Walking an Uncertain Wall Street: A Strolling Guide to Stops, Sleepovers, and Anxieties in the Financial District

Bank of New York Mellon at 1 Wall Street.

Maiden Lane
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress last week that the economic picture remains "unusually uncertain." What a lovely phrase. What did he mean by this? Two words beginning with "un" take a little work anyway, but the Fed Chair was trying to convey, I think, the notion that economic planning remains difficult in the face of good news arriving one minute and bad news the next. The volatility of the market, with its wild ups and downs, thwarts clarity, especially for banker types. For the consumer also, an unusually uncertain economic picture, especially with big question marks about jobs and income, can cause anxieties about future purchases and investments. Wall Street prefers certainty and quickly launched into a sell-off.

Walk where the streets lead
Never mind. The next day stocks rose over two hundred points, giddy with good news over corporate earnings. Expect more uncertainty and volatility ahead. As the new week of trading begins this morning, the news seems happy, but just a bit of bad news can quickly turn the market downhill. Wall Street is subject to tormented mood swings and whims, not unlike a bad romance. Unfortunately, the odds are that a wealthy shareholder will reap most of the benefits of the relationship and so leave the average Jack or Jill playing the sorry part in the unrequited love drama and left crying in the streets. (See the New York Times article, Industries Find Surging Profits in Deeper Cuts, July 25, 2010. )

Wall Street, the actual street in lower Manhattan, as opposed to the highly-charged symbol of high finance, can be coldly seductive. Beginning with the formidable Art Deco masterpiece at 1 Wall Street, Bank of New York Mellon, there's something alluring, dangerous even, in the way the narrow street moves down its shadowed canyons toward the East River. In their steely heights, the famous Stock Exchange on Broad Street, the Morgan building, the Federal Hall, the Trump Building, Tiffany's, the Bank of New York Building, and others, lure the visitor into the corridors of power. The fact that there's a heavy security presence at the Stock Exchange can create an aura of exciting danger. It's helpful to have Trinity Church at the head of the street, praying over the whole dark den of worldly greed.

Stone Street
Streets near Wall Street still bear their older romantic names such as Maiden Lane, Nassau Street, Stone Street, and Old Slip, or their friendly ones like John and William. The curves and narrowness of these old streets, their crookedness (again, of the literal sort), the tactile materials of stone and wood lead to fragments of a lost city buried by the financial victors. It's crushing, however, that the sites of former homes of Thomas Jefferson and Herman Melville, individuals of some consequence in a counter-narrative of a literary and democratic city, can only be suggested by placemarks on buildings. Yet, the streets lead to some old-fashioned romantic places such as Delmonico's, the city's famed steak house, and Frances Tauvern, the old colonial watering hole. Other places are spooky, cold, or off-limits. The pleasures here tend to rest in walking the winding streets and discovering intriguing buildings at the vanishing points or horizon lines. The vistas are perfect for painters and photographers.

View Walking Wall Street: Stops and Sleepovers in the Financial District in a larger map

Andax Hotel at 75 Wall Street (at Water)
For friendly places, look for the taverns lining the cobblestone Stone Street, a favorite after-hours spot for traders, or bars and restaurants near Hanover Square. Despite the financial tentativeness of late, new hotels have been opening in the district, and oddly, those who stay downtown now may find more to do now than four years ago. At the Andaz Hotel's friendly high-concept bar, minimally adorned with several scattered high tables and bottles out on view, the staff invites the visitor to relax and involve themselves in the decision-making process. A drink is highly recommended after a visit to the Museum of American Finance, a necessary stop for financial enlightenment.

Never plan a fixed walk anywhere, especially downtown. Let John, William, Nassau, Broad, and Water Pearl lead the way. Walking the streets of the Financial District, like a moody romance, can be unusually uncertain. Yet, it's not unusually unpleasant either.

Along S. William Street. Don't let those Dutch gables lure you into thinking you've found New Amsterdam. They were built much later. The Wall Street Inn is here, too, as well as the Dubliner tavern (on the right). Stone Street is behind this block.

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from July 20, 2010. More can be found in this set on Flickr WOTBA.

No comments: