The old saw is, it takes seven years to become a New Yorker. More accurately, I’ve heard it said that you’re a real New Yorker when you don’t just know where everything is, you know what used to be there, too. New York City real estate turns over at a remarkable clip, with stores, restaurants, galleries and bars opening and closing literally every day. So a block you know one year like the back of your hand might indeed be nearly unrecognizable a few years down the line.
When we opened CFNYC’s 26th St location, five years back, we were more than a bit worried about taking space in that neighborhood. Sure, it was a half block from Madison Square Park, central and subway accessible. But it was also kind of an armpit. Would our members feel safe, we wondered, leaving the gym at night after class?
Just after we moved in, Hill Country, a pretty good but very popular BBQ joint, opened across the street. That gave us a navigational landmark nearby. And it lent us a critical mass of people on the street early evening. But otherwise, the block – and the whole neighborhood – remained largely a mess of hair extension boutiques, wholesale import/exporters, and abandoned buildings for the next couple of years.
In the last year or two, though, the whole neighborhood turned. The Ace and NoMad hotels opened around the corner one way; Eataly popped up around the corner the other way. And about six months back, the single block of 26th we’re on suddenly became the epicenter of hot.
In the last half year, we’ve seen the openings of a jazz club (Toshi’s), a whiskey bar (Maysville), a jazz club whiskey bar (Flatiron Lounge), a high end sports bar (Greybar), a gourmet grilled cheese joint (Melt), and the downtown sister of a restaurant – Danji – that has long been one of Jess and my favorites (Hanjan). Literally all within two hundred feet of the gym’s front door.
Of course, as fast as things come together, they also fall back apart. Having lived through the rise and decline of Hell’s Kitchen – moving in just as bars and restaurants were opening up, and departing as Times Square and Phantom of Broadway gift shops engulfed the entire neighborhood – I’m well aware of how tenuous cool can be.
Still, for the moment, I’m more than thrilled. Especially given that the rest of NYC is slowly turning into corner-to-corner bank branches, I’m gladdened by anything else opening up in these days before peak ATM. Especially so if it just happens to be on a block where I spend several afternoons a week.