Falling (Back) in Love With New York City…[Downtown Highlights]

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Global Culture, Markets, Neighborhoods, The Great Outdoors

About a month after we moved to Hong Kong, my long-time hesitation about relocating to the other side of the planet from my beloved New York City vaporized. When people asked me if I missed NYC, my immediate response became a flat ‘no’. With a few exceptions – of course, I missed my family and close friends, some of my favorite restaurants, the museums. But otherwise, my ‘no’ felt quite genuine.

Believe me, no one was more surprised than me that I didn’t miss NYC more. Overall, I adored living in NYC. It’s an incredible city. Some people aspire to live there their entire lives, and I had the great fortune of residing there for a decade. But once anyone has lived anywhere for that long, its figurative shininess can subjectively dull.

Alas, the old adage ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ often holds true. And when I recently returned to my old hometown 2 years after moving, I unintentionally fell back in love with NYC.

NYC's stunning cityscape

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I saw New York with fresh eyes. I photographed. A lot. Something I rarely did when I lived there, a source of some shame for me. Maybe I took NYC for granted, at least visually. New York is a feast for the eyes, and now I cannot believe I almost never photographed there..so I made sure I made amends this time.

Ambling about the city in the balmy early summer days of June, I felt strangely liberated. I could revel in being a tourist in my ex-hometown. I set about re-experiencing and capturing this glorious metropolis. It was in a word, awesome.

I’ve always been more of a downtown girl, so this is where I (re)started my adventure. Downtown Manhattan’s slight grittiness, street art, casual coolness, edgy boutiques, and laid-back restaurants churning out great food all just resonate the most with me.

Downtown street art on Houston St.

Downtown street art on Delancey St.

Photo Jun 27, 2 00 49 AM

Words of wisdom - courtesy of the bathroom inside Empellón Al Pastor in Manhattan's East Village

Words of wisdom – courtesy of the bathroom inside Empellón Al Pastor in Manhattan’s East Village

Downtown also has an equally enjoyable, glossier side, now refreshed with a few recent additions to its already extensive draws and several options for taking in incredible cityscape views.

As I joined old and new friends on a harbor cruise departing Chelsea Piers, I took in the skyline like a deep breath of fresh air. As the sun set, it cast its amber glow over the city’s skyscrapers, now updated with the gleaming, 104-story One World Trade Center. The tallest building in the Western hemisphere is polarizing and seems to have created its fair share of both admirers and haters. Alongside classics like the striking Brooklyn Bridge, it is now an icon of NYC, and I personally enjoy seeing it, at the very least for its towering symbolism (finally, after 10 years of politically charged design and construction).

Michele and Diksha enjoy bubbly while aboard the Manhattan

Michele and Diksha toast to NYC while aboard a Manhattan-circling cruiser

Sailing through the Hudson River

Sailing through the Hudson River

Images of freedom - the Statue of Liberty and 1 World Trade Center (informally known as the Freedom Tower)

Images of freedom – the Statue of Liberty, One World Trade Center (informally known as the Freedom Tower), and a lone bird

1 WTC - a glistening new addition to NYC's iconic skyline

1 WTC – a glistening new addition to NYC’s iconic skyline

100 floors up, the One World Observatory is an unabashed tourist spot complete with unnaturally happy guides, overdramatic welcome exhibits, and a (kinda cool) ‘sky pod elevator’ that catapults you to the top in less than a minute with virtual time-lapse imagery recreating the city’s skyline development. The crowds it expectedly draws can test anyone’s patience. But…it offers bird’s-eye views that stretch over Manhattan to the outer boroughs and Jersey City. Even amidst the screaming kids planting fingerprints on the glass windows and pushy tourists angling endlessly for the perfect selfie, it’s tough not to wax a little poetic.

Bird's-eye views over Manhattan from the just-opened One World Observatory

Bird’s-eye views over Manhattan from the just-opened One World Observatory

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Peering out over the southern tip of Manhattan

The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

The Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges

Peering down into the 9/11 Memorial site

Reflections on the 9/11 Memorial site

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New York abstracted

New York abstracted

Sunset over Jersey City, as viewed from the One World Observatory

Sunset over Jersey City, as viewed from the One World Observatory

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Tip: Buy your ticket online well in advance and visit mid-week at sunrise or sunset on a clear day for the best-lit views and slightly sparser crowds. And if you go late in the day, do what I didn’t have time to do, and stay past twilight to watch the city lights sparkle. Sure to be magical.

NYC takes its markets seriously. One of my favorites is still the Union Square Greenmarket that takes over the eponymous park and supplies both food-conscious consumers and many of the city’s top restaurants with fresh fruits and vegetables, heritage meats, farmstead cheeses, artisanal breads, homemade jams, and even warm apple cider come autumn. I’ve never paid so much damn money for summer heirloom tomatoes. I’ve also never since made a gazpacho that tasted so damn good.

Tip: The Greenmarket is also a great place to pick up flowers and lovely plants to freshen up your pad.

One of the city’s latest and greatest is Gansevoort Market in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District (or MePa, as it is now known). The neighborhood’s name reflects part of its actual, if less glamorous, history. It unexpectedly morphed into a bit of a ‘scene’ over recent years past, becoming dotted with glam boutiques, wine bars, velvet-rope lounges,  and hot spot restaurants (not necessarily the city’s finest). Those remain, but the area has evolved somewhat once more – and is now drawing tourists and locals, couples and families, art lovers and scene-sters alike. Gansevoort Market is just one of the reasons – but an ample one.

One of NYC's newest gourmet markets, the Gansevoort Market

Luring gourmands, the new Gansevoort Market

With its hybrid industrial-brick architecture and open-air entrance, Gansevoort Market is cool without trying to be, casual, and a perfect spot to chill with your entourage over a quality bite and bev. The communal dining space, sunlight-dappled courtesy of strategically placed skylights, is further enhanced by peppy signs, spiraling vines, and the nearby converted Volkswagen bus that doles out Tacombi‘s tacos and quesadillas. Champion Coffee helps fuel your food mini-adventure, and the baristas are lovely guys, even replacing the iced coffee I managed to spill all over myself, gratis and with a smile (who says New Yorkers aren’t nice?). Palenque crafts belly-filling arepas, corn-based griddled flatbreads smothered in the likes of cotija cheese, avocado, and spicy vegetarian chorizo. Whether your cravings lean toward crepes or cured meats, lobster rolls or Neapolitan pizza, gelato or Greek yogurt, Gansevoort Market offers something for everyone.

Inside Gansevoort Market

Inside Gansevoort Market

The cheery, light-flooded communal dining area inside Gansevoort Market

The cheery, light-flooded communal dining area inside Gansevoort Market

Tacombi's Instagram-worthy, converted VW bus

Tacombi’s Instagram-worthy, converted VW bus

It's never too early to become a gourmand...at Luzzo's counter

It’s never too early to become a gourmand…at Luzzo’s counter

Palenque demonstrates its sense of humor...

Palenque demonstrates its sense of humor…

...and super-satisfying arepas

…and super-satisfying arepas

A half-block away, the shiny new iteration of the Whitney Museum of American Art beckons. Sure, its galleries showcase some of America’s finest modern and contemporary art. But arguably one of the stars of the show is the Renzo-Piano designed building itself. Perhaps its most outstanding features are the upper-floor, outdoor exhibition spaces and terraces, with vistas stretching north, east and south; voyeur-indulgent spots to spy on passersby below and on the incredible High Line city park (more on that in a moment); and glimpses of the Hudson River to the west.

The new Whitney Museum of American Art

The new Whitney Museum of American Art

Pano from the top of the new Whitney Museum downtown

Pano from the top of the new Whitney

View over the Meatpacking District

View over the Meatpacking District

Southern-facing vista from the Whitney terraces

Southern-facing vista from the Whitney terraces

1 WTC and surrounding buildings, as viewed from the Whitney

1 WTC and surrounding buildings, as viewed from the Whitney

The new Whitney's outdoor gallery spaces and viewing terraces

The new Whitney’s outdoor gallery spaces and viewing terraces

Mary Heilmann's interactive Sunset chairs in the new Whitney's largest outdoor exhibit space

Mary Heilmann’s interactive Sunset chairs in the new Whitney’s largest outdoor exhibit space

One of the Whitney's outdoor exhibits

One of the Whitney’s outdoor exhibits

One of the Whitney's indoor galleries

One of the Whitney’s indoor galleries

Leading up to Keith Sonnier's Ba-O-Ba, Number 3

Leading up to Keith Sonnier’s Ba-O-Ba, Number 3

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George Segal’s Walk, Don’t Walk

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Marisa's Women and Dog

Marisa’s Women and Dog

Tip: Experiencing the Whitney downtown is an atmospheric way to while away an art-filled afternoon, beginning or ending with lunch or dinner at Untitled. The light-and-airy, perpetually mobbed, seasonal American restaurant is helmed by Chef Michael Anthony, the superstar behind NYC’s legacy landmark restaurant, Gramercy Tavern. Book early!

The Whitney's Untitled restaurant

The Whitney’s restaurant, Untitled

Right next door, ascend the stairs to the High Line, my favorite spot in all of NYC and one of the most genius executions of urban planning and preservation I’ve ever encountered. Once an elevated freight rail line from the 1930s and abandoned for decades, the High Line is now an elegantly designed, pedestrian-only, urban park that stretches from Gansevoort Street up to 34th Street. This truly unique take on a public urban space features gorgeous views especially at sunset, cleverly manicured horticultural displays, art installations, open-air food stalls, enterprising characters – and of course, incredible people-watching. This is New York at its best and a must for any NYC itinerary.

Walkways and greenery on the High Line, with the Whitney as a backdrop

Walkways and greenery on the High Line, with the Whitney as a backdrop

A moment of affection shared on the High Line

A moment of affection shared on the High Line

MePa, viewed from the High Line

MePa, as viewed from the High Line – fronted by an Einstein-inspired original by street artist, Mr. Brainwash (or by some accounts, Banksy)

Rashid Johnson's Blocks, a living greenhouse sculpture

Rashid Johnson’s Blocks, a living greenhouse sculpture

The Chelsea Market Passage on the High Line

The Chelsea Market Passage on the High Line

Wining at Terroir on the High Line

Wining at Terroir on the High Line

Sunset view from the High Line

Sunset view from the High Line

Serpentine attractions at the High Line

Serpentine attractions at the High Line

Tip: Be sure to rest your gams at the amphitheater-like overlook that lets you view 10th Avenue’s comings and goings as if it were a stage.

The High Line's 10th Avenue Overlook

The High Line’s 10th Avenue Overlook

Speaking of stages, on the southern end of the High Line, gaze up and see if you can spot any exhibitionist guests at the oh-so-hip, modern boutique hotel, The Standard, which suggestively straddles the park. While you’re at it, consider grabbing a drink at its Biergarten – or even better, at Le Bain or The Top of the Standard.

The southernmost section of the High Line, running underneath The Standard hotel

The southernmost section of the High Line, running underneath The Standard hotel

The open-air lounge at the Le Bain rooftop

The open-air lounge at the Le Bain rooftop

Disco lights inside Le Bain

Disco lights inside Le Bain

Le Bain light doodles - playful kink

Le Bain light doodles – playful kink

Tip: For the latter options, you’ll have to brave the velvet rope to bargain for a chance to get access, so dress to impress and bring a small group at most. And don’t forget your camera, the views are fab!

Downtown view from the rooftop at Le Bain

Downtown view from the rooftop at Le Bain

Truth be told, I really do love NYC…and yes, maybe I do miss it after all.

Stay tuned for my next posts on Brooklyn, the latest on NYC’s restaurant scene, and why diversity will always be one of NYC’s greatest assets.

All images © 2015 deb fong photography

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Globetrotter based in Hong Kong, travel and street photographer, Getty Images contributor, award-winning blogger of WanderFong.com - seeking true beauty in travel and life!

4 thoughts on “Falling (Back) in Love With New York City…[Downtown Highlights]”

  1. I live an hour away from NYC, and I have never seen some of the places you have photographed. Kudos to you. You have set a splendid example for people like me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a lovely comment, thank you! If I can help inspire anyone to explore and appreciate what’s right around the corner, that is the best compliment. I still work on this myself, but moving to HK definitely motivated me. And I also appreciate NYC more. Thanks for reading/viewing!

      Like

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