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Meet 79th Street

Despite the fact that 79th is a two-way street, it still has a quiet residential feel about it, unlike many of the other wide streets that I have traversed. This happens to be a street that I know fairly well, as my parents lived on East 79th for over a decade. Needless to say, there have been lots of changes since they resided just off Madison, but rediscovering many of the historic spots was gratifying. Beginning my walk at the East River, I entered St. Monica’s Church, one of the few churches that has been able to remain on the Upper East Side since its inception in the late 1800’s. A place of worship that is particularly meaningful to me is Temple Shaaray Tefila, as my grandparents were members for some twenty years.

79th has an array of restaurants, both on the East and West side. Quatorze Bis, a French restaurant that I have frequented with my parents, is a true neighborhood favorite. Another block over, Sojourn, an American spot, and Our Place – Cuisines of China sit right next door to one another. As I was walking during the latter part of 2015, I discovered Eli Zabar’s latest addition to his group of cafes. Eli’s Essentials transforms into Eli’s Night Shift – a beer bar – in the evening. Candle 79 is an innovative vegan restaurant that was opened in part thanks to a lottery win, and Il Riccio holds down the fort as East 79th’s classic Italian restaurant.

I am pleased to report that 79th Street has a lot more to offer than simply good dining options. Rita’s Needlepoint, located one flight up, is one of the oldest needlepoint stores in the country. This shop is balanced on the West side by another center for craft-lovers, Knitty City, a knitting shop. Unexpectedly, just off Park Avenue, I discovered the intriguing boutique KRB. Kate Rheinstein Brodsky fills her shop with stunning pieces that combine traditional antique styles with bold colors and new contexts.

Much of my walk on 79th was filled with history, a favorite subject of mine. Yorkville Library, the oldest public library in New York, and the New York Society Library, the oldest subscription-based library in the city, have their homes on East 79th.  The latter was visited by our founding fathers, essentially making it the first Library of Congress. A tour of the Society Library was fascinating and was followed by a walk through the American Museum of Natural History. I can recall many a field trip to this museum while in elementary school. It is now, however, that I can fully appreciate all that it has to offer as I follow my young grandchildren through the halls, discovering the dinosaurs and a host of other animals and sea creatures. And it won’t be long until they are ready to appreciate the Rose Center for Earth and Space, known in my day as the Hayden Planetarium.

The food options continued on the West Side with Nice Matin, featuring a classic French menu in a bright, airy space, and Coppola’s, where Sal has been serving his Italian family’s recipes to the neighborhood since the late 1980’s. The enticing smell of coffee and cinnamon wafts through the air before one even enters the charming, rustic cafe, Irving Farm. If not in the mood for Italian or French, Fish Tag offers a superb Mediterranean seafood menu, but it is the “casual fine dining” at Burke & Wills with innovative Australian cuisine that makes this stretch of 79th Street dining unique. Only a few months after opening Burke & Wills, owners Tim Harris and Matilda Boland opened Manhattan Cricket Club upstairs, their Australian- and cricket- themed speakeasy. And what could make this strip of West 79th complete? Voila Chocolat is an innovative chocolate workshop where passersby can walk in off the street and learn to make a chocolate confection from a celebrated pastry chef.

The perfect end to my day was walking towards the Hudson, descending underneath the roundabout, and staring across the river while wandering through the Boat Basin Cafe. Though the weather was starting to turn cold and only a few diners were braving the outdoor seating, I was able to reminisce about the times that I watched the sun set while sharing a drink with friends and family.

Read more about every place on 79th Street!