When I first came to New York back in 1979 I was intimidated by the noise, crowds, scale, and grit that was New York in the 1970s. Certainly, New York has mellowed a bit since I was first here as a teenager. It now boasts being the safest big city in the United States. But it is still big and it is still crowded and it is still loud. Later in my life, I went to school in upstate New York and married a woman from Long Island. Both of those decisions gave me more interaction with the city and more time to love it.
More than Times Square
Part of the difference between my first impressions of New York and my current impressions was the discovery that New York is more than Times Square. When you first come as a tourist it is easy to visit Times Square and the Empire State Building and think you have seen the city. It is when you discover one or more of the many small more livable neighborhoods in the city that you start the transition from tourist to New Yorker, even if temporary New Yorker. For example, you can eat at the Hard Rock Cafe on 7th Ave with the rest of the tourists and pay $15 for a hamburger (seriously, I checked) but if you would only walk two avenues west to 9th Avenue you would find yourself in Hell’s Kitchen. Hell’s Kitchen boasts a great number of different family-run ethnic restaurants. Gary Arndt (Everything-Everywhere.com) and I tried a nice Brazilian restaurant on this trip called “Beans and Rice”.
I started writing this blog post from my favorite coffee and tea house in the city which is 71 Irving Place in Gramercy Park. Gramercy Park is the name of a private park near Union Square and the small tree-lined neighborhood around it. On a recent stay in the city, I stayed in the very expensive W Hotel opposite Union Square (I still feel guilty paying $500 a night for a hotel room even though it was my boss who wanted me to stay there). I had time to kill but the W was not my style so I wandered around until I found this area. It is a tree-lined street only 2-3 blocks from the frenetic pace of Union Square. New York is full of these tiny neighborhoods.
Everyone knows that New York is expensive but if you hang out where the locals do you can find bargains like a slice of pizza and a soda for $2 on the corner of 9th and 42nd St only a block from the Port Authority bus terminal.
New York City is also the first place I tried dim sum on a trip into the city with a friend who lived nearby. We ate at a restaurant in Chinatown where we were not sure what we were eating (no one spoke English to us) or how much it would cost. We were still hungry when we left so we headed a few blocks to Little Italy for pizza. Don’t like the cuisine where you are, try two blocks over.
We had friends who used to live at the corner of Central Park near Columbia University on the Upper West Side. When we visited them they took us to famous places like H&H Bagels, Fairway (groceries), Gray’s Papaya (hot dogs) and Cafe Lalo (dessert). But they also took us to a local brunch spot where we ate at the table next to Timothy Hutton and Alex Baldwin and hole in the wall Italian restaurants.
On this visit I made it up to (although not into) the Cloisters museum north of 190th St. There you will find Tryon Park which is a wooded area on granite bluffs overlooking the river that reminded me much more of the beautiful Hudson Valley than a major city. It was a surprise and I suspect not that last surprised that the city has for me.