“There are cities and then there is New York”, I thought as I found myself once again, staring at the skyscrapers of Manhattan – Mary Th. Massoura
That first evening, at the end of July, before we headed home, we went to Central Park at the height of the Upper West Side. I stood in front of the lake (Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir), and while dozens of New Yorkers were jogging, I was in a state of somewhere between zen and jet lag. I was staring across, at the lit skyscrapers that formed the skyline. “I’m really here,” I was thinking, and still couldn’t get my head around it. It may have been the third time I was in New York but I felt the same awe as if it were the first.
When they ask me why I like this city so much, my answers are usually plain – sometimes too plain-, because I really can not describe in a sentence all that I feel every time I walk in the streets of NYC.
However if I had to give an answer, it would be this: New York is a state of mind that you will not find anywhere in the world.
This vague state of mind, however, is a very specific one, to someone who loves New York. It’s a composition of specific images, specific smells, specific sunsets, specific feelings.
It’s the chat you’re having with the bartender, at a random Mexican bar in Chelsea, a very hot summer night while you’re sipping a Paloma.
It’s the sweet old lady who looks as she was cast in a Woody Allen movie, sitting next to you in a bistro it the Village, telling you that she’s staying across the street and that she’s been coming for years in the place, as they make her favorite soup.
It’s the guy who has a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, is part of the graffiti community in NY and leads walking graffiti tours on the Lower Side.
New York State of Mind is everything that happens everyday – and sometimes not accidentally – on this part of the globe, and you as a visitor feel intimate with all these because you have seen these streets, these skylines dozens of times in all those movies that glorify “the greatest city in the world “.
This time, my New York State of Mind was a puzzle of moments like the ones in the next lines. Every moment is accompanied by a song performed by singers and bands who lived in New York or were inspired by it.
Α day at the Metropolitan Museum
Rhapsody In Blue, George Gershwin
Just when you think that you’ve “seen the basics” at The Met, another visit with the right person – in this case, my friend Antigone, who lives in New York and whose her knowledge always leaves me amazed – leads you to new discoveries. We entered through the imposing entrance on 5th Avenue and 82nd Street. This time, after spending around 2 hours or more walking – rather, time traveling – from room to room, I discovered, among other things, the fantastic wing with works and finds from Africa, Oceania and America.We stood across from a series of musical instruments, gong-looking figures from the village of Vanuatu in the southern Pacific Ocean and we felt awe when we when found ourselves in the room where a large part of the ceiling is covered with an impressive canoeing “puzzled” and in the corner of that room a huge gorgeous handmade wooden canoe was placed.
Outside, inside the beautiful Chinese courtyard designed in the style of the Ming Dynasty, we traveled through time and sometime later, we found ourselves somewhere in the 50s as we discovered the Frank Lloyd Wright Room, a living room with architecture and furnishings designed by the iconic architect of the 20th century.
Summer in the City
Summer in the City, The Lovin’ Spoonful
Summer in New York is not a joke. Although the temperature is not tragically high temperature the humidity is simply unbearable – 100% for many days. Combined with the occasional tropical storms, well say it makes it an … interesting summer experience. Those who live in August in the city always carry a water bottle in their bag, which can be filled in taps in public places free of charge as well as an umbrella, because you never know when that gray cloud will be over your neighborhood. After breakfast, we crossed the neighborhoods of Upper West Side and we started walking along the Riverside Park, a relatively new neighborhood of the city.
The clouds had a dark gray color, but the sun was burning. We sat on a bench and stared across the Hudson River in the hills of New Jersey. Walking a little further, we passed next to the Intrepid. A huge aircraft carrier that has been active since 1943 – was used in the Second World War and in the Vietnam War among others – until the mid-1970s. In 2008, it was reopened for the public, where it now functions as a museum and event venue. This summer, one of the films screened there, in the summer cinema was … Top Gun!
On our way to nearby Hell’s Kitchen, it started pouring. We got stuck in a warehouse of the Salvation Army as it was impossible, even with umbrellas, to walk. When the rain finally stopped, we walked into a kitsch Mexican restaurant, decorated with all the glitter of the world. After a rainy summer day, nachos, fried sweet potatoes and Pina Coladas where only appropriate. And this ladies and gentlemen, is what we call hot summer in the city!
In every single corner
53rd & 3rd, The Ramones
It’s not just a big city. Big cities, with skyscrapers, chaos and fast-paced can be found everywhere in the world. New York is not just that. This is about a bigger picture, with many, many small details that all together make up this amazing puzzle called NYC. Each corner from north to south, from east to west is a different movie scene, with its own scenario, cinematography and soundtrack.
In the Upper East Side, on a relaxed Saturday afternoon, we stood in the queue with dozens of people waiting to enter the Guggenheim where a Giacometti exhibition was hosted. Of course the experience of walking inside this spiral-shaped Frank Lloyd Wright is a piece of art of its own.
Continuing our museum-crawl, we walked a little further and entered Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum, an incredible building in which, these days there was an impressive exhibition where the exhibits were challenging the audience’s five senses. When you go out of the Cooper Hewitt and walk further down you’ll find yourself at The Met.
On the other hand, in the Upper West Side, the heart of art beats at the Lincoln Center, which houses 12 artistic institutions. Entering the Met Opera, you feel this elegance of art. A little further down there is the New York City Ballet, New York City Ballet’s headquarters where thousands of dancers from all over the world dream of finding themselves one day on that stage.
Walking a bit further down the road there is one of my favorite spots in Manhattan is Columbus Circle. If you stand under the statue of Christopher Columbus, you can see Broadway Avenue stretching out majestically in front of you.
When go Midtown, well it is another world. Nestled among the skyscrapers, there is the Bryant Park where hundreds of workers take a lunch break.
And as you walk, in the avenues of Midtown, boom! A small secret of the city is hiding among the skyscrapers. “Let’s go inside to try tater tots,” said Antigone and as we walked through the indifferent door of the equally indifferent building, we entered a whole new world! The Original Trailer Park Lounge is the epitome of kitsch. You will feel like you were in a actual trailer park in the heart of America.
You will sit at the bar where among the beers and trinkets there is a bathtub in which a mannequin doll is placed and if you look up you will see the head of Elvis staring at you.
You will order tater tots – fried balls made with grated potatoes – the bartender will serve you beer in a can and you will enjoy your food along with the guys who take a lunch break and come to this surreal “world” to eat burgers, served with potatoes, in a plastic basket.
Continuing our walk to the Village, Lower East Side, Soho, Noho. This is whole different world, one of my favorites in Manhattan! Walking along Bowery Street, there are thousands of graffiti everywhere. It is worth taking one of the guided tours by professional graffiti artists because that’s how you will learn what all these graffiti and stencils on walls, doors, alleys mean and whey they are such a huge part of of the history of this city.
On a small door among many, we distinguished SAMO, a phrase that Jean-Michel Basquiat painted with his friend Al Diaz and which means “same old shit” reflecting the bad climate of the 70s in the city.
In the neighbourhood there is Freeman Alley, an alley that over the years, became a hub for creation for artists such as Hanksy, ASVP and Army of One. A little bit further there is see one of Andy Warhol’s first studios while just across the street, there is a small building where William S. Burroughs used to live.
As you continue your way through your the Lower Side, your eye catches a small sign, in a basement of a brownstone that says “Cookbooks”. Going down the stairs and entering through the small red door, I found myself in a small paradise, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks. A small bookstore that has been operating for 21 years with dozens of used, rare and out of print cooking books.
In there time – finally – stops. You sit on the floor cross-legged and search for hours. If you have a question, you can ask the owner Bonnie Slotnick who is behind the counter. Lower Manhattan is a completely different, magical world that I will write about it in another feature.
The City, bite by bite
Gloria, Patti Smith
The flavors in NYC are like the city itself. From all parts of the world, from inexpensive to expensive, from small joints, “gems” hidden in alleys to three Michelin- starred restaurants. Whatever you want to eat, you will find it in New York City. One day, we decided to start from the Upper Side and go down, bite by bite. We started from the Upper West Side.
Cream puffs. Small wonderful desserts, a choux stuffed with cream. We tasted the original with vanilla at Beard Papa’s, a Japanese chain that only makes creamy puffs! The specialty of the week was Cream Tea Cream Puffs.
Continuing our journey, we entered Zabar’s where the New Yorkers go there in the morning to get the best bagels in Manhattan.
Un petit gâteau. Near the Lincoln Center, an important Manhattan cultural institution, which houses among other things the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet and New York City Opera, there is Epicerie Boulud by the famous French chef Daniel Boulud .
You will go there to eat and to buy gourmet food for ηομε and of course to taste one of his famous sweets. We got a fantastic Coffee Chocolate Gateau, a cake soaked in coffee with cardamom and stuffed with a mousse of coffee, cardamom, spices and ganache. It was as delightful as it sounds.
Entering the subway, we headed Midtown and after spending an hour at the fantastic Strand bookstore – sells new and used books – we decided that our next bite would come from the Asian cuisine. Chinatown, it is then!
It may sound like a cliché, but in Chinatown you will eat fantastic Asian food. As long as you know what you want to eat. A joint will make the best dim sum, another one the best Beijing duck and another the best Szechuan cuisine. Like everything in New York, the more specific you are the better.
Dim Sum. Nom Wah Tea Parlor, nestled in a small alley, is the oldest restaurant specializing in Dim Sum in Chinatown.The steamed bean curd skin rolls were to die for, as well as the turnip cakes with dried shrimp and the Chinese sausage served with Hoisin sauce. On our small table we managed to make room for eggplants stuffed with deep-fried shrimp paste and served with brown sauce and scallions, vegetarian dumplings and pan-fried chicken dumplings. We enjoyed them with Beer Laos, a dark lager from Laos and we paid twenty dollars each.
Pop fleur. The next stop was … sweet. We didn’t just go to any pastry shop but to the place with the most creative – and quite hipster – temperament. Our next stop was at Soho and after we made a small passage-pilgrimage to Balthazar – the finest Eggs Benedict I have ever eaten were there back in 2006 – we ended up at Dominique Ansel on Spring Street. As it was too late for cronut (for the few who do not know, it’s a hybrid sweet, between donut and croissant) I got a pop fleur, “flower ice cream”, made with whipped yoghurt with wakamomo jam (wakamomo is a kind of Japanese baby peaches).
Wine tasting and livin ‘is easy. Heading to Noho Beach and East Village, at Astor Place, we made a stop at the wine cellar Astor Wines & Spirits. A huge underground area with hundreds of wines and spirits from all over the world. That day there was a free tasting, in three different stations, of summer wines from Italy, South Africa, California and Europe. Our favorite? Robola from Kefalonia. We left after we bought bottle of Robola for home.
La Ultima Palabra. A cocktail had the”last word” in this epic day of bites. The road led us to The Campbell, one of the most beautiful and atmospheric bars I’ve ever been to. The Campbell has an interesting New York story. In 1924, the multimillionaire economist John W. Campbell turned a large space of 330 sq. metres which was part of the Grand Central Station, into his office.
Inside a wall there was an imposing fireplace in which a safe was placed. In 1999 The Campbell was completely renovated. Its luxurious decorative elements, such as the imposing stone fireplace, the hand-painted ceiling and the huge 100-year-old window were of course restored and preserved. A new, absolutely dream bar was born.
Due to its location in the heart of Midtown The Campbell is an ideal hangout for after-work drinks.This afternoon, the famous cocktail The Last Word, got a Mexican twist and became La Ultima Palabra, with mezcal, green Chartreuse, Luxardo Maraschino and fresh lime juice.
There’s no place, like Grand Central
New York State of Mind, Billy Joel
It’s this place you’ve seen in infinite films, there all these thousands of people who commute every day, and then there is that detail in its history, that the person who saved it from demolition was a famous resident of Manhattan, Jackie Kennedy Onassis. At Grand Central Station you will not go, not only to travel. You will also go there to eat oysters, at the most famous oyster spot in New York. In the basement there is the historic Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant. A restaurant that travels you in time with a history of almost 100 years. At any given time, you will taste there fresh shellfish and seafood.
The menu features about 35 different types of oysters from East and West Coast. You will sit at the bar, order, take a glass of white wine or champagne and they will shuck and serve you fresh oysters. If you find yourself during Happy Hour with oysters at $ 1,50, you will feel indeed very happy!
Moon River, Henry Mancini
MoMA. I am walking in a hall where the truly moving exhibition of Bodys Isek Kingelez “City Dreams” is featured. A lady, around 75 years old, bohemian dressed, looking a little like Iris Apfel, passes by me. She looks at me and tells me in a hoarse voice “Yes, it is”. I did not really understand what happened until I remembered that I was wearing a shirt on that day that read “Love is Possible.”
Shall I write you a poem? At Spring St. in Soho, inside the store Krewe New Orleans Eyewear, a guy was sitting in front of a vintage typewriter. “Do you want me to write to you a poem?”, he asked us as we walked in. “Sure,” I said curiously. “Tell me a word”, he replied. “Oysters”, Antigone said. Within the next five minutes, sitting in the chair in the window and typing, the Cubs The Poet wrote us our own poem.
Momofuku It is worth dining in one of David Chang’s famed Momofuku restaurants. That hot evening, spontaneously without any reservation, we went to the first one that he opened, the Momofuku Noodle Bar on the Lower East Side. I was so happy to be there that I ordered “Extremely Spicy Noodles”. They were really extreme and spicy food and I do not get along. But this dish was out of this world. It was even worth the blister that appeared on my tongue the next day.
One afternoon at The Plaza“We have to go to Plaza, it’s part of the city,” Antigone and David told me, and who am I saying no? The Plaza, in the corner of Central Park, is the epitome of old fashioned rich life in Manhattan. You’ go in and you step on thick carpets and huge colourful bouquets are placed on the tables. We got a glimpse of the famous The Palm Court, home to a marvelous bar that takes your breath away. A stylish place to drink champagne and sip single malts. In the basement, there is the The Plaza Food Hall with cafés, pastry shops and restaurants.
The Highline. It’s sunset, and I am walking on the most beautiful urban pedestrian street in town. The elevated pedestrian street, the Highline, once abandoned rail rails and now a modern public park, is full of people. Taking selfies, sitting on the many benches looking the views over the bustling streets and other are simply staring at the impressive skyscrapers that are located on the right and left of the route and designed by impressive names of modern architecture. I sit on a bench and stare for a half-hour a beautiful graffiti on the wall opposite.There was no Highline when I was last time in Manhattan back in 2008. In this part of the city in western Manhattan, in Chelsea there is the Hudson Yards. I had read recently an article in which the writer wrote that that this is how future New York would look like. A futuristic neighbourhood with impressive residential skyscrapers, parks, renowned restaurants and bars.
The Whitney Museum of Modern Art I wanted to go to the Whitney, now in a new building in downtown Manhattan at the south entrance of Highline, in order to see the paintings of my favourite artist Edward Hopper. However, apart from that, there was another exhibition that I particularly liked a lot, called “An Incomplete History of Protest: Selections from the Whitney’s Collection, 1940-2017”. It featured various exhibits of paintings, documents, writings, videos, in which the artists from the 1940s onward presented the various social and political situations of America.
I (Heart) NY
On Fire, Bruce Springsteen
It’s around 8 in the afternoon and we are walking down the Lower Side on our way to The Prune Restaurant. I don’t know if it was the jet lag, or because it was my birthday that day or just because I love this city so much, but at that particular moment, Manhattan was lit like an expensive jewel. There was this wonderful natural light all over that I have not seen anything like it anywhere, at least in a city.
It was neither white nor orange. It was a special gold. This color made the street look like a scene from a movie. Perhaps this is the New York State of Mind: A movie scene. And if you love this city, it lets you be part of this film.