On Top of the Town in Lower Manhattan

  • Near the Hudson River, One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

    Near the Hudson River, One World Trade Center is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

  • The 19th-century buildings of the South Street Seaport historic district today house an array of shops, restaurants, and arts facilities.

    The 19th-century buildings of the South Street Seaport historic district today house an array of shops, restaurants, and arts facilities.

  • Painted vintage denim at Rialto Jean Project.

    Painted vintage denim at Rialto Jean Project.

  • Denim doyenne Erin Feniger at her boutique in the South Street Seaport district.

    Denim doyenne Erin Feniger at her boutique in the South Street Seaport district.

  • Master printer Robert Warner at the 1775-founded print shop Bowne & Co. Stationers.

    Master printer Robert Warner at the 1775-founded print shop Bowne & Co. Stationers.

  • Outside the Center for Architecture exhibition space in the Seaport area.

    Outside the Center for Architecture exhibition space in the Seaport area.

  • A 19th-century schooner - now a tourist boat - pierside at South Street Seaport.

    A 19th-century schooner - now a tourist boat - pierside at South Street Seaport.

  • The 9/11 Memorial and Santiago Calatrava's bird-inspired World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

    The 9/11 Memorial and Santiago Calatrava's bird-inspired World Trade Center Transportation Hub.

  • The bar at Le District.

    The bar at Le District.

  • After a US$250 million makeover, the former Cesar Pelli-designed World Financial center reopened in 2014 as Brookfield Place with an upscale shopping mall and food court.

    After a US$250 million makeover, the former Cesar Pelli-designed World Financial center reopened in 2014 as Brookfield Place with an upscale shopping mall and food court.

  • Lunch hour at Hudson Eats.

    Lunch hour at Hudson Eats.

  • The Winter Garden Atrium at Brookfield Place.

    The Winter Garden Atrium at Brookfield Place.

  • A lobster roll at Grand Banks.

    A lobster roll at Grand Banks.

  • A view of the setting sun from Grand Banks, a seasonal oyster bar on a historic codfish schooner docked off Hudson River Park in TriBeCa.

    A view of the setting sun from Grand Banks, a seasonal oyster bar on a historic codfish schooner docked off Hudson River Park in TriBeCa.

  • Coffee at V Bar in South Street Seaport.

    Coffee at V Bar in South Street Seaport.

  • A mobile boutique at the Seaport.

    A mobile boutique at the Seaport.

  • Octopus pastrami at Batard.

    Octopus pastrami at Batard.

  • Bartender Jilian Vose at the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog.

    Bartender Jilian Vose at the Dead Rabbit Grocery and Grog.

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Despite being where New York City got its beginnings, the bottom end of the island of Manhattan has long been defined by little more than commerce and big business. However, a wealth of new architecture, food, and nightlife spurred by post-9/11 affection for the area is giving Lower Manhattan an entirely new image, and putting it back on top of the town.

By Gabrielle Lipton
Photographs by Matt Dutile

‘Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion.’ Uh, no. Make that, ‘He romanticized it all out of proportion.’”So begins the prologue to Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan. Set against a montage of black-and-white images of the city, the voiceover, delivered in Allen’s nasally New York accent, starts and stops a series of new beginnings for the book his character is writing until finally landing on “New York was his town, and it always would be.” Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” hits its symbol-clashing climax, and fireworks explode above the Midtown skyline. It’s been deemed the best film tribute to the city, and I agree, except for the fact that it leaves out an entire part of town: Lower Manhattan, the southern tip of the island below Canal Street. The skyscraping Financial District, the austere municipal buildings, Battery Park, South Street Seaport, TriBeCa—all absent.

Yet it’s fitting. Lower Manhattan has never quite offered the quintessential New York experience. It’s never had the streets of walk-ups and brownstones bathed in the orange of streetlights; it’s never had great museums or galleries or theater; it’s never had a food scene, and certainly nothing good going on after dark. In the two years I lived in New York and the innumerable times growing up I visited my grandma at her apartment on East 30th Street, I’d rarely had a reason to come all the way downtown. For most people, the romanticized city has long stopped at Canal Street, and below that is a dark hole of finance, some mediocre historical sites, memories of 9/11, and the impending doom of juryduty.

However, shortly after moving from the East Side to the Far East a couple of years ago, I began seeing headline after headline about the revitalization of Lower Manhattan. Perhaps the value of Manhattan’s limited land would have spurred change eventually, but this was a concentrated series of new beginnings coming as rapid-fire as Woody’s. The catalyst was a newfound pride for the area after the attacks on the World Trade towers—New Yorkers are a resilient bunch—and the results of the wave of work and money poured into the area in the early 2000s are finally coming to fruition: the opening of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum; the new One World Trade building; an expensive new mall; an even more expensive train station; and a plethora of restaurants, shops, and nightlife that make the area a point of pride.

And so, on one of my first nights back in the city after being away 17 months, I find myself heading toward Lower Manhattan on a sailboat that supposedly once belonged to Zelda Fitzgerald, gliding past the Statue of Liberty back to harbor near Battery Park. It’s late September and the night of a blood moon, and I’m sipping dark lagers with friends and eating potato salad and steak grilled and salted on the back of the boat. Lights are glittering in the windows of skyscrapers, crunched together on the jellybean tip of land, and all I can think is, where are the fireworks?

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