#5: Nolita & Little Italy

Manicotti and the Man, together at last.

street scene, best NYC neighborhoods

Photo: Lisa Vosper

No longer just the fabled home of spaghetti joints and mob killings, Little Italy has evolved into a multifaceted neighborhood, where fashion boutiques outnumber Italian restaurants and the former Church of San Salvatore has become the Holy Trinity Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral.

Now two distinct ’hoods—trendy Nolita to the north and touristy Little Italy to the south—the area is special because of its diversity. You can still get some of the city’s best pizza at Lombardi’s or, if you feel like cooking for yourself, pick up kitchen appliances at one of the old restaurant-supply stores on the Bowery. But these days, businesses like Ace Grinding and Snap Button Co. share blocks with sample sales and vintage clothing shops, and the Italian-Americans who remain coexist with recent immigrants and condo dwellers (check out the new 123 Baxter Street, and its 64-car automated parking facility), as well as countless tourists, shoppers and barhoppers.

The evolution continues, and not everyone is happy about it. One local, who declined to give her name, spent much of Labor Day putting up flyers urging residents to oppose a new nightclub planned for the corner of Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets. She sees the arrival of the velvet ropes (clubs have already popped up near the Salvation Army Bowery Mission) as part of a wave of gentrification that is pushing working-class people and immigrants out. “What Nolita really means is ‘no lower-income tenants allowed,’ ” she says.

Of course, Nolita does have its fans. “We definitely saw some changes in the neighborhood, and that’s one reason why we picked this location for the business,” says Ana Gallo, operations manager at rice pudding haven Rice to Riches, which opened on Spring Street in 2003. “The little boutiques here now bring in lots of different types—locals, tourists and people from uptown.”

Actor Frank Aquilino, a.k.a. Butch the Hat, grew up in Little Italy in the ’70s and never left. “The neighborhood’s changed a lot,” he says, adding that he misses the basement dice games and the way everyone used to know everyone else. But, he says, he can still get a plate of linguine after midnight at La Mela or Umberto’s Clam House, so he’s not planning to give up his Mott Street apartment anytime soon.


street scene, best NYC neighborhoods

Photo: Jodie Love

Word on the street


Wendel Johnston, 46, sidewalk salesman
“I’ve been in the fashion biz in New York since the 1980s, and the Nolita area is the best in the city. There’s tourists, sure, but the locals here really appreciate the art. You don’t realize how many people actually live in this area, and how much they care.”

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Blocks below Spring Street are shorter than in the midtown grid, and curving north-south streets add variety. A mix of people live in the neighborhood too, including recent immigrants, longtime residents, blue-collar types, artists and affluent professionals. You’ll find tenement buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as newer buildings and restored ones. Some residents feel they are being pushed out by development, but from an aesthetic standpoint at least, certain projects (like the Candle Building on Spring, to be turned into three townhouses) involve the renovation or repurposing of buildings rather than their replacement by cookie-cutter towers.

Next: #6: Hell’s Kitchen