Gramercy is one of the city’s most genteel neighborhoods, so you can imagine our surprise when a bartender, over a bowl of complimentary nuts at the Gramercy Park Hotel’s cozy bar, described the area as “mixed and eclectic,” adding that it’s even known for its “hookers and strip clubs.” Say what?! Gramercy isn’t about hookers and strip clubs! It’s about strolling along historic brownstone-lined streets and daydreaming about one day getting a key to the lush, verdant park, which is the last private park in Manhattan. It’s about wondering what really goes on inside the fabulously majestic National Arts Club. It’s about taverns and alehouses and flamboyantly myopic fights regarding Preservation, Boundaries, and Tradition. And if the park’s clanging wrought iron fences could talk? “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here,” they would say, semi-apologetically.
Boundaries: A matter of some debate but roughly 17th Street to the south, 24th Street to the north, Park Avenue to the west, and First Avenue to the east.
Transportation: Gramercy is easily accessibly from subway stations at Union Square (L, N, R, 4,5,6) and 23rd Street (6, N, R). Or take the M23 cross-town bus.
Main Drags: For those seeking nightlife, Third Avenue is loaded with bars, grocery stores, and restaurants. Tree-lined Irving Place offers an enchanting stroll through the historic section. An adorable strip of 19th Street, between Irving Place and Third Avenue, is called “Block Beautiful.” Word order pretentious!
Average Price to Rent: Prices vary depending on whether you’re renting in a pre-war walk-up or one of the new full-service luxury buildings in the area. The following are walk-up prices. Tack on a bit extra for the white-glove treatment. Studio, $1500 to $1800; one-bedroom, $1700 to $2300; two-bedroom, $3000 to $4000, three-bedroom, $4500 to $5500. You want a rental right on the park? Good luck. They might exist, but we’ve never seen one.
Average Price to Buy: Co-ops dominate the area. You’ll pay a 15 percent premium for a condo and a 25 to 35 percent premium to live right on the park. Studio, $225,000 to $275,000; one-bedroom, $275,000 to $350, 000; two-bedroom, $475,000 and up; three-bedroom, $850,000 and up.
Museums, Galleries: Everything you ever wanted to know about Theodore Roosevelt can be found on a tour of his three-story birthplace (28 East 20th Street). SVA Museum (209 East 23rd Street) features year-round shows by students of the nearby School of Visual Arts. Art-for-sale lines the walls of funky café and bar Push Café (294 3rd Avenue).
Green Space: Gramercy’s namesake park is located where Lexington Avenue ends, between 21st and 20th Streets. Coveted keys are given to those who live in the properties surrounding the park. Guests of the Gramercy Park Hotel can get in as well. The rest of us losers stand outside forlornly and peer in.
Cultural Institutions: The invite-only National Arts Club, interested in promoting public interest in the arts, is housed in the historic Tilden Mansion (15 Gramercy Park South). Events are occasionally open to the public. The Players Club (16 Gramercy Park South), located in founder Edwin Booth’s ornate former home, is an equally fabled private social club for actors and theater-lovers. Exclusive!
Local Landmarks: What building in Gramercy isn’t a landmark? There’s the Gramercy Park Hotel (2 Lexington Avenue), where a number of luminaries, including an 11-year-old JFK, have resided. There’s the Teddy Roosevelt house. There’s Pete’s Tavern (129 East 18th Street), the oldest bar in the city, whose patrons, during prohibition, would enter through dummy doors in a flower shop, and where O. Henry supposedly wrote Gift of the Magi.
Famous Residents: Mike Piazza, Ric Ocasek, Winona Ryder, John Spencer, Kate Hudson and Chris Robinson, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke.
Best Restaurants: Save room for one of pastry chef Claudia Fleming’s phenomenal desserts at the immensely popular though pricey Gramercy Tavern (42 East 20th Street). Seasonal courtyard dining, a signature wild striped bass dish, and the Garden Flavors Menu (a four course menu of vegetables) lure locals to romantic Verbena (54 Irving Place). Verbena chefs Diane Forley and Michael Otsuka also own Bar Demi, the 14-seat wine bar around the corner. Says Otsuko, “It’s an anti-testosterone type place. It’s quaint and intimate.” Guests can order from the dinner menu or a lighter bar menu. Nearby coffee and tea bar Irving 71 (71 Irving Place) is a favorite afternoon hangout for locals. Spot celebs at homey Friend of a Farmer (77 Irving Place), but be warned that at least one critic has clocked the food at “just mediocre.”
Best Bars: The Gramercy Park Hotel (2 Lexington Avenue) has two bars. The downstairs bar, which features vats of pineapple-infused vodka and has a classy, timeless feel with lots of red velvet, Belle Epoque furniture, and dark wood. The chic, recently opened upstairs bar (known as The High Bar) has an outdoor rooftop patio and a wait staff that makes you feel as if they’re doing you a favor. If sports bars and pubs are your thing, you’ll be well sated at Bar Fly (244 Third Avenue), Johnny Fox’s (316 Third Avenue), and Bull’s Head Tavern (295 Third Avenue). Push Café (294 Third Avenue), named for an Underworld track, features coffee in the day, a full bar at night, and, during soccer season, televised matches on Sunday mornings. And it has an enclosed smoking room.
Politicians: Councilwoman Margarita Lopez, State Assemblyman Steven Sanders, State Senator Liz Krueger, and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. All Dems.
Crime Stats: The 13th Precinct serves the lower portion of midtown Manhattan, including Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesent Town, Gramercy Park, the lower portion of Rosehill, and portions of Chelsea. As of August 17, it reported four murders, up three from last year; 11 rapes, down three; 191 robberies, up 26; 324 burglaries, down 75; and 86 felonious assaults, down 34.