Little Italy in New York City was once home to the large Italian community in the city but since then things have changed and Little Italy is more of a tourist destination than anything else, it’s also a much smaller region than it once was. For visitors is almost a must on the list of things to see and do and for locals it’s a must for really incredible Italian cuisine.
One way to really learn about Little Italy is by taking a walking tour of the neighborhood led by an informed guide. The walk encompasses the current Little Italy region and the old one so it’s a lot of walking and takes a couple hours. On the walking tour you will hit at least 12 different stops which include eight New York City landmarks and seven national landmarks. If you’re thinking about spending some time in Little Italy then this tour is an excellent way to acquaint yourself with the region and to get a glimpse at some places that you may want to return to and explore further.
Construction started on St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1858 but the doors weren’t opened to the public until 1879. Then Archbishop John Hughes had a vision of a church that was an architectural feat worthy of admiration but the location he selected was considered too far outside the city to really attract a following. It’s hard to envision that sentiment when St. Patrick’s Cathedral today sits in the center of the city. The original gothic structure is truly one of the most magnificent architectural structures but it wasn’t totally complete when the doors were opened, in fact throughout the years additions and restorations have occurred to make the cathedral what it is today. Masses are still held regularly at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Walk In Tours are conducted a few times each week, check the online schedule to see if anything coincides with your visit.
Foley Square in the Little Italy area of New York City is a green space area where visitors can enjoy a picnic in the park. But the real interest in Foley Square lies in its history. The park was named after an important figure in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Tom Foley. Tom Foley was a leader of the infamous Tammany Hall, a political group that played a major role in controlling New York City politics. Situated around Foley Square currently are several civic buildings with their original facades and colonnaded entrances. In the square itself are five bronze historical medallions in the sidewalks that tell the history of the park and the surrounding area. One spot to take particular notice of is the African Burial Ground National Monument.
Another location in New York City’s Little Italy that finds more interest in its history is the Tweed Courthouse or the old New York County Courthouse. This building is noted for its design and decoration but known for its connection to Boss Tweed. William Tweed was one of the famed Tammany Hall bosses, best known as Boss Tweed. It was Tweed who oversaw much of the construction of the courthouse but he used his position to embezzle huge sums of money from the project. In 1873 Boss Tweed was ironically tried and convicted in his unfinished courthouse and sentenced to spend 12 years in prison for the offense. The exterior of the building and the rotunda, stair halls, staircases and rooms 201 and 202 are official city landmarks and extensive renovation has been undertaken in the last couple of decades to maintain the structure’s integrity.
Mulberry Street Restaurants
Mulberry Street in Little Italy is just filled with incredible restaurants featuring authentic Italian food. Choose from the many restaurants that litter the street including Da Nico, Il Cortile, Il Palazzo, Benito I, Grotta Azzurra and so many others. The street is simply packed with restaurants, one after another. The smell is so appealing that it’s guaranteed, even if you come with a full stomach you’re instantly going to crave some Italian delectable delights. Even though Mulberry Street is pretty packed with restaurants, you can find some shopping on the street and slightly off of it that will give you a little bit of Italy to take home with you.
Umberto’s Clam House
If you’re looking for a specific restaurant in Little Italy that is packed with mobster and celebrity history then Umberto’s Clam House is the place to go. Located with the rest of the restaurants in the area on Mulberry Street, this Italian seafood restaurant packs in tourists every day of the week. There no longer is a mob holding court in a back room and celebrities will almost always opt for a bit better fare, but the tourists are there. Little side note, you’ll often hear about the murder of Crazy Joe Gallo in Umberto’s Clam House, problem is that happened at the restaurant’s original location, two blocks south of its current one.
One of the highlights in Little Italy and something you should take part in if you’re in the city at the right time, is the Feast of San Gennaro. Held during the last two weeks of September it is New York City’s oldest, biggest and touted as the best religious street festival. More than three million people flock to Little Italy during the two weeks of the festival to partake in the excitement of the parades, the food, the games, the people watching and the religious celebrations. This part of the city is incredibly friendly and the Feast of San Gennaro seems to make it even more so.
Movies of Little Italy
One of the best parts of Little Italy is how familiar it will seem. That’s because the narrow cobblestoned streets, exposed fire escapes and turn of the century tenements are so attractive to television and film. Some of the better known productions that were shot at least partially in New York City’s Little Italy include The Godfather, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, Moonstruck, and The Sopranos just to name a few.
Photo credit: stuartwjones