Exploring the healthier side to New York’s neighbourhood of Union Square
If you travel frequently, it doesn’t take much to fall off the bandwagon when it comes to eating healthily. New York especially, isn’t one of those cities where munching on a carrot stick can equate to having a good time. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.
Food guilt confession
From the moment I arrive at the airport, my stomach doesn’t fail to start making a noise like a coffee maker percolating the last drips into the pot. Either real hunger has really sunk in, or my mind is playing tricks with me. The ritual of grabbing a snack before taking flight, knowing full well shortly after take-off, I’ll be served with a dry muffin or a soft and mushy asparagus risotto, doesn’t bode well for the remainder of the trip. But why should I care? I know that whatever wonderful destination I’m heading off to, I will be greatly comforted with local delicacies, giving a total disregard of how much sugar is pummeled into a burger bun or grease dripping off a pizza slice. We’ve all been in that boat, but why should we feel guilty – or better said, why should I feel guilty? Well, the answer to this is age. The older I seem to be getting, the lousier I feel when I eat processed food. Combined with jet lag and little sleep, my body is giving me some vital nudges fundamental lifestyle changes need to be made
So I decided to put a stop to these bad habits at least for my trip a to New York. I was going to see whether I could endure two nights without indulging in all the scrumptious goodies on offer. No malt shake, cinnamon sprinkled pretzel or triple decker burger was going to get in my way into finding the healthier side to New York.
Location – Union Square
Even if I have visited New York on numerous occasions over the years, I have never explored the neighbourhood around Union Square. Previously opting for the creative scenes of Lower East Side or West Village, East 13th-20th Street seemed somewhat nondescript, especially for someone that has always enjoyed both the daylight and nocturnal social scene. However, choosing this time to take it down a few notches, Union Square couldn’t, in fact, have been more suitable for my healthy intentions.
Like anywhere I go, I alway try to brush up a bit on my history in order to better understand the context of my surroundings. For example, it was on Union Square where the national holiday of Labour Day was first celebrated on 5th September 1882, with over 10,000 workers parading. Originally built in 1839, its name gives us an indication of its original purpose, which still continues today.
Built to congregate the citizens on New York, Union Square has held its reputation as a place for commerce, entertainment, and political gatherings. Back in the late 60s and early 70s, Andy Warhol chose this neighbourhood for his factory and hangout for the artistic crowd. Let’s not hide the fact that the park was also historically an ideal playground for junkies, although it has since cleaned up its act and now considered a safe and pleasurable park to go for a stroll with the family.
MySuites – You’re own boutique apartment
Just a couple of blocks south of Union Square is where I made my home for two days. I would usually be saying the word “home” when I stay in a hotel, but on this occasion, it feels right to describe my accommodation in this way. This is because instead of staying in a boutique hotel, I opted for a boutique apartment. When I stay in hotels, I feel a sense of protection and security. I also know that I can depend on the staff to tend to any of my needs so that I can go off and do what tourists usually do.
No place like home
On the other hand, when you stay in an apartment, the dynamics somehow change. For me, it’s as if it is my home and that I have the responsibility to take care of myself. My curiosity also intensifies and my approach to exploring a city is taken from a different perspective. Rather than the tourist, I’m more like the local who has just moved into town, eager to get to know my new neighbourood.
MySuites was the perfect solution to be a local for a couple of days, while still following my passion of “boutique” environments around the world. Founded by Italian-born Leonardo Annecca, all of his 14 apartments in Manhattan aim to make guests feel connected to the time and space that they are living in, engaging them with a story that is connected to the three key elements – the building, the neighbourhood, and the city. My suite was located on East 13th Street, the heartland of New York University’s main campus. Named The L.A. East Suite, its young and energetic feeling to its design made me made me feel exactly that myself. With my map, I was ready to hit the streets to explore the wellness that this part of town had to offer.
Union Square Green Market
One of the reasons to stay in an apartment was to try and utilise the kitchen cook my own healthy food. Moreover, I was extremely fortunate to discover that one of New York’s oldest green market was on my door step. Formed in 1976, the Union Square Green Market is the ideal one-stop-shop to get your grocery for the week. Ranging from raw natural honey, dried lavender, organic vegetables, to grass fed beef, the variety is immense. Coming from farms from outside New York, it gave me great pleasure to know that I could help and support these small enterprises and that the produce was seasonal, local, fresh and healthy.
Pure Food & Wine
Even as a local, there are times where you want to take a rest bite from cooking and treat yourself to an evening dining at a restaurant. I happened to accidentally pass by the restaurant Pure Food & Wine during lunch time and thought I’d give vegan and raw cuisine a try. Having always held the belief that a good steak and salad was the best way to stay in tip-top shape, the idea of not having any animal protein at all seemed horrifying. However, I’ve most often found that my feeling of fear usually occurs when I don’t know what to expect. So when I mentioned after being seated that I had no idea what “raw” was all about, I was kindly explained by the waiter the concept. The fundamental rule is that nothing is cooked over 47 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), in order to retain the food’s nutritional values and enzymes. Likewise, the vegan concept is food that is uncooked and plant-based.
A ‘raw’ experience
What I liked most about this restaurant is that it wasn’t trying to isolate themselves to only the tree huggers of this world. The intention from Co-founder Sarma Melngailis was to make “raw” inclusive across all different types of lifestyles and beliefs, as well as making the dishes extremely appetizing. My selection from the lunch menu was a Portabella and Hemp Seed Burger and i enjoyed it – even if it took my taste buds a while to adjust to certain ingredients that I had never tasted before.
I also bought one of Sarma’s cook books, which has helped me in creating some of the dishes at home like the Raw Cacao and Coconut truffles. Even if I may not convert 100% percent to raw, I’ll be satisfied if I can at least have breakfast and lunch with a healthy conscious.
Sal Anthony’s Movement Salon
What initially attracted me to Sal Anthony’s Movement Salon wasn’t the fact that it offered Pilates classes, it was the actual building that it resides in that got me stepping inside. Previously called Schellel Hall, named after German balladeer Joseph Viktor von Scheffel. It’s 19th century German Renaissance Revival design was intended as a beer hall and social club for German immigrants who had built a community in the area.
With an ornate stain glass ceiling and dark wood fixtures, this could not have been any better place to practice the “alchemy of movement” – a concept that owner Anthony Macagnone preaches and practices day-to-day to his clients. In fact, when I went to my first class, Anthony know straight away the type of problem that I had with my back and what to do to retune my body back to factory setting mode. Not only was Anthony a good teach in Pilates, he was also a good teacher about the philosophy of life in general, which made me – for once – stop and listen to his wise words. After an hour’s lesson, I left the studio feeling somewhat more mobile in my shoulders, I also felt revitalised with a burst of positive energy, raring to taking on any challenge ahead of me.
Union Square Wellness Neighbourhood Guide
Union Square is a great area if you’re looking to mix in some healthy principles to your stay. Below is a general list of places to exercise, do healthy food shopping and dine out. Then there’s also the most obvious fitness trick in the book – to walk as much as you possibly can!
- Union Square Green Market North and West sides of Union Square Park
Open year-round, 8 am – 6 pm, Mon/Wed/Fri/Sat
- L.A. East by MySuites 211 East 13th Street
Boutique Suite Apartments made by local designers in New York.
- Pure Food & Wine 54 Irving Place
Raw and organic cuisine with a sophisticated twist.
- Sal’s Anthony’s Movement Salon 190 3rd Avenue
Pilates and Gyrotonics, using the principles of the alchemy of movement.
- Yoga Works 138 5th Avenue
Ranging from Ashtanga to Yin yoga, Yoga Works offers classes that cover a whole range of yoga styles.
- One Lucky Duck Juice & Takeaway 125 East 17th Street
Raw on the go which a fabulous menu of pressed juices and smoothies.
- Souen Organic Macrobiotic Restaurant 28 East 13th Street
Japanese cuisine using macrobiotic principles – one of which should be to chew your food at least 30 times!
- The Coffee Shop 29 Union Square West
Open 23 hours a day. Not everything is regarded as “healthy”, but many of their produce is sourced from the Union Square Green Market.
- Soul Cycle 12 East 18th Street
Victorica and David Beckhams are big fans of this new fitness craze. Indoor cycling re-invented, it is claimed that it only takes 45 minutes to change your body and how you feel.
- Kundalini Yoga East Inc. 873 Broadway this 5000-year-old yoga tradition uses meditation, breathing and a variation of postures to take your personal awareness onto a deeper level.
- Whole Foods Market 4 Union Square East #4
The supermarket where you can find just about anything related to natural and organic foods.
To make the most of this neighbourhood, stay at the boutique hotel, The L.A. East by MySuites, Union Square New York