Volume 20 Issue 6 | June 22 - 28, 2007

Downtown Express photos by Milo Hess

Bigger and bigger crowds are visiting the Stone Street Historic District after work. “This area is straight up happy hour,” says one regular.

Downtown revelers roll over to Stone

By Jennifer Milne

In the evening, people slowly begin to trickle through the cobblestone street from both ends of Stone St. and from the perpendicular Mill Lane. Those in the 19th century historic district don’t seem to notice the buildings towering over them — they’re too busy enjoying one of the newest hot spots in Lower Manhattan.

Patrons in business dress fill the wooden tables spanning the entire length of the street, creating a sea of pink, blue and white collared shirts. A few hard-hat construction workers mingle with the crowd surrounding the tables, and everyone has his or her own pint of beer or $10 cocktail in hand. The sound of hundreds of jovial conversations echoes off the old brick walls and mixes with the clink of glasses. At the Stone Street Historic District after work, there’s laughing, drinking and appetizers all around.

“This area is straight up happy hour,” said Maggie Renz, 28, who has been coming to Stone St. for four years, ever since she started working at nearby Deutsche Bank at 60 Wall St. “Most of the people here come here because it’s close to work, and it’s also outside.”

Renz, local residents and bar owners all say the crowds are bigger than ever this year, particularly on Thursday and Friday nights.

With Renz was Neil Schneider, 35, who works at Deutsche Bank. Schneider surveyed the already crowded street on Friday at 5:15 p.m., and said, “Just watch. The crowd will double within 45 minutes.”

When the crowd hits its peak size, the street becomes a mass of people – since the tables are in the street itself, the sidewalks are the only passageway for the wait staff and patrons to navigate the area.

“Every year it’s gotten a lot busier, due to the increase of people working in the area, as well as people living in the area,” said Peter Poulakakos, co-owner of Ulysses, the Financier Café and Adrienne’s Pizza Bar on the street. “The crowds we have now in 2006 and 2007 are definitely much larger than the ones we had in 2003. We definitely get a lot of Wall St. and corporate workers, and then you have a lot of people who are dressed down and aren’t in office attire. They could be students or people who work somewhere else in Manhattan and have gone home to change. It’s a diverse crowd.”

Stone St., in the southeast corner of Lower Manhattan, is home to a dozen or so restaurants and bars, serving both the lunch rush and the after work crowd.

“It’s like a wild street party,” joked Christina Myers, 21, a hostess for Smörgås Chef at 53 Stone St. “The crowd is big now, but I think it gets even bigger around 7 p.m. And it stays open pretty late — it’s a social scene.”

The immense popularity of Stone St. is something that wasn’t entirely expected when the Landmarks Preservation Commission applied for federal grant money in 1996 — and received $800,000 — to begin revamping the street. The total cost of the project was $1.4 million, including repaving the street with cobblestones and renovating the buildings lining the street.

Stone St. was settled in the 17th century by the Dutch and was the first paved street in America, according to the Downtown Alliance, which worked with Landmarks on the project. The historic district encompasses a two-block area, including Stone, Pearl and South William Sts. and Mill Lane. The low-rise buildings date back to the 19th century and were mostly built following the 1835 Great Fire that ravaged the area.

Stone and its nearby after work hang-out spot, the South Street Seaport, are both frequented by the twenty- and thirty-something crowd. Renz and her friends Schneider and Shari Gottlieb, 21, say they visit the Seaport as well.

“The only difference between here and the Seaport is that the Seaport has the on-the-water feel, more events and more attractions,” Renz said.

Still, even without the water, Stone St. continues to draw in those new to the neighborhood.

Tony S., 21, a Deutsche Bank intern from Villanova, happened upon Stone St. for the first time on Friday night.

“We were just passing by, and I saw the whole street was closed off and we get to drink outside,” he said.

His friend Carlos T., 21, also a Deutsche Bank intern, looked up at the 19th-century brick buildings and took a sip of his beer.

“It’s a really good atmosphere,” he said.

Residents of the area have mixed opinions concerning the party crowd, though. Some say that, despite the crowd size, the party is kept pretty well under control.

“That street [Stone St.] is a pretty dedicated street,” said Joel Kopel, a resident of 3 Hanover Sq. for 21 years and member of the Downtown Alliance board. “On a Thursday night or even some good weather nights, you can’t walk through. You just have to mingle in the crowd.”

He added that while the crowd size does swell to enormous proportions, it hasn’t gotten out of control.

“I think it’s an orderly chaos,” said Kopel, also a Community Board 1 member. “Harry and Peter [Poulakakos] do a great job with the noise control and they’re very sensitive to the neighbors. They work with C.B. 1 and they’re good listeners.”

Chuck DeLaney, who has lived 32 years at 76 Pearl St., which runs parallel to Stone St., says that the noise level is “not really a factor.”

“For the most part, the people running the establishment do a pretty good job with crowd control,” DeLaney said. “There is the occasional alpha-Wall St. drunk that, at 1 a.m., may decide to bellow his way over to a taxi on Water St., but by and large, the innkeepers do a pretty good job.”

And if he needs to go home while the crowd is gathered on Stone St., DeLaney says there are easy options.

“It’s not a hardship [to go around], there are two parallel opportunities on S. William and Pearl Sts.,” he said. “When the joint’s jumping between 5:30 and midnight, you wouldn’t go for a stroll.”

But 3 Hanover Sq. resident Vicki Maggio, who lives on the second floor, says in the spring and summer, the noise from Stone St. reaches the level where her 5- and 10-year-old children can’t fall asleep some nights.

“We have to have it quieted down,” Maggio said. “My children go to bed at 8:30 or 9, and the noise goes on until 11. In the evenings, we hear it every night. We have to close the windows to hear the TV, especially on Thursday nights. The noise just comes right into the windows.”

Maggio added that while Peter Poulakakos and father Harry have always been receptive and considerate to her requests to decrease the noise level, some of the newer restaurateurs on the street aren’t.

“There’s nobody to complain to, everyone’s passing the buck,” she said. “Harry [Poulakakos] was really nice when it was just Ulysses. But now I can’t walk down there and say ‘my child’s trying to sleep,’ because they don’t care.”

However DeLaney, on Pearl St., says the noise level has not yet reached nuisance proportions. He thinks the newcomers to the street will soon assimilate into the community, and develop better relationships.

“One new bar will have the ‘play-music-indoors-but-open-all-the-windows’ approach, but I’m confident they’ll become a good neighbor,” DeLaney said. “We always try to settle things in the neighborhood before turning to the authorities.”

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