Most Manhattan neighborhoods are pretty well trammeled. Recently, however, I checked out two of the quieter east-side ‘hoods in midtown: Gramercy Park and Murray Hill.
Beginning at Union Square, I zig-zagged randomly between 17th Street on the south and 42nd on the north and between 1st Avenue to the east and Park Ave to the west–roughly the boundaries of the two neighborhoods.
Here are the high points:
- Stuyvesant Town. Comprised of acres of brick towers, Stuyvesant Town looks exactly like one of the notorious “projects” that blight most cityscapes. Forbidding from a distance, “Stuytown” is hardly a project. It is clean and nicely maintained with green spaces, fountains, playgrounds, and walkways. These WWII-era buildings have a nasty history of discrimination, however. “Negroes and whites do not mix,” was the comment in 1943 of the president of Metropolitan Life, the entity that owned the complex.
In 2006, in the biggest real estate deal in New York history, Tishman Speyer Properties bought Stuytown from MetLife for $5.4 billion. Then, in 2010, the whole thing went bust with the real estate market, and Tishman gave Stuytown to its creditors to avoid bankruptcy. It doesn’t look any the worse for wear.
- Gramercy Park. A scent of gentility hangs in the air. But as, I suspect, is the case with most things genteel, the park itself began as a swamp. Old Sam Ruggles, known as an early city developer of the “if I build it they will come” persuasion, drained, fenced, and planted his swamp in the 1840s; then he deeded it to the 60
lots he laid out around the newly reclaimed swamp. And that is where things remain today. The fence still stands; the gates are locked (I tried them), and the very exclusive houses surrounding the park have the only keys. The keys cost $350; replacement keys cost $1,000. The locks are changed each year. It’s been called “a Victorian gentleman who refuses to die,” and it’s one of two private parks in the city.
The park is supposed to be open to the public on Christmas Eve, but unless there was a back door for the rifraff, I didn’t see an opening.
The blocks surrounding Gramercy Park are known for their graceful architecture and quiet beauty. It’s a delightful area to roam in.
- Sniffen Court. This was a tough one to, um, sniff out. Located on 36th street
between Lexington and Third, this tiny mews is in the Murray Hill neighborhood and north of Gramercy. It’s on the US Register of Historic Places, but it was just a stable, a Civil-War-era stable, but a stable nonetheless. Two rows of two-story buildings line the alley, which are now quiet (and exclusive) dwellings for people instead of animals. I could only see the bland exterior. But here‘s a peek at what lies behind the gate.
- Curry Hill. So I’ve been wandering for a while now, and I finally arrive at the Indian section of the Murray Hill neighborhood, affectionately known–all together now– as Curry Hill. Murray Hill is a somewhat amorphous neighborhood without a distinctive personality. But the scent of Indian spices and the occasional colorful window display injects an exotic note.
I am starving, and I have miles and hours to go. It is almost 3:30–an awkward time between lunch and dinner; I’m hoping to find a place still serving lunch. The Turkish restaurant that was my destination isn’t; in fact, it’s closed. So I’m back on the street. Retracing my steps to Lexington Ave near 28th St., I pass Tamba and notice that a lunch buffet is served until 3:30.
I am the only customer, and the owners are about to eat their own lunch. But Daljeet Malik takes me in hand and fills my plate, explaining each dish. There are two refreshing salads; there is dall and chicken masala, and chicken keema, and lemon rice, and several other dishes I can’t remember. There is fresh, crispy naan, and rice pudding, and a sweet, syrup-soaked ball thingie for dessert. I basked in the warmth of the restaurant and the warmth of the hospitality and the warmth of the curry, and I ate until I could hardly walk. It was deliriously delicious, and the cost of the buffet was just over $10.