City Living: Union Square
Ask real estate agent Shpresa Elezi how she would describe Union Square, the small box of a neighborhood situated where the East Village, Flatiron and Gramercy Park intersect, and she’ll say: “Vibrant.”
Jennifer Falk, executive director of The Union Square Partnership, calls it “dynamic.” Those are the typical words used to characterize an area that has always been electric.
The area surrounds the famous nine-acre Union Square Park, which opened in 1839 and houses a major subway thoroughfare where seven trains intersect.
The cobblestoned park, designated a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior, hosted the first Earth Day celebration in 1970 and is historically a place for masses to congregate and express their creativity or their right to protest. The park still serves that purpose today, in addition to being a spot where locals can hang out on the steps, people-watch on the benches, picnic on the grass or take their pups to the dog run.
Between the scores of political activists and creative-types who descend upon the park to express themselves, the number of restaurants, bars, retail shops and a world-famous greenmarket established in 1976, the area is continually buzzing with energy.
Elezi, a broker at Julianna Realty on 17th Street, says this attracts new renters to the neighborhood.
“As soon as I do a showing it doesn’t go past a second person,” she said of rental units she brokers. “There is a lot of old charm mixed with modern facilities in each apartment.”
The area’s housing stock consists mostly of walkups. Many of the buildings were landmarked by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in the last 25 years, including the Decker Building at 33 Union Square West and the Consolidated Edison building at 4 Irving Place, maintaining a low-rise character.
“People love the pre-war architecture and there aren’t a lot of tall buildings here,” Elezi said. “It’s open and airy and people want that homey neighborhood feel that Union Square offers.
“It’s very alive,” she said of the neighborhood. “A lot of people are now starting to appreciate what a lot of other people already knew about Union Square.”
In the past five years, the area became home to major chains like Nordstrom Rack, DSW, and Burlington Coat Factory. Recently, tech companies like Yelp also moved in, paving a way for more tech startups to establish a presence here.
“Union Square is a great slice of New York City where you get to see all aspects of life,” said Jennifer Falk, who has been executive director of the nonprofit Union Square Partnership for seven years.--LISA FRASER
Need to Know
The Union Square area runs from 12th Street in the south to 18th Street in the north, Fifth Avenue in the west to Irving Place and Fourth Avenue in the east. More »
4, 5, 6 trains to 14th Street-Union Square station; L, N, Q, R trains to 14th Street-Union Square station; M1, M2, M3, M5, M14A, M14D buses More »
The closest library to Union Square is just south of the area at 331 E. 10th St. More »
USPS, 93 Fourth Ave. More »
The Union Square area is covered by the 9th Precinct at 321 E. Fifth St. For the week of Jan. 6 through Jan. 5, robberies decreased by 50% with zero reported by the precinct this year versus two in the same week in 2013. Grand larcenies, or major thefts, increased by 20%. Historically, murders in the area decreased by 91% since 1990 with 23 that year versus two in 2013. More »
This spot serves up fusion vegetarian dishes like pan-fried noodles and veggie noodle soup.
Blue Water Grill
Seafood dishes including crabcake benedict, Scottish salmon and blackened sword fish are served for breakfast, lunch and dinner at this intimate restaurant.
Num Pang Sandwich Shop
This Vietnamese sandwich shop prepares specialties from pulled pork to coconut tiger shrimp and spicy organic tofu sandwiches.
This cozy bar is the oldest in Manhattan. It once attracted the likes of writer O. Henry as a regular, and now residents and visitors flock to the landmark for dinner, parties or drinks.
The Coffee Shop Restaurant
A long-time Union Square staple, this popular spot is open 23 hours a day serving breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night drinks.
Trendy and spacious, SideBAR offers an upscale atmosphere to catch sports games while snacking on mac and cheese bites or garlic fries.
Union Square Greenmarket
This farmer's market, ongoing since 1976, is open every Monday, Wednesday and Friday year-round. Find anything from fresh vegetables to wine and fresh fruit.
Scotch & Soda
The Amsterdam-based clothing store carries quality, stylish clothing for men, women and children.
Find a huge selection of marked-down designer brands.
This free 90-minute tour, "Union Square: Crossroads of New York," led by the Union Square Partnership happens every Saturday at 2 p.m. and explores the social and political history of the community. Reservations are not required. More »
Bowl, play mini golf or arcade games at this chain venue.
Barnes & Noble
The flagship Union Square location hosts book events often, and features big-name authors like Jim Cramer and E.L. Doctorow.