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.