There is a little street in lower Manhattan where Sicilian widows and supermodels pass each other and say "good morning," and where adorable—yes, that's the word for them—fashion-forward boutiques stand next to 75-year-old butcher shops. Elizabeth Street between Houston and Prince—the bustling, charming heart of NoLIta (the six-block radius North of Little Italy)—is the tiny but worldly apex of yet another corner of yet another New York.
Ten years ago, the area was . . . well, fringe, to say the least. After the Italians who founded the area at the turn of the 20th century started moving elsewhere, an edgier, younger, questionable element took over—one not always to the liking of the longtime residents of Elizabeth Street. But the latter took action and booted out the last of the gangs and junkies nearly a decade ago. Little did they know what, quite literally, was in store: A full fashion phenomenon exploded, packing the once down-on-its-heels street with miniskirts and mochaccinos. A pop renaissance of art, music, and food turned every day into a round-the-clock block party.
With the scent of bread baking from the nearby muffin factory, Elizabeth Street is a collage of sights and sounds. Walking through this neighborhood, I often feel someone is about to pull the cord on a set and the whole perfect backdrop will go snapping up, Hollywood style, into a roll on the ceiling. But thankfully, this tucked-away corner of the city is the real thing. I like to think that if Vermeer had worked in Manhattan instead of Delft, he might have found inspiration on this very street, on this block of so many charms. Here, too, he would have found himself at home, like anyone else in search of the old as well as the new New York.
268 • Sample Among punchy, brightly colored cardigans and leather skirts lies Norma Jean, a Dalmatian whose brown and white spots echo the graphics of the floor tiles in this simply designed clothing store. Canadian designer Tu Ly sells sleek, laser-cut knits that are the ultimate staple separates; their clean, perfect lines will suit almost anyone. 212-431-7866.
268 • Henry Lehr There are three Elizabeth Street stores owned by designer Henry Lehr. This, the first outpost as you walk south from Houston, is primarily a T-shirt shop, stacked with neat piles of striped, studded, and cap-sleeve tees. Farther down the block are his other two shops, one of which, American Colors (232), is the exclusive outlet for the designer's own line. 212-343-0567.
266 • Blue Bag Brimming over with bags, island music, and a beachy feel, this handbag store has hardwood floors, exposed, washed brick walls, and flip-flops lining the room's edges. With a range of totes made from straw and leather (by designers from France, Italy, Australia, Japan, Peru, and Madagascar), the loftlike boutique has it all. 212-966-8566.
265 • Rialto This restaurant, always packed, brings the block back to its roots, with old-world Italian pastas, salads, calamari, and ripe tomato bruschetta. There is an outdoor garden in back that you should be sure to request when making reservations, which, for dinner, are almost always necessary. 212-334-7900.
264 • M&R Bar The ornate, white-washed tin ceiling of M&R Bar isn't the only old-world touch in this popular nightspot; the checked linoleum floors and the leather-topped stools are sweetly reminiscent of days gone by. The menu here is familiar, perhaps, but better than your typical burgers. 212-226-0559.
262 • area . . . id With a clientele of mostly decorators, Inga Davidsson has built a thriving design store in only three years. Her secret? Mid-20th-century items, which the Swedish entrepreneur reupholsters and sells to very loyal customers. "They are extremely educated and nice," she says. "And they know exactly what they want." 212-219-9903.
260 • Terra Plana The minimalist decor and plain stucco walls are the perfect foil for the classic footwear that Jerry Geist has assembled here. Simple, strong men's shoes by several firms, most prominently Dutch designer Charles Bergmans, line the right side of the shop, while chic women's shoes (by the likes of Robert Clergerie and Bettye Muller) are on the left. 212-274-9000.
259 • Lisbeth & Co. This sleek, smart design store features furniture and accessories, ranging from a tiny vintage Corona typewriter to an enormous zebra rug. Since owner Lisbeth Rasmussen is Danish, much of her collection hails from Scandinavia. 212-966-9559.
259 • Capitol A fabulously eclectic mix of mid-19th to mid-20th-century home designs has been tastefully brought together by co-owners Craig Van Den Brulle and Barry Rudnick. Richard Gere, Robert De Niro, Susan Sarandon, and Vogue's Anna Wintour (who recently bought a collection of 80 glasses) are all rumored to be fans. 212-925-6760.
253 • Elizabeth & Vine For 11 years, Elizabeth & Vine has been serving fine wines and spirits to the NoLIta community, including Saturday afternoon wine tastings. 212-941-7943.
252 • Prema Nolita Just walking in the door of this day spa is soothing, as the scent of an aromatic candle wafts through the front room with its assortment of lotions and creams. In the back room, only one customer at a time is treated to remarkable facials, hand and foot treatments, massages, and herbal body scrubs. 212-226-3972.
252 • Mayle Designer Jane Mayle's exquisitely tailored clothing—sometimes frilly, sometimes slick—is on every fashion editor's hot list. 212-625-0406.
250 • Michael Anchin Glass Company After getting his start in a cooperative art studio on Mulberry Street over 20 years ago, glass artisan Michael Anchin is now at the center of the art and design world of lower Manhattan. "This is the fashion mecca of the world," he says. "The hottest spot around!" His electric-colored, handblown creations range from a small vase at $60 to larger pieces priced into the thousands. www.michaelanchin.com; 212-925-1470.
248 • Goffredo Fantini This small boutique is piled high with chunky-heeled loafers, leather slides, and strappy sandals. 212-219-1501.
247 • Soho Baby Amid the sea of baby blues and cotton-candy pinks, hip downtown mothers buy stuffed animals, bean bags, night lights, swimsuits, and adorable clothing for kids up to eight years old. Most of the selection is from Europe. 212-625-8538.
243 • Seize sur Vingt For three years, Wall Street's most well-turned-out traders have been snapping up European-style checked shirts from this men's (and now women's) enclave of style. James and Gwen Jurney display their tailored, sophisticated line of button-down shirts, blazers, and suits in this long, narrow space with dance music and John Waters photographs. 212-343-0476.
239 • Me & Ro Jewelers Michele Quan and Robin Renzi have already made waves uptown at Barneys and Saks. But their modern downtown outpost displays the whole line in a more intimate space. Prices start at $50 for simple silver rings to much more expensive Tahitian pearl necklaces, rubies, diamonds, and sapphire pieces. 917-237-9215.
235 • Daily 235 A Julie Andrews fantasy come true, this boutique is an encyclopedic swirl of Favorite Things. There is no rhyme or reason in owner Jas Krause's assemblage of kitschy eye candy, which includes colored shower curtains, giant pinwheels, vintage toys, Italian notebooks, and bubble gum. 212-334-9728.
235 • Kelly Christy Owner-millinery designer Kelly Christy has been creating old-fashioned and up-to-the-minute hats here for five years now. She wanted something quiet and off the beaten path and found it in this oasis of calm and charm, which she has kept simple and to the point: mostly hats here, romantic tóte-toppers ranging from $100 to $400. 212-965-0686.
233 • Shi The ceiling here is lined with rows of matte-silver lamps, the room is just as it should be: stark, clean, and inviting. Laurie McLendon's five-year-old shop on Elizabeth has all kinds of things for the home, including one-of-a-kind objets d'art. 212-334-4330.
230 • Bill Amberg This boutique offers a huge, varied collection of rich leather goods—from sleek briefcases and computer bags to backpacks, wallets, and even a stroller. 212-625-8556.
229 • Borealis Some 18 different jewelry designers are on display here, and Aurora Lopez and Steven Alan have carefully curated the collection to include everything from engraved gold bracelets to delicate diamond rings. 917-237-0152.
228 • Kremer Pigments Artists as well as local house painters make the trip here for pigments in colors ranging from Colibri Sun Gold to shocking Quindo Pink. 212-219-2394.
226 • Unis Music blares, hand-painted banana-leaf wallpaper lines the walls, and the casual T-shirts and pants create a dream closet for the fashion-forward man. 212-431-5533.
229 • Café Habana It might look nondescript, but the clientele here make Café Habana the soul of the neighborhood. Downtown hipsters and Elizabeth Street regulars come together for the famous corn on the cob rolled in cheese, sprinkled with chili powder, and spritzed with lime. It is unselfconsciously chic, a hangout with a regular-guy feel—just like the street it calls home. 212-625-2001.