Is the County’s Smallest City, Its Loveliest?
By Laurie Yarnell
Photography by Iko
Here’s a little-known fact about me and my adopted hometown of Rye: I went into labor in its A&P. Thus, I can safely say that while I raised both my kids in town (my family and I have lived in Rye for more 20 years), one quite literally was almost born here. (Fortunately, though, I made it from the canned soup aisle to Greenwich Hospital in time.)
Recently I decided (okay, was assigned) to spend a couple of glorious fall days strolling the streets of Rye to experience it as if I were a first-time visitor. (A great assignment that would have been even better had I been able to expense my new Anya Hindmarch bag. You know the one with the photograph of the Jack Russell? I bought it for research purposes. Honest.) So what did I learn about Rye that I didn’t already know? Sorry if I gush here, but heck, I’d forgotten what a great town it is. In fact, I couldn’t help myself: I fell in love with Rye—again. Bet you’ll be smitten, too.
Why? For starters, this very picturesque small town (okay, it’s technically a city, and at only six square miles with less than 15,000 residents, the smallest in the county) is picture-postcard perfect, a fact that briefly turned its quaint, New England-like shopping district into a virtual back lot for “Hometown,” a short-lived TV series that filmed here in 1985. Unabashedly traditional and conservative (think khakis, sockless Docksiders and giant pink grosgrain hair ribbons), Rye remains, for the most part, pretty much as it’s always been. And while it may have been discovered by the national chains (Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret, Sam Goody, Subway, the Athlete’s Foot and the Gap, have set up shop here), Rye is still a charming collection of boutiques, gift galleries, one-of-a-kind stores, and fine-dining and fun family eateries, making it ideal for touring—whether you’re lucky enough to live here or not.
Rye is also home to Playland, the world’s first planned amusement park (it was built in 1928). Playland has made it’s own share of notable Hollywood appearances: It’s where Alex (Glenn Close) took Dan’s (Michael Douglas) daughter when she kidnapped her in Fatal Attraction. It also served as a backdrop in the Tom Hanks movie Big and in the Mariah Carey video Fantasy. Do come to town to experience this art-deco mini-Disneyland, complete with an old-fashioned boardwalk right on Long Island Sound.
When you visit, be sure to leave time to peek at some of Rye’s magnificent homes (everything from refurbished Cape Cods and quaint Victorians to old-money estates), many with breathtaking waterfront views,
old-fashioned white picket fences and charming stone walls. Not surprisingly, houses are pricey here. Forbes.com recently reported that Rye residents live in the 28th most expensive zip code in the country, and it was one of only two in the county to make the top 50 most expensive areas in the country (neighbor Purchase is the other). No wonder: The median price of a house here is $965,000 (as compared to $570,000 in nearby White Plains and $483,000 in Pleasantville). According to realtor Pat Hirsch of Julia B. Fee Real Estate in Rye, “There are only three things in life that are certain: death, taxes and Rye. No matter the price of a house here, if it comes on the market, it sells quickly and often for above asking-price.” It helps that on average, Rye households bring in more than $210,000 a year.
Among Rye’s notable residents
are Loews Corporation hotel mogul Laurence Tisch, Channel 7’s Eyewitness News anchor Diana Williams and Sportscaster Scott Clark. Former residents include Barbara Bush (she was born, raised and married the future president here) and poet and satirist Ogden Nash.
Let the Shopping Begin
ready to visit—and return home with a souvenir or two—but don’t know where to begin? Relax. There’s no way to go wrong when shopping in Rye. The shopping area essentially consists of one main street (the appropriately named Purchase Street) from which smaller lanes (e.g., Purdy Avenue, Elm Place, etc.) sprout.
One for Her, One for Him:
Giftware & Furnishings
Though other Westchester towns have nifty gift and home furnishings stores (Mt. Kisco and Scarsdale come to mind), Rye certainly has some of the best. Steamer Trunk Merchants (4 Purchase Street, 914-967-8904), a gift gallery, relocated here from Tarrytown four months ago. We Rye residents couldn’t be more pleased—and, it seems, the feeling is mutual. “We’re really happy to be in
Rye,” declares co-owner Joanne Drapiewski. “We believe our ideal customer—someone who’s sophisticated, well-educated and well-traveled—lives here or comes to visit.” Drapiewski and business partner Sandra Bertrand go on around-the-world treasure hunts to add to their collections of high-end, imported and domestic home (and fashion) accessories.
Gallery 52 (52 Purchase Street, 914-921-1585) may specialize in custom framing, but it also has an assortment of hand-picked decorative accessories like miniature porcelain boxes and elegant gilt wall mirrors.
For high-end home accessories handcrafted by extremely talented Mexican artisans, you’d be hard pressed to find any shop that’s better than Casa Hermosa (80 Purchase Street, 914-921-2878). How can anyone not love blown-glass vases, cobalt blue margarita glasses, and hand-painted pottery bowls? And if it’s pewter you’re after, Casa Hermosa carries what is arguably the largest assortment of pewter serving pieces around.
One-year-old Villager (83 Purchase Street, 914-921-9375), a cozy gift store/antique shop hybrid bursts with whatever catches owner Deborah Kettner’s eye: decorative arts, furnishings, jewelry, etc. And if you’re like me, your eye and hers see beauty similarly.
Sometimes I go into Persnickety (72 Purchase Street, 914-921-6125) just to ogle its decorative fabrics and lovely custom furnishings. And of course, while there, I can’t help but admire the shop’s gorgeous array of silk, cotton chintz and needlepoint pillows (a few have made it home with me). And sometimes I stop by the very charming Twig Antiques (15 Purchase Street, 914-967-4518), which offers antique and collectible furniture, crystal, silver, paintings and accessories. I recently spotted a green leaf and grape-patterned Majollica jardiniere for $285. While you won’t find any terrific bargains here, know that at least you are shopping for a good cause. Twig Antiques is a volunteer-run shop set up to benefit United Hospital in Port Chester.
Fashionista Finds—Clothing, Jewelry & Accessories
If you’d rather adorn yourself than your home, Rye won’t disappoint, either. Clothes-hounds from far and wide frequently make pilgrimages to one of the county’s most chic and upscale women’s clothing stores, Panache Boutique (86 Purchase Street, 914-967-5637). This is where you can pick up ultra-soft Johnstons cashmere sweaters and stunning sportswear by Dismero, Womyn, Renfrew and Zelda.
Slightly less expensive but not as chichi is Great Stuff (54 Purchase Street, 914-967-1377), an airy boutique, which happens to be the exclusive Westchester source for Searle outerwear and sportswear. Its owners, Lori and Joseph Friedman, scout boutiques in Paris and Milan to stock their shop.
For footwear, stop into Shoes & More (67 Purchase Street, 914-921-1526), a new shop that offers a wide variety of shoes. It also carries the sizzling hot Uggs sheepskin boots, which are currently all the rage in Hollywood ($155 to $200).
To buy designer shoes by Stuart Weitzman, Michael Kors, Cole Haan and Casadei, as well as handbags and accessories by Longchamp, Kate Spade, Lulu Guiness, Dooney & Bourke, Anya Hindmarch and Clever Carriage Collection (love their needlepoint makeup cases featuring initials or portraits of dogs), I go to Plaza Too (35 Purchase Street, 914-967-1063). While there, I often can’t resist buying a piece of fun jewelry by Judith Jack, Me & Ro or Leslie Danzis, or taking home a new scarf or belt by Miu Miu.
But if it’s the real thing that you’re looking for—not the fun stuff—head on over to R&M Woodrow Jewelers (21 Purchase Street, 914-967-0464). Co-owned by brothers Robert and Michael Woodrow, the store includes the only in-store boutique in the country featuring the work of renowned jewelry designer Roberto Coin (his exclusive “Cento” round diamond rings could set you back from $1,000 to $30,000). Personally, I’m still lusting for the stunning white gold necklace with sapphires and diamonds from Coin’s “Appassionata Collection.” I couldn’t help but notice it—or its price tag: $20,000. Woodrow also carries the jewelry designs of David Yurman, Judith Ripka and Favero, watches by Breitling, Hermes and Ebel, and such timeless high-end gift items as Baccarat and Lalique crystal, and Lladro porcelain figurines. “Much of our merchandise is exclusive to our store,” says Michael Woodrow.
Another jewelry store worth visiting is ICD II (31 Purchase Street, 914-967-0622), which carries just about everything gold and silver, from $25 silver bracelets for the Bat Mitzvah girl to mega-pieces for her mom. Also worth a visit is the tiny Be-Dazzled boutique (really a counter), tucked in a back corner of Panache the clothing store. Be-Dazzled proves the old adage “Good things come in small packages.”
It carries stunning handpicked, custom-made and imported pieces. For jewelry with a pedigree, Joan’s Contemporary & Estate Jewelry, (55 1/2 Purchase Street, 914-967-7597), offers estate sale finds.
To show off that beautiful necklace or pair of earrings, how about a makeover? Or, if you haven’t time for a complete new look, why not just pick up eye shadow and body lotion at Blush (34 Purchase Street, 914-921-2980), one of the county’s best cosmetics shops. I plan to return to pick up some bath ice cream: a tennis ball-sized “bath soda” that releases oils, minerals.
Of course there’s more to you than just a pretty face; there’s also a beautiful mind. Which is why I recommend that you make the time to browse at Arcade Booksellers (15 Purchase Street, 914-967-0966), one of the county’s few remaining independent bookstores. You know the type—creaky wooden floor, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and a knowledgeable bookworm proprietor, Patrick Corcoran, to help you find the right read for you. If it’s not there, don’t worry: he’ll order it for you.
Another interesting shop is Parkers (43 Purchase Street, 914-921-6400), a store devoted to all things travel—from guidebooks to passport holders to perfect-for-traveling clothing like Barbour jackets. “We’re the only store of its kind in the county,” declares owner Catherine Parker.
For the Kiddies:
Clothing, Shoes & Accessories
If you’ve got your kid in tow or don’t want to return home without a little something for your little someone, drop by Candy Nichols, Inc. (59 Purchase Street, #B, 914-967-2288), a children’s clothing boutique featuring timeless preppy and upscale European fashions, which kept my kids in cuddly Flapdoodles cords, sweet (sans spit-up, that is) Heartstrings onesies and classic Florence Eiseman and Vive La FÃ©te smocked holiday dresses. (At the very least, pick up a very Rye pink grosgrain ribbon or hair band.) Or if your daughter is like, so beyond the sugar-and-spice fashion stage, stop by Sasha’s (27 Purchase Street, 914-967-8237), which carries “tween”-sized fashions including the super-popular “Skinny Minnie” Tees and personalized denim messenger bags. Or visit Accessorie (56 Purchase Street, 914-921-1887) for whatever’s “in” with teenaged girls, from marbleized hair clips to closed-toe Chinese slippers.
Let the Dining Commence
here’s some advice: come to town early (before breakfast) so that you can enjoy a hearty down-home meal at Poppy’s CafÃ©, an unpretentious family-owned eatery located a few doors down from the Village Green (27 Purchase Street, 914-967-1544). Twirl on one of its old-fashioned red counter stools, and order the $6.95 breakfast special (two eggs, ham, bacon or sausage, home fries, toast, juice and unlimited coffee). Or get an order of pancakes with bananas or blueberries (what diet?).
Rather eat light in the a.m.? The Upper Crust Bagel Company (29 Purchase Street, 914-921-3599) offers not only just about every imaginable type of fresh-baked bagel (a rye bagel is most appropriate though, don’t you think?), but low-fat yogurt muffins (like butter crunch or banana chocolate chip) that are one heck of a sweet way to start your day.
For a quick and casual lunch, Sunrise Pizzeria (7 Purdy Avenue, 914-967-8696), serves what my family of picky pizza aficionados swears is the best traditional-style pizza in the area. Not surprisingly, it’s number one on my speed dial.
A bit more sophisticated is Cosi, (yes, it’s a chain, but hey, it’s still good), where you can grab a gourmet sandwich on their specialty bread. And if you have time for dessert, make your own s’mores on Cosi’s tabletop hibachi (50 Purchase Street, 914-921-3322).
Rye Grill & Bar (One Station Plaza, 914-967-0332) is a longtime favorite for salads, burgers and thin-crusted gourmet pizzas. Or, if you’re in the mood to pretend you’re in seafaring New England, consider the lively Town Dock (15 Purdy Avenue, 914-967-2497), which, alas, is landlocked but is decorated with buoys, and serves New England chowder, bouillaibase in a saffron lobster sauce, and codfish cakes.
Or if you’re in the mood for the look of Manhattan and a taste of Paris, snag a window-front table at Ruby’s Oyster Bar & Bistro (45 Purchase Street, 914-921-4166) for one of the best views of the sidewalk scene; order Ruby’s popular chicken cordon bleu sandwich with ham and melted Gruyere cheese. Or, if you’re an Atkins disciple (or just like a thick, juicy slab of beef), you’re in luck: Rye is home to the sleek and sophisticated Westchester branch of Manhattan’s Frankie and Johnnie’s Steakhouse (77 Purchase Street, 914-925-3900).
For pasta lovers, there’s CafÃ© Livorno, (92 Purchase Street, 914-967-1909) which serves authentic and elegant Northern Italian dishes in a cozy, renovated house. Don’t miss the restaurant’s signature scallopini Livorno, sautÃ©ed veal tenderloin with sweet red onions, fresh oregano and natural juices. And save room for the mele al forno, a thin-crusted baked apple tartin served warm with a drizzle of caramel and a scoop of ice cream.
Two newcomers that have everyone in town buzzing are ultra-sleek Koo (17 Purdy Avenue, 914-921-9888; see review, page 124) and Aurora (60 Purchase Street, 914-921-2333), a chic Northern Italian restaurant on Purchase Street (see Table Talk, page 132).
And for an extraordinary dining experience, get back into your car and drive just eight minutes out of downtown to what is arguably the best French restaurant in the county, La PanetiÃ¨re (530 Milton Road, 914-967-8140). You can’t go wrong ordering just about any dish, but my favorite is the steamed wild salmon with braised endives. And don’t leave without devouring its tian of chocolate and citrus custard with orange segments and sauce suzette.
Another fine dining choice, just a few minutes beyond downtown is Whitby Castle (330 Boston Post Road; 914-777-2053), an elegant restored 19th-century Gothic-styled mansion. It serves American cuisine with an emphasis on roasts and grills such as filet mignon, or try the classic English prime rib dinner complete with authentic Yorkshire pudding, Shropshire baked potato and a sherry triffle for dessert.
And perhaps the restaurant with the best waterfront (Long Island Sound) views in Westchester is Seaside Johnnie’s (94 Dearborn Avenue, 914-921-6104). Outdoors, you practically dine on the beach. Indoors, it just feels like it. Its specialty is—what else?—seafood.
Not in the mood for a meal but craving a little something sweet? No problem. Some of my friends (they shall remain nameless) are positively addicted to the super-rich Viennese and French pastries served at Patisserie Salzburg (77 Purchase Street, 914-921-4458) Patisserie Salzburg’s tea sandwiches and goat cheese tomato tarts get raves, too.
And if you want to come home with an edible souvenir, two terrific gourmet takeout shops are June & Ho—La Maison des Gourmets (70 Purchase Street, 914-967-1900) and the Rye Country Store (41 Purchase Street, 914-967-3450). Poised to give them competition is newcomer Rudy’s Shoppe Gourmet (13 Purdy Avenue, 914-921-0717), which I confess I haven’t had a chance to try yet. But, hey, that gives me a perfect excuse to head back to town sometime very soon.