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September 22, 2015 |  214 Views
Neighborhood Roundup: The Upper West Side
By Evan Kanarakis
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The Upper West Side seems to be an oft-maligned neighborhood in Manhattan. Spanning between West 59th and West 110th Streets, and from Central Park West out to the Hudson River, I’ve heard folks criticize the area as ‘bland’ and ‘absent of street buzz’. It’s a harsh assessment. Sure, this is a primarily residential, affluent neighborhood and far quieter than say, Hell’s Kitchen or the Lower East Side. Here, you’re more likely to encounter young couples pushing baby strollers and old grandmothers talking shop out front of an old Brownstone than hipster-types. But this is also not your ‘Panic In Needle Park’ Upper West Side of old, and that’s a good thing, though it’s debatable as to whether the character of the area has been enriched by the addition of frozen yoghurt joints, designer boutiques and a Bed Bath and Beyond.

 

The neighborhood is home to a sizeable, established Jewish community, young professionals starting families, as well as a considerable student presence given proximity to Columbia, Fordham and Juilliard. This diverse mix might mean you can’t quite put your finger on the exact character of the Upper West Side but it also ensures that enough options exist catering to diverse tastes. And, when all else fails, you’d be hard pressed to bemoan a visit to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (Broadway at 62nd St.), the American Museum of Natural History (Central Park West at 79th St.) or of course, Central Park- three of the finest gems in the city. All make for a welcome respite from the Big Apple’s ceaseless bustle (albeit still with the obligatory masses of tourists).

 

When it comes to eats, there are far too many kitchens in the Upper West Side worthy of mention than could adequately be shared in this space. For those blessed with expense accounts, the neighborhood is host to several excellent but pricey French or French-inspired restaurants, including Jean Georges (1 Central Park West nr. 59th St.), Ouest (2315 Broadway nr. 84th St.), Picholine (35 W. 64th St. nr. Central Park West) and Thomas Keller’s Per Se (inside the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle). We hear the sushi at Masa (also in the Time Warner Center) is some of the best you’ll ever have, but are yet able to front up enough cash for the $450+ prix-fixe menu (excluding drinks).

 

More slender budgets will enjoy top-notch Greek at Kefi. Altogether more casual fare can be found at The Great Burrito (405 Amsterdam Ave. nr. 80th St.), whose guacamole is a neighborhood favorite, and at Zabar’s Café (2245 Broadway at 80th St.) for no-frills diner standards. We’d be remiss, of course, if we didn’t mention Gray’s Papaya (2090 Broadway nr. 72nd St.). Here, two hot dogs -with just the right amount of snap- and a papaya juice can be had for $5. But with Central Park and Riverside Park (often missed by tourists- Riverside Dr. at 72nd St.) nearby, why not take some food to go and lay out on the grass with a picnic? Barney Greengrass (541 Amsterdam Ave. nr. 86th St.) is an iconic New York go-to for bagels, blintzes, smoked salmon and sturgeon, and the Levain Bakery (167 W. 74th St. nr. Amsterdam Ave.) make some of the finest, densest choc-chip cookies you’ve ever had.

 

When it comes to nightlife, a few of us continue to mourn the demise of Yogi’s a few short years ago –a popular neighborhood dive where PBR poured freely to a jukebox soundtrack of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. But enough with the past, venues like the Lion’s Head Tavern (995 Amsterdam Ave. at 109th St.), Dive 75 (101 W. 75th St. nr. Columbus Ave.), and Jake’s Dilemma (430 Amsterdam Ave. nr. 81st St.) fit the bill just fine for those whose primary concern is beer and stiff drinks at reasonable prices. Given the college presence you’ll inevitably wind up rubbing shoulders with a few frat boys, but if you can handle a dose of the backward-hat and lacrosse brigades, all three get our vote as solid Upper West Side watering holes.

 

For something a little more refined, try the Italian wine list at Barcibo Entoeca (2020 Brodway nr. 69th St.). At Prohibition (503 Columbus Ave. nr. 84th St.) they mix great cocktails and plays host to an eclectic mix of music nightly (most importantly: without a cover charge), and our go-to for live jazz in the area is at Smoke (2751 Broadway nr. 106th St.) or Cleopatra’s Needle (2485 Broadway at 92nd St.). Finally, while The Boat Basin Café (W. 79th St. and the Hudson River) is only open March through October, weather permitting, it’s a relaxed outdoor space that’s a favorite among many New Yorkers. The sunset views over the Hudson are a treat, the drinks relatively inexpensive, and all in all it makes for a great destination to round out any summer evening spent on the Upper West Side.

 

 

evan kanarakis

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