The People-Watching Guide to Downtown Manhattan
Soho Grand Hotel

310 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013

(212) 965-3000 https://www.sohogrand.com

The People-Watching Guide to Downtown Manhattan

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There’s no place like New York City for people-watching. This isn’t surprising given that the concrete jungle is home to over eight million residents and has a reputation as a fashion capital, the city that never sleeps, and the list goes on and on. But we suggest leaving Central Park and Hudson Yards to the amateurs and heading downtown for prime people-watching action. Watch as the electrifying metropolis unfolds around you at our go-to downtown spots for people-watching, which we’ve shared below.

Dimes Square (Lower East Side/Chinatown) 

In recent years, Dimes Square, a few-block radius where Chinatown and the Lower East Side intersect, has produced countless think-pieces, podcast episodes, memes, and so forth. And yet no one can agree on exactly what and where it is. Vanity Fair labeled it “the tiny but infamous cluster of Manhattan blocks where skaters, intellectuals, and the art world collide.” The Daily Beast pointed out that “it isn’t a square, it’s a triangle.” A Reddit user quipped, “It’s like if Red Square became a geographical location.” Even Dimes Square’s Wikipedia page isn’t so sure about it, referring to it as a “so-called microneighborhood” whose “exact perimeter and nature of the neighborhood is debated.” What’s undeniable about the buzzy downtown enclave? It offers unmatched people-watching. Plus, there are a few great restaurants. Make leafy Seward Park your starting point, where children run amok in the playground, teenagers shoot hoops, and adults whack small balls across the ping-pong table. Thirsty? Grab a juice, smoothie, or bubble tea across the street at Hawa Smoothies & Bubble Tea at 181A East Broadway. Hungry? You can’t go wrong with the classic joints, like Kiki’s, a cavernous Greek restaurant on the corner of Division and Orchard Streets that’s been drawing crowds of cool kids and locals ever since opening in 2015. For a seafood-centric menu, head to Portuguese restaurant Cervo’s (est. 2017) on Canal Street, but expect a wait. Chinese wine bar Tolo at 28 Canal Street is an exciting newcomer, and you’ll really “get” Dimes Square when dining at the beyond-sceney Casino, a newish Southern European restaurant and cool kids magnet on East Broadway. Then, there’s, of course, Dimes restaurant, serving a health-conscious menu to nicotine and thrift-shop-loving patrons since 2013. 

Located between Chinatown and the Lower East Side. New York, NY 10002

Lt. Petrosino Square (Nolita) 

Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino Square, aka Lt. Petrosino Square, is a tiny triangular, not square, park at the crossroads between Soho, Nolita, and Chinatown. Many would argue it’s best known as that cute little park where designer-clad patrons wait for their table to be ready at Café Select, a quaint yet stylish Swiss-French-European eatery across the street at 212 Lafayette Street that opened in 2008. La Esquina (est. 2006) is a stone’s throw away on the corner of Lafayette and Kenmare, but pass on descending into the clubby basement brasserie, and stick to ordering tacos and juices to-go at the upstairs casual taqueria before enjoying them in the park. Instagrammable all-day café Jack’s Wife Freda opened at 226 Lafayette in 2011, but it’s still packed with a fashionable crowd, particularly at brunch. Additional people-watching havens a short stroll away include quintessential Nolita staples, from Cafe Gitane, open since 1994 and still serving the best avocado toast downtown, to longtime celebrity-studded restaurants like Sant Ambroeus and Cafe Habana.

Lafayette St. & Cleveland Pl. New York, NY 10012

Tompkins Square Park (East Village)

The permanently vibrant Tompkins Square Park is in a league of its own. Opened in 1834 in the East Village’s Alphabet City, the square-shaped, 10.5-acre park features basketball courts, playgrounds, a lovely dog run, and one of New York City’s most beloved skateboarding spots. Something’s always going on in the park, especially on Sundays when you’ll encounter a farmer’s market, or on any given day when shaggy-haired musicians decide to pull out their guitars and sing to the delight of no one. You’ll also often notice creative types who look like they’ve been plucked from a Heaven by Marc Jacobs campaign occupying the park’s many benches while sipping iced coffee and sneakily vaping. Speaking of coffee, order one and a BEC from C&B just off the park at 178 East 7th St. Once you’re cocktail-ready, follow the cool kids into Dream Baby, a vibey cocktail bar on Avenue B between 10th and 11th Streets. For a divey option, head to East Village boozy institution Niagara on the corner of Avenue A and 7th Street. Hungry for more quality people-watching and quality food? Pop into Superiority Burger (119 Avenue A), a much-loved retro diner-themed joint offering a vegetarian menu—think quinoa-based veggie burgers, veggie sloppy joes, collard green sandwiches, and funnel cakes. 

Bounded by East 10th Street, Avenue B, East 7th Street, and Avenue A. New York, NY 10009

Columbus Park (Chinatown)

Chinatown’s Columbus Park hums with energy at any time of the day. Here, you’ll regularly find local seniors practicing tai chi and playing Chinese poker and checkers as children swing from the park’s playground monkey bars. Constructed in 1897 and situated in the heart of one of the oldest residential areas in Manhattan, the park features basketball and volleyball courts, a turf soccer field, picnic tables, and benches, which, at lunchtime, are occupied by a head-turning group of characters, including suit-clad types from the adjacent courthouses and young tattooed skateboarders. Several dining and drinking options are nearby, from dim sum parlors and cha chaan tengs (Hong Kong-style cafés) to swanky cocktail lounges and dive bars. Craving something to snack on while relaxing in the park? Take a quick stroll to Alimama Tea for tasty drinks (boba, milk, and green teas; coffees; lemonades); plus mochi donuts and cream puffs. Or grab a variety of inexpensive dumplings at the aptly named Tasty Dumpling. Ready for dinner? For a plant-based meal, like vegan meat buns, pan-fried turnip cakes, and sweet sticky rice sesame balls, walk a few blocks away to Buddha Bodai, a kosher vegetarian restaurant established in 2004. For a taste of Hokkaido, Japan, go to Dr. Clark’s, a buzzy, new-ish restaurant that serves jingisukan, a marinated lamb cooked on a tabletop grill, to the downtown art and fashion set. Then, follow this impossibly stylish crowd next door for craft cocktails at The River, a hip hideaway open since 2022. For less expensive drinks, good bar food, and fun-filled, pretentious-free vibes, it’s all about Asia Roma. After a drink or three at the upstairs bar, join karaoke lovers in the basement lounge, where groups of young party animals belt out Top 40 classics and Mandarin pop songs. 

Bounded by Baxter, Worth, Bayard, and Mulberry Streets. New York, NY 10012

West 4th Street Courts (Greenwich Village) 

Washington Square Park is more than just a park; it’s a people-watching heaven. It’s also always crowded and is an uber-popular hangout spot for NYU students and TikTok creators. We suggest passing through it and heading to the fenced-in West 4th Street Courts, AKA “The Cage.” Grab a front-row seat at one of the benches amongst locals, and don’t forget to breathe as you witness a high-energy tournament showcasing some of the city’s best amateur basketball talent. Treat yourself to a post-game, piping hot slice at classic New York slice joint Joe’s Pizza at 7 Carmine Street. Then, enjoy drinks and Broadway show tunes at West Village fixture Marie’s Crisis Cafe, which dates back to the late 1800s, or a comedy show at the iconic Comedy Cellar

272 6th Ave, New York, NY 10012

WORDS Alex Catarinella 

PHOTOGRAPHY Tompkins Square Park Central KnollPhoto by: David ShankboneSource: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tompkins_Square_Park_Central_Knoll.jpg © Creative Commons2008

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Soho Grand Hotel

310 West Broadway
New York, NY 10013

(212) 965-3000 https://www.sohogrand.com
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