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Destination Guide

New York City, arguably the worlds most vibrant and sprawling metropolis, occupies five boroughs, each with its own distinct identity. After all, before the historic 1898 consolidation, Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island were each independent municipalities. Consolidation only came after decades of wrangling. Brooklyn, to this day fiercely independent, nearly derailed the entire process.

Manhattan, home to the most recognizable sites and much of it laid out in the innovative grid plan, dominates popular perception of New York City. Its most famous districts are listed below.

Wall Street and the Financial District
New Yorks first district remains its most historic district. The stalwart investment banks of Wall Street coexist with landmarks like the Trinity Church. The hyper-ambitious, be-suited throngs chat on cell phones and take lunch at hot dog stands. Visitors ponder the beauty of skyscrapers and the quaintness of cobblestones. Battery Park draws New Yorkers from all boroughs for its panoramic views and excellent rollerblading.

Long the national epicenter of African-American culture, Harlem remains proud of its past accomplishments as it looks to the future. As home to Americas most influential artistic, literary and cultural movement (The Harlem Renaissance), the district gained worldwide notoriety. A study in contrasts, Harlem has seen some of New Yorks worst poverty and quietly hidden some of its wealthiest citizens. Twenty years ago, many visitors feared Harlem. Today, as a multi-ethnic Harlem benefits from a booming economy, tourists clamor to visit the home of great jazz, great food and a deep-rooted history.

Greenwich Village
If the winding streets of this historic neighborhood could talk, they would speak of poverty and prosperity, free love and socialism, gay rights and reform. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Greenwich Village drew free spirits from around the nation. Writer Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote hedonistic poetry and Eugene O'Neill reinvented American Drama. As the years went on, rents inevitably rose. Now, the Villages? townhouses and apartments are some of the most expensive in the city. Meanwhile, New York University students capture the neighborhoods old spirit as they romp through Washington Square Park. A diverse array of shops, rowdy bars and music clubs vie for business along Bleecker Street.

East Village
Once a poor, multi-ethnic neighborhood, for the last twenty years artists, students and yuppies have gentrified the neighborhood. Gentrification did not come quickly or easily, leading to the Tompkins Square Park rent riots of the early nineties. Today, the turmoil has died down, the homeless live elsewhere and long-time residents bemoan the presence of newcomers. However, the artistic spirit that initially brought about the change remains evident. Urban gardens and art exhibits sit besides cafes, craft shops and vegetarian restaurants. Performance artists still emote and musicians still sing in the parks. Rents are high, but nose rings are acceptable.

Soho & Tribeca
Once home to massive factories, artists took over the spaces and transformed desolate industrial wasteland into bustling urban commerce. Galleries, designer shops, sophisticated restaurants and trendy bars followed soon after the artists. Today, galleries thrive among the chaos creating New Yorks world-class art scene. Alas, no more rent bargains exist ' the once raw lofts now command rents to match anything on Fifth Avenue.

Lower East Side
The latest neighborhood to receive the 'Soho? treatment, the citys worst slums once existed on these streets. Gradually, conditions improved but the neighborhood remained poor, often attracting new waves of (mostly Hispanic) immigrants. Today, rents are rising and the yuppies are arriving. The historic Orchard Street Shopping District operates among new, hip bars and nightclubs.

A misnomer, as every conceivable Asian ethnicity lives in Chinatown. Restaurants, grocery stores and trinket shops line the ever-crowded streets. One need not travel to Hong Kong to obtain a $10 Rolex watch; plenty are available here. Dim Sum and other favorites lure diners on practically every corner. Recently, some non-Asian hotspots have opened and created quite a stir.

Little Italy
Frank Sinatra, Italian Restaurants and kitsch draw tourists to this lively neighborhood. It is all that remains of a once proud (albeit poverty stricken) community of Italian immigrants. The San Gennaro Feast still welcomes its throngs, but Old St. Pats now offers its services in Spanish and Chinese rather than Italian.

Gramercy and Flatiron
The majestic Flatiron Building lords over this beautiful, eclectic district marked by loft spaces to the west and pre-war residences to the east. More than a century after its construction, the apartment buildings and townhouses around Gramercy Park remain coveted addresses. The districts diverse shops and excellent restaurants draw New Yorkers day and night. The historic Petes Tavern helps New York treasure its past while the numerous "Silicon Alley" internet companies bring the city into the future.

Once a proud working class community, Chelsea recently became a posh address. As rents in Greenwich Village rose, the vibrant gay community moved upwards to occupy Chelseas many brownstones and loft spaces. Others naturally followed and todays Chelsea reflects New Yorks ethnic and cultural diversity. Known for its many nightspots, club goers party at Cheetah, Twilo and Rebar.

Meat Packing District
Chelseas energy was bound to spill downward into the industrial wasteland of the far west. Now, some of the citys hottest destinations occupy spaces once reserved for slaughtered meat. First, Hogs & Heifers made redneck chic. Then, alternative spots like Mother and the Cooler opened. Now, Fressen draws the citys most sophisticated and trendy crowds.

As the name implies, midtown is smack in the middle of everything. Nobodys sure where Midtown begins, but most agree it stops somewhere around Central Park. It probably begins somewhere in the thirties. Despite border confusion, most understand that EVERYTHING happens in midtown. Publishing houses, quite a few financial firms, import/export companies and fashion houses all do business here. The Trump Tower entices shoppers, along with Saks and all those glorious shops along Fifth Avenue. Skaters skate and tourists wave to the Today Show cast at Rockefeller Center. The spectacular St. Patricks Cathedral offers serenity and spirituality. The citys most expensive restaurants serve fine food, and best of all, taxis are plentiful. From Midtown, you can get anywhere and see anything. You haven't seen New York if you haven't been here.

Times Square & Hells Kitchen
Many New Yorkers miss the almost gone seediness of Times Square. Disney Stores have replaced sex shops and strip clubs. Development swallowed up a few beloved newsstands and diners. However, most people begrudgingly admit that its better this way. Free spending visitors, after all, adore everything from the souvenir shops to the enormous billboards of Victorias Secret models to the latest mega-musical. A few blocks west lies Hells Kitchen, now serving as an oasis from the Times Square chaos. Once a slum, its now a community on an upswing with eclectic restaurants, bars, shops.

Upper East Side
Park, Fifth and Madison have always been posh addresses. Whether in the gilded mansions of yesterday or the modern apartments of today, old money and high society have made their home here. Consequently, shops to serve them sprouted up and down Madison Avenue while the residents endowed museums and collected art. Today, the Baby Gap coexists with art galleries and antique shops. Further east, new money has overtaken the old Yorkville slum and yuppies share railroad apartments.

Upper West Side
When the co-ops of the East Side were freer to restrict residents, the Upper West Side became home to new money (and often Jewish money). Then, as "modernist" Eastsiders tore down their pre-war palaces, Upper West Side residents kept their old buildings. Thirty years later, renters value Upper West Side pre-war real estate, with its solid (often neo gothic or Victorian) architecture. Yuppies, successful artists and apartment-sharing twenty somethings flocked here. Today, the buildings along Central Park West house some of the citys most notoriously picky co-op boards (Jerry Seinfeld, approved; Madonna, denied). Meanwhile, bars and restaurants catering to Long Island and New Jersey folk (a.k.a Bridge and Tunnels) continue to sprout like weeds along Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

More famous in name than Manhattan, this massive borough stretches from the festive Coney Island to the elegant Brooklyn Heights. Wherever Brooklynites hail from, they are a proud lot. Proud of the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Proud of the Bridge that bears the name Brooklyn. Proud of their Museum of Art and Childrens Museum. Proud of Williamsburg and Park Slope, two neighborhoods seized from poverty. Proud of Peter Luger and Planet Thailand. Some are even proud of the accent.

From Flushing to Astoria to Long Island City, Queens is experiencing a quiet renaissance. Landlords continue to restore buildings as Manhattan rent refugees discover what this working-class borough offers its residents. Terrific, inexpensive ethnic restaurants pepper the entire borough, as does a deep community spirit. Queens is also home to the Kaufman Astoria Studio and the American Museum of the Moving Image.

The Bronx
Home to the Yankees, one of the nations finest zoos, and an extraordinary botanical garden, the Bronx offers much to visitors and citizens alike. Alas, the poverty of some of its districts often overshadows the positive aspects of this multi-ethnic borough. Recently, areas such as the South Bronx have shown signs of benefiting from the current economic boom.

Staten Island
Once primarily farmland, Staten Island continues to be New York Citys most understated district. A thriving middle and working class suburb, thousands of Staten Islanders ride the famous ferry to work in Manhattan. They proudly declare that Staten Island gives them the best of New York combined with all the conveniences of the suburbs. Staten Island offers its own museum, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, and charming zoo.

Melissa Nurczynski