A Love Letter to Lower Manhattan
Vicki Notaro has visited New York City many times, but Lower Manhattan keeps her coming back...
There's a line from the immortal movie Beaches in which Bette Midler's character says of her hometown, New York, "Do you remember when we said we wouldn't be caught dead above 14th Street?"
When I first saw the film as a child, I had no idea what she was talking about. But when I rewatched it recently, I absolutely got what she meant.
After a dozen visits and trips to every neighbourhood on the island of Manhattan, I can safely say that, to me, the very best of New York exists below 14th Street.
When most people head to The Big Apple for the first time, they stay in the cosy environs of Midtown. It's there that the bright lights of Broadway shine, and where the high-rise buildings, billboards and buzz live. And I absolutely get that. Everyone should visit Time Square and soak it all in at least once in their lives. But when you've been to NYC a few times, it can start to feel old. And not only that, it's criminal not to explore outside of the tourist bubble in a city of such diversity.
Below 14th Street is where many New Yorkers live, alongside the students of New York University. As with the rest of the city, it's a melting pot of cultures living side by side.
The big divider is Union Square, a transportation hub complete with a park and regular farmers' market, as well as the requisite superstores, bars and restaurants. It's here you'll often connect on the subway if heading uptown to the theatre or Central Park.
Much like the rest of New York, there's an area of downtown to suit every taste and budget - all it takes is a little information to make the best decision as to which neighbourhood would suit you.
Here are a few tips!
The area below Union Square is referred to as the Village, but it's really the spots surrounding Washington Square Park that encapsulate Greenwich to the west and the East Village. You might remember the famous arch from When Harry Met Sally, and the park itself is a hang-out for dog lovers, students of NYU and tourists alike.
Greenwich Village is an affluent residential area with a hipster edge. Everything downtown is on a smaller scale to the excesses of Midtown, and Greenwich is crammed with independent shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. It's picturesque and pretty, and the setting for the sitcom Friends. It's also littered with traditional New York brownstone buildings, many divided into high-end apartments, others the private residences of the rich and famous.
The East Village is a little more beatnik and rough around the edges, but equally charming. Both areas have become chintzier in recent decades, and they're popular with those interested in the Sex and the City side of New York.
To me, this is the best Lower Manhattan neighbourhood to dip your toe into when first venturing outside of more touristy areas.
Stay: The Walker Hotel (walkerhotel.com), a gorgeous Art Deco-style boutique hotel in a great location just off 6th Avenue. Rooms from €269 per night.
Eat: Meatball Obsession (meatballobsession.com), a little hole in the wall where you can buy (you guessed it) meatballs in a cup smothered in sauce.
Don't Miss: Washington Square Park and its famous arch.
The name comes from its location, the Triangle Below Canal Street, and it's relatively recently gentrified. That said, it's still affluent and expensive, and achingly hip.
Stay: The Roxy (roxyhotelnyc.com), formerly the Tribeca Grand. It's in a fantastic location and the design is incredible.
Eat: Brekkie at Bubby's (bubbys.com), where you can get good southern grits as well as classic staples.
Don't Miss: Tribeca Tavern, a cute little pub with a good atmosphere. It's pretty old-school, and doesn't have a website.
Little Italy and Chinatown
Walk south in SoHo and you'll come to NoLita (North of Little Italy), a charming and less posh version of SoHo with independent boutiques and restaurants on a smaller scale. Keep walking south, and you'll encounter Little Italy itself; these days, it's mostly a tourist trap filled with overpriced restaurants and souvenirs, but in the early 20th century, the area was chock-a-block with immigrants from the boot.
Next to Little Italy, in the blocks surrounding Canal Street to the Bowery, you'll encounter Chinatown, a far more authentic experience than its neighbour; thousands of first generation Chinese immigrants live and work in the area, and apart from a couple of the more famous stretches, it's no more touristy than Dublin's Moore Street.
Stay: Sohotel (thesohotel.com). Don't let the name fool you, it's practically in Chinatown, but on a quieter stretch.
Eat: Joe's Shanghai (joesshanghairestaurants.com), but be warned - there will be a queue.
Don't Miss: The Nom Wah Tea Parlour for dim sum (nomwah.com), Whiskey Tavern for drinks (whiskeytavernnyc.com).
Affluent, glitzy and glamorous, the area 'South of Houston Street', also known as SoHo, is where the fashion and art set meet. It's a pretty area; full of cobbled streets with white buildings (old converted warehouses) and decorative fire escapes, high-end boutiques and lots of bars and restaurants.
Stay: Hotel East Houston (hoteleasthouston.com) is a pocket-friendly option - you can get a room for as little as €110 a night. It's small but perfectly formed and in a great location near Katz's Deli (where Meg Ryan faked it in When Harry Met Sally).
Eat: Schillers (schillersny.com), a nice little steakhouse with incredible French fries and strong cocktails.
Don't Miss: A stroll down Broadway; it has all the same shops as Midtown, but is far less manic.
The Meatpacking District
As you might have realised, the names of New York neighbourhoods are quite on the nose. This is literally the area where meat is/was packed, and you'll notice the trucks dropping off and picking up in the wee hours if you're leaving a bar or going for an early morning stroll. It has recently become incredibly chic (and quite overpriced), but still a gorgeous area of low-rise buildings, wide avenues and views of the southern tip of the island.
Stay: The Standard High Line, a popular design hotel perched atop the former railway track turned park. Go for a drink in the rooftop bar at sunset - it's pricey, but the views of Lower Manhattan are second to none. standardhotels.com
Eat: Catch (catchrestaurants.com), a very trendy fish restaurant.
Don't Miss: The High Line itself (thehighline.org). Walk along as much of it as you can - it offers a lovely view of the city below.
Lower East Side
Low-rise and pretty, the LES used to have quite a dodgy reputation, but it's possibly the hippest neighbourhood there is these days and full of bars and restaurants. Think of it as SoHo's slightly less upmarket neighbour, but with buckets of charm.
Stay: Sixty LES, a cool, chic hotel with rooms from about €175 a night. sixtyhotels.com
Eat: Beauty and Essex (beautyandessex.com), a very trendy establishment you enter through a pawn shop. Go for brunch (and order the Caesar Toast) or for dinner (there's a free champagne bar in the ladies' loo), but go hungry and order as much as you can. This restaurant is quite simply fantastic.
Don't Miss: Economy Candy (economycandy.com), an incredible old-fashioned sweet shop that has everything you can think of.
The Financial District
This encapsulates pretty much everything below Tribeca, right down to the tip of Battery Park. It's where the buildings rise up once again, where the Freedom Tower sits at One World Trade Centre Plaza (complete with its 9/11 memorial), and where greed is good on Wall Street. This is the beating heart of New York's economy, and not exactly tourist-friendly; many of the hotels down this far are business rather than tourist-oriented.
Stay: Club Quarters Wall Street (clubquartershotels.com), it's cosy and in a fantastic spot.
Eat: Blue Ribbon Federal Grill (blueribbonrestaurants.com), the newly opened sister restaurant to the original well-loved Blue Ribbon in the Village. The menu is slightly old-school and eclectic; steak and fish are the specialties.
Don't Miss: The 9/11 museum (911memorial.org). Queues can be long, but worth it.
NYC by boat
The best way to see the southern tip of the island? By boat. But not just any boat - a lovely, warm one where you can sit and eat and be entertained.
We took a Bateaux New York dinner cruise from Chelsea Piers, and sailed the Hudson and the East River marvelling at the skyline from the comfort of our table (and eating delicious food). The boat goes right out to the Statue of Liberty. See bateauxnewyork.com.
For more ideas, including shopping, dining, tours, museums, sightseeing, green spaces and more, see nycgo.com