New York destination guide: What's up downtown?
Nota Bene destination guides are the little bibles that the likes of Mick Jagger and Jemima Khan reach for every time they go near an airport. Their latest book on New York is just out, so we've persuaded founder Anthony Lassman to reveal his favourite downtown haunts.
Best new hotel
The Greenwich: Robert De Niro's new downtown property, The Greenwich, on -- you guessed it -- Tribeca's Greenwich Street. This hotel (pictured right) may be very new, but already it feels as though it has history. It's an eight-storey brick building redolent of the old New York on the Upper East Side with skylights, wood-burning stoves and big, airy windows framed in black.
The eclectic furnishings veer towards the traditional: comfortable armchairs are upholstered in 'English leather', and there are kilims and other ethnic rugs on the oak floors. There is an emphasis on the reclaimed, whether it's wood, fixtures or fittings.
Of the rooms and suites (all designed by David Rockwell), those which face North Moore and Greenwich Street are currently the best units, with splendid 10ft-high windows which look toward the Hudson River, and feature Carrara marble bathrooms.
The hotel's Shibui Spa has a great lantern-lit swimming pool housed in a 250-year-old pine and bamboo farmhouse structure, and there is also an excellent gym, covering 1,000sq ft. Staff are friendly, relaxed and efficient. And we love the location -- it reminds us of Soho, but is much calmer and less touristy, with some excellent restaurants for both 'sceney' and casual dining.
The details: The Greenwich Hotel, 377 Greenwich Street. Tel: 001 212 941 8900; www.thegreenwich-hotel.com.
Café Cluny: The ‘ best brunch' crown is a tough one to claim in New York. This very casual, neighbourhood corner brasserie (above) is actually great at any time of the day, but we especially enjoy it for weekend brunch, when it has a real West Village buzz about it.
The brasserie is divided into two rooms, the first with the bar. We prefer the second space and ideally the window table in the far left corner. The manageress, Mika, is delightful.
The details: Café Cluny, 284 West 12th Street. Tel: 001 212 255 6900; www.cafecluny.com.
Best department store
Takashimaya: A department store of great intimacy, with an interesting and eclectic slant. It’s less about high fashion, and more about whimsical pieces you won't find elsewhere. Beauty addicts can stock up on less-known fragrances and skincare ranges.
A good florist is situated on the top floor for unusual blooms and contemporary-styled presentations. Tea aficionados should be sure to pop into the charming Tea Box salon, a basement-level café serving 42 varieties of tea.
The details: Takashimaya, 693 Fifth Avenue. Tel: 001 212 350 0100; www.ny-takashimaya.com.
Best steak house
BLT Market: The already famous BLT (Bistro Laurent Tourondel) has expanded with BLT Market at the Ritz-Carlton. The cuisine is American with French touches, with an emphasis on organically farmed, locally sourced produce.
The décor is consistent with this concept — an old plough standing at the entrance, photos of food purveyors on the walls and jars of produce sold at the counter. The menu changes seasonally and they have weekly blackboard specials. The veal carpaccio is excellent, they have a good wine list and we love the outside patio in summer. The details: BLT Market, 1430 6th Avenue. Tel: 001 212 521 6125; www.bltmarket.com.
For a very casual, good-quality Japanese in fashionable downtown Nolita, we like Mottsu. Big, glass windows open out on to the sidewalk of Mott Street, where there are tables in warmer weather, and there's an exposed brick wall in keeping with the converted tenement building's original style.
The menu is a little extensive and they could do with synchronising orders a little better, but the sushi, sashimi and entrées are very good; we like the laidback atmosphere and obliging waiting staff, and it's a good base from which to watch the ‘shabby chic’ street scene.
For something more serious and food oriented, go for Sushi Yasuda. This all-bamboo, minimalist space on 43rd ranks as one of our very best spots for sushi in New York. Among the plethora of Americanstyle pseudo-sushi joints in the city, this is a breath of fresh air. The style and layout are simple, as is the authentic Japanese cooking — surprisingly hard to come by in New York. Come here for the freshest, highest-quality food.
The details: Mottsu, 285 Mott Street. Tel: 001 212 343 8017. Sushi Yasuda, 204 East 43rd Street. Tel: 001 212 972 1001; www.sushiyasuda.com.
Best for downtown vibe
Da Silvano: This Greenwich/West Village-bordering Italian draws its faithful regulars. The ‘scene’ happens at one of the four tables as you enter the restaurant — Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg et al are often spotted here, as are other fashion industry, media and film luminaries.
We are especially fond of managers Alessandro (the one with the ponytail) and Alex. They run a slick operation. Come here for the buzz — we never get bored of Da Silvano.
The details: Da Silvano, 260 6th Avenue. Tel: 001 212 982 2343, www.dasilvano.com.
1 Oak: This is still the king of the ‘see-and-be-seen’ New York club scene (below). Owned by four of the biggest club promoters in New York, they keep a close eye on the door ensuring a great-looking, celeb-studded crowd. It's best on a Wednesday or Thursday night.
For the best newcomer, the longawaited Greenhouse has finally opened its doors at 150 Varick Street. It's the world's first ecofriendly club, with sustainable bamboo walls, a recycled glass bar, and organic grain vodka featured on the bottle menu. Over the past few years, it's gathered quite a worldwide following by promoting most of the major film festivals and fashion weeks, so the crowd is both stylish and earthconscious.
The details: 1 Oak, 453 West 17th Street, between 9th and 10th Street. Tel: 001 212 242 1111; www.1oaknyc. com.
Greenhouse, 150 Varick Street. Tel: 001 212 807 7000; www.greenhouseusa. com.
Best for hair
OC61 Salon: Louise O'Connor, owner of the charming and intimate OC61 salon (below right), is amazing at consistently turning out beautiful hair. Aside from which, she hails from Ireland. The president of Sony Pictures flies all the way from LA to see her, because he won't let anyone else cut his hair. She has been quoted by the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, who says: “If I could have my hair done every week, Louise is the one I would choose to do it.” She is supported by a great team of stylists and colourists. The details: 33 East 61st (between Park and Madison). Tel: 001 212 935 6261; www.oc61.com.
Best edgy jazz bar
Harlem is no longer a dangerous ‘no-go’ zone, although it is certainly still edgy. Outside of New Orleans, no place has nurtured jazz like Harlem, and if you want to experience it in all its authenticity, then there's no better place than St Nick's Pub on historic Sugar Hill. This low-ceilinged, below-ground room with rickety bar is certainly threadbare, but it's the oldest continually operating jazz club in Harlem (and really has not changed since 1940, when it was owned by Duke Ellington's piano player, Lucky Roberts) and has been a performing home to the likes of Miles Davis and Billy Holiday. There's live jazz seven nights a week and the Monday night jam session is an institution. Expect a warm, welcoming atmosphere, some real local characters who look like they haven't left the place since 1940, stiff drinks, great music, and, all in all, a wonderful night you won’t forget. The details: St Nick’s Pub, 773 St Nicholas Avenue. See www. stnicksjazzpub. net
Best vintage shop
Madame Matovu: A beautiful vintage shop next door to Castor & Pollux. The shop is tiny but full of potential gems. Pieces have an ‘antique' rather than ‘second-hand’ flavour and there is a small collection of jewellery. For the most part, it is still under the radar because they don't have a website, nor appear to do any advertising (at least as of yet).
The details: 240 West 10th Street. Tel: 001 212 255 2811.
Best of Williamsburg
Commuters travelling over the bridge or through the tunnel to reach the main island of Manhattan have always been subject to the not-so-subtle Manhattanite snobbery. They're commonly coined the ‘bridge and tunnel’ crowd and can be found swarming the cobblestones of the Meatpacking district on a Friday and Saturday night.
However, as rent prices are rising and space is becoming scarcer in the city, downtown Manhattan has moved beyond the borders and ‘hip’, fashionable neighbourhoods are rapidly emerging elsewhere, especially in Brooklyn.
Williamsburg — just on the other side of the Williamsburg Bridge — is almost more gentrified than the Lower East Side now, and is home to great restaurants, bars and vintage shops (and with the ‘bridge and tunnel’ migration into the city on weekends, it's becoming increasingly fashionable for Manhattan residents to conversely make a mass exodus out).
A great place for an all-Americanstyle burger and shake is Relish, a delightfully kitsch, Bohemian-chic steel diner car on Wythe and North 3rd.
A fun place to take kids in the day (who may be impressed that it's the setting for singer Kelis's Milkshake video) while a fun artsy scene at night, Relish will take you back to the James Dean era when the greasy-spoon diner reigned supreme.
The details: 225 Wythe Avenue @ North 3 rd, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Tel: 001 718 963 4546; www.relish.com.