone House’, pre-pandemic Manhattan bolstered with underground live music. Local hip-hop, punk and rock brought many young souls together, as they had in the 90s and 2000s. This circuit of houses, though independent, continued the trend and demand for a cultural space that mainstream frat parties and downtown bars have been unable to offer, thus appealing to a more artistic and connected crowd. Each continue to be the only place for local art for and by young Manhattanites. Historic Manhattan bands such as Pomeroy got their start in house shows such as these, and that tradition continues. Their return is now as ambiguous as their existence was.
Sisters of Sound