The rankings: 1-10
Thu Oct 12 2006
South Portland Avenue between DeKalb and Lafayette Avenues, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
The king of all New York blocks seems straight out of Sesame Street, not only for the unbroken rows of brownstones and brick townhouses, but also because it's still home to the diverse crowd for which Fort Greene has become known: The old guard of the black middle class shares the street with transplants from far and near; kids and senior citizens roost on stoops. Slate sidewalks and a canopy of London Plane trees, plus proximity to the C and G trains and the nearby cluster of great bars and restaurants, make this block a standout. And that's not mentioning Fort Greene Park, which begins right where South Portland meets DeKalb. "It's just beautiful," says four-year resident A.R. Swan, "and it's a relief from the hubbub of Fulton Street." Bonus: +2 points for a great neighborhood vibe that springs from the commingling of cultures; there's plenty to do and it's nearly free of tourists (except forgivable visitors to BAM).
Gramercy Park South between Park Avenue South and Irving Place, Gramercy Park
Gramercy Park has been considered an elite urban oasis for more than 150 years, and its southern stretch offers a rare mix of early-19th-century townhouses, including one of the city's largest Victorian mansions, the National Arts Club. Yet it's the gated private park, occupying a moderate-size but densely green plot between East 20th and 21st Streets, that defines the enclave. The leafy expanse is accessible only to residents in the surrounding buildings, who are granted coveted keys. (Some would say this lends the area a certain snootiness.) The historic district has a slew of long-standing establishments, such as Pete's Tavern, and is conveniently close to bustling Union Square. Across the park, Ian Schrager recently unveiled his idiosyncratic makeover of the 82-year-old Gramercy Park Hotel. Bonus: +4 points for a rich history (Stanford White did renovations on the block; National Arts Club members have included U.S. Presidents; the next-door Players Club, founded by Edwin Booth, attracted Mark Twain and Winston Churchill), and access to -New York City's only private park.
West 20th Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, Chelsea
Few streets offer such respite from Manhattan's frenetic pace as this part of 20th Street (and its neighbors immediately to the north and south). The southern side is flanked by a pristine collection of Greek Revival row houses, while the north side is home to the General Theological Seminary, occupying an entire city block. The seminary's 19th-century architecture comes with all the trimmings, including ornate wrought-iron fencing, lush overhanging trees and a colossal bell tower that transforms this one-block strip into a provincial European village. "It's wonderful to hear the church bell toll," notes Kathryn Tucker, who lives in a townhouse she says was once occupied by bombshell stage actress Anita Morris. "I wake to birds chirping and kids playing." Bonus: +3 points. Steeped in history, this location puts you right in the thick of things, including the Chelsea gallery district, yet retains a feeling of being removed.
45th Avenue between 21st and 23rd Streets, Long Island City, Queens
Ten Italianate townhouses, high-stooped and made from Westchester stone, are the stars of the block-long Hunters Point Historic District. The houses on this stretch of 45th-Avenue, mostly built during the 1880s, also include well-preserved examples of the French Empire, Queen Anne and neo-Grec styles popular at that time. Residents use the word oasis to describe their tree-lined street, a refuge of in a part of Queens still dominated by light industry. Bonus: +2 points for great local art destinations like P.S.1 and 5 Pointz.
Convent Avenue between 143rd and 144th Streets, Sugar Hill
As Manhattan's affordable middle-class neighborhoods rapidly become extinct, this block, with architecture that echoes the City College of New York's Gothic Revival style, shines as a movie-perfect example of quiet excellence. Sunday afternoons find residents holding forth on stoops, talking with their pastors on the sidewalk or playing touch football on a side street, along with a varied mix of dog walkers. Catherine Boston has lived in an apartment building on 143rd for ten years. "It hasn't changed that much," she says about her stretch of Sugar Hill. "I love that I feel safe here at night and in the summer." But earlier this month, Boston let her lease expire, because she can't afford the rising rent. Given her experience, it looks like access to this area, like so many others before it, will soon become more limited. Bonus: +2 points. The grace of the Sugar Hill Historic District means the area still feels like part of the neighborhood that Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall and tap-dancing superstars the Nicholas Brothers once called home.
Montgomery Place between Prospect Park West and Eighth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Strolling down Montgomery Place induces a museumworthy trance. Stunning brownstones, old-world apartment buildings and a terra-cotta-colored minimansion fill this tranquil block-long street off Prospect Park. Leafy trees and planters full of colorful blooms add a pristine touch, while the mix of imposing late-19th and early-20th century limestone and brick buildings flaunts grand detailing. Arched doorways, curved staircases and a stained-glass oval suggest you're in a European fairy tale more than a bustling Brooklyn neighborhood. Lucky residents who tire of the solitude are mere minutes from Seventh Avenue's action and the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket.
Beck Street between Longwood Avenue and East 156th Street, Longwood, Bronx
Turning onto Beck Street from Longwood Avenue is like entering a New York of yesteryear. It's lined with stunning Renaissance Revival brownstones, which in turn are often lined with neighbors who hang out while kids play soccer or basketball in the street. It's one of the warmest, most inviting places in the city, with Bill Rainey Park and St. Mary's Park nearby; several bodegas and restaurants around the corner; and beautiful trees whose cascading branches give the block a green serenity for much of the year. Bonus: +1 point. This block is part of the Longwood Historic District and has an exceptionally friendly feel for being in the midst of the urban jungle.
Coffey Street between Conover and Ferris Streets, Red Hook, Brooklyn
Red Hook isn't everybody's thing, and that's a huge part of what draws people here. The combination of community, sea air, the bustling waterfront and, in recent years, plenty of cool places to eat and drink offset the distance to the subway—especially if you call this stretch of Coffey Street home. The quaint townhouses are nestled amid peace and quiet (and birdsongs!), and the warehouse on the block adds to the industrial vibe without being grotty. Granted, life is easier here with a car (or at least a bike), but residents get a singular New York City flavor in a highly unusual setting. Bonus: +3 points for the amazing view, especially at the end of Coffey Street on Valentino Pier—where you'll find people fishing, launching canoes and kayaks, or taking in fireworks, with Lady Liberty's front side about as close as you'll see it from land.
Charlton Street between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street, Soho
Tucked into a pocket between commercial Varick Street's daily hustle and bustle and the splashy all-night swagger of Soho, this quaint block is like the nerdy guy in school who—upon further inspection—turns out to be a hunk. The robust trees that line the wide, sunlit block are healthier than most New Yorkers, and the string of primarily owner-occupied brownstone, capped off by the Little Red Schoolhouse's brainy older sister, Elisabeth Irwin High School, boasts staggeringly clean sidewalks—at a price, of course. "People love this block and really work on their homes," says Chris Morley, an agent at Citi-Habitats. "You've got the luxe condos, and then superupscale brownstones with crazy upgrades like glass roofs and pools in the basements." Bonus: +1 point for a West Village feel without the full WV price tag, and for easy access to several downtown neighborhoods.
West 78th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues, Upper West Side
There's no denying that the UWS boasts some of the most beautiful places in the city, and when it comes to defining exactly what makes the hood so striking, this slice of West 78th Street pretty much sums it up. Conveniently sandwiched between the Museum of Natural History and Amsterdam Avenue, the block is lined with gorgeous brownstones, each boasting wide staircases that ascend to large glass-plated doors. Along the curb stands an abundance of tall, thick trees whose branches on either side reach out and meet in the middle, creating a green cathedral effect when the leaves are full. With Central Park a block away, and with neighborhood staples like Zabar's, Fairway, and the plethora of restaurants lining both Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues close by, it's clear why this block stands out as one of the best in the (Upper) West.
Aesthetics: Design, cleanliness and the overall condition of housing
Amenities: Restaurants, dry cleaning, etc.
Green factor: Not only trees and parks, but waterfront access
Noise and traffic
Public transit: Proximity to public transportation and the length of a trip to midtown
New York-ocity: The feeling of an only-in-New York spot
Affordability: A relative term, defined by by median sale and rental prices in the immediate vicinity
Want to know how we came up with our rankings? Click here to read the full methodology behind our 50 best residential blocks.
Block stars | The rankings: 1-10 | The rankings: 11-20 | The rankings: 21-30 | The rankings: 31-40 | The rankings: 41-50 | Local color | Up our alleys
Previous | Next