The beautiful thing about New York City is you never know what’s around the corner. Each neighborhood has its own personality and ambiance. Each block has a life, a unique history all its own. You can feel it all around you when you walk down the street, breathing in the scents and listening as the hubbub encompasses you. This city is so massive that it can’t be captured in one article or even three, so it is being broken up into sections by neighborhood.
SoHo is known best for its iconic cast-iron and brick lofts, art galleries and superb shopping. It is comprised equally of bustling avenues and tree lined cobblestone streets. Popular global brands such as Nike, Alexander Wang and Prada have launched their flagship stores in this prestigious neighborhood. It also boasts many high end boutiques like American Two Shot, where you can get coffee and designer clothes all in one trip, Rebecca Minkoff, which provides a high-tech shopping experience, and Céline, a cult label out of France. All of this and more make up the best of New York by Neighborhood- Soho.
SoHo has had many identities, from its early years as a black settlement and later a red light district, to a retail hub, textile center and artists’ refuge.
The name SoHo comes from South of Houston, because it is bordered by Houston Street to the north. Crosby Street bounds it to the east, Canal Street to the south and Sixth Avenue to the west.
In the 1600s, African Slaves were brought in to clear and build up the New Amsterdam Territory (what is now lower Manhattan) and were eventually granted partial freedom to develop the area and create settlements of their own. This area became farmland and remained that way until the Late 18th Century.
Around 1813, the neighborhood started to develop. Middle-class row houses and retail businesses were erected. Luxury retail shops such as Tiffany & Co. and Lord & Taylor opened there. Hotels, shops, and theaters were popping up along Broadway. By the mid-19th Century, Broadway between Canal and Houston had become an entertainment mecca, while the surrounding streets housed the red-light district.
As middle class residents migrated north to escape the neighborhood’s chaotic and adverse reputation, 25% of its residential population was lost. It took a mere five years, for Large-scale manufacturers, wholesalers, and warehouses to become the primary occupants.
Following World War II, industry moved further south or to New Jersey and Brooklyn leaving vacant buildings. Squalid sweatshops, parking garages and gas stations moved into the deserted spaces.
In the late 1960s, artists who became attracted to SoHo’s cheap, over sized lofts with high ceilings and natural light, began to reclaim the area. In 1971, the city began legalizing artists residing in joint live-work spaces. In 1986, all residents of SoHo were granted a one-time approval, and to this day, it is illegal for residential units to lack a certified-artist occupant in this zoning district.
Throughout the next 40 years, approximately 600 buildings in the SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District were given historical landmark status.
What to See
Shopping: Shopping in SoHo is a must if you want to experience real New York. Prince Street, Broome Street and Canal Street between 6th Avenue and Broadway are bursting with boutiques and high end department stores. Be sure to hit retail sites like Acne, Anthom, Isabel Marant, Matter, Miu Miu and M. Gemi, among hundreds of others.
City Winery: The City Winery combines food, drink and live music for the ultimate culinary experience. Michael Dorf, founder of the Knitting Factory (a NYC music institution), believes in the idea that the combination of sounds, smells and tastes create a unique customer experience. Artists such as Graham Nash, Norah Jones, and Lee Ann Womack have performed there. Sample a bottle of City Winery’s private label or bring some home. This is an experience that piques all the senses and will keep you coming back for more.
Canal Street Market: Find unique apparel, art and jewelry all in one place at Canal Street Market. Meander through this massive indoor marketplace offering independent retail booths, international food kiosks and pieces by local artists. Catch eclectic performances by groups such as the Taiwanese Waves or the Hack City Comedy Show. It is the perfect outpost for a rainy day.
Galleries: SoHo was once the epicenter of the art world in New York City. Many galleries are still there today, sprinkled between shops and cafes. Here are a few to be sure to check out.
- Jeffery Deitch: Known for his love of Street Art, Jeffrey Deitch is a former Director of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary and a well respected art dealer. He focuses on promoting pop-culture-inspired work.
- Team Gallery: Team gallery features pieces by well-established artists and newcomers alike. Installations, web art and photography give this gallery a contemporary edge.
- Peter Freeman, Inc.: Specializing in 19th and 20th century art, this gallery features well-known artists in the pop and minimalist niches.
- Ronald Feldman Gallery: The Ronald Feldman Gallery features works with political undertones and takes a particular interest in Jewish and Israeli artists.
Where to Stay
Crosby Street Hotel: In the heart of Soho, down a quiet, cobblestone street, you will find the Crosby Street Hotel. Enter the light and airy lobby featuring eclectic art by Anselm Kiefer, Jack Milroy, and Justine Smith. This boutique accommodation offered 86 bedrooms and suites over 11 floors. The Crosby Bar serves afternoon tea or evening cocktails. Relax in the private sculpted garden or guest drawing room. There is even a 99 seat private screening room for your movie watching pleasure.
The Broome: The Broome is centrally located to all that SoHo has to offer. The staff greets you by name as you enter this lovely, eclectic hotel. Take a break from the hustle and bustle in the open air courtyard or sneak away to one of the many cozy nooks hidden around the hotel. The rooms are quaint with large windows overlooking either Broome Street or the private back patio. The penthouse suite comes with its own private terrace. Complimentary farm to table breakfast is served every morning in the Parisian Style cafe. You will find all the comforts of home in this charming hotel.
The Mercer: Location is key and The Mercer can’t possibly be more convenient. This landmark Romanesque revival building is a mere 5-minute walk to Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village, Little Italy and the best of SoHo. Experience true SoHo loft living with rooms that are unusually spacious. Each is equipped with flat screen televisions, WiFi and walk in showers with body sprays. Guest benefits such as 24-hour room service, luggage packing and unpacking, dog walking and video game systems upon request, top off this luxury experience.
SoHo Grand: Ultra chic SoHo Grand encompasses the neighborhood’s industrial style with bottle glass staircases and grandiose columns. Original art hangs from the walls. There are 353 cozy guest rooms and suites, including two penthouse lofts. Take in the nightlife in the trendy Grand Bar and Lounge or dance the night away in the Club Room. There is an extensive whiskey collection and comprehensive cocktail list. Gilligan’s offers an outdoor space perfect for dinner and drinks on summer evenings.
Where to Eat
Dominique Ansel Bakery: Made famous by his creation of the cronut, a pastry that is part croissant, part doughnut, French pastry chef, Dominique Ansel, offers a plethora of tasty treats and coffees in his SoHo bakery. Stop by for a quick breakfast or afternoon pick me up and be sure to try a cronut. They are worth the hype.
The Dutch: The Dutch offers innovative takes on classic American dishes. Try the fried chicken or the oysters for a real treat. They also serve an excellent burger. The ambiance is causal and it is perfect for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. It can get a bit crowded but that just speaks to the quality of the food.
Balthazar: Although they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, Balthazar is best known for its weekend brunch. This French Brasserie attracts celebrities and locals alike with pastries that are baked on-site, fresh seafood, and an extensive menu of French inspired fare. It is the perfect place to have a romantic dinner or people watch over a morning cafe au lait.
Shuka: Enjoy a taste of Eastern Mediterranean at Shuka. This restaurant is spacious and great for groups. It has an extensive wine and cocktail list and there is a daily happy hour from 3-6PM. The ambiance is light and airy and the kabobs and paella are to die for.
Sadelle’s bagels: If you are looking for authentic NYC bagels, look no further than Sadelle’s. They offer all the classic spreads, lox and amazing bagels. This place is perfect for breakfast or a quick lunch. Grab bagels to go or eat in the exposed brick covered dining room.
Cupping Room Cafe: Originally a wholesale coffee establishment, The Cupping Room now serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch in a warm and cozy atmosphere. The high ceilings, exposed brick and potbelly stove are all original to the history building that the cafe occupies. Hearty breakfast is served all day and the coffee is out of this world.
Where to Drink
Jimmy at the James: One of the hottest rooftop bars in SoHo, Jimmy at the James has 360 view of the Manhattan skyline. The ambiance is 1970s pub meets modern day New York. Whether you’re enjoying the warm weather at the rooftop pool or taking in the sweeping views from behind the glass in the cozy bar, it is spectacular. Space on the rooftop is limited so be sure to get there a bit early to avoid a wait.
Pegu Club: A swanky Soho cocktail lounge with an innovative cocktail list is the perfect place to grab an after dinner drink. The Pegu Club gets busy so arrive early to get a good seat. Take advantage of happy hour from 5-7PM. Their bar menu can’t be beat and the food is excellent.
Crosby Bar: The Crosby Bar can be found in the Crosby Street Hotel in Soho. Not only do they have a comprehensive cocktail list, but you can also drop by for a spot of afternoon tea. When the weather is nice, have your drink on the sunken outdoor patio surrounded by a garden of apple trees. The bar has a light, airy feel decorated with bursts of vivid colors. It is the perfect spot for a pre-dinner cocktail.
Fanelli Café: This classic Soho pub has been in business in the same location since 1847. They offer simple but tasty bar food, a wide selection of beers and cocktails. The walls are bedecked with pieces of NY history from old boxing posters to saloon licenses dating back to 1884. If you are looking for a true old New York feel, be sure to check out Fanelli’s Cafe.
Soho: The Rise and Fall of an Artist’s Colony By Richard Kostelanetz
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!
Walk: I cannot stress this enough. Walk, listen, breathe, absorb, take it all in. Yes, you’re tired. Yes, your feet hurt, but walk anyway. It is the only way to truly experience the city like a real New Yorker. Blisters and pain are all part of the experience.
Summing It Up
SoHo is the perfect place for high end shopping, strolls down tree lined blocks, art, and amazing architecture. With this guide you will be able to impress your friends with facts about artists lofts and the roots of this amazing neighborhood. It is perfectly situated near Little Italy, China Town and the Village so you will never run out of things to do or places to eat! Don’t pass up an opportunity to check out this amazing neighborhood.