SOHO, TRIBECA, AND CHINATOWN - Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides

Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides (2016)



Alex Lopez/NYC & Co


Dig into steaming dim sum in Chinatown


Karen Blumberg

New York’s Chinatown is one of the largest Chinese enclaves in the world outside of Asia, and that means there’s a huge choice of places to eat. But not all are good - New York foodies have a shortlist of the places they like to go to:

Take a steep escalator ride up to Jing Fong (18 Elizabeth St, tel: 212-964-5256, [map] F1), a huge, bustling banquet hall crowded with patrons who choose from a wide variety of Hong Kong-style dim sum passing by their tables on rolling carts. It’s best to go closer to 10am when the food is freshest. They close at 3.30pm.

There are no rolling carts at Dim Sum Go-Go (5 East Broadway, tel: 212-732-0796, [map] F1), with its easy-to-order, reasonably priced dim sum menu - 24 kinds on offer. Recommended are the dim sum platter (good for the dim sum novice) and the roast chicken with fried garlic stems.

There’s usually a line-up to get into Joe’s Shanghai (9 Pell St, tel: 212-233-8888, [map] F1) to order their famous mouthwatering soup dumplings filled with pork or crabmeat. Other dishes are good here too, like the Szechuan string beans, salt-and-pepper prawns with shells, and the Shanghai noodles.

Oriental Garden (14 Elizabeth St, tel: 212-619-0085, [map] F1) attracts big-name chefs like Daniel Bouley, who come here for the exceptionally fresh seafood. It can be noisy and the menu can vary in quality. But you can’t go wrong ordering seafood dishes like the fried shrimp balls, lobster in XO sauce, or oysters with shiitake mushrooms and scallions.

Shop for designer knockoffs on Canal Street


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The heart of Chinatown, Canal Street is hectic with pedestrian traffic and vociferous street vendors. It has long been the place to go for counterfeit designer products, but a police crackdown has cut down on the number of knockoff handbags, watches, jewelry, and shades displayed in the open on this crowded street. Customers are not at risk of arrest, but vendors are. Still, it hasn’t dissuaded intrepid salespeople from reaching out to tourists who crowd the street in the afternoons and on weekends - they’ve simply become more stealthy.

How to shop for a fake

Don’t be afraid to haggle, especially if you’re buying more than one item

Do your research on the latest trends before you buy if you don’t want an out-of-date fake

If you don’t see what you want, ask. Chances are someone will have it ‘in stock’.

Be sure to look carefully at the items, and look for shoddy workmanship like zippers that don’t close, or seams that aren’t sewn together correctly.

Remember to carry cash, but not too much, as visible wads won’t help in your negotiations

Avoid buying pirated DVDs - usually shot by home video cameras in theaters and terrible quality.

If you’re looking for a fake designer accessory, watch for men on street corners with wallet-size plastic catalogs of product photos. Then, either they’ll lead you down the back stairwell of a store, or around a corner to another address. What happens afterwards is not for the faint of heart: you’ll be taken into rooms that may then be locked behind you. Spread out on the floor will be a selection of faux brand-name accoutrements to choose from - Gucci, Cartier, Prada - you name it, there’s a fake for it.

Alternatively, locate one of the minivans parked just off Canal Street, used by mobile vendors who are ready to move on at the slightest sign of police activity.

Canal Street, Chinatown; [map] F1

Buy a hip messenger bag, an antique human skull, or a first-edition photo on a Soho shopping spree


Joe Buglewicz/NYC & Co

It’s hard to find a higher- quality or more picturesque shopping district than Soho. The cobblestone streets are lined with beautiful and spacious cast- iron buildings, and their high-ceilinged stores sell some of the best designs in clothes, furniture, and household goods you’ll find in North America. Stroll around and you’re certain to stumble on something that will give you inspiration. Here’s a tour that takes you to some of the more interesting shops in the area.

Check out some of the best in contemporary and unique furniture at Matter (405 Broome St, [map] F2); the gallery and showroom is a resource for architects and interior designers to keep tabs on what’s hot. If you’re in the mood for some luxury lingerie, satin sheets, corsets, or gold-plated handcuffs, head to Kiki de Montparnasse (79 Greene St, [map] E3). The change rooms have three choices of lighting: before, during, and after.

Purl Patchwork (459 Broome St, [map] E3) has a great selection of beautiful fabrics ranging from Japanese and French imports to reproductions of Victorian-era designs. Swiss Army (136 Prince St, [map] E4) has more than just knives. There are also great watches, luggage, and clothes. You can see or buy the very best in music photography of the last half-century at Morrison Hotel Gallery (124 Prince St, [map] E4), which also has great temporary exhibits. The Apple Store (103 Prince St, [map] E4) is New York’s flagship store and holds hourly free presentations in the auditorium on anything you need to know about Apple products.

For great outdoor apparel and gear for hiking and climbing head to Patagonia (72 Greene St, [map] E3). Further north on Greene St the elegant frocks at Stella McCartney (112 Greene St, [map] E4) never cease to amaze. For those drawn to more morbid subjects, there’s Evolution (120 Spring St, [map] E3). Buy framed butterflies or insects, a stuffed rat, or a human skull for $895 at this quirky store selling natural history collectables.

MoMA Design Store (81 Spring St, [map] E3) presents two floors of carefully chosen products ranging from chairs to notebooks, scarves, and watches by classic and new designers. Great for gift shopping.

Housing Works (130 Crosby St, [map] F3) is a neighborhood favorite in thrift stores rife with amazing finds, while Prada (575 Broadway, [map] F3) is worth visiting for the sensational Rem Koolhas-designed interior.

Honor the kid in you or in your life at the McNally Jackson Books (52 Prince St, [map] F3). This enormous retail space sells thousands of high-quality and educational children’s books and toys. A little further along, find inexpensive stylish clothes at the world flagship store of Uniqlo (546 Broadway, [map] E3) - think H&M with a Japanese minimalist twist.

Finally Kate Spade (454 Broome St, [map] E3) is a new American classic handbag, luggage, clothing, and shoe designer with a slightly quirky and retro feel. For great men’s bags and clothes try Ghurka (65 Prince St, [map] F3).

Take in the sight and smell of 280,000 pounds of topsoil at the New York Earth Room



You push a buzzer at a nondescript door in Soho tucked between high-end furniture and clothing boutiques, and head up a flight of stairs to what is perhaps the longest-running and most unusual free art display in the city, the New York Earth Room.

It’s a sprawling 22in pile of dark, humid topsoil filling a 3,600-sq-ft loft the size of a small football field. The same earth has been sitting here for nearly 35 years, the work of artist Walter De Maria, one of three Earth Rooms he has created since 1968, and the only one still in existence.

The exhibit is maintained and run by the Dia Art Foundation, a not-for-profit arts organization that likes to support artworks that wouldn’t otherwise be able to exist. Not only is this one of the longest-running art exhibits in the city, but the person who mans the exhibit has perhaps one of New York’s longest-running jobs. For more than 20 years he has greeted the public and tended the soil, raking and watering it weekly, occasionally finding small weeds or mushrooms growing which he carefully removes.

About 50 people come here a day, and reaction to the show is diverse. Some New Yorkers say it’s the most soil they’ve seen in years, some find it mildly creepy, others say being here is spiritual or comforting, a moment of peace in the hectic city. Many are drawn back to the room again and again.

You can’t photograph it, or touch it, but you can ask questions, like how they got the soil in here in the first place (through the windows with cranes) or what it means (that’s up to you).

The New York Earth Room, 141 Wooster St;; Wed-Sun, noon-6pm (closed 3-3.30pm), closed from mid-June to mid-Sept; free; [map] E4

Catch a foreign film at Film Forum, then raise a pint at the historic Ear Inn


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A cinephile’s paradise, The Film Forum has been New York’s leading movie house for indie premieres, classic and foreign films, and director retrospectives since 1970 when it began with 50 folding chairs and one screen. On any given week you could, for example, catch an original Godzilla movie, see part of a Robert Altman retrospective, watch a restored print of Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, or attend a premiere of the latest documentary by D. A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back) with the director on hand for questions after the screening.

People complain the three screens in the theatre are small and the seats uncomfortable, but film- lovers agree it just wouldn’t be the same in the city without the Film Forum’s eclectic and well-thought- out screening programs.

A great place for a drink or bar meal (burgers, steak and fries) afterwards is the historic Ear Inn. Built in 1817 by the water’s edge to serve thirsty longshoremen working the docks, it’s been called the Ear Inn since the 1970s, after the ‘B’ in the neon ‘Bar’ sign was transformed with a few dabs of paint into an ‘E’ by members of The Ear music magazine, then published on the premises. Thanks to landfill and development, the former speakeasy now sits a few blocks inland. It has become a city institution where people come to enjoy a drink or meal in a relaxed atmosphere and maybe catch some live jazz if it’s a music night.

The Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St;; [map] D4

The Ear Inn, 326 Spring St; tel: 212-226-9060; [map] C4

Take in the beauty of cast-iron architecture at its most splendid in Soho


Elisa Rolle

A new type of building construction appeared in New York in the mid-late 1800s that would become the precursor to the skyscraper: the use of prefabricated cast iron for building facades and interior support columns. The relatively inexpensive cast iron could be molded into intricate designs and patterns for the facades, while the strength of the metal allowed for higher ceilings and taller windows, permitting more natural light to flow into industrial buildings and warehouses in this pre-electrical era. The low-cost iron was an easy and inexpensive way to add decoration to utilitarian commercial buildings. More than 250 of these buildings exist in New York and most of them are in Soho. Here are a few worth seeking out:

At the northeast corner of Broadway and Broome is the E. V. Haughwout Building (pictured, [map] E3), one of the first cast-iron structures in the city which took just one year to build. When unveiled in 1857, it boasted the world’s first hydraulic passenger elevator.

Dating from 1873, the Gunther Building at the southwest corner of Broome and Greene boasts an elegant Second Empire facade, a style popular in the 1870s, with regularly spaced Corinthian columns and ornate cornices, balustrades, and brackets.

Damage to 71 Greene Street on the first and second stories of the building reveals how the ornamental cast-iron plates were bolted onto the facade. The ornate three-dimensional facade of 72 Greene Street is considered the area’s finest example of cast-iron splendor. The facade at 10 Greene Street, built in 1869, has heavy, unadorned Tuscan columns. Like other buildings in the area, it is partly obscured by fire escapes - a legal requirement after a series of loft fires swept the city in 1915.

Greene Street; [map] E3

Devour homemade Chinese ice cream and observe community life in Chinatown’s Columbus Park


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On warm-weather days, the line can get long at the Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, but the delectable scoops of ice cream made on the premises are well worth the wait. Open since 1978, this little ice-cream parlor has spawned a number of competitors, but there’s no disputing that the original is the best. The ice creams and sorbets come in traditional flavors like chocolate, coffee, rocky road, or pistachio. But there’s also an enticing choice of exotic Asian flavors to tingle your taste buds, such as ginger, green tea, lychee, or black sesame.

The best place to enjoy your ice cream is nearby Columbus Park, the de facto community center of bustling Chinatown. Some say it resembles a square in China 70 years ago: along the fences and under canopies cobblers, fortune-tellers, jewelry repairers, and booksellers ply their trade. Inside the park, Chinese men and women play tile games, dominoes, and mahjong, some gambling and smoking. Others practice martial arts and Tai Chi while families stroll by or young lovers sit on benches. A frequent sight on weekends is a group of seniors playing traditional Chinese instruments, accompanied on occasion by retired Cantonese opera singers. Boxed in by skyscrapers lining Baxter, Worth, Bayard, and Mulberry streets, the attractively landscaped park is a welcome place of relaxation.

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory, 65 Bayard St, weekends only, 11am-11pm, weather depending; [map] E1

Columbus Park, 67 Mulberry St; [map] E1

Join the power-breakfast set at Balthazar or sip tea in the exclusive Mercer Hotel lounge



Rather than jostle with the evening crowds, a weekday breakfast at Balthazar is a great way to experience this Soho institution. The breakfast here is not overly pricey, and both the food and the company are worthy of note - Balthazar in the morning has become an unofficial meeting and deal-making spot for writers, editors, and new media tycoons who work nearby - The Huffington Post’s New York headquarters are around the corner, as is the head office of Balthazar bakery is next door, so the bread basket is a heavenly assortment of freshly baked rolls, raisin bread, and slices of fresh whole wheat and rye, ideal for dipping in soft-boiled eggs cooked to perfection. Or, dig into fresh croissants, eggs benedict, or a creamy quiche.

For more celebrity-spotting, or to feel like one yourself, enjoy a glass of wine or cup of tea in the Christian Liagre-designed lounge of the nearby Mercer Hotel. It’s really only meant for guests, but if you’re well-dressed and discreet, no one will mind you sitting a while on one of the leather banquettes or inviting armchairs and soaking up the sophisticated library-like atmosphere. Keep your eyes peeled for high-profile models, directors and actors who stay here, and are often interviewed in the lounge.

Balthazar, 80 Spring St; tel: 212-925-5340; [map] E3

Mercer Hotel, 141 Mercer St; tel: 212- 965-3800; [map] E4

Pick up some ginseng, Chinese slippers, or hard-to-find Asian food


Britta Jaschinski/Apa Publications

The axis of Chinatown is slowly shifting to less expensive Flushing in the borough of Queens, and many longtime businesses didn’t survive the severe economic fallout of 9/11 (the World Trade Center was not far away). But the area still bustles with businesses catering to Chinese and tourists alike. Here are a few places to shop for Asian food, household goods, and knick-knacks.

Hong Kong Supermarket is the largest Asian supermarket in Manhattan. Upstairs you’ll find a wide selection of sauces, beverages from all over Asia, and frozen dumplings. Downstairs, the aisles are lined with snacks, dried goods, herbs, and a small selection of bowls, woks, and steamers. It helps to speak Cantonese, and it can get extremely crowded on weekends when management gives out free food samples. Some complain the ringing-up process at checkout is often dodgy, so pay attention as prices are keyed in.

Be prepared to spend a couple of hours at Yunhong Chopsticks Shop, a palace dedicated to the utensils. You’ll find them in materials like mahogany, ebony and sterling silver. Pick up colorful plastic sets for everyday use or buy a beautiful pair for gifts or special occasions. With over 200 different styles, you’ll have plenty to choose from, and while you’re there you’ll learn that it’s Chinese tradition and belief that giving chopsticks spreads happiness.

Kam Man Food Products is a bustling food and home goods store that’s a fun place to roam. It’s great for Asian sauces and candy, as well as cookware, dishes, and chopsticks.

Hong Kong Supermarket, 157 Hester St; tel: 212-966-4943; [map] F2

Yunhong Chopsticks Shop, 50 Mott St; tel: 212-566-8828; [map] E3

Kam Man Food Products, 200 Canal St; tel: 212-571-0330; [map] F1

Eat with the Elite in Tribeca


Steven Freeman/Nobu

Once a dark and desolate corner of the city, Tribeca today is home to wealthy young families who enjoy high-end loft living. Foodies make the trek to this revitalized area for some of the best restaurants in the city.

At the top of the list is Bouley (163 Duane St, tel: 212-964-2525, [map] C1). Big windows onto the street reveal the kitchen where you might spot celebrity chef David Bouley at work. Inside, patrons enjoy haute cuisine in a refined romantic atmosphere. Dig into the five-course tasting meal, or order dishes like the Cape Cod baby squid with scallops and crabmeat, and remember, high quality doesn’t come cheap.

You might find yourself next to Nicole Kidman, P. Diddy, or Robert DeNiro at crowded Nobu (pictured, 105 Hudson St; tel: 212-219-0500, [map] C2), which De Niro helped launch with chef Nobu Matsuhisa more than a decade ago. Patrons are wowed by his nouvelle haute Japanese cuisine: a house favorite is broiled black cod with miso, and the sushi and hand rolls are consistently excellent. The $150 tasting menu is a good way to discover why it’s so hard to get a seat here. You might have more luck at the simpler and cozier Nobu Nextdoor, next door.

American Cut (363 Greenwich St, tel: 212-226-4736, [map] C2) serves a new American menu, featuring horseradish-encrusted salmon and duck-fat fries, in a cozy and classy space with dim lighting and excellent bartenders that’s made it a low-key Tribeca favorite. Enjoy the outdoor seating in warm weather.

For Euro-glamor and the best Bellini in town, head just north of Tribeca to Cipriani Downtown (376 W. Broadway, tel: 212-343-0999; [map] E3), perfect for spotting models and celebrities. The food isn’t bad either: try the octopus carpaccio, the lobster salad, or the freshly made ravioli.

Discover the works of well-known and emerging artists at Soho’s intimate art galleries


Clic Gallery

In the late 1970s and ’ 80s the Soho gallery scene was in full swing, when exhibits by artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat attracted hordes of black-clad hipsters and well-heeled collectors. But as boutiques and restaurants mushroomed, galleries closed or moved, and artists sought pastures new. By 2000 Chelsea had become the center of the gallery scene (for more information, click here). However, a surprising number of important galleries still remain in Soho, here’s a selection of places worth exploring for temporary exhibits and their permanent collections:

Ronald Feldman Fine Arts Gallery (31 Mercer St, tel: 212-226-3232, [map] E2). Serious conceptual art by museum-quality artists.

Martin Lawrence Galleries (457 West Broadway, tel: 212-995-8865, [map] E4). Well-known and emerging artists: paintings, sculpture, and graphic design.

Franklin Bowles Galleries (431 West Broadway, tel: 212-226-1616, [map] E4). A ‘Blue Chip’ gallery featuring valuable works by Chagall, Dalí, Miró and more.

Louis K. Meisel Gallery (141 Prince St, tel: 212-677-1340, [map] E4). Owns the largest pin-up art collection in the world.

June Kelly Gallery (166 Mercer St, tel: 212-226-1660, [map] F4). Contemporary works by African-American artists.

Clic Gallery and Bookstore (424 Broome St, tel: 212-219-9308, [map] E3). Monthly shows by emerging photographers, and a curated selection of high-quality photography books (pictured).

Margarete Roeder Gallery (545 Broadway, 4th Floor, tel: 212-925-6098, [map] E3). Specializes in drawings by Merce Cunningham, and contemporary German prints.

Soho Gallery for Digital Arts (138 Sullivan St, tel: 212-228-2810, [map] E3). Important young art gallery presenting new artists. Off the beaten path in both its location and curating.