New York: SoHo & Nolita
SEE Cast-Iron Buildings
Cheap, quick to assemble, and able to have any design motif affixed to their facades (Baroque, Renaissance, etc.), SoHo's cast-iron buildings-which for decades hid sweatshops-reached their construction peak in the late 1800s. Broadway and Greene Streets are lined with them-two of the best examples are the 1904 Little Singer Building (561 Broadway) and the 1857 Haughwout Building (488-492 Broadway).
146 Greene St., 212/204-7100, mossonline.com
It's fun to browse this upscale temple to modern industrial design. The gallery-cum-boutique reserves extra space for Italian furniture and lighting, but you'll also find jewelry, toys, and books. Its "bling-bling" products include a gold lemon squeezer designed by Philippe Starck.
462 Broadway, 212/219-3300, frenchculinary.com
Do your part for education and sample the student creations at the French Culinary Institute. Dishes are thoughtfully executed, and the restaurant is run like a tight ship. Lunch is $20.05 for three delectable courses; dinner is $31.50 for five. Reservations recommended. Closed Sun.
EAT Mooncake Foods
28 Watts St., 212/219-8888
Pan-Asian eats, almost all of which are priced under $10. Try the edamame soup, spicy hoisin fish taco, or Shanghai-style short ribs. Cash only.
28 Grand St., 212/625-0362
A friendly, low-key crêperie serving savory (buckwheat galettes with ham, eggs, and Gruyère cheese) as well as sweet-think bananas, chestnut cream, and layers of Nutella. Cash only.
SPLURGE The Kitchen Club
30 Prince St., 212/274-0025, thekitchenclub.com
A small, convivial spot where Japanese-European influences mingle to make one of the city's most unusual menus. The owner's French bulldog, Chibi, often roams the dining room, which is adjacent to the sake bar.
DRINK Merc Bar
151 Mercer St., 212/966-2727, mercbar.com
A well-aged cocktail lounge that still musters a hip vibe. Facade doors are flung wide open in nice weather, making it an especially cool spot to sip Cosmos in summer.
33 Crosby St., 212/219-8856
Sangria, sherry, and potent mixed drinks are poured nightly in this sliver of a Spanish hideaway. It serves good tapas, too.
SHOP Housing Works Used Books Café
126 Crosby St., 212/334-3324, housingworks.org
A rambling used-book store that gets a steady stream of terrific, hard-to-find titles. There's a homey café, and proceeds go to AIDS charity. Hole up here on a rainy day.
21 Prince St., 212/334-9048, inanyc.com
A Nolita consignment shop with a dependable selection of seasonal castaways of high-end women's clothing. Browsing is like rifling through your most stylish friend's closet. There's a SoHo location (101 Thompson St., 212/941-4757) and a men's branch, too (262 Mott St., 212/334-2210).
SHOP MoMA Design Store
81 Spring St., 646/613-1367, momastore.org
Aalto glassware, Mabolo totes, and Andy Warhol Pop Boxes are all for sale here. The store brims with gift ideas and with so many innovative items for the home, you'll want to redecorate. There's a reason the Museum of Modern Art has influenced our lives since 1929.
SHOP Pearl River Mart
477 Broadway, 212/431-4770, pearlriver.com
A multilevel Chinese emporium that sells everything-from embroidered slippers to kids' chopsticks, paper lanterns to money cats. New Yorkers love it.
PLAY Café Noir
32 Grand St., 212/431-7910
Listen to DJs spin Afrobeat and Latin music for the price of a caipirinha (or any other drink) at this breezy North African bar and restaurant.
PLAY HERE Arts Center
145 Sixth Ave., at Spring St., 212/647-0202, here.org
Obie Award-winning collaborative arts center prides itself on provocative productions that lean heavily on high-tech bells and whistles. Late-night shows are especially fun, and weird.