An Olfactory Tour of Manhattan

Photo: iStockphoto (rock, cologne bottle)

1. Central Park entrance at East 64th Street: When you walk down the steps into the park, you realize the scent changes because of the humidity. They water this place, and you’re below street level, so it smells more rich and loamy. It’s like total lawn. The smell of Central Park in the summer is humidity, rain, earth, horse shit, and, quite frequently, Coppertone. Coppertone is a great smell. It’s based on orange blossom.

2. F train station at 57th Street: Body odor, very strong. And rock. It’s amazing to me that New York has always smelled like rock.

3. Pavement on Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street: Perfumers use the word infected. The cement and the asphalt are so infected with garbage, with old coffee grounds and banana peels and mango peels and rancid birthday cake and everything else that we throw out, that it impregnates the asphalt.

4. 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue: The smell of tourists! Interestingly, the women smell like nothing. It’s always the male tourists who smell: Europeans with their funny ultralight-cotton Capri pants who smell like various perfumes that are sort of metallic deodorant.

5. Outside PeepWorld, a porn shop at 33rd Street and Seventh Avenue: Clorox. It’s an olfactory signature. Like at Starbucks you get the coffee, at porno places you get Clorox and old linoleum.

6. Gristedes at 26th Street and Ninth Avenue: Grocery-store smell is floor wax on linoleum and air-conditioning and rubber rollers and Windex and old boxes. One of the worst smells in the world is below a grocery store: It’s not rancid, it’s rot and humidity and the smell of decay of cardboard.

7. 14th Street between Hudson and Washington: When I lived near here in ’97, there was the smell of blood and meat everywhere, which is very metallic. Now … Do you get mustard? There’s something sharp. And it’s a really, really, really upscale hot dog. I really like that.

8. Washington between 13th and 14th Streets: Asia, incense, Buddhist temple. Who the hell knows where it’s coming from. And that Hogs & Heifers bar smells like old mushrooms. Goddamn, that’s awful.

9. Canal and Baxter Streets: Roast duck. And then—that is a hideous scent. Fish. Boom! There’s no place in the city other than Chinatown where you get such great scents and such awful scents right next to each other.

10. Stanton between Bowery and Christie: Ohhhhhhh. Urine. Holy God. Urine, urine. Urine, urine. Flowers. Smell that? Now it’s gone.

See Also:
The Smelliest Block in New York

By Chandler Burr. As told to Rachel Baker.

An Olfactory Tour of Manhattan