Great food and culture tours in Greenwich Village and Chinatown, a stroll along the green High Line and finally made it to the beautiful Flatiron Building.
Greenwich Village - or simply The Village - is a unique neighbourhood in Manhattan. On the one hand it has a real small town feel with quiet tree-lined streets, smart brick townhouses, small shady parks and low-rise buildings; on the other it will be forever associated with a Bohemian lifestyle and many different kinds of music.
We were strolling through the area known as the West Village one Sunday morning and came to small leafy Abingdon Square with a statue dedicated to the memory of the neighbourhood servicemen who fought in the First World War. The figure is that of a foot soldier nicknamed a "doughboy".
It was hot and I sat on a shaded bench while Andrew took photos. I fell into conversation with a really nice man reading a book, a long-time resident of the Village. He knew a great deal about the neighbourhood and said that residents were determined that it should retain its character as much as possible. Hence new builds are restricted in size and height and planning is strictly controlled.
One hot and sunny morning we took a "Foods of New York Tour - The Heart of the Village"1 - a food tasting and cultural tour focussing on the music legends who had connections here.
We began with excellent grilled cheese and brisket sandwiches at Melt Kraft.
Our next food stop was Masala Times on Bleecker Street for fabulous eggy curry wraps and absolutely gorgeous mango lassi. The interior is highly amusing, decorated with Hollywood and Bollywood film clichés.
Also on Bleecker Street is the Porto Rico Importing Company, established in 1907 and selling a huge range of coffees and teas. You can just imagine the wonderful smell!
Our next stop was Monte's Trattoria on MacDougal Street where we had good pasta but in rather a plain tomato sauce.
In this heart of the Village there are many famous spots including Caffe Reggio which claims to be the first in the country to serve cappuccino and was a favoured haunt of prominent members of the Beat Generation including Kerouac and Ginsburg.
On the same street is another favourite Beat hangout, Cafe Wha?,2 where many famous musicians played when they were unknown - Bob Dylan played his first gig in the city here. The Velvet Underground, Woodie Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen all played here when they were starting out.
It was also at Cafe Wha? that Jimi Hendrix, playing with his band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, was seen by the Animals bassist Chas Chandler who was so impressed he convinced Hendrix to come to England - and the rest is history!
On the way we had pizza at Artichoke Pizza - a great Margherita pizza, though they'd run out of fresh basil.
Right next door to Artichoke Pizza is Minetta Tavern, another veteran MacDougal Street establishment, once known as the Black Rabbit3 and serving modest meals it is now a fine steak house.
Yet another is what was once the Gaslight Cafe at 116 MacDougal. Here Beat poets and then musicians performed. After complaints about the noise level of applause (I guess it was all unamplified acoustic music at the time) audiences took to snapping their fingers instead - an iconic symbol of the Beat Generation.
A short stroll to Washington Square Park. We had been early for the tour and had spent a bit of time here already, innocently sitting down at a chess table to play a game. We hadn't realised that these were personal tables and you had to pay!
The park was one of David Bowie's favourite places in the city; he lived a few blocks south on Lafayette Street.
Once a cemetery, where thousands of bodies remain buried, and a place for public executions, now people from all walks of life stroll or relax on the benches, read or listen to musicians play.
Around the edges of the park are some fine townhouses - probably worth several tens of million dollars each!
Stanford White Arch in the park was built to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of Washington's inauguration.
We had empanadas at Cuba Restaurant and Rum Bar but weren't too keen. They were rather dry, we much prefer the Peruvian and Bolivian versions which are much more succulent - very messy to eat but really good!
Our penultimate stop was Sullivan Street Tea & Spice Company. This place used to be a mafia hangout not so very long ago and still has original artefacts from that time.4
In the 1980s and 90s the mafia Triangle Civic Association Social Club met here and mob boss Vincente "Chin" Gigante's conducted business.
After refreshing tea we moved on to our final stop, the Francois Payard Bakery for salted caramel macaroons.
At three and a half hours this is a long tour but for variety of food and in-depth description of the neighbourhood and history I doubt it can be beaten - highly recommended.
The High Line5 is a brilliant urban renewal project which took a set of disused elevated freight railway tracks and converted them into a traffic-free green space. It runs through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea to the west of Greenwich Village and has been a huge success, providing a place for relaxation and gentle exercise.
There are numerous access points, not all with elevators, the southern entrance is at Gansvoort and Washington Streets in the Meatpacking District. We started here on a very hot Sunday when quite a few others had the same idea!
The planting was designed by Pete Oudolf so is soft and naturalistic.
The High Line stretches north through Chelsea. At Chelsea Market, between W 15th and 16th Sts. there are a large number of places to eat. We had a very good lunch in Friedman's - excellent grilled salmon salad, burger and home-made lemonade.
After lunch we continued strolling north, coming down off the High Line to seek out the fabulous Art Deco Empire Diner on West 22nd and 10th.
We went inside and the interior is just beautiful, full of classic Art Deco detail.
At W 30th the High Line turns west to follow the line of the street below. We walked as far as it was possible to go but work was being done on the extreme end section.
The evening we visited Chinatown it was rather damp. The rain began to fall as we waited to meet our guide for the "Foods of New York Chinatown Tasting & Culture."1 Fortunately all the food was served in sit-down meals in restaurants so we weren't actually eating on the street!
We met at Dim Sum Go Go on East Broadway and this was our first place to eat. And what a starter it was - truly fabulous freshly made dim sum. There were five varieties to taste with two dips. The vegetable-based Jade dumplings were good but not our favourites. I liked the chives and shrimp dim sum but Andrew was not so keen. The pork dumplings and duck dumplings were excellent and the roast pork bun out of this world. The dumplings were served with three "dips" - two with chili and ginger flavours, the third an amazing combination of various ingredients including, I think, ginger and shrimp, which rapidly disappeared. All washed down with a lovely jasmine tea. Raheem talked about the ingredients of the dim sum that we were eating, how they are cooked etc. with great enthusiasm.
Outside, even though it was raining, Raheem gave a very good history of Chinatown as we moved between restaurants. Though San Francisco has the largest area Chinatown in the US, this Chinatown in Manhattan has the highest population by far.
Dim Sum Go Go is close to Chatham Square where there is a statue of the anti-drug activist Lin Zexu. He was a Qing dynasty official known for his scholarship and integrity who advised the emperor on measures to prohibit the use of, and therefore illicit trade in, opium.6 In the square there is also an arch erected in 1962 dedicated to the memory of all Chinese Americans who have fought and died for the USA.
Doyers Street was one of the most fascinating locations that Raheem took us to, steeped in history.
To begin with it is a curved street, a full right angle bend, which is most unusual in New York City. It was nicknamed "The Bloody Angle" because of all the Tong gang murders that occurred there - more than anywhere else in the city at one time.
At one end of the street is a United States Post Office which was previously a distillery run by Henry Doyer whom the street is named after. The only way the authorities could close it down was to convert it into a Post Office!
Nam Wah Tea Parlor is the oldest tea house in the city dating from 1920.
We walked along Pell Street, another quintessential Chinatown street, and on to Mott Street and Aji Ichiban.
Aji Ichiban (a franchise founded in Hong Kong) sells a huge variety of Asian snacks, including many wonderful dried foods such as fruit, crab, fish and squid, some plain, many in some kind of seasoning. We sampled lots!
On to the Peking Duck House which gave us another great eating experience - absolutely gorgeous Peking duck wraps, really succulent.
We made our way down Mott Street to Columbus Park, where the rain suddenly started to fall with a vengeance! Nevertheless, in the open (but roofed!) pavilion, Chinese men were playing board games, seemingly too engrossed to bother about the weather.
Our final stop of the evening was the New Malaysia restaurant on Bowery, between Canal and Bayard. There we had roti canai - a flat bread, very flaky, with a spicy sauce dip - more excellent food!
This has always been a favourite since seeing the beautiful Edward Steichen photograph, taken at twilight in a misty New York.7 We finally got to see it up close in 2015.
Built in 1902 it perfectly fills the difficult site at the apex of a triangle between 22nd and 23rd close to where 5th and Broadway cross.
Designed by the Chicagoan Daniel Berman8 it was one of the first skyscrapers to be built in the city.
Madison Square Park sits across 23rd from the Flatiron between Fifth and Madison, a welcome shady green space when it's hot.