Old Hood, New Name: O-Bow
The Bowery was built in the 1700s as a grand thoroughfare connecting Manhattan’s downtown business district with the fields, farmlands and mansions “uptown” (the name itself comes from the old Dutch “Bouwerji” or farm). That grandeur didn’t last for long. One hundred years later, during the Civil War, one snooty building inspector who was assigned to the judge the concert halls, saloons, brothels and gay bars that had come to populate the boulevard were nothing more than “resorts of degenerates and fairies.”
Even though that sounds like great fun to us, residents of the day didn’t see it that way and it was downhill from there. By 1875, the Third Avenue El train had cast the boulevard in shadows, and flophouses, tattoo parlors and restaurant supply stores moved in. In time, so did a number of artists in search of big lofts and cheap rents: Cy Twombly, Quentin Crisp, William Burroughs and Joey Ramone, among them. But the fact remained: No amount of artistic imagination could ever make this dirty, cacophonous street anything approaching nice.
Today, The Bowery is undergoing another major mood swing. The kitchen supply stores are still holding on, but a new streetscape unfettered by regulation is unfolding. The Japanese architects SANAA unveiled the sublime, perforated steel New Museum in 2007 and just down the block Sir Norman Foster erected the Sperone Westwater gallery with its giant red exhibition space that moves up and down like a giant elevator. The Bowery Hotel, which seeks to restore some of the area’s original elegance, regularly brings in international trendies. To serve them all a host of small, independently owned shops and cafés have bloomed on the side streets.
Slicing through The Lower East Side, Soho and Noho, this new area that we refer to as O-Bow (pronounced like the wind instrument), is now one of New York’s most bubbling neighborhoods. Ready for a tour?
330 Bowery; 646-827-7567
Design professionals love this shop. Women crush on the structured, sexy dresses and simple tops made with organic cottons. Guys like the denim straight-leg pants with slash pockets. Bonus: Founder and head designer Rogan Gregory, has recently added a modest assortment of perfectly curated home products, jewelry and shoes by local makers.
Bond St. Chocolate
63 East 4th Street; 212-677-5103
Linda Stern, a former television producer, opened this tiny boite that makes hand-made chocolates. Of note is the 24-carat (!) gold-dusted Divine Collection featuring the likes of Buddha, Jesus, Virgin of Guadalupe and Moses. These are chocolates so beautiful that you’ll never want to eat them, which would be a shame.
The Smile Café
6 Bond St # 1; 646-329-5836
Power coffee, inventive sandwiches and salads. The hipster crowd looks even better set against wide plank floors and rough brick walls, which are lined with a small smattering of random products: bags of Wool and The Gang wool (organic, natch), Moscot sunglasses and Santa Maria Novella beauty products. Gratuitous celebrity factoid: photographer Terry Richardson loves the granola.
28 Bond Street; 212-677-1293
If you are slim, cool and look good in black, head here. With hip brands (Alexander Wang, Acne, Band of Outsiders, among them), and helpful sales folk, the shop’s collective fingers are right on the pulse. For men and women.
John Derian Home and Dry Goods
6 East Second Street (b/w 2nd Avenue and The Bowery); 212-677-3917
Derian started out making decoupage plates from lovely old illustrations he collected. His empire has morphed into one of the great home stores in NYC, one that sells old flea market treasures, beautiful Astier de Villatte French tableware and Hugo Guinness’ illustrations. Next door, the Dry Goods shop features elegant upholstered furniture, pillows and fabrics. Secret: descend into the basement for many hidden treasures.
The Future Perfect
55 Great Jones St # A; 212-473-2500
Dave Alhadeff pioneered the Brooklyn design scene showcasing dozens of then-emerging talents in his original Williamsburg shop. TFP has since expanded into Manhattan and this shop is known for witty design, less pricey than Moss, more thoughtful than CB2.
Partners & Spade
40 Great Jones ; 646-861-2827
Part shop, part design workshop, part creative lab, the precise nature of this establishment remains elusive. It’s always a surprise. At times local talents curate exhibitions; at others there are limited edition books and random groupings of found objects.
33 Bond St # A; 212-387-8520
Started by a former bigwig at Magnum Photos, this is NYC’s only independent bookstore devoted to photo books. It’s Mecca for photo bibliophiles and those who value small, rare, hard-to-find editions.
222 Bowery; 212-226-0444
Green Depot it what every hardware store should be. Offering sustainable and intelligently designed products for a smarter world, it isn’t fussy; the selection is wide, from low-VOC paint to countertops made of recycled glass. Best feature: The light bulb booth that shows the color and hue of every new bulb on the market.