The Best Stroll Through Downtown Manhattan if You’d Like to Casually Judge Passersby
by Modern Miss Manners
Some of the most useful information passed between my friends and myself is what to do with those pesky wide-eyed visiting friends and family members when they show up on your doorstep, expecting the most exciting weekend of their fucking lives to begin immediately. My first post on entertaining visitors is below – it’s the adult New Yorker with a healthy sense of shame’s answer to a walking tour, and it can fill up an entire afternoon, as it dumps you out in Soho, the number one tourist shopping destination. Let ’em run free, buying all the gear they can grab. It’ll be magical – and virtually painless for you. Everybody wins.
I’m about to let you in on a little secret: the best jaunt in Manhattan is between my apartment and my office. First of all, feel free to hate me simply because I can walk to and from work. I get that. Second, because I walk through four entirely different and vibrant neighborhoods each day.
Let me break it down for you: I wake up on the Lower East Side each morning. I live right in the heart of the place, above a well-known and loved restaurant called Schiller’s (an excellent place to start or end your walk, regardless of which direction you take it in – filled to the brim with the LES’s finest: models, modelizers, generally well-dressed and beautiful people, the moderately famous often among them – plus: you can grab a killer cheeseburger and cocktail combo). When I walk outside, I head down Rivington toward Essex, a street so often filmed in music videos and NYC-based TV shows that I expect all American TV viewers to assume every block in the city looks just like this. The truth is that few do – no matter what time of day, the array of individuals to gawk at (remember: no eye contact, this isn’t a real zoo) and strange, magical shops available to peruse (none of which are affordable on a normal person’s salary, of course – but we’ll get to affordable neighborhoods shortly, don’t fret) are rare and unique.
As you wander further down Rivington, you’ll quickly see the concentration of business begin to peter off – once you hit Forsyth, you’ll notice you’re at a sort of breaking point – an oddly long and skinny park that separates you from the Bowery and, in my mind, marks the logical end of the LES’ territory. You’re stepping into the strange, mostly empty wasteland of the Bowery, a sort of breaking point between the LES, Chinatown and Little Italy – a step away from Soho. This is the place where all the neighborhoods I walk through each day meet. It’s desolate, and only beautiful in the mornings, prior to 8:30am, when there’s no traffic and you can see the ends of the street in both directions. From here, you can turn left and head further in the direction of Chinatown and Little Italy (I’d recommend walking left on Bowery, then swinging another left onto Hester for dumplings and an incredible array of cat figurines in wedding garb) – for the best pizza in Manhattan, keep walking across Bowery. Rivington turns into Spring in a dog paw here, and Spring is the official marker of Soho for me. Technically it’s Noho, but I think that name sounds silly. Solita, Nolita, Noho – forget it. It’s all Soho, as far as I’m concerned. On Spring at Mott Street, you’ll see Lombardi’s. Best pizza I’ve eaten in NYC. We could argue forever about who has the “best” pizza, but quite frankly, I had to take a stand, and Lombardi’s delivers to my apartment. (Additionally, I once knocked an entire pie into my lap in Lombardi’s, and I’ve never seen anyone rush to someone else’s aid more quickly in an NYC restaurant. One bottle of club soda and many dishrags later, a busboy had helped me remove every trace of red sauce. Those are some real professionals.)
Keep walking down Spring past Lombardi’s and you’ll soon hit Broadway – the street that eventually lures every tourist in. Hell, when I need something cheap and quick, I’ll go there too. But trust me on this: keep walking. Walk down Mercer, walk up and down and around every side street you find past Broadway, walk above it on East Houston, swing into every beautiful shop you see – they’re all galleries in their own right. This is fashion heaven. This is stage design. This is what Soho is really about. Everything is art. Even the graffiti everywhere is compelling – but you’ll have learned that already on your walk up to this point (the corner of Spring at Bowery is an ever-overlapping canvas). Cheesy as it may sound, art is everywhere between these neighborhoods, and everyone who wants to say something can most definitely let you know what they’re thinking. It’s so easy to have a conversation here, even through the clothes you wear walking down Mercer each day. Why do you think street photographers camp out in Soho? Everyone’s screaming for attention – they most definitely want to be heard. By the time I reach work each morning (on the aforementioned Mercer Street), I’ve seen a new piece of street art or been inspired by the way a girl walking past me is wearing a sweater – it’s insane and visually overwhelming and beautiful to be anywhere near here.
This walk reminds me each day why I really do love living in New York. It keeps me from running off to Vermont to work on a farm and smell real grass, see real sky. It’s vibrant, gritty, realistic – it’s the overwhelming beauty of the everyday that keeps me here, ping ponging back and forth through neighborhoods I couldn’t find anywhere else. I want to be able to keep up with everything, to be a part of everything, and this is exactly the right place to be doing that.