Venice: Manhattan at Low Tide

Grab a gondola!The latest in our series on the neighborhoods of New York City. Previously, Hell’s Foyer.

A model who lives in Tribeca scoffed when we asked what he thought about Venice, Manhattan. “Venice? I don’t think so,” said Anderson Ribeiro, 31. “It’s so dirty, and there are all kinds of people selling a slew of things.”

Venice is certainly not known for its cleanliness, but that is part of the appeal. The neighborhood abounds with rundown apartment buildings, shady counterfeit goods stores and open-air food stalls. You won’t find midtown’s shiny skyscrapers here, either, but low buildings, worn paint and brick facades are plentiful.

“[Venice] sounds a bit aloof for what the neighborhood really is,” said Mike Murphy, a 43-year-old tax attorney who lives in nearby Soho. “More like Venice at low tide.”

Although most Manhattanites still scorn Venice—the neighborhood bounding Canal Street from river to river—it has retained some of that New York grit other neighborhoods like Soho have lost. The ethnic food and the interesting smells, the New York you dream about in college, it can still be found here. Just watch where you’re walking.

In addition to its notorious grey-market goods, Venice also possesses a certain smell thanks to its many fast-food chains and proximity to the restaurants in Chinatown.

Also, like neighboring Chinatown, there is no shortage of merchants eager to sell to pedestrians. Walk too closely to the cramped storefronts and you will be met with calls to come inside and take a look at the perfumes, handbags and electronics, which the employees insist are “very cheap, good deals.”

Whatever you need, there’s no need to leave the neighborhood, it’s all right outside your door. Just be sure you have sharp elbows. “There’s aggressive guys around here, and it gets annoying to walk to work sometimes,” said Imani Saverlia, a 19-year-old Duane Reade employee.

For those looking for more amenities, Venice now boasts a boutique hotel, the James New York, and the area has attracted a couple of hip clothing stores looking for cheaper rents.

And talk about vibrancy. The colors, sounds and energy that come from the area’s commerce, blaring from the stalls, it is like being transported to a bazaar in a faraway land. Tourists are often lured by the fake Rolex watches and knockoff Louis Vuitton purses, but the area has a strong local population as well.

“Other neighborhoods are as boring as can be. Like Murray Hill and the Upper East Side,” Mr. Murphy said. His wife Julie, a 30-year-old flight attendant, chimed in, saying the parks surrounding Venice, like the two-year-old Cavala Park–it has a waterfall–make the neighborhood very family-friendly.

She agreed with her husband about enjoying the vibrancy of the area, but growing up in a West Coast suburb led to a little culture shock when she arrived on the banks of Venice. “It’s very different,” she noted. “I like all the hustle and bustle, it’s very lively.”

Venice also benefits from its close proximity to other popular neighborhoods. All it takes is a block’s walk to the north or south to find the quiet art galleries of Soho or the serene plazas of Tribeca.

But Canal Street did not used to be so spirited. One visitor who lived in New York City 50 years ago reminisced with us about the history of Venice. “It used to be all commercial property, no one lived here,” the long-timer, who declined to give his name, said. “There’s been a big transformation.”

pengel@observer.com

Venice: Manhattan at Low Tide