New York City landmarks do not move; they stay put. But the neighborhoods they inhabit have a way of changing names and boundaries. The city has gone acronym berserk and hot neighborhoods have suddenly expanded as everyone on the periphery wants a piece of the action. – Jay Lloyd
Times Square: When the dramatic World War II photo of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square captivated the nation, that fabled piece of geography was 42nd Street and Broadway. That’s it. Today, if you say, “Meet me in Times Square,” that could mean anywhere from 41st Street to 47th and from Broadway to 9th Avenue. Better be a bit more specific: It’s the heart of the theater district and home to restaurants that will make you feel like you’re having an elegant and relaxing meal, but will get you out the door in time to make the curtain.
Hell’s Kitchen: It was just that — more than a bit of hell and the kitchen part was about to explode. Thieves and cutthroats roamed the streets from 10th Avenue to the Hudson River waterfront from about 39th to 47th streets. But ever since the wharf rats jumped ship and top tier restaurants took over, Hell’s Kitchen has cachet, and people living and working in the fifties from 8th Avenue to the river want in on the action. Better use an address. You’ll find a scenic riverwalk, cruise ship piers and the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.
Chelsea: Early in the last century Chelsea was an uninspiring row of slaughter houses and meat packing plants from 21st to 25th Streets and from 10th Avenue to the Hudson. But gentrification arrived. Now, tony eateries and apartment buildings as far east as 6th Avenue are boasting “Chelsea” addresses. The iconic Flat Iron building is here, and so is New York’s famous walkway, “the High Line.” Of course, the Chelsea Market is the centerpiece.
SoHo: Another acronym, this time for South of Houston, pronounced ‘how-stun.’ Houston Street is a broad avenue that runs east and west from river to river and divides lower Manhattan from the rest of the known world. SoHo is generally accepted as a portion of that vast plot, originally settled by the Dutch, but confined to a west side neighborhood close to Chinatown, Little Italy and the Lower East Side. Hotel prices in SoHo are a little less than in the tourism and business hubs, but it’s just a short walk to great restaurants, clubs, Greenwich Village and off-Broadway entertainment. It, too, has elastic borders.
NoLita: North of Little Italy basically lies on the eastern border of SoHo and offers the same walkable access to “in clubs” and unique restaurants that New York Magazine seems to love. You know – places that toss around the word “fusion” and do strange things to French fries.
My favorite acronym is DUMBO. This particular DUMBO has nothing to do with flying elephants and isn’t even in Manhattan, but it does have a most spectacular view of the higher rising borough. It stands for “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” It occupies the part of the Brooklyn waterfront that rests between the Brooklyn and the Manhattan bridges. One of my favorite pizza stops, Ignazio’s, is directly under the Brooklyn Bridge but seems to be smack in the middle of DUMBO. Fun restaurants, pubs, a park with a carousel and boutique shopping are now part of what was once a gritty waterfront marked by docks and weatherworn warehouses.
The Upper East and West Sides are pretty much defined by the length of Central Park, from 59th street to 110th; however, as Harlem began to sprout dynamic new restaurants and was discovered by the Clintons, the border began a cachet crawl northward. The Upper West Side has become so popular with the blue jeans restaurant crowd that you can barely move on a Saturday night. The Upper East Side has its share of eateries, but they tend to be more on the higher ticket and traditional side – you’ll see more suits and cocktail dresses here. This is where you’ll also find the best attended museums, including the Met and Guggenheim.
Since I was born and raised in Manhattan before “acronymania” broke out, many of the tags seem foreign to me. But the neighborhoods they represent are vibrant and provide endless culinary discoveries, from real New York pizza to Peruvian-Chinese fusion. Prowl the streets and you’ll still find a saloon that pre-dates the Civil War, a Tavern where Washington quaffed a pint as well as jazz bars and dives galore.
It’s “A Wonderful Town.”