The Greatest Year: 2011

Photo: Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

You could be time’s widow. You could grow old insisting to younger people that they should have been there then. When you breezed into Studio 54 in a pink mohawk. When you headbanged at CBGB. When people could still afford a goddamned apartment.

The past is made up of golden ages. It’s easy enough to mourn them. It’s easy—tempting, really—to maintain memory boxes as the leaves blow by your window.

But here we are. In this New York. Now.

Sure, it’s hellishly expensive. Disney has chased the hookers out of Times Square. The grand and decadent discos have closed. A still-limping economy doesn’t help.

And yet. As a (rather younger) friend of mine puts it, New York has never been “so gender-bendy, po-mo, zero-pretension scrappy.” The New York I love, in this, the greatest of all moments, is shimmering and creating and thriving on shoestrings. You don’t necessarily have to be gender-bendy or scrappy to love it. You’ve just got to ferret out the wonders. And check your attitude at the door.

In no particular order …

You can hear Justin Bond, the genius chanteuse, sing at Joe’s Pub. You can go to The Box, a neo–vaudeville house, replete with clowns and strippers. You can play pool at the Metropolitan, in Williamsburg, where the occasional Hasidic guy wanders in and pretends he doesn’t know it’s a gay bar. In Bushwick, at Goodbye Blue Monday, you can dance with boys who’ve woven shells into their beards and girls wearing outfits a drag queen would envy.

If you’re not feeling quite so adventuresome, you can hear a reenactment of Lacan’s lost lecture, “The Mistaking of the Subject Supposed to Know,” at Cabinet in Gowanus. You can go to Printed Matter in Chelsea, where they sell art books printed in editions of dozens. You can hear writers reading at KGB Bar years before they’re at the 92nd Street Y.

And, as always, you can walk the avenues among crowds more exotic and diverse—more Fellini-esque—than any crowds anywhere in the world. I’ve been to Berlin, and London, and Tokyo. They have their charms. But you just don’t see women in burkas strolling alongside kids in full-body tattoos, right behind a covey of Japanese girls dressed as Little Bo-Peep.

What’s truly great about New York is its capacity to rise and rise again out of the rubble of whatever it used to be. Every day, new people arrive, in burkas or full-body tattoos, or in polo shirts and Dockers, and for them, this New York is the quintessential New York. This one, the same one those of us who’ve been here a while tend to complain about. This New York, for the new arrivals, is fabulous even though, at the moment, it’s not paved with gold. Even though jobs are scarcer than cabs in rainstorms. This New York shines proudly and brilliantly through all its troubles. It’s the city the newbies will be tempted to reminisce about as they grow older.

Reminiscence, however, is never a good idea here. If you don’t welcome the new, you miss the point of New York. It’s always young and nubile and full of dreams. It’s always inventing itself. What’s not to love?

The Greatest Year: 2011