It’s not a new section of Manhattan, but it does have a relatively new name: NoMad (North of Madison Square Park). The neighborhood runs from E. 25th Street on the South, E. 29th Street on the North, 6th Avenue on the West and Madison Avenue on the East. Once a somewhat run-down neighborhood of cheap shops and restaurants, it has undergone a renaissance.
At the center of the neighborhood, which now consists of elegant buildings, fine dining restaurants and upscale shops, is Madison Square Park, a lovely urban oasis with statues, temporary art exhibits, playgrounds, flowers, benches and views of some of Manhattan’s most elegant buildings. including the nearby Flatiron Building. On the southeast corner of the park is the original Shake Shack, born in a hot dog stand and designed to harmonize with the park revitalized by the Madison Square Park Conservatory.
Nearby at No. 1 East 29th Street is the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, a New York City landmark. Built in English neo-Gothic style, the church became known as “the little church around the corner”, so called by one of the actors who frequented it at a time when other New York churches refused to bury actors.
The neighborhood has several hotels including the Martha Washington Hotel, a Renaissance Revival building at 29 East 29th Street, re-opened last fall after an extensive renovation. The hotel, once a turn-of the-twentieth century refuge for poets, entrepreneurs, artists and actresses, was the first hotel ion America reserved exclusively for women. Eleanor Roosevelt stayed there, as did actresses Louise Brooks and Veronica Lake. No longer reserved for ladies only, the hotel is now open to all.
After a complete remodeling by designer Annabelle Selidorf, the hotel now offers beautifully appointed guest rooms at reasonable (by New York standards) rates. The atmosphere of the hotel is contemporary, but the new design incorporates all the large open spaces as well as the architectural features of the 1903 building.
The hotel’s restaurant, Marta, is modeled after a Roman pizzeria, offering delicious, crisp, thin-crusted pizzas with both traditional and original toppings. One of the recent spring versions, the”primavera,” combines ramps, pea shoots, mozzarella and Parmesan. The classic margherita is on the menu, but so is a pizza with pork sausage, mushrooms, mozzarella and pecorino, or mozzarella, anchovies, capers, red onion and oregano, among others, some “white” and some “red.” The restaurant has a variety of appetizers and main courses, but it’s the pizzas that lure young and old into Marta, along with an extensive wine list of Italian bottles and wines by the glass..
Another delightful restaurant just south of the neighborhood is Mari Vanna, a Russian restaurant at 41 East 20th Street. The food is good – some of it excellent, such as a flavorful borsch and delicious pelmeni (little veal-filled dumplings), as well as chewy black bread with raisins. Two-course lunches for $24 and an a $35 brunch buffet on weekends are featured. The restaurant is decorated with bits and peaces of crockery, fabric, knick knacks, mis-matched furniture and the attentive waitresses wear pretty peasant-style dresses. Wild flowers grace the tables and the bill is presented in a little fabric coin purse. It has charm.
The neighborhood may have a new name, but it hasn’t lost its style.