Close-Up on Kips Bay

Kips Bay, in lower east midtown, was famous in Revolutionary times as the site of a skirmish between British forces and George Washington's army of rebels. The rebels lost. Since then, the area's fame (or, perhaps, infamy) has steadily diminished, to the point that few New Yorkers today even recognize it as a distinct neighborhood. Indeed, a perfunctory tour revealed just two businesses using Kips Bay in their names�a dry cleaners and the 15-screen Loews Kips Bay theater complex. Most people think of the area bounded by Park Avenue, 27th and 34th Streets, and the East River as nothing more than a southern extension of Murray Hill.

Still, lack of distinction is not always a bad thing, particularly in the context of Manhattan's hyperventilating real estate market. Relatively low rental rates and a diverse collection of restaurants, caf�s, and bars make Kips Bay an attractive location for New Yorkers seeking a low-key alternative to the city's general bustle.

High-rise apartment and condominium complexes of mid-20th century vintage dominate the Kips Bay skyline. Designed to house young, middle-class couples and families, by and large they continue to serve that function, although these days Mom probably has a job, too�Dad's income just doesn't buy what it did in the halcyon days of Ike and Jackie-O. The Kips Bay Towers, designed by I.M. Pei in 1961, are the most famous and desirable example of the era's version of the American dream. The 1,113 units�available to rent or purchase, in sizes from studio to three-bedroom�enclose a three-acre private garden where residents can sunbathe while the kids enjoy a safe frolic. It's nice enough for the likes of former mayor Ed Koch, who calls the towers home.

And while Kips Bay lacks a major cultural attraction�or even a public park�it is only a short subway or cab ride from many of New York's most famous destinations. Chelsea lies directly opposite on Manhattan's west side; the theater district is not far to the northwest; Gramercy Park is due south; and to the north, the museums that cluster on Central Park's eastern flank are served by the 6 train. For such an unheralded neighborhood, a surprising number of residents say location was the motivating factor in their decision to move in.

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There's little friction with the area's many public service facilities, perhaps because of the bars.
photo: Holly Northrop/hnorthrop.com
Gripes about Kips Bay center on two things: long walks to the 6 train and the gauntlet of frat-boy bars along Third Avenue in the northern stretch of the neighborhood. (The presence of several major hospitals and a smattering of halfway houses and addiction treatment centers does not seem to create significant friction.) The nearest train stops are on Park Avenue, making for an unpleasant trek on a wet or snowy day. And the bar crowds spill onto the sidewalks at closing time, providing a nightly spectacle of drunken rowdies in rumpled business suits and two-pieces. Still, these headaches aren't bad enough to deter new arrivals: Rents and housing prices, while still low for Manhattan, have begun to rise. Want a slice of plain living on the island? Get it now�before it's hot.

Boundaries: 34th Street to the north; the East River to the east; 27th Street to the south; Park Avenue to the west.

Transportation: Subway: 6; Buses: M1, M2, M3, M15, M16, M21, M23, M34, M98, M101, M102, M103.

Main Drags: Park Avenue is home to several upscale restaurants, including Les Halles, where Anthony Bourdain delivers French classics and American tongue-lashings with equal aplomb. Kips Bay's only subway line stops on Park at 28th and 33rd Streets. Third Avenue is lined with bars at its northern end and restaurants on its southern reaches. The major cross streets, 28th and 34th, feature the standard Manhattan mix of bodegas, grocery stores, eateries, and light commerce.

Prices to Rent and Buy: Average rent: studio, $1,750; one-bedroom, $2,450. To buy: one-bedrooms from $475,000; two-bedrooms from $850,000.

Hangouts and Restaurants: Kips Bay enjoys a notable diversity of restaurants. At Yakiniku Juju, an intimate Japanese barbecue joint, patrons select the meats they want and grill them on a table-side brazier (157 E. 28th, btw. Lexington and Third). Vatan is one of the best-regarded vegetarian Indian restaurants in the city. As an added�and reportedly non-cheesy�attraction, the interior is built to resemble an Indian village, complete with a trompe l'oeil banyan tree (409 Third Ave., at 29th St.). Locals show loyalty and affection for Benjamin Restaurant and Bar, going out of their way to praise the friendly service and simple but well prepared dishes (603 Second Ave., at 33rd St.). Only want a drink? Like all New York neighborhoods, Kips Bay is well served by bars; just avoid the aforementioned dens on Third Ave.

Crime: The NYPD's 17th Precinct, which includes Kips Bay, is one of the safest in New York City. In 2003, the latest year for which data is publicly available, the precinct reported zero murders, nine rapes, 107 robberies, and 230 burglaries. Overall, crime is down sharply from 1997, the last time a precinct-wide study was released.

Representatives: City council: Margarita Lopes, District 2; Eva Moskowitz, District 4. State Assembly: Steven Sanders, District 74. State Senate: Liz Krueger, District 26; Thomas K. Duane, District 29. U.S. Representative: Carolyn B. Maloney, District 14. All Democrats.

 
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