While it's easy to return to a favorite Manhattan neighborhood over and over, what a treat to find a new day-tripping home-away-from-home in the city's Meatpacking District on the West Side downtown. This discovery comes from an Upper West Side perennial, now hooked on the food, fashion, history and reverence for bucolic open spaces in the Meatpacking District.
From Chelsea Market to the High Line public park built on a defunct railway track above the streetscape to Diane von Furstenberg (DVF) and other high end boutiques, there is much to do in a relatively small zone tucked away on the Hudson River west of the West Village and south of Chelsea. "Oasis" might be a bit overstated but its scale is much-appreciated after the noise and crowds of Midtown.
Once home to 250 slaughterhouses and packing plants in 1900, Meatpacking went through a long decline, then the usual gentrification. Its preservation and historical designation are due to the vision of neighborhood activists, specialists in urban environmental design and artists like fashion designer von Furstenberg who has anchored one of her retail stores, with a design atelier and penthouse, just east of the High Line. Such are the powerful champions vital to transforming our cityscapes with vibrant imagination and generosity.
Here are some recommeded "Meatpacking" destinations:
The High Line
On a hot summer afternoon, we strolled through the gardens and wading pools of the High Line, a renewal project built on the freight tracks 30 feet above the street. Opening in 1934, then replaced by trucking and closing entirely in 1980, the High Line criss-crosses 22 blocks that had become so dangerous that cab drivers wouldn't even go there.
Now it's a focal point of urban chic among restaurants, glass apartment and office buildings and within view of the Chelsea Piers sports complex. Read all about its history, urban planning and current details in this special New York Times section.
I could spend the entire day (and have) going from shop to shop in the Chelsea Market food emporium, a collection of New York's finest on the ground floor of the old National Biscuit Company complex. I have never seen as many extra virgin olive oil bottles to sample as in The Filling Station. Nor as many playful cookies as at Eleni's, nor as many fanciful sweet creations as in Morimoto. I love to watch the bakers manage the ovens at Amy's Bread and peruse the aisles and grab lunch at one of New York's finest fishmongers, The Lobster Place.
This atmospheric Southeast Asian dining spot down the street from Chelsea Market is a creation of resto impressario Jean-Georges Vongerichten - and a New York scene in itself. I was always a big fan of the French-Thai cuisine at his now-closed Vong in Midtown East, and in the huge space of Spice Market, his inventive menu and evocative setting are delicious in all respects, including the people-watching. Plates are ordered and shared at the table, a variety of flavors but nothing overcomplicated or pretentious.
Other popular food faves include The Standard Grill, Fig & Olive (one of several in the city), Pastis and Buddakan.
Check out the DVF boutique at 874 Washington and around the corner at 420 West 14th Street, fabulous tees, tops, separates and signature origami sweater wraps in resilient cotton at LillaP. A handful of haute and casual fashion stores are mixed among funky and playful furniture and homestyle stores and, of course, considering the hip crowd, a large, crazily intense Apple Store at 401 W. 14th St.