Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

This Is New York

You don't have to look hard to catch a glimpse of classic New York. Just do what the tourists do: Look up. But tourists, being tourists, see only the landmarks. What really makes this city constant over time is not so much the bricks and mortar but what's inscribed in the city's DNA: the people, the institutions, the ways of life that may evolve over time but remain unmistakably New York.

ShareThis


The skyline . . . neurosis . . . “Stand clear of the closing doors” . . . Shakespeare in the Park . . . the penthouse . . . pickles . . . very wealthy small children . . . the docents at the Met . . . seltzer . . . parties where everyone’s wearing black . . . “Page Six” . . . getting bus-slushed . . . the fine distinction among bodegas, delis, and corner stores . . . the knish . . . at 5 p.m., Town Cars lined up two deep in front of corporate buildings . . . Art Deco . . . standing under the Washington Square Park arch with its decrepit statue of George Washington and gazing up Fifth Avenue . . .

“I’m on the list” . . . the beat cop . . . famous people at the newsstand early in the morning so they can be the first to read their reviews . . . apartment envy . . . Ed Koch . . . spending the day sitting in the Cloisters’ medieval garden . . . illegally tapping fire hydrants . . .

Fairway . . . hanging out in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s tropical greenhouses in the winter . . . the Chelsea Hotel . . . the Oyster Bar . . . free science educations: Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and Cooper Union . . . rich ladies with small dogs on Madison Avenue . . . East Village residents glaring at preppy NYU students . . . gypsy cabs . . . the Blessing of the Animals at St. John the Divine . . . bars in converted banks, beauty salons, libraries, and pharmacies . . . the Children’s Aid Society . . . that first warm day in spring when suddenly everyone’s walking around nearly naked . . . handing off an unused transfer to someone waiting for the bus . . . figuring out how much money your friends make . . . rent control . . . “My friend’s band is playing CB’s tonight” . . . everything bagels . . . the Learning Annex . . .

Macy’s Santa . . . elderly salesmen in blue blazers and tattersall shirts at Brooks Brothers . . . peddlers selling knockoff Gucci bags a block away from stores selling real Gucci bags . . . break-dancers on the L train . . . supermodels dancing at nightclubs . . . glitzy book parties . . . people who care about Woody Allen movies . . . calculating infinity not as grains of sand but as germs in the subway . . .

Serendipity 3 . . . your building’s super fixing everything between Thanksgiving and Christmas . . . corned beef or pastrami on rye . . . going to three movies in one day during the summer to keep out of the heat . . . stiff penalties for parking illegally . . . the World’s Fair site at Flushing Meadow . . . rats running out at you from empty lots . . . the Grill Room at the Four Seasons . . . lying about your address to get your kid into a better public school . . . the Brooklyn Heights Promenade . . .

Pete Hamill . . . scaffolding . . . the formerly famous . . .the dozens of fiercely competitive Indian restaurants on East 6th Street . . . the slice . . . the stage door . . . being arch . . . Spanglish . . . Ellis Island . . . Katz’s . . . Nathan’s . . . art students sitting on the floor of the Met with sketchbooks . . . Wigstock . . . blintzes . . . the packed “secret” bar . . . secretaries on the subway wearing power suits with panty hose, socks, and sneakers . . . the homeless shelter . . . token vs. MetroCard . . . smokers outside office buildings . . . gentrification like a tide that goes in and out . . . jay-walking as a sport . . . competing live Statues of Liberty at South Street Seaport . . . deafening car stereos . . . cemeteries in Queens . . . Caffe Reggio’s cappuccino . . . media moguls breakfasting at the Carlyle . . . spying on neighbors . . . Texans who have stronger accents after living in New York for five years than they did when they arrived . . . very skinny people . . . trying to figure out which is a taxi driver’s first name and which is the last . . . obscenely fat house cats . . . the museum pay-what-you-can day . . . Spider-Man . . .

Being woken up by jackhammers, garbage trucks, and car alarms . . . traders walking through the financial district in their blazers . . . calling the Upper East Side “the East Side” . . . Turkish baths . . . live shellfish in buckets on Canal Street . . . old ladies leaning out their windows all day, guarding the block . . . stoopball . . . the fountain at Lincoln Center . . . Tiffany’s . . . the pretzel . . . people swearing every year that it’s their last year in the city . . . pigeons . . . staying friends with people only because they have the perfect roof for fireworks or the perfect window for parades . . . Staten Island threatening to secede and no one (except Republican candidates) caring . . . motorcades snarling traffic . . . deli guys who memorize your order after a while so you never have to ask for your breakfast . . . cruise bars . . . the lions in front of the New York Public Library . . . diplomat parking spaces . . . unwritten but sacred social rules involving personal space (like, take off your backpack on the subway) . . . graffiti . . . McSorley’s ale . . .

New Yorkers gathering around lost tourists to argue about how they should get where they’re going . . . umbrella carnage on every corner after a storm . . . bike messengers . . . cheesecake . . . bohemianism . . . the $1,000 “key deposit” often required to secure an apartment . . . the Halloween Parade . . . the pot parade . . . egg creams . . . people selling batteries on the train . . . getting roasted nuts, never as good as they smell . . . brunch . . . mean museum guards . . . Manic Panic hair dye . . . the Strand Book Store . . . knowing someone who can get you a discount on anything in the world . . . the Peking Duck House . . . the Cyclone . . . steam rising from manholes . . . urban gardens . . . “the bridge-and-tunnel crowd” . . .

Century 21 . . .hosts’ not knowing anyone at their own parties . . . the invention of hip-hop . . . pride in showing off the city to friends in from out of town, profound disappointment when they just want to go to Saks . . . colleagues’ swearing you to secrecy about things that no one could possibly care about . . . lines around the block for stainless-steel breakfast carts . . . J. D. Salinger . . . Woolworth’s (R.I.P.) . . . Lou Reed . . . the little pinpoints of light from the Empire State Building’s observation deck when tourists forget to turn off the flashes on their cameras . . . the Carousel in Central Park . . . New Yorkers of every age, race, and class waiting patiently in four-block-long lines on 9/11 just to make an appointment to donate blood . . . those Greek blue-and-white paper coffee cups . . . affectionately surly wait staff . . . creative use of expletives . . . faux dive bars standing beside real dive bars . . . running around the reservoir . . . pointy shoes . . . in the subway, Guatemalan pipe players drowning out a jazz sax drowning out a Michael Jackson impersonator drowning out Jews for Jesus missionaries . . .

General Tso’s chicken . . .coffee “light and sweet” . . . Union Square Greenmarket . . . revs, cost, and air with the r backward scratched into subway windows . . . dog runs . . . famous people everywhere except where the tourists are looking for them . . . “I’m not a yuppie” . . . ladies-who-lunch . . . velvet ropes . . . the Staten Island Ferry as free Circle Line alternative . . . hearing ten languages spoken in the course of a single block . . . how the concept of “full” changes on trains during rush hour . . . punk teenagers sulking under the Astor Place cube . . . the Apollo . . . proud ignorance of U.S. geography . . . scorn for suburbia . . . bucks, not dollars . . . drumming on buckets . . . never seeing any stars . . . the Flatiron Building . . . finding great furniture on the street . . . the San Gennaro Festival . . . school trips to the dinosaur wing of the Museum of Natural History . . . joy at seeing a free cab even if you don’t need one right then . . . hoodies . . . nerds proud of being nerds . . .

Eloise of the Plaza . . . patent refusal to call Hell’s Kitchen “Clinton” . . . selling, buying, jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge . . . the world’s most arrogant, obnoxious video-store clerks . . . clever acronymic neighborhood names: Tribeca, Noho, Nolita, Dumbo, etc. . . . Letterman . . . everyone is moonlighting . . . world-class pickup basketball . . . jaded 6-year-olds . . . the Odeon . . . gallery-hopping in Chelsea . . . deep suspicions about what happens on Governor’s Island . . . “Houston” pronounced differently from anywhere else on earth . . . pooper-scooper laws . . . disintegrating Lower East Side tenements . . . the opening night of a Broadway show . . . the waterfront . . . nannies sitting on park benches together . . . telling time by clocks on tall buildings . . . Brighton Beach . . . blowing out-of-town guests’ minds by taking them to Canal Street in the middle of the day or Times Square late at night . . .

Leaving your newspaper in coffee shops or on buses for strangers to read . . . sitting on a stoop drinking beer out of brown paper bags . . . drinking martinis at an elegant old hotel bar . . . haggling with street vendors . . . Manny’s Music . . . New Jerseyites in Soho . . . the tree and skaters at Rockefeller Center . . . the mitzvah tanks . . . Euros wandering through Long Island City in search of MoMA QNS . . . that guy who dances with a life-size doll in the Times Square station . . . cater waiters . . . having a favorite panhandler . . . dating someone “high maintenance” . . . strange puddles on subway seats . . . the Hamptons jitney . . . the corner of Broadway and Prince . . . a vague fear of the natural world . . . a whole subway car full of people pretending nothing is happening even when someone just two feet away is screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs . . . gutters . . .

John Turturro . . . dim sum in Chinatown . . . fresh mozzarella in Little Italy . . . broken pay phones . . . the garment district . . . SNL . . . children having nervous breakdowns in FAO Schwarz . . . the witty aside . . . Zabar’s . . . those huge diamond beacons marking the entrance to West 47th Street’s Diamond Row . . . steaks, chops, seafood . . . coffee, donuts, muffins . . . Wave Hill . . . that black polka-dot pattern made by gum ground into the sidewalk . . . the Rockettes . . . the smell of horse manure outside the Plaza hotel . . . mangoes on a stick . . . film students shooting dramatic scenes in Tompkins Square Park with drunk old men looking on . . . building numbers that end with 1⁄2 . . . people camping outside the Public Theater waiting for tickets . . . jokes about combining the real-estate and obituary sections of the paper . . . Jersey guys in ecstasy over all the obscene T-shirts on St. Marks Place . . . double-dutch jump rope . . . the black-and-white cookie . . . dogs in purses . . .

24-hour diners . . . the New York Public Library reading rooms . . . getting bumped into a thousand times a day . . . Columbia University . . . lox . . . opera at the Met . . . dentists and doctors with offices on the ground floor of Fifth Avenue apartment buildings . . . don’t block the box . . . getting doused in beer at a Yankees game . . . gargoyles at the tops of buildings . . . strenuous testing of 2-year-olds for private preschool . . . summer movies in Bryant Park . . . the writer you know who doesn’t write . . . making fun of those dopey New York Times TV spots— "She goes for the ‘Arts & Leisure,’ and I head straight for the magazine” . . . community gardens . . . window washers 50 feet in the air . . .

Brooklyn high-school students hanging out UTB (under the bridge) . . . the Dakota . . . the Brooklyn Navy Yard . . . co-op boards . . . fire escapes . . . water towers . . . the confidence of living in the center of the universe.

On the Message Boards
Your turn. What would add?


Related:

Advertising
Current Issue
Subscribe to New York
Subscribe

Give a Gift

Advertising