View Full Version : In Downtown Canyon, a Vibrant Social Scene Blooms

September 4th, 2003, 09:16 AM
September 4, 2003


In Downtown Canyon, a Vibrant Social Scene Blooms


Stone Street today, a classic village marketplace has opened up, with a lively restaurant and pub scene, after a $2.3 million investment.

YOU can find signs of new life downtown if you look carefully. And listen.

Listen for the sound of laughter over the gurgle of conversation along Stone Street. Once a grim rivulet in the canyons of Lower Manhattan, Stone Street is now a sea of umbrellas — Heineken green, Guinness black, Stella Artois red, Amstel blue and Illy white — marking eight restaurants, side by side, that fill almost every square inch of this 19th-century precinct.

Suddenly, surprisingly, the two blocks of Stone Street between Hanover Square and the Goldman Sachs headquarters at 85 Broad Street have become a social scene, crowded morning through night by Wall Streeters, tourists and neighbors pushing baby strollers or walking their dogs.

This overnight transformation was eight years in the making.

What made it possible were coordinated public and private measures, including a $2.3 million investment in the physical environment and a landmark designation that some property owners resisted. The result is different than its planners envisioned. So far, it is even better.

"It just makes you happy to go on that street," said Carl Weisbrod, president of the Alliance for Downtown New York, which runs the Lower Manhattan business improvement district and was heavily involved in trying to resuscitate Stone Street, a dingy back alley for buildings along South William and Pearl Streets, where it was once easier to buy drugs than lunch.

Today, a French pastry shop, Irish pub, French bistro, American grill and Italian, Chinese and Japanese restaurants occupy the ground floors of the small brick buildings. A Scandinavian sandwich shop, Smorgas Chef, is to open next week. Tables spill out to the sidewalks and stone-paved roadway, less than 20 feet wide, which is closed to traffic.

What is emerging is a classic village marketplace, where nominally competitive businesses profit from operating cheek by jowl, attracting outsiders to an insular quarter with the promise of variety.

"We all benefit from each other," said Harry Poulakakos, proprietor of Harry's at Hanover Square at the end of Stone Street. "You cannot eat at the same restaurant every day."

His son, Peter, who owns Bayard's restaurant (upstairs from Harry's), has opened two establishments on Stone Street in the last nine months: Financier Pâtisserie and Ulysses' pub, where his partner is Danny McDonald. "We're on the verge of making Stone Street a real destination," Peter Poulakakos said.

From its debut on Bloomsday, June 16, Ulysses' has stayed open until 4 a.m. and served Sunday brunch, which would have been almost unthinkable downtown not long ago. The four-year-old Waterstone Grill will probably open on weekends by the end of the year. "It looks like the demand has just about arrived," said Ronan Downs, a partner.

This is not the demand foreseen in 1995, when the Downtown Alliance and Landmarks Preservation Commission sponsored a master plan for Stone Street by the Praedium Group, as economic development consultants, and Beyer Blinder Belle, for design and preservation. Praedium called for a mix of restaurants and "sports clothing and gear stores, corporate gift shops, hair salons or dental clinics."

AS Mr. Weisbrod recalled it: "We were certainly anticipating one or two outdoor cafes. We could hardly have envisioned creating a street-length series of restaurants of different kinds working in a complementary and compatible fashion. There is no street like this in New York."

To ensure that Stone Street would keep its distinctive character, formed in large part during the rebuilding of New York after the great fire of 1835, the landmarks commission designated it a historic district in 1996. Since then, it has issued 18 permits for new storefronts, signs and awnings.

To spur economic development, the street was rebuilt with granite paving blocks, bluestone sidewalks and lampposts, at a cost of $1.8 million, financed by the federal government, the City Transportation Department, two other agencies and the Downtown Alliance.

Owners on Stone Street chipped in $170,000 to repair vaults under the sidewalks. Goldman Sachs and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company contributed $350,000 to rebuild the adjoining Coenties Alley.

Stone Street was repaved and relandscaped by the end of 2000. But like the rest of New York, it needed time to recover after the attack in 2001.

What amazes Jennifer J. Raab, who was chairwoman of the landmarks commission when Stone Street was designated, is not so much the scene — though she said her jaw dropped when she first saw it — as the fact that it survived Sept. 11.

"It's more precious because of that," she said, "a wonderful social experiment to see if you can bring back a historic district. To be able to do that after the most extreme crisis our city has faced is spectacular."

Stone Street in Lower Manhattan's financial district in 2000.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

September 4th, 2003, 10:21 AM
Stone Street, so named because it was the first street paved in New Amsterdam.

This has indeed become a charming little downtown recluse. Thankfully the NIMBYs who resisted the landmark designation were overruled.

September 12th, 2003, 12:18 PM


TLOZ Link5
September 12th, 2003, 02:12 PM
Very good start.

September 12th, 2003, 11:53 PM
I was there last week, it's a really cool place.