Best Urban Ambiance 

Fourth Avenue

READERS' PICK: Some people just haven't gotten over how the Fourth Avenue Merchants' Association ruined this sometime hippie haven by having the cops run out those aggressive punks who used to demand money from you in the rudest possible terms. Well, good riddance. There are still plenty of colorful characters along the avenue, from multiply-pierced 19-year-olds to Birkenstocked tree-huggers to middle-aged ladies looking for a good if laid-back lunch. Eat. Drink. Shop. Relax. (But don't get too stationary, or the cops will hassle you.) Fourth Avenue is where you can be whatever you want to be, except a beggar or a jaywalker.

STAFF PICK: Lohse YMCA, 60 W. Alameda Ave. It starts when you walk in the door and Connie greets you with her combination of NYC gruffness and charm. Head on down the stairs where we were once lucky enough to catch a rainbow coalition of homeboys tossing off an ingenious rap about workin' out, feelin' good and drinkin' Gatorade. Downstairs in the workout areas you can sweat with artists, inner-city kids and downtown professionals in every color, size, age and shape. Amid all this diversity there is an atmosphere of friendliness and respect fostered by members and the Y's outstanding staff. Bonus: Steven Eye of Solar Culture has put together a great show of works by downtown artists on the walls.


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