December 15, 2015

SoHo: A Chic Neighborhood in Downtown Manhattan

Retail aplenty, the world's largest cache of mid-19th-century cast-iron buildings to gawk at, cuisines of all kinds: SoHo is a chic urban district with a past that predates the Revolutionary War.

by Nicole Haddad

Aether SoHo
Aether SoHo

Retail aplenty, the world's largest cache of mid-19th-century cast-iron buildings to gawk at, cuisines of all kinds: SoHo is a chic urban district with a past that predates the Revolutionary War. The charm of cobblestone streets, shopping galore, vendors of all kinds on every corner—this wasn't always the case. The site of Manhattan's first free Black settlement, the area has taken a circuitous path from farmland to light manufacturing mecca to architectural treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places. By the 1950s, a century after its commercial heyday, SoHo was referred to as Hell's Hundred Acres for its desolate streets lined with mostly empty factories and derelict warehouses. The Sixties changed everything. With the heady days of free love and free rent, artists took over the neighborhood's empty buildings for themselves. By the 1980s, they had transformed SoHo into an effervescent art scene full of blue-chip galleries and made loft living a cultural must in the process. But the inevitable cycle of the city has cycled now in SoHo: after the artists rescue a downtrodden neighborhood, it becomes a magnet for stores, restaurants, and residents and the corresponding increase in real estate values pushes the artists out. By the late-1990s, most of the galleries had moved to Chelsea, and SoHo had become a virtual sartorial emporium—and one of Manhattan's most desirable neighborhoods to own real estate in. That trend seems here to stay.

SoHo NYC
Cast-Iron Buildings SoHo NYC


Boundaries There are two schools of thought to SoHo's boundaries. While most people agree that the neighborhood is bounded to the east by Crosby Street, to the north by Houston Street (hence the name: SOuth of HOuston), and to the south by Canal Street, the western boundary gets a bit hairy. One camp claims that SoHo ends at West Broadway; the other, Sixth Avenue. It is a roll of the dice—but a fun one to traverse.

Getting there Various trains will take you to SoHo including the 6, C, or E trains to Spring Street, the N and R trains to Prince Street, and the R train to Canal Street.

Good eats This neighborhood is nothing to scoff at restaurant-wise. From cafes to high-end eateries, it's hard to go wrong with utterly charming yet delicious restaurants like Il Mulino Prime, Aurora, The Dutch, Blue Ribbon Sushi, Hundred Acres, and Navy. Interested in possible celebrity sightings? Visit Balthazar, a French bistro with an ambience that transports one to Paris. Since dessert should always be on the menu, take your pick from Ladurée (for macarons), or Mariebelle and Vosges Haut-Chocolat for, yes, chocolate.

Retail therapy As fashion-forward as SoHo is, it nevertheless welcomes the more generic. Broadway spans the two: the main thoroughfare offers both the ubiquitous chain store line-up (think Zara and J. Crew) and such highbrow retail spaces as the Rem Koolhaas-designed Prada store, which satisfy serious shoppers and architecture buffs alike. Some of our favorite SoHo shops include Opening Ceremony, Evolution, American Two Shot, Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Kirna Zabete, BDDW, and Michele Varian.

Gallery hop SoHo might be more fashion than art-heavy these days, but there are still quite a few galleries. Visit: Walter de Maria; William Bennett Modern; Martin Lawrence Gallery SoHo; Deitch Projects; Franklin Bowles Galleries; Opera Gallery; Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art; and Pop International Galleries.

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Pop Art Gallry in SoHo
Pop International Galleries