New York is a glamorous and gritty maze of dichotomy: from the Chanel-suit-wearing ladies of Park Avenue to the leather-wearing divas of downtown, there is huge gap. The cultural (and financial) divide between the creative caldron that resides in Brooklyn and the refined and established richness of the West Village is increasingly apparent. From Harlem to the Upper West Side, the distance is not long, but the differences are vast.
This complex labyrinth of opposites actually propels the machinery of the city and is in fact, what makes New York City great. New Yorkers remain creative, independent and powerful as always, continuously imbibed with the alchemy generated from its diverse population. This population, unlike any other I’ve seen, exudes camaraderie, compassion and colossal creativity. Most New Yorkers have their favorite neighborhood and mine is SoHo. From my abode I can observe all the greatness of this cosmic collection of counter culture.
Thousands of tourists walk these streets daily, searching for bargains on products not found in their native land. Locals, who vie for sidewalk space, have learned to live in the midst of chaos. Adding to the mix, are street vendors, paparazzi and hundreds of celebrities who aim to remain incognito. Before moving here, I always thought SoHo was an unbearably messy and pretentious neighborhood. Over time, I began to realize the charm hidden in its cobblestone streets and the historic cast iron buildings, which once were the homes and studios of virtuosos like Keith Haring, Maripol, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd and Basquiat. These same buildings have evolved into something a little more mainstream and now house every major fashion brand. Prada, Chanel, Alexander Wang and Catherine Malandrino are only some of fashion giants that make of this neighborhood an economic gem of the fashion world.
Over time I have learned to navigate the side streets, away from the crowds, and to discover hidden treasures of the locals. From restaurants to spas, from local brands to obscure cafes, everything here has a special feel and a unique story to tell. Once again, opposites sit side by side, smiling – the tiny, family-owned Italian café is around the corner from the home of $1800 shoes and $6000 handbags. I prefer the café – espresso anyone?
Sadly, but no less exciting, my neighbors are no longer famous modern artists (most of whom are no longer with us), but young models, actors and singers. Claire Danes, Justin Timberlake, Tyra Banks and Adam Sandler are just some of the people with whom I share my favorite spots. At Café Café I make my daily stops in the morning to grab some iced tea. At Ground Support I can’t pass on a grilled ham & cheese and a soy latte made to perfection. At night, a stop by Butter or Indochine for a meal remains a sure bet. There, an encounter with Anna Wintour, Madonna or Fran Leibovitz is a strong possibility.
A recent addition to the neighborhood is the beauty clinic Erno Laszlo, named after the legendary dermatologist who is known for his miraculous lotions and potions. Dr. Laszlo had royal treatment during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s – for it was in that time that he looked after the beauty of the queens of Hollywood’s silver screen. Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo, Ava Gardner and Katherine Hepburn were part of a very select group to receive his attention. For each of them he developed individual and secret formulas. After nearly twenty years away from the public eye, the same team responsible for the celebrated Molton Brown has acquired the Erno Laszlo brand. Inspired by Laszlo’s principles, this team hopes to restore the brand to what it used to be, a place in which its clients can expect the most exclusive treatment available anywhere, just like Marilyn did.
Perhaps one of the most talked about and sought after shops in the area is Treasure & Bond, part of the portfolio of Nordstrom. The appeal is its luxury items available for affordable prices in two gigantic floors. Selling furniture, housewares, books and clothes for all ages, this store reserves all its profit for charity. To make sure the wealth is distributed equally to those who in need, the charities change every six months
A stop for lunch is a must. Along with 100 Acres and others, The Dutch is another new arrival and its American Cuisine doesn’t disappoint. Starting with its freshly baked corn bread and onto fried chicken, every bite here feels like a little piece of heaven. SoHo is also home to one of the cities most renowned and successful Japanese restaurants. After more than twenty years, Blue Ribbon Sushi remains a favorite. The absolute freshest fish make this highbrow restaurant one of the best. Don’t be fooled by its discreet setting however, its permanence in this city is proof that the food is impeccable.
From dusk till dawn, breakfast to dinner, SoHo is imbued with so many magical qualities. I have grown to adore this neighborhood. Everything I need is only a few steps away and the word “subway” has vanished from my vocabulary. SoHo proves to be one of the most perfectly evolved areas in town, maintaining its original character and charm, even as masses of tourists and wealthy developers make their way through the historic cobblestone streets.
This article was originally published in Portuguese in Parochi Magazine, in Brazil.