February 05, 2013

new york friend

Sex & the City, Gossip Girl, Dirty Sexy Money, Friends, Mad Men. I could go on.  Swanky bars, bright city lights, running in heels. Idealistic representations of super cool New York City are all around us. Are these prime-time TV shows honestly portraying the real New York? Or is this all a figment of our imagination? Looks like the top question on New York City Message board is: “does Central Perk exist???” (the excessive number of question marks shows the utter intrigue from this anonymous user).

Perhaps one of the reasons Lena Dunham’s new TV series GIRLS has continued to win us all over is because we are at last being offered a new insight into a different side to New York: the edgier corners of the city with less fur and more beer. Being the full-time day-dreamer that I am, I often imagine myself one day living in New York – but do I really know what it could be like?

I asked the awesome NYC’er Reema Mitra to share with me the top 4 things to remember about the world’s biggest urban playground:

The thing about New York is that it IS about stilettos and coffee vats and brunch time – a self-fulfilling prophecy fulfilled due to 20-something girls invading the island after watching too many Sex and the City re-runs. (These are awesome things, regardless).

Glitter and fur is great for visitors, but real NYers will tell you, it’s one of the only places where you can eat ice cream from a truck that also serves Korean BBQ tacos while you teeter down a cobble stone street where a couple is having their engagement photos taken next to Liev Schriber’s apartment.

My time in the city that never sleeps was a slightly alternative one. I spent most days trying to convince street artists to be friends with me and uncovering life beyond expensive rooftop clubs and black American Express cards. Here’s what I learned:

1)    Everyone’s got a story. One October night I went to Pommes Frites, a hip little Belgian fry shop near St. Marks Place where you can choose so many sauces, you won’t know where to start. The place is tiny, but always really packed late night. Unlike London, we New Yorkers are chatty. But when an older lady named Bettie came to sit in my booth, I really wasn’t in the mood for conversation. Still, in an effort to be polite, we engaged in some banter that eventually led to an hour-long discussion about her world travels. I had just been reassigned to London and she spent half her life in Europe. When I asked her which place she preferred, she  said in a faint Dutch accent, ‘Nowhere is perfect. That’s why I zigzag. I have no husband and I have no kids, but I do have cats that I need to go feed.’ And off she went. Did I mention when I went home and Googled her name, I found out she was a fairly well-known in the 70’s?

2)    Don’t believe the hype.  Debating if Per Se is really worth the $295 prix fixe might take all night. The best advice I got about eating out came from the foodie elite. Underground supper clubs and food trucks parked near Varick street give you a very unique peek into one of NYC’s most delicious subculture. Hyun Kim took me to Nom Wah Tea Parlor who’s history goes back to the 1920’s. Far more than a restaurant, it’s a part of a larger story.

3)    Be a Marnie not a Miranda. New York’s landmass is about half the size of London. That makes travelling the boroughs any easier task than most believe. Brooklyn’s restaurants, bars, art and energy are unparalleled to any part of Manhattan I’ve been to recently. And there. is. greenery. With regular DJ sets from Talib Kweli and Questlove from the Roots, off-kilter 16 lane bowling alley slash music venue Brooklyn Bowl is an unmissable spot for good fun and Blue Ribbon food. A piece of the NYC experience most people skip, I consider Brooklyn a staple.

While many people subscribe to the pop culture approach of stilettos and crowded nightclubs, our beloved city can offer so much more than a mojito. Which leads me to my last point:

4)    Remember that anything can happen. Even the city’s elite take the subway. Outdoor photoshoots are commonplace as a group of parked taxis and graffitied walls provide the perfect backdrop.  I opted to skip the long cue at the Empire Hotel one night and instead go to a dive bar in Soho. I ended up talking to a cute guy with a massive mustache all night. Low and behold, he soon revealed himself to be in town for the International Mustache Championship (he held the silver medal). While it may not be akin to a traditional celeb sighting, it’s definitely more memorable than the time we ran Fergie at the Trump Hotel. New York is overwhelming because people are always up to something – running from one engagement to the next.

When giving people advice about visiting, the one piece of advice I can give is ‘Look up.’ Sometimes the best view of Manhattan is from the ground.

To hear more funny tales from Reema, you can follow her amusing Twitter feed at @rmitty.

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