Neighborhoods: The Upper West Side

This week on TrueGotham, we’re going to be talking about some of my favorite New York City neighborhoods, starting with the one where I live: the Upper West Side.

To me, at this juncture of history, this is one of the most amazing places in the world for a family to live.

Certainly the Upper West Side has all the stuff anyone would expect from a family friendly Manhattan neighborhood: essentially limitless good food both prepared and not (Fairway, Zabar’s and a thousand restaurants, unfortunately most are only mediocre–more on that later), culture (the American Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum, the Beacon Theater, Symphony Space, Lincoln Center, and now Dizzy’s and the Rose Theatre at Time Warner), and dozens of great schools of every kind (with, depending on your definition of the Upper West Side, Columbia University as the headliner).

But to me, the thing that makes this the best place to live is how easy it is to feel like you’re not in Manhattan at all. Almost the entire neighborhood is sandwiched between two of the biggest and best parks in New York City: Central Park to the East, and Riverside Park to the West. Living in New York is intense. It’s not for everyone. But if, a few blocks from wherever you may be, you can go jogging, biking, roller-blading, sunbathing, playing softball, swinging, ice skating in either of two Central Park rinks, or reading the Times and sipping coffee on a bench under the trees–well, how hard can life be? For those of us with children, the carousel in Central Park and Victoria Gardens Amusement Park at Wolman Rink in the Summer provides plenty of stimulation for the whole family. Those parks are central fixtures of my life, and without them I imagine I’d be spending a lot more on psychotherapy.

And, when it comes to food: sure there are lots of big-name places, like Ouest, Jean-Goerges, and Per Se. But the one restaurant I couldn’t live without? It’s not expensive at all, and it doesn’t take reservations. Celeste is always jam-packed, but the homemade pasta is more than worth the effort of getting a table.

There’s a bunch more worth getting to know on the Upper West Side:

Bruno Richard Hauptmann, the convicted kidnapper-killer of the Lindberg baby, worked as a carpenter in the Majestic Apartments on that corner at the time of the crime. Later, mob bosses Meyer Lansky, Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello all lived in the Majestic. Costello was shot (not fatally) in the lobby in 1957. And across the street, John Lennon was murdered in front of his home in the Dakota Apartments in 1980. This also happens to be the corner where poor Mr. Bliss met his fate (see previous item).

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