An Ode to the Financial District, NYC’s Most Underrated Neighborhood
I moved out of the Financial District a month before Hurricane Sandy swept through town. My subway station was the Whitehall St R, a clean, underutilized platform approximately 17 escalators underground. (That's about three miles, for those following along at home.) When the storm arrived, the station flooded in biblical fashion. Street cats floated down Exchange Pl on rafts of garbage. Chaos reigned, and rained, and may have even reined -- though I can't be certain. Even the banks closed. I heard they weren’t happy about it. From my new apartment in Brooklyn, I grinned at my good luck and invited Manhattan-exiled friends to come crash.
Three years later, it feels less like luck, and more like regret. Have you been to the Financial District lately? It’s extraordinary. Last time I was there, I saw a marching band in full regalia engage in hand-to-hand combat with a phalanx of irate hot street-cart vendors. All for sport, of course. After the battle, they shook hands & ate hot dogs. Then we skipped rocks across the Hudson to Staten Island, laughing the whole time.
There is peace in New York City, and it rests its head in the Financial District
The Financial District is this city’s most enchanting neighborhood. Period, full stop. It’s got everything you want. Well, not really -- this is still New York City, after all, a galactic bailiwick whose official motto was, until very recently: “Attention peons, relentlessly grab at tiny moral victories from this frothing maelstrom of chaotic melancholia until you die. Also, try our pizza.” You may not nab a washer/dryer, even here (though I did).
But still! The Financial District has the small moments of comfortable humanity that New Yorkers elsewhere simply could neither fathom, nor afford.
It’s got subways, those rumbling, lumbering shit-chariots that lurch beneath the oil-slick asphalt. The Financial District has the Five Boroughs’ highest concentration of lines, a varicose thicket of convenience that spreads out in either direction to span the entire city. Forget crosstown transfers and station-to-station schleppage. The city is yours for the swiping. Hell, with a single slide of that little yellow card, you can travel north from Wall St to Montreal, or to Mosholu Parkway -- whichever comes first.
The Financial District has bars, and they are good. For a long time, this was not true. The streets were flanked by indistinct drinking establishments, where red-nosed stock jockeys smoked cigarettes and splashed stale beer onto scuffed shoes and wondered who the hell you hadda know around here to get some Billy Joel on the jukebox, ferchrissake. Or at least, so I’ve heard. It makes sense -- there’s still plenty of that to be had. Stumble into spots like Whitehorse Tavern, Killarney Rose, or Fraunces Tavern and you’ll be transported to that weird ‘90s culture vacuum where PDA still stood for Personal Digital Assistant and the Twin Towers still stood at all.
And yet, the neighborhood scene has long transcended that grim moment. On sunny Saturdays and crisp Thursday evenings, Stone St is alive, a roaring, three-block, blue button-down river with swirling-sundress eddies and biergarten-table flotsam and bars for cliff banks. High above the cobbles soar hushed-voice swank-nests and rooftop perches. Pier A, for the longest time a cirrhosed concrete appendix protruding from the Battery’s southwestern edge, has been surgically transformed into a wonderous seafood bar the length of a football field. Yes, the drinking is good down here at the edge of the world.
It's the best, and it doesn't need your approval.
I miss the silence. It booms through the Financial District’s abandoned canyons most evenings. At first, you won’t know what new devilry approaches on the heels of this absent whir. Then, when nothing materializes, and no new sound crashes into the vacuum and your eardrums, you will smile. There is peace in New York City, and it rests its head in the Financial District too.
The parks in the Financial District will make you cry with their ornate splendor, history, and comfort. There’s Gouverneur Lane, a tiny pocket of brick pavers and interlocking trees wedged between skyscrapers. There’s the Elevated Acre, which is precisely what it sounds like: a lush green oasis floating above the buzz of the FDR. If it’s too crowded (a rarity), wander over to the East River, where you can do the same open-air basking on Pier 15’s incredible grass sundeck. Or walk south and catch the ferry to Governors Island. Battery Park is a gorgeous waterfront tumble. I would flatter it further, but why bother? It’s objectively the best park below 14th St. It doesn’t need your approval.
For these reasons (and the four others that I’m keeping secret until my final hours on this Earth, at which point I will remove my false molar, unfold the scrap of parchment they’re written on, and whisper them, in confidence, to a nearby newspaper delivery boy who will, emboldened by my trust, grow up to become president), the Financial District is New York City’s best neighborhood. See you down there.
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