The bustling neighborhood, as diverse as New York itself, includes some of the city’s most popular restaurants in a variety of price ranges and cuisines; a dynamic retail environment with a profusion of fashion, beauty, and home furnishings stores; superb educational institutions and such architectural highlights as the fabled Flatiron Building, the Metropolitan Life and New York Life buildings, and the exquisite New York State Appellate Courthouse. A burgeoning residential community is adding its own new vitality to this historic neighborhood. The district is easily accessed by a range of public transportation options and is just a short stroll from either Grand Central Terminal or Penn Station.

So look around explore, enjoy, and Discover Flatiron! 

 

Flatiron History

Discover Flatiron: Inventor Nikola Tesla Takes on Tech at Radio Wave Building

To commemorate the New York City designation of July 10, 1997 as Nikola Tesla Day, the Flatiron Partnership recalls the electric power inventor’s life in the neighborhood during the 1890s. Tesla resided and conducted scientific experiments at the Gerlach Hotel, now known in his honor as the Radio Wave Building at 49 West 27th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. Wireless remote control was one of Tesla’s notable creations, and he held its first demonstration at the 1898 Electrical Exhibition in Madison Square Garden on 26th Street.

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Photo Credit: Commons WikiMedia

Born on July 10, 1856 in the Croatian village of Smiljan, Nikola Tesla was the fourth of five children. His father was a Serbian Orthodox priest, and mother, a household appliances inventor and manager of the family’s farm. While in high school, their son Nikola could “do integral calculus in his head,” notes thoughtco.com, and was so inspired by the demonstrations of electricity in his physics class that it “made him want to know more of this wonderful force.” He would receive a college scholarship for further study at Austria’s Graz Polytechnic School.  

In 1882, Tesla accepted an offer to work at Thomas Edison’s Continental Edison Company in Paris. Two years later, he relocated to New York City for a job opportunity at Edison Machine Works, along “with the hope that Edison would help finance and develop a Tesla invention, an alternating-current (AC) motor and electrical system,” wrote The New York Times on December 30, 2017. “But Edison was instead investing in highly inefficient direct-current (DC) systems, and he had Tesla re-engineer a DC power plant on Pearl Street in Lower Manhattan.”

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Pictured: The first practical remote-controlled robot via PBS

According to history.com, Tesla “worked there for a year, impressing Edison with his diligence and ingenuity. At one point Edison told Tesla he would pay $50,000 for an improved design for his DC dynamos. After months of experimentation, Tesla presented a solution and asked for the money. Edison demurred, saying, ‘Tesla, you don’t understand our American humor.’” Tesla left the Edison team, and the pair soon engaged in an electrical power rivalry known as the “War of the Currents.” Their competition included the 1892 bid by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, where Tesla sold his AC patent and was now a consultant, and Edison’s General Electric firm vying for Chicago’s World’s Fair electricity contract, which Westinghouse won.

During 1892, Tesla had also moved to the Gerlach Hotel at 49 West 27th Street, between Sixth Avenue and Broadway. Constructed as French flats between 1882-83, the 11-story structure was designed by August Hatfield. But by the 1890s, it was operating as a hotel. Explained Richard Munson in Tesla: Inventor of the Modern about the tech pioneer’s time there, “After arising at 6:30 a.m., having gotten three hours of sleep, Tesla enjoyed a light breakfast, performed a few gymnastic exercises, and began his daily thirty block walk” pass Madison Square Garden and Madison Square Park to his Lower Manhattan lab. Tesla had installed at the Gerlach, a “receiver on the hotel’s roof in order to capture some of the first radio transmissions from his downtown workshop,” wrote Munson. The author also revealed that while Tesla strolled, he “counted his steps, making sure they were divisible by three.” His “obsession with the number three and fastidious washing,” notes history.com, were “dismissed as the eccentricities of genius.” 

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Pictured: Submergible version of Tesla's remote-controlled craft.via PBS

By 1898, Tesla was ready to showcase one of his most innovative inventions, the first radio-controlled vessel, at an exhibit held in Madison Square Garden on 26th Street. The event’s opening day on May 2nd included a wired message from President William McKinley in Washington, D.C. The Commander in Chief expressed that it gave him “great pleasure to open the Electrical Exhibition in Greater New York, and to participate in this wonderful demonstration of the latest method of recording and publishing by means of electricity,” reported The New York Times on May 3, 1898.  “I am glad to know that the resources of the wonderful electrical arts have already been so far advanced in the United States that American electrical goods are welcome the world over.”

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Photo Credit: Nikola Tesla demonstrates his Tesla coil “Magnifying Transmitter via ThoughtCo

Tesla’s presentation was considered to be “a scientific tour de force, a demonstration completely beyond the generally accepted limits of technology,” according to pbs.org. “Everyone expected surprises from Tesla, but few were prepared for the sight of a small, odd-looking, iron-hulled boat scooting across an indoor pond (specifically built for the display). In an era when only a handful of people knew about radio waves, some thought that Tesla was controlling the small ship with his mind. In actuality, he was sending signals to the mechanism using a small box with control levers on the side. Tesla's device was literally the birth of robotics.” 

This groundbreaking technology inside the Garden was not the only sign of change around the neighborhood. At the end of the 19th century, the Gerlach had also temporarily shut its doors in 1899, and Tesla made a move to Midtown Manhattan. “In his heyday,” wrote Time magazine on November 27, 1944, Tesla “lived at the Waldorf-Astoria and had a fabulous reputation as a host. He invariably took his guests to his laboratory and treated them to an electrical display, which included the then startling trick of passing 1,000,000 volts through his body.” Tesla continued to occupy hotels most of his life, which included a 10-year stay at The New Yorker Hotel, where he reportedly died of coronary thrombosis on January 7, 1943 at the age of 86. 

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 Photo Credit: Radio Fidelity of Guglielmo Marconi

Six months after his death, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an earlier decision on Tesla’s radio patent, thus naming him the real inventor of the radio, not Guglielmo Marconi, who had received the 1909 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in wireless telegraphy. “The Court had a selfish reason for doing so,” notes pbs.org about the controversial ruling. “The Marconi Company was suing the United States government for use of its patents in World War I. The Court simply avoided the action by restoring the priority of Tesla's patent over Marconi.” In recognition of Tesla’s triumphs in radio technology while living and working in Madison Square, a commemorative plaque was placed at 49 West 27th Street by the Yugoslav-American Bicentennial Committee on January 7, 1977, which was also 34 years after Tesla’s passing.

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Pictured: Decree of Nikola Tesla mentioning his background, contributions to science, and to the general public via Tesla Society

Then, 20 years later, a proclamation to declare July 10, 1997 as Nikola Tesla Day was issued by New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on the 141st anniversary of Tesla’s birth. The decree read, in part, “Nikola Tesla spent his last four decades living in obscurity in our city. He had patented more 700 inventions in the United States, and his work made possible increased productivity in industry, the modern applications of alternate current electric power, modern communications, and such advances as robotics, computers, satellites, and microwaves.” 

Thumbnail: Department of Energy
Photo Credit: Atlas Obscura 

Flatiron Faces

Flatiron Faces: Connie Chung, Co-Founder & Chef, Milu

Meet Chef Connie Chung, who co-founded Milu, a fast-casual Chinese restaurant, with business partners Vincent Chao and Milan Sekulic. Located at 333 Park Avenue South, between 24th and 25th Streets, Chung says the restaurant finds its “culinary inspiration from traditional Chinese dishes, as opposed to Chinese American dishes.” Milu made its debut in the fall of 2020 and has since earned rave reviews from Eater New York, The New Yorker, and Grub Street and landed spots on Condé Nast Traveler’s “the best new restaurants in New York to eat in now” and Eater New York's "15 Exciting New Restaurants Open in Manhattan." 

1. Briefly describe Milu and your roles as Chef and Co-Founder. What aspect of your job excites you most?

Milu is a casual restaurant serving modern Chinese cuisine. As Chef and Co-Founder, I develop the menu and oversee daily operations. The most exciting part of my job, by far, is being able to have more control over the menu than ever before in any previous job. There are obviously constraints within the cuisine/concept of the restaurant but this is the first instance where, creatively, I have final say over the menu.

2. Tell us about your proudest moment at Milu.

On our opening day, we were welcomed to the neighborhood with overwhelming support. So much so that we were wholly unprepared for it! We were not staffed to be so busy and, to top it off, we ran out of food and had to close early. It was a humbling moment, from a kitchen and operational perspective. It’s never nice to have to turn people away. But at the same time, it was a wonderful moment to know that people were interested in what we were doing. What’s even better is people came back after all that, which is amazing!

3. What are your menu recommendations, and what makes these dishes a “must-try”?

For lack of a better word, our “signature” dish is the Mandarin Duck. Duck is my favorite protein, so I knew it had to have a place on the menu. We do duck leg confit so you get all the richness and flavor of duck meat with nice, crispy skin. And then we serve it with duck fat rice, an indulgent alternative to plain white rice. If you’re looking for something lighter, the salmon is really great, and pretty unique. We poach the salmon in soy, so it’s always moist and tender. And we serve it with broccoli dressed in a yuzu cilantro vinaigrette which is really bright and refreshing.

4. When developing a new dish, what are you passionate about in its creation? Where do you draw inspiration from?

In general, I try to pick a specific dish from traditional Chinese cuisine, such as Hainanese chicken rice or Cantonese steamed whole fish, for inspiration for the flavor profile. But when it comes to execution and technique, I pull a lot from my background in Western kitchens, like duck confit or slow poached fish. But at the end of the day, the most important thing is for the dish to be delicious. Not just, “yeah that’s good” delicious, but in your face, “wow that’s good, I want more” delicious.

5. Milu opened its doors in October 2020. What was your experience like opening a restaurant during the pandemic?

It definitely had its challenges but there were also some pluses. Obviously, volume of business was drastically reduced from the original intention, so we had to pare down everything, including the menu. We also had to get creative and try to create other outlets for revenue, like our pantry section. But as a positive, we were lucky enough to hire some really talented individuals who were quite suddenly unemployed due to the multiple restaurant closures. And while having fewer customers than originally intended is never good from a business perspective, it did give us an opportunity to iron out a lot of opening snafus and early growing pains with the reduced volume. Almost like a several months-long soft opening!

6. You were a line cook at Eleven Madison Park, and then became Director of Culinary Projects for Make It Nice Hospitality, the team that oversees development for EMP and NoMad restaurant. What major lessons did you take away from these experiences?

Organization and structure are incredibly helpful tools. Restaurant life is full of unexpected challenges–when your vendor shorts you a product you really need, when a party of 10 guests arrives 5 minutes before closing. There’s only so much you can do for such occasions. But all of that will be much less challenging if you are properly organized. A good prep list goes a long way.

7. You also earned an undergraduate degree in chemical biology. What led you to pursue a culinary arts career and is there any connection with your background in science?

I think I was about in my junior year when I realized that chemical biology wasn’t for me. I started cooking at a relatively young age, helping at least once a week with family dinner. In college, my roommate and I would throw dinner parties for our friends, not necessarily for any given occasion, just for fun. And we both really enjoyed it. I think that is what really inspired me to pursue a restaurant career. I think chemistry and cooking do have a lot in common–putting things together in different ways to create something new, to oversimplify. But maybe, I think, it was my underlying interest in cooking that pushed me to pursue chemistry rather than the other way around.

8. For those aspiring to become a chef, what professional advice can you offer?

Pay attention to everything around you. Listen to what you are told and what you are taught, of course, but also, look at what’s going on around you. If you can pick up what your station partner is doing, without being directly taught or told, you will be that much more valuable, and learn that much faster. Also, don’t just blindly do what you are told. Ask why. Not to challenge, but to understand the reasoning behind each task.

9. You chose to open Milu in the Flatiron District. What do you enjoy most about the neighborhood?

Honestly, this is the only neighborhood I have ever worked in in NYC so it’s kind of like “home” to me. Obviously, Madison Square Park is awesome and I love all of the programs that go on there. I still remember the art installation that was up when I first moved to NYC– the one where there were sculptures of a man all over the park and the surrounding buildings. Very cool. But there’s also just so much in the area–shops, restaurants–all you want and need!

10. When you’re not in the kitchen, how do you like to spend your time?

With my family, for sure. I spend so much time in the restaurant, and my husband works in a kitchen as well. So the little time that we have off at the same time is very precious to us.

11. Besides having a meal at Milu, where else do you like to grab a bite to eat in the neighborhood? Do you have a go-to dish?

I used to absolutely love getting a Cuban at Sophie’s Cuban Cuisine on 23rd Street. So bummed that that location closed. So good, and that green sauce! I also love Bourke Street Bakery on 28th Street. All their baked goods are incredible!

12. Finally, choose three words to describe the Flatiron District.

Energetic. Eclectic. Fun.

Milu, 333 Park Ave South Between East 24th Street and East 25th Street, (212) 377-6403, @eatmilu, Open Monday - Saturday, 11 am - 9 pm

Photo Credit: Evan Sung.

Walking Tour

Weekly Free Walking Tour

Join our professional guides on a 90-minute journey through this vibrant neighborhood, viewing some of the City’s most notable landmarks.

Click here for more information.

What People Are Saying see

“Village meets midtown.”

When asked to describe the Flatiron District in three words

Brandon Stanton
photographer, Humans of New York

“It's a three-way tie. The architecture. The vibe. The food.”

When asked about his favorite thing about the Flatiron District

Marc Glosserman
Founder & CEO Hill Country Hospitality + local resident

“You are building a community like no other!”

Excerpt from remarks at the 8th Annual Meeting of the Flatiron 23rd Street Partnership

Gale A. Brewer
Manhattan Borough President

Quick Stats

22M+

Square feet of commercial real estate

39M+

Total 2018 MTA riders for 23rd Street (1,6,N,W,F,M) and 28th St (1,6,N,R) stations

6,500

Hotel rooms

7,563

Taxi drop offs per weekday in 2017

3.3+

Dollars invested in the Public Plazas by the BID

160K

Citi Bike trips originated or ended within Flatiron in June 2018

580

Ground floor business in the Flatiron District