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Turtle Bay in Manhattan, although quiet, has a lot going on under its shell

Sitting next to the United Nations a small neighborhood that has a lot going on under its shell.

Turtle Bay’s longtime residents say the area’s location, bound by the FDR Drive, Lexington Avenue, 42nd and 53rd streets, gives them the ideal Manhattan experience with a subdued flair.

Nearly 200-year-old town houses are juxtaposed with modern high-rises; mom-and-pop stores, bars and ethnic restaurants share blocks with Duane Reade drugstores and Starbucks.

“It’s more quiet and homey” than other parts of midtown, said Kaitlyn Stott, 42, an Australian native who has been living in the area with her boyfriend for almost a year. “It caters to everyone in the area.”

The neighborhood is recently appealing to young residents, especially new families, experts said.

They are in part attracted to a slew of new bars and restaurants along Second Avenue just outside Turtle Bay, such as the wine bar Bottle & Bine at 1085 Second Ave. at 57th Street, which opened in December.

“All of these nice, hip restaurants have come and now people realize there are fun places to check out,” said Xan Garcia, who owns the Cornerstone Tavern at 961 Second Ave. and 51st Street.

However, like in all New York City neighborhoods, Turtle Bay is not without room for improvement. Transportation, for example, can be a problem for people who live and work closer to the East River and away from the Lexington Avenue subway stops and Grand Central Terminal, which is just west of the area on 42nd Street.

“The transportation infrastructure was supposed to be dealt in part with the construction of the Second Avenue subway and who knows when that will be done,” said Richard Eggars, chair of Manhattan Community Board 6, which covers Turtle Bay.

But for what it lacks in train access, the area makes up in cultural diversity, noted Bill Curtis, president of the Turtle Bay Association, a 59-year-old nonprofit civic group.

Being in the shadow of the U.N. means residents can taste menus from various parts of the globe. Indian restaurant Bukhara Grill at 217 E. 49th St., Turkish eatery Sip Sak at 928 Second Ave. and Ethos Gallery 51 at 905 First Ave. are just a few of the popular international dining spots among Turtle Bay’s visitors, workers and residents.

“You get to see, interact and be part of this mixture every day,” Curtis said.

The diversity also extends to Turtle Bay’s residential side.

Andrea Saturno-Sanjana, a real estate agent with Citi Habitats who specializes in Turtle Bay, said it has several micro-communities.

“There’s quite a range,” she said of the local housing stock.

Home-seekers can find everything from town houses in the Turtle Bay Gardens Historic District, which date back to the 1860s and are located between Second and Third avenues and 48th and 47th streets, to the 50 United Nations Plaza, which opened last year and has units with 11-foot ceilings, along with a 75-foot swimming pool and other luxurious amenities.

Aside from the luxe new developments, affordability compared to other parts of Manhattan has been a major draw for new residents, according to neighborhood experts, but real estate prices have been rising in recent years.

According to StreetEasy, the median sales price in Turtle Bay rose from $672,500 in 2012 to $935,000 in 2015. The median sales price for Manhattan borough-wide last year was $990,000, the listings site found.

Rental prices have been more stagnant. The median rental price in Turtle Bay was $3,100 in 2012 and went up to $3,195 in 2015, StreetEasy reported. The median rent for all of Manhattan last year was $3,200, according to the site.

Sales prices reflect the neighborhood’s increasing popularity. To cope with its growing density, residents are working to make sure they aren’t struggling with extra garbage and noise, according to Anne Saxon-Hersh, 69, an advocate for the area’s recreational space, Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

Friends of Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, Saxon-Hersh’s 23-year-old nonprofit, recently received $675,000 in funds from the City Council to renovate the site, which is located at Second Avenue and East 47th Street.

“[The plaza] needs paint and needs a do-over,” she said.

In addition to serving as the neighborhood’s park, the plaza is also used for events like the Wednesday greenmarket, and the free, family-friendly Oktoberfest, which is happening on Oct. 10 from 1-4 p.m.

Mark Bench, an art surveyor who lives in the Upper West Side, travels across town every week to buy his groceries from the greenmarket because he enjoys its friendly atmosphere.

“The market is full of character,” he said as he picked out veggies on a recent Wednesday afternoon. “I bring colleagues here all the time.”

Find it:

Turtle Bay is bordered to the west by Lexington Avenue and the east by the FDR drive, according to StreetEasy. It sits between East 42nd and 53rd streets.

Turtle Bay restaurants

Peking Duck House236 E. 53rd St.This Chinese staple
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Peking Duck House

236 E. 53rd St.

This Chinese staple has a casual front room and a fine-dining area further back, and its famous duck dish is carved at the table.

DAG'S Patio Cafe

342 E. 47th St.

Located in the middle of the Katharine Hepburn Garden and across the street from the United Nations, this cafe opens early for breakfast.

Calico Jack's Cantina

800 Second Ave.

Margaritas are $3 from 6 p.m. to close on Mondays -- pair them with classic Mexican food favorites.

Bars and nightlife

Turtle Bay Tavern987 Second Ave.Pop in for live
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Turtle Bay Tavern

987 Second Ave.

Pop in for live music on Tuesdays and drink specials every day of the week.

Snafu Bar

127 E. 47th St.

This three-floored hangout has everything from fireplaces to plasma TVs and arcade games.

Karaoke Duet 48

304 E. 48th St.

Rent a private room at this karaoke bar and sing your heart out until the break of dawn.

Where to shop

Midtown Comics459 Lexington Ave.For the comic-lover in your
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Midtown Comics

459 Lexington Ave.

For the comic-lover in your family, this store also sells collectibles and has a friendly, knowledgeable staff.

Dag Hammarskjold Plaza Greenmarket

47th Street between First and Second avenues

This farmers market open on Wednesdays year-round and is a great source for local honey, turkeys and seafood, as well as fruits and vegetables.

Macaron Cafe

750 Third Ave.

Dedicated to all things French, but specifically the macaron. It specializes in traditional flavors like pistachio, passion fruit and coconut, and more unique versions such as honey lavender, pumpkin cinnamon, and tahini sesame.

Things to do in Turtle Bay

Club Bonafide212 E. 52nd St.A music venue inspired
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Club Bonafide

212 E. 52nd St.

A music venue inspired by the Jazz age when 52nd Street was known as "Swing Street."

Japan Society

333 E. 47th St.

Founded in 1907, the Japan Society was meant to deepen understanding between the United States and Japan. Programming includes art, language classes, as well as performing arts. They also show films and hosts lectures.

Instituto Cervantes

211 E. 49th St.

Founded by the Spanish government in 1994, this institute aims to promote the Spanish language and cultures from all the countries that speak it.

Transit basics

Trains:6 at 51st StreetE, M at Lexington/53rd StreetBuses:M15,
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier


6 at 51st Street

E, M at Lexington/53rd Street


M15, M42, M50, M101, M102, M103

Turtle Bay in pop culture

Due to its proximity to Broadway, Turtle Bay
Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images file photo

Due to its proximity to Broadway, Turtle Bay has long been considered home to some of the city's most famous theater stars. For example, Katharine Hepburn lived at 244 E. 49th St., in the area now known as Turtle Bay Gardens, for 60 years. The Gardens are also the longtime residence for theater composer Stephen Sondheim, and are featured in E.B. White's essay "Here Is New York."

Turtle Bay real estate data

Median sales price: $935,000 Number of units on
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Median sales price: $935,000

Number of units on market: 886

Median rental price: $3,195

Number of units: 2,631

(Source: StreetEasy)

The buzz

[/BOLD]The East Midtown Rezoning is in its final
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

[/BOLD]The East Midtown Rezoning is in its final stages of planning, with the mayor's office currently taking feedback from city agencies like the City Planning and Transportation departments.

The rezoning aims to encourage the redevelopment of office buildings between Third and Fifth avenues and East 39th and 57th streets to better meet the needs of modern businesses.

To do so, it wants to allow developers to increase the size of qualifying buildings if they, in turn, provide benefits to the public, such as by allowing subway stations to be accessed from the ground floor of the buildings which would free up sidewalk space, according to the Department of City Planning.

The city also plans to let landmarked buildings in the area benefit from the rezoning by allowing them to sell their air rights to developers looking to increase building heights, according to the DCP.

The mayor's office is currently taking public feedback on the plan, and will hold hearings on Thurs., Sept. 22 on the mezzanine level of the Municipal Building at 1 Centre St. at 2 and 6 p.m.

The city plans to have a finalized draft ready for a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) by the end of the year, according to the DCP.

Those who live in the neighborhood said they aren't thrilled about the rezoning.

Bruce Silberblatt, vice president of the Turtle Bay Association and an area resident for 50 years, said both longtime and new residents have staunchly opposed the rezoning.

More pedestrian traffic will put added stress onto the crowded 4, 5 and 6 trains, especially since the Second Avenue subway isn't yet finished, and skyscrapers block views and sunlight, he said.

"People live here as well, and they want a quiet, uncongested neighborhood," Silberblatt said.

In response to these concerns, a DCP spokesperson said the rezoning aims to improve the area's public spaces.

"Modifications to zoning regulations that guide the design of buildings will maintain high standards of light and air access while ensuring buildings constructed through this framework can reasonably achieve the densities allowed," the spokesperson added.

Q&A with historian Justin Ferate

Justin Ferate, 66, is a 12-year resident of
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Justin Ferate

Justin Ferate, 66, is a 12-year resident of Turtle Bay and a local historian and licensed tour guide. Ferate is actually a supreme tour guide of sorts, as he was selected by the city government to write its official Tour Guide Licensing exam 13 years ago. Ferate, who moved to New York City from Seattle in 1981, said his job satisfies his ingrained curiosity to learn about his surroundings. We caught up with him to get an insider's take on Turtle Bay.

What attracts residents and businesses to this area?

The neighborhood is adjacent to Midtown and is convenient to many ... venues, such as shops, restaurants, "mom-and-pop" stores, banks and other services, [that] are all just a few steps away.

Which industries do the best here?

Possibly the most popular type of business are the small restaurants and pubs, which are popular especially with younger people. There's a thriving nightlife along Second Avenue. Some of the ethnic restaurants are in the area as a result of the United Nations, but others are there because it's a busy neighborhood that attracts a lot of people.

Is the neighborhood facing any challenges?

The major issue for the future will be the same as for much of New York City: The new zoning laws were conceived to maximize building heights and generate more taxable real estate. Unfortunately, the new zoning laws are not about creating a livable city. As rents rise ... it will be more and more difficult to retain the small businesses that, while not immensely profitable, are nonetheless greatly additive to the quality of life.

Where is Turtle Bay going in the future?

So far, the "bundling" of properties by developers has not been as easy as elsewhere in New York City. As a result, in my opinion, the neighborhood has retained -- and will hopefully continue to retain -- many of its intrinsic qualities: an admixture of housing stock from low-rise to high-rise, several quality educational institutions, an array of restaurants at varying price points, numerous popular pubs, several markets, various religious institutions, an array of health clubs from the YMCA to more upscale venues, and a few surviving "mom-and-pop" stores. Diversity is what makes New York great and Turtle Bay is, in an array of ways, a diverse community.


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