Guide to the Best of Soho, NYC
Below guide and photos by Julia Guo
One of our favorite sites to visit when we’re traveling to a new city is On the Grid. They take a unique approach to their guides: each neighborhood guide is a curated collection of the most unique and special spots only a local would know about. The curators are all creative companies or designers, so you know their taste is impeccable. “Our mission is simple: to help you discover local gems, secret city spots, and new favorite places as you explore every corner of the globe.” - On the Grid.
Introducing Julia Guo:
1. Where are you based? New York via Sydney.
2. How would you describe your style? Either minimal - simple black on black, or all out - colors and patterns, not much in between.
3. What's your absolute favorite place to travel and why? I like traveling to places I haven't been to before, but so far: Berlin for its creativity and DIY vibe blossoming through so much tumultuous history. The Cayman Islands for its beautiful natural landscape, colorful architecture, delicious fresh seafood, friendly locals and animals - you can swim with wild stingrays!
4. Do you have a favorite city to shop in? My current home New York is pretty great. Wherever I travel, I love exploring local markets, makers and designers and vintage stores.
5. Any travel secrets or tips? Don't plan down to the minute and talk to the locals.
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Read on to view Julia Guo’s curated picks for the best shops, cafes, restaurants and more in one of NYC’s best neighborhoods - SoHo!
One of New York’s most beloved neighborhoods, beautiful Soho with its archetypal cast-iron buildings has a rich and interesting history. From its heyday of being the original artists' playground, today’s Soho is the home of high fashion flagship stores the world over. A neighborhood constantly in flux, new concept stores, pop ups, restaurants and bars arrive on the regular, while some gems have thrived through the decades, standing the test of time and rising rent. There’s something to see, taste, try on and experience every step of the way on every street, here’s a guide to some of our favorites.
Maman is a relatively new venture of Michelin-starred chef Armand Arnal, Experimental Cocktail Group’s Benjamin Sormonte, and baker / designer Elisa Marshall. It’s already a neighborhood favorite. The space is beautiful - light and airy with vintage Parisian details, the front is perfect for a quick coffee stop, while the back area has tables and wifi for a long lunch or work session.
Beautiful space, especially the patio seats among their flowers and vines. The French onion soup burger is the off menu favorite here, but everything I’ve had here has been phenomenal.
A lot of thought goes into every piece in this boutique - locally produced, understated basics with a layer of quirk. Since its inception, the stock has expanded to showcase a carefully selected group of designers who share the same ethos.
This city has thousands of cafes, but just a handful of tea lounges. I’m glad that Harney & Sons stepped into fix this situation. Stop by and the friendly staff will climb up their wall of tea to let sample the selection of loose leaf teas from all over the world. My favorite thing is to chill out in the tea lounge with a pot of brew and an order of their most delicious scones, and pick up some new tea on my way out.
Soho is the home of flagship stores the world over, so it makes sense that the digitally born Birchbox opened its only brick-and-mortar shop here. Come into this airy space to sample all their beauty and grooming products in one go, buy them here or Build-Your-Own-Box for a subscription. There’s even a Men’s section, a hair and make-up station and a nail salon in store.
Allan and Suzi are a larger than life couple, and has been their namesake store for the last 25 years. Every piece in here is a statement piece and a conversation starter. It’s where Patricia Field started mixing designer threads with vintage pieces that defined Sex & the City. Pop in here for a special occasion outfit and a fun chat with Suzi & Allan.
American Two Shot was started by two best friends, as a creative space for all their friends to hang out, as well as a store. It’s an inviting space, with a cafe at the entrance and a photo-booth at the back, framing a mix of vintage and new designer clothes, charming knick knacks and cheeky cards.
One of the best Housing Works stores in the city, the Soho location lives up to all the flagship stores surrounding it. The selection here is more curated than other Housing works, and the stock turn around is fairly quick. Always worth a browse to find vintage treasures at a steal.
Tucked way on Thompson street is a store and museum dedicated to lucite handbags, Janice Berkman may well be the world’s expert on these sculptural bags handmade in limited quantities in the 1950s, starting this store 19 years ago. Every piece here is uniquely beautiful - geometric with intricate hardware, some with a splash of glitter or gemstones. A treat to visit, and even more so to pick out your own piece of timeless history.
When in Soho, a visit to this gallery is a must. The tiny shop front opens up to an expansive space over two levels, and carries a comprehensive collection of original pieces by iconic Soho artists such as Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. There’s a new exhibition every few months or so in the back, currently showing the largest collection of intimate and little known Marilyn Monroe photographs spanning her 19 year career.
Saturdays brings surf culture and a healthy dose of laid back atmosphere to the sometimes overwhelming Soho. Stop by to browse through the surf and non-surf gear, magazines and apparel. The garden patio behind the store is a rarity in the city, you’ll want to stay there all day, before film screenings in the evenings.
Reasons why International Playground is my favorite boutique in New York: 1) Their philosophy that fashion shouldn’t be too serious. 2) I fall in love with each piece by every carefully selected brand, especially New York based designers Chromat and Daniel Palillo. 3) Their ever-changing store, collaborations and pop up events keep it fun and fresh. 4) All the staff members are super friendly and helpful, it’s fun to just pop in and hang out for a while.
All scents in Ben Gorman’s cult perfume brand are unisex and minimal, based on memories and created by only combining a few considered notes. This philosophy of minimalism and attention to detail is reflected in everything - the packaging, the store design, and the new range of leather goods. Soho is Byredo’s second store, seven times the size of its first one in Stockholm.
Next door to the unjustifiably long lines at Jack’s Wife Frieda, Cafe Select sometimes catches the overflow. But in my opinion, Cafe Select is the wiser choice. The small shop front with al fresco tables open up to an expansive space, with a secret back bar behind the kitchen. The food and drinks are all delicious, and the roomy, festive but intimate setting is great for groups or dates.
Bite was born out of the belief that everything you put around your lips should be good enough to eat, and created a series of lipsticks with food-grade ingredients. It quickly became a cult beauty brand stocked in Sephora all over the world. The lip lab in Soho is Bite’s only brick and mortar existence, where you can come in and have your own custom lipstick created for you on the spot.
Love the story of how this restaurant came to be as much as I love their cocktails and food. A food enthusiastic and a writer started a food blog, and a tradition of inviting friends - which later on expanded to Twitter friends over for dinner. A while into it, the health department got wind of this phenomenon, and shut them down on the grounds that they were operating as a restaurant. From there, they launched a Kickstarter campaign and fast forward three years, this is the restaurant.
From brunch to dinner and drinks, the spacious Mercer Kitchen is a great place to visit. Its fusion Mediterranean cuisine is made from fresh local ingredients from award winning chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Axelle is one of the most interesting galleries on the remaining art block on West Broadway, and represents contemporary artists from America and Europe. The Summer group exhibit currently shows surreal animal sculptures by Quentin Garel.
Compiled by: Susan Ripley & Stefanie Nissen
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