A Postcard from New York
You need to go to Midtown to really appreciate the scale of it all. A rattling subway carriage to 42 St as dusk scratches against the end of afternoon, look up and… there it is. The fast-casual salad chain restaurants and harried-looking men in polyester vests barking into mobile phones, yes, but also New York City. Bright, hectic, noisy, harsh, magnificent. Neon, glass and streets that run in straight lines until your eyesight lets you down — the brake lights fading into ‘way over there.’
At Jimmy’s Corner, one of the last proper dive bars in this part of town, a canopied, near-pitch-black pugilist haven with regulars who guard their stools like LaMotta protecting his chin in the fourth round, we meet our friend Jon Coombes, who greets us in the gloom with a handful of Sam Adams and the promise of a good time.
“You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it,” writes the author Colson Whitehead in his book The Colossus of New York. Our version might be a nook in the Corner Bistro on a drizzly Thursday, a short walk from The Whitney after getting a bit lost in Edward Hopper’s storefronts, shards of light and lonely people cut off from the city below, above and all around them. “What did you think?” asks a friendly woman in the lift back down. “Emotional,” we respond, truthfully.
Behind the bar at Corner Bistro is a young man called Josh who can fix anything… or at least the worst of the night before. A small TV plays black and white films with the volume turned all the way down; while a single chef sweats and sears in a kitchen the size of a fish bowl, knocking out one of the great NYC burgers. Cash only, Josh regales us with tall tales of chasing down patrons who, occasionally, fancy their chances of a free Friday night. “I always catch them,” he says, matter-of-factly.
We drift around the city. The early mornings are calm and beckon spring. Michael always says that “the first 24 hours in New York are magic.” “It’s the warmest winter that I can remember,” says the man behind the counter in the bodega on Canal Street. “Maybe one day of snow.” We jostle around the low-slung markets, galleries and blocky white postal vans, the Drake’s shop at 327 Canal, up to Prince Street and then Bowery.
We’re told, more than once, that Red Hook is like a “chilled out surf town.” Stood beneath a desolate Brooklyn flyover, the radioactive orange glow of a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts in our peripheral vision, it seems like the tide might have gone out. Heaven might be a quiet morning in the Ukrainian Village on a weekday as the city rumbles into life. These things appear as jet-lagged vignettes.
At Minetta Tavern we cram into a corner booth at 10.45PM, a fairly insane time for dinner in London, but it works here. Our waiter, Matthew, won Keith McNally’s coveted employee of the month in February – $1,000. How does he feel about his boss’s… lively Instagram presence? “I have mixed feelings,” he says, with a professional smile. “More wine?”
Outside at midnight, it’s heaving with rain. People scurry beneath the street lamps, jackets pulled awkwardly over heads, in and then out of the MacDougal Street downpour. We debate hailing a cab, before deciding to walk home, raglan coats soaked all the way through by the time we reach Canal. We’re in New York, it feels like the right thing to do.
Next time, we’ll bring an umbrella, though.