Out Of The Smoke And Into The Fire

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Those of you bloggers out there might be familiar with the slump that procedes that initial blogging fervor, where you go from “postpostpost!facebook-we-have-new-posts!-post” to “meh, I could expend extra time and effort and brain cells writing a post, or I could catch up on Real Housewives of New York City.” Well, I haz it. Still. But, after:

  • 8 weeks of stress-fractured-foot-induced lassitude.
  • 4 sojourns south (New Orleans) and east (Italy) and still east(Boston) and more east(ditto) again.
  • 5 million reminders that a) we have a blog, and b)we ARE posting again. and again.

I’m back.
With a post about Times Square, because its recent near-immolation made me see it in a kinder light. I’m lying, actually. Times Square is a horrid, soulless, chain-filled wasteland, but it is in this post, because this post is about my walk from work at 4 Times Square to our apartment in Cobble Hill.
One-way walks, when you can fit them in, are so satisfying—your backdrop never repeats, and every step is taking you thatmuchcloser. This one hits all the major squares in lower Manhattan: Times, Herald, Madison, Union, and Washington, plus Tribeca and the Brooklyn Bridge. In total, it’s a bit over 5 miles, so get your good shoes on player, and get ’em tied up tight. Va be’? Andiamo!

Ninth Circle

Part One: Midtown, Flatiron
New York Magazine always asks the people who take their “21 questions” survey which Times Square they prefer: new or old. Almost all of them say “old” or “neither,” especially those born after the district switched its lights from red to neon. Judging from the photos at the City Museum of New York, I wouldn’t exactly call the old version charming, but I’ll take saggy hookers over TGI Fridays every day. Except I can’t, and neither can you. What can you take? Besides the TGI Fridays, TS boasts a Ruby Tuesdays, ESPN Zone, GAP, Walgreens, Red Lobster, Uno’s, 3 Starbucks, Ann Taylor Loft, and a smattering of red metal bistro-style tables and chairs, the better for viewing the commercialized landscape. The good news is, we’re leaving, heading south on Broadway, with its scuzzy clothing shops, delis, and Tastee Delites, until boom! more bistro-style chairs and tables, this time in pastel green. Which means: Herald Square, the armpit to Times Square’s a**hole.
Nom.[image via NewYorkHotels.com]
Both Times and Herald Squares abut massive transportation centers and have comprehensive subway stations, but I am not sure why they are so popular with tourists. Times Square at least has Bryant Park one block over; Herald has nothing, though I’ll concede the chairs and the ivy do dress up the nothing a little bit. Also, Macy’s still has their flower show windows, which are really intricate and lovely, though the audio was a misstep.

Fershlugginer.

Post 32nd street, bear with me just a little longer, and you’ll notice the scuzz-quotient decreasing rapidly. We’re entering Chelsea, home to galleries and gays, neither of whom stand for scuzz. Chelsea, especially on the streets, has a lot of classic brownstones, along with a bunch of interesting modern buildings like Jim Kempner Fine Art and The Standard, which affords walkers on the Highline a much classier peepshow than they ever could have gotten in old Times Square. But we’re not going to the Highline today, sorry! Instead, we’re heading east until we hit Madison Square Park, which runs between 5th and Madison Avenues and 27th-23rd streets.
[image via Alan Miles NYC]
Ooh, Madison Square is really lovely now—its big, gnarled trees drip pink and white petals all over the grass and windy paths and sandpit and endless line of hopeful Shake-Shackers. Also the Flatiron is one of my favorite buildings in the city, and the view of it coming south, where first you’re confronted with just a narrow slice of gray stone and then slowly you watch it fan out, is best. Now we continue down Fifth Avenue, having a quick leche-vitrine at J.Crew and Anthro. (I know, after all my chain-bashing! Comme je suis hypocrite.)

Part II: Union Square, Greenwich Village, NoHo

It is after 5, so the ramp foragers and red-current-jam-makers and raw-cheese-purveyors will be packing up, but Union Square is by no means empty. Look at the man drawing pictures with sparkly sand! Look at the six year-old in a street-vendor fedora earnestly playing Mozart’s 12th on his violin! Look out for the free-hugs people! And we’re through, cruising down University Place, where the traffic is mostly sleepy violets in weensy pastel bermudas (boys) and those silly ankle-sock sandals (just girls, I hope). Aside from the abundant opportunities to play sartorialist, University Place is great because it holds the Washington Mews, a gated, brick side street whose northern side is lined by creamy nineteenth century stables (the buildings on the southern side are 1930’s Greek Revival, and also very pretty). Narrow lanes with low buildings really speak to me—if they speak to you as well, Forgotten NY has a terrific post on Greenwich Village’s alleys.

Oh! and now we’re in Washington Square. Let’s head west a bit so we can hit the mini Arc de Triomphe. Washington Park is always bustling at this time of day, its benches filled with students, faculty, and bag ladies; its empty fountain and green spaces filled with musicians, acrobats, and frisbees. The buildings on the north side are stunning, I think–varying shades of brick, some painted, all relatively narrow and uniform in height with tidy black shutters and window boxes! Window boxes make everything better.

And now, street-wise, you’re spoiled for choice—all narrow, all cast-iron and brick, all draped in verdant green and magnolia and cherry blossoms. Today I’m taking Thompson, because City Girl Cafe is here, and I want one of their crackly brownies, but you can take Sullivan, Mercer, Laguardia, or MacDougal if you’re craving cheap falafel.

Part III: Soho, Tribeca, City Hall, Brooklyn Bridge
Passing over Houston and into Soho, the buildings get just a bit taller, and the streets go cobbled, which I love. The people watching is excellent here, as are the window-licking options, though not if you feel fat, or poor. The last block between Grand and Canal gets a bit dodgy towards its end, and you will, unless it’s very late or early, be encouraged to purchase fake Louis/perfume/ gauzy polyester scarves. But look ho! At wide, slanting Church Street, with its mix of craggy brick and sleek glass and somewhat hulking cement buildings. The proportion of buildings I like vs. cold war-reminiscent horrors is favorable, though light is hard to come by.

TriBeCa is moshspeak for “Triangle Below Canal,” but it has many, all lopsided slivers, most of them brick, some of them, like my favorite, occupied (in this case, by the Tribeca Grand and its gorgeous brassy clock).
Now we head east until we reach City Hall and its immense, Batmanesque government buildings.Not my style, so much, but kind of cool in a bleak, Camacotzy way.

Part IV: Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill
And then, the bridge! Ushering the tired, the poor, the huddled and resolutelydrawntothebikelaneevenwhenyouareonyourbikewhosebrakesdon’twork masses from one side to the first tower—clickclickgiggleclick–to the second–ditto–and down, turn around, back to Manhattan.

Except, we are not tourists, but rather brave, pioneering Brooklyners, so on we go, down the stairs and up through Cadman Plaza—helloooo, more Batman government buildings!—and then, pass through heinous, highwayish Tillary Street, and onto Court Street, which is filled with fairly scuffy examples of crayola commercialism–a cinema, Barnes and Noble, $179-Air Conditioning/We Install Free/Comes with a Deck Chair/And a Sunflower Mumu kitchen-sink shops, two froyo+pretzel places, banks, bodegas, and delis. Cross over Atlantic Ave, home to the oldest subway tunnel in the country, and turn right on Pacific St. Classic Brooklyn all the way—tidy brick and stucco brownstones with clean slate steps and big maple trees and well-tended shrubbery and glossy, stout wooden doors and the constant trill of the Mr. Softee man (Cobble Hill is more bobo and less post-consumer ecochic than Park Slope—we have not yet banned him). Cross Clinton St and, voilà. Home, sweet home. For us, at least. You can go on to Henry Public and order your first Eagle’s Dream—we’ll meet you by the second.

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