The Chelsea Highline epitomizes a kind of innovation that is unique to New York City, and more specifically, Manhattan. We live on a cramped, and densely packed grid that boasts an abundance of everything but space. The beauty in all of this is that we find simple yet creative ways to get around it. There are rooftop gardens, bars in boats, a restaurant behind a pawn shop, professional hair cutters who work from their apartments, dumpster pools, and of course, the Highline, whose quiet yet dignified response to the lack of space is to build upwards instead.
Beginning in the heart of the trendy Meat Packing District, the Highline runs on the West Side of the city from Gansevoort street to 34th street between 10th and 11th avenue. When it was originally constructed in the 1930’s, the high line was actually a railway track (called the West Side Line) used by freight trains to transport milk, meat and produce. Of course at the time the Meat Packing District was actually the meat packing district, replete with slaughterhouses and packing plants, so the freight trains were instrumental in transporting goods between factories and plants. A lot has changed since then… As the meat packing district underwent a series of transformations to eventually become known for its high-end boutiques, lavish clubs, decadent restaurants, and the avant-garde Standard Hotel, the railway track became defunct and fell to the wayside (metaphorically of course).
The Highline then opened to the public in the summer of 2009 as an “aerial greenway” running to West 20th street, and has since then expanded to 34th street. While you can still see the tracks running through what is now an elevated walking path, the High Line has become a beautiful, and immaculately designed respite from the chaos that ensues literally right below it. While the traffic runs under you in the rather industrial landscape along 10th avenue, you walk by birdhouses, relax on wooden, move-able chaise-lounges, get your feet wet in the trickle of water on the small section opposite, snack on a People’s Pop or one of the many other delightful summer snacks offered by friendly vendors, and drink from water fountains that talk to you. You may also experience one of the carefully curated temporary installations or performances.
The cherry on top of the delightful Summer Sunday that is the Highline is that once you’ve walked from beginning to end, on what is probably a hot summer day, you can take the elevator or stairs down and discover The Lot on Tap right under it. A vacant parking lot that has been transformed into a 350-seat outdoor bar serving local wines, and beers from the Brooklyn brewery, the Lot on Tap is a great place to get boozed up on a hot afternoon or balmy evening. There is also a selection of food trucks brought in by Colicchio & Sons including Eddie’s Pizza Truck, Korilla BBQ, and the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck.
If you enjoy whimsy as much as me then you would have LOVED the temporary “Rainbow City” installation that closed July 8th. The section of the Lot adjacent to the bar was filled with what can best be described as giant inflatable sculptures of colorful and smiling Mario World like characters and two moon bounces welcoming adult and children alike. Entering the dark and cavernous moonbounce took me back to my childhood in an instant, and I was jumping and laughing uncontrollably with my friends, tumbling and falling without a care in the world.
Rainbow City has now been replaced with an equally nostalgia inducing roller rink where you can rent roller blades or roller skates for $12 and try to learn or re-learn how to roll around in shoes on wheels to Chris Brown and Kesha songs.
The Highline will undoubtedly be one of the things I miss most about this city for its spirit of innovation, dash of whimsy, and ability to achieve tranquility in the heart of chaos. So I am not embarrassed to say that I have been there so often in the past few weeks that the security guards recognize me. Trust me when I say, it is definitely worth a visit.