Although tourism in New York City has declined a bit since the terrorist attacks, the city has bounced back tremendously. Still, many travelers who have recently ventured into Gotham speak of good hotel deals, shorter lines and waits at museums, and a surprisingly convivial nightlife scene. Sure, Manhattan has changed permanently, but it has also exhibited incredible resilience.
So what's new in Manhattan since the last time you visited? Plenty of great new bars and restaurants have opened in recent years - here's the scoop on some outstanding places to eat and play in three of the city's coolest - and gayest - neighborhoods
Several gay discos and leather bars have long occupied Chelsea's western reaches, a section that has also seen a virtual revolution of arts and culture since the late '90s - suddenly avant-garde art galleries and performance spaces, plus a clutch of fashionable eateries and bars, dominate what had been a downright creepy warren of warehouses and derelict buildings. Chelsea's primary gay district lies just east, along 8th avenue and thereabouts. Chelsea's increasing visibility and skyrocketing rents may foreshadow a gradual dilution of its gay identity, but like other yuppified urban enclaves with queer roots, this neighborhood will always glow pink with trendy discos and stand-and-model cafes.
If you haven't gone restaurant-hopping along 8th Avenue recently, you may be in for a surprise. Several swanky - yet reasonably priced - eateries have opened. At 15th Street, the gushingly romantic Rue des Crepes - decorated with faux cobblestone and vintage street lamps like a French village square - serves delicious savory and sweet crepes; try the one with pureed white beans, roasted garlic, and merguez sausage. Mare presents creative, super-fresh seafood with more contemporary American and French preparations. The chatter-filled, high-ceilinged space looks like a bit like a Marseille fish market. Yet another slick corner eatery with French doors, Niso's describes its cuisine as Mediterranean but definitely emphasizes - and excels - in Greek-style seafood. The grilled-octopus appetizer and broiled snapper entrees score high marks. A few blocks west, The Park opened inside a miraculously transformed taxi garage in 2001 and serves foofy drinks and zesty Mediterranean bistro-fare to a luscious crowd of fashion plates and poseurs.
Chelsea continues to set the pace for New York's boy-bar scene, and a few newcomers merit mention. Still trying to find its footing but with great potential, the View, a cozy and dapper spot that currently draws an eclectic bunch, from leather types to princely guppies. After closing and then reopening in a massive new space, the Eagle has landed, quickly reclaiming its position as Manhattan's cruisiest leather-and-Levi's bar - it's a great place to shoot pool. A chic, three-story spot bathed in white lights and mod furnishings, xl pulls off that fine balance between velvet-rope exclusivity and genuine friendliness - basically, if you're willing to surrender a day's paycheck for a round of drinks, you're welcome here.
The East Village
Although intensely gentrified intensely of late, the "EV" acts as the city's hub of alternative dress, nightlife, and entertainment. Cheap eateries, iconoclast-meets-slacker bars and lounges, and garage-sale-inspired shops keep a steady stream of tourists and locals slinking about at all hours of the night. One of the best streets for strolling is St. Marks Place, which is jammed with divey bars, groovy shops, and cheap restaurants. Great shopping, browsing, and people-watching can be had along the neighborhood's broad avenues, which generally take on an increasingly outre ambience the farther east you go.
Ethnic eateries have always been and continue to thrive here. Of late, fans of Basque cooking have been frequenting Euzkadi, a homey, old-world space with hearty food. Get your kicks on uncommonly inspired Japanese-Mexican cuisine at see-and-be-seen Komodo. Just a block south of the EV, Wylie Dufresne made it onto Food and Wine magazine's "10 best new chefs list" for 2001 with his fantastic restaurant 71 Clinton Fresh Food. Models and their admirers linger over North African-inspired French bistro fare at Astor Restaurant and Lounge, a subtle bistro that serves a memorable braised lamb shank.
Gay bars in the East Village still draw heavily, as they always have, from the city's dressed-in-black ranks. It's the rise of an old favorite, the venerable Phoenix that has barflies talking these days. Since reopening off Avenue A this crowded no-frills chat bar has swelled nightly with students, arty types, and even a few Chelsea boys. There are erotic shows, drag events, and hormone-charged crowd at the sleazy-chic Cock. And you never know who you'll clink highballs with at the retro-fabulous Starlight Lounge, a faintly upscale, mellow haunt with a mixed-gender crowd and sophisticated cocktails.
It's almost unheard of to pass through New York City without taking in a Broadway show and strolling around the newly revitalized or sanitized - depending on who you ask - Times Square. Less attention is typically lavished upon the neighborhood to the west, Hell's Kitchen, a once tough-as-nails Irish working-class enclave and more recently a Hispanic one. Many lesbians and gays have moved here in recent years, however, and a gay-trendy dining and entertainment scene has lately spread like kudzu vine.
It can be a challenge scoring a table at celeb-chef Mario Batali's fabulous space, Esca, but do persevere - you'll be rewarded with exceptional yet reasonably priced seafood like whole-roasted sea bass with lemon and olive oil. A sophisticated new pan-Latin American eatery named for the neighborhood it anchors, Hell's Kitchen is run by the former chef (Sue Torres) of Chelsea's Rocking Horse. Dig into exceptionally tasty Moroccan fare at Tagine, a riotously colorful eatery with its own fleet of exotic belly dancers. Inexpensive pan-Asian and American cooking - including Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese specialties - is served at Vynl, a funky retro diner with a friendly staff. And for you homesick southern girls, fill up on amazingly authentic Cajun and Creole fare at the Delta Grill, a brassy and seductive neighborhood canteen that pays homage to down-home faves like fried chicken with candied yams.
Sassy and sexy lounges are all the rage in Hell's Kitchen. The trend started a couple years ago with the opening (technically northeast of the neighborhood) of Chase, a swanky and attractive little space with a particularly cozy lounge tucked into the back. The latest notables include Posh, which could just as easily be called "Lush" for its fab drink specials ($5 watermelon martinis all night on Fridays and Saturdays); Barrage, a favorite happy hour hideout for gay scenesters and media upstarts; and Fusion, a sassy but friendly neighborhood joint. Finally, a little-advertised hot spot in the neighborhood is the darkly inviting Xth Avenue Lounge, a laid-back hole-in-the-wall with a great cocktail menu, excellent light food, and trippy music.