Urban Explorer: Hey, What is a SoHo, Anyway?

A Guide to Tackling One of New York’s Hippest Neighborhoods


You know those obligatory New York City walks you take your out-of-town visitors on? A while ago, a friend visiting from South Korea came and I offered to show him around. An example of one of our conversations went something like this. I said, “Hey, let’s head down to SoHo for some shopping.” His reply put me in tears of laughter.

Street art keeps SoHo alive and vibrant. (Malaya Saldana /The Observer)

“What’s a SoHo?”

It’s fair to “LOL” at this statement, but how many of us can truly answer that question?

SoHo wasn’t always the fast-paced and trendy, shop-filled center it seems to be today. When this area south of Houston Street was coined “SoHo,” it beat with a different pulse. Like most “OMG-now-I-am-so-hip-and-cool” areas of this city, SoHo was a bit of a ghetto and a haven for starving artists. I mean, if it was once known as “Hell’s Hundred Acres,” you can guess what an industrial wasteland it was. But by the 20th century, the artists and activists moved in, lured by cheap rent and legendary workspace-sized lofts. Before we could invent the television, SoHo was transforming into what it is today: a romanticized neighborhood of New York where celebrities like John Mayer rub elbows with models at SoHo Grand Hotel.

Walking through SoHo now, it seems each block is distinct. There’s a shift in demographic as we move off of Broadway where the fashionistas, the teenage Europeans and the Jersey Shore seem to collide in a molecularly frantic way. The gaping mouths of big time retailers scream into the streets, along with the rumble of traffic on Broadway. Topshop shrieks, “SALE!” and Mango roars, “20 PERCENT OFF!” Broadway is SoHo’s main stream, and from it trickle other lines of retail and restaurant life.

SoHo is a New York City neighborhood ready for exploration; it’s safer than Sugar Hill Harlem and less of a Disneyland than Times Square. Honestly, when cool young family members come to visit from Toronto, Hong Kong or Manila, I take them to SoHo.

So, head over to SoHo and  discover your own answer to, “What is a SoHo?”


Your Urban Explorer

Best Brunch
1 Dominick
1 Dominick St
New York, NY 10013
(212) 647-0202

One of the best-rated places in SoHo, 1 Dominick undeniably worth a try. Linked in with the Art Center, it’s full of character, intimacy and big, people-watching windows. Try Italian food with perfect portions that won’t go to waste. Like many SoHo eateries, innovation abounds. If you don’t try their Baked Joey’s Ricotta for dessert, I’ll mourn for you.

Best Mid-day Snack
Ruben’s Empanadas
505 Broome St (between Thompson Street and Sullivan Street)
New York, NY 10013

Like most New Yorkers, you probably aren’t contained by the rigid limitations of the common American’s three-meals-a-day. Plus, I hear eating small snacks throughout the day is pretty healthy. Healthy or not, Ruben’s Empanadas serves up the best empanadas, which are delicious, warm pastries/breads filled with meat, fruit or anything, really. The Spicy Chicken empanadas, my personal favorite, will make you call for a glass of water and a second serving.

A ‘Nice’ Dinner
The Mercer Kitchen
99 Prince St (between Mercer Street and Greene Street)
New York, NY 10012

Jean Georges, the well known chef, serves up the best at this very Manhattan establishment. That means make reservations! The ambiance is modern with comforting, tried-and-true tastes echoed in the food. The lentil and scallops plate I ordered was surprising and delicious. The restaurant has different levels, and from where I sat, I could watch the chefs prepare the food like friendly surgeons. But all foodie-ness aside, it’s a great place for a special occasion.

Best Movie Theater
Angelika Film Center & Café
18 West Houston St (between Broadway and Crosby Street)
New York, NY 10012

It’s honestly one of my favorite movie theaters in the world. Why? The relaxed atmosphere is a plus in this busy city and they show some of the best independent films around. The screens may be a little small and the lines a little long, but if you haven’t been here yet, go! Trade in your soda and popcorn for a healthy eating experience; enjoy vegan and organic foods from the cinema café while watching the latest Sofia Coppola film. This place is a cooler alternative to Lincoln Plaza Cinemas by a long run.

Best Bookstore
Housing Works Bookstore Café
130 Crosby St
New York, NY 10012

This popular bookstore is operated by volunteers and gives you a way to replenish your Karma points, caffeine and literature. One hundred percent of the profits are given to the Housing Works non-profit organization, which aids the homeless. Books are reasonably priced and there is a comfortable seating area if you ever want to study somewhere outside Fordham.