What a luxury it is to live so close to New York City!
I can drive in from our suburban town and (if lucky!) be parked on the street within 30 to 40 minutes.
I seem to have tremendous parking karma — which means, very often, I’ll find a spot on the street where I don’t even have to pay (on Sunday, for example), saving me as much as $50 for garage parking for 3-5 hours in fancier neighborhoods.
So I drove in last Sunday to Lexington and 83d, a neighborhood called the Upper East Side, UES, to meet a young friend for brunch at the Lexington Candy Shop, which is a tiny diner on that corner that opened in 1925.
They’re touchy about guests staying too long and by noon there was a line-up.
Then it’s an easy walk west along 83d to the Metropolitan Museum, which, for now has timed admission you reserve in advance.
If you’ve never yet been to New York or to the Met, the whole experience of the UES is well worth it; even the walk, across Park and Madison leads you past elegant townhouses and uniformed doormen, a guy smoking a stogie leaning on a car, a dog-walker with a huge, shaggy something and two pugs. The people watching is always good, and there are so many lovely architectural details to enjoy — from flower-filled window-boxes to carved gargoyles to the wrought-iron frames of pre-war apartment building entrance doors.
The Met has wide steps that make great seating, and musicians — competing! — settle in to entertain. There are plenty of food trucks — for $14 I got a falafel wrap and a lemonade.
New York state residents can pay as little or as much as we want for the Met’s admission fees — everyone else pays $12 (students), $17 seniors over 65 or the full fare of $25.
It’s tempting to think you have to see everything there if you’re a tourist, but that would be impossible! If you really do pay attention to objects, and read labels and wall signs, you’ll soon feel overloaded.
I find it all so moving — the Roman marble family sculpture from a cemetery; the tiny metal pins in the shape of animals that Roman soldiers wore (!); red and black Greek pottery; exquisite enamels of the 17th c; medieval tapestries —- and that’s just a few main floor galleries!
What amazing things have been produced by so many people. To see them close up is such a joy.
I love to visit a pair of gold earrings I find totally enchanting.
The place is quiet and civilized and there are plenty of benches to rest on. Everyone must be masked.
You can have the oddest moment of looking at something millennia old — and stare out the Fifth Avenue windows at the millionaires’ apartments across the street.
The gift shop is full of gorgeous things, jewelry and scarves, pens and pencils and books and puzzles and posters.
I remember it being full of astounding art and art history books — but not now?
It’s an interesting reminder that, without rich people’s generosity, many museums (certainly in the U.S.), would have a lot less stuff to show us; labels tell you what an item is and how old and maybe what it was used for, but also when it was acquired and using what funds. So the Jayne Wrightsman Galleries, for example, are huge and full of very ornate French material, not my taste at all.
Every room in the Greek and Roman galleries had the name of some wealthy benefactor.
These eyes, which would have been added to Roman or Greek sculptures are creepy — but also amazing.
My old reporters’ notebook from the New York Daily News, whose logo is that of a classic old-time camera, the Speed Graphic
By Caitlin Kelly
It’s been a while since I came to live in a small suburban town on the eastern side of the Hudson River, with views of passing barges pushed and pulled by tiny, powerful tugboats. A place where red-tailed hawks glide above the tree-tops. Where one of the nation’s wealthiest families, the Rockefellers, live a 15-minute drive north of us — their helicopter always, annoyingly, thrumming too low overhead as they whisk someone south.
I love living here.
It satisfies all my desires: a beautiful landscape, access to great culture in Manhattan and at local venues like Caramoor and the art film house, Jacob Burns, economic and social diversity, (our town has million-dollar townhomes at the river’s edge, with social housing projects a few blocks inland.) I know the guys at the hardware store and the gourmet shop and the gym.
I’ve also, of course, through work and play, have gotten to know what we call The City, aka Manhattan and its four other boroughs. I know that Houston Street is pronounced How-ston and that Bleecker — perhaps confusingly — manages to run both north-south and east-west. I know where to find free street parking.
It did take me a long time, at least a decade, before I felt this was home. New York, as you can imagine of a city of eight million, many of them with multiple Ivy degrees and the most skilled and competitive in their fields and industries, can feel very intimidating.
It is also a place absolutely and rigidly stratified by wealth, social class and race, with its enormous and imposing private clubs, including the row of Ivy League-only clubs (Yale, Harvard, Princeton,. Cornell) that I’ve only visited thanks to events held there. If you head to the uppermost stretch of Park Avenue, the division between extraordinary wealth and deep poverty is, literally, across the street.
But, if you’re lucky and work your ass off, it can soften enough to become more welcoming.
Here are some images of my life here:
Broadway, baby! The dream of so many performers, and the provider of many well-paid union jobs backstage.
Love this restaurant, Via Carota, on Grove Street in the West Village of Manhattan.
It’s expensive, but very good food, with a spectacular and enormous (!) green salad. The West Village is by far my favorite neighborhood — shaded cobble-stoned streets lined with early 19th century brownstone houses and indie shops and tiny and perfect restaurants like Little Owl. It’s become impossibly expensive to live there, but lovely to visit.
This is our local reservoir. No idea what that building is!
This is an amazing place — built in 1857. Truly a time capsule, on the north shore of Long Island (which lies south of New York City)
Such beauty! I love going to the ballet at Lincoln Center (and opera at the Met.)
Every spring there’s Fleet Week, welcoming ships to New York’s harbor.
The New York Botanical Garden, in the Bronx. Such a treasure!
Despite horrific rents, some indie bookstores hang on in Manhattan.
I love auctions! I bought two prints at this one, a splurge. That’s my bidding paddle.
Nosebleed seats (highest row at back of the balcony) still affordable.
The view from our home of the new Tappan Zee bridge, spanning the Hudson
The Brooklyn Bridge
Grand Central Terminal — where thousands of commuters head in and out to the northern and western suburbs; those headed to Long Island use (hideous) Penn Station. GCT is amazing: lots of great shopping and restaurants and a food market. Commuting in from our town, now, has risen to $9.50 one-way in off-peak (non rush hour), making a day trip $19 just to enjoy the city — before a meal, drink, subway ride or activity.
I love the details of this building in the West Village
A tug and barge heading south on the East River
This is a place I know well; my husband worked there for 31 years as a photographer and photo editor. I also write for the paper freelance, so have been in there many times.
I always tell visitors to New York to get out of noisy, crowded, tourist-clogged midtown Manhattan as fast as possible and head to quieter neighborhoods like the East and West Village, Nolita and even parts of the Upper East Side, which is mostly residential but has some treasures like this lovely tearoom.
Get to a riverside park and enjoy the views and breezes. Savor a rooftop cocktail or a sunset bike ride.
I haven’t even mentioned Brooklyn (as I so rarely go there,) but it’s full of great shops and restaurants and views.
One of the many reasons I enjoy living near New York City is having quick and easy access to its culture, whether music, dance, art, books, theater.
We’re fortunate my husband works for The New York Times, which is unionized, and as a result gives us access to TDF, which offers low-cost tickets to a range of entertainment; as I left the matinee of Choirboy, having paid $45 for a fantastic orchestra seat, I saw that the lowest price at the TKTS booth in Times Squares was $73.
It’s a real privilege to see a show for these prices — full price for an orchestra Broadway seat can be $300 or more.
First, if you don’t know much recent Irish history — specifically “The Troubles”, then acronyms mentioned in it like GPO and RUC won’t mean much. Plus thick Northern Irish accents to cut through.
Go anyway! It’s an amazing play, even if the ending is abrupt and confusing. It has more than 20 cast members — seven children, plus (!) a live rabbit, a live goose and a very calm live baby. It’s almost three hours, with two intermissions.
It opened in New York on Broadway in October 2018.
It’s set in an Irish farmhouse at harvest time, in 1981, and includes everyone from Aunt Maggie Far Away, fading in and out of dementia, to the foul-mouthed patriarch Patrick and his wife, Patricia. There’s a very bad guy named Mr. Muldoon, a betrayed and betraying priest, a bunch of rowdy cousins and plenty of whisky. The plot is too complicated to detail here, but here’s a review of it; the themes of loyalty, belonging, lost opportunity and betrayal playing throughout.
Hard to imagine a more different sort of play, but so terrific. It closes March 10, so if you have a chance, run!
You can always see the famous icons of New York City, on postcards and T-shirts and in movies and television.
It can make you feel like you know the city even if you’ve never been here.
But, like every major city, it’s a place of many facets, most of which tourists will never see.
One of the coolest aspects of New York — and one so easy for pedestrians, drivers and tourists to forget — is that it’s a busy, working harbor.
The East and Hudson Rivers are as crowded with marine traffic as there is vehicular madness on the FDR (highway on the East Side), the BQE (heading out to Brooklyn and Queens) and the West Side Highway.
Every day dozens of tug boats are pushing barges somewhere — or guiding enormous cruise ships through a harbor filled with treacherously narrow and shallow channels.
I spent one of the happiest days of my work life here aboard a tug boat and came away in awe of these workhorses, each worth a ton of money and able to keep the city moving in ways no other craft can.
One of my favorite sights is seeing a tugboat at night, its lights stacked high like a mini wedding cake as it chugs along the river.
Broadway is still a real treat.
Despite crazy-high prices and the impossibility of getting tickets for some shows like Hamilton, seeing a performance in one of these classic, small, intimate theaters is well worth doing and can create a lifetime memory.
My favorite? Attending, of all things, Mamma Mia, with my husband’s Buddhist lama (yes, really)…Namaste on Broadway!
And Lincoln Center; this is the David Koch Theater. What a pleasure to wait for the house lights and the jewel-shaped lamps fronting each balcony to dim, the hush as the curtain rises on another ballet.
The entire building is delicate and lovely and ethereal — very early 1960s with all that white marble and gold — and makes an event there feel, as it is, like a special occasion.
This is a classic! One of my favorite shopping streets, East Ninth.
There are, still, a very few streets left in Manhattan, (more in Brooklyn now), that are funky and filled with quirky independent shops.
Rents skyrocket daily, forcing many long-time renters and businesses to shut and leave, sometimes to close for good.
A gas station at Houston and Broadway, one of a very small handful of gas stations in Manhattan, is soon to be torn down and replaced with….what else?…more million-dollar condominiums.
Hey, who needs gas anyway? Just thousands of working cabbies, to start with.
One of my favorite cafes, Cafe Angelique, (now on Bleecker’s eastern end) had to vacate its spot in the West Village when the landlord jacked the rent to…$45,000 a month.
Find — and support — the indies while you can!
Never forget — this is a city of incredible, rising income inequality.
The photo above, of a space that dwarfs airplane hangars, is filled with food, all of it destined for the city’s poorest inhabitants, many of them elderly.
You can enjoy the High Line and Times Square, dear tourists, but it’s only one tiny sliver of New York City.
The film-maker of The Wolfpack literally found her documentary subject on the sidewalk — passing this group of handsome young men — and wondering who on earth they were.
Their story is almost unimaginable, raised inside their Manhattan apartment by a fiercely controlling father.
If you like shopping, you might enjoy a visit to Saks Fifth Avenue. I like eating lunch there, and enjoying this view.
Or, getting up to dance with 800 strangers at 7 in the morning.
Yes, I’ve done it, several times.
If you keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see all sorts of elegance and beauty in the least likely places. This is a lamp on a private college campus in Brooklyn.
And this tea and coffee shop, here since 1907, makes me happy. I stagger out every time laden with pounds of beans and tea.
The pattern of a metal plate on a Soho street…This is a city that still truly rewards a close look and sustained attention.
The back of a store on Spring Street in Soho. Speaking of quirky…
My birthday month…a facade in midtown Manhattan. Note the twins of Gemini.
A firehouse. How gorgeous is this?!
Nope, not Rome or Florence or Paris…Soho, Manhattan. The cast-iron facades downtown are a terrific reminder of the city’s past, not just the gleaming multi-million dollar condo towers.
And for those who still dream of becoming journalists…Columbia Journalism School.
I studied here in the 1990s — now I teach writing there!
How can you resist? The city is filled with delicious bakeries and temptations…
If you come, make time to walk sloooooowly and savor all these sights.
I moved to New York in 1989. Although I live in a lovely town 25 miles north of Manhattan, I can clearly see its southernmost towers from my street.
I love heading into the city — and that’s what locals call it, The City, (as if there were no other!) — to explore.
There are many treasures to discover, even after you’ve lived here for decades, many of them simply by walking slowly and by heading far away from the official sights.
Yes, the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center and Statue of Liberty, (to name only three), are worth a visit for the first-time visitor, but my favorite spots are much quieter and have few tourists.
Everyone heads to midtown: Fifth Avenue, Times Square, etc. — but I avoid midtown whenever possible, and feel sorry for the millions of tourists who wander there, dazed and crushed, buying junk from every mass-market store they have at home in Iowa or, worse, all the shops whose Going Out of Business!!! signs have been there for decades.
Why come to New York City to eat at tedious chain restaurants and look at the same boring made-in-China stuff you can buy at home?
Head (far) off the beaten path — yes, it’s safe!
East 9th Street
I love this street; here’s a story that calls it the Fifth Avenue of small business. I like its intimate scale, its battered metal fences and indie stores, the few holdouts of quirk and individuality in a city whose rents skyrocket so insanely that decades-established places disappear overnight as landlords demand fees only possible for large corporations offering…the same old things.
People actually live here, too.
Here you’ll find well-curated vintage, one of my favorite home stores, (14 years and counting), a few cafes and a quiet, affordable streetscape that reminds us that New York isn’t, (for the moment!), just an Uber-studded playground of the 1 percent.
Start at the street’s eastern end and allow at least an hour or more to really explore. When you reach Veselka, on Second Avenue, collapse at the counter for their fab home-made pea soup or pierogies. It’s an institution, serving yummy food since 1954.
It’s easy to forget — or not even realize — that the island of Manhattan is surrounded by water. It’s a busy working harbor, with enormous cruise ships docking in the Hudson River and barges of coal, cement and other materials being towed or pushed along our waterways by tugboats.
Those cruise ships only get in and out of here thanks to the amazing skill of tugboat operators, one of whom allowed me to spend a day aboard for a Daily News story. Best day in New York, ever! I had no idea how shallow and treacherous the waters here are nor how much power these little boats actually possess.
Take a seat on one of the many benches along the Hudson and watch these wondrous watery workhorses do their thing, day or night.
If you’ve been to a Viennese cafe, this is how it looks, sounds, feels and tastes — from the long wooden rods holding newspapers to the coffee with whipped cream. This bastion of old-world elegance, available for lunch or dinner, is in the Beaux Arts mansion of the Neue Galerie, one of my favorite NYC museums, devoted to the work of the Viennese Secessionists, Klimt, Kokoschka and Schiele.
Peridance Capezio Center
I just discovered them — by accident, of course! This huge dance studio offers dozens of classes open to adults, and has lockers, showers and a small cafe in the lobby.
If you’re sick of your hotel gym and don’t feel like walking one.more.block, why not try a class? They sell clothes and shoes in the downstairs shop. It’s on East 13th., a few minutes’ walk southeast from the Union Square subway stop.
One of my happiest travel memories ever was taking a ballet class in Paris. We stared up at 18th century painted beams and stared out the windows at the brightly colored facade of the Pompidou Center. Merveilleux!
Built in 1765, this home sits in a part of Manhattan — Harlem — that few tourists might normally choose to visit. It’s the oldest house in the city and filled with art and artifacts relating to the city’s history. I knew it existed but only saw it when we went to visit friends living a block away.
It’s gorgeous — and the setting is lovely.
Have you ever been to East 47th street? Likely not. But it’s well worth a detour to this small museum, founded in 1907, with a lovely indoor garden.
Some of the best shows I’ve even seen in this city have been here, from hair combs to ceramics. Their current exhibition offers photos from 1968 to 1979. (Take a look at the exquisite modern church next door.)
OK, shameless plug for my hairdresser, Alex. He’s been in business for decades and his three-chair salon, now on the south side of Grove Street, (right at the Christopher Street 1/9 subway station), is about the size of our (not very big!) bedroom.
I love the variety of his clients, from little old ladies who arrive with their home care aides to Wall Street machers to museum curators. I once sat beside a career musician who would be playing that evening on the Grammy broadcast.
You won’t go home bragging about some Big Name haircut or color. But you’ll get a great cut and/or color, for men and women, for a fair price and enjoy some lively conversation with some of the city’s most interesting and creative people.
If you’re as crazy about delicious and unusual fragrance as I am — whether for men or women, in candle form, perfume, soap or men’s fragrance — this is not to be missed. It’s on the south side of Christopher Street, (about four blocks east of Hairhoppers), and offers a fantastic array of choice.
You’ve seen it in movies and on television and maybe read about it for years. Before you head into Manhattan (or Brooklyn, probably the only two of the five boroughs that make up NYC you’ll visit), a few tips. I’ve lived here for 25 years and you can spot the tourists a mile off…
Dress the part!
You can always tell the out-of-towners — the teen girls and women have…unusual…hair color, wear heavy make-up, nude hose, pastels, bright colors and sequins. They have French manicures and pedicures, or chipped nail polish. All of which mark them immediately as someone not from here. A fresh manicure (nude polish on hands) and pedicure are key. New York women are well-groomed!
Like Paris, New York has its own visual style, and understated elegance is a good option, for men and women. Yes, we all wear black, all year round. It’s easy to accessorize and moves easily, if it’s the right clothing and style, from day to evening, usually with a change of shoes. (Bring ballet slippers or flats for comfortable/stylish walking — we walk everywhere. Men might consider a stylish suede or leather lace-up.)
Also not very city-friendly: bulging, enormous backpacks (everything here is small and crowded); chunky white or black sneakers; ripped or super-baggy (or super-tight) jeans; farmer or baseball caps, especially worn backward, logos all over everything, fanny packs.
Get to/out on the water
It’s too easy to forget that Manhattan is an island, and some of the loveliest sights are found on its edges — the bike and walking paths along the East River and the Hudson. The Circle Line takes hours, but the round-the-island boat tour will give you a terrific appreciation of the city, as will the (much cheaper!) Staten Island ferry, which commuters ride to and from their homes on SI. (Rent the classic movie Working Girl, with Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, to understand the importance of the ferry.)
Get onto the water at sunset to watch the city lights come up — and the Statue of Liberty at sunset. You can also rent kayaks and sailboats here.
Walk faster. No, even faster!
No kidding. Nothing is more maddening and selfish than huge packs of tourists walking abreast — i.e. completely blocking a subway stair or sidewalk — sloooooooooowly.
Move it, folks!
The people who work here have places to go and no time to get there.
Enjoy a drink at one of the city’s vintage bars
Fanelli’s, Old Town Bar, Sardi’s, McSorley’s, The White Horse Tavern, The Landmark. Manhattan offers some fantastically old, weathered taverns with deep wooden booths, pressed tin ceilings and decades, even centuries of history. Settle in and enjoy.
(If you want to go seriously upscale — and dress well! — splurge on a cocktail or two at The Campbell Apartment, the King Cole Room at the St. Regis or Bemelman’s.) Yes, cocktails can cost $12, $14 or more. It’s New York, kids.
Keep your Metrocard filled
Taking the subway or bus is often a lot quicker and cheaper than trying to find a cab and getting stuck in traffic. Keep your card topped up. When you get on the bus, dip your card quickly in and out of the fare box. Then move to the rear!
Ride the bus
There’s no better way to really see the city. Skip the tourist buses and spend a few hours riding the M104 (Broadway) or the M5 (Fifth Avenue.) Comfortable, safe, cheap.
You will not find a cab at 4:00 p.m.
That’s when all the drivers change shifts and all those cars are going to whiz right past you, no matter how much you flap your arm. We know it. Take a bus, or subway or walk.
But…if you beg, nicely, you might still hitch a ride if someone is heading that direction.
If you take a cab, tip at least 15 percent
Or prepare to be brow-beaten.
Carry a small umbrella
Few things are more frustrating than getting caught in the rain and not finding a cab to rescue you. Be prepared.
Eat at Shake Shack
Forget the calories and the lines. Just do it. So damn good!
The city resembles a small child, at best bursting with charm, all winning smiles and irresistible, 24/7 energy. At worst? Projectile vomit, much throwing of small, sharp objects and/or prolonged shrieking at high volume.
You never know which city you’ll get.
After 25+ years of living and working around New York City, here’s a random list of 20 things I’ve learned:
— After an exhausting day at a conference or trade show at the Javits Center, a hulking structure on the western edge of town, your poor feet are raw, since there’s almost nowhere there to sit down. Food is crazy expensive and not very good. When it’s time to go home, you head for the taxi rank, naively expecting, (hello, it’s a taxi rank), to find…you know, taxis! Lined up, lots of them, eager for business. Wrong! You will give up and trek long blocks in the pouring rain in search of one, praying you don’t miss your flight home.
— If you actually need a NYC taxi between 4 and 5:00 pm. — also known in most cities as rush hour — fuhgeddaboudit.There are 20 percent fewer cabs on the street then, as that’s the drivers’ shift change. But, if you beg, really nicely, sometimes a driver will in fact take you. Will you get a safe and experienced taxi driver? I once got into a cab, barked “Laguardia” and got a quizzical glance. (It’s one of NYC’s two major airports.) I directed him to the right tollbooth where the collector said “Take the BQE”, (Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a major artery). That didn’t register either.
— NYC — huh? — has shockingly lousy radio. We have WNYC, and the fab Brian Lehrer, (talk, call-in, 10-12 each weekday morning), and Leonard Lopate, (talk, culture, noon to 2pm, weekdays), and Jonathan Schwartz (American songbook, Saturdays and Sundays.). We have WFUV and WKCR, Columbia University’s station, (love their eclectic schedule — from troubadours to 60s reggae and ska), and WQXR. Then…WBGO, a jazz station from Newark, NJ.
— Be very, very careful if you choose to cycle or even cross the street here; a shocking number of people, including children, are killed here every year by careless drivers. Don’t be stupid and focus on your device while trying to navigate the crosswalk, if there even is a crosswalk — that text you’re reading or sending could well be your last.
— Getting a traffic or parking ticket of any kind in New York City is really expensive; I recently got my first-ever ticket, for going through a stop sign — $138. (If I’d run a red light in Manhattan, it would have been $270.)
— But the cop who slapped me with my $138 fine also confided, since it was my first offense, how to get out of paying it. (I paid anyway.)
— Tourists. Gah! We hate freaking tourists, especially when they walk three or four abreast, slowly, entirely blocking the sidewalk for the rest of us. It’s totally awesome you have all bloody day to stroll, chat and stare. We don’t. Speedupalready!
— Yes, we can tell just by looking that you’re tourists. It’s not just your maps and foreign-language guidebooks. It’s your hair color/cut, choice of pastel clothing and/or white sneakers and/or lots of purple and pink and/or the volume of your conversations. Also, that glazed look.
— Please, do not whine about what things cost here. Yes, the prices are insane — $50 to park for four hours in a garage or $20 for a midtown cocktail, $8 to cross the George Washington Bridge, $10 for dessert or $15 for an appetizer. We know how expensive it is. We also pay a shitload of taxes to a state and city government forever sending its elected officials to court or prison for fraud, sexual harassment or corruption. I once simply drove my mother to the airport — $13 for tolls and 20 minutes parking. Puhleeze.
— Two places you can always find a bit of peace? The many pocket parks and plazas dotting the city and the pews of any church.
— You’ll see an entirely new city with each season, and softer or sharper, less or more angled sunlight it brings. I was walking south on Park Avenue the other day — at 2:30 on a sunny January afternoon — and passed a 1960s building I’ve seen hundreds of times. But I saw it wholly anew, as the light’s angle created pockets of shadow clearly intended by the architect, in metal indentations below each window. It was lovely.
You can even, for a week in late January every year, watch world-class champions playing squash in a glass-walled court inside Grand Central Station. Crazy!
— There is beauty in almost every single block, if you look carefully. It might be a hanging lamp, a brass marker inlaid in the concrete, a gargoyle, a church spire, leaded windows, exquisite ironwork, a tiny snowman with pretzel hair. Despite its insane rushrushrush, New York City is actually a place that rewards a slower pace, (off the busiest streets!)
— New Yorkers may look mean, tough, unfriendly. We’re really not. We are usually in a hurry, (knowing the taxi, if we can even find one, will take forever to get there or the subway will break down). We’re probably rushing somewhere to get more something: money, opportunities, friends, whatever. But so many of us have come here from somewhere else that we get what it feels like to be scared, overwhelmed, lonely — and thrilled to finally master this place, even for a while.
Having survived a meeting with one ferocious new-to-me editor (whew!) and enjoying a fun lunch with another, I took the afternoon off recently to just enjoy the city.
It was a bright, clear day and I decided to head downtown, walking down Third Avenue.
Did this bunny die of a broken heart? Wall art…
When people who don’t live here picture Manhattan, they usually think of the Statue of Liberty or Broadway or Times Square, huge, iconic spots thronged by thousands of tourists. Many of my favorite places here are quiet, old, weathered and unlikely to draw even a dozen tourists a week.
I always urge visitors to flee midtown — and all those shoving gaping fellow tourists — and head to the East or West Village, with cobble-stoned streets, 18th. century homes and a sort of intimacy and charm that feels a planet removed from the rest of the city. Dotted with cafes, restaurants, elegant townhouses and indie shops, this is Manhattan for flaneurs.
I walked past Gramercy Park, longing to actually enjoy it for a while, but only those who live on the park are given keys to its black iron gates. There are only two private parks in New York City, but if you stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel, on the northwest corner of the block above it, you can gain access, thanks to their 12 keys.
The National Arts Club, on the south side of the park, is one of many spectacular buildings facing the park, built in the 1840s. In the 1860s it was a private home, and Samuel Tilden hired Calvert Vaux — one of Central Park’s designers — to add to its exterior. I’ve attended events at the Club, and the interiors are also very beautiful; you can catch a glimpse of them through the windows.
Here’s a doorway on Gramercy Park South, a neighborhood of considerable wealth, history and charm.
I love these pieces of the past and seeing names from history books lying beneath our feet — Peter Stuyvesant, who founded Manhattan, is buried here. The cornerstone was laid in 1795, making it the city’s second-oldest church.
Here’s a description of the community, from their website:
We are a church with a core membership committed to welcoming all kinds of people to be a part of the community. St. Mark’s has a special interest in supporting emerging artists. There are many artists in our community. We have a high energy Sunday morning service. A recent visitor said “It’s like RENT meets church.”
I’m eager to attend service there. I’m an Episcopalian and I heard their minister, Winnie Varghese — a Texan of South Asian heritage — speak at a conference recently. I liked her immediately. (For those of you who are not Episcopal, [Anglican], services tend to be quiet and well-behaved. Sometimes a little too snoozy.)
One the most poignant moments, for me, is looking at early gravestones. We’re all here for such a brief blink of time.
Who were these people? What were their hopes and dreams?
Will anyone stand on my stone 208 years from now?
I stopped in the Sunburst Espresso Bar and treated myself to a bread pudding, ($3.50, lots of chocolate!), and a latte. Everyone had their laptops open, while a few actually just engaged in lively conversation. I sat for an hour, resting my weary feet, staring at the sky.
In the fireplace, thick white candles were lit and glowing. Red berries sat in a vase and, at the very rear of the store, was a tank filled with water — and a female turtle, Monster. Go say hi!
Here’s a photo that really speaks volumes about the density of Manhattan. That row of bumps against the fading sky are vehicles, parked on a rooftop, brought there by elevators. Only in Manhattan do cars get the penthouse view!
By 6:00 p.m. after walking from 22nd and Third to 1st and 9th, my feet were killing me. Back to Grand Central to meet my husband and jump on the 7:57 commuter train heading north. Home!
I take the subway south to Christopher Street from Grand Central Station.
Across from me on the train is a lean, tall, attractive woman in her 40s, maybe 50s. Not an ounce of body fat. Her male companion is equally attractive, equally lean. She’s wearing white skinny jeans tucked into low red suede boots. His hair is salt and pepper, very well cut.
There are always clues — his messenger bag has an unfamiliar label. They are unusually quiet, speaking so low I can barely hear them, in what sounds like Dutch.
I get out of the subway and cross Seventh Avenue to my hairdresser, whose three-chair salon feels like home. I found him more than a decade ago through my husband, (now bald), who came to him when he had hair and Alex was over on Carmine Street. Now he’s on Grove, in the West Village, my favorite Manhattan neighborhood of all, with its low 19th and 18th century buildings, narrow and cobblestoned streets, sheltering trees, its cozy cafes and well-loved indie bookstores tucked into battered little spaces with pressed tin ceilings and worn wooden floors — a place whose intimacy is best experienced on foot, walking slowly, noticing things.
My hairdresser is a classic New Yorker, a gruff guy in his late 40s, maybe early 50s. No bullshit. Someone calls him and starts asking the prices of every possible service. “Are you starting your own salon and looking for pricing?” he asks.
And yet I’ve seen him bend over and offer a gentle, shy kiss to his clients, outer-borough women in their 70s and beyond, one of whom came in a wheelchair with her attendant. Everyone comes to Hairhoppers: trendy young bankers, lawyers, museum curators, a few Uptown blonds. We remember all his assistants, and ask after them, even years after they’ve left, like Brie, who moved to San Diego and got married, and Eddie, who now works uptown, and John.
This day, I’m sharing the space with a state attorney and a retired English teacher. We’re soon deep into passionate conversation about the economy, hard to avoid as we’re all barely feet from one another. There’s no brittle status anxiety here, but one of those rare and special places where strangers immediately feel comfortable, often trading phone numbers after a lively exchange. The teacher and I are talking so much I keep turning my head and Alex gives up cutting. He’s pissed. Chastened, I stare straight into the mirror, and talk to her reflection.
I cross Seventh and head to one of my favorite restaurants, Morandi, to eat outside, even though it’s gray and drizzly. A man with two sons sits nearby, someone famous in a baseball cap, but I can’t remember who.
A blond man in a T-shirt is pacing the sidewalk, on his cellphone, deeply disturbed. “But can he sing? I have to find an arranger, and book a studio and I don’t even know if he can sing. He can’t?”
A man in a black suit, carrying a garment bag, joins his companion behind me. Lawyers, one of whom seems to want to change jobs. “If Romney wins, my heart just won’t be in this work anymore.” They discuss the machinations of the Senate. Can’t tell if they mean state or federal. I love eavesdropping, and look as though I’m reading a book, which I also am.
Two Town Cars pull up, waiting, rain-beaded. A handsome stocky man exits the restaurant with his son, maybe 11, his blond wife with her $1,200 Stella McCartney handbag, and another woman. They jump into the Town Cars and drive away. I wonder how the world appears to a young boy for whom so luxurious a life — a $50 lunch, an idling limousine and driver — is routine, expected.
I stop into Greenwich Letterpress to sigh over the beauty of their work, and pick up a price list for their business cards. The samples offer many familiar names, of writers, designers, photographers. I finally feel a bit like a New Yorker, knowing who they are. They’ll charge $340 for 250 cards. Hmmm, is every contact I meet worth $1.36?
I suspect it would take me more than a year to distribute that many cards. In today’s melting-ice-floe economy, who knows which professional identity I’ll be using by then?
Running late for my 3:20 train, I cab it to Grand Central and am so late I have to buy my ticket on the train — paying double the price, punished for my tardiness. In the space of six hours, I’ve spent more than $250, grateful I can afford it right now.
Manhattan often feels like an expensive lover who, exquisitely and charmingly and with great certainty of purpose, shakes your pockets empty.
I dive into “Canada”, Richard Ford’s new novel, as the Hudson River flashes by on my left, the fall colors muted in the mist.