When I asked my friend what he would like to do for his recent birthday he quickly responded with “Peking Duck!” I said, "Peking Duck?" Yes, he said, 28 Mott Street. And so, we went to the heart of Chinatown on Mott Street just around the corner from the “bloody angle” on Doyers Street. What’s that? You don’t know about the “bloody angle?” It was the sight of many Tong or gang wars in the early 20th century. Now a peaceful haven of restaurants and shops, its history goes back to the earliest colonial times with Columbus Park being the site of the infamous Five Points. Many of the buildings go back to the 18th and 19th centuries. But the important thing to know is that the Peking Duck is excellent!! And with the meal you get duck soup, which Groucho would love. And the dumplings are excellent, too.
After a meal like that, my friend decided to go home and rest. I, however, decided to walk, so I headed uptown on Mulberry Street through Chinatown across Canal Street, which at one point in NYC history actually was a water-filled canal that emptied into the Collect Pond that people fished and swam in. Having long ago been filled in, I crossed Canal easily and headed into Little Italy, that enclave home of Italian immigrants crammed in just like the Chinese were. And to my luck the street was closed off so I had free range walking uptown. To my surprise, Little Italy seemed to have expanded reversing a multi-decade decline. Vibrant, alive, full of cheerful visitors and gelato, the streets were electric in the late afternoon sun-bathed paths.
Moving through Little Italy toward the northern section now known as NoLita, I came to Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the refuge of early Irish immigrants built in 1809, and NYC’s first cathedral before the seat of power moved uptown. Old St. Patrick's is also the scene of the famous baptism segment in the original Godfather movie and also has a role in the Godfather III sequel. But probably more interesting is the 1836 riots that took place there between the “No-Nothing” Nativists who attacked the Cathedral and the Catholics for being, well, Catholic! Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and the church survives surrounded by a peaceful cemetery.
Crossing Houston Street and going just a bit west to Lafayette Street, I walked toward the Public Theater just south of St. Mark’s place and Cooper Union. While most of this area is being eaten up by NYU and their ever-growing sprawl, the area itself is home to some very rich history, too. The Theater was originally the Astor mansion. And Cooper Union was the site of Abraham Lincoln’s famous “Right makes Might” speech!
Continuing up Third Avenue and East 10th Street, you hit Grace Episcopal Church. A beautiful piece of architecture! Finally crossing over to the east side and walking down across Park Avenue to Irving Place and heading north, you find yourself walking up to the only private park in all of Manhattan: Gramercy Park. In order to get into this park, you have to live in one of the cooperatives surrounding the park, and then they give you a key! How cool is that. New York is filled with history and beauty, and as the weather cools off, get out and take a walk, it’s good for the soul and your health!
By Lou Pastina