In New York everything comes full circle if you wait long enough. Soho is a brilliant illustration of this rule.
In the early 1800s Soho was an elegant, mansion-lined residential neighborhood surrounded by hotels, theaters, minstrel halls, gambling casinos, and the city’s most elegant brothels. Horse-drawn carriages with velvet seats clip-clopped down cobblestone streets where gas streetlamps illuminated the rich hues of taffeta evening dresses.
The decline began when the population gravitated uptown, textile industries (the “rag trade”) moved in, and everyone but the workers in those factories moved out.
To get higher rents without rebuilding their structures, developers turned to cast iron, which was a speedy and inexpensive way to decoratively cover over an existing building. Because stone was the material associated with architectural masterpieces, cast iron was often painted in neutral tints such as beige to simulate it.
But external fixes could only last so long. By 1962, New York City officially declared Soho an enormous commercial slum. Highway Commissioner Robert Moses proposed clearing this “wasteland” and building an expressway through it. Strong opposition emerged, and in 1968 the city rejected the proposal.
Shortly thereafter, artists in search of low rents and large spaces (300 square meters was an average size) arrived. Many of these lofts had spotty heat and electricity, but in a tightly packed city like New York, few occupants complained. Their studio/lofts were vast enough for roller skating, and while residents may have had to walk 15 minutes down dark streets to buy milk, they were treated to the sounds of Blondie or Talking Heads rehearsing.
You probably know the end of this story: those pioneering Soho artists were pushed out by condominium developers, and the early galleries were shunted aside by shops – some would say far too many shops. Some are homegrown fashion and design labels such as Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Vivienne Tam, but major international brands -- Apple, Prada, Prada, Dior, Patagonia – have established beachheads here too.
What goes around, comes around…The wealthy have reoccupied Soho and the old factories along Broadway are often occupied by the industrialists of today: tech companies.
Best known for:
- All manner of shopping, from High End to High Street Cobblestone streets, historic cast iron buildings, lofts Prince Street, where Charlotte’s (Sex & The City) gallery was located
Where To Shop:
- Shoes, makeup, fashion…If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. For big brands visit Bloomingdale’s, Uniqlo, H&M, Apple Store, Sur Le Table (all things kitchen), Jill Sander, APC, Marc Jacobs, Emporio Armani, CB2, Adidas SLVR… the list is endless
New York Originals:
- For Women: Opening Ceremony, Ric Owens, Kirna Zabete
- For Men: Palmer Trading Co., Jack Spade, Seize Sur Vingt
- For kids: Scholastic Store.
- Other NY Originals: Pearl River Mart (all things Chinese), MiN (scent), Kate’s Paperie, Global Table, Ingo Maurer (lighting/sculpture), De Vera (beautiful objects), Kiosk (just go)
Where To Eat & Drink
- Omen. Delicious country Japanese cooking.
- The Dutch. American comfort food by the talented Andrew Carmellini.
- Hampton Chutney Co.. Great for a quick, reasonably priced Indian-inspired lunch.
- King. Romantic room, seductive food, great for a date.
- Souen. Vegan, macrobiotic, healthy and tasty -- seriously.
- Jimmy at The James Hotel. Best New View of Lower Manhattan.
- Crosby Street Hotel. Just beautiful.
- ‘Ino. Intimate and adorable wine bar.