Welcome (Back) to White Plains

Rediscover our county seat, newly reborn and teeming with culture, cuisine, and, oh yes, all those retail therapy oppurtunities.



White Plains:10 Reasons to Love It

 

BY Karen Odom   Photography by Iko

 

In planning a recent girls’ night out, a good friend and I were making crucial decisions about the what, when and where. Would it be dinner or a movie, dinner and a movie, shopping and dinner, dinner and a play, a play and then a late-night dinner? Obviously, eating would be an important part of our evening, bringing up another major decision—where to dine? Would it be Blue? Trotters? The Cheesecake Factory? Should we go new and trendy or tried and true? The choices seemed endless. And that’s when it hit me. The choices were endless—and they were all in White Plains! And no matter what we decided, we

didn’t even have to set foot outside of downtown. Trendy? Late night? White Plains? It wasn’t that long ago when those words would never have been strung together in the same sentence. 

What’s to like about the rejuvenated White Plains these days?  Plenty!  Here are ten among the many reasons to love my adopted hometown:

 

[1] It Is Resilient

 

White Plains has

been through a lot after its glory days in the 1950s and ’60s, it languished for a while, especially the downtown area after the arrival of indoor malls began sucking the life out of Mamaroneck Avenue, once known as “the Fifth Avenue of Westchester County.” Now, as a result of an extreme makeover, the whole city has been infused with a new energy—just the jolt it needed to come back to life. The city is positively exploding with new places to work and play. At the center of all the hoopla is City Center, the new $325 million entertainment, retail and residential complex—conceived and created by super developer Louis Cappelli—that is completely revitalizing the heart of White Plains. Finally a movie theater in White Plains—and not just a single-screen theater, but a 15-screen multiplex! Icing on the cake is the new state-of-the-art White Plains Performing Arts Center, and more than 500 luxury apartments and condominiums that are being created for people who like living at the center of things. And when City Center is finally complete, there will be 27 vaulted-ceiling, SoHo-style loft rentals and two luxury townhouses in “The Lofts at City Center,” plus the Trump Tower luxury condominiums.

 

[2] It Is Delightfully Diverse

 

White Plains is diverse in every way and all the richer for it. The city has a population of roughly 55,900 covering all ranges of ethnicity, culture, income, background, education and profession. That mixture expands significantly when the population swells to some 200,000 on weekdays when equally diverse businesses, their employees and other visitors make White Plains their temporary home. And White Plains caters to them all.

 

[3] It Is a Realtor’s Dream

 

When it comes to selling White

Plains, there’s no end to its appealing points. One of the best things about White Plains is that it offers such a wide range of housing options. It’s easy to find the dwelling of your dreams, whether it’s a rental apartment (with or without such high-end amenities as a pool, health club and concierge) or a small estate. Naturally, there’s a price range to match. A single-family home averages $655,000 (from $399,000 on the low end to over $1 million on the high end), according to both real estate partners Wendy and Dana Topper with ERA Insite Realty Services and data from the Westchester-Putnam Multiple Listing Service. Condos go for as low as $97,000 to as high as $500,000 (although the new Trump Tower condos are expected to cost between $600,000 and $2 million, when completed sometime in 2005). Rentals run anywhere from $1,300 for a substantial one-bedroom to $5,000 for a tony penthouse with great panoramic views in City Center’s One City Place.

 

Now, even more luxury apartments have been added to the mix. What we in White Plains called the “Hole in the Ground” has transformed into Bank Street Commons, a complex with 500 luxury apartments and the shortest possible commute to the White Plains train station. It takes less than 40 minutes by express train to get into Manhattan.

 

[4] It is Culturally Rich

 

Why trek into Manhattan to experience extraordinary music, art or theater? Your cultural desires can easily be met right in the heart of White Plains.

 

Making Music

On any Wednesday between September and May, you can feed your soul at lunchtime at Grace Church’s Downtown Music (33 Church Street, 914-949-0384). Since 1988, the church has been offering “Noonday Getaway Concerts” on Wednes-days—bite-sized music breaks from 12:10 to 12:40 p.m. for workers and residents. Taking in a little midday culture couldn’t be easier, and the music is first rate and free, although donations are happily accepted. The brainchild of Music Director Timothy Lewis, the series serves samples of concert-quality music in an intimate setting and, Lewis says, “it gives musicians, whose talents are often hidden within an orchestra, the chance to shine.” 

The Music Conservatory of Westchester (216 Central Avenue, 914-761-3900) has been a mainstay of White Plains for 75 years. Since moving into its new facility on Central Avenue, across from the Westchester County Center, the Conservatory is much more visible, easier to reach and has more space for its popular on-site concerts like the “Music on Central” series, which showcases performances by world-class musicians from classical to jazz and introduces kids to the orchestra and its instruments.

 

Appreciating Art

It’s easy to sample art at the Arts Exchange (31 Mamaroneck Avenue, 914-428-4220), the permanent home of the Westchester Arts Council, the keeper of all things cultural in Westchester since 1965. Located in one of the few remaining landmark buildings in downtown White Plains—the site of the former People’s National Bank and Trust of 1928—it acts as an “arts incubator” for area artists to connect and create. During periodic Open Studio Days, artists open their studios to the public.

 

We Love The Nightlife

We’ll always love Broadway, but maybe we won’t make the trek quite as often now that the White Plains Performing Arts Center (City Center, 11 City Place, 888-977-2250) is an option. Comedian Bob Newhart set high standards opening night, and the theater has been consistently delivering the best of Broadway and original theater ever since.

For those who like to party, Hush, a new bar-lounge with a cosmopolitan vibe, just opened (182 E. Post Road, 914-428-2044). Mingle with the beautiful people and listen to music until 4 a.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights (until 1 a.m. weekdays).  

 

[5] It Is a Shopper’s Paradise

 

Whether you’re into  mega stores or charming little boutiques, you can shop to your heart’s content in the heart of White Plains. Of course, the Galleria, which is anchored by Macy’s and Sears, is a mainstay, but since 1995, serious shoppers have been flexing their shopping muscles at The Westchester (125 Westchester Avenue, 914-683-8600). The Westchester is more than just an upscale mall; it’s Rodeo Drive under one roof! The mall’s 150-plus stores include such notable names as Neiman Marcus, Tiffany & Co., Burberry, Versace Jeans Couture, Oilily, Kenneth Cole and Nordstrom (New York’s first). You can even have your car hand-washed and detailed while you browse. Last year, The Westchester and its well-heeled neighbor, Bloomingdale’s (175 Bloomingdale’s Road, 914-684-6300), were joined by Fortunoff The Source (1 Maple Avenue, 914-287-8700).

 

But there’s more to shopping in White Plains than its malls. You won’t want to miss its very special shopping gems, like Zoya NYC (506 Mamaroneck Avenue, 914-390-9692), a women’s clothing boutique ideal for the young and trendy with bodies to match. 

That Old Black Magic Gift Gallery (163 Mamaroneck Avenue, 914-328-7212) is one of those specialty gems, featuring all things rooted in the African-American experience, from signed lithographs to greeting cards. The inviting, intimate shop is as fascinating as its memorable name, which owner Donna Chambers says pays tribute to the legendary love song, “That Old Black Magic,” not to magic products or witchcraft, as some customers mistakenly believe. And you don’t have to be African American to appreciate it.  The striking jewelry (including some of Chambers’s own creations), exquisite vases ($24-$200), and amazing elephant collection (a brass elephant table lamp goes for $125) should appeal to anyone who has an artistic eye. 

 

If it’s couture fashion you’re after, look no farther than Mamaroneck Avenue. Mary Jane Denzer (222 Mamaroneck Avenue, 914-328-0330) is the destination for the serious shopper with serious money to spend (We’re talking $3,900 for a luscious Valentino red chiffon gown or $2,400 for a beaded evening bag that cleverly clips to the waist). People like me—a serious shopper without serious money—can only admire and drool. “You don’t have to work at shopping because the work is all done for you,” Denzer explains (and that includes parking your car).  The only finger you’ll lift is the one to write the check.

 

More affordable clothing can be found at Target and Filene’s Basement in the City Center, and while it’s outside the main downtown area, that shouldn’t stop a die-hard bargain hunter from finding Loehmann’s Shoes (29 Tarrytown Road, 914-948-0254), a new freestanding business right next door to the main store: twice the space and twice the shoes!

 

If you live in Westchester long enough, you’re bound to find yourself at the Westchester County Center (198 Central Avenue at the Bronx River Parkway, 914-995-4050) at least once for a concert, conference, trade show, job or school fair, sporting event, tournament, graduation, or, if you have a little one, even the Royal Hanneford Circus or Sesame Street Live. But you may not associate it with computer hardware and software deals. At the County Center’s monthly computer shows (my husband’s favorite), you can find hardware and software from 20 to 80 percent off retail.

 

If you’re a sports or health enthusiast, you’ll appreciate The Westchester Road Runner (179 E. Post Road, 914-682-0637). For 25 years, it has been the serious runner’s source for everything from shoes to nutritional counseling to event schedules. Known for its running expertise and products, the store uses a holistic approach, carries an entire line of homeopathic treatments and is managed by a certified homeopath, John Dowicyan. It is surrounded by nearly a dozen kindred retailers and health clubs.  And new ones are sprouting, like Elle’s Eden (914-948-9220) and Be Well Now (914-682-7391), two complementary holistic health businesses at 99 Mamaroneck Avenue formed, respectively, by partners Elenor Lindsay and Vanessa Arnold-Dash. Lindsay focuses on skincare, and they both specialize in holistic health and offer nutritional counseling.

 

Culinary Creations

If, unlike me, you know your way around Asian cooking, you’ll be impressed with Westchester’s largest Asian food market, Kam Sen Foods (22 Barker Avenue, 914-428-4500) in the White Plains Mall, across the hall from the Department of Motor Vehicles. You’ll find all kinds of Asian selections from Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan and Korea along with co-owner T.C. Kuo says, “a little bit of American,” and what Kuo claims is “the best fresh seafood selection in the county.” There is also a revamped International Open Air Market (255 Main Street, 914-422-1336) on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the City Hall parking lot.

 

[6] It Offers Delectable Dining

 

If your day just can’t start without Starbucks, White Plains now has one of its own at the corner of Court and Main Streets (200 Main Street, 914-682-1738), in the recently renovated Renaissance Plaza. This Starbucks isn’t a wireless hot spot, but the indoor-outdoor glass café is a comfortable oasis in the center of the city. 

 

Of the city’s new upscale restaurants, SoHo-inspired Blue (99 Church Street, 914-220-0000) is one of my favorites. Comfortable and contemporary, Blue lives up to its billing as “New American with an Asian flair.” All the dishes (entrées run $19-$30) have an Asian orientation from preparation to presentation. Save room for the warm chocolate Thai cake—it’s sinfully good and the ideal size for two chocolate lovers to share! After 6 p.m., parking is free behind the restaurant.

 

The two-hour wait time at The Cheesecake Factory (1 Maple Avenue, 914-683-5253) is now down to 25 to 40 minutes on weekdays, about 65 to 80 minutes on weekends. Go between 2:30 and 5 p.m. on a weekday and skip the wait altogether. The portions are huge, and the menu is long. I counted a whopping 23 appetizers, seven appetizer salads, 11 dinner salads, 59 specialties (not including the 10 pizza choices) and 35 cheesecakes.  You won’t find a kids’ menu here, but it’s a problem easily remedied—lunch portions are large enough for two kids to share and dinners can be split several ways.

 

To get your carnivore groove on, there’s Morton’s, The Steakhouse (9 Maple Avenue, 914-683-6101) right below Fortunoff, and next door is the upper crust of supermarkets, Whole Foods Market (110 Bloomingdale Road, 914-288-1300), offering 50,000 square feet of natural and organic foods.  

 

White Plains has gone Legal, now that Legal Sea Foods (City Center, 5 Mamaroneck Avenue, 914-390-9600), of Boston fame, has finally arrived. You owe it to yourself to have, at the very minimum, a bowl of clam chowder ($4.95) and to taste how Legal Sea Foods delivers on its promise of serving the freshest possible seafood in a sit-down restaurant. 

 

Recently opened at City Center is Zanaro’s Italian Restaurant (914-397-9400), a family-style restaurant that’s making its home in the old Home Savings Bank (there is even seating in the former bank vault!). Also, just opened is the Atlanta Bread Company, a bakery café specializing in breads, pastries, coffees and sandwiches.

 

But let’s not forget the tried and true. City Limits Diner (200 Central Avenue, 914-686-9000) is the perfect spot for breakfasting with friends, family, business associates, or just yourself and a good book! But it’s equally good for lunch or dinner. It may have a retro style and 1950s décor, but this is not your parents’ diner. City Limits, owned by the Livanos family, turns traditional diner fare on its head with a delicious distinctive twist. Menu options ($4.25-$26.95) run from variations on familiar comfort foods to Italian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Oriental-inspired selections. City Limits has a second (and smaller) White Plains location in The Westchester (914-761-1111). 

 

For a fun upscale Chinese food experience and a welcome break from shopping, try P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (The Westchester, 125 Westchester Avenue, 914-997-6100).  You’ll find an innovative gourmet twist in every dish from appetizer to dessert. That also goes for its vegetarian dishes, its special gluten-free menu and its selection of 50 wines, every one of which can be ordered by the bottle or by the glass. Save yourself some aggravation and make reservations, especially between 6:30 and 9 p.m., the restaurant’s busiest time.

 

In the mood for modern Italian? Papa Razzi (1 North Broadway, 914-949-3500) is a popular destination for regional Italian cuisine in a trattoria-styled setting that’s classy and relaxed. Especially known for its signature pastas with made-to-order sauces ($9-$15) and wood-fired, thin-crust gourmet pizzas ($10), it also has a full selection of entrées ($11-$25). Don’t worry about the hassle of parking—valet parking is available and, in summer, the front patio opens for outdoor seating.

 

For a traditional and more formal Italian dining experience, try Gregory’s (324 Central Avenue, 914-684-8855), which may very well serve the best veal chop around.

For seriously elegant dining, consider Trotters (175 Main Street, 914-421-5012), a high-end establishment that makes you feel special just by being there, a feeling that’s reinforced by the attentive service. Its sophisticated, spacious bar area at the entrance leads to a cozy, plush dining room with soft lighting and soft jazz to set the mood, perfect for lingering over the Mediterranean fare and a bottle of wine from the extensive wine list. Trotters caters to the theater crowd, so you can count on getting served by 6:30 and out in time for an 8 p.m. curtain call at the White Plains Performing Arts Center down the street.

 

Feeling romantic—or not?  Sweetwaters (577 N. Broadway, 914-328-8918) is on the outskirts of the main business district and well worth the side trip. Delightfully charming, warm and intimate, it will make you feel comfortable whether you’re a couple or with a group of friends.  Sweetwaters specializes in Continental cuisine like its seared filet of salmon with an avocado cream sauce, wasabi mashed potatoes and snow peas ($20). There’s live music in the rear bar area Thursday through Sunday.

 

Feeling nostalgic? Brooklyn’s Famous Subs Shop & Pasta (51 Court Street, 914-422-0115) is truly a blast from the past—right back to a 1950s soda shop from Happy Days! And happy is exactly what owners Vicki and Dano Weisse  want you to feel.  “We think of the ’50s as a happy time,” Vicki says. “I want people to come in, feel refreshed and forget their problems at least for 30 minutes.” This refreshing, family-friendly piece of nostalgia is authentic down to the black-and-white checkered floor, old-fashioned soda fountain, ’50s music, 45-rpm records on the walls, jukeboxes and extra-friendly service. While the prices aren’t retro, they’re definitely reasonable.

 

[7] It Is Family Friendly

 

There’s no shortage of family-friendly activities here.  This is just a sampling of some of the newest cool kids’ stuff (for kids big and small)!

 

There really is a way to enjoy a rare trip to the movies and have adult conversation with other parents, thanks to the Baby Pictures program (City Center 15: Cinema De Lux, 19 Mamaroneck Avenue, 914-428-3893) that has been running every other Thursday since February. National Amusements has covered every detail to make babies (and their parents) happy—dim lighting, a low movie volume, baby changing stations with moist towelettes, garbage pails for diapers, space for strollers, and a food cart with baby-friendly breakfast goodies. Movies start at 10 a.m. A little noise? No problem. Admission is $6.25 for adults and free for babies up to one year.  Call or check the Web site www. nationalamusements.com/babycity.asp for movie selections and dates.

 

Older kids will get a kick out of the Build-a-Bear Workshop (125 Westchester Avenue, 914-328-3939) a fun, new addition to The Westchester. But only stop if you’re ready to buy.  No kid should be tortured with 30 stuffed animal choices and not take one home. If you’re unfamiliar with Build-a-Bear, there are eight steps (and corresponding activity stations) to the process: choose me, hear me, stuff me, stitch me, fluff me, dress me, name me and take me home (with an authentic birth certificate). Go on a weekday to avoid the rush of eager bear builders.

 

If you crave the outdoors, depending on the season, you can now fish, boat, hike and picnic at Liberty Park (off of Lake Street at Silver Lake), the city’s brand new waterfront park.  Don’t forget long-time favorites like ice skating at Ebersole Ice Rink (Delfino Park, 53 Lake Street, 914-422-1348) and Bike & Skate Sundays (914-864-PARK or 914-995-4050), when the Bronx River Parkway closes to cars and opens to bicyclists and skaters on most Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in May, June and September. The path starts at the Westchester County Center in White Plains and ends at Scarsdale Road in Yonkers. 

 

[8] It Is Rooted in History

 

White Plains had a pretty impressive start. It began as 4,435 acres of land purchased from Mohican Indians by a group of Rye colonists in 1683. The English translation of the Indian word, “Quarropas,” referring to the plains of white mist created from heavy fogs that hovered over the swamplands. White Plains is also:

-the birthplace of the State of New York;

-the site of one of George Washington’s stands against the British in 1776;

-the seat of county government since 1778;

-Westchester County’s transportation hub since the mid-19th century;

 

[9] It is the best of both worlds

 

White Plains offers the best of both worlds—it’s a city but with a small-town feel, a lot of heart and, yes, even charm.  If you like excitement, entertainment, fantastic shopping, great bargains, fine restaurants, good food, cultural experiences and intellectual stimulation plus grass, trees and open space, this “city in the park” delivers. It’s vibrant, fascinating, friendly, fun, interesting, bold and sophisticated.

A final word about parking in post-renaissance White Plains: patience. Free parking is almost a relic of the past, but municipal lots abound.

 

[10] It is Central and Essential to Westchester County

 

Positioned at the crossroads of Westchester County, White Plains is the unofficial dividing line between north and south Westchester As Westchester’s capital city, it’s home to such county institutions as local, state and federal courts and offices, the Westchester Arts Council, the Music Conservatory of Westchester, the Westchester Business Council, the Westchester County Center, and the Westchester County Airport.

 

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

 

Don’t think the transformation of White Plains is complete. Like any major makeover, the work is done in stages and there may be nips and tucks along the way, not to mention ongoing maintenance.  That means still more development ahead—Renaissance Square, the next Cappelli residential/office/hotel venture, is slated to open on Main Street in 2006. Okay, so there’s more construction, noise and traffic jams in store. But in the end, there’ll be even more to like.

 

 

Freelance writer Karen Odom lives, shops, gets her hair done, dines at fine restaurants, takes in cultural events, and exercises in White Plains.

 
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