Cool Westchester

Tribeca, SoHo, NoHo, NoLiTa. Now NoMa-you heard it here first.


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How Westchester Got to Be So Cool

 

Grab a pair of dark shades, rev up your car’s engine, and come explore the county you call home for the coolest, hippest, wildest, funkiest restaurants, bars, shops, music, structures, and art. Are you prepared to be cool?

 

 

 

You can tell your Manhattan and Brooklyn friends that their monopoly on hip, urbane style is very last decade. The restaurants, shops and experiences are here. Try not to smirk.

 

 

When I told my Manhattan friends that I was moving to Westchester, their reaction was one of shock and horror.

“You can’t move to Westchester!” my friend Lisa wailed, envisioning some kind of fascist Peyton Place. “You’re a vegetarian with a tattoo. They’ll eat you for lunch—on white bread.”

“You’re going to get one of those horrible pageboy haircuts with pinstripe streaks of blond,” my friend Karen shuddered. (At the time, my hair was Raggedy Ann red, my colorist having been inspired by the similarly-coiffed heroine of the East German film, Run Lola Run.) “And what about diversity?” she asked. “If you have kids, don’t you want to raise them in the real world instead of a giant mall?”

“I’m moving to a very cool, Berkeley-esque village called Katonah with its own contemporary art museum, a natural-foods store,  and a New Age bookstore,” I said, defensively. “It’s not really suburbia.”

“Is there one of those huge super-markets with an aisle devoted to nothing but greeting cards and office supplies?” Rachel wanted to know.

“Yes,” I said proudly. “It’s in the next town and it’s open twenty-four hours a day!”

“It’s suburbia,” she said, sadly. “Don’t worry, we won’t tell people where you moved—we’ll just tell them you died.”

Fast-forward 10 years. While my Manhattan friends, mostly denizens of the Upper West Side, push Bugaboos along Broadway from Starbucks to Barnes & Noble to Victoria’s Secret (Hey, Karen, who lives in a giant mall now?), Westchester has gotten cool. And it’s gotten cool not by imitating Manhattan (What could be sadder?) but by developing its own inimitable sense of place.

Here in Westchester, local agriculture, sophisticated inhabitants, cultural institutions both old and new, and unmatched scenery (think Hudson River School of painting, if you’re at a loss), have combined to create something special. Like Brooklyn before it, Westchester has become a place where it’s possible to be cool and still have both kids and a walk-in closet. So, to you readers who, in our “Best of Westchester” issue (July 2006) voted “proximity to the city” as the greatest thing about living here, I have this to say: it’s time to put down the latte and The Innocent Man and come with me on a guided tour of all that’s hip, happening, and worth doing in 914. This is Westchester, Baby, and we ain’t no one’s bedroom community.

 

 

 

Cool Place:

Yonkers Waterfront

 

  

 

Screaming yellow zonkers, what’s in Yonkers? Get down to Main Street and the quickly changing waterfront and see for yourself. There’s Heart & Soul boutique (22 Main Street), where I bought a pair of rhinestone skull earrings, a hair salon called Shesocko (39 Main Street) where they probably don’t do pageboys, a really cool nail salon, Shellion Nail and Foot (#37), where you feel prettier just sitting in the pedicure chair, and a very impressive crop of restaurants.

 

 

Zuppa has big-date Italian cuisine and dramatic décor. Bistro Chartreuse has cool, exposed brick and creative bistro fare (the proprietors just unveiled an open-air tapas bar across the street where patrons can dine under eye-popping tromp l’oeil murals). And down on the waterfront itself, there are casual bars with café tables, and the mack daddy of all big-deal restaurants,

 

Xaviars on the Hudson.

 

 

Feel like dancing? Stop in at The Loft Dance and Fitness for a hip-hop class or learn to striptease and shake that suburban stereotype to the curb.

 

 

 

Cool Place:

Tarrytown

 

Here, it’s not any one establishment that screams “cool,” but rather, a kind of funky, one-of-a-kind weltanschauung. This is the kind of place that appeals to an artsy, bohemian sensibility—the kind of person who isn’t supposed to live in Westchester. The edible options alone speak of diversity, craft, and sophistication. There’s French-Mediterranean cuisine at Chiboust (14 Main St), inexpensive Greek food at Lefteris Gyro (1 N Broadway), an un-chintzy teahouse Silver Tips Tea (3 N Broadway), and even an artisanal chocolatier Anna Shea Chocolates (4 S Washington St).

Shop culture is a hipster’s dream. There are great antiques shops all along Main Street full of attainable finds, an art gallery, Gallery du Soleil (39 Main St), and boutiques selling everything from booties to handcrafted baubles. To cap it all off, there’s Tarrytown’s glorious Music Hall showcasing live concerts, comedy, and dance. And as you stroll from place to place, you’ll catch glimpses of that beautiful river shimmering below. You might go home with a mid-century modern coffee table or a dusty seltzer bottle, a box of truffles, or a tin of oolong. But you’ll be back.

 

 

 

Cool Place:

White Plains

 

 

The Westchester isn’t the only place to find style. On Mamaroneck Avenue, check out Zoya NYC, Inc. (#506), for the embroidered Antik Denim jeans and selection of LA designers trendy enough to keep Jessica Simpson happy. (Consider yourself truly hip if you recognize all the names.) You can sip a smoothie from Big Apple while you get your hair revamped at Static, a Westchester Magazine perennial favorite or Demirjian Hair Salon, another favorite. And when you’re clothed, cut, and refreshed, hit the abundant nightlife scene.

 

 

Did I say nightlife? Why yes, I did! On weekends, crowds move from one nightspot to another along Mamaroneck Avenue. All evening, a human river of college-age kids, twentysomethings, and their older counterparts, wind through the bars, stopping at Kelly’s, The Thirsty Turtle, Black Bear, James Joyce, and Lazy Boy Saloon and Ale House. And if you’re pining for the velvet ropes of a Manhattan dance club, check out 107, a New York-style club with three distinct environments at 107 Mamaroneck Avenue. Before you go anywhere, however, know that all these venues attract different ages and crowds—sometimes switching moods on different nights. Generally speaking, Kelly’s and Thirsty Turtle attract college kids and recent grads, Black Bear caters to an early 20s crowd, James Joyce skews slightly older, and Lazy Boy Saloon attracts an older, more sedate crowd. And if you’re dusting off your platform shoes, know that Aura attracts 20-year-olds on Friday nights but a more mature (and here, “mature” means 30s) crowd on Saturdays. The house doesn’t start rocking until 1:00 am, so plan on a late night and don’t forget to tip the babysitter.

 

 

 

Cool Place:

Pleasantville

 

  

 

Once upon a time, this town had so much baggage that it almost had to go cool. Remember the film Pleasantville about a repressive suburban dystopia? How about the ‘60s classic pop tune, “Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees? Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, the song describes “Another Pleasant Valley Sunday, charcoal burning everywhere/Another Pleasant Valley Sunday here in status symbol land.” Pleasant Valley, Pleasantville. Hmmm. Whether a nominal coincidence or a thinly-disguised dig, there’s little doubt that the song easily could describe Westchester’s mid-county suburb of yore. How do you rebound from that kind of rep? How about by building a fine-arts cinema, the Jacob Burns Film Center, and showing some Kubrick?

 

 

The Burns, now five years old, does more than just screen the classics (West Side Story and The Sound of Music) along with new releases you won’t catch at the local multiplex. It’s become a cinematiste’s best friend. For example, when the Burns was airing Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore himself was spotted in the lobby. Apparently, he was there to see another movie that the Burns was showing on another screen, but upon being recognized, he graciously stayed to answer his fellow patrons’ questions. Jonathan Demme, director of both The Silence of the Lambs, and a documentary about Neil Young, has come to discuss his work. (He also hosts a monthly film series.) And even Salma Hayek has made an appearance.

 

 

While the Burns certainly anchors Pleasantville’s hip strip, there are other outposts. After having your belly pierced or your skin inked at the local tattoo parlor, The Tattoo Shop on Bedford Road, you can dine at the haute-yet-happening Iron Horse Grill or Frodo’s (a 2005 “Best of Westchester” selection). In the mood for a creative libation? Check out the signature cocktails at Lucy’s Lounge. From under its outdoor cabana, look up at the evening sky (just try doing that in Manhattan), and say, with great contentment, “Yup, I live here.”

 

 

 

Cool Place:

Mount Kisco

 

 

The clone army has control of South Moger Avenue: Gap, Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Victoria’s Secret, Starbucks, and Cosi all have garrisons here. But peek down the pedestrian mall, the South Moger Promenade, and you’ll catch glimpses of character and cool.

 

 

I bought the coolest shirt I own at (Knoyzz), a hip boutique that sells clothing for rich teens and moms who dress like them. A story about that shirt: It was designed by Ed Hardy, the man who also inked the tattoo on my ankle. It looks like an ordinary T-shirt but has flesh-colored, sheer mesh sleeves adorned with colorful designs. When I wear it, it looks as though my arms are completely covered in tattoos. I wore it to Neiman Marcus once and caused widespread panic. Salespeople covered their mouths in horror and pointed at me as they whispered to colleagues. I now own two of these shirts.

 

 

Want a snack? Temptation Tea House, also on the Promenade, has Asian teahouse fare (everything from desserts to steamed shrimp dumplings) to accompany one of my all-time favorite treats, bubble tea. For the uninitiated, it’s sweetened, milky tea with edible, chewy “pearls” of tapioca. I like the coconut-flavored black tea, served iced. Next door, Ladles of Love serves up homemade soups and stews with an attitude that is the antithesis of New York’s famed Soup Nazi. They’ll even pour you a free sample to help you make your selection. If you want to indulge and make someone else feel good too, head to Connie’s Bakery and General Store. Their chocolate chip cookies and UFOs have won acclaim from this magazine and they donate all their profits to charity. How’s that for cool?

On Main Street, New York Dolls (#32) sells trendy clothes from the likes of Betsey Johnson and Young Fabulous & Broke. On the One (#153) has clothing for fashion-forward women who wouldn’t wear their teenage daughter’s clothes but wouldn’t be caught dead in sensible shoes. At 200 E. Main, ebhome sells contemporary furniture and home goods that loft lovers will appreciate. And before you collapse into that mid-century Eames chair, feed your head with a book from Borders (#162) that’s not on the bestseller list.

 

 

 

 

 

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