Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Tribeca Venture

I think it’s unhealthy to hate on something you know nothing about, so I ventured down to Tribeca to see it for myself during the daylight. My distaste for the neighborhood came from what I believed to be its super-far removed location, its general desolateness at night, and the nouveau riche celebrities who live there because all the more fabulous parts of town are already filled. I had been there only twice, both times at night, so I decided to check it out during the day and see if my opinions really held any weight.

I got off at the 6 train’s second-to-last stop, Canal Street. Canal is one of the main thoroughfares of Chinatown, packed thick with stores selling Prado handbags and perfume I once read should be as fresh “as the day it was bottled in 1985.” I ambled down the street, avoiding the shouts of “Louis Vuitton!” and “Sterling Silver!” making a left on Broadway at the enormous yet snazzy old concrete Post Office and finding myself instantaneously in Tribeca. It wasn’t actually too difficult to get to.

Tribeca, or ‘TriBeCa’ as it’s sometimes written, is the neighborhood between Canal Street to Vesey Street north and south, and Broadway to Hudson east and west. It stands for “Triangle Below Canal Street.” I found that the neighborhood lives up to its name. Like many places below 14th Street, Tribeca doesn’t exactly follow the grid system. Short little streets start and end at random intervals all through downtown areas, but in Tribeca they actually form triangles. Buildings built along streets lean into points on more than one occasion, making every intersection a possible geometry lesson.

The buildings themselves have a romantic-Paris-bohemian- New Orleans-brothel vibe about them, some covered with gilded art deco frontispieces, some with red brick that’s a little bit dirty in a sexy, industrial kind of way with wiry black fire escapes. It’s almost as if the Upper West Side dropped out of Columbia, moved downtown and went to art school.

Tribeca is currently Manhattan’s most wealthy neighborhood, with even a measly studio apartment clocking in at almost $4,500 a month. Many celebrities have lived in the area, including but certainly not limited to Jon Stewart, Kevin Spacey and Meryl Streep. So that part, at least, I was kind of right about.

What I did find, though, is that Tribeca is filled with some delightful and unexpected little places. A Belgian bakery and brunch spot that serves its homeland’s famed waffles; a “Synagogue for the Arts” civic center; a pretty sweet balloon store in a brick building covered in iron stars; a restaurant called “Macao,” whose menu is a salute to the locale’s history as a popular European trading post in 19th century Asia; the craziest bike rack/benches I’ve seen in a while, if ever; factory buildings converted into apartment buildings, and much more. The streets were kind of empty for a Sunday, but it wasn’t especially desolate, but it’s different at night when the rest of posh Manhattan goes out to play in areas like the Meatpacking District.

Overall, I’d say Tribeca is pretty, but it takes more effort than I’m used to to find cool stuff.  My favorite areas like SoHo, NoHo and NoLIta are almost bursting at the seams, but Tribeca is more residential, I found. Even so, it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I need people milling about, stores open, loud noises—otherwise it just doesn’t feel like home. To each his own, I guess. One more part of the city down, however many more to go.

Synagogue for the Arts!

One of many triangular streetcorners (see the cars are driving on a diagonal?)

Crazy bench/bike rack combos!

Old factory converted into an apartment building

More triangular streetcorners!