There’s a new vibrancy at the tip of Manhattan
I was born in Manhattan and my mother, a native Californian, logged more than four decades in New York. So, it was with great curiosity that we, together with my 10-year-old daughter, decided to explore a downtown neighborhood located at the narrow tip of the island that spans from the East River to the Hudson River. Locals have started referring to this area as “ the new New York,” as opposed to the rest of the city, now, somewhat derisively, dubbed “Old Manhattan.”
Previously this part of lower Manhattan was known mostly for Wall Street hard chargers and tourists on their way to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island or a Circle Line boat tour. But something has happened, a new energy has bubbled up with new apartments, office buildings, hotels, shops and restaurants. The long-awaited Freedom Tower, the tallest skyscraper in the Western Hemisphere, drives much of this and is a gleaming symbol of resilience that stands sentinel over the 9/11 Memorial & Museum.
New York’s familiar grime, grit and faces creased with consternation have somehow been banished in this zone. Even the primary subway hub at Fulton Street is clean, modern and, yup, efficient. Joggers, dog walkers and pram-pushing dads maneuver the early morning paths along Battery Park. Could this neighborhood really be part of my hometown city?
The first night of our visit we hole up at the Conrad, a sleek all-suites hotel overlooking the Hudson River. The lobby with its soaring ceiling, multi-story installation by artist Sol Levitt, and futuristic globe lights sets the tone for the “new” New York. Because we visit in winter, we miss the seasonal Loopy Doopy, a rooftop bar that’s a favorite with locals. We do make it to the airy lobby restaurant called Atrio, where we dine on velvety, delightfully cream-free lobster cappuccino and hyper-fresh grilled halibut.
Because the 9/11 Museum sits a couple of blocks from the Conrad, we begin our exploration there. From harrowing videos from that fateful day to mangled steel rods, to soot-covered helmets of firefighters to personal effects of fallen victims, the mostly underground galleries are a testimony to the tapestry of humanity.
When we emerge, we cross the street to St. Paul’s, a Revolutionary War-era church. This hallowed ground stood in the shadow of the World Trade Center when the towers fell and threw open its doors to tend to the injured and first responders.
On the other side of the Freedom Tower sits an optimistic testimony to the future. Brookfield Place is Manhattan’s first truly modern mall. This marble-clad temple of commerce has fashionista hot shops like Diane von Furstenberg and Gucci, a European-style food hall trading in oysters, hand-cut steaks and jewel tone macaroons, along with practical outposts, like DryBar, where I sip prosecco while my daughter and I get impressive blowouts.
The stunning modernist design of the Oculus, a newly-opened transportation hub for the area, which also houses shops and cafes, makes it an underground wonderland.
While this is a worthy destination, no shopping experience downtown can compete with Century 21, a cluttered multi-storied monument to the “only in New York” bargain, where you can scoop up a Donna Karan dress for $20 and score an 80% discount on a Christian LaCroix handbag.
On our second night we go big and head to the new Four Seasons Downtown, a chic but decidedly friendly oasis destined to set the bar for luxury hotels in the city. Our bank of windows overlooking the Freedom Tower renders a powerful tableau, a testament to America’s tenacity. The rooms are sleek and roomy, and baths are the stuff of dreams, outfitted with marble and massive soaking tubs. I carve out time for a therapeutically firming facial at the spa, a serene space that belies its location in the heart of the city. But, ultimately, it’s the staff–doormen, front desk and housekeeping–that makes our stay so memorable. It’s a place where once you check in, everyone knows your name. Not once did we return to the property without a personal greeting.
We make a point to meander past city hall en route to South Street Seaport, a cobblestoned 18th century micro-neighborhood with pubs, shops and the Grammy Museum. During our visit, the museum had an interactive Taylor Swift exhibit, where my daughter danced and ogled glittery stage costumes while my mom and I re-engineered the hit song “Mean” in a mock sound studio.
The next morning, we reluctantly check out of the uber-contemporary Four Seasons. Awaiting our cab we note that we’re standing in front of a 19th century church and across the street from a Deco-era government building. As we look up, we see a cluster of building cranes. New buildings are being erected all around us. This downtown skyline is blooming, and we can’t wait to return and see what’s next.