Once the stomping ground of New York City communists, Union Square now prides itself as a playground for the city's capitalists. Historic buildings surround the square. In the center you can explore a small park designed in the 1870s by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also masterminded Central Park.
Created for the public by the City Commissioner in the 1830s, Union Square draws its name from the fact that it is where two of Manhattan's major streets, Broadway and 4th Avenue, come together.
Broadway enters Union Square on the south east corner at East14th Street and exits on the north west corner at West 17th Street.
Industrial workers gave Union Square's name a deeper significance when they began to use the area as an important gathering site for labor rallies in the late 1800s. In the 1930s, left-leaning speakers stood on soapboxes in the Square delivering pro-Communist orations to the crowds
Overshadowing the gatherings, the Communist Party headquartered itself in a tall building at the north end of the Square. Today, booklovers of the world unite in the same space, now home to a Barnes and Noble.
While Union Square still hosts the occasional political event, ranging from the quiet vigils after 9/11 to the noisy protests against the War in Iraq, these days most commotion around the Square is of the commercial variety.
Various clothing, home furnishing and book shops circle the area, but Union Square's greatest pleasures are gustatory.
Four days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays), over 70 farmersparticipate in the Union Square Greenmarket Farmers Market. Stands selling cheeses, breads, fruits, vegetables, flowers and more offer the freshest goods to passersby.
And what better endorsement to the quality of the Market is there than knowing that chefs from some of Manhattan's best restaurants determine their menu du jourafter scouring the morning's ripest offerings at the Farmers Market?
Some of the city's finest restaurants, in fact, ring Union Square and one open air seasonal restaurantLuna Park, mid May through Octoberis inside the square opposite Barnes and Noble.
None is better than the aptly named Union Square Cafe, consistently the city's highest rated restaurant.
Other favorites include the Blue Water Grill, housed in the architecturally impressive site of the former Metropolitan Bank. The bank tellers have left the building, but special guests can now dine privately in the underground Vault Room that once stored gold bullions.
If hip and funky is more your dining scene, then choose instead The Coffee Shop where you can sup from a menu of American and Brazilian comfort foods along with fashion models and their followers.
There are few better places for a nightcap than the sleek Underbar (reviews), designed by nightlife hot shot Rande Gerber, at the hotel W New York - Union Square. And if you can't quite part yourself from the pleasures of Union Square, book a room overlooking the bustling action below.
Across the street from the W New York the historic Tammany Hall building on Park Avenue now houses the New York Film Academy.
The former U.S. Savings Bank on Union Square East is now the Daryl Roth Theater.
A monumental public artwork known as the Metronome covers the facade of One Union Square South, home of Virgin Megastore.
A digital timepiece which counts the 24 hours of the day is in incorporated into the 100 foot tall by 60 foot wide central component. 15 illuminated numerals, display the hours, minutes and seconds elapsed in the day, as well as the hours, minutes and seconds remaining till midnight. Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel were the artist/design team for the nearly $3 million project.
A dog run at one end of Union Square is a great place for local pet owners to enjoy the sun while their pets enjoy a rare outdoor off-leash experience.
There a are several statues in the park. An equestrian statue of George Washington by Henry Kirke Brown was installed in 1856. There are also statues of Abraham Lincolnalso by Brown, the Marquis de Lafayette and Mahatma Gandhi.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997, Union Square has undergone several renovations over the years.
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Website and all photos copyright © 2001–2016 Lee W. Nelson