Julia’s Guide to New York Part 2: Manhattan West
Part 2 of my guide to the Big Apple covers Manhattan’s west side from Washington Square to Central Park.
This route begins in Washington Square, where Harry left Sally after their road trip from Chicago. This landmark square has also featured in the Will Smith film I am Legend and is worth a visit for a picture of the arch. Head north along West 4th Street, through the attractive residential area of Greenwich Village. Turn left into Grove Street and a couple of blocks further on you’ll come to the building that featured as the apartment building in the hit TV show Friends. Backtrack a block and head north along Bleecker Street. There are plenty of boutiques and cafes, but the one that may well have a queue outside is the original branch of the Magnolia Bakery, whose melt-in-the-mouth cupcakes featured in the HBO show Sex and the City.
One of my favourite things about New York is its capacity for change so today I’d recommend you then have a wander in what was once the heart of New York’s butchery area. Today the Meatpackers’ District is home to cute cafes and designer clothes stores, where warehouses have been turned into cutting edge businesses.
To get to the heart of the Meatpackers District, continue north along Hudson Street and right into Gansevoort Street. In the area bounded by Gansevoort and West 14th Street, you’ll pass enough boutiques and outlets to get a feel for the area. Turn down Washington Street and at the corner with West 13th Street is the Hogs and Heifers bar from the film Coyote Ugly. One block south is the start of the High Line, a fantastic community-driven renovation that showcases the architecture of the area whilst turning an overground railway into a recreational facility for locals and tourists alike. It’s heaving in the summer but in the winter, pick a clear day and you’ll be able to wander in peace and really appreciate your surroundings. Wrap up warm against the wind though – when a cold wind blows across the Hudson, it bites into your face like a swarm of angry mosquitoes. One of the architectural highlights is The Standard Hotel which straddles the High Line. Nip down for a Fat Witch brownie from the Fat Witch Bakery in Chelsea Market at 9th Avenue. Go online to www.fatwitch.com to see what might tempt you.
Back on the High Line, continue north; the park narrows and widens, offering vistas over art installations and views across to skyline landmarks like the Empire State. There are plenty of cosy nooks and crannies to snuggle up and you’ll have some of these pretty much to yourself in winter.
Follow the High Line right up to 30th Street and then head east past the Post Office (don’t stand too close to the building or you might get an unwelcome souvenir from the pigeons). It’s a fair walk across so you might wish to hail a yellow cab, but the walk will take you to 6th Avenue. Make a left and walk three (shorter) blocks to Herald Square at the back of Macys – the largest department store in the world, allegedly. Plenty of cafes and food outlets are located in this area as this is the heart of Midtown.
Just a block over, on 5th Avenue, is the Empire State Building. You may wish to reserve in advance as it can be pretty busy; go online at www.esbnyc.com. This Art Deco structure is one of the world’s most iconic buildings and definitely worth a visit. Don’t let them upsell you to the Skyride – it’s not worth the time or the money. The views from the 86th floor on a clear day are excellent, but the wind can be strong on at least one side of the viewing platform. Prepare yourself with a photogenic hat or plenty of hairspray.
North along 5th Avenue takes you to Bryant Park, where there’s a good Christmas market and, when the weather’s warm, al fresco eateries. Cut back west to Times Square and note the location. It’s tourist central, of course, emblazoned with neon and awash with comic book characters just dying to pose for a photo. If you like what you see, come back after dark. From Times Square, head for the subway and take the red line to 72nd Street (it’s an express stop, so the 1, 2 and 3 are all fine). If you’re hungry, try a hot dog from Gray’s Papaya and walk a couple of blocks over to the park.
Central Park is a must and from the west, you’ll follow a trail of pampered pooches heading into the park. If you have your own back home, pick up a canine-friendly gift from the New York Dog Shop on 73rd Street – purple squeaky Empire State toy, anyone? Enter the park at the 72nd Street Traverse and look for the memorial to John Lennon, the legendary musician shot on December 8th 1980 outside the Dakota Building which stands across the street. The Imagine mosaic forms part of a tribute area known as Strawberry Fields, funded by a $1 million donation from John’s widow Yoko Ono. Continue through the park. In summer, you might rent a boat from the Loeb Boathouse; in winter, perhaps try your luck at ice-skating on the Wollman rink.
The days of one Central Park attraction might be numbered, however. Despite Mayor de Blasio’s intention to ban them, at the time of writing it is still possible to take a horse and carriage ride through the park; they congregate along 59th Street at the southern edge of the park. They’ve been a part of the Park since the day it opened back in 1858 and Hollywood stars such as Liam Neeson and Danny Glover have made no secret of their opposition to the Mayor’s plans, along with an estimated 67% of New Yorkers. Find out more about the issue at www.savenychorsecarriages.com.
When you’re done, make your way back to see the lights of Times Square. You may wish to eat at Ellen’s Stardust Diner. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but those that love it enjoy the singing wait staff and its 1950s retro diner decor. You’ll find it at Broadway and 51st, or if you can’t see it, listen out for a song. To round off the evening, pay a visit to the observatory platform at the Top of the Rock. This offers unrivalled views of Manhattan for one reason – your view will include the Empire State Building. Depending on the season, this after-dinner slot may coincide with sunset, and it’s certainly an impressive vista after dark, although you may not wish to ascend this and the ESB in the same trip, especially if your time is limited. Pre-book your ticket at http://www.topoftherocknyc.com to avoid having to wait in line.