What to Do This Summer: Lower Manhattan

The big toe of Lower Manhattan dips into the water where the East River meets the Hudson, outlining a harbor rich with attractions. Three inviting neighborhoods in the area — Battery Park City, TriBeCa and the South Street Seaport — are easily reached by public transportation and offer breezy marinas, ample green space, destination restaurants and a multitude of art galleries. These days, out-of-towners are in scant evidence along the waterfront and Wall Streeters just a mere trickle, apparently in no rush to return to office buildings.

This is not the first time Lower Manhattan has been down. The 20th anniversary of the events of Sept. 11 is looming, but budget cuts mean the 9/11 Memorial & Museum can’t mount a commemorative exhibit. Hurricane Sandy further ravaged streets and businesses in 2012. Damage to lives and livelihoods from the coronavirus will take a while to heal. Yet a visit to any one of these neighborhoods — with time allotted for their riverfront promenades and piers — is bound to be restorative.

Battery Park City, a planned community built on landfill along the Hudson River, looks like a sterile canyon of mostly residential buildings. But nearer to the water’s edge, winding pathways lined with lush greenery give way to the full spectrum of New York Harbor — and it’s breathtaking.

The sweeping panorama frames the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, passing sailboats and the Staten Island Ferry. The air is briny and feels a few degrees cooler than uptown. Picnic tables and benches are freely provided throughout the neighborhood. Green space — Robert F. Wagner, Jr. Park, Nelson A. Rockefeller Park, Teardrop Park — is abundant.

The Battery Park City Authority runs and maintains the area, which includes an outdoor public art collection and Poetry Path, an installation featuring fragments from more than 40 poets reproduced on bench slats, pavers and signs.

Wagner Park is the setting for a series of free outdoor concerts, River & Blues, on Thursdays through July. The last, July 29, features Rev. Sekou & The Freedom Fighters at 6 p.m. Bring your own blankets and snacks. From Aug. 15 to 20, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., the park will host the 40th annual Battery Dance Festival, with free performances by dancers from around the globe. The festival will also be livestreamed.

The talents of PUBLIQuartet’s contemporary interpretation of chamber music will be on display at Belvedere Plaza, just north of the North Cove Marina, on Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. (free). This pretty marina is often bejeweled with yachts, and flanks Brookfield Place, an upscale shopping mall. Le District, a French-themed marketplace on its ground floor, and Hudson Eats, a food court up an escalator, were shadows of their former selves on a recent visit, feeling listless without the normal work force.

Business was overflowing, however, at Merchants River House (375 South End Avenue), nestled on Battery Park City Esplanade. The casual American bistro has two outdoor terraces and spectacular views. Spinach-artichoke dip with pita chips is fun to share ($17 at lunch and dinner; $12 during happy hour, Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.). Linger, if you can, until sunset.

This former manufacturing district is supposedly New York City’s richest ZIP code (10007), but dropping a fortune here isn’t necessary.

Pier 25 at Hudson River Park has an 18-hole miniature golf course ($10 for adults; $5 for children) and sandy volleyball courts. If you’re feeling flush, a seafood-focused menu at Grand Banks is served aboard a docked wooden schooner, the Sherman Zwicker, with expertly shucked oysters ($19.50 to $25 for a half-dozen).

Parallel to it is Pier 26, which opened last year and is more meditative, a habitat of local plants and wooden walkways. Lounge chairs, swings big enough to accommodate adults, and river-facing counters for setting down your coffee are designed to promote relaxation.

Several art galleries with free admission are along Walker Street (Bortolami, at No. 39; James Cohan, at No. 48; Lomex, at No. 86; and WINDOW by Anton Kern Gallery, at No. 91). Cortlandt Alley is worth a foray for Andrew Kreps Gallery, at No. 22. On Lispenard Street look for Denny Dimin Gallery, at No. 39; and Canada, at No. 60. Nicelle Beauchene, at 7 Franklin Place, and Postmasters, at 54 Franklin Street, whose current group show features mind-bending digital works, are other well-respected gallerists.

While a number of the galleries are newcomers, TriBeCa lost more than 60 storefronts because of the pandemic, according to Pam Frederick, the publisher of the local news website Tribeca Citizen. The shutdowns of longtime favorite restaurants like Sole di Capri, Tokyo Bay and Mariachi’s, plus the beloved Reade Street Pub, which had been home to a series of saloons since the 1800s, hit hard, she said.

“Tribeca is a low-rise village within a city,” Ms. Frederick said, “with a lot of good eating and drinking options that are owner-operated, making it very community-oriented.”

For instance, Lynn Wagenknecht and her son Harry McNally are usually on the premises at The Odeon (145 West Broadway), a legendary canteen since 1980. It’s hard to go wrong with a crock of creamy, tangy, breadcrumb-blanketed macaroni and cheese ($18) or the soothing three-egg omelet ($21).

Mudville 9 has been around for even longer, a classic watering hole since 1977 (126 Chambers Street). Rotating craft beers flow from taps, sold two-for-one during happy hour, Tuesday to Friday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Beef burgers and plant-based Impossible Burgers ($19 to $20) provide good ballast.

Since 2018, Frenchette (241 West Broadway) has been a talk-of-the-town bistro. It’s not hard to get a table these days and the sidewalk seating is lovely; to eat inside, proof of vaccination is required. The menu from co-chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson frequently changes but golden, crunchy fries are a constant, arguably the best in the city. On a recent visit they were piled next to a tender bavette steak bathed in shallot bone-marrow sauce ($45). It is worth paying for the bread ($8), a dense half-baguette served with radishes and a slab of custard-like Ploughgate Creamery butter.

That baguette is also sold at Frenchette Bakery, tucked away in an office lobby nearby (220 Church Street). If the buttery, salty, cheesy gougères (three for $5) are in stock, don’t hesitate. And, oh, the savory egg pastries! A recent one starred a jammy egg plugged into a round, multilayered croissant embellished with Comté cheese and pistachio-studded slices of mortadella fanning out like petals ($8).

Even if you’re not an overnight guest at TriBeCa’s Roxy Hotel (2 Sixth Avenue), step inside for live jazz performances in the bar or at The Django, a subterranean club. A sweet, red-hued cinema is also on the premises.

The paving stones in the South Street Seaport Historic District can be treacherous for heels and bicycles, but add character to this transporting maritime idyll on the East River. Fulton Street is lined with restaurants and shops, including a branch of the independent bookseller McNally Jackson, in small-scale brick buildings dwarfed by surrounding skyscrapers.

Head east on Fulton Street, crossing South Street, toward vintage vessels moored next to Pier 17. The redeveloped pier looks soulless and corporate, yet it has interior and exterior pizzazz. Roam to the far end where sturdy chairs and benches look out on the water, then to the north side, offering a fisheye lens perspective of the Brooklyn Bridge. There are long picnic tables for the public’s enjoyment.

The Greens, on Pier 17’s rooftop, hosts outdoor movie nights every Monday through August. Check the calendar for D.J. sets and upcoming live music shows.

A fleet of restaurants spans Pier 17, including the new Carne Mare, a bi-level Italian chophouse spearheaded by the chef Andrew Carmellini (The Dutch, Locanda Verde). David Chang’s resurrected Ssäm Bar and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s The Fulton, a seafood venue, are other headliners. The Fulton’s outdoor tables at the end of the pier are the most appealing, but the location comes with a price, like a margarita that unexpectedly cost $26.

Fresh-baked, pull-apart rolls sweetened with milk and crusted with cheese come gratis at Carne Mare. The menu is pricey, but snacks like king crab lettuce cups spiked with Italian chili crisp ($22) and mozzarella sticks gilded with caviar ($24) were deliciously worth every dollar. A sidecar made with Dudognon Reserve Cognac was $16, more in line with bar prices elsewhere in the city. Go now — advice in general for Lower Manhattan — before post-Labor Day crowds descend.


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