New York City
had never been to New York. When confessing this to people who know me or
read Degenerate Press efforts the reaction is always, “Really?!?”
Yes, really. It’s been on the To Do list for a while, but other things
kept coming up. In 1996 a bunch of fellow students from the GSU sculpture
department went for a gallery and museum trip, but I had just been
accepted to a study abroad program in Italy and couldn’t afford both
(actually I couldn’t afford either, but that’s another story.)
Since then there have been times of no money and/or no vacation and/or other lame excuses. So when SW pitched the idea and a bunch of
degenerates wanted to go I couldn’t think of a reason not to. April 1
we boarded a plane and flew above the fluffiest clouds I've ever seen
headed non-stop to Yankeetown.
We arrived at LaGuardia on Saturday afternoon and piled into a van reserved by SW.
She had made pretty much all the arrangements and done all the research
for our trip this time. SW had read Let’s Go New York City cover to cover and
highlighted things she wanted to see, including things in every
neighborhood in case we ended up somewhere with a moment to spare. She
even had a spreadsheet of what was open when.
For many reasons, I didn’t even Google anything in advance. For me, NYC
wasn’t real. It’s sort of like Hollywood, one of those places you hear so
much about and see so much of in popular media, populated by characters
you know well. Some of these characters themselves are fiction, so the
entire place becomes something of a fantasy. I once had a coworker who took his
mother to Israel. She was a good Southern Baptist woman and had read about
Israel and the surrounding areas every day in her bible, but had a hard
time with the idea that these places were real. In her mind, they were
equivalent to heaven, places of great importance that can’t actually be
This is how I felt about NYC. Frankly, it had me intimidated. I couldn’t
research what I would want to do because there was just too much and none
of it could possibly really be there.
So I’m happy to say we kicked its ass.
And it kicked ours in return.
We managed to get to our little boutique hotel, The Da
Vinci, without losing any fingers in the baggage carousel. The hotel was a
couple blocks from Central Park and Times Square. The rooms were small and
the bed was saggy, but it was clean, friendly and centrally located so it was
as convenient as anything in the city, i.e. just a short walk, cab or
subway ride away from anything you could want to see.
One of the skyscrapers on the same block
as our hotel.
|A few blocks down we had
our first meal at Da Tommaso, a pricey Italian place with pretty tasty
food. I went for grilled sausage with peppers and onions, not bad.
Others raved about their pasta dishes. I shared a slice of chocolate
cherry cake with the table that was delicious. One espresso later, we
were off and running.
|No trip to NYC could be
complete with out getting lost on the subway, missing a train, finding
out you can’t get there from here due to construction, and getting
misdirected by a local, all without seeing a moment of daylight. The
system is a labyrinth of confusing tunnels, grimy steps and platforms
(often smelling of piss) where you can’t get where you think you can
and the signs don’t help much unless you already know all the location
names and understand the abbreviations and jargon, in which case you
probably don't need the signs.
Eventually we found our way to the East Village neighborhood. Funky,
punky shops, ethnic restaurants, Irish pubs and sidewalk vendors lined the
streets. You could buy everything from Russian worker’s revolution art on
T-shirts to glass pipes for smoking weed.
We found our way to the Nuyorican Poets Café,
a famous bar for local Puerto Ricans. They were celebrating the life of
some famous poet or musician or something. Yeah, I should do some
fact-checking, but it was inconsequential because by the time we had
gotten lost on the subway, trekked through the neighborhood, stopped for a
cocktail, and found the place the street portion of the festival had moved
entirely indoors and the bar was crowded to capacity.
So off we went to another bar for a beverage, a place called D.B.A. They
have more beers and whiskeys than you could shake a straw at, and a fine
courtyard patio for lounging complete with two tables for smokers. (One of
the many things I love about New York is the lack of indoor smokers. I
wish Atlanta would see the light on this issue. It was wonderful to go
into a crowded room and not have my eyes burn, then return to the hotel at
nights and not reek like hell!)
||Then we trekked back
around the corner to Mama’s Food Shop, a tiny little soul food place
with servings large enough for 2-3 meals. But the food was so damn
good I couldn’t help but eat it all. Perfect fried chicken and the
best zucchini I’ve ever had. Most of their vegetables are vegan but
they do a great job making them delicious even without a hunk of pork
fat. And all that for about $9 – a steal in New York prices.
Portraits of mothers adorn the walls and the furniture is homey and
comfortable. If I lived in the neighborhood I'd eat there every other
|I noticed many flower
stands everywhere we walked. Perhaps the locals in their man-made
environment need that little bit of nature brought into their lives?
We returned to the hotel to get snazzied up and stopped by the
bar/restaurant in the basement for one for the road. Others in our
group had dined there for dinner and raved. The lovely Argentinean
bartender was friendly and they had a fair selection of drinks so it
was a good place to meet before heading off in search of more
The Slipper Room had burlesque on Saturdays, but I wouldn’t recommend
it for the show itself. The room was too small for the crowd and the stage
too low to actually see any of the action once people began to crowd
around. Standing on my toes, I was able to glimpse the top of the heads of
some performers. Others in our group stood on the rungs of a barstool to
catch a bit of one of the acts but the place was crammed with
people obviously there because it was the place to be, not because they
were interested in the show.
On the up side, my absurd polyester attire did generate plenty of
compliments and conversations, including being hit on by a couple of drunk
girls, one of whom insisted on wearing sunglasses at night. I spotted this
affectation by several people over the course of the weekend so we may
have this season’s stupid fashion trend.
The Slipper Room got more crowded and loud and pointless so we slipped out
to hop from bar to bar, trying to find a place where we could actually
order a drink and stand around to enjoy it. But on a lovely Saturday night
in a trendy neighborhood we found nothing but sardine-can conditions.
I was determined to find something so I scouted around the block
Schiller’s Liquor Bar with tables and a small bar that wasn’t too crowded. We
had a few minutes wait and got a table for all of us. The drinks were a
bit pricey – $9.50 for “specialty drinks” such as the fresh lemonade with
vodka and muddled strawberries that some of our gang enjoyed.
|The décor was fantastic,
all white tile and industrial looking fixtures, sort of like a
forgotten subway stop or the kitchen of a 1930’s insane asylum. Some
of the gang stepped out for smokes, leaving me with the only
non-smoker, SW. No, not “my” SW, another degenerate with the same initials. I tried to avoid subjects that would bore most people, such as the
geeky games I and other friends enjoy, but she insisted on details so
the conversation was about as uncool as it could possibly be in such a
swinging bar, or swinging town for that matter.
We stopped by a hotdog place, a little counter tucked in between bars
and restaurants somewhere along the route back to the hotel. I wasn’t
brave enough to get a dog from a street vendor over the weekend, but
others did and lived to tell about it.