Before you continue reading, I’ve got to admit something to you: this post’s title is a tad misleading. According to Property Shark, Hudson Yards is currently NYC’s most expensive neighborhood, with the median property sale price being $5.1 million. But I didn’t want to do a neighborhood guide on Hudson Yards because it doesn’t feel like a real neighborhood yet. Plus, there are already great guides on Hudson Yards, like this one by Laura Peruchi. Instead, let’s explore the area that’s a close second to being NYC’s most expensive neighborhood and has actual neighborhood vibes: Tribeca. But before we get into all the interesting things to do when you spend the day in Tribeca, let’s start off this Tribeca neighborhood guide with a little bit of background about the area.
Tribeca Neighborhood History
Tribeca, also styled as TriBeCa, is a neighborhood in lower Manhattan that is generally considered to be bound by Canal Street to the north, Broadway to the east, the Hudson River to the west, and Chambers Street to the south. The name Tribeca is a syllabic abbreviation of “Triangle Below Canal,” although, the area’s boundaries come together to shape more of an obtuse trapezoid (or something like that. Geometry wasn’t my strongest subject). The neighborhood has a charming, slow-paced but upscale vibe and has become a magnet for celebrities looking to stash their money in NYC real estate. Despite its celebrity connections, this neighborhood isn’t too touristy, cementing New York’s reputation for minding its business and not getting starstruck.
According to an excellent episode of The Bowery Boys on Tribeca’s neighborhood history, part of the land that we today call Tribeca used to be swampy farmland split between Trinity Church and the Lispenard family up until the nineteenth century. That split is still reflected on the street grid: the area that used to be owned by Trinity Church has streets that run parallel to the Hudson River, while the area owned by the Lispenards on the eastern side of Tribeca has streets that run parallel to Broadway. Then, as the shipping industry began to anchor itself along the Hudson River after the Erie Canal’s opening in 1825, Tribeca’s Washington Market expanded and warehouses stored a variety of goods brought in by ships and later by freight.
Fast forward to the 1960s and 70s: the market is gone. New York has lost most of its shipping traffic to New Jersey, and Tribeca’s industrial warehouses sit empty. Artists spilling over from SoHo begin to dwell in these spaces, breathing new life into the area. The city contemplates razing the buildings to put up high-rises, but some of the artists form a neighborhood group, the “Triangle Below Canal Block Association,” with the goal of getting the area a special zoning status similar to SoHo’s. So what came to be known as Tribeca got to keep the majority of its nineteenth-century converted warehouse lofts that you too can enjoy if you have at least $3.5 million to spend. (Tribeca’s transition from potentially being SoHo: the sequel to being a semi-secluded wealthy enclave instead is better explored in this article by Observer called, “How Did Tribeca Become the Most Desirable Neighborhood of All?“)
I should also mention that Tribeca was one of the neighborhoods severely affected by the destruction of 9/11. A lot of its revival is attributed to the work of neighborhood resident Robert De Niro (maybe you’ve heard of him), who founded the Tribeca Film Festival in 2002 and co-owns two popular restaurants in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to check out his restaurants during my recent visit to Tribeca, but I did do several other things that I’ll tell you about below.
The Top Things to Do in Tribeca (if You are a Pleb)
Get caffeinated with Hugh Jackman at Laughing Man Coffee.
184 Duane Street
This popular neighborhood cafe was co-founded by actor Hugh Jackman in 2011 after he was inspired by a coffee farmer named Dukale, whom he met during a 2009 trip to Ethiopia. Jackman’s coffee company sources and sells coffee from Ethiopia, Colombia, and Peru —all fair trade— and the company claims that its profit “supports coffee farming communities by investing in programs that clear the way to health, growth, and success for coffee farmers and their families.” As for the cafe experience, although it was busy, I thought that the Laughing Man location on Duane Street was spacious, bright and, modern. It’s the type of place where people stay awhile. The coffee was good, though I’m not the best judge of that. But I couldn’t get enough of the cafe’s chewy teddy bear cookies.
Take a photo walk and admire the neighborhood’s architecture.
Just like the celebrities who live within its lofts, Tribeca is unbelievably photogenic. Here, you can find a jumble of architecture styles, from neoclassical to art deco to structural expressionism. Be sure to get photos of the Staple Street Skybridge, the New York Mercantile Exchange Building, the Powell Building, the Gideon Tucker House, and of course, 56 Leonard Street, aka the Jenga Building.
Browse the stacks of the Mysterious Bookshop.
58 Warren Street
One of NYC’s most unique stores, the Mysterious Bookshop is the oldest mystery bookstore in the U.S., and it’s probably the best stocked one, with the entirety of the store’s walls covered in floor-to-ceiling shelves of mystery novels. The owner Otto Penzler has the utmost respect for the genre and holds mystery novels on the same level as other literature. So, at the Mysterious Bookshop, you’ll find a community of mystery lovers just as passionate about solving murder and mayhem as you are.
Prove that you ain’t afraid of no ghosts at Hook & Ladder Company No. 8.
14 N Moore Street
Does this firehouse look familiar? This 1903 building served as the exterior for the Ghostbusters Headquarters in the 1984 film. Between the gigantic ghost signs on the facade and the sidewalk and the small crowd of tourists, this site is hard to miss. Clearly the firehouse still embraces its claim to fame, but as it is an active fire station, you can only take photos from the outside.
Obtain diplomatic immunity at the Nutopian Embassy.
1 White Street
Down the street from the Ghostbusters Headquarters is another pop culture relic: the site of the embassy for the conceptual country of Nutopia. This micronation was created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1973 in response to Lennon facing deportation after his application for permanent residency in the US was denied. Lennon and Ono reasoned that by creating this country and declaring themselves its ambassadors, Lennon would have diplomatic immunity and could not be deported. The duo even went as far as to create a flag and an anthem for their new country. Lennon’s Nutopia stunt ended after his deportation ruling was overturned in 1975, and today 1 White Street is home to a hoity-toity restaurant.
Find new art for your gallery wall at Philip Williams Posters.
122 Chambers Street
In business since 1973, Philip Williams, aka the Poster Museum, claims to have the largest collection of vintage posters in the world. It’s easy to lose track of time at this shop, browsing through the piles and piles of travel posters, vintage ads, and art prints. The prices are reasonable, especially for this neighborhood, and it is one of my go-to place for finding interesting artwork to hang up in my apartment.
Eat a meal that costs more than your groceries.
Prepare your wallet. Most of the eateries you’ll find in Tribeca target a certain clientele. These are the type of places where you’ll be spending 20 dollars just on an appetizer. During my day trip to the neighborhood, I got lunch at Sarabeth’s Tribeca location. The food and the vibe were fine, but I wish I had gone to a neighborhood institution like The Odeon or Bubby’s or even Tribeca Grill. It’s a good thing you don’t follow me for NYC food recommendations.
Thanks for allowing me to show you how to spend a day in Tribeca as someone who is neither rich nor famous. What other places in the neighborhood would you recommend to someone exploring Tribeca for the day?
But before you go, if you liked this Tribeca neighborhood guide and you like what I do here at Shiloh in the City and want to continue getting to know New York’s history, culture, and things to do with me, sign up for my email list and follow me on social media. Thanks for reading!