City Living: Flatiron
The Metropolitan Life tower looms over the Shake Shack. (RJ Mickelson/amNY)
By Lana Bortolot
Special to amNewYork
The toy industry may have largely vanished from the neighborhood, but theres still plenty of play going on in the Flatiron District.
Boasting some of the citys most renowned restaurants and iconic architecture, and anchored by two neighborhood parks, Flatiron is shedding its wallflower reputation and becoming a downtown neighborhood of choice.
Were seeing a resurgence of blocks that were desolate after 6 p.m. now with new restaurants and different ground uses coming on line, says Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the areas two-year-old business improvement district. Everyone in the neighborhood is excited about the growth and that people are making it their home. Its a really relevant neighborhood with a lot of access.
The restoration of Madison Square Park, ringed by stately architecture, set the gears in motion here, and the improvements keep coming. The area has been spruced up with trees and other plantings, and a new pedestrian plaza around the Flatiron Building may eventually include a concession stand, and a flower or holiday market.
The BIDs social services program has addressed the quality of life issues that plagued the area for years with a dedicated Clean Streets and Public Safety program.
A mix of upscale national brands and independent businesses line the retail corridors of Broadway and Fifth, many of which cater to the home-design market. And now, a number of luxury condo conversions will ensure that those businesses thrive as Flatiron becomes a full-out residential neighborhood.
Though residents welcome the changes, there are concerns about the neighborhood losing its character and becoming another shopping mall or Meatpacking District. Community Board member Jennifer Kozel, herself a Flatiron resident since 1999, says that while most of the changes are good, others are problematic.
As the neighborhood becomes more residential, there are more amenities and thats very exciting if you live here, she said. But as some of the buildings are converted to other things, you whittle away at a district. Those changes can be rough because you change the nature of the neighborhood.
The influx of residents into a traditional manufacturing district also creates a need for elementary schools, which Flatiron lacks. And as the area becomes more popular with young families, quality of life economicsespecially in current conditionswill become more of a factor in deciding who can afford living here.
It used to be that when you moved in, you could get a big space for cheap and that would compensate for having to send your child to a private school, Kozel said.
Still, Halstead Property executive vice president Barbara Licalzi, who has lived in Flatiron since 1993, says theres no lack of interest in the neighborhood.
The saving grace of Flatiron is that we dont have a lot of inventory and thats what keeps it desirable and active.FIND IT
The boundaries often include parts of Chelsea and Union Square, but the Flatiron District is anchored between Sixth Avenue and Broadway, from 23rd street to 14th street.
THE FACT SHEET
Get there: Three subway lines serve Flatiron: N/R/W; F/V and 6 stop at 23rd street. The M23 bus runs crosstown.
Community Board 5: 212-465-0907
Police Precinct: 13th Precinct, 230 E. 21st St. 212-477-7411
Crime stats: The 13th Precinct reports one murder, 10 rapes, 242 robberies, 341 burglaries for the year to date. In the same time period last year, there were three murders, six rapes, 225 robberies, and 332 burglaries.
Fire Department: 18th Street between Fifth Avenue and Broadway
Schools: Manhattan Village Academy High School, 43 W. 22nd St., public (9-12); School for the Physical City, 55 E. 25th St., public (8-12)
Markets: Union Square Greenmarket (Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday); Whole Foods, Union Square; and Trader Joes, 142 E. 14th St.
Libraries: Andrew Heiskell Braille and Talking Book Library, 40 W. 20th St., 212-206-5400 (TTD: 212-206-5458); and Science, Industry, Business Library, 188 Madison Ave., 212-592-7000.
THE ONE THING YOU MUST DO
Abracadabra Super Store
10 W. 21st St., 212-627-5194
You can shop here, of course, or you can come for the sheer spectacle of this magic store, one of a few reminders of the mystery and magic of New York vaudeville. No. 1 gag gift purchased by police and firemen: stink bombs and flatulence spray, says sales associate J.P. Groth. Free magic shows on Friday nights 7-9 p.m. and magic classes start in January.
Two types of retail dominate the area: fashion for your body and for your home. National brands dominate many of the storefronts, but hometown favorites keep this from feeling like a shopping mall.
899 Broadway, 212-420-9020
Leave your backpack at home so you can browse this stocked-to-the-ceiling emporium of vintage and reproduction china and glass for the table top. The store has commissioned several lines of NYC-themed retro dishware and features other collectible American glassware.
876 Broadway, 212-780-0051
You cant live off the grid in New York, but you can make your home eco-friendly with furniture from this chic and simple store. And you dont have to be green to appreciate the unique textures, exotic woods and modern aesthetic.
893 Broadway, 212-677-5462
Get your groove on here at reduced prices. Rickys first outlet in the city features bath and hair products and accessories, hip totes, cool Dooodolls and colorful boas.
Metropolitan Design Center
909-11 Broadway, 212-477-7596
MDC, born and reared here, still manufactures in Brooklyn. The collections here are modernist, sleek and almost too beautiful to sit on but the designs are original to MDC and reflect the companys home-grown sophistication.
ABC Carpet & Home
888 Broadway, 212-473-3000
The granddaddy of all New York City design stores, ABC mixes up all your fantasies about castles, souks and English manors in a multi-floored emporium experience. Noted for the prestigious carpet collection, hand-picked by experts in foreign lands.
Flatiron has attracted, in recent years, a quiet gathering of cultural and restful spots where you can experience the New York not for tourists.
The Flatiron/23rd Street BID sponsors free walking tours of the historic Flatiron district every Sunday year-round. Tours meet at 11 a.m. at the southwest corner of Madison Square Park at 23rd Street and Broadway.
Madison Square Park
23rd Street between Fifth and Madison avenues
Once a down and out patch, and now a jewel box after a major restoration, old-growth trees, flowering gardens, a playground and dog run provide a respite in the park-starved neighborhood. In warm weather, cultural programming includes free concerts and family programs. The de rigueur activity, however, is queuing up at Shake Shack. On now: Tadashi Kawamatas Tree Huts, a series of wooden huts perched in the bare trees (until Dec. 31).
164 Fifth Ave., 212-807-1990
When not contemplating the role of Helvetica in design society, the professional association for designers hosts public events and shows in its gallery. Two design exhibitions the AIGA annual competition, and the National Biennial Awards from the Australian Graphic Design Association are on display through February 2009.
Daryl Roth Theater
20 Union Square West, 212-375-1110
The longtime home of international Off-Broadway hit De La Guarda, this nontraditional theater, located in a landmark former bank building, now hosts Fuerzabruta, from the same creators. Also here: DR2, a smaller theater that often hosts kids shows.
22 W. 15th St., 212-807-0563
Not in Flatiron proper, this institute is dedicated to preserving Tibets unique culture through art exhibitions, cultural programming and mediation classes. Free admission.
The Museum of Sex
233 Fifth Ave., 212-689-6337
The six-year-old museum exhibits more than 15,000 objects including artifacts, historical ephemera, media and fine art that explore current discourse and the history of sex in cultures across the world. On right now: The Sex Lives of Animals.
Flatiron boasts some of the citys most famed diningfrom brand-name chefs to notable sandwicheries. Come hungry when you come here.
928 Broadway, 212-780-5100
Named for the small pickings of Southern Italian food (stuzzichare means to pick), come here to sample fare beyond the usual pasta on a platter. Take advantage of the small-plate philosophy here with Roman-style artichokes and lightly crisped rice balls. But if you must have pasta, try the pistachio with pecorino and lemon.
53 W. 19th St., 212-255-4160
This small Iberian restaurant occupies a culinary craving somewhere between tapas and the usual paella palaces. The menu weighs heavily toward porkartisinally prepared and as much a part of Spanish food culture as paella (which you can also get here). Come early and prepare to wait.
3 W. 18th St., 212-366-1414
Its humble beginnings as a small greenmarket restaurant on Union Square arent lost in the serve-yourself restaurant thats now a downtown institution. Season, local ingredients still uphold the food philosophy here, as does the killer mac and cheese and chocolate chip cookies.
Eisenbergs Sandwich Shop
174 Fifth Ave., 212-675-5096
Since 1929, working-class New Yorkers have raised their cholesterol level here. Along with your sandwich (the egg salad deserves note), you get a serving of old-style New York. Dont ask for a check: you wont get one. Owner Josh Konecky keeps it all in his head; thats part of the charm of the place.
Rickshaw Dumpling Bar
61 W. 23rd St., 212-924-9220
The best deal in the hood comes in small packages steamed or fried. The modest prices let you sample to your hearts content, but you can also supplement with soups and salads for a full meal. Unusual here: chocolate soup dumplings.
Madison Square Park
We shouldnt mention this because the lines will get only longer. The wait is worth it: toothsome burgers and dogs, and sublime custards and shakes youll want all year round. And now you can: this year, Shake Shack will stay open all winter.
11 Madison Ave., 212-889-0667
Indian fusion cuisine in an unusual setting overlooking Madison Square Park. Book well in advance, and if you cant get a coveted table in the balcony, try the street-level Bread Bar for home-style Indian.
43 E. 20th St., 212-353-3700
Impress a date here or select a wine form the impressive private wine collection of Park B. Smith (of the home design emporium). Featuring an American French nouveau menu and expert sommelier to guide you through the daunting wine list.
Theres no shortage of options here, from elegant lounges to playful pastimes.
230 Fifth Ave., 212-725-4300
From the creators of Palladium and the Roxy, comes this nightclub in the sky (on the 20th floor). Drinks are pricey, but the view is, as they say, priceless. Outdoor lounge is open in the summer with 360-degree views.
The Cutting Room
19 W. 24th St., 212-691-1900
Live acts in the back and an art-filled lounge-y atmosphere in the front serve people looking for both entertainment and a comfy place to have a classy cocktail. Co-owned by recurring Law & Order detective Chris Noth (aka Mr. Big), the bar features Monday night jams and above-average bar food. Go now: Its closing Jan. 13.
45 W. 21 St., 212-989-2121
Designed by Andres Escobar and billed as a dining boudoir, Duvet features 30 customized dining beds, on which good friends can party, eat and engage in pillow talk. Custom slippers, European bed linens, flat-screen TVs complete the scene. What you wont find anywhere else: an aquarium of exotic jellyfish.
37 W. 19th St., 212-727-7741
This neighborhood favorite is known for its Jazz Age atmosphere and refined cocktail menu, which changes with the season. Fresh juices, inventive twists and kicky things like martini flights make this popular with downtowners who want to play like uptowners.
40 E. 20th St., 212-529-7870
The second of two Champagne emporia in the city (a third Flute is in Paris) offers a good selection of sparkling wines and plenty of opportunities to experiment with tastings or flutes (try a flight of three to inform your palate). Not feeling bubbly? Theres wine and beer, as well as inventive cocktails.
14 E 23rd St., 212-353-2400
Theres a kitschy down-hominess of this place that people seem not to tire of. More frat boy than hipster, more backyard than front of house, its a reliably loud place to throw back a few beers with some Cajun munchies.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Flatiron Building, constructed in 1902, was considered one of the first skyscrapers. It was eclipsed in 1909 by the neighboring Metropolitan Life Insurance Building.
The slang term, 23 Skidoo, was originated by local police admonishing Flatiron construction workers who enjoyed the view provided by sudden wind gusts blowing up the skirts of passers-by.
Americas first community Christmas tree was illuminated in Madison Square Park on Christmas Eve 1912.
Madison Square Park is considered to be the home of baseball: the first baseball club, the New York Knickerbockers, was founded here in 1845.
Madison Square Park was named for James Madison, fourth President of the United States.
Q & A Josh Konecky, owner of Eisenbergs Sandwich Shop
I grew up in Peter Cooper Village, worked here in the printing business, and ate here (Eisenbergs) for 15 years before I bought it.
What are some of the changes youve seen?
Major industries are gonethe toy industry and the printing business. And national stores make it seem like we could be anywhere in the country, not New York City.
What do you like about the neighborhood?
I like that Flatiron has become more of a 24-hour area. I used to shut down at 5 p.m. because there was no one here after that. Now thats not the case.
What would recommend people do here?
Other than eat at Eisenbergs? (regular diner Debbie, sitting at the counter, looks up from her tuna sandwich, Where else are ya gonna eat?) Go to the park. Eat at other places. Shop independent merchants in the area.
Whats the best thing about owning a business here?
I didnt set out to save Eisenbergs but its surprising to see how many people thank me on a daily basis. Im just trying to hold on to a piece of old New YorkI think thats important to keep something old in New York and I enjoy doing that. (Debbie, stuffing her lettuce back into her sandwich: God bless you for that.)
Though conversions are on the rise here, the housing inventory is low in Flatiron, making the neighborhood high in demand. Some rental deals can be found, evoking the early 1990s when leases often came with a free months rent.
Studio apartment in new luxury building, 511 square feet. $3,200/month.
One bedroom in same building, 694 square feet, $4,000/month
Two-bedroom in same building, 1,079 square feet, $6,500. 37 W. 21st St.
One-bedroom, one-bath duplex apartment with a terrace in a prewar building. 1,200 square feet, $2,299/month.
20 E. 22nd St., Lior Lev, Citi-Habitats, 212-777-7757.
One-bedroom, one-bath apartment in a postwar building. 1,400 square feet. 5 E. 22nd St., Lior Lev, Citi-Habitats, 212-777-7757.
Two-bedroom, two-bath condo in a pre-war loft building. 2,152 square feet.
$12,000/month, 9 W. 20th St. (also for sale: $2.5M). Barbara Licalzi, Halstead Property 212-381-4228
Three-bedroom, three-bath condo in post-war high rise. Two balconies. 2,100 square feet
Two-bedroom, two-bath condo in same building, 850 square feet: $1.275 million. 5 E. 22nd St.
Barbara Licalzi, Halstead Property, 212-381-4228
Three-bedroom, two and a half bath condo in a post-war, high rise loft building,
2,200 square feet plus private terrace. $3.25 million. 63 W. 17th St.
Vered George, Halstead Property, 212-381-4206
Two-bedroom, two and half bath penthouse duplex in a landmarked rowhouse. Two private decks, private keyed elevator. 1,557 square feet. $1.995 million, 52 W. 22nd St.
Greg P. Annunziata, 212-381-2366 and Ines Rodriguez, 212-381-2354