A neighborhood on the edge now defines the cutting edge. Manhattan's Meatpacking District is raising the stakes. Hillary Geronemus reports

Hillary Geronemus
May 05, 2009

The secret is out. The lower west side Manhattan neighborhood once reserved for butchers and truckers (and transvestite hookers) is "officially" cool, at least according to the public-relations firm hired in 2003 to promote it as an emerging destination. But all of the company's hard work, including a handy map, was not really necessary. In just a few short years, the Meatpacking District (loosely bordered by 14th, Hudson, Gansevoort, and Washington Streets) has become a city within a city—and an ultrachic one at that. Hotels, restaurants, lounges, and designer boutiques now occupy many of the low-rise warehouses on wide, cobblestoned streets, the site of Gansevoort Market in the late 1890's. So what happens when an area booms too fast, and how do you maintain the character that made it so appealing?A successful landmark initiative led by concerned residents and longtime business owners has staved off some of the gentrification, if not the rent increases—now all new construction requires board approval. On any given day, stiletto-wearing fashionistas share sidewalks with white-smocked meat packers, and too much floral perfume mingles with the scent of raw beef. What more could you want from New York City?

WHERE TO STAY The slick, metallic façade of Hotel Gansevoort (18 Ninth Ave.; 212/206-6700; www.hotelgansevoort.com; doubles from $325) brings Modernism to an otherwise preserved area—construction on the hotel began before the landmark initiative. In addition to 187 sleek black and gray rooms, there's a rooftop pool and a rotating exhibition of works by local artists. • Just to the north, the Maritime Hotel (363 W. 16th St.; 212/242-4300; www.themaritimehotel.com; doubles from $265) is reminiscent of the sixties, when the building was home to the dockworkers' union. All 125 rooms have large porthole windows facing west, blue-and-white butterfly-print headboards, and bold vintage furniture. In keeping with the cruise theme, cabins are small, but the lobby and bar provide plenty of space to take in the scene. • Although it's technically a private club, like its sister property in London, Soho House (29-35 Ninth Ave.; 212/627-9800; www.sohohouse.com; doubles from $350) has 24 guest rooms available to the public. "Playground" suites are souped up with industrial-chic details—exposed-beam ceilings, freestanding tubs—and mini-bars are stocked with Ben & Jerry's, rooms with copies of the Kama Sutra. The real perk: hobnobbing with high-profile members at the bar, in the screening room, or by the rooftop pool (as seen on Sex and the City).

WHERE TO EAT Since Florent (69 Gansevoort St.; 212/989-5779; brunch for two $30) opened in August 1985, it has been mobbed by trendsetters hankering for cheap omelettes, burgers, and escargots. The 24-hour 1940's-style diner was a late-night haunt long before the district was ready for prime time. • A plastic cow atop the awning welcomes carnivores to the Old Homestead (56 Ninth Ave.; 212/242-9040; dinner for two $130), a steak house that's been around since 1868. Here regulars in velour jumpsuits (more Goodfellas than J. Lo) devour gargantuan chops and foot-long Kobe frankfurters doused in chile. • Keith McNally's Pastis (9 Ninth Ave.; 212/929-4844; dinner for two $70) is the ultimate neighborhood hangout. The casually cool café continues to attract the posh and powerful with roast chicken, steak frites, freshly baked bread, and friendlier-than-you'd-expect service. • What Pastis is to France, Markt (401 W. 14th St.; 212/727-3314; lunch for two $66) is to Belgium. The dark wood brasserie has perfect mussels, prepared seven ways—say, steamed in Hoegaarden beer, bathed in coconut milk with a hint of thyme—and served in a metal bucket accompanied by shoestring fries and a baguette for dipping. • Without its garden, the diminutive café Paradou (8 Little W. 12th St.; 212/463-8345; dinner for two $75) would have little room to serve its delicious pressed sandwiches (andouille sausage with mushroom, garlic, and pecorino) and French favorites such as coq au vin. • Macelleria (48 Gansevoort St.; 212/741-2555; dinner for two $75)—Italian for "butcher shop"—has an updated rustic feel, with slim metal hanging lamps, brick walls, and meat-heavy northern Italian dishes: pappardelle with a wild-boar ragù, veal piccata with artichokes, dry-aged porterhouse for two. • Yes, there is creative sushi at Matsuri (363 W. 16th St.; 212/243-6400; dinner for two $70), but the nigiri and sashimi play second fiddle to the star power in the room: Benicio Del Toro, Kate Moss, and Marc Jacobs have been seen sipping sake or tea in the opulent and rather voluminous basement of the Maritime Hotel. On the ground floor, La Bottega (212/243-8400; dinner for two $90) does contemporary takes on classic Italian dishes: cow's milk cheese-and-white truffle pizza is served in dim candlelight. • There's nothing sexy about Hector's (44 Little W. 12th St.; 212/206-7592; breakfast for two $12), and that's what makes it such a find. The diner (open from 2 a.m. to 5 p.m.) hasn't changed a bit in all the years it has been feeding local meat packers. • Superstar chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten's largest Manhattan restaurant, Spice Market (403 W. 13th St.; 212/675-2322; dinner for two $80), has an Asian street food theme. Salvaged wood carvings from India, maroon-and-gold curtains that recall a monk's robe, and white studded-leather banquettes set an exotic tone for shareable dishes (spiced chicken samosas, crunchy squid salad with ginger).

WHERE TO SHOP Young designers from around the globe have been drawn to the neighborhood's raw spaces. Brazil's Carlos Miele (408 W. 14th St.; 646/336-6642) mixes bold colors, offbeat materials, and crocheted suede. His first international flagship store is equally innovative, with curvaceous lacquered sculptures, digital art displays, and an illuminated floor. • The exposed brick walls and stone pool inside Yigal Azrouël (408 W. 14th St.; 212/929-7525) are in sharp contrast to the sleek concrete motif of surrounding shops. The Israeli designer keeps things simple by taking classic styles—pin-striped suits, jersey flamenco dresses—and adding original embroidered touches. • Stella McCartney (429 W. 14th St.; 212/255-1556) and Alexander McQueen (417 W. 14th St.; 212/645-1797) set up shop within days and steps of each other, but their styles are worlds apart. McCartney hangs flirty designs of silk and cashmere (no leather or fur for this vegan designer) on a few racks that barely fill her vast space, whereas McQueen packs his futurist-meets-fairy-tale statements into every blindingly bright corner. • Dernier Cri (869 Washington St.; 212/242-6061) stocks guitar-shaped belt buckles and tongue-in-cheek T-shirts with slogans like THE NEW YORK CRIMES. • At Jussara Lee (11 Little W. 12th St.; 212/242-4128), you can pick the cut you like from the Korean-Brazilian's collection, then customize it in one of the fabrics on display. • Travel around the fashion world at Destination (32-36 Little W. 12th St.; 212/727-2031), an emporium devoted to adventurous clothes, flapper-style hats, and vintage-inspired shoes from more than 150 global fashion trendsetters, including Britain's Emma Hope and France's Histoire de Voir. • DDC Lab (427 W. 14th St.; 212/414-5801) specializes in technologically enhanced leather and denims, so its pants and jackets have a softer, more flexible feel. • Parents who want their offspring to be their spitting image should head to Yoyamart (15 Gansevoort St.; 212/242-5511), a children's store stocked with designer clothes, educational books and CD's, and cool kid-friendly furniture. • Shelly Steffee (34 Gansevoort St.; 917/408-0408) uses her retail space to display a tailored women's line and showcase up-and-coming artists and product designers. • At Rubin Chapelle (410 W. 14th St.; 212/647-8636), a collaboration between Sonja Rubin (formerly of Vivienne Westwood) and Kip Chapelle (Armani), racks of slim slacks and dresses are surrounded by porcelain and steel sculptures by Wolfgang Stiller. • When it opened its doors five years ago, Jeffrey New York (449 W. 14th St.; 212/206-1272) was a trailblazer. This pint-sized department store still offers a well-edited selection by big names such as Manolo Blahnik, Jil Sander, Prada, and Yves Saint Laurent.

INTERIOR DESIGN With a shop in East Hampton and another in Palm Beach, Lars Bolander (72 Gansevoort St.; 212/924-1000) has now established a toehold in Manhattan, selling an exquisite collection of Swedish and French furnishings from the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as European prints and paintings. A line of Bolander furniture is in the works. • The 12,100-square-foot flagship of Swiss-based Vitra (29 Ninth Ave.; 212/539-1900), designed by Lindy Roy, provides a clean backdrop for the reproductions of multi-hued tables and chairs by Gehry, Prouvé, and Noguchi. • When Karkula (68 Gansevoort St.; 212/645-2216) changed its name from Breukelen, it also took its inventory up a notch, offering streamlined furniture, ambitious handmade jewelry, shag carpets resembling sea anemones, and delicate ceramic sculptures.

GALLERIES At the lower end of the burgeoning Chelsea arts scene, large spaces and high ceilings are beckoning dealers (note: most galleries are closed Mondays). After 17 years in SoHo, the Heller Gallery (420 W. 14th St.; 212/414-4014; www.hellergallery.com) headed northwest in search of fresh terrain in which to display contemporary glass sculptures. • Housing one of the largest collections of Andy Warhol works in the world, Wooster Projects (421 W. 14th St.; 646/336-1999) pays homage to the Pop artist with exhibitions by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Roy Lichtenstein. • Businessman turned digital artist and dealer Carl Van Brunt (819 Washington St.; 212/243-8572; www.vanbruntgallery.com) had already found success in the artsy Hudson Valley town of Beacon, so he decided to test the waters in the Big Apple. His stable includes photographers, sculptors, and painters. • More mini-museum than gallery, Sperone Westwater (415 W. 13th St., second floor; 212/999-7337; www.speronewestwater.com) mounts a new show by contemporary artists such as Bruce Nauman or William Wegman every six weeks. • The nonprofit Bohen Foundation (415 W. 13th St.; 212/414-4575) just started holding public exhibitions, coinciding with its move from SoHo to a century-old industrial building redesigned by the architecture firm Lot-ek. The organization commissions works (multimedia, film, and installations) from innovators such as Damien Hirst and Tom Sachs. Leave your checkbook at home—nothing on view is for sale.

NIGHTLIFE DJ extraordinaire Nicolas Matar brought the flavor of Ibiza to New York with his club Cielo (18 Little W. 12th St.; 212/645-5700). The building's original façade (complete with a sign for the Nyack Meat Co.) remains intact; inside, neon energizes the 300 revelers lucky enough to make it past the bouncer. Expect electronic, dance, and house music straight from the underground. • Although it has been open for three years, Apt (419 W. 13th St.; 212/414-4245) has lost none of its appeal. The reservations-only upstairs lounge is as warm and cozy as an apartment should be: it has a striped-wallpaper entryway and a bar that looks like a kitchen. • Once a biker bar that served as the inspiration for Coyote Ugly, Hogs & Heifers (859 Washington St.; 212/929-0655) is now more likely to draw tourists who enjoy being belittled by smart-mouthed female bartenders. • A small nook on a nondescript street, Passerby (436 W. 15th St.; 212/206-7321) recently made national headlines when its owner-bartender published Cosmopolitan, a tell-all book that is the Kitchen Confidential of the late-night libation world.

HILLARY GERONEMUS is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure.

Jeffrey Kalinsky OWNER, JEFFREY NEW YORK

TRY BESPOKE "I feel funny about promoting a designer we don't carry at Jeffrey, but I am a huge fan of the tailor Thom Browne [17 Little W. 12th St.; 212/633-1197; by appointment only]. Everything he does is made-to-measure, À la Robert Kennedy's look in the sixties. I have a suit, four pairs of pants, and two shirts by him."

GET OUTSIDE "Hudson River Park [www.hudsonriverpark.org], along the West Side Highway, is the best place to walk in all of New York right now. Just being able to see the water was the reason I moved down here in the first place."

KEEP IT REAL "The neighborhood is changing very fast, but I hope the movement to preserve the High Line [www.thehighline.org], an abandoned 1930's elevated railway, will succeed. Also, as much as I can't stand the sight of raw meat, I always want to see those meat packers in their white coats."

EAT SWEETS "The Little Pie Co. [407 W. 14th St.; 212/414-2324; www.littlepiecompany.com] has devotees as far away as North Dakota who come for the miniature treats. My favorite is Mississippi mud pie."

Get it all—dinner, drinks, the velvet rope. Here's where to see and be seen while eating. • Join regulars like Naomi Campbell and P. Diddy at PM (50 Gansevoort St.; 212/255-6676; snacks from $10) to nosh on tuna sashimi and beluga caviar while a DJ spins international beats. • After midnight, clubgoers at Lotus (409 W. 14th St.; 212/243-4420; snacks from $5) can dine on Asian treats such as pad thai served in Chinese takeout containers. • The newest kid on the block, One Little West 12th (212/255-9717; snacks from $6), has a tapas menu—goat cheese-topped burgers, bite-sized peanut-butter cookies—served by waitresses out of a Robert Palmer video. • At the French-inspired Rhône (63 Gansevoort St.; 212/367-8440; snacks from $7), choose from one of the 32 wines by the glass to complement appetizers like panko-crusted portobello mushrooms. • Pop Burger (60 Ninth Ave.; 212/414-8686; snacks from $8), which looks like a futuristic White Castle, cooks up juicy mini-burgers and fries. The groovy lounge in back projects anime on the walls and offers a more extensive menu.

If you fancy Meg Ryan's chop, you can let her stylist perform marvels on your locks at the first East Coast salon for Sally Hershberger (423-25 W. 14th St.; 212/206-8700), who has long been working her magic in L.A. • Just beyond the official borders of the neighborhood, former East Village hairstylist Eva Scrivo (632 Hudson St.; 212/677-7315) has taken over an old sausage factory. • Bumble and Bumble (415 W. 13th St.; 917/606-5000) is moving its corporate offices and hairstyling university downtown. On the top floor, there's a small salon overlooking the Hudson, a shop selling art books, and an organic café that serves afternoon tea at four. • Does your pooch need pampering?Head to the pets-only WoofSpa & Resort (678 Hudson St.; 212/229-9663), which offers "peticures," fur trims, and, in the summer, a small pool for dogs to splash in.

As if the 20-odd restaurants and shops that have opened in the area in the past year weren't enough, a few more are in the works. • Zak Pelaccio will be the chef at 5 Ninth, where the menu will revolve around three underrated fish: sardines, anchovies, and red mullet. • In a miniature version of the Flatiron Building, Steve Hansen is working on Vento, an Italian trattoria. • The team behind Lotus has a private, more intimate lounge (yet to be named) under construction. • Former Iron Chef Morimoto has signed a lease in Chelsea Market for his first New York venture; Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr will also open an outpost of Buddakan there. • This month, Jeffrey Chodorow's 300-seat, 4,000-square-foot outdoor space, Ono, will call the Hotel Gansevoort home. • On the retail front, Catherine Malandrino, Calypso, La Perla, and Christian Louboutin are the most recent converts.

57
Number of meatpacking companies in the area in 2000, down from a high of 150 in 1975.

63
Percentage decrease in reported neighborhood crimes since 1984.

1:1
The ratio of Soho House members to those on the waiting list.

Paradou

A local favorite for champagne brunch, this small French bistro in the Meatpacking District is named after the Provençal town of Le Paradou, which means “paradise.” Housed in a 19th-century carriage house, the restaurant contains white-washed brick walls lined with vintage posters, tables crafted from old wine crates, and a secluded outdoor patio, open year-round. In addition to unlimited champagne cocktails, the brunch menu includes dishes like the Wake & Bake—two eggs, polenta, and andouille sausage topped with Gruyère cheese. For dinner, popular options include the foie gras menu and the pan-roasted duck breast with squash and truffled honey.

Old Homestead, New York

A large cow sculpture suspended in front of the brick façade marks the entrance of the Old Homestead, New York’s first steakhouse. Opened in 1868, the restaurant still evokes a masculine, old-school vibe with dark wood paneling, vaulted ceilings, plush red leather banquettes, and of course, enormous cuts of USDA Prime beef. Popular options include the bone-in filet mignon and the Gotham rib steak, paired with classic sides like creamed spinach and truffled macaroni and cheese. In addition to the steaks, the Kobe beef burger with homemade tater tots and chipotle ketchup is also highly recommended.

 

Matsuri

Situated in Chelsea’s Maritime Hotel, Matsuri fills an unusual niche in the Japanese restaurant scene. For starters, it’s enormous, with high vaulted ceilings, oversize paper lanterns, and a lengthy bar. Unlike the quiet, shoji-screened rooms or the steakhouse setting of many Japanese restaurants, Matsuri reflects the spirit of its name (which translates to “festival”) with an energized, club-like atmosphere. A sake sommelier guides diners through the list of nearly 200 bottles, while Tokyo-born chef Tadashi Ono prepares traditional sushi rolls, small plates such as unagi pie (freshwater eel baked in phyllo dough), and large plates like sake-marinated black cod.

Markt

From homemade Belgian waffles to 30-plus Belgian beers—many of which are used to prepare authentic dishes—this Chelsea brasserie serves the best of Belgium’s traditional fare. The often lively interior is furnished with antique wooden furniture, although the outdoor patio seating is often in higher demand during warmer months. In addition to waffles, the brunch menu includes a popular eggs Benedict and chocolate chip pancakes served with Belgian chocolate sauce. For dinner, the specialty is moules frites (mussels and fries), steamed in a variety of sauces, such as garlic and fresh cream.

Macelleria

Located in the Meatpacking District, Macelleria—Italian for “butcher shop”—is a Tuscan-style steakhouse situated in a former meat locker. A white steer head statue is displayed in the brick-walled interior, which also contains copper dishware hung from large meat hooks and a wine cellar constructed with part of a 17th-century Dutch fortress. During warmer months, seating is also available outside on the front patio, which is ideal for people-watching. In addition to prime steaks like the porterhouse for two, paired with nontraditional sides like fried zucchini, chef Fausto Ferraresi also prepares homemade pastas such as spaghetti alla carbonara.

La Bottega, New York

La Bottega Italian restaurant in Chelsea is a surprising find, being housed in the lobby of the Maritime Hotel. The funky trattoria is tiled in white, with borders of bottles, baskets of oranges, and hanging salamis, while brown leather banquettes surround the free pool table. Seating is also available on the terrace; since it is elevated, it affords respite from the street noise and a perfect vantage point for people-watching. La Bottega serves up brick-oven pizza and traditional Italian and pasta dishes like rigatoni, made with prosciutto cotto, cream, peas, and parmigiano.

Hector's Cafe & Diner

Fans of Law & Order will recognize the squat brick building and neon-yellow sign of Hector's Cafe and Diner in the Meatpacking District. Opened in 1962, Hector's is tucked beneath the Highline Park, serving up typical diner fare such as burgers, pancake platters, meatloaf smothered in thick gravy, and classic fountain drinks like ice cream and soda floats. Hector's strange hours lead to an unusual mix of customers rubbing elbows at the stainless steel counter and Formica tables, from meatpackers to club hoppers, from construction workers to fashionistas. Delicious root beer floats have a way of bringing all types of folks together, it seems.

Pastis

For a Sex in the City moment, stop by Carrie's favorite restaurant, Pastis, in the Meatpacking District. Locally-renowned owner, Keith McNally, has recreated a 1930s French bistro, complete with accessories bought at European flea markets like light globes, brass railings, mismatched tables and chairs. The summer patio is the perfect place for people-watching on the corner of 9th Avenue. Some signature dishes are the steak frites with bearnaise sauce and the croque-madame, a ham and grilled cheese sandwich topped with a fried or poached egg.

Spice Market, New York

Renowned owner-chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten brings Southeast Asian street fare to the gorgeous Spice Market in the Meatpacking District. One enters through an intricately carved wooden pagoda with lush red curtains. Every inch of the two-level restaurant is filled with antique carvings and screens, and accented with white leather as well as indigos, violets, ochres, and rich reds. Dishes are served family-style and include regional fish sauces, curries, and spices. Some favorites are the sweet mussels steamed in lemongrass, Thai basil, and coconut juice, and the chicken samosas with cilantro-flavored yogurt.

Soho House

Part private members’ club and part hotel, the Soho House is located inside a repurposed warehouse building in New York’s Meatpacking District. The hotel, which features 24 exclusive rooms, offers stylish accommodations with sleek décor including everything from crisp, white linens to banana leaf-printed banquettes. Hotel guests are allowed to use the club facilities, such as the cinema, rooftop pool, and sitting area, throughout their stay. For added pampering, a Cowshed spa is located on the third floor and provides a range of massages and facials.

Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC

With 187 rooms and 23 suites, the Hotel Gansevoort is a stylish resort located in New York’s Meatpacking District. The hotel features decidedly contemporary décor, including cylindrical light fixtures and rope-like curtains in the lobby, and while public spaces feature vibrant reds, golds, and purples, the guest rooms provide a calming atmosphere with neutral shades and the occasional splash of the hotel’s signature blackberry hue. An outdoor rooftop pool, the Hiro Haraguchi salon, and the Gansevoort Spa & Lounge all help bolster the hotels resort status claims.

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