What do you get when you creep into the gaudily bright, whirring, click-clacking dreams of a late 19th century French child and throw everything you find on a formerly abandoned island between Manhattan + Brooklyn? Fête Paradiso, it would seem.
This is something we heard about from friends shortly after opening and have been meaning to write up since we visited, just before leaving New York. Situated on Gotham City’s newly shining jewel of idyllic recreation, Governors IslandFête Paradiso is essentially a traveling festival of original vintage carnival rides, carousels, and games. But to leave it at that would be a bit of travesty. We’ve been going to Governors Island since it reopened in 2010 and this is easily the coolest thing that’s ever taken up residence there. From Paradiso‘s site:

“The extraordinary festival of artisan-crafted, vintage carousels and carnival rides—like a French film miraculously come to life—is the first of its kind to appear in the United States. Among the attractions, which come from the collections of Francis Staub and Regis Masclet, is a bicycle carousel from the late 19th century—one of only two in the world that were created in Paris to encourage the use of what was then the new mode of transportation, the bicycle (the only other bicycle carousel can be seen in the feature film Midnight in Paris). Fête Paradiso…also include(s) an early 20th century Music-Hall Ball Guzzler, a carnival game that features life-size caricatures of Josephine Baker, Charlie Chaplin and other celebrities of the time. To further enhance the nostalgic, dreamlike experience, a bumper car pavilion from 1900 has been transformed into a beer garden and special event space, and food reminiscent of a French carnival will be served by New York’s legendary French bistro Le Gamin. In addition, a 1930 children’s carousel has been repurposed into a music kiosk, where performers will entertain visitors with period music and side show performances to heighten the Fellini-inspired environment.

Truly, the old, wooden rides are excitingly rickety and unforgivingly rough in this overly safe age of walled in trampolines + overly sanitized living. And, while the hand-painted, hand-carved embellishments are beautiful + enchanting, some of the end products—like the menacing Mickey Mouse + militaristic centaur (?)—are downright creepy, again, in only the most charming, French way. But, more than those individual parts, the atmosphere that’s created by the carnival and its sometimes in-character, dressed-up carnies is what’s most remarkable + lovely about the Fête.

Fête Paradiso is open to the public every weekend through Sunday, September 29 from 1030AM to 630PM, so, if you live in New York or plan on visiting soon, get thee to the carnival. Note that, though the island itself is open from 10AM to 7PM, the first ferry from Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 doesn’t leave until 11AM. Full ferry listings here.

Below, various shots of the rides and games at the Fête and a quick video of us riding the bicycle carousel with our friends, Thad + Agatha.