I’ve never posted here, but here’s my take…
I lived on the UES (76th & 2nd) for 5 years, then on the UWS (Broadway & 107) for 1˝ years, and I moved to Gold St (between Fulton & John) a month ago. Although I’m new to the area, my initial take is that I really like it. As for your questions:
1.) Nightlife – I guess that depends on your definition. I like dive bars for my “local”, but when I go out, I only go to rock shows. It’s cool to be able to walk to the Knitting factory, although I’m not wild about that place. But, in my opinion, the Fulton St train station is the best in the city, and I’m less than a minute walk from it (on the 2/3 side)… so, I can get anywhere pretty fast. I haven’t found my “local” yet, but I’ve found a few that will suffice. If clubs are your thing, I can’t give advice, other than you can walk to TriBecca, which I guess has that sorta thing.
2.) Safety – I don’t think any parts of Manhattan are really unsafe, unless you’re in the far reaches, and walk around with cash taped to your back, and a map in your hands. In the Financial District, I guess the risk is, you fall down in the middle of the street on a Saturday, and there’s no one around to help. (Cobblestone streets can be dangerous.)
3.) Ghost Town – I’m over near the Seaport, so I probably see more traffic than you would get near Battery Park. But, yeah, stuff closes early. Luckily, there’s a [nice] 24-hour supermarket about 100 feet from my apt, but if you need a drug store at 11 pm, be prepared for a walk (or, a train ride). The good side is, you don’t have drunk tourists wandering around all hours, like on Bleeker, or the East Village.
4.) Restaurants – again, depends on your taste. I like diners (I actually considered writing a book about diners in NYC, which rates omelets around town, but I’m too lazy). And, there aren’t many around. That’s been the biggest bummer for me. However, there are plenty of good bar-food joints, fast-food, and “nice” places that my girlfriend always tries to get me to (like, Paris, near the Seaport). I’ll throw this out there… every place I’ve been in seems generally cleaner and better maintained than almost any other part of Manhattan (in a comparable place). For example, I ate in a place called Lisa’s (I think) 2 days ago- just a basic sub shop. My girlfriend commented on how there were no missing letters on the menu board, and the food was way better than we expected. And, cheaper. Everything was clean, and neat, and we decided that if the same shop were above 96th st, it would’ve been a dump.
5.) The general atmosphere – unless you’re walking in front of one of the few bars that happens to be open, it’s quiet. I sorta like the quietness, which contrasts the loudness from inside of whatever bar I’m leaving. But, fewer people mean fewer degenerates to bug you on your commute. I think I’m in one of the better pockets of the neighborhood, for what I like, so maybe I’m biased.
Some other thoughts… walking from the far east side of town to the far west is no big deal, because Manhattan is so narrow down there. Try walking from York to Westend! Also, other neighborhoods, like Tribecca, and the LES are an easy walk. I already mentioned how great the Fulton St station is, if you need a train. I also like the old buildings, and the narrow, crooked streets, as opposed to the cookie-cutter street topography uptown. There’s no such thing as the “perfect place”- you always have to concede something (whether it’s size, location, access to trains, etc). If you weigh the plusses and minuses of the Financial District, I think it’s a great place. Of course, you may be the complete opposite of me, so who knows?