A Manhattan stroll, very early spring

Having survived a meeting with one ferocious new-to-me editor (whew!) and enjoying a fun lunch with another, I took the afternoon off recently to just enjoy the city.

It was a bright, clear day and I decided to head downtown, walking down Third Avenue.


Did this bunny die of a broken heart? Wall art…

When people who don’t live here picture Manhattan, they usually think of the Statue of Liberty or Broadway or Times Square, huge, iconic spots thronged by thousands of tourists. Many of my favorite places here are quiet, old, weathered and unlikely to draw even a dozen tourists a week.

I always urge visitors to flee midtown — and all those shoving gaping fellow tourists — and head to the East or West Village, with cobble-stoned streets, 18th. century homes and a sort of intimacy and charm that feels a planet removed from the rest of the city. Dotted with cafes, restaurants, elegant townhouses and indie shops, this is Manhattan for flaneurs.


I walked past Gramercy Park, longing to actually enjoy it for a while, but only those who live on the park are given keys to its black iron gates. There are only two private parks in New York City, but if you stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel, on the northwest corner of the block above it, you can gain access, thanks to their 12 keys.


The National Arts Club, on the south side of the park, is one of many spectacular buildings facing the park, built in the 1840s. In the 1860s it was a private home, and Samuel Tilden hired Calvert Vaux — one of Central Park’s designers — to add to its exterior. I’ve attended events at the Club, and the interiors are also very beautiful; you can catch a glimpse of them through the windows.


Here’s a doorway on Gramercy Park South, a neighborhood of considerable wealth, history and charm.


This church, St. Marks’ in the Bowery, is one of my favorites. It’s part of what makes the city human, places to connect where money, status and power — the drivers of success here — matter less than faith, kindness and humility.

I love these pieces of the past and seeing names from history books lying beneath our feet — Peter Stuyvesant, who founded Manhattan, is buried here. The cornerstone was laid in 1795, making it the city’s second-oldest church.

Here’s a description of the community, from their website:

We are a church with a core membership committed to welcoming all kinds of people to be a part of the community.  St. Mark’s has a special interest in supporting emerging artists.  There are many artists in our community.    We have a high energy Sunday morning service.  A recent visitor said “It’s like RENT meets church.”

(Rent was a fantastic, well-beloved and long-running musical here, an adaptation of sorts of La Boheme.)


I’m eager to attend service there. I’m an Episcopalian and I heard their minister, Winnie Varghese — a Texan of South Asian heritage — speak at a conference recently. I liked her immediately. (For those of you who are not Episcopal, [Anglican], services tend to be quiet and well-behaved. Sometimes a little too snoozy.)

One the most poignant moments, for me, is looking at early gravestones. We’re all here for such a brief blink of time.

Who were these people? What were their hopes and dreams?

Will anyone stand on my stone 208 years from now?


I stopped in the Sunburst Espresso Bar and treated myself to a bread pudding, ($3.50, lots of chocolate!), and a latte. Everyone had their laptops open, while a few actually just engaged in lively conversation. I sat for an hour, resting my weary feet, staring at the sky.


I knew that East 9th. Street is a terrific shopping street, filled with antiques and vintage clothing stores. I stopped in at Duo, a four-year-old 600-square-foot women’s clothing store with new and vintage offerings. It used to be a restaurant the last time I saw it but now has a quiet, gentle vibe, thanks to its owner, Wendy, who is from northern Minnesota. (Practically Canadian!)

In the fireplace, thick white candles were lit and glowing. Red berries sat in a vase and, at the very rear of the store, was a tank filled with water — and a female turtle, Monster. Go say hi!

Here’s a photo that really speaks volumes about the density of Manhattan. That row of bumps against the fading sky are vehicles, parked on a rooftop, brought there by elevators. Only in Manhattan do cars get the penthouse view!


By 6:00 p.m. after walking from 22nd and Third to 1st and 9th, my feet were killing me. Back to Grand Central to meet my husband and jump on the 7:57 commuter train heading north. Home!


19 thoughts on “A Manhattan stroll, very early spring

  1. leah j. wolfe

    What a fantastic way to end my day, with a walking tour through the city. I’m dying to see St. Mark’s someday, such a rich, literary history.

    Thanks for the trip!

  2. Love to take a flaneur through those original old parts of Manhattan, been too long, so it was extra special tagging along with you just now, Caitlin. I must say i had a little chuckle about the town fathers naming their settlement ‘Tarrytown’. 🙂

  3. Fun walking with you, Caitlin ~ down some of my favorite streets. Even in the 1980s E.9th was my favorite shopping street, mostly for vintage. “Slaves of NY” era. Prior to that–even more interesting in many ways. Not so chic, and showing many more ethnic immigrant roots.

  4. These photos and descriptions make me want to head into the city right away. I never have seen some of these hidden gems and now am eager to head back and discover. Thanks for opening my eyes to some beauties within the noise of the city 🙂

  5. Justine

    I recently had my frist trip to Manhattan and I already can’t wait to go back. On my next visit I am going to make it a point to visit some of spots you have mentioned and travel off the beaten tourist path.

  6. From our distance here in NZ we have a vague impression of Manhattan as 99.5% skyscrapers…but there is so much more & you’ve highlighted sides of the depth and breadth of a culture that I kind of knew intellectually but hadn’t really got a handle on. Thank you for sharing your walk!

    Visiting an old cemetery is such a fantastic way to experience the memories of a place.

    1. Thanks! I fear that too many visitors hang around midtown and miss the intimate charms of the rest of the city, esp. the quiet older bits. Those of us who live here generally avoid Midtown — and all the tourists head there.

  7. One of my favorite places in NYC is the High Line. The best walk in the city for my money and it’s free. From 10 – 30th st. I’m sure you’ve been there. If you haven’t start at 30th and walk to 10th and then have a beer for me at the beer garden under the tracks!

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