Day Ninety-Four: Walking the Avenues of The Upper Upper West Side from Columbus Avenue to West End Avenue from 96th Street to 84th Street October 18, 2017

I had another beautiful day in the city. I can’t believe this is fall with the 82 degree days. It is so funny to see so many people in outdoor cafes this late into the season. It reminded me of when I was walking Morningside Heights in February and it was 82 degrees then. The weather has been very wacky this year and everyone says there is no Global Warming. That’s hard to believe.

I finally managed to sneak into the city to walk the Avenues of the Upper Upper West Side. I had spent the morning in the Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen again and they put me back to work in the kitchen. By the time I left chopping loads of chicken breasts up for the next day’s lunch, I was exhausted. With Thanksgiving around the corner, it is going to be busy in the prep kitchen. I had been in the prep kitchen during the holidays and it is a lot of work.

I started my walk this afternoon by relaxing with lunch at Zhong Hua Chinese Restaurant at 23 West 100th Street (See review on TripAdvisor), a tiny hole in the wall Chinese restaurant I passed when walking Manhattanville. This is right on the border at the official end of the Upper West Side meets the Douglas Housing Projects. I could tell most of the customers came from the housing projects by the customer base walking in. They must be very loyal because the staff knew who everyone was and said hello.

There are a couple of tables to sit at in the restaurant and it is not the fanciest place but the food is not bad. I had a Sweet & Sour Chicken lunch special. It was okay. Typical Chinese-American cooking. It tasted like fresh Chicken McNuggets with a standard red sweet sauce and served with white rice. The combination lunch special was $6.00 with a Coke and was not bad. Not the greatest but not bad. It filled me up for my long walk around the neighborhood.

Columbus Avenue was my first part of the walk. Columbus Avenue was the new trendy avenue when the city started to gentrify in the early 80’s through the crash of ’87 and now has settled into a more upper middle class street with a combination of upscale stores and chains. There are so many banks on the avenue that I do not understand how they survive. This was at one shining moment the center of the island with all the new innovative restaurants and shops opening up here starting with Museum Café opening right across the street from the American Museum of Natural History (it now houses a Shake Shack five restaurants later). As someone noted in New York Magazine, it looks like a suburban mall with the parking (which is true for most of the island now).

In the upper 90’s, Columbus Avenue has turned into a series of large apartment buildings that must have been started in the late 90’s. It has changed the complexity of the neighborhood which was once all low-lining buildings. The border shared with Manhattanville gets even weirder with a Whole Foods and new luxury shopping one block from the Douglas Houses. It is a strange move but it seems that everyone is using the Whole Foods from all over the neighborhood so some marketing person was thinking.

Once you cross over to the 80’s blocks, the architecture turns back into the more traditional low-rise buildings of the turn of the last century which is what gives the neighborhood its charm. Like the rest of the city, there have been a rash of small business closings around the block as the twenty year leases that were signed in the 90’s when the neighborhood was still transitioning have come up and the complaints that the rents have tripled and quadrupled.  The mix is now around the museum bunch of extremely expensive restaurants and realtors . This is not the West Side I remember.

One store that does stand out as being different is the Wild Bird Feed at 565 Columbus Avenue that seems more a hospital than a retail store. It saves pigeons and doves and brings them back to health. The rest is a combination of chain stores and expensive decorating places.

Amsterdam Avenue is pretty much the same as the parts in the areas above 90th Street is new apartment buildings and stores. Most of the chains have moved up to this area with the new buildings. As you move to the lower 90’s, Amsterdam Avenue becomes a series of neighborhood stores and restaurants that are strictly local. There are many great ethnic restaurants as well as all the services from laundry places to shoe repairs and drycleaners. They have really kept Amsterdam Avenue for the neighborhood.

At the corner of 84th and Amsterdam Avenue again is the Urban Space garden that now is producing fall vegetables. It is amazing how everything changes in just two weeks. The kids were out cleaning up the beds when I visited again and the teachers are eager for you to see what the kids are doing. Try to stop by the stand and at least say ‘hello’ to the kids. Across the street from the garden is West Side Kids at 498 Amsterdam Avenue which was mobbed with families who were shopping after school. There are some small restaurants a few doors down that were loaded with families. I could tell the parents here like their East Side counterparts really look after their kids education and welfare.

Broadway from 96th Street to 84th Street is a series of chain stores and independents. This part of the avenue is quite nice because it has the island in the middle of the road with trees and flowers still holding on from the summer months. It is being lined with brand new apartment buildings that are sprouting up all along the avenue. I have never seen a block so in transition. This is Broadway from 110th Street straight down to Columbus Circle.

When you turn the corner onto West End Avenue, it is a whole other world. This is the land of prewar apartment buildings, old brownstones and single family homes. The side streets are unique brownstones where it looks like no two houses are the same. It is straight out of an exterior shot of ‘Sex and the City’.

If you are in the city for Halloween, there is a great holiday display outside the brownstone at West End Avenue and 90th Street. All sorts of movable ghouls and ghost are on display with a pumpkin demon flying up the side of the house. Some one is in the theater business here.

There is a beautiful tutored mansion that is being renovated on the corner of West End Avenue and 95th Street that you have to see. It looks like a traditional German home attached to a prewar apartment building. There are pillared twin mansions on the opposite corners of West End Avenue between 91st and 90th Streets with matching brownstones in the middle of the two homes. Both are being fixed up and the owners are very lucky to own such a beautiful, graceful homes. They look well-maintained and a little out of place with all the apartment buildings on the block.

The Swan House at 95th and West End Avenue is a elegant old building with interesting landscaping around it. People do love their potted plants. The fortress like apartment building at 645 West End Avenue has the most interesting light features on the outside. They look like a giant is holding lanterns. It is straight out of the late 1890’s. I have never seen a light feature like this one.

At West End Avenue and 84th Street, there is a plaque to composer Sergio Rachmaninoff, who lived in the building from 1926 to 1943. He did some of his most famous work when living in this building. Word of advice, don’t linger too long reading the plaque. The doorman will give you funny looks.

There is another gorgeous mansion on the corner of West End Avenue and 91st Street that has been fixed up and again harks back to the time this was an exclusive neighborhood (more so than then now) and lined with private homes. This whole area between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive from 66th Street straight up the west side of the island is lined with interesting apartment buildings. Each one is more unique than the other. It is a real change in these two blocks both in the architecture of the buildings and the feel of the neighborhood. It seems more quiet and reserved and the people walking along the streets seem more serious than their neighbors one block away. I just got that impression on the people living there by walking around at all hours of the day.

Dinner that night was at Cheesy Pizza at 2640 Broadway on the corner of 100th Street (See the review on TripAdvisor & my blog DiningonaShoeStringinNYC). The pizza is excellent made excellent by their delicious tomato sauce. I get so disappointed by many of these pizzeria’s in these neighborhoods that I pass. They look so good and end up having tasteless food (see review on Arturo’s on the East Side. Great portion sizes at a great price but no flavor to the food).

Not at Cheesy Pizza. The pizza is full of flavor and loaded with their delicious sauce and loads of cheese. They have some excellent deals with eight specials available all day long for $5.00, which is a steal in this economy.  I had the personal pizza with a Coke and you got four nice slices of pizza that is freshly made for you. I was not only impressed with the quality but with the friendly service as the guys behind the counter seemed happy to see me.  I guess its the cop thing again. This place warrants a few more visits.

Before I headed downtown, I made a special trip to Blue Moon Bakery at 2740 Broadway and 105th Street for dessert (See review on TripAdvisor & my blog DiningonaShoeStringinNYC). The pastries here are excellent and rival their counterparts in other parts of the island. The nice part is they are very reasonable. Nothing is over $5.00. The quality is excellent and the staff is not snotty like some of the bakeries on the East Side where they want to charge you $20.00 for a cake that costs about $3.00 in materials. I know rents are high but come on.

Blue Moon Bakery is the home of the Crumuffin, which I have talked about before. I got a little boring and got a Linzer Tart. It was excellent. The cookie itself was so buttery and tasted like it had just come out of the oven. The raspberry jelly was tart and sweet and the cookie broken apart in my mouth when I ate it. Like a piece of heaven.

That is the one thing about Blue Moon Bakery unlike their uptown competition. The product has not been sitting out all day long. The items are obviously bake in small batches throughout the day. Make the trip on the Number One Subway to 103rd Street to visit the bakery. Its worth the travel time.

Overall, I covered a lot of the Upper West Side, revisited a few haunts that I wanted to see again and got to relax and explore Riverside Park. The Upper West Side has so much to offer and I will see more when I walk the streets in the neighborhood.

 

 

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