47th Street between 5th and 6th, otherwise known as Diamond Way, is one of the last blocks of the old New York business districts left in Manhattan. Walking on it feels like walking back in time. Barkers stand outside the diamond shops, calling to you as you pass.
Merchants put pretty young women in the windows to seduce passing customers, in case the diamonds aren't seductive enough. Everything is protected by the watchful eyes of security cameras and blue-glass nazars to ward away evil.
The street is both dreary and utterly alive--though it has changed in recent years, with luxury glass towers going in. It still breaks my heart to see Gotham Book Mart gone.
So much is happening on the sidewalk--Hasidic men make deals in dark huddles, while other men shine shoes and itinerant merchants lend the block an air of menace as they try to lure you into sidewalk buying and selling--against which signs warn, "Shoppers beware: Do not buy from or sell to street solicitors."
You expect the old cliche, a man opening his trench coat and whispering, "Psst. You wanna buy a watch?"
Above ground, 47th Street has a lively and strange second story. Up flights of stairs plastered in advertisements, you'll find winding corridors filled with bare-bones barber shops, and workshops that are nothing more than holes in the wall, where jewelry polishers labor, and gold and diamonds are bought and sold.
For lunch, stop in at Taam-Tov, a glatt kosher Uzbek joint serving the foods of Bukharian culture, from the Jews of the Silk Road. Traditional music plays in a casual dining room where a rabbi watches over and the walls are painted with murals of Uzbekistan--palm trees, deserts, the Mausoleum of Tamerlane with its lapis lazuli and gold-encrusted cupola.
Try the plov, also known as Uzbek pilaf, but skip the drink described as "Russian lemonade."
Samsa and "Russian lemonade"
Through the second-story hallways, an elderly Hasidic man wanders from shop to shop. He begs for money, holding up a note that explains a long, sad story about family left behind in Israel. Inside Taam Tov, the manager gives him a dollar and waves him away.
Finally, you can't walk down this block without thinking of that incredible scene from Marathon Man, where the holocaust survivors recognize the evil Nazi Dr. Szell as he goes to appraise a case full of Auschwitz diamonds.