That girl on the docks – it’s me! In the last century, of course. We were newly married, and my in-laws, with an empty nest, made the adventurous decision to return to Europe. That meant traveling by boat with trunks full of their belongings – and the ship left from New York’s Harbour (most likely from a dock on the Hudson, probably close to Chelsea). I am flabbergasted and even embarrassed that I recall so little about that trip. I remember the plane circling for almost an hour waiting to land, a teeny tiny hotel room, and a city that was noisy – all through the night. Where did we eat? What did we see? Apart from the docks – whoosh – those memories are buried somewhere deep and inaccessible.
Maybe my short term memories never made it to long term in the first place. At the time, I was not a big NYC fan and in the decades that followed never pined after trips to shop or see Broadway shows. I wonder why I recall no “NYC thrill” – then a review of history provides a context.
NYC was a troubled city in the 1960s. “Like many major U.S. cities, New York suffered race riots, gang wars… By the 1970s the city had gained a reputation as a crime-ridden relic of history.” [Source]
So in 1971, the girl on the docks might well have hoping – please let me get out of this place in one piece.
Apart from a few momentous events, such as the opening of the World Trade center in 1972, the Seventies, it seems were not much improved. “The financial crisis, high crime rates, and damage from the blackouts led to a widespread belief that New York City was in irreversible decline. By the end of the 1970s, nearly a million people had left, a population loss that would not be recouped for another twenty years.” [Source}
This was the context for the 1977 launch of the now iconic, and immeasurably successful, "l Love New York" campaign. It marked an apparent turning point in the city’s status and appeal – echoing earlier chapters, decades before.
Post-WWII NYC was robust and exciting. The BBC’s Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds documentary focuses on all of the amazing things that happened in NYC in a pivotal year. “It quickly became the most influential and exciting place on the planet, a place with more energy and originality than everywhere else put together… a towering testament to human resilience, ingenuity and above all hope. This city did more than any other to create our culture – the culture we live in today - and it all began in 1951."
The premise of that documentary may in part explain why, the year before, my parents went to New York City for their honeymoon. My mother, annoyed at my questions and the expectation that she should remember details from well over a half century ago, says she recalls they travelled by train, went to a Broadway show, and ate at a Hungarian restaurant. She tells a sweet story - that they joined the dance floor for a csárdás - dancing so impressively that they cleared the floor, admired and applauded by all. They never returned, and in many respects that kind of trip was out of character from how they spent the rest of their lives. Sitting there, little did they know they would one day have a grandson who’d live in NYC for almost a decade.
And that dear reader, is why the girl on the docks has visited NYC so often in recent years, and as a food enthusiast that became the focus of each trip. I still know little about shopping in NYC for anything other than food stuffs. All I know about Broadway is that our favourite DEAN & DELUCA is at Broadway and Prince. We feel comfortable using transit and have rented bikes more than once. And we walk. This year, peak steps in one day was 24,709 – and the older I get the more that translates into “Let’s sit down for a spell.”
Though I am confident we will return to NYC, that chapter is drawing to a close and I have been pondering memories and moments. We arrived so unprepared the first time and stayed in Chelsea – which has since changed tremendously. In fact, all of New York seems to be in constant flux. Clearly there is enough money to fuel the changes, which seem to be positive and creative. Undoubtedly there is a back story to every initiative – but somehow that city moves forward with rapid innovation.
And yet… “progress” is not praised by all. This recent NYT article laments the closing of shops on Bleecker Street / Greenwich Village. After periods as long as 28 years, facing rents of $25,000 per month for 500 sq. ft., shops that contributed to the neighborhood’s history and character are being replaced with high-end international chains. As in all major cities, gentrification creates a wave. It pushed people to Brooklyn’s more affordable neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, which in turn is quickly becoming un-affordable. The wave moves out – and up! If you have no time to read this, at least check out the photos in the NYT Magazine's High Rise edition - an astonishing number of people determined to live in Manhattan are living above 800 feet!.
The wave also moves beyond borders. I am ambivalent about the homogenization that comes with globalization. Was it better when the one and only Shake Shack was in Madison Square Park? And now that they have expanded globally – even to Russia! – should I be hoping to see a local one soon? There was “the summer of Pinkberry” – we ate it at every opportunity. Now there’s a Pinkberry in Mississauga’s Sherway Gardens Mall. I took a photo – but can’t bring myself to eat there. We ate at Nathan’s on Coney Island – and now my local grocer stocks Nathan’s Mustard and Pickles. I admit, I bought some, but can they be as good as the original? Where did Nathan’s suddenly get so many pickles that they could export them all over the world? So, fine, sometimes I am happy when “NYC” appears close by – Daniel Boulud, Momofuku and Milk Bar. There are even plans for a Toronto Eataly soon!
On the flip side, I have a little shiver of pride when I see Canadian products on the shelves of DEAN & DELUCA – Kozlik’s Mustard, Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps. But overall, year after year, I wander the aisles of D&D saying – we have that at home, have that, have that… A core travel question is do you want to see something different, or exactly the same? It’s fun to hunt down something you can’t get at home – like Liddabit Sweets. Ok… I can order these online, but where’s the adventure?
Chop, chop - editing decision...
I’ve decided to edit out my summary of restaurant memories and travel tips and will shortly add them elsewhere on this site. You can read last year’s NYC blog post, and check out my NYC / Eat page (which will be updated asap).
There's so much I could share from this year alone. A highlight was Café Sabarsky, in the Neue Galerie, home to Gustav Klimt's iconic Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. Those who are not students of Fine Arts may know it from the movie Woman in Gold. The portrait was painted in Vienna, and the café has captured the essence of coffee houses we visited in Vienna (and Budapest – keep in mind that both cities were once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire). They even had Sacher Torte mit schlag (aka whipped cream).
Most years, we stay in the Historic Southern Seaport area where the day can end relaxing on beautiful outdoor seating, gazing at the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River. This brings to mind: 1) Brooklyn is worth a visit. More and more restaurants pop up every year – and there’s the interesting Flea Market and Smorgasburg - which has now expanded to other locations, including the Seaport area! 2) The sitting / gazing has at times been accompanied by eating a burger – not every meal in NYC can be “fine dining”. This year’s burger feast was at Spotted Pig, April Bloomfield’s NYC launch pad in the wonderful West Village. 3) The outdoor seating in the Seaport area follows the same design as that on the High Line - not to be missed - but may be less crowded early or late in the day.
What will take us back to New York? For starters, a graduation and a moving van; the 2019 opening of Anthony Bourdain's Pier 57 Food Hall / Market, and perhaps next year the opening of the Pier 17 Project in the Southern Seaport – can’t wait to see the changes to our quiet (and previously affordable?) little corner of Manhattan.
NYC trips are always a kitchen muse. I have figured out how to make Ramen Burgers, but have not tried this yet. In the "summer of macarons" I arrived home with all I needed to make them - but never did. (Sadly) this trend caught on like wild fire, and they are now available at my grocery store! bookstore! I am kind of thinking I am over them... Some NYC inspirations did make it to the blog - check out Black & White Cookies, and Flourless Chocolate Walnut Cookies.
You can also view more photos at my Instagram feed.
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