New York, Old York; DAVID MOSS Savours the Atmosphere and Rich History of Lower Manhattan's Crosby Street

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IN 1877 the New York Tribune reported how Mary Flood had run screaming out of a grocery shop at 55 Crosby Street.

Her husband James was in hot pursuit and as she cried: "Don't strike me!" he plunged an iron spike into her chest, killing her instantly.

This casual brutality in the cramped downtown tenements of New York City was commonplace at the time. And this particular street, which runs parallel with Broadway, was at the epicentre of Lower Manhattan's sleazy underbelly, filled with whore houses, sweat shops and opium dens. Crosby Street today - now designated an official landmark - still retains a certain dark mystery. And the Crosby Street Hotel, easily the most stylish of New York's myriad designer boutique hotels, is a contemporary reflection of the city's extraordinary history. From the full-length warehouse windows of a deluxe room overlooking the cobbled street you can see the old tenements, now transformed into multi-million-dollar apartments, and picture the chaotic scenes of 150 years ago when the area was known as Hell's Hundred Acres. Then the narrow street was filled with gangs of thieves meeting fences to offload their ill-gotten gains. Now it's young entrepreneurs and creative types striding purposefully to their next meeting.

The 86-room, British-owned hotel is in the heart of SoHo (the moniker stands for 'South of Houston' street), now the epicentre of the city's designer stores and restaurants.

But this historic thoroughfare is an oasis of calm in an area packed with visitors, especially at the weekends. Just two blocks away you have retail heaven - from Bloomingdale's to Prada to American Eagle to our own Topshop.

A block away is Balthazar, the faux French brasserie that still pulls a celebrity crowd, although Brit-born owner Keith McNally's new pizza joint Pulino's, a 10-minute stroll down on The Bowery, is one of the city's hottest spots. For an old school New York bar go to Fanelli's on Prince Street for a pint of Brooklyn Lager and a cheeseburger.

Or after a big night out finish up at subterranean Mexican brasserie La Esquina on Kenmare Street for tacos and black beans before drifting back to the hotel.

SoHo began its extraordinary transformation back in the 1960s. As the old factories began to close the district became a lawless wasteland populated by the homeless, drug addicts and other disadvantaged.

But impoverished artists began to take over the vast abandoned spaces left in the cast iron buildings. …