Each New York City neighborhood has its own dynamic personality. It is living, breathing and evolving every day and it’s impossible to keep pace. A lot of times, as a tourist, you only get to experience the “hot spots”, but there is so much more to explore and, in my opinion, these are the most wonderful parts. The nooks and crannies, the spots that only the people in the know frequent. This is the first in a series of articles on the best of New York by neighborhood.
Chelsea is located in Midtown, on the west side of Manhattan. It runs from around 14th Street to the south to 30th Street to the north. This neighborhood boarders the Hudson River, Greenwich Village, The Garment District and Midtown West. What was once an area laden with warehouses, industry and modest housing, is now one of the City’s trendier neighborhoods. High end shops, restaurants and galleries that rival Soho line the streets. Chelsea is just close enough to Times Square to take advantage of the nightlife, but far enough away to escape the chaos. Luxury high rises are popping up everywhere with views of Midtown and the Hudson River. Everyone wants to be there.
Chelsea was originally a ten block span of land, purchased by Englishman, Thomas Clarke in the year 1750. At the time, it stretched between 8th and 10th Avenue and 19th and 24th street. Clarke’s grandson, Clement Clarke Moore (the author of The Night Before Christmas), was responsible for dividing the original estate into lots, in the 1830s. Once this took place, Chelsea started to come into its own as a neighborhood.
Chelsea evolved again when the Hudson Railroad Tracks were laid in 1847. Shortly after, the famous Chelsea Hotel opened on 23rd Street, giving the neighborhood a more urban feel. Soon, warehouses and lumberyards were inserted among townhouses and apartments. By 1886, the world’s first elevated train was erected. Chelsea became a neighborhood of industrialization and affordable housing. This phase lasted long into the 20th Century.
In 1969, a series of riots centered around gay equality erupted in New York City’s Greenwich Village. These events encouraged the LGBT community to leave the Village and find refuge in Chelsea. These events formed Chelsea’s current reputation for inclusively, making it one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city.
Since its inception, Chelsea has grown to 6 times its original size. You can spend days exploring this amazingly disparate and fabulous neighborhood and still not have enough time to absorb everything.
What to See
Sleep No More- Sleep No More is an immersive theatrical performance of a 1930s adaptation of Shakesepere’s McBeth. The McKittrick Hotel, a converted warehouse, sets the scene. The audience explore 6 floors of rooms decorated as anything from a bedroom to a hospital and even a graveyard. You will be surrounded by characters who stay silent, but their movements are choreographed to the ambient music and there is no mistaking what is happening. The entire experience has a voyeuristic quality. Not only do you watch the story unfold around you, but you can interact with the environment that surrounds you, peeking through drawers and examining books on the shelves. Every detail is taken care of from low, mellow light, atmospheric music, slight breezes in the air. Follow actors or explore on your own. You set the pace. There is a small chance that you will be pulled away for a one on one performance by one of the characters, but that rarely happens.
Sleep No More is mildly macabre and not appropriate for children.
The McKittrick Hotel is not only the backdrop for Sleep No More, but there is also a rooftop bar that serves brunch and dinner and Parisian style club that plays live jazz music nightly. Be sure to purchase tickets in advance for all that The McKittrick Hotel has to offer.
- David Zwirner Gallery– Home to mainly large scale exhibitions. Some more famous artists who have showed their work here are Diane Arbus, Jeff Koons, Donald Judd and Wolfgang Tillmans.
- Marianne Boesky Gallery– Represents many emergent artist such as Anthony Person, and Jay Heikes and more established artists like Frank Stella.
- Ricco / Maresca Gallery– This gallery exhibits only self-taught masters, Outsider art, and historically significant folk art.
High Line– The High Line is an elevated park along the Hudson River, in place of the abandoned Hudson Railroad Tracks. Because it is stories above street level, it gives you a birds eye view of the city below and an aligned view of the apartments and high rises that it weaves in and out of. Going earlier in the morning, or at night is more peaceful. Meander through sculpture gardens and murals along the path. Wade through beautiful landscaping that is a true work of art. There are gourmet food vendors and performance artists to entertain you. The High Line passes directly through Hudson Yards, the newest development in New York City, which is a neighborhood unto itself. Since it is still in the process of being built, you can watch the crews working tirelessly to build massive high rises. It is the perfect combination of urban and rural and a fascinating stop on your journey through Chelsea.
The Vessel– The Vessel is a massive piece of public are built to be the main feature of Hudson Yards. It was created by British designer, Thomas Heatherwick. This 16 story structure consists of 154 flights of stairs, 2,500 steps and 80 landings for visitors to climb. It resembles a huge upside down pine cone made of open air stairwells. Once you reach the top, there are amazing views of Manhattan, New Jersey and the Hudson River. It can be reached from the High Line and you can reserve free tickets for a specific time of day to avoid lines.
Where to Stay
Hotel Americano: This hotel is ultra modern and minimalist, but incorporates all the comforts of home. It is short walk to The High Line and Chelsea Market. The rooms are stark but cozy with wooden platform beds, handmade denim bathrobes, flat screen TVs and sweeping views of the city. The hotel offers a Mexican restaurant with a bar and a coffee shop. The roof contains a Mediterranean eatery and a swimming pool, which is rare in New York City.
The Maritime Hotel: The Maritime is a nautical themed boutique hotel that overlooks art galleries, Chelsea Market and the High Line. The location is prime and the ambiance is unparalleled. Each rooms is furnished in teak with 5 foot round windows that are inspired by ship cabins. The top-floor suites have terraces. This hotel houses an Italian trattoria with a bar and patio and a rooftop lounge. The Maritime Hotel even has complimentary breakfast and bike rentals.
Kimpton Hotel Eventi: This luxury high rise hotel engulfs and entire city block. It encompasses guests in local art and cutting edge design. The rooms come equipped with rainfall showers and iPhone docks. Suites include private balconies and/or hot tubs. The hotel has two restaurants, two bars and a warm, inviting lobby that you wish was in your own home. The Eventi is within walking distance to Times Square, The Empire State Building and all that Chelsea has to offer.
The Standard, High Line Hotel: The Standard is an 18 story high rise built right off of High Line park. Its eclectic decor is a perfect match for diverse Chelsea. The rooms feature floor to ceiling, wall-to-wall windows with river or city views, minibars and 24/7 room service. There’s a steakhouse, a cafe and a beer garden, as well as two rooftop bars which include a nightclub.
Where to Eat
Chelsea Market: This is not your suburban shopping mall. Chelsea Market takes the local food court to the next level. Enjoy swank shopping and gourmet eateries in a renovated warehouse that used to be the home of Nabisco in the late 1800s. Exposed brick, sculpture and art line the walls. There are over 35 food vendors that serve everything from gourmet cheeses, pasta, wine, coffee, pastries and dessert. If you really search, you can even find a hidden pub in the basement. This place can get pretty busy so go during off hours or just revel in the chaos of authentic New York living!
Cafeteria: Cafeteria is a 24-hour upscale diner with a contemporary twist. They serve excellent brunch and is the perfect spot for an after hours snack. The ambiance is stark and modern and the food is outstanding. They serve fresh juices, smoothies and other breakfast items like shrimp and grits and lemon ricotta pancakes. Grab some gourmet mac and cheese for a late night treat or fried chicken and waffles for a casual dinner. Cafeteria has all the comfort food you need to fuel your tour of Chelsea.
Bottino: Bottino serves up Tuscan style cuisine with a fine selection of boutique Italian wines. It has a lovely private patio that is perfect for a relaxing dinner when the weather is pleasant. Too tired to go out? Visit their takeout store that offers fresh sandwiches on artisanal bread, salads and homemade baked goods. The fair is fresh and tasty and the ambiance is magical. It is the perfect spot for a pleasant dinner.
Where to Drink
Gallow Green Rooftop Bar: Gallow Green is located in the McKittrick Hotel. If you get a chance to see Sleep No More, be sure to hit this hot spot, or just go on a whim and have dinner and a drink. The Setting is incredible- an urban rooftop transformed into a secret garden, lush bamboo lines the walls, leading you to the entrance. Greenery springs from unknown places, hanging from the ceiling and climbing the walls. Depending on when you go, tickets can be reserved for magic shows, Sunday brunch or a follies’ production. It is open all year round and dinner is served as well.
Sid Gold’s Request Room: Sid Gold’s is a modern piano bar with cozy seating, and a cool, loungey vibe. They offer piano karaoke and, as the name suggests, they take requests! Singing along with the crowd or try your hand at a solo. Drinks are reasonably priced and there are plenty of tasty dishes to nosh on. It’s a great place to go as a group everyone will have a good time!
Trailer Park Lounge and Grill: Trailer Park Lounge is Americana at its best! The walls are covered with trailer park-esque memorabilia from old beer signs to cigarette ads. Christmas lights adorn the walls and there is even a deer head peering down at the bar. The atmosphere is trashy and kitschy and loads of fun!
Bathtub Gin: A prohibition-era speakeasy is bound to peak your interest and Bathtub Gin is the perfect place to fuel that curiosity. Luxurious leather couches and a sleek, dark wood interior sets the mood, transporting you back to a time when people were making their own gin and breaking all the rules. If you are feeling a bit naughty, show up for a burlesque show, there is even one over Sunday brunch, because it’s never too early for burlesque!
The Chelsea Market Cookbook: 100 Recipes from New York’s Premier Indoor Food Hall by Michael Phillips and Rick Rodgers
Tickets and Reservations: If there is an opportunity to get tickets or reserve a table in advance, do so. New York City is overpopulated and things fill up quickly. Don’t miss out!
Summing It Up
New York City has so many diverse and interesting neighborhoods and Chelsea is no exception. Whether you are there for a weekend or a week, there will never be a lack of things to do. See it through a native’s eyes and be sure to hit the hidden gems of this amazing neighborhood.