Sassy and smart, the Meatpacking District is the place for New York's young movers and shakers to head for swish boutiques, trendy restaurants and rooftop martinis
New York and cobbles go together like chalk and cheese. Take a cruise around the brick warehouses of Manhattan’s hip Meatpacking District, and the fast pace of the city that never sleeps goes into slow motion. Taxis crawl around as if they’re driving on beds of nails and when Wall Street packs up for the night, crowds of Ally McBeals in heels flood out of the subway and risk spraining their ankles as they totter precariously across the road en route to some of New York’s trendiest restaurants and bars.
Sandwiched conveniently between the brownstone terraces of Greenwich Village and Chelsea, the Meatpacking District was immortalised by Sex and the City’s Samantha Jones, whose notorious loft conversion became the setting for some of the most lurid one-night stands ever to hit the screen. Attracted by that most rare of Manhattan commodities, space, New York’s young movers and shakers quickly moved in and these days, with Julie Andrews in residence, the District has well and truly shaken off its gritty industrial roots.
At first sight, you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Squat cranes rise above the derelict Hudson River wharves while Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen’s sparkling boutiques sit uncomfortably close to the New York Sanitation Department offices. It’s the feeling of space that sets it apart. It’s here that Manhattan kinks at the knee and the bustling broad north/south Avenues split and dissipate into Greenwich Village, easing the traffic and creating what for Manhattan is a quiet backwater. With its broad, sunny sidewalks there’s plenty of room to swing designer shopping bags and spot celebrities dining in some of New York’s most popular lunch spots.
In the heart of the Meatpacking District lies the Hotel Gansevoort, a gracefully light post-modern tower set amidst the low-rise ramshackle warehouses. It’s the focal point of the entire neighbourhood and one of New York’s premier examples of warm modernist hotel design. Don’t miss the heated rooftop pool, which has piped underwater music and a retractable roof that draws back in the summer to reveal stunning views of the Empire State over the Manhattan rooftops.
Downstairs, the Japanese ONO restaurant is the perfect spot for an al fresco lunch where, behind a rustling bamboo fence, you can grill your own robata including sublimely tender beef and shitake mushrooms. In the basement the sexy red glass and white marble G spa by night transforms into one of the coolest lounge bars in New York and if you can persuade the doorman to let you in, you can sit around the infinity pool sipping cocktails with the likes of Sean Penn and Joachim Phoenix.
The Meatpacking District is perfectly located for all the major New York sightseeing and is just a short subway hop from both Times Square and Wall Street. Some of New York’s most charming and atmospheric neighbourhoods lie just a few blocks away and it’s fun to just stroll around and enjoy the quirky street life. Head north to Chelsea and don’t miss Chelsea Market, housed in the old Nabisco factory of Oreo and Ritz cracker fame. The corridors of whirring pipes still feel like a working factory but nowadays are home to gourmet food wholesalers who supply the crème de la crème of New York’s restaurateurs.
Nearby, the London Terrace Apartments are the ultimate example of housing estate chic. Stretching over an entire block, this 17-storey canyon of Art Deco tenements, built in the Great Depression, is now one of the smartest addresses in Manhattan, where you just might see Debbie Harry scuttling out for her morning latte. Stop by at the Chelsea Hotel where during the 60s and 70s the scandalous antics of rock stars such as Jimi Hendrix and Sid Vicious catapulted the hotel into the realms of rock and roll legend.
At night, foodies from all over New York descend on the Meatpacking District but for the British visitor it’s worth remembering that even with a reservation, New Yorkers think nothing of waiting over an hour to be seated. Restaurants invariably overbook and bearing in mind there’s a five-hour time difference, it’s worth eating early to avoid the crowds and frustration. Buddakan (75 9th Ave; 00 1 212 989 6699; www.buddakannyc.com) serves up Chinese classics with a French twist and, appropriately, the spectacular décor resembles a cross between The Last Emperor and Marie Antoinette’s boudoir. For a more down-to-earth experience, try Empire Diner (210 10th Ave; 00 1 212 243 2736; www.empire-diner.com), an original 1930s diner serving up no-nonsense burgers and steaks in a shiny chrome and black Bakelite Art Deco interior worthy of the Chrysler Building.
Back in the hotel, the rooftop Plunge Bar is the perfect place for a nightcap. The Meatpacking District is the spiritual home of New York’s martini brigade. It’s loud, sassy and smart, so choose the most pretentious flavoured martini on the menu and enjoy the spectacular views of the sparkling night-time Manhattan skyline. It’s sheer magic.