Hidden New York
Marci Reaven and Steve Zeitlin
Every week, it seems, someone writes from the country beyond the Hudson River to announce a visit to New York.
“What shall I do?” you ask. “What should I see?”
It's a funny request: Because I live uptown, in a lovely, quiet neighborhood that you probably wouldn't want to visit and I never want to leave, I rarely go to what you may think of as “New York.”
Still, I muster a list. Soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai. Cafe con leche and flan at La Taza de Oro. Avoid everything in Little Italy. Ditto Times Square. Ditto just about any play/musical on Broadway. Seek out downtown music clubs. Stroll the newly hip Lower East Side. Have a brisket or pastrami sandwich, washed down by Dr. Brown's Cream Soda, at Katz's Deli. Don't overlook the Frick Collection. Like that.
My list has a bias. I can do without anything big, corporate or hyped --- as a general rule, if you've heard of it, I probably don't like it. My preference is for the small, authentic, ethnic. The New York that was. The New York that's threatened daily by the incessant march of gentrification.
Someday --- maybe someday soon --- the New York I cherish will be gone. Manhattan will become Manhattanland, a destination for foreign tourists who are drawn by American media and, even more, the puny American dollar. The residents will be hedge fund titans and media moguls and the upper echelons of those who serve them. The new, the interesting, the ethnic --- you'll find them in the Outer Boroughs and in New Jersey.
But let's not look too far into the crystal ball. There's good news. Marci Reaven and Steve Zeitlin --- who direct a fine site called City Lore --- have pulled together a thick (360 page) paperback of the city's overlooked gems. And more: Their team of writers dug in and did actual reporting, so we not only get directions to some hidden pockets of interest, we get the back story.
They get all the low-hanging fruit: the arches of Grand Central Station just outside the Oyster Bar where a whisper can richochet to a distant pillar, the “Imagine” memorial to John Lennon in Central Park, the pickup basketball game at 6th Avenue and West 3rd Street, Arthur Avenue.
But they also lead you to places I've never heard about, and I've lived here since...oh....I vaguely recall Abe Lincoln's speech at Cooper Union. Like the Hua Mei Bird Garden, in Chinatown, where Chinese men spend their mornings tending rare singing birds. To the casual bystander, it's just guys standing around. Read the history of this garden and the Hua Mei birds before you head downtown, and you'll go home with an experience a lot more interesting to hear about than the latest revival of a grizzled musical.
Many of the selections involve field trips to the Outer Boroughs. And I know, it's not likely that you'll want to hike out to Queens to be served by Pete Benefaremo, “the lemon ice king of Corona.” But there are more than enough hidden treasures to keep you hopping around Manhattan. And won't you feel special when you tell your pals, “Meet me at the Cube.”
What cube? Why, the one right near the lamppost that Jim Power is decorating with tile. You don't know about “the mosaic trail”? Gee, where you been --- Times Square?
--- by Jesse Kornbluth, for Head Butler.com
To buy “Hidden New York” from Amazon.com, click here.
Copyright 2007 by Head Butler Inc.