«New York City Neighborhoods» : Exploring the Upper West Side

Interview by Rachel Brunet, director and editor-in-chief of Petit Journal New York

BARNES New York invites you in its series of articles untitled “New York City Neighborhoods”, where you can regularly discover the different districts of the city, in the eyes of French speakers who have settled there. They tell us all about their neighborhood, in their words, their tastes, their habits. Today we explore the Upper West Side with the sculptor Gaelle Hintzy-Marcel who has lived there for four years with her husband, Laurent, and their three children.

You’ve lived in the Upper West Side for four years. What attracted you to this neighborhood?

Clearly, what initially appealed to us was the proximity to Central Park above all, but also to Riverside Park. Another reason why we chose this neighborhood was to be close to our children’s schools; and not too far away by subway from Colombus Circle, where I work, and Chelsea, where my husband works.

Can you tell us about life in this neighborhood, the atmosphere? What makes it live, what drives it?

For us, the Upper West Side is above all a green and quiet neighborhood. Traffic is less intense there than elsewhere, and it is rare, except when we are on Broadway, to hear sirens! We overlook a green corridor between two streets, and it is the singing of birds that wakes us up in the morning.

The Upper West Side is bustling with a plethora of family-friendly, casual, and sometimes a bit trendy restaurants. A multitude of bars and cafes too. People stroll in the evening mainly on Amsterdam and Colombus Avenue to go out, settle on the terraces in summer. The sidewalks are wide and traffic is rarely heavy, the atmosphere is relaxed. There are all kinds of deli shops, including Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods Market, Grestedes, Agostino or Fairway. There aren’t many clothing stores, to find them you would have to go south of the Natural History Museum or on Broadway.

There is a real neighborhood atmosphere, warm, between the florist who also serves cafes – Plantshed – the cafe that serves macaroons – Macarons Parlor – and the Upper West Side Yoga And Wellness yoga center which has created and brought together a real community of very diverse and positive people in the neighborhood.

You are a mom. How is life with kids and family on the Upper West Side? Are there many families?

Life is very pleasant with children there. Proximity to green spaces, calm but also safety. Even young children go to school on their own. The neighborhood is regularly crisscrossed around schools by parents’ associations to ensure safety when leaving schools. There are seldom concerns.

The restaurants are kids friendly, there is even an educational toy store – West Side Kids in Amsterdam on 84th Street. There are also many schools, public and private, there are two French-English bilingual public schools. PS84 Elementary School and Lafayette Academy Middle School. Therefore, many French families have settled in the neighborhood. For children, proximity to the Natural History Museums and New York Historical Society is a must.

For extra-curricular activities, in addition to those offered by schools, there are two famous football clubs, the famous West Side Soccer League, very family-friendly, which offers tournaments run by parents on a voluntary basis, but also the famous Manhattan Soccer Club with bus departures for training just in front of the Upper 90 football store in Amsterdam. There are also plenty of outdoor tennis opportunities in Central Park and Riverside Park, with adult and children’s memberships that are really affordable.

You are an artist. Can you show us this neighborhood with your own words? Is this a neighborhood that inspires you?

In fact, I like the peace, the birds, the greenery and the neighborhood life. I love to walk around the Reservoir in Central Park, and admire the view of the San Remo, a beautiful building with two sister towers that is located in Central Park West. This sight has a special resonance for me, because the San Remo looks strangely like several buildings that we used to see when we lived in Moscow. At the end of the day, when night falls, the view from the north of the Great Lawn, in Central Park, on the midtown skyline is very photogenic. But my favorite corner in Central Park is located on the 86th, at Arthur Ross Pinetum with its pine scents and many birds. It is a great place to do outdoor yoga. Between Columbia and Lincoln Center, the Upper West Side has a little nerd-bohemian side! During the Covid-19 pandemic, there were even small impromptu concerts, groups of musicians of all ages and styles setting up on their doorsteps to give mini-concerts on Sundays to the applause of 7 p.m. This neighborhood inspires me yes!

Can you describe where you live, what attracted you, what you like about your apartment?

I live on 88th Street, between Central Park and Columbus. I occupy, with my husband and 3 children – the eldest one is a student now, he is home much less often, the lower part of a brownstone. It’s like a little house. We enter from the basement, a private entrance only for us. On the ground floor, the living areas open onto our little garden, which is very, very pleasant in summer and winter. As we are on the ground floor, the space is admittedly quite dark, but the garden is like a living room. Upstairs, the bedrooms are brighter. What attracted us? The garden of course with its little shrubs, but also the feeling of living in a house and not a small apartment.

As a European, do you find a little European side to this district through the inhabitants, the shops, the schools?

As a European, I feel good in the Upper West Side. I’m not really trying to find my European benchmarks here, but I appreciate the beautiful buildings of Central Park West, the “human-sized” side of neighborhood life, and getting to know the merchants, restaurateurs and a multitude of people who are in my daily life. We also have a thriving neighborhood social life around schools and activities, with a lot of very different people, which is very cool.

Your favorite places in the UWS?

Plantshed for its flowers and its little coffee. Space Market is our favorite deli, the shops are very friendly, and there is a bit of everything, and everything is better presented there than elsewhere. Bella Luna, our favorite and family-friendly neighborhood restaurant, a place with large windows to let the light in, even in winter, offering simple and good Italian dishes, quick service and an incredible tiramisu! But, there is also The Consulate with its brasserie side, the Osteria Cotta with its cozy bar counter, the small French wine bar Vin sur Vingt, Bodrum and its Mediterranean cuisine, Mermaid Inn and its American dishes, but also Storico, the restaurant of the New York Historical Society for its sophisticated and luminous decoration. For a drink in the evening with friends, the very simple E’s Bar with a room at the back, less noisy, and a terrace in summer, letting a feeling of the old bar from our student years. For a drink in a trendy place, I like to go to the bar at Jacob Pickles, or next door to the Tiki Chick. For pastries, I love Levain Bakery for its cookies to die for, as well as Orwashers Bakery. For yoga, Upper West Yoga and Wellness with the two owners, Stephan and Ingrid, who manage their neighborhood studio with sensitivity and kindness. The list of my favorite places on the Upper West Side is so long … I end it here, with the best Indian dosas at Saravanaa Bhavan!

Is this a neighborhood that you recommend for those who want to buy or rent?

Of course, this is a neighborhood we recommend! But a neighborhood is also a practical choice depending on where you work and where you go to schools, if you have children.

If you had to describe the Upper West Side in 3 words?

Relaxed, calm and lively!

Thank you Gaëlle Hintzy-Marcel for showing us your Upper West Side!

Experts Discuss – the Upper West Side

Rental market:

With an average monthly rent of $ 4,668, the Upper West Side is 11% higher than the average for all of Manhattan.

Sales market:

Regarding sales, the median price in Q1 of 2020 was $ 1,175,000 ($ 1,265 / sq ft), down 3% year on year. To be compared with Manhattan’s median price of $ 1,060,000.

Interview by Rachel Brunet, director and editor-in-chief of Petit Journal New York

Read the article in Le Petit Journal New York

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