A Love Letter to Little Italy at Christmastime

Art & Architecture
December 11, 2011 10:52 pm

I loathe the holidays. Mariah Carey plays nonstop in every elevator. Fifth Avenue is not walkable. Stores are not navigable. Sidewalks are littered with more shopping bags than people. And if I was not forced to cross Broadway by the fact that I live on the edge of Soho, I would have walked five blocks out of my way just to circumvent the chaos.

But this is only the daytime scene. When stores close and restaurants open for dinner service, the sidewalks clear. This is the moment New York begins to enchant even the Grinch.

At 8:30pm on this cool Sunday, I left my apartment for my favorite walking path: down Mulberry Street from the corner of Prince Street in Nolita, through Little Italy and ending near Bayard Street in Chinatown. In just seven blocks of the same street, you find yourself in three very different New York experiences.

Little Italy, New York City

Seven blocks, three worlds.

In Nolita, groups of friends and couples laugh and joke as they swing open the doors to neighborhood favorites like Rubirosa and Torrisi for gourmet Italian. South of Kenmare, the posh crowds thin and tourists populate the sidewalks where Little Italy begins. (No one is giving my sweatpants dirty looks anymore.) The Christmas lights hanging from La Mela, Da Nico, Ferrera and other Little Italy favorites are brighter than the street lights. Each restaurant is in competition with the next: who has the best decorations, the biggest plastic Santa, the most ornate tree, the most colored lights. The only music heard on the street seeps through open restaurant doors—the neighborhood is quiet excepting tourist chatter in Spanish, Polish, French, Italian, all taking in the scene as if it was a private light show.

This time of night, restaurant employees don’t haggle you to come in for a bite or a glass of wine. Men don’t catcall on the streets. Instead, when you meet another’s eye, you get a “good evening.”

Just a few blocks later, on the other side of Canal Street, the Christmas lights end and the streets are dark again. Chinatown is closed down, and the tourists don’t make it this far. The only activity is the arrival and departure of the delivery boys, taking Vietnamese, Chinese and Malaysian for a bicycle ride, and shop owners hauling the trash to the curb or locking up.


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