Volume 17 • Issue 6 | July 2 - 8, 2004

Insider’s guide to Lower Manhattan

By Erica Stein

“So this place is really fabulous,” said Hillary Davis, standing outside of Bazzini’s on Greenwich St. “The guy behind the counter’s name is Eddie. He’s been here forever.”

Davis, 52, is scouting out new additions for the next edition of her book “Follow Me! Guide to Lower Manhattan.”

Her conversation bears great resemblance to her self-published book, the only tour book, she said, devoted solely to Downtown. It’s peppered with an insider’s tips to restaurants and museums, with a bunch of history thrown in for good measure. Davis lives in mid-town.

Originally from western New Jersey, Davis spent much of her adult life in Europe, working in a myriad of careers: an investment banker, writer, and caterer. Drawing on her experiences Downtown at American Express and London’s financial district, Davis self-published “A Million A Minute: Inside the Mega-Money, High-Tech World of Traders.”

After more than two decades abroad she decided to return home to New York, settling in Battery Park City, where she began writing about Lower Manhattan.

“I’ve been writing this book for 10 years,” said Davis. “It would probably have taken me another 10 years to finish the book if 9/11 hadn’t happened,” she said. “You’ll meet a lot of people who witnessed it [Davis was in Brooklyn volunteering for Mayor Bloomberg that day] and they’ll all tell you something in them changed. I had to finish the book. It came from an emotional place.”

Davis spent the next two years gathering anecdotes, getting restaurant tips from friends and spending time in libraries, museums and historical societies to research area history.

After she finished the book, she looked for a publisher.

“Every single one of them turned me down,” she said. “The problem they had was that it was only about Lower Manhattan.”

Davis, who has self-published two other books – one on the world of finance and the other a restaurant guide to southern New Hampshire – decided to publish this one herself as well. She taught herself publishing software, edited the manuscript and spent weeks designing the cover. Then she mailed out 100 copies to every celebrity she could think of with a connection to Lower Manhattan.

“I knew I needed endorsements,” Davis said. The back cover of her book has quotes from Regis Philbin, Cindy Adams, Drew Nieporent and P.J. O’Rourke. “Those four are the only people who responded out of the 100. But those were good people,” she said.

The next step was to find a printer. Davis used “booksjustbooks.com.”

“Anyone can use it,” she says.

“Follow Me!” had an initial print run of 2,000. Davis sold the books in a variety of ways: on her Web site, online at Amazon.com, at Federal Hall Museum, which houses a small gallery and exhibit space inside Federal Hall on Broad St., and on cruise ships.

“I’m almost entirely sold out now and it just came out a few months ago,” she said. “I’m having a second print run in July of 5,000.”

Davis’ book is organized into walking tours of Lower Manhattan; each chapter has its own listing of restaurant and shopping suggestions. There are also themed tours, like the George Washington Walk and a “just for kids” section, which lists kid friendly restaurants, stores and activities. Each tour is put together along the same lines as a museum audio tour, with Davis narrating the history of points of interest and possible activities as you go. While all the famous landmarks, large and small, are included, Davis displays a local’s knowledge of more out of the way places.

Along with Arturo Di Modica’s famous “Charging Bull” on Broadway, she describes the murals on the ceiling of the U.S Post office at 25 Broadway. She talks about the explorers pictured and the artists who painted them.

The neighborhood walks are the most lovingly detailed, but Davis said her favorite is one of the themed walks: the Alexander Hamilton.

“He was so amazing. He had a hard life growing up in the Caribbean, and then a merchant paid for him to come to New York. He really adopted Lower Manhattan as his home. He fought for it during the Revolution. He lived here, and he’s buried in Trinity Church.”

Davis said that she knew most of the area well, having spent weekends in Lower Manhattan as a child – when her father took the family to the old Washington Market on Saturdays.

She also enjoyed exploring new things.

“I found places just by walking around. There are so many things down here that even long-time residents don’t know about, like ‘New York Unearthed,’ which is this great museum on Pearl St. where you can walk down under street level and talk with archeologists about what you find there.”
Some other favorite spots include the Customs House, which Davis loves for the detailed statues that flank it; Trinity Church, where Hamilton and other early leaders are buried; and the 14th floor bar in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which she says has the best view in Lower Manhattan.

Davis plans to update the July edition with new information.

“The Circle Line has a catamaran called “The Zephyr,” and some restaurants have closed and new ones have opened. I can and will keep updating.”

Davis plans to publish an update of the book – with 10% of the proceeds donated to the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which benefits families of the victims of Sept. 11 – each year.

“It’s almost become an identity in a way. I thought I’d always be writing about finance. Now it’s become something I’ll do every year. The more I’m walking around and meeting people Downtown, the more I love it. This is me.”

Downtown Express is published by
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