Urban Explorer: There’s Plenty to See Down in Chelsea

Galleries Galore Line the Spacious Streets of This Downtown Aesthetic Haven


Art can be found everywhere in Chelsea, even on the walls outside. (Malaya Saldana/The Observer)

Bordering the Hudson River, Chelsea is a facet of New York that exudes aesthetic appeal: a world of exposed brick walls, Ray-Ban Wayfarers, tulips and tasteful street art. Even Hollywood starlets like Natalie Portman choose to live here over sunny California. The juxtaposition of modern art galleries filled with an imported affluent hipster population and the tailor-cut old world architecture reinforces Chelsea’s title as Manhattan’s tastefully-hip neighborhood.

It is difficult to ignore the tiny, tugging prejudice that equates itself with the word tasteful—pretentious. In a place where supermodels Hiedi Klum and Gisele Bundchen call each other neighbors, it’s easy to consider this place exclusive and uppity. With rows of garishly decorated modern art galleries and ten-dollar beers, it’s not difficult to forget that while this may be the “hub of the arts,” according to Time Out New York, it is for the artists who’ve already made it. Still, while crowds of 30-somethings may glance at oncoming human traffic with an “art I chic-er than thou?” attitude, there is something about Chelsea that makes you overlook its somewhat conceited nature for its undeniable assets.

These assets come with Chelsea’s surprising and hidden secret: its accessibility. Behind the façade of  artsy-snobbery lies a foundation made of free galleries, parks and public spaces that prove that a day in Chelsea doesn’t have to mean another day of emptying your wallet. The walk down 23rd Street towards the water is peaceful, as the sun sets and makes you forget (if only for an instant) the usual hustle and bustle of the city.

During your walk to the river, the first thing you’ll notice is that every other building houses an art gallery. Each gallery is free of charge, so you can avoid MoMA’s $12 admission price, or a long Friday evening line.

The Chelsea Market is another very accessible experience, while it’s a little too mall-like for me, it’s a place where you can look around at specialty shops and enjoy the company of friendly Bohemian bourgeois families. Walking along the recently opened High Line, it’s impossible to deny the accessibility of this amazing new public space to relax and take in the melodic views of the Hudson River to your west, and the New York skyline to your east.

Chelsea, home to modern art powerhouses, rears the next art star while breeding an undeniable air of cool elegance. Scenic springtime in Chelsea is an experience for everyone.


Your Urban Explorer

The High Line
Many entrances, 10th Ave and West 16th St. New York 10011

Like the majority of Chelsea, the High Line park is a public space where visual magic happens. From gorgeous sunsets to an unparalleled landscape design, this elevated walkway is an amazing way to view downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River. The High Line may not be the park to play basketball in, but a place to bask in the beauty of a clever integration of nature in an urban space.

Chelsea Hotel, The Chelsea Room
222 West 23rd St. 10011

This legendary hotel houses something more than rich history and great art; one of its best rooms is not found on the pent house, but in the basement. The close quarters of the recently opened Chelsea Room is a bohemian-esq venue packed with a mixed crowd. Pricey drinks are the tradeoff for great DJ’s and better company.

Chelsea Market
75th Ninth Ave., New York 10011

I have mixed feelings about Chelsea Market. The first time I went there it was afterhours and almost empty. The second time I went was on a lively spring Saturday afternoon. I liked it better the first time. While the Chelsea market, located in an old Nabisco factory, is regarded as a cool place to go to for an interesting shopping experience, it almost reminded me of a glorified mall or supermarket brimming with fair trade goods, while trying to emulate a mix of old-style European market and hippie farmer’s market. While I wasn’t particularly taken with the meticulous atmosphere, I couldn’t deny the quality of their produce and food. Also, the abundance of adorable families and subsequent cute babies was heartwarming.

Jin Kemper Fine Art
501 West 23rd St. New York 10011

Deciding which Chelsea art gallery to feature in Urban Explorer was initially very difficult. How can I pick one gallery when each is so unique and, for the most part, equally impressive? Kempner’s stood apart from the rest, not because of the art inside the gallery, but for the outside architecture of the gallery itself. This contemporary art gallery is designed with the buildings around it, using old-school materials like steel in modern ways (elevations, rock gardrens and asymmetrical window placement). This gallery was filled with natural light, and a welcoming atmosphere. The pieces it showcased ranged from organic rock sculptures to black and white Nicki-Minaj-inspired portraits.

119 7th Ave. New York 10021

One cold January night, a good friend and I found ourselves at the border of civilized living: freezing, phoneless and famished on a street lined with unopened storefronts at 2 am. A golden chariot (taxi) rescued us; once waved down, we jumped in and said, “Take us to the best food place nearby that’s still open.” Six minutes later we found ourselves at Cafeteria, a modern restaurant with décor reminiscent of a super-hip lounge from four years ago. The service was quick and the food was trendy New-York-American. The dish that set it apart was its macaroni and cheese. Yes, it may sound like kindergarten, but simple comfort food is just what we needed that cold day. Also, try their pancakes; cute, miniature and fluffy, but unlike adorable animals, these were delicious.