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Downtown Alliance, December 2008
Live . . . work . . . thrive. . . Downtown
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS
By Liz Berger
Everyone knows how magical Rockefeller Center looks during the winter holidays, but what about Lower Manhattan? The historic buildings, the winding streets festooned with lights, special events in the parks and elsewhere all recreate the warmth and intimacy of Old New York. Fraunces Tavern, Stone Street and the Seaport come alive; add some snow and you can almost hear the sound of horse hooves echo through the alley ways of the Financial District and Greenwich South.
Back then, “the holidays” were more formally holy days. No cards, less shopping, more worship, but the same opportunities for families and friends to gather and celebrate. Religious holiday celebrations have defined Lower Manhattan since the Lenape Indians held their sacred feasts on the shores of what we call the Hudson River, and feted Henryk Hudson with one of the most famous meals of early American history: fatted dog.
Though that dish is off the menu, there have never been more food shopping and dining choices in Lower Manhattan. Plymouth Rock’s claims to the contrary, it was at Federal Hall in November 1789 where President George Washington proclaimed the first national day of “Thanksgiving.” The Puritans had more fast days than feast days, but then as now New Yorkers welcomed the chance to sit down at a festive table. Untold turkeys with cranberry sauce later, (no sweet potatoes or stuffing back then), Lower Manhattan remains a signature place to celebrate the holidays with a good meal. And, with more than 400 restaurants and food retailers, it’s a good thing there are 7 days of Kwanzaa, 8 nights of Hanukah and 12 days of Christmas!
I remember the night before Thanksgiving many years ago when I dropped the eggs as I was baking my mother’s famous pumpkin chiffon pie. It was a catastrophe: there was no place south of Chambers Street open on a Wednesday night to replace them – or anything else on the list of ingredients, nor was there a bakery to buy a substitute. My husband was drafted to run uptown, and returned out of breath an hour later, with a dozen eggs and three cab receipts. Today, there’s Jubilee, Zeytuna, Amish Market and Whole Foods all within walking distance, and Financier, Crumbs Bakery and Casse-Croute, to name a few, for those who’d rather buy than bake dessert.
It’s a busy time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, so rushed that it’s easy to forget why we are giving thanks and, for that matter, gifts. But I’ll never forget the first Hanukah after 9/11. Camped out for 3 months in a friend’s loft while we waited for the fires to go out, we wrapped up replacement toys for our children – we had thrown out everything porous – and made latkes on a hot plate for our fellow Financial District “expatriates.” Outside was the Seaport’s singing Christmas tree, and we could hear the carols through the window. Ecumenical, yes, but it was the first time that the miracle of Hanukah, of the light that should have but didn’t go out, really meant something to me.
This year, we’ll fry the latkes on the stove, but the lesson rings true. New worries have replaced old worries, but these are times to be together, to do the fun things you never get around to doing the rest of the year. And, there’s never been more to do in Lower Manhattan, from concerts at Trinity Church and the World Financial Center to special exhibits at the Sports Museum of America, the Skyscraper Museum and the Museum of Jewish Heritage to mid-day hot chocolate at the new Maison du Chocolat on Wall Street or Christopher Norman Chocolates on New Street to after-work wine tastings at The Greene Grape and California Wine Merchants and ice skating when Seaport Ice opens later this month.
And, of course, there’s shopping!
This year’s lists may be shorter, but I’m still giving presents. And, I’m buying them in the neighborhood, where there are more choices than ever before, an endless list of affordable luxuries and quality at every price point, all within one square mile. Don’t tell, but I’m considering getting ski equipment from Tents and Trails, stacks of books from Borders and something fabulous from Century 21. Add in stationery from Bowne and Company or Papyrus, a Flip from J&R, perfume from Sephora, groovy stuff from Pylones and maybe a great knife or bowl from Korin, and I’m set.
What a difference from the days when business supply stores dominated our side streets. Nearly 100 new shops have opened for business in Lower Manhattan since 2002, with luxury retailers and national chains leading the charge: Tiffany & Co., Hermes, BMW, Hickey Freeman, Tumi, Thomas Pink, Godiva Chocolate, Canali, Barnes & Noble and Bed, Bath and Beyond, to name a few, and independent retailers like Firefly Children’s Boutique, Denim and Knits and Andrea Katz Objects.
This holiday season, there’s something for everyone Downtown.