Must-See Meatpacking District

Christina Parrella

(Updated 02/23/2016)

A contender for the most glamorous neighborhood in Manhattan, the Meatpacking District is known for its go-go nightlife and exclusive door policies, where sun-scorched insomniacs party in hot tubs while sipping fruity cocktails. But the neighborhood, which runs from Gansevoort Street to West 14th Street and from the Hudson River to Hudson Street, has plenty of cultural, outdoor and culinary pleasures, making it much more than a bacchanalian hub.

For a start, it has a major role in the historical narrative of NYC. The Meatpacking District first became a hub for activity in the early 1800s, growing throughout that century into the market-filled industrial center that helped earn its current moniker. By the turn of the 20th century, rows of open-air meat markets, pork and veal packers, meatpacking plants, lumberyards and tenements lined the cobblestone streets. The 1960s saw some of the City’s first underground gay clubs migrate here, and the '70s brought leather shops geared to a gay clientele; the mid-'80s arrival of the (now-defunct) restaurant Florent marked a new neighborhood voice. The 24-hour French-American diner was one of the few eateries in the area, and it served as a nightspot for all, attracting a subculture of club goers and artists. Years later the French bistro Pastis (also now closed) and, following that, the Gansevoort Hotel opened up the floodgates to a crowd of fashionistas, foodies and partyers drawn to the stores, eateries and late-night venues that would take root here.

Even though the area's character has changed, the Meatpacking District is not a neighborhood with a meaningless name. Along the cobblestone streets, facades of former meat lockers as well as a few meatpackers like John Jobbagy, of J.T. Jobbagy Inc., remain. But as that industrial history fades, family-run shops, grassroots activities and new attractions draw increasingly more visitors. The popular High Line park has already established itself as a City must-see, and new downtown transplant the Whitney Museum of American Art has done the same. There’s no denying the neighborhood is undergoing yet another evolution.

To explore more, check out our interactive map of neighborhood attractions, and book a hotel so you can stay right near the action.

Photo: Timothy Schenck

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort St., 212-570-3600
After nearly 50 years on the Upper East Side, the Whitney Museum opened its new location in the Meatpacking District to no small amount of fanfare. Happily, that fanfare is much deserved. The new building—220,000 square feet spread over nine floors—was designed by Pritzker Prize–winning architect Renzo Piano and is an attraction in its own right. Galleries are flooded with natural light—one of the biggest differences between the museum's old and new homes—and have the sort of bone-colored, pine-plank hardwood floors that are the envy of everyone who's ever dreamed of a summer home. Outdoor spaces, including various decks and an enormous public plaza, offer panoramic views of both the Hudson River and Manhattan. It's clear that the museum is making a point about New York City being a kind of artwork in itself.

As for the artwork inside, the Whitney's unparalleled collection of pieces by American artists continues to be as beautiful, challenging, playful and provocative as ever. Current exhibitions include an installation by Citizenfour director Laura Poitras and a major presentation of works by Diane Arbus, Robert Gober and Jeff Koons. Film screenings, performances, talks and other public programming round out the museum's offerings.

DVF. Photo: Nathan Kraxberger

High-End Shopping
It’s easy to pinpoint the moment that the Meatpacking District began its transformation into one of the City’s luxe shopping areas: the debut of Jeffrey in 1999. Jeffrey Kalinsky, a one-time Barneys shoe buyer, opened the highbrow clothing store here in part because of the dirt-cheap rent (around $20 per square foot compared to today’s $350–400 range, which is sure to rise with the opening of the Whitney). In the period that followed, the district, which was still characterized by the blue-collar meatpacking industry, welcomed plenty more big names in fashion. Cutting-edge brands Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Yigal Azrouël would soon open here—though each of those would leave later for other pastures. In 2007, the Diane von Furstenberg flagship opened. With a building that was store, office, design studio and home (penthouse digs for von Furstenberg) all in one, the brand established a presence in the area that further catalyzed a thriving fashion business.

Luxury brands have continued to stream in, turning the area into a shopping mecca that caters to a wide clientele. There’s jeans purveyor Rag & Bone, the understatedly chic Joie and the ever-so-cute Alice + Olivia. In 2012, high-end shoe labels Nicholas Kirkwood and Christian Louboutin opened, bringing a sense of exclusivity to the area. Louboutin’s first men’s-only store, which stocks extravagant shoes and sneakers, launched here that same year. The luxury demographic became more pronounced when sought-after international imports, like Swiss loungewear label Hanro, opened US outposts in the neighborhood.

Lilla P. Photo: Marley White

Boutique Shopping
In addition to the high-profile brands, there are lesser-known labels and boutiques on a flourishing block of Washington Street between Gansevoort and Horatio Streets. These stores—among them Jay Godfrey, Owen and By Kilian—offer highly curated experiences. At its only US shop, the last of these, a French ultra-luxe perfumer started by Hennessy heir Kilian Hennessy, specializes in distinctive scents with evocative names like Arabian Nights and In the Garden of Good and Evil. There are also scented jewelry and products exclusive to NYC, such as the Apple Brandy, a woodsy fragrance.

Other boutiques in the area include Lilla P and Rapha Cycle Club. Lilla P owner and Meatpacking resident Pauline Sokol Nakios was an early arrival to the neighborhood, her showroom store supplying residents with variations on the T-shirt and other essential wardrobe staples since the late 1990s. The brand’s first stand-alone shop opened in 2011. Rapha, a purveyor of all things cycling, doubles as a café and meeting spot for bicycling enthusiasts and hosts a wide variety of events, including exhibitions, bike outings and screenings of bike races.

For antique jewelry and one-of-a-kind gifts, visit Doyle & Doyle, which stocks a full range of vintage and antique pieces from the art deco and art nouveau periods. Founded by sisters Pam and Elizabeth Doyle, who started the business by amassing a collection of estate and antique engagement rings, the store now features Victorian-era necklaces and brooches in its menagerie. Similarly, at jewelry designer Efva Attling’s only US shop, wedding and engagement rings are popular items. The offerings at the store range from demure to bold, with some rings engraved with phrases like "Wild at Heart" and "Carpe Diem."

Fig & Olive. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

Upscale Dining
It may come as no surprise that a neighborhood dubbed the Meatpacking District serves up mouthwatering viands. The aptly titled Old Homestead Steakhouse, has been serving hefty, flavorful steaks since 1868 and draws in laid-back diners. STK Downtown has a different vibe, with an ultra-chic interior, DJs spinning tracks nightly and the option for diners to choose from small, medium or large cuts of meat.

Fans of Italian food will love the elegant Del Posto, where dining is a grand experience: settle into a five- or eight-course tasting menu, in the shadow of candelabras and a sweeping staircase. At the stylish Scarpetta, standout dishes include spaghetti with tomato and basil and agnolotti pasta with short rib and bone marrow; another entrée features ravioli stuffed with duck and foie gras.

Two destinations have a connection to the TV show Top Chef. Courtesy of the competition's cohost, Tom Colicchio’s Colicchio & Sons boasts homegrown American fare and craft beers, while Catch—which until recently touted season 3 winner Hung Huynh as its executive chef (he left in early 2015)—serves up seafood tapas.

Other restaurants worthy of degustation include the go-to for transcendent Mediterranean food, Fig & Olive, Japanese fusion eatery Morimoto NY and the exotic Spice Market, a Jean-Georges Vongerichten enterprise offering up Southeast Asian street-food classics.

Bakehouse. Photo: Marley White

Casual Dining
Not everything in the Meatpacking District is on a grand, glitzy scale. There are plenty of eateries that offer delicious fare in a casual setting. One such locale is Hector’s Café & Diner, a neighborhood landmark that’s been cooking up no-frills diner fare to a blue-collar crowd since 1962. The diner, supposedly used in the Martin Scorsese film Taxi Driver, offers burgers, fries, mozzarella sticks, chicken wings and breakfast all day. In a similar retro vein is Bill's Bar & Burger, where you’ll find richly delicious—if cholesterol-enhancing—foods like a classic Bill's Burger, a beef patty topped with cheese and special sauce; the Fat Cat, an award-winning double-stack burger with cheese on an English muffin; and starters like loaded nachos and brisket chili.

The main draws at Dos Caminos involve fish tacos, margaritas and guacamole—the guac made fresh at your table. During the warmer months alfresco dining offers a first-row view of a parade of high fashion, with well-dressed crowds hitting the area’s boutiques and nightclubs. Another spot for Mexican cuisine, Bodega Negra, inhabits the ground floor of the Dream Downtown and serves up a remarkable variety of aged tequila in a mock Tudor-style tequila warehouse.

For downhome offerings like fried chicken and flaky apple pie, try Bubby's, though you can’t beat the home-baked goods at Bakehouse. Try the homemade almond croissants, which owner Philippe Bonsignour makes in the French tradition, using butter with a high-fat content. Its bistro fare includes wild mushroom omelets, ricotta pancakes and a burger topped with shredded duck and served on a house-made brioche bun.

Plunge Bar and Lounge at the Gansevoort Hotel. Photo: Julienne Schaer

Considering the seemingly limitless options in the Meatpacking District's nightlife scene, one could easily become overwhelmed. Before you start your night out, there are three things to know: sneakers will probably get you turned away from the clubs, slipping the bouncer a $20 won't work and you'll be hard-pressed to find a drink under $10 anywhere.

If you're looking for the quintessential Meatpacking experience, with velvet ropes, iced buckets of champagne and servers who have more abs than you have dollar bills, then head to the Gansevoort Hotel. The luxury hotel, which was the first of its kind in the area, offers a year-round pool, a rooftop bar (Plunge Bar and Lounge) with amazing views of downtown NYC, great dancing and lots of eye candy. The atmosphere is similar at the Dream Downtown; its penthouse lounge, Ph-D, and second-floor beach club serve up strong cocktails and serve as complements to the hotel's shiny, metallic decor. But the hardest spot to get into is Le Bain. The Standard Hotel's penthouse bar hosts all-night dance sessions and has stunning Hudson River views. Topping it all off—and providing an opportunity for the truly brave—is the hot tub on the dance floor.

For spirits, casual fun and friendly bouncers, there's the bi-level alehouse Brass Monkey, which, while not necessarily filled with brass, does contain rooms heavily decorated with that metal's components: zinc and copper. The rooftop terrace is also the perfect spot to gawk at clubbers at the Standard. And if you're in the mood to catch a live concert, there's the always-impressive Highline Ballroom.

Bumble and Bumble. Photo: Marley White

Ensuring that local residents and visitors to the Meatpacking District will look their best, several full-service salons and spas in the area offer beauty treatments. Since 2004, Bumble and bumble has been serving a varied client base with its edgy "razor cut" hairstyling method. The salon's stylists craft cuts, curls, colors and blowouts. If you're looking for a taste of life in Barbie's Dream House, visit Michael Angelo's Wonderland Beauty Parlor, where cuts, styling and coloring for hair, as well as makeup application, manicures and brow shaping, are all on the menu.

The Gansevoort Hotel hosts both beauty and wellness venues: the cozy hair salon Prieto Select offers stellar cuts and blowouts, while Exhale focuses on nurturing a healthy body and mind. Choose from spa therapies such as facials, massages and acupuncture; if you're up for sweating, try a yoga or core class. For a more intimate experience, head to Gina-Le Salon, which has just four seats in which to perform its hair, nail and grooming services.

Milk Studios and Gallery. Photo: Alexander Thompson

Art Galleries
Bordering art-centric Chelsea, the Meatpacking District boasts quite a few galleries itself. As a rite of passage, your first stop should be Milk Studios and Gallery, a crossroads for the fashion, art and nightlife worlds; during fashion week you could easily bump into A-listers like Anna Wintour, Jenna Lyons and Jared Leto. The multilevel space is used as a photography studio, runway stage and exhibition space showcasing photographs of celebrities, actresses and pop-culture icons.

The work at Ivy Brown Gallery is varied in nature, with its exhibitions and media encompassing photography, paintings and sculptures from established and up-and-coming artists. A block away is White Columns, which claims to be the City's oldest alternative space, its origins dating to 1970.

Vitra. Photo: Alex Lopez

Furniture Shops and Bookstores
Long known as a destination for acquiring innovative decor, the Meatpacking District abounds with furniture stores. The upscale furniture brand Arhaus carries a collection of carefully chosen pieces for the home, including Gothic candelabras, rough-hewn dining tables, plush rugs and knickknacks that shimmer and shine. The selection ranges from mass-produced items to one-off pieces gathered during trips overseas. Vitra is decidedly contemporary, stocked with brightly colored chairs, tables and pillows as well as museum-worthy pieces, like an Isamu Noguchi sofa. Hudson Furniture skews to shoppers looking to add a rustic touch to their homes. Here you'll find handcrafted products like tables, benches and chairs made from reclaimed or salvaged wood.

If showpiece coffee tables aren't part of your agenda, why not look for things to stack on them: rare books. The focus at Left Bank Books is on first editions: the signed copies of fiction, photography, poetry and nonfiction books make treasure hunting a little more intriguing—and potentially more rewarding (if expensive)—than at your typical bookseller. Inside Chelsea Market, the independent bookshop Posman Books offers a selection of culinary titles as well as new and classic fiction and nonfiction.

The High Line. Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

When you feel like taking a break from shopping or cultural explorations, the High Line provides an ideal counterpoint as a destination for plein-air pursuits. Not only is the green space one of the most successful revitalization projects in NYC, it's also eminently cool.

With its plantings of trees, flowers and native flora, the elevated park is a horticultural masterpiece, offering visitors a retreat from the City in the midst of it. The High Line is also a great spot for sightseers, giving a bird's-eye view of the Meatpacking District—most directly from the Gansevoort Street entrance. And the lounge chairs, benches and lawns here are good for relaxing or sunbathing. The park hosts interactive art exhibitions, performances, pop-up showcases and even stargazing, not to mention food purveyors who set up shop atop the walkway roughly mid-April to October. With waterfront views, access to public art and a greenery-lined path uninterrupted by street traffic, the park has quickly become one of the City's most popular destinations.

The nearby Hudson River Park is another outdoor space good for a walk, bike or run. While the park spans 550 acres along the Hudson River, one grassy patch of it in the Meatpacking District—14th Street Park—sits inland, providing an easily accessible place for a respite, plus close proximity to Chelsea Market for when the hunger pangs set in.