Guide to New York: The Neighborhoods of Manhattan (Uptown)

Disclaimer: These are brief descriptions that do not do the neighborhoods justice. They are rife with vast generalizations.


Clinton has replaced the Globetrotters as the most famous resident of Harlem and that says about all you need to know. I once went home with a guy who lived in Harlem just as it was starting to re-emerge. He had a pit bull and his roommate paid the guy at the parking garage Viagra to watch his car ‘specially. There’s just not that much up there yet but what was once considered a dangerous neighborhood has, with the rising wealth of the city, become just another front on the battle for quality real estate on the island of Manhattan. Harlem had a ton of beautiful and neglected brownstones and underdeveloped (read: abandoned) buildings that are now renovated brownstones and office buildings (one of which houses Clinton’s offices).

The Upper East Side.

Generally speaking, this neighborhood is the one east of Central Park up to about 86th St.. It’s home to two populations: old money and new graduates. The old money lives along the park itself (5th Avenue), and up and down Madison and Park Avenues. The homes are huge and beautiful and insanely pricey. It’s a pretty place to be and is home to some of New York’s best museums (The Met, The Guggenheim, The Frick, Cooper-Hewitt, The Whitney) but is not so excellent for street life or anything unique. There are, however, a lot of very expensive stores along Madison if you’d like to damage your credit score in a single transaction.

There is a figurative set of railroad tracks running up Lexington Avenue, on the other side of which live the ex-frat boys and ex-sorority girls. They have all congregated here because they hope to inch a few blocks closer to the park if they marry well or rake in some financial industry bonuses by working 173 hours/week, thereby becoming uninteresting enough to move into a brownstone on 64th and Park. As a result of this homogenous colonizing, there are a lot of binge drinking bars, baseball hat stores and nondescript housing. If you’re moving to New York without a trust fund, chances are about half of the places you and your nine roommates can even remotely afford are going to be up here. Avoid it if you can help it. It’s not the New York you’re moving there for.

(The far east side is not as bad as the Lex/3rd Avenue area because it’s not convenient to the subway. If you have a bike or a chauffeur, you could do worse than living on York Avenue. Also, if you live on York, you can hit my favorite pizza place on the corner of 85th and York. Don’t move there right away though because they’re digging the new subway line right now, so it’s going to be noisy for a couple of years. Of course, after it quiets down, the subway will be in and the rents will go up, so yeah, maybe you should move in now and just plan on getting a lot of exercise and no sleep.)

For those of you from San Francisco, The UES is the equivalent of the Marina + Pac Heights + Twin Peaks, only with older money.

The Upper West Side.

West side of the park. The accessible and interesting part of it runs further north than on the east side because of Columbia University’s presence on 115th St.. The neighborhood is also more accessible because it’s narrower, so the red line (1/2/3/9) can get you closer to where you’re going. Besides Columbia, the UWS is home to the Natural History Museum (fantastic) and the best selection of grocery stores in the city (Zabar’s, Citarella and Fairway).

All of the psychotherapists have congregated up here, so if you haven’t been feeling yourself lately and you can muster the inner strength to reach out, this is probably where you’ll end up. It’s nice to be able to get a decent eclair on your way to or from therapy (depending, I guess, on which end of your session you need custardy comfort). I like the UWS a lot. It’s close to the park and is also home to a lot of money but the university and Lincoln Center have brought in the academics and artists, so it’s not staid like the UES. There are flea markets on the weekends and it’s a little grittier and the shopping and dining are more interesting. If you’d like to stroll around and hit some shops, get off the 1/2/3/9 at 72nd St. and walk up Amsterdam or Columbus. It’s not edgy or boutiquey like the downtown neighborhoods but you will be able to get tea and scones at Alice’s (reserve or take out if you’re going at peak times) or pick up some half-pound, best-ever cookies at Levain.

Midtown / Times Square

Don’t ever, ever, ever let anyone tell you this is a nice place to live unless you are a.) going to school in the immediate vicinity, or b.)…. never mind. There is no second reason. Likewise, if you are visiting New York, do not stay here unless you think the Magic Kingdom is the best darn place on earth. In which case, I am not your best source for information about New York, so you should probably stop reading. You will visit Midtown during your stay/life, no doubt. Grand Central is here (train station). Port Authority is here (bus station). The Theater District is here. Columbus Circle. Flagship Macy’s. The Empire State Building. Madison Square Garden (train station below, events above). The Daily Show. Bryant Park and the NY Public Library. MoMa. Radio City Music Hall. The part of 5th Avenue that you think you want to shop on. St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Chances are your first job will be here. Yada yada yada.

The main point is that it is the most un-New York neighborhood of New York, populated as it is with a crazy number of tourists who would love nothing better than to eat (again) at TGI Friday‘s, be crowded by a bunch of people just like themselves and buy overpriced T-shirts. It’s the Midwest of Manhattan at New York prices. If you want to see people just like you – visitors, that is – you could have stayed home. Also, you will pay a premium to see them, so it’s a double whammy.

There’s a 50/50 chance that anyone who looks like s/he knows where s/he is going is not in fact a New Yorker but a bridge and tunnel-er, which is the New York phrase for someone who had to cross the water from somewhere to get there (New Jersey or Long Island usually). You can tell who they are by the size of their hair (her), their track shoes with a skirt (also her – Working Girl, anyone?) or their lack of interesting clothes (both him and her). These people are also like you only local. My advice? Don’t go to midtown unless you have a specific destination in mind, like your job or a show or a movie in Bryant Park in the summer. And H&M is not a destination.


Categories: NYC (there)


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