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Union Square real estate is flourishing thanks to transit, dining, arts

Union Square is not just a popular destination for tourists, it’s also home to theater enthusiasts, a vibrant restaurant scene and a booming real estate market.

“It’s truly a 24/7 residential and commercial district,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of Union Square Partnership, a non-profit community organization. “Many people live and work in the district, then also spend their leisure time here.”

With the Union Square Park subway stations the fourth-busiest in the city on weekdays and second-busiest on weekends, according to the MTA, the area businesses are constantly bustling.

“Being a restaurant in Union Square means that you serve both residents who treat us like their downstairs kitchen and one-time visitors who want a taste of New York,” said Sam Lipp, 35.

Lipp is the managing partner at Danny Meyer’s first restaurant, Union Square Cafe, which was at 16th Street and Broadway for five years before it closed to relocate to 19th and Park this fall.

Residents can easily walk to Chelsea or the East Village for trendy dining, but they can also stay close to home at popular restaurants like ABC Kitchen at 35 E. 18th St., Tocqueville at 1 E. 15th St., or Friend of a Farmer at 77 Irving Place.

“What makes Union Square so unique, but also so special, is that four different neighborhoods — Gramercy, Flatiron, Greenwich Village and the East Village — all converge upon the area,” explained Kelly Waters, 37, a real estate sales broker with Compass who specializes in the area.

Due to its access to the park and several train and bus lines, the competition for real estate in the area is fierce, she said.

According to the listings site StreetEasy, the median sales price in Union Square was $1,250,000 in 2015, compared to $990,000 in Manhattan as a whole.

The median rent in the area last year was $3,993, compared to $3,200 in the entire borough, the site found.

Housing ranges from luxury condos like at 37 E. 12th St. and 15 Union Square W., where prices go as high as $20 million, and rental buildings like 145 and 85 Fourth Ave., where one-bedrooms rent for around $4,800 a month. At the 27-story One Union Square South, one-bedrooms rent for $5,630 a month.

For those on a tighter budget, there are walkups, like the four-story 861 Broadway, where a three-bedroom rented for $6,600 in June, according to StreetEasy.

Union Square Park offers numerous perks, such as outdoor fitness classes, lunchtime jazz concerts and movie nights in the summer.

The park’s Greenmarket, which opened in 1967, features around 140 vendors from farms around the Northeast, along with composting and other recycling services.

Bill Carter, a 54-year-old personal trainer and chef, heads to the market several times a week to buy huckleberries from Berried Treasures and meat from Violet Hill Farms.

“It was so much smaller in the ’80s,” Carter, who now resides in Astoria, said of the Greenmarket.

“I shopped here when it was still ‘Needle Park,’ when no one wanted to linger,” he added, referring to a nickname given to city parks that were known for drug use and crime. “Now, people stay to chat all day!”

The performing arts is also vibrant in the neighborhood at theaters like Vineyard Theatre on 15th and Irving Place and the Daryl Roth Theatre on 15th and Union Square East. Street performances are also held regularly at the south end of Union Square Park.

“I saw John Slattery there and had a spazzed-out ‘Mad Men’ moment,” two-year resident and artist Jessica Redmond, 25, said. “Also, I get out of the 6 train downtown subway at the park, and the stairs lead right up to an area where there are often performers ... You never quite know what will be at the top of the stairs that day.”

Find it:

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.

Restaurants in Union Square

Florian225 Park Ave. S.Created to mimic the world's
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier


225 Park Ave. S.

Created to mimic the world's oldest cafe, Caffe Florian in Venice, this Italian restaurant is best-known for its classics: meatballs and spaghetti, homemade mozzarella and paper-thin pizza.

Hu Kitchen

78 Fifth Ave.

This trendy casual eatery boasts Paleo-friendly comfort food dishes, like mashed root vegetables and wild fish sticks. It also has a full coffee and juice bar, free Wi-Fi and plenty of seating.

ABC Kitchen

35 E. 18th St.

The food and ambiance are top-notch at this farm-to-table eatery.

Bars and nightlife

Dear Irving55 Irving PlaceA speakeasy-style bar with cleverly
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Dear Irving

55 Irving Place

A speakeasy-style bar with cleverly named cocktails. Make a reservation to drink in its large, Victorian-designed rooms.


54 E. 13th St.

You don't have to travel to K-Town for chicken wings, shots and karaoke. This no-frills venue has a large selection of songs.

Singl Lounge

80 E. 13th St.

Whether your poison is single-malt scotch or the reasonably-priced in-house wines, this cocktail bar has you covered.

Where to shop

The Strand828 BroadwayThe 89-year-old landmarked bookstore claims to
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

The Strand

828 Broadway

The 89-year-old landmarked bookstore claims to have 18 miles of books and offers readings with celebrity authors.

Forbidden Planet

832 Broadway

From hard-to-find comic books to limited-edition action figures, this science fiction and fantasy shop is the best place in town for nerds to indulge.

Bedford Cheese Shop

67 Irving Plaza

Drop in to sample seasonal cheeses and to sign up for evening classes, like Mozzarella Making and Knife Skills 101.

Things to do in Union Square

Vineyard Theatre108 E. 15th St.The award-winning off-Broadway nonprofit
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Vineyard Theatre

108 E. 15th St.

The award-winning off-Broadway nonprofit theater company features local playwrights and actors -- many of whom just happen to also be famous.

Union Square Greenmarket

East 17th Street and Union Square West

Grab some cheese and bread from Ronnybrook Farms and Hot Bread Kitchen for a picnic at the park, or buy your weekly groceries from the roughly 140 vendors.

Irving Plaza

17 Irving Place

Both up-and-coming bands and iconic acts like Paul McCartney have played shows at this ballroom-style music venue.

Transit basics

Trains:4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R to
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier


4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R to Union Square


M1, M2, M3, M5, M14A, M14D

Celebrities who have lived in Union Square

Tom CruiseKatie HolmesNicole Kidman
Photo Credit: Getty Images / Grant Lamos IV

Tom Cruise

Katie Holmes

Nicole Kidman

Union Square real estate data

Median sales price: $1,250,000 Number of units on
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

Median sales price: $1,250,000

Number of units on market: 129

Median rental price: $3,993

Number of rentals on market: 534

(Source: StreetEasy)

The buzz

In February, BuzzFeed moved to 18th Street and
Photo Credit: Linda Rosier

In February, BuzzFeed moved to 18th Street and Park Avenue South, bringing about 600 employees -- skewed on the younger side -- to the neighborhood haunts.

Local businesses were excited to have the talked-about company around.

Ainsworth Park, a sports bar at 111 E. 18th St., for example, introduced a pizza burger called the BuzzFeed Burger to welcome its new neighbor. BuzzFeed conducted an online poll to vote on what the burger should be.

Employees from the Italian restaurant Florian, which is located in the same building as BuzzFeed, visited the media company's office with a sampling of its menu.

"We're getting so many BuzzFeed employees coming in," said Jeff Baskin, 55, the maître d' of Florian. "The clientele is a much younger crowd than what I'm used to from working uptown."

The website's employees said they are enjoying their lunch-hour options.

"I personally really enjoy walking over to Irving Coffee for my weekday pick-me-up," said Stephanie Kennard, 29, associate manager of communications at BuzzFeed.

Q&A with Joseph Roccasalvo, area resident and author

Joseph Roccasalvo, 75, is an author and 30-year
Photo Credit: Noel Duan

Joseph Roccasalvo, 75, is an author and 30-year resident of the Union Square area. His most recent novel, "Island of the Assassin," was published March 2016. We spoke to him about writing and mentoring young writers in Union Square.

Why do you love living in this neighborhood?

When you walk out of [my] building, you face all sorts of crowds milling about. However, once you turn the corner on 13th Street, it's completely different -- there's nobody there! I can walk to the park if I want to be in a crowd. If I don't, I just turn the corner and make my way up to the New York Health and Racquet Club. I have all my options on any given day.

How do you get writing inspiration from the park?

Writing is a very unglamorous, sometimes solitary venture. That's why I love it. But when I want to, I head to the park. The Union Square Park is a goldmine for meeting people. I've made so many friends in the park, so much so that they become characters in my books or mentees of mine, like the young man in graduate school I'm mentoring right now. People love to talk about themselves in New York City. They give me stories in their lives, and I always ask for permission to use their stories for my books. The park is a monument to the energy of the city. I love sitting there and watching people and doing my reading there.

What do you notice about the people in Union Square?

There are a lot of tourists, but there are a lot of locals just like me. And we all have stories to tell. And yet we also sometimes seek solitude, too -- you can get both company and solitude at the park!


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