Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

NYC’s real Little Italy
13/09/2009, 17:26
Filed under: travel | Tags: , , , , , ,

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m heading for New York again shortly – I fly from London on the 30th of this month. I’ll be meeting up with my mum who emigrated to Canada a year ago, to show her the sights and no doubt have her blub on my shoulder for three days solid. Mums are like that, aren’t they?

I’m also looking forward to exploring more of the city, moving deeper into the boroughs. On previous trips I’ve spent time in the likes of Red Hook and Woodlawn (which is as far North in NYC as you can go). This time I’m keen to explore Little Italy – not the gentrified remains in downtown Manhattan, but New York’s other Little Italy, centred on Arthur Avenue in The Bronx. It’s curious that guidebooks rarely, if ever mention this neighbourhood that seemingly burns fierce in European tradition, preferring to direct tourists to a couple of blocks immersed in Chinatown that glow dim in their fading history.

Arthur Avenue Market by jimmyack205 on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Arthur Avenue Market by jimmyack on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

No doubt the reason is the zipcode – most of us, myself included, have been spoon-fed our perception of The Bronx by mainstream media, and still believe it’s nothing more than a borough-sized penal colony of murderers and rapists. That perception, if ever entirely true, seems a decade or two out of date; reading through forums of former and current residents, there’s no doubt the borough has changed for the better. It’s probably lost some of the intense character that provided its former reputation, and there may be areas that tourists are best staying away from – but where isn’t like that? A little common sense, some research and talking to locals will always keep you safe.

[A couple of good local blogs I stumbled upon while writing this, with plenty of photos and guides to the area are The Bronx Rocks and BoogieDowner]

I’m also planning to explore the neighbourhoods along Manhattan’s upper west side – the likes of Washington Heights and Inwood – which I’ve been meaning to do for a couple of years. When explorer Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbour 400 years (and two days) ago, Manhattan was covered in natural forests and marshland (as an aside, it’s amazing how much of Manhattan was once covered in streams and rivers – now all underground or reclaimed for the metropolis above). Inwood Hill Park now contains the last natural forest and salt marsh on the island; how many of us can imagine the sight of New York without its towers of brick and glass, no roads or traffic or neon? It’ll be quite cool to stare across this virgin stretch of the planet’s greatest city and spin back the calendar four centuries.

I’ll take my mum to the tourist spots, when she leaves I’ll revisit my favourite bars in Hell’s Kitchen and the Lower East Side and I’ll peel away the city’s skin to taste the past and present. If there’s anywhere you can recommend, or if you want to meet up during the first week of October, get in touch in the comments or through Twitter.


4 Comments so far
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Arthur Avenue (aka Belmont) isn’t touristy like Little Italy, but it is pretty touristy — many of the people going to the Italian shops and restaurants don’t live in the Bronx but instead are driving in from the ‘burbs. And although there are Italian-Americans still living there, the nabe is actually pretty Albanian and Hispanic.

Comment by John Rambow

Hey John, thanks for the heads up! People driving in from the suburbs must still give the place a very different feel from the thousands of international tourists that swarm through Mulberry Street?

Is there anywhere in the Bronx you would suggest exploring?

Comment by Paul

Hey, don’t get me wrong, you should definitely visit Arthur Ave — it does have a strong local feel, and the church, for instance is wonderful. I just didn’t want you to think it was going to be just like the flashback scenes in the Godfather, LOL. Other places worth seeing in the Bronx: Fordham University is closeish to Belmont and has beautiful buildings — Gothic Revival. Farther afield, at least from Belmont, is Wave Hill, a beautifully landscaped park that overlooks the Hudson in the posh Riverdale section, and the New York Botanic Garden, which is huge and worth a trip if you or your mom like plants.. . And someone who knows better than me should let you know if the South Bronx art galleries and restaurants are worth a special trip…

Comment by John Rambow

I wont blub for 3 days solid…..mebbe 2 1/2

Comment by s m smith

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