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Cosmopolitan to the Core
The fast pace of New York often doesn't leave much time for waxing poetic, so when it comes to expressing our passion for the city, short and sweet "I♥NY" says it all. We think the heart is a lovely (and fitting) symbol for New York−it's not hyperbole to suggest that the metropolis is, in fact, the cultural heart of America, if not the entire world. It's a pulsing center for so many industries from finance to media, publishing, and fashion. With diversity flowing through its veins, the Big Apple is cosmopolitan to its core–newcomers from all corners of the globe bring a multitude of languages, cuisines, and forms of artistic expression. From food to film, much of the world's finest can be found here. And New York never stops its rhythmic thump−in the City That Never Sleeps, nightlife doesn't cease 'til dawn.
Though we "heart" all five of New York's boroughs and cover our assorted favorites from various boroughs in this guide, our focus is on Manhattan because, well, Manhattan is arguably the heart of the heart. And because, among The Purple Passport's team, we have a combined 20 plus years of living in Manhattan, so we've learned a thing or two about the island! There's more to do and see in its 23 square miles than in any other comparably sized patch of earth. The island is typically broken down into Uptown and Downtown, and street addresses are divided into East and West by Fifth Avenue running through the middle. Each area of Manhattan pulses with its own special beat.
The Upper East Side is a cultural stalwart. Prim and proper, for hundreds of years this has been the address for upper-crust New Yorkers (it's primarily a residential neighborhood) who call Central Park their backyard and playground. In keeping with the posh, establishment vibes, the hotels and nightlife here are of the refined, elegant variety. Presidents and dignitaries often make The Carlyle their New York home away from home, but spirited onsite Bemelmans Bar (a classic 1930s piano bar) keeps the scene from feeling stuffy.
Art, dining, and shopping in the UES also (by and large) veer classic and conservative. On Museum Mile, you can scope worldly artifacts spanning 5,000 years of history at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Well-coiffed museum-goers often stop in at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's European bistro JoJo, perfect for a pre-art-viewing meal. You can pick up a new outfit for the evening along Madison Avenue, where time-honored labels like Hermès hold court. But then again, when you spy edgier boutiques like Jimmy Choo, eateries like no-frills burger joint J.G. Melon, and contemporary museums like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, you'll see that despite its mature (and moneyed) pedigree, the UES is a little bit playful at heart.
The UES's mirror image is the Upper West Side, which is perhaps even more residential than its counterpart to the east and considerably more laidback. Despite having fewer attractions, the neighborhood's cultural and culinary standouts are truly stellar. The American Museum of Natural History covers everything from dinosaurs to distant stars (and the world's largest sapphire, proudly on display, will no doubt win your heart). Picholine, with its Michelin-starred Mediterranean fare, or Telepan, with its elevated farmhouse cuisine, makes an elegant pre-show stop before an evening of symphony or ballet at the legendary Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Midtown is the buffer between Uptown and Downtown and home to some of the city's most iconic landmarks, like throbbing, dazzling Times Square and the toe-tapping musical extravaganzas of Broadway. Your heart will surely skip a beat when you glimpse architectural marvels like the Chrysler Building, Grand Central Terminal, and the Empire State Building (especially if you look down from the 102nd-story observation deck).
Titans of industry (finance, media, fashion, etc.) have a large presence in Midtown, so many restaurants and hotels cater to the business set. If you're here to swing a deal, you'll appreciate the large desks and efficient service at Le Parker Meridien, not to mention the power-lunch scene at The Four Seasons. But Midtown isn't all business. You can lead with your heart, not your head, when you check in at the luxe St. Regis New York or the Mandarin Oriental, New York (with the divine Spa at Mandarin Oriental). Our favorite Midtown cocktailing spots, in fact, can be found within area hotels, from classic King Cole Bar (at the St. Regis) to Shanghai-inspired Salon de Ning (The Peninsula New York).
You can also shop and eat to your heart's content in Midtown. The main shopping artery is legendary Fifth Avenue, anchored by iconic, one-stop-designer-shop department stores including Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks Fifth Avenue. There's also a critical mass of specialty stores like Cartier, Louis Vuitton, and Chanel for couture enthusiasts, plus tech gadgets at the Apple store and oodles of toys at FAO Schwarz for kids (and kids at heart). Once you've worked up an appetite, you'll have your pick of some of Manhattan's finest restaurants nearby. Heart-stoppingly spectacular dinners can be had at French-inflected Jean Georges or Per Se, French-Asian fabulous Má Pêche, or Italian seafood newcomer Marea in Midtown West.
The true "pacemaker" of Manhattan's heart, however, is Downtown−it's where the trends in food, fashion, and nightlife that sweep the city (and the world) get their start. The Gramercy Park/Union Square area is generally quieter than its other Downtown brethren, but it retains its cool cachet with places like the Gramercy Park Hotel, which draws scenesters despite the residential location. You can join them for cocktails in the smoking-hot Rose Bar or in the equally sizzling Maialino restaurant. Gansevoort Park Avenue is also a hot piece of real estate here.
Just below Gramercy Park in the east, you'll find the edgier East Village & Lower East Side neighborhoods. The East Village's countercultural character and the LES's tenements are giving way to hipsters and yuppies. So amid the vintage clothing and vinyl shops in the East Village, polished restaurants like Hearth and DBGB Kitchen & Bar and mixology havens like Death + Company have popped up. In the LES, alongside old-school Jewish delis (pastrami is definitely the way to your heart at Katz's Delicatessen), you'll find happening eateries like Schillers Liquor Bar. If you're looking for a place to bed down in these parts, the Thompson LES has set the area's nightlife scene ablaze with its rooftop pool and lounge.
Hopping over to Downtown's westside, Chelsea has a decidedly artsy pulse with the Chelsea Gallery District. It borders the eminently cool Meatpacking District, where trendy trumps "bloody" these days (the area takes its name from its "butchering" past). High-octane nightlife at dance clubs like Tenjune and on the raucous rooftop at The Standard, New York will really get your blood pumping. Restaurants here are equally hot−celebs are regularly spotted at places like Pastis. To look your best for a night out, hit cutting-edge shops like Stella McCartney and Scoop, and pop in for a hip blow dry at Blow salon. But if you want to rise above all the trendiness for a moment, get a breath of fresh air in the green space of the elevated High Line park.
Just below is the West Village, worth a wander for its fabulous café/boutique culture. Fashion and finance types have colonized the charming, low-rise buildings in the WV, and the beatnik poets' corners and coffeehouses have largely gone the way of chichi boutiques and pedigreed restaurants like Kurt Gutenbrenner’s Wallsé. The relaxing manis and pedis at Jin Soon Hand & Foot Spa keep the area's stylish denizens well groomed. Though some say that gentrification has robbed the Village's heart, there's no doubt the area retains many of its original charms.
Skipping down to SoHo, you'll find any traces of its industrial past all but erased in favor of forward-looking sophistication. Stock up on chic duds at the Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada store, take a hip sip at intimate wine bar the room, or rub elbows with a happening Hollywood-insider set in the lobby of The Mercer (Tinseltown: eat your heart out). The film crowd also congregates in neighboring Tribeca at Robert DeNiro's The Greenwich Hotel.
But if you want to do more reflection than partying/hobnobbing, Downtown sights that revisit history will really tug at your heart in a meaningful way. At the Tenement Museum, interactive tours bring to life the struggles of turn-of-the-century immigrants who once called the LES edifice home. And of course, the World Trade Center site is a moving memorial to the wounds of 9/11.
But don't lose heart: even in the wake of tragedy, New York is a city that has come back stronger than ever. The buzzing energy is contagious−don't be surprised if you start walking and talking faster, feeling the urge to suddenly burst into Broadway song, scribbling ideas for your great American novel, or compulsively craving Billy’s Bakery cupcakes. Even the shortest and sweetest of trips to New York tend to end in the shortest and sweetest of phrases: "I♥NY."
In memory of Michael J. Connelly
Photo of Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture in Midtown courtesy of Thomas R. Stegelmann on Flickr Creative CommonsBEEN HERE? SEND US YOUR PHOTOS