New York City Tour: Downtown
The best of this iconic and ever-changing NYC locale.
No one can agree precisely when it started, let alone where it starts. South of Houston Street? 14th? 23rd? Does it include the farther-flung galleries of Chelsea? The Financial District? The one thing New Yorkers can agree on is that Downtown just feels different. You sense it the minute you cross that disputed border. Few cityscapes have such recognizable iconography—the cast-iron façades of SoHo, the Belgian block-paved lanes of TriBeCa, the water towers punctuating rooflines like squat wooden rocket ships, the hoardings plastered with dance-mix ads, the congee joints and Puerto Rican bodegas, the bodega that last Tuesday became a bistro.
Tips: Big Onion Walking Tours was founded by graduate students in History in NYC who ran tours on the side for extra money. Tours run at least three times a week, year-round, rain or shine.
This striking home for downtown's contemporary art hub—led by savvy director Lisa Phillips—made a splashy debut in December 2007, thanks to its extraordinary lopsided, seven-story building designed by Japanese duo Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa from acclaimed architectural firm SANAA. The space's boxy interior may appear less awe-inspiring than the exterior's sophisticated riff on a child's set of unbalanced building blocks, but the upside is that it won't detract from the raft of temporary shows that will cycle through here every four months. (Expect highly conceptual, head-scratching installations from unheard-of artists, as is the museum's mission.)
Admission: Adults $16, seniors $14, Thursdays 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. pay what you wish. Closed Mon. and Tues.
Blue & Cream
An airy, minimalist window-lined store that started as a Hamptons staple, it carries designers for men (Rag & Bone, Rogues Gallery) and women (Zac Posen, Jill Stuart), and attracts a wide array of buyers, including celebrities. This hip Bowery location features oft-changing exhibits of contemporary art and photography that are mixed in with the clothes, and hosts show openings several times a month.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
Downtown's hoteliers Eric Goode and Sean MacPherson took the raw spirit of the Bowery and transformed it into this luxe boutique hotel, which houses the chic watering hole The Lobby Bar as well as the restaurant Gemma. It's a great venue for events and weddings, too.
Tony, candlelit, and elevated one story above traffic, this refined SoHo lounge feels like the sort of place where two lovers conducting an illicit affair might rendezvous. Named after an actual British officers’ club in Rangoon, it has an appropriate interior—all dark woods, velvet seats, and Asian accents. The Eastern-influenced snack menu by Gavin Citron changes seasonally and according to the owners’ inspiration, though the namesake cocktail—a tangy mix of London dry gin, orange curaçao, bitters, and lime juice—is always a safe option, as is the heavily alcoholic, aromatic Fitty-Fitty (gin, vermouth, bitters, lemon) or the delicious Old Cuban (rum, champagne, bitters, muddled mint). On each table, there’s a carousel of pipettes filled with bitters, sugar water, and other cocktail “seasonings” so that drinkers can customize their pro bartender's mix to their own preferred tastes. Expect to pay around $15 a drink.
The Standard, New York
André Balazs understands that stellar views in New York City have less to do with the height of a building than with its context. The perennial hotelier to the hip—and in this case, hip and budget-conscious—has opened his fourth Standard hotel, on a Meatpacking District site surrounded by low-lying warehouses. The result: practically every room has stunning skyline or Hudson River vistas. Vast swaths of glass work to that end. At full operation later this year, the hotel will have two restaurants and five bars (don’t miss the sunset views from the one on the 18th floor), and the building straddles the High Line, the freight railway that’s being turned into a much-hyped city park.
Death & Co.
This historic village hang-out received a Keith McNally makeover in 2009, and has been a sell-out ever since. Tin ceilings, tiled floors and heavy red curtains lend the room a secretive, sexy vibe, while the bistro-inflected menu features one of NYC’s most feted (and highly-priced) burgers.
Crosby Street Hotel
While the Jane, designed by Sean MacPherson (the Bowery Hotel, the Maritime Hotel), is romantic in theory—an old riverfront building with tiny rooms modeled after European train sleeper cars—keep in mind that a New York hotel with starting rates in the double digits comes with drawbacks. Our room during a recent stay had a 27-inch flat-screen TV, an iPod dock, and complimentary water bottled on-site, but the room was too hot, and opening the window wasn’t an option because the property is next to the roaring West Side Highway. Bathrooms are shared and coed, which won’t appeal to all travelers.
Combining effortlessly unencumbered minimalism with the subtle beauty of a polished concrete floor and curving acrylic walls, the Derek Lam boutique in downtown New York City is a signature sanaa design. The clothes are stars here, set off by the gallery-like space’s hyper-meticulous, luxurious ambience—and yet there is surprising warmth, too, a feeling of lightness, fun, and sparkle that’s a new addition to the Japanese duo’s repertoire.