GREENWICH VILLAGE AND THE MEATPACKING DISTRICT - Insight Guides: Experience New York City - Insight Guides

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



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Enjoy the views along the Hudson River from a bike, a pier, or hanging from a trapeze


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Over the past decade, more than $400 million have been poured into converting industrial land and abandoned piers along the Hudson River into the Hudson River Park ( a 5½-mile stretch of parks, bike and pedestrian paths, tennis and basketball courts, and places to fish or launch a kayak. It’s quickly become a favorite escape for nature-starved, stressed-out New Yorkers and tourists. The paths run from Battery Park up to 59th Street, passing more than half a dozen converted piers with green space, outdoor theaters, and benches. But most New Yorkers agree the best stretch lies below 23rd Street.

Pier 45 ([map] A3) is perfect for lying out on the grass and taking in a rare sense of open space. Enjoy the views of the Statue of Liberty and the New Jersey shoreline, a sunset, or watch the river traffic ballet of police and tourist helicopters, tugboats, cruise-ships, and kayaks. The last can be rented for free for 20-minute trips further south at the Downtown Boathouse, Pier 40 (, Sat-Sun 9am-6pm, [map] A2), life jackets and brief instruction provided.

For intrepid individuals looking for an upside-down view of the Hudson River, the New York Trapeze School offers 2-hour lessons for about $50-60, also at Pier 40 (tel: 212-242-TSNY;; [map] A2).

But one of the best ways to enjoy the new park is on two wheels. Bike rentals are available in Midtown from Pier 84 at 44th Street ( or at Battery Park ([map] B1).

Relax in St Luke’s Gardens and spot dozens of species of butterflies and birds


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Tucked away off Hudson Street around the historic Church of St Luke in the Fields is St Luke’s Gardens, a warren of small green spaces linked by paths which is home to dozens of species of migrating birds and butterflies, blossoming cherry trees in spring, a rose garden, century-old maple trees, and wooden benches for contemplating it all.

These 3 acres of walkways, lawns, and rare plants form one of the more distinctive gardens in the city, in part thanks to the warm microclimate created by the gardens’ southwest orientation and the heat-retaining brick walls surrounding them. Over the years 100 types of birds have been spotted here, as well as 24 types of moths and butterflies, drawn to the berries and flowers planted here.

Enter by the south gate adjacent to the church and follow the paths to secluded areas. One is a small lawn, surrounded by trees and shrubs selected to attract the birds and butterflies. Around the corner from there is an alleyway, planted with 22 cherry trees that blossom in pink and white in mid-April. There are benches throughout, the perfect place to contemplate the greenery and enjoy a coffee or a book.

The gardens are part of the Episcopal St Luke’s School and Church, built in 1820 and the third-oldest church in New York, dedicated to the physician evangelist, in recognition of the Village’s role as a refuge from yellow-fever epidemics. One of the founding wardens of the church was Clement Clarke Moore, a gentleman scholar of biblical Hebrew and Greek who also penned Twas the Night before Christmas.

St Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson St; [map] B3

Take in the vibe at a Village jazz joint


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These days, Greenwich Village is more upscale enclave than bohemian mecca, but many jazz clubs that opened in the 1960s and even in the ’20s are still going strong, largely thanks to dedicated owners who believe passionately in the cause.

The jazz club that many jazz fans call the greatest in the world is The Village Vanguard (178 Seventh Ave South, tel: 212-255-4037, [map] C4) where Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk all played and recorded. The low ceilings and shape of the room make for great acoustics, and its high professional standards have been kept intact since 1935. The space is cramped and a little dingy, but the $30-or-so ticket price (including two drinks) is lower than other high-end jazz clubs like the Blue Note (131 W. 3rd St, tel: 212-475-8592, [map] D3) nearby, which also hosts top-of-the-line shows but with a feel that’s more nightclub than jazz joint.

Originally a speakeasy in the 1920s, the unpretentious 55 Bar (55 Christopher St, tel: 212-929-9883, [map] C4) is one of the best-kept music secrets in the city. The cover charge ranges from free to $12 for two sets, the drinks are cheap, and musicians love to play here. The up-and-coming jazz, R&B, and jazz-world-folk crossover bands rarely disappoint thanks to the high standards of the owner who runs the club more for creative satisfaction than for profits.

Other authentic places include Smalls (183 West 10th St, tel: 212-252-5091, map C4), known for its jams into the wee hours, or Cornelia Street Café (29 Cornelia St, tel: 212-989-9319, [map] C3). For top-end experimental jazz, check out Le Poisson Rouge (158 Bleecker St, tel: 212-505-3474, [map] D2). And for a great traditional jazz brunch go to North Square (103 Waverly Place, tel: 212-254-1200, [map] D3) at the Washington Square Hotel, to hear seasoned New York jazz vocalists such as Roz Corral.

Step back into the ’60s and the Village folk scene


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The last cultural hey-day of Greenwich Village was the folk era of the early 1960s, when Bob Dylan crashed onto the international stage, getting his start in small clubs and writing songs in his Village walk-up apartment. Today, most of the traces of that era are gone, but a few remain more or less intact.

The corner of Jones and West 4th Street is a bit like the Abbey Road of Dylan’s career: this is where the cover photo of Freewheelin’ was taken one wintry February afternoon in 1963 with then-girlfriend Suze Rotolo. The two shared an apartment on the top floor of 161 West 4th Street a block away. Dylan and other folkies such as Peter, Paul & Mary, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez would pop into The Music Inna few doors down at no. 169. Here they’d buy or borrow guitars, violins, and rhythm instruments from the owner who is still there today, tucked in the basement repairing and hand-making instruments. The upstairs is jammed-packed with mandolins, guitars, bongos, sitars, and world instruments of all kinds. The window display looks like it hasn’t been touched since the ’60s, and the place is not recommended for the claustrophobic.

Big names in folk music and rock have bought new and used guitars at Matt Umanov for decades. The selection is impressive, and the sales help highly informed. Suze Rotolo’s son works here.

Everyone from Woody Allen to George Carlin, Janis Joplin, Dylan, and even Frank Zappa have played at some point at The Bitter End. It’s the last club of the folk era still going strong, programming six acts a night.

Music Inn World Instruments, 169 W. 4th St; tel: 212-243-5715; [map] D3

Matt Umanov Guitars, 273 Bleecker St; tel: 212-675-2157; [map] C3

The Bitter End, 147 Bleecker St; tel: 212-673-7030;; [map] D2

Do some people-watching and listen to music in Washington Square Park


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Following a $16 million renovation which took over six years to complete, Washington Square Park is a pleasant spot to sit on a bench with a paper and maybe a spot of lunch, listen to music, and enjoy the ebb and flow of Villagers, bohemians, tourists, students and academics from surrounding NYU buildings, workers on breaks, and local residents with their dogs.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be there when the fragrant food cart of Sri Lankan-born Thiru Kumar is parked on the south edge of the park at Sullivan Street (Mon-Fri 11am-4pm, but times can vary depending on the weather). His mild or spicy dosas are praised by foodies across the city.

The park has been a draw for musicians since World War II, when folkies would gather near the fountain on weekend afternoons. Buddy Holly, Woodie Guthrie, and Bob Dylan have all jammed here over the years, and the tradition continues. Classical concerts are held in the northeast corner of the park in July, and Christmas caroling takes place around the arch in December.

In the southeast corner of the park, regular chess players do battle, while ‘chess hustlers’ take on passersby in an attempt to make a few bucks. On Sundays, champions from the National Scrabble Club gather here to compete.

Washington Square Park; [map] E3

Spot celebrities in and around Waverly Place


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There are perhaps more well-known actors, celebrities, and writers living in the leafy, peaceful West Village than in any other enclave in the city. So it can be easy to spot one if you keep your eyes peeled. Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler, Julia Robert, and Rosie O’Donnell are a few of the well-known people who live in the beautiful townhouses lining Greenwich Village streets.

If you’d like to increase your odds of spotting a celebrity, try to get a table at the exclusive Waverly Inn (pictured). Owned by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, this uber-hip restaurant has pulled in media moguls, Hollywood stars, and other assorted A-listers since it opened several years ago. It can be tough to get a reservation - there’s no phone, and front-of-house management is discerning. Instead, try getting a seat at the small bar when the restaurant opens at 6pm, or past 11pm when the dinner crowds begin to thin. Be warned, the drinks are not cheap. You’ll always know the celebrity power inside by the number of paparazzi hanging around outside.

Another place to spot celebrities, fashionistas, and power-players, is Keith McNally’s Morandi, just a few blocks away. In the warmer months, the terrace of this rustic Italian restaurant overflows with the tanned and beautiful, and a quick scan often produces a celebrity sighting. Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Modine, and Cameron Diaz have all been spotted having breakfast or lunch here during the day when things are quieter.

French Roast nearby is also a favorite among celebrities for its relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere. Recent sightings include David Byrne, Sean Lennon, an Olsen twin, and Gabriel Byrne.

Waverly Inn, 16 Bank St at Waverly Place; no phone; [map] C4

Morandi; 211 Waverly Place; tel: 212-627-7575; [map] D4

French Roast, 78 W. 11th St at Sixth Ave; tel: 212-533-2233; [map] D4

Bask in a bibliophile’s paradise, then embark on a literary tour


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It may be small, but many New Yorkers say Three Lives (154 W. 10th St, [map] D4) is the best bookstore in the city. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Hours, writer Michael Cunningham calls it ‘the most civilized place on earth.’ There’s a good selection of noteworthy new non-fiction and fiction, and a thorough choice of respected titles on the shelves. The staff are friendly and informed, and the atmosphere cozy. Browsing here is a book-lover’s dream.

The Strand (828 Broadway, [map] F3) and its ‘18 Miles of Books’ is one of the biggest and best-used bookstores in America. Negotiating your way among browsers and big tables piled high with books can try your patience, but most find it hard to leave without making a purchase.

The literary pedigree of Greenwich Village is undisputed. Over the last two centuries, the neighborhood has played a key role in American literature and is peppered with literary landmarks. Here are some to look out for:

The New School for Social Research (66 W. 12th St, [map] E4) opened in 1919 as a place for professors considered too liberal for the then-stiflingly traditional Columbia University. In the 1930s, it became a sort of university-in-exile for intellectuals fleeing Nazi Germany. Writers who have taught here include Joseph Heller, Edward Albee, WH Auden, Robert Frost, Joyce Carol Oates, Arthur Miller, and Susan Sontag.

Patchin Place ([map] D4) is a pretty mews where e. e. cummings lived from 1923-62, entertaining the likes of TS Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Dylan Thomas. Djuna Barnes spent the last 40 years of her somewhat reclusive life here. In the early 1960s Edward Albee bought a converted carriage house at 50 West 10th Street ([map] D4) where he wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning plays including A Delicate Balance. Historic watering hole The White Horse Tavern (567 Hudson St, [map] B4), where Dylan Thomas had his infamous drinking spree a couple of days before he went most un-gentle into that good night, is today a favorite among students and assorted literati. At 9½ft in width, 75½ Bedford Street is the narrowest house in the Village, and was home to poet Edna St Vincent Malley from 1923-25. She also founded the Cherry Lane Theatre (pictured, 38 Commerce St, [map] C3) just around the corner, where Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was first staged. A little further east at no. 11, Washington Irving wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in 1931.

Other literary landmarks in the neighborhood include 7 Washington Square North ([map] E3) home to Edith Wharton in 1882, while no. 19 was the home of Henry James’s grandmother and a setting of his novel Washington Square; Louisa May Alcott lived at 130−132 MacDougal Street ([map] D2) and penned Little Women here in 1880. In the 1930s and ’40s, the nearby Minetta Tavern (113 MacDougal St, [map] D2), which began as a speakeasy became a favorite haunt among local luminaries. Following a Keith ‘Midas Touch’ McNally revamp, the picture-perfect brasserie is now a buzzing, fashionable (and hard to get into) restaurant.

Visit a time capsule of fashionable 19th-century life, then tap into the Zeitgeist on the Bowery


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A great way to kick off a tour of New York’s neighborhood-of-the-moment is to get a glimpse of fashionable life in the 1800s at Merchant’s House on East Fourth Street. This elegant red-brick row house was home to a prosperous merchant family, and today it’s the only home in New York preserved intact from the mid-19th century, with much of the original furniture, decor, and family belongings still in place.

A block away is the Bowery, a once dodgy thoroughfare now home to some of the city’s hippest new hotels and buzz-worthy restaurants. Have a drink at the sleek cocktail bar at The Marlton Hotel or enjoy the intimacy of the vaulted dining room that’s lined with quaint shuttered windows and trailing plants.

Down the street is The Lobby Bar at the Bowery Hotel, where Ashton threw a birthday party for Demi, and Mark Anthony for J-Lo. Settle into oversized velvet chairs and take in the opulent French château hunting-lodge feel of the place with its marble fireplaces, wall-mounted antlers, and oriental carpets. The hotel’s rustic restaurant Gemma is a good place for a casual meal or coffee.

Merchant’s House, 29 E. 4th St; tel: 212- 777-1089;; Mon, Thu-Sun, 12-5pm; [map] F2

The Marlton Hotel, 5 W. 8th St; tel: 212-321-0100

Bowery Hotel, 335 Bowery; tel: 212-505-9100;; [map] F1

Bowery Bites

Big-name chefs are now on the Bowery: Daniel Boulud’s DBGB’s Kitchen and Bar (299 Bowery, tel: 212-933-5300) - named in homage to the Bowery’s defunct rock club CBGB’s - features upscale burgers and sausages, while hit-making restaurateur Keith McNally has opened his latest rustic Italian, Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria (282 Bowery, tel: 212-226-1966) on this trendy stretch.

Judge the best music at three Village churches in the unofficial ‘Battle of the Choirs and Organists’


Voices of Ascension

Within just a few blocks, three of the city’s most active churches offer music events, often free of charge. There’s no real competition here of course, just a blessing for the music-loving public.

The Gothic Revival Grace Church, at the corner of Broadway and 11th Street, was built in 1843 by James Renwick Jr, later the architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral uptown. The Episcopalian church is a national landmark - free tours take place Sundays at 1pm. But it’s the music that makes Grace a draw for New Yorkers. It’s famous for its men and boys choir, which sings during services and performs concerts in respected venues such as Carnegie Hall. Free organ meditations take place daily at noon. For a full music schedule, see the website.

A few blocks on, is the Church of the Ascension, also Episcopalian, which houses the Manton Memorial Organ, one of the premier organs in the world. The church is home to the Voices of Ascension, the Grammy Award-nominated professional choir who give concerts here, as well as at other venues around the city such as Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall. The beautiful main sanctuary was recently restored; go bask in its pristine beauty for an afternoon.

One block north, the First Presbyterian Church of New York was built in 1846 after originating near Wall Street in 1716. The church is home to the Guilmant Organ School, one of the first accredited schools in America devoted to teaching organists and church musicians. Organ and choral recitals take place here throughout the year.

Grace Church, Broadway and 11th St;; [map] F3

Church of the Ascension, Fifth Ave and 10th St; [map] E4

First Presbyterian Church, Fifth Ave and 11th St;; [map] E4

Sample cheeses and bite into fresh salami in the city’s ‘real’ Little Italy


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Sadly, all that’s left of the city’s ‘official’ Little Italy located just north of Chinatown is an abundance of mediocre Italian restaurants and cafes geared at tourists. Manhattan’s ‘real’ Little Italy is now confined to a stretch of Bleecker Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues, a hub of Italian immigration around the turn of the 20th century. Today, an authentic Italian feel remains thanks to an active Catholic church on the block, several Italian bakeries, butchers, and food shops, and one of the best pizzerias in the city. And with new gourmet shops opening up, the street is transforming itself into a downtown food destination.

Italian delicacies abound at Faicco’s Pork Store (no. 260): fresh mozzarella, dozens of varieties of homemade sausage, prosciutto, and meats of all kinds sold at an old-fashioned counter, plus sandwiches and packaged heat-and-go meals like eggplant parmigiana or lasagna. Next door, Murray’s (no. 254) is one of the best cheese shops in the city. The informed staff lets you taste-test a wide selection of cheeses from Italy, France, and many other countries. They hold cheese classes too. Traditional family butcher Ottomanelli & Sons (no. 285) has been in business for more than 80 years. Even if you don’t want to buy a steak or a leg of lamb, it’s fun to check out the old-style ambiente. For mouthwatering cannoli (pastries filled with sweet ricotta cream) or tiramisu along with a satisfying cup of espresso, take a seat at Pasticceria Rocco (no. 243). Some argue the best pizza in town is at John’s Pizzeria (no. 278, tel: 212-243-1680). Make sure you’re hungry - pizzas are made to order and sold by the pie, not the slice.

Bleecker St, between Sixth and Seventh Aves; [map] C3

Bag a comfy seat, order a latte, and strike up a conversation with a local in one of these cool cafes


Petter Palander

The cafe Doma, meaning ‘home’ in Czech, is certainly home for many freelance scribblers, actors, filmmakers, and other creative types who use this cafe as a more spacious alterative to their tiny apartments nearby. Although often as quiet as a library (albeit a see-and-be-seen library, where eyes swoop to the door when it opens), the cafe has an unspoken rule that sitting at the central table means you’re open to conversation - friendships, romances, and business deals have all sprouted here. Doma also serves light cafe fare (omelets, salads, and gourmet sandwiches), as well as wine and beer in the evenings.

Set in a former garage, Grounded is a more hipster alternative to Doma, priding itself on a post-hippie, lived-in feel with kitschy thrift-shop mugs, politically-correct coffee, and a soundtrack that alternates between ‘70s staples and current indie Brooklyn bands. Like Doma, Grounded has a social common area of wooden benches and a couch grouped around a coffee table, where it’s acceptable to chat with the person next to you.

Joe’s has won best cafe in the New York press because of the quality of the coffee, but the atmosphere isn’t quite as enticing as at Doma or Grounded. It’s smaller here, usually quite crowded, and the tables and chairs are less comfortable. However, getting a spot outside on one of two benches and watching activity on this pretty street is an ideal way to spend an hour or two on a warm day. There’s a second Joe’s by Union Square (9 E. 13th St), where it’s easier to get a table.

Doma, 17 Perry St; [map] C4

Grounded, 28 Jane St; [map] C5

Joe’s, 141 Waverly Place; [map] D3

Take in the buzz of the Meatpacking District nightlife


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This once-seedy area, where gay bondage clubs and drug dealing dens rubbed shoulders with slaughterhouses and meatpackaging plants, has been fully transformed into a high-end fashionista’s paradise. Designer boutiques line the streets, and at night the stylish hop in and out of cabs, expensive high heels clicking on cobblestones.

The main draw is the new Standard Hotel (848 Washington St, tel: 212-645-4646), straddled over the southern end of the popular High Line park (for more information, click here). If you can’t get into the Standard Grill restaurant, throw back a pint or play ping-pong in the ground-floor Biergarten, or sip a cocktail in the quiet lobby bar looking out over the street. Eighteen floors up is the (pricey) penthouse Boom Boom Bar, with panoramic views of the city and the Hudson River.

Still going strong after more than a decade is Keith McNally’s atmospheric Pastis (9 Ninth Ave, tel: 212 929-4844, [map] B5). Modeled after a French bistro circa 1958, it is full most nights. An equally successful themed restaurant is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market (430 W. 13th St, tel: 212-675-2322, [map] B5), with its mouthwatering dishes inspired by Asian street food.

A more intimate atmosphere is a block away at Monte’s (97 Macdougal St, tel: 212-228-9194, [map] D2), a rustic Italian restaurant with outdoor tables in warm weather, or a fun place for an outdoor drink is the terrace of Batali (363 W. 16th St, tel: 212-243-8400), in the still-trendy Maritime Hotel (363 West 16th St, tel: 212-242-4300).

Shop for designer clothes and munch on the icing-laden cupcakes of Sex and the City fame


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The outer edges of Greenwich Village, known as the far West Village, were as recently as a decade ago a deserted, inhospitable area, the streets buffeted by cold winds off the Hudson River in winter, and visited by the spill-over of transvestite hookers from the neighboring Meatpacking District. The wholesale butchers and prostitutes are gone, and the only thing being slaughtered there these days are fashion victims by the prices of designer clothes by the likes of Stella McCartney and the late Alexander McQueen, whose shops along these cobblestoned roads have supplanted the warehouses.

This fashion mecca has spread to the more intimate Bleecker Street, turning the first few blocks of the north end of this central roadway from Bank Street to Christopher Street into a miniature Madison Avenue, lined with boutiques belonging to Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Lulu Guinness, Cynthia Rowley, and Coach.

The street has become a destination for the well-heeled on weekends, who when they need a sugar pick-me-up, head to Magnolia Bakery (401 Bleecker St; tel: 212-462-2572; [map] C4), a cupcake shop made famous by its appearance on Sex and the City, which triggered the national cupcake craze. There’s usually a line up to a block long to get in, even late at night, but most say it’s worth the wait for the icing-laden cupcakes and old-fashioned desserts like banana cream pie and ice-box cake.

While most of the stores along this high-end shopping corridor are luxury clothes retailers, there is the occasional good-value gem, like the small optical chain See (no. 312) which sells imaginative frames and lenses at low prices that can be ready for pick-up in a few days.

Shoot pool at Fat Cat and go for a strike at Bowlmor


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Game-playing New Yorkers have a field day at Fat Cat, a vast subterranean games room which holds 10 pool tables, 10 ping-pong tables, along with half a dozen foosball and shuffleboard tables, chessboards, and a bar area where people can sit and play Scrabble or backgammon. The place is dark, crowded, and usually noisy, and adding to the energetic mayhem are jazz, soul, or Gospel bands playing on a small stage tucked to the side. Three groups play each night from 7pm-2am, with an informal jazz jam session taking over until closing at 4.30am. At night the place is generally packed with 20-30-year-olds and the NYU student set looking for an inexpensive and fun alternative to nightclubs and restaurants.

Bowlmor Lanes near Union Square is also a nighttime destination for New Yorkers looking for something different to do. The management at Bowlmor spiffed up a neglected three-floor bowling alley about a decade ago, turning it into a retro-hip spot with glow-in-the-dark bowling, big-screen videos, a huge sound system and a couple of bars. Some complain both the drinks and the bowling are too expensive ($24 for shoes and unlimited bowling from 9pm-1am), but others counter that the place is well managed and conveniently located.

Fat Cat, 75 Christopher St at Seventh Ave; tel: 212-675-6056; [map] C4

Bowlmor Lanes, 110 University Place; tel: 212-255-8188; [map] F4

Enjoy a meal in a cozy Greenwich Village eatery


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One of the main draws of Greenwich Village is the vast choice of intimate restaurants tucked along the picturesque streets. Here are a few favorites:

The Cornelia Street Café (29 Cornelia St, tel: 212-989-9319, [map] C3) is a busy, cozy, comforting Franco-American restaurant with a solid and affordable menu (duck confit with lentils, seafood stew) and a jazz and folk club downstairs.

Trendy gastro-pub The Spotted Pig (pictured, 314 11th St, tel: 212-620-0393, [map] B4) is open late and always full. The $20 charbroiled burger with blue cheese is a favorite.

Pearl Oyster Bar (18 Cornelia St, tel: 212-691-8211, [map] C3) is a highly rated seafood restaurant and packs in crowds every night. The straightforward dishes (lobster rolls, scallops, and oysters) are simply prepared but incredibly fresh. No reservations.

Lupa (170 Thompson St, tel: 212-982-5089, [map] D2) is one of celebrity chef Mario Batali’s first NYC restaurants and is still a standout for its delicious rustic Italian fare and decor, great wine list and fun but noisy atmosphere. Lunch is a quieter experience.

Aki (181 W. 4th St, tel: 212-989-5440, [map] C3) is a hidden gem for sushi-lovers. The chef spent a few years working for the Japanese ambassador to Jamaica, and his top-notch creations are tinged with Caribbean flavors. It’s tiny here, so be sure to reserve in advance.

For one of the best falafels or Mediterranean platters (hummus, pita, cucumber salad) join the line-up at Taim (222 Waverly Place). Seating is limited, but you can always head a few blocks east to Washington Square and enjoy a picnic there (for more information, click here).