Meet 13th Street
Spanning the East Village from Union Square, Greenwich Village, the West Village, and through to the Meatpacking District, 13th Street is full of vibrant culture. It is a quiet residential oasis amidst a fleet of distinctive restaurants, curio shops, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. Buildings of both New York University and the New School add a youthful element to this side street. Spread out nicely the entire way, 13th offers a tranquil experience.
The development of the East and West Village is happening at a rapid pace. Once known almost exclusively for the Green Market, Union Square is expanding to encompass much of Greenwich Village. The chain stores, as well as a multitude of smaller shops, restaurants and a Hyatt Hotel on the corner of 13th and Fourth Avenue, all surround the square.
Over the years, the historic Meatpacking District has gained an international reputation with its upscale fashion boutiques, trendy restaurants, and two luxury hotels on 13th, The Gansevoort and The Standard. On the weekends, young people fill the cobblestone streets and can be found standing on long lines to enter any number of the chic venues.
The complete opposite experience can be had on either side of Avenue B where, barely a block apart, sit two gardens. In nice weather, one can enjoy feeling truly secluded. The Relaxation Garden has a clear community vibe, featuring a patchwork selection of donated lawn furniture and handmade garden decorations. Dias Y Flores is the triumph of the Loisaida United Neighborhood Gardens and the Community Gardens of New York’s efforts to clean up and revitalize a demolished tenement that once stood on this plot.
As I walked, admiring the neighborhood and the stunning rows of residences, I continued to be drawn inside several hidden gems. At the start of my 13th Street journey, near Avenue C, I came upon The Baroness, which is all about latex clothing, as well as Guerra Paint & Pigment, a shop that has been creating paints for over twenty-five years. Stock, a men’s vintage clothing store, owned by a woman, is worth a visit by either sex. Then there is a very special ninety-six year old woman who sits in her living room that also houses the 13th Street Repertory Company. Edith O’Hara has owned this theater for decades. Here they present children’s productions and Israel Horovitz’s play, “The Line” – considered to be the longest running show on Off Broadway.
Similar to most of the streets thus far, 13th is not short on bars or restaurants. There are multiple choices with so many outstanding menus. Members of my team told me that they had “the best meal” one night at The Redhead, known for its unpretentious, quality-obsessed, Southern-style pub fare. There are half a dozen truly remarkable Italian restaurants, such as All’Onda or Bruno, which houses a flourmill in its basement. French cuisine is represented at Café Loup, and Spanish at The Spanish Bar and Restaurant. A memorable night occurred when we had a few glasses of excellent wine and appetizers at Corkbuzz and then moved next door to Le Midi for dinner with friends.
The husband and wife team at Salam Café and Restaurant whipped up traditional Syrian food for us one afternoon that laced our tongues with spices and flavors straight from the Middle East. And I cannot leave out David Chang’s Booker & Dax, a fascinating cocktail bar which is conveniently located directly across the street from one of his Momofuku Milk Bars…and I was nominated to bring back some desserts for everyone while they were watching magic happen with their drinks. The restaurants closer to the Hudson, which call the old Meatpacking District home, boast an array of glitzy eating spots including Spice Market, Valbella, and Fig & Olive.
13th remains distinct amongst the other side streets below them because of its fierce hold on the culture of the city. A perfect example is the Tenri Cultural Institute of New York. Being set so close to the heart of the East and West Villages allows this Japanese hub to unite with universities and the rich ethnic communities surrounding it. 13th Street denizens are exposed to language classes, ever-changing art exhibitions, small chamber ensembles, and a variety of events throughout the year.
This spirit of community is very much in evidence at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center. Bought from the city in 1983, this welcoming free space provides a safe place for the community to meet, fostering a wide infrastructure and deep communal connections. Its doors are nearly always open, as are the minds that run this institution.
At first glance, it may seem difficult to differentiate between the side streets, but after walking as many different streets as the Manhattan Sideways team has, each one is truly unique and quite distinctive. I love this hushed residential street that punctuates the avenues. Serenity, however, does not mean boredom. Several of us have spent a good deal of time tracing and retracing our steps on 13th and have found so many new and interesting destinations that we will always look forward to revisiting.