Life Begins Below 14th Street

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For the longest time, I thought that I just didn’t like New York.  It just seemed so gray, so drab, so…boring.  And generic.  What was it that got people excited about New York, again?

For years, that’s what I thought.  Then on a trip a few years ago, it suddenly hit me — all of my trips had been primarily concentrated in midtown.

So I headed downtown…and quickly fell in love.

Soho Scene

THIS was the New York of my dreams — the Village, SoHo, the Lower East Side, and all those lovely neighborhoods bordering the region beneath 14th street.  This is where brightness was restored to Manhattan.  This is where the PEOPLE lived — not people in suits.  I belonged in this neighborhood.

Kiosk Entrance

I had actually been downtown on one occasion before having my epiphany.  It was my first semester of college and I went with a group of fellow classmates to buy fake IDs.  It just took a few minutes of standing in the middle of a market in the Village before we were approached and taken into the back of a tattoo parlor.

Our photos were snapped, we each paid $50, and we each received a shoddily constructed Connecticut ID.  I had already carefully selected my alias — “Kate Collins” — but the Connecticut ID listed my address as 1257 Rolling Hills Lane.  “Are bouncers supposed to believe that there are more than a thousand on a LANE?” I asked the seller.  I got an indignant grunt in reply.

Those IDs were TERRIBLE.  Anyone could tell they were fake.  But they did get us into some of the crappier bars in Fairfield County.  And just a few months later, I got a much better fake ID from New Jersey with a much more realistic address — 145 Summer St.

But anyway, I digress.  My one visit to the Village was spent hoping that we wouldn’t be caught by the cops.  Not exactly an ideal introduction.

Black and White Village Scene

On my most recent trip to New York, I was using my new Nikon D5100 and working on getting the hang of shooting in manual.  I’m getting there.  Some of my pictures came out really nice, and I’m starting to recognize where I need to improve my work.

But downtown New York City certainly doesn’t lack for photogenic material.  I love the storefronts here.

Porto Rico Importing Co

I love how the streets looks like ads straight out of a magazine.

Faded Coke Ad

I love the sense of humor — like a dangling set of shoes hanging over an electrical wire.

Shoes Rule

And while the shopping can quickly get expensive in Manhattan, you can always find a cute cheap souvenir downtown — like $3 bracelets.

New York Market

Or, alternatively, a crazy frog hat.

Crazy Hats

And on a sunny Saturday, there’s no better place to be in New York City than a park set between busy city blocks, where you can admire the architecture and landscaping and people-watch for the better part of an afternoon.

Village Building

As for food? Restaurants in the Village and SoHo are some of my favorites. But I headed over to the Lower East Side for a meaty dining experience.


I finally made it to Katz Delicatessen.  I had always assumed that Katz, home to the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene from When Harry Met Sally, was a bit of a tourist trap — but let it be known that IT DESERVES THE HYPE.

Wait until you see how many celebrities have visited — their images literally cover the walls.  And that pastrami sandwich?  THE MOISTEST MEAT I HAVE EVER EATEN.  It fell apart.  I didn’t need to put any mustard on it (and I love my mustard) — it wasn’t just glistening, it was dripping.


The next time I return to New York, you can bet that I will be spending the bulk of my time below 14th street. This is my zone.

And there is always room for surprises.  Like this converted firehouse that I had to photograph.

Anderson Cooper's House

I took a picture of it because I liked the style of the building.  Turns out it’s Anderson Cooper’s house.

What’s your favorite neighborhood in New York?


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38 thoughts on “Life Begins Below 14th Street”

  1. In my 2 visits to NYC, I barely left the village and spent as little time as possible downtown. Sounds like that was a good choice. I just love the energy of New York. It feels like everybody is living life to the fullest. I’d rank it a close 2nd to Chicago for my favorite big city in the U.S.

  2. It’s funny, I spent a summer in NYC working an internship and would hear co-workers lament all the New Yorkers who never go north of 14th Street, because “there’s nothing up there.” The locals know what’s up! Midtown really is a drag… my favorite neighborhoods are Greenwich Village, Lower East Side, Chelsea and Williamsburg/Brooklyn.

    1. Ha! How funny, I know of people who say the same thing! I checked out a room when I was interning as well in the village and the girl renting “bragged” that she hasn’t been above 14th Street in YEARS! As a big fan of the UWS, I didn’t really understand. But it’s cracking me up to hear I am not the only one who has heard that statement.

  3. i love the upper west side, personally … i always feel like i’m not “cool” enough to hang out downtown. haha.

    and your pictures look great! inspiring me to get out there with mine again!!

  4. Is the dangling shoes not a symbol that drug dealers use to show there are drugs nearby? I always thought that’s what it was. Other than that, I absolutely LOVE this post. And your pictures are beautiful. You seem to really be getting the hang of the new camera. Keep up the good work!

    1. All potentially true, but fear not – I have a sneaking suspicion that the shoes here are just shoes and are indeed meant to be funny or ironic or nothing at all, or are at least theoretically allowed to be interpreted as such.

      For starters, there are 4 pairs of them – probably not the work of 4 warring gang lords battling over the mean streets of Chelsea. More importantly though, West End between Chelsea Piers and the Gehry-designed IAC isn’t exactly an area known for street-corner drug trade. Maybe the gangsters threw their Asics over the wire to let the gallery artists know that they had inside deals on local real estate!

      Also, I hate to date myself in saying it, but the shoes on a wire thing kind of became more of a clichΓ© and urban legend than an actual signal of drug activity circa 1995.

  5. I agree, midtown sucks! I work in midtown and I feel like it’s soo stiffling. Downtown and Brooklyn are wayyy better. There are some fantastic bars and spots to hang out in Brooklyn. My favorite is a Brazilian bar called Bembe…great caipirinhas!

  6. My first visit to NYC last year was somewhat of a disappointment – but then again I spent the bulk of my time in Midtown and the Financial District… both area are full of tall dark, gray buildings with very little sunshine. I think that’s why I was not impressed by NYC… so my next trip I think I am going to do what you suggest and spend more time below 14th Street.

    P.S – love the photos.. I think you are getting the hang of that new toy πŸ™‚

  7. I am SO with you on this, Kate. I’ve now been to NYC 3 times, and while the first two trips were fun, I didn’t really fall in love with the city during them. Yes, it’s cool to see Times Square, walk around Central Park, or see a Broadway show. But Midtown really isn’t the part of NYC you can see yourself living in, and that’s what I need to do in order to really love a city.

    My last trip to New York, though? I, too, spent some time in SoHo and the Village, and finally *got* why so many people love NYC.

  8. My first ever trip to NYC, back in 1998, I stayed in Greenwich Village. These days I stay in Chinatown and I’ve always loved that part of the city. There’s also some great coffee shops down there. Midtown has its moments, mostly great architecture, but below 14th Street are the places to hang out.


  9. I was at Katz’s a couple weeks ago and…. ooohh man, that sandwich, just bread and pastrami is the BEST sandwich I’ve ever had.

    Was in NYC for the Eric Clapton Crossroads Guitar festival but this sandwich, ohhh mman almost…almost beat the show. It was that good….. now I’m hungry.

  10. I live right around the corner from Katz’s and can totally attest to how awesome Lower Manhattan is. I currently work in Midtown, but we’re discussing moving our offices to SoHo–and if that happened, it would be a rare event to get me above 14th Street!

  11. Thank you, Kate, for your post. Downtown NYC has been my base for over 13 years now, and jaded me read your post and smiled. Your photographs look fantastic too! I loved hearing about your sense of wonder about a place I am overlooking all too often these days. Now that I discovered your blog, I look forward to reading more about your travels!

  12. Anyone who visits New York for the first time has to visit Midtown, it is a part of what gives New York its character. Downtown is my favorite part of New York too, but every pocket of the city has something new and interesting to explore. That is what makes New York such a great city.

  13. Midtown is a giant tourist trap. Unless they work there, many New Yorkers avoid it like the plague (there are some great restaurants though). I’m glad you found a new appreciation for the city below 14th street. The Upper West Side, Harlem and neighborhoods in boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens are also FABULOUS!

  14. I have only been to NYC one time, for a single day. And it was a WHIRLWIND of a day. I’m pretty sure our friends wanted to show us everything there was to see over a twelve-hour period, so what I remember is a blur of incredible architecture, delicious food, interesting shops, and vendors, and people. It was exhausting. I would love to go back and explore at a slower pace, though I’m not sure they do that in New York. πŸ˜‰

    Here’s my photo tour from that day:

  15. I love Katz – if I can get a seat! It’s the only place I’ll stand in line for a sandwich.

    Even after two years commuting into NYC when I went to school there, I still find parts of the city that completely surprise me.

  16. This post got us super excited for our spring in NYC! After doing all the touristy things during our last two visits, we can’t wait to explore more of the neighborhoods, especially Brooklyn. If you have any tips for places we should check out, please let us know πŸ™‚

  17. It took me a LONG time to love NYC. It actually took living in Harlem for a year, and then deciding to leave for 6 months of travel. Then I decided I was really going to miss it, and started exploring it deeper than I had before in preparation for my departure. Now that my trip is coming to an end, I can’t wait to move back there. If you haven’t checked out Harlem yet, you definitely should! Dinosaur BBQ is one of my favorite NYC restaurants and it becomes the favorite of everyone I bring there.

  18. I’m so glad that you made this post! I’ve been living in the East Village for two years now and am so surprised by how few tourists make their way down here. The East Village is by far my favorite neighborhood!

    By the way, those graffiti steps are the steps on the way up to Kiosk, right? I love that store!

  19. Chelsea for variety of architecture, LES for bars and esoteric foods, the impossible-to-navigate West Village for its distinct sense of place and history, the entire Village for everything in fact, SoHo for shopping and also for sense of place, and more – below 23rd (and above about 55th), I can probably name something to love about any neighborhood. But these are my favorites, for sure, and all below 14th except for Chelsea.

    Of course, every Manhattan neighborhood has its Brooklyn analog, and I love living on Atlantic Ave smushed between the Piers & Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn Heights, and Cobble Hill – with Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, and Fort Greene all within a 15-minute walk. My favorite thing about the city is truly its neighborhoods, and my favorite thing about Brooklyn is just how neighborhoody it is.

    1. I LOVE neighborhoody cities. Walking around neighborhoods is one of my favorite things to do. Some great neighborhoody cities are Boston, Paris, London, Granada, and Buenos Aires.

  20. This is hilarious. I lived in NYC for 7 years, and it took me a year to go below 34th street on my own, and 2 years to descend below the 14th. I am an Upper East girl through and through. That said, I loved seeing lower NYC through your eyes.

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