Home Is Where the Heart Is
New Yorkers define themselves by their neighborhoods. Each one is unique and rich with its own sites and history, cuisine, and lore. This is why Manny Ramirez always comes back to his roots in Washington Heights, why Spike Lee opened his store in Brooklyn and Rosie Perez still lives there, and why Yoko Ono hasn't moved from the Dakota.
New York is the quintessential melting pot, an immigrant city where cultures have blended and created some of the most incredible food and arts imaginable. Where else could you find Cuban Chinese food or kosher French, Italian, Indian, Japanese, pizza, nouvelle, Eastern European, Moroccan, vegetarian, vegan, Chinese, steakhouse, Cajun, and Persian restaurants?
There's a definite pulse in the subcultures that meld and merge from one part of town to another. Even the beat changes slightly, from the frantic pace of Chinatown to the slower saunter of Bleecker Street in the Village. With the exception of parts of midtown, you'll find residential buildings like brownstones, old brick apartment buildings, and sleek, modern, high-rise glass buildings. Historical sights, special events, and the people you pass on the street will tell you what part of town you're in. A Greenwich Village type wouldn't dream of living in Murray Hill, and an Upper Westsider looks with disdain at the more tony Upper East Side. Buildings from different eras often share the same block, and a ten-block stroll can take you into an entirely different socioeconomic and ethnic neighborhood.
It should be no surprise that the shrine of the patron saint of immigrants, Mother Cabrini, can be found in New York City. The shrine of this founder of the Order of the Sacred Heart is in Upper Manhattan at 701 Fort Washington Avenue. The nearest subway stop is West 190th Street station (A train). Mother Cabrini's body is enshrined in a glass coffin just yards away from the Cloisters, where European saint reliquaries are on display as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval collection.
You'll find a variety of manufacturing centers throughout parts of lower and midtown Manhattan. The upper west twenties, for example, is called the flower district; it leads to the fur district, around Thirtieth Street and Seventh Avenue. The west thirties are home to the garment industry, and in the west forties you'll find electronics on one block and jewelry on another in the diamond district. And these areas aren't subtle. You'll see a row of jewelry stores lining a city block on West Forty-seventh Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues.
Manhattan continues to evolve, and the boundaries between districts are never constant. As Manhattan has lost its manufacturing base, industrial lofts have been converted to high-priced residential lofts. Neighborhood labeling has taken on marketing value, so that the fur district in the west twenties has become part of desirable Chelsea when a real estate broker gets involved. New Yorkers, lovable rebels that they are, have also taken to downshifting, calling some of their neighborhoods by names of nearby edgier (read “seedier”) neighbors to sidestep being branded yuppies.A Quick Overview
Manhattan alone has more than twenty distinct neighborhoods. As a point of reference, here are the neighborhoods of Manhattan as they run from north to south:
Inwood — from 220th Street to approximately 190th Street
Washington Heights — the area from 155th Street to 190th Street
Harlem — 110th Street to about 151st Street
Morningside Heights — the area around Columbia University
Upper East Side — everything east of Central Park from Fifty-ninth Street to about Ninety-ninth Street
Upper West Side — west of the park from Fifty-ninth to 104th Streets
Midtown — from Thirty-fourth Street to Fifty-ninth Street (including the theater district of the west forties and Hell's Kitchen)
Murray Hill — a residential area above Gramercy Park, from about Twenty-third to Thirty-fourth streets on the east side
Chelsea — on the west side of town from Fourteenth to Thirtieth streets
Gramercy Park — a private park on the east side in the twenties and the neighborhood that surrounds it
Union Square — the neighborhood around Fourteenth Street and Fifth Avenue
Greenwich Village — from Broadway to the Hudson River from about Fourteenth Street to West Houston
East Village — Broadway to the east, from about Fourteenth Street down to First Street
SoHo — the area South of Houston Street
TriBeCa — the Triangle Below Canal Street
Chinatown — the East River side of Canal Street
Little Italy — the area around Mulberry Street
Lower East Side — the far east side of Manhattan below First Street
Wall Street/Battery Park City — everything south of Canal Street
New neighborhood names are being carved out in the real estate wars. The area centering around Fifth Avenue in the teens and lower twenties is being called the Flatiron district; the east twenties and thirties are known as Kips Bay; lower Manhattan around the Wall Street area is the financial district; and the area around the government buildings is called Civic Center. Then there's NoHo (North of Houston), NoLita (North of Little ITAly) to its south, and … you get the idea. Hell's Kitchen, the area from West Fourteenth to West Fiftyninth streets and between Eighth Avenue and the Hudson River, is trying hard to be called Clinton.
In New York City, signs that read Tow-Away Zone or other ominous warnings really mean business — your car will be towed if you leave it unattended. When you park, be sure to read the signs and pay the meter, if required. If your car is towed, you'll find it in the police lot on the west side of Manhattan. You'll have to pay a steep fine (from $60 to $180, plus a $165 towing fee) to get it back and spend valuable vacation hours in the process.
It would take an entire book to give you the history and an overview of each neighborhood. The rest of this chapter covers a few of the more commonly frequented neighborhoods in greater detail.