Easy Escapes: SoHo, New York

Buzzy streets, cool hotels, hip bars, must-go shops – here's our guide to the Big Apple's most lovable neighbourhood

Buzzy streets, cool hotels, hip bars, must-go shops – here’s our guide to the Big Apple’s most lovable neighbourhood

Why go? Last year more than a million Brits visited New York, and a good number of us headed for SoHo. At the lower end of Manhattan, and so-called because it’s south of Houston Street, this neighbourhood ticks many of our boxes with its lively cobbled streets, fashionable restaurants, eye-catching characters and fab shops galore. Whether you stay here or just visit, SoHo sums up why we all love New York.

When? Anytime… but the price of flights drops in the autumn and there are often discounts and deals to be had. Christmas is magical, while the January sales make a good excuse to nip over…

Feel the blues: the lobby at the Mondrian SoHo hotel

You really must… Shop, drink, dine, of course – but SoHo and its neighbouring districts also have some interesting sights. Top of the bizarre list is the New York Earth Room (closed Monday, Tuesday and all July, August; diaart.org), an art work by Walter de Maria on the second floor of a building in Wooster St. The all-white room is filled up to window level with dark, damp soil, and it’s been there since 1980. Around the corner on West Broadway, another installation called The Broken Kilometer features 500 polished bronze rods laid out in rows. Strange, but kinda beautiful…

SoHo is well-known for its cast-iron buildings dating from the 1860s with some particularly splendid examples around Greene St, and you might want to catch up on the latest movie at the neighbourhood Angelika cinema (angelikafilmcenter.com). The nearby Museum of Chinese in America (closed Monday; mocanyc.org) often puts on fashion-related shows – check out Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s (until 3 November) and Front Row: Chinese American Designers (until 1 December), which features well-known designers such as Anna Sui and Vera Wang. 

Fan club: learn about the glamour of Shanghai at the Museum of Chinese in America

Stay at: Always buzzing, Mondrian SoHo (mondriansoho.com) is the epitome of SoHo hipster heaven with its zesty interiors inspired by Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film La Belle et la Bête. From the party sounds playing in the low-lit lift to the often heaving Isola restaurant and bar, it’s made for enjoying some only-in-Manhattan moments. The 270 rooms come with uplifting blue and white interiors featuring floor-to-ceiling windows, and rise to 28 floors (the higher the better). Bathrooms are small but the beds are comfy with Egyptian cotton sheets, and the Regency-style furnishings mixed with tinted mirrors and chrome tables are fun. Crosby Street is in the heart of the action and one advantage of staying here is you can pop back for a little breather after all that shopping, then head out to find more thrills right on your doorstep. In October double rooms cost from £230; there’s a charge for wifi but ask nicely and you never know…

Free to join: the Club Room at the Soho Grand Hotel

Dine at: The Club Room at the Soho Grand Hotel (sohograndhotel.co.uk) is a good straight-off-the-plane starting point and decorated with engaging celebrity photos by Terry O’Neill. Pick up speed with a cocktail – maybe a Manhattan (obviously), or a signature warm-me-up Chester Rapkin with damson gin, campari and allspice (all £10). Easy bites include ramp (wild leek) risotto (£13) and baked wild branzino (seabass, £16.60), plus there’s a good live jazz trio on Friday nights.

For something trad, Osteria Morini (osteriamorini.com) is a popular neighbourhood Italian. The décor is dark and snug with stone flooring, wooden furniture and black and white photos of the mother country, and the menu features dishes from Emilia Romagna. A glass of house wine costs £5.50, highlights include crostini with dry-cured lamb and fava beans (£9.80 for three), the spallina – strap-shaped pasta with squacquerone cheese, rabbit and porcini (£14.80) – and cappelletti – truffled ricotta ravioli with prosciutto (£13.50).

For lunch or brunch, seek out the quietly cool Back 40 West (backfortynyc.com). Downstairs is best, and there’s an unstressing menu of hearty fare and shares including grilled kale and endive salad (£8.60) and a grass-fed burger with rosemary fries (£10). Other recommended ports of call are the Pegu Club (peguclub.com), for nostalgia-laced cocktails, the fash-pack favourite Cafe La Gitane (242 Mott St), and Jimmy’s on the 18th floor of The James hotel (jameshotels.com).

Where to shop: Ask your concierge for the free SoHo-NoLita Shopping Guide Map (acenewyork.org/soho-shopping-guide) which is perfect for plotting your route. While SoHo used to be arty, its stores are now an avowedly commercial blend of the familiar and cutting edge. In general the big names such as Missoni, DKNY and Ralph Lauren are mostly found around West Broadway with smaller, independent shops further east. There’s even a Bloomingdales in Crosby St now…

Oh so SoHo: climb the stairs to Opening Ceremony for the pick of the labels

Bring home: Look for US-made jeans at Rag & Bone (73 East Houston St; rag-bone.com) and vintage bargains at the Housing Works Thrift Shop (130 Crosby St; housingworks.org). Opening Ceremony (35 Howard St; openingceremony.us) stocks choice items from top designers along with its own label, and is set on three levels with a men’s store next door.

For gifts to take home, there’s a handy Museum of Modern Art Store (81 Spring St; momastore.org), or for something more quirky seek out nearby Kiosk (95 Spring St; kioskkiosk.com), which is hidden away at the top of a graffiti-scrawled stairwell and stocks well-designed international finds from Colombia to Portugal via German fountain pens and Taiwanese lampshades.

Book now: British Airways (ba.com/newyork) has flights from Heathrow, from £442 return in October, or get there in style aboard its all-business class service from London City airport, from £2,187 return. When you arrive, take one of the famous yellow taxis into the city centre (£37), and don’t forget you’ll need a visa-style authorization (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/).

Info: DK Eyewitness New York (£14.99; DK) is an up-to-date guide, and there’s lots of useful info at nycgo.com. For free wifi hotspots around the city see nycwireless.net.

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