Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine and the Peace Fountain
Park 79 Hotel enjoys a terrific location, on West 79th Street (wide and very bright), close to Columbus Avenue (shopping, shopping, shopping!). Even Broadway is “ours,” 1.5 blocks from our garden door. Here we wish to share a view of Amsterdam Avenue, a favorite of all our guests, given the fantastic choice of restaurants, pubs, small shops for everything…and so close, our corner to the west.
Columbus is actually 9th Avenue, Amsterdam is 10th Avenue, but “fancy” names were endowed in the 19th century to lure residents to move north of city-center. The new naming hoped to recall the Dutch roots of 17th century Manhattan. It IS a very busy street, with two bus lines, uptown auto traffic (quite a bit during evening rush hour) and a very checkered history. In the 1990’s, the drug lords ruled over life in the neighborhood. Almost no foot traffic after 5pm! And then the city and federal governments began a major crackdown. With ongoing success in ridding the streets of such crime, small businesses returned, young families chose the neighborhood and schools, parks were again inviting. Amsterdam Avenue changed, late night activities again were enjoyed in pubs and restaurants, street fairs in the sunshine. Now, with elevated rents, restored historic sites and glass facades of new buildings, myriad dining and shopping adventures, Park 79 Hotel guest reviews speak of this success. In fact, since so much information is available for Amsterdam Avenue between 72nd and 86th streets, we take this opportunity to introduce our prospective and present guests beyond the 86th Street divide. Join in this description all the way to 118th Street.
86th – 96th streets: To the left is the magnificent Belnord Apartments, on the National Registry of Historic Places, its courtyard one of the largest in the city. A peek-in is all that’s allowed from the street, but worth it. Across the street: Barney Greengrass, The Sturgeon King Nothing changes here! Its reputation with movie and theatre stars, politicians–everyone who loves our famous Jewish traditional food–on a bagel! (There’s a second store in Beverly Hills, attesting to the addiction of movie stars! But…who cares. THIS is the one!
Between 87th and 89th streets, one small restaurant after another–Turkish, Belgian, Vegetarian, Seafood, Pizza. Moderate-income apartment houses mix with historic housing, mostly restored, and now elevated rents. Beautiful embellishments adorn some, these created by 19th-20th century Italian immigrants. Until 96th Street, many small, proven restaurants abound, favorites of the neighborhood. Small shops trying to stay alive as rents soar. Gelato till winter, kosher Thai food and steaks, bagels–just, very old-neighborhood. Divert a bit to the east on 89th Street, early spring to late fall, The Westside Community Garden will bring a very big smile. Tulip time in April is THE highlight! Thousands of blooms, music, singing, and through the summer.
Ballet Hispanico is across the street, just completing its total and beautiful renewal and worth an exterior peek. From community-based to world-class, performances are now in selected city venues and worldwide. The building to the west, now the Stephen Gaynor School, was the city’s horse and carriage stable until 2007. The neighborhood loved the daily parade of horses ridden to Central Park, but the funds were not there, the riders diminished. The facade is still worth a view.
Onward for this visit and some beautiful churches: Worth your knowing its history, RC Church of the Holy Name of Jesus. Beautiful inside and out. You’ve now arrived in Bloemendale (Bloomingdale), in olden days, rich farmland owned by Dutch, then German farmers. In this 21st century, Bloomingdale it remains to us locals.
St. Michael’s Church comes next, famous for its rich decoration of original Tiffany stained glass windows and mosaics, and one the first NYC churches to openly welcome the Episcopalian Gay Community.
The dark red “castle” on the east side at 103rd Street–built in 1883–is now the American Youth Hostel. Perhaps reserve one of the special guided city tours they always offer.
This neighborhood has a welcome tranquility, safe streets, mature street trees and many tree-mini-gardens. Murders and drugs ruled not too long ago. But now, one small store after another, terrific neighborhood restaurants of so many origins–moderate in price. For visitors, this is an ideal neighborhood to stroll to have a real feel of “ordinary” life in this crazy city. Quiet during the week, Friday and Saturday nights bring many young people to have fun, and the pubs are packed. Here are no fancy boutiques or 4* restaurants. This is a “real” neighborhood, bringing together a solid mix of New Yorkers. (Shown: West 107th Street)
Let’s list some of our favorite dining choices, between 97th and 112th street. Each has its own website, worth a Google! None is expensive, and in no particular order, suggested here:
- Pungent, satisfying Dominican – El Malecon
- Interesting, fresh, pisco sours – Peruvian Warique
- Bakery and tiny restaurant French – La Toulousaine
- Really good Southeast Asian – Thai Market
- Traditional shared-plate dishes at – Ethiopian Awash
- Tiny place, Indian street food – RotiRoll Bombay
- British and American fare – Ellington 2
- Neighborhood and visitors – Bistro Ten 18
- Everyone’s favorite for 1000 years – Hungarian Pastry Shop
Now that you’ve dined or quenched a thirst, Amsterdam Avenue presents its highest treasure: Cathedral St. John the Divine No description required here, the stunning website invites your visit within the immense Gothic-style wonder and through the beautiful gardens. Perhaps the 21st century will see, if not completion, then a grand continuation of the work begun. If you can include one of the guided tours or concerts–do it!
The final and very important stop on Amsterdam Avenue is the Columbia University campus and its diverse buildings, trees and vast greensward any season, it is filled with the energy of students and locals enjoying the openness. Join in and, with pleasant fatigue after your discovery walk from Park 79 Hotel, treat yourself to a taxi or board the #1 subway to the hotel.