Taking a trip on the Bronx Culture Trolley had been on my activity wish list forever (along with things like visiting the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, swimming at Jacob Riis beach and getting a full eight hours of sleep). So earlier this month on a drizzly afternoon, I decided to finally cross it off. My five-year-old daughter and I put on our raincoats, grabbed her sketch book and headed up to Hostos Community College to catch the old-fashioned, green-and-red ride.
The free trolley, which is sponsored by the Bronx Council on the Arts, offers hop-on-hop-off service to various culture spots in the borough, and it’s great for art-loving families. We wrote about it back in 2007, when it used to leave from midtown Manhattan and go to famous institutions like the Bronx Zoo, the New York Botanical Garden and Little Italy on Arthur Avenue. These days, the trolley departs on the first Wednesday of every month from the Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos Community College (easily accessible by the 2, 4 and 5 subways), and makes a loop through the South Bronx, stopping at lesser known but vibrant places like the Pregones Theater, BronxArtSpace and the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
If you’ve never been to the area (or heck, the borough!), this is a fun and free way to sample a bit of what the Bronx has to offer—beyond the Yankees and the zoo.
My daughter and I arrived at the two-level Longwood Art Gallery at 5pm so we could enjoy the pre-trolley reception, which included a small marketplace with handcrafted items like knitted hats, and complimentary fruit, cheese and beverages. The artwork on display was contemporary, colorful and political. My kid plopped down in front of a three-dimensional collage and started sketching, while I perused paintings, photographs and a pair of quilts that commented on subjects like slavery, immigration and poverty. The exhibits change approximately every three months, but the gallery always showcases emerging artists of color.
At 5:30pm, the trolley literally went “clang, clang, clang,” which meant it was time to board. Admittedly, most of the passengers were adults, but as the evening wore on, many families joined the tour. For my daughter, riding the trolley itself was a lot of fun. She loved the bell and the sense of community. Everyone was chatty, and many of the passengers were first-timers, just like us. We also enjoyed looking at the gorgeous Art Deco buildings that line much of the Grand Concourse.
The trolley makes three loops over a 2-hour period, so you can only hit three destinations. The best place to start is the Bronx Museum of the Arts, since it’s by far the largest venue. Like all of the spots on the trip, the admission fee is waived, guided tours are available and snacks are provided. In addition to art from the museum’s permanent collection, we saw a fantastic exhibit called Stargazers, which juxtaposes pieces by 20th century African-American artist Elizabeth Catlett with work by contemporary artists of color she influenced. There are many amazing pieces, especially Catlett’s statues of voluptuous nude women, which burst with black feminist pride. However a warning: There is controversial imagery in this show. Trying to explain blaxploitation and blackface to a five-year-old proved to be quite challenging! Before you hop back on the trolley, check out the awesome graffiti mural directly across the street from the museum.
Next we explored the Gordon Park Gallery, a modest, two-room space named for the late director behind the original Shaft. Parks was also a renowned photographer, so it’s fitting that the exhibit on view showcased lively snapshots of African-Americans by an artist named Nikki Williams.
Our last stop was BronxArtSpace, a tiny gallery featuring abstract contemporary artists. When we walked in, I thought that we’d somehow been transported to SoHo, because that’s totally the vibe. The least interesting stop, it has the good fortune of being half a block away from Alexander Avenue, which boasts rows of landmarked, Queen Anne-style houses, as well as the turn-of-the-last-century Mott Haven Library, the oldest branch in the Bronx.
If dinner is on your agenda, the trolley stops at Charlie's Bar & Kitchen, serving up modern American cuisine. Another dining option is Giovanni’s, which is just 1 ½ blocks north of Hostos. The pizza and pasta are delicious (if not cheap).
The lineup of venues changes every month, although the Longwood Art Gallery is always the starting point. Also, although my daughter and I didn't get a chance to watch any performances, some spots offer live music and dance.
There are only two downsides to the Wednesday trolley for families: It runs past a lot of younger kids’ bedtimes, and you breeze through some of the spots so quickly, you end up having to wait a while before the trolley returns. But that just gives you time to explore the neighborhood.
The Bronx Culture Trolley departs from the Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos,450 Grand Concourse at 149th Street, the first Wednesday of every month (except January and September). It departs at 5:30pm, 6:30pm and 7:30pm for other venues in the South Bronx Cultural Corridor. For more information, call 718-931-9500 ext. 33 or email email@example.com. FREE
Don't forget: There's even more fun in the Mommy Poppins Events Calendar.
This article first published in 2011.