Reboots are RISKY business—for every The Force Awakens, there’s a The Phantom Menace. Remakers have the punishing task of satisfying two audiences simultaneously: the established fan base, those who experienced the original run, and the new demographic, the young’uns looking for fresh twists among the familiar beats. Luckily, the force is strong with the new incarnation of Union Square Cafe, the beloved flagship of the formidable Danny Meyer empire that stood on East 16th Street since 1985, long before a Shake Shack patty ever sizzled on a griddle top. A rent spike at the original location prompted a move three blocks north to a 10,000-square-foot two-story space that’s nearly double the size of the bygone room; where the old boasted cramped low ceilings and a head-scratching multilevel layout, the new is a light and lofty setting designed by architect David Rockwell. For all of his updates, Rockwell also seasoned the space with nostalgia, little Easter eggs for the devoted set: the cherrywood service stations, the dark-green wainscotting, the quirky and colorful paintings that line the walls. The service is as well trained and personable as ever—though, recent meals commenced with long, winding PR spiels that we hope will be edited down as months go by—and a warm, convivial spirit still dominates the dining room. (Don’t be surprised if strangers stop to inquire about your bowl of tortelloni in brodo on their way to the restroom.) But the most crucial holdover is in the kit
Union Square is now a beloved spot for al fresco lunches, high-octane protests and farmers markets. But it took a long time to reach today's cheery, sunny status. Until 1831, the square was a graveyard for unidentified bodies, and didn't enjoy the fruits of its revamp to public park until the 1860s, when labor and union organizers started staging protests. Designed by the planners of Central and Prospect Parks Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, Union Square became a cosmopolitan hub by the 1870s.
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Today, it remains the city's essential gathering spot for activists and organizers, and a nexus point between the East Village, Flatiron and Gramercy neighborhoods. And the park is never without things to do. You can head to the Greenmarket on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays (8am–6pm) year-round; visit the holiday market come wintertime; and enjoy free movies, boot camps and beyond with Citi Summer in the Square.
To find out more about things to do, see, eat and drink in Manhattan, and discover other neighborhoods in the area, visit our Manhattan borough guide.