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The rebirth of Downtown Manhattan, New York City

David Hudson discovers a new vibrancy and buzz in the Big Apple’s financial district

The rebirth of Downtown Manhattan, New York City
Julienne Schaer | NYC&GO
One World Trade Center rises above Downtown Manhattan

New York City’s downtown and financial district is changing: As it inevitably would.

No one who witnessed them can forget the events of 9/11. Since that time, the area around the former World Trade Center towers has been scarred. Sixteen years on, that scar has gone some way to healing.

One World Trade Center

I first came to New York in 2002, just six months after 9/11. The WTC site was still a closed-off scene of devastation. I’ve returned every 2-3 years since. The development and rebirth has been dramatic, but moreso in the last couple of years.

New Yorkers know that life has to move on. The downtown financial district now stands in the shadows of another tower – the new One World Trade Center. The highest building in the Western hemisphere, since its opening in 2014 changes to the local area have picked up speed.

The residential population in Lower Manhattan has more than doubled since 9/11. Some big banking groups have moved out since the financial crash of 2008: all those new residents, and visitors, need places to eat, drink and shop.

New vibrancy

The financial district used to fall silent at weekends but there’s a tangible buzz and vibrancy in the air.

Tourists began to return in greater numbers when the official memorials to the Twin Towers were unveiled on the tenth anniversary of the attack.

These giant, sunken fountains stand in the original footprints of the twin towers. Water cascades from their edges, disappearing into square holes in their center. The names of those lost in the north and south towers are engraved along their edges.

One World Observatory deck (photo: Tagger Yancey IV)

One World Observatory deck (photo: Tagger Yancey IV)

Three years after the unveiling of the memorials, One World Trade Center opened. The observatory on the 102nd floor has understandably become a popular tourist haunt.

It offers a stunning view towards Midtown and out over the Hudson River and Upper Bay towards Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty (toy size from this vantage point). There’s no rush either – with a café and restaurant area allowing you to prolong your visit … just remember to buy a ticket online in advance if you want to beat the queues.

Creative influx

One World Trade Center is gradually filling with businesses. Time Inc. and Conde Nast are two of its most high-profile inhabitants. Their arrival has brought hundreds of creatives and media workers to the area, boosting the numbers of restaurants and hotels.

Tiffany Alves, a senior sales manager at The Beekman hotel agrees that the arrival of particular businesses in the area has made a huge difference in the last two years. Showing me around the stunning property, opened in 2016, she tells me the relocation of Gucci and other luxury brands to the area is prompting a shift, with Fashion Week events also stamping their mark on the district

The Atrium at The Beekman

The Atrium at The Beekman

The Beekman is typical of several new hotels to make their mark on the area. The 287-roomed property is housed in former law offices on Nassau and Beekman Street. The historic, beautiful building dates back to 1881, and was lovingly restored over a two-year period, overseen by designer Martin Brudnizki.

It’s now a dark, gothic, luxurious addition to the city’s hotel portfolio – not to mention a quirky one. A pile of suitcases stands to the side of the lobby: the top one peeks open. Inside is moss and running water. It’s surreal, in an Alice in Wonderland meets Prohibition-era chic sort of way.

Do check it out for the Temple Court restaurant or the neighboring Augustine (overseen by chef Keith McNally), which is a lighter, French brasserie style of affair.

Experience The Ride tour of downtown Manhattan

Experience The Ride tour of downtown Manhattan

Ride into New York history

If history is your passion, Downtown Experience The Ride offers a brief overview of the downtown area. This tour coach has expansive windows, and passengers sit in rows running sideways from back to front (as opposed to side to side).

You’re taken on an immersive, interactive tour of the downtown district, with a chirpy tour guide recalling the area’s history, before inviting you to don 3D headsets to see the area in centuries past. Actors perform routines outside the windows at strategic points to further enhance the experience.

The soaring Oculus

Another recent addition to make a big impression on the area is the Oculus. Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, it’s a major transport interchange that connects the World Trade Center buildings and a new Westfield Shopping Center.

The soaring, dove-shaped building has instantly become one of the most photographed tourist spots in New York, and is destined to rival Grand Central Station as the city’s most readily identifiable transport hub.

The Oculus transport hub (photo: David Hudson)

The Oculus transport hub (photo: David Hudson)

Adjoining this is a new Westfield shopping mall. Besides the many stores on offer, the city’s second Eataly food emporium opened here in 2016 (following the first Eataly in the Flat Iron district).

This giant celebration of Italian cuisine sells every type of Italian food imaginable and features half a dozen places to eat – from gourmet dining to ready-to-go sandwiches. Across the street is the new Fulton Center, offering further transport routes and more food options.

Federal feast

Another new food addition to the area is the Blue Ribbon Federal Grill (84 William Street, New York City, NY 10038), opened in March of this year by brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg.

A stone’s throw from Wall Street, this fine dining room is dimly lit by a row of signature chandeliers with palm-like lampshades. Meat, poultry and seafood are the specialty, with an extensive wine and cocktail list.

Grilled shrimp salad at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill (photo: Steve Hill)

Grilled shrimp salad at Blue Ribbon Federal Grill (photo: Steve Hill)

Visiting last month, I sampled a daily special of tuna tartare on grilled avocado. Although excellent, I could easily have eaten twice the portion size (to be fair, the waiter did warn me this particular dish was small). I ended up enviously eyeing up the fried chicken with wildflower honey that the man at the next table was clearly devouring with finger-lickin’ relish.

Arlo Soho

A little further uptown is Arlo Soho. Like Yotel in Hell’s Kitchen, the Arlo keeps rates low by offering micro-rooms that maximize every inch of space. Opened just a year ago, the aesthetic is contemporary, clean and modern, with pale wood adding warmth and color. It features the obligatory rooftop bar, and has a public restaurant, Harold’s Meat + Three. It’s worth visiting for its Southern-inspired, fuss-free dishes.

Meat + Three at Arlo Soho

Meat + Three at Arlo Soho

Other new additions include the Wooly Public in the Woolworth Building and a new Nobu at 195 Broadway. Old favorites such as The Odeon, which has been running since the 1980s, have benefited from the recent increase in downtown footfall.

Construction continues on the remaining World Trade Center towers and Liberty Park. Once completed, the transformation of the financial district will be complete.

9/11 Memorial

The changing face of the area is awe-inspiring and sobering. It underscores the fact the events of 9/11 will inevitably recede into history. Few beneath the age of 20 will even remember the fall of the towers. But it’s an event that New York will never allow to be forgotten.

If visiting the area, do go to the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It doesn’t look all that much from the outside, and on entering, I thought it might be a straightforward display of remnants from the towers and tributes to those who died. Yes, it is all those things but so much more.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum (photo: Jin Lee)

The 9/11 Memorial Museum (photo: Jin Lee)

The visually stunning interior (designed by architect firm David Brody Bond) lies in the former foundations of the twin towers. It proves to be an overwhelming experience.

I felt my moved within seconds of reading accounts of that fateful day, and could only handle a few short minutes in the memorial exhibition rooms, filled with photo upon photo of those who perished.

Downtown is changing beyond recognition, and there’s a new energy in the air, but the events of 16 years ago will continue to define the district for a long time to come.


David Hudson stayed at Dream Downtown (355 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011). This 315-room Chelsea property was opened in 2011 by Dream Hotel Group, with TAO Group (best known for its Las Vegas nightclubs and hotels) overseeing specific amenities such as the pool area and restaurants.

'The beach' at Dream Downtown

‘The beach’ at Dream Downtown

The metallic exterior of the hotel offers a sheen of Vegas glitz and glamour. The interior is a mix of pop-art inspired quirkiness (it’s not far from Andy Warhol’s original Factory studio) and luxury.

Amenities include the New York branch of Mexican-inspired Bodega Negra restaurant, signature swimming pool, and an in-house hair salon. Check out a full review here.

Holiday rates at Dream Downtown start at $259/night.

Getting there

Norwegian recently expanded its long-haul network with the launch of a second daily flight to JFK from Gatwick. The additional service will allow passengers to arrive into JFK first thing in the morning. It’s perfect for a day of sightseeing or business meetings.

Norwegian fly a twice-daily direct service between London Gatwick and New York JFK International Airport. Flights are operated by a fleet of brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft with two cabins – Premium and economy. Fares start from £149($196/€169) one way/£259 ($341/€293) return in economy and £419 ($552/€474) one way/£759 ($1,000/€859) return in Premium including all taxes and charges.

To book visit or call 0330 828 0854

More information

To coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, New York City hosts World Pride 2019. Expect more details about this historic Pride celebration to be unveiled throughout 2018 and early 2019. For more information about holidays in New York, and things to do, check – where you can also purchase a New York CityPASS. This includes admission to the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

See also

12 places to eat, drink and party in Hell’s Kitchen, New York City

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