There’s a telling scene in Whit Stillman’s snobby-bastard classic “Metropolitan” from 1990 wherein, after a brief evening of genteel shenanigans, the main characters discover that Tom, the newly adopted member of the so-called Sally Fowler Rat Pack is not, in fact, from the Upper East Side. “There’s been an Upper West Sider in our midst!” mock-gasps main fop Nick, as Tom’s checker cab takes an unthinkable right off Fifth Avenue and into Central Park to cross over to that blighted wasteland.
Now, having myself grown up in the cloyingly stuffy Upper East Side (see this post, yet again, for some of those details), I cannot say I became very familiar with the Upper West Side (as captured above by Thomas Struth circa 1978) until comparatively late in the proceedings. I did have a couple of grade school chums — notably Ernie C. — who lived up near Columbia University. I remember going up there for a playdate after school one day (this being back in the early-to-mid 70’s). It truly felt like a totally different city over there.
There was also a certain Chinese restaurant on Upper Broadway that my parents used to drag my sister and I to, that being Hunan Balcony (as described in this post). In retrospect, I don’t remember the food at the `Balcony being so exceptional as to warrant a trip across town, but hey — I wasn’t the one making the decisions at the time. I was sad to learn, while researching this post, that Hunan Balcony closed up shop for good last year.
When I became relatively autonomous towards my high school years, I started to venture to the Upper West Side on my own more frequently, usually for the purposes of exploring their comic shops and record stores. As mentioned in that other post, certain pals of mine and I used to walk all the way across the park just to visit a certain corner shop that had a “Tempest” machine. That may sound like a ridiculous reason today (and it was, kinda), but it seemed entirely worth it at the time.
Anyway, I’m not sure on which Facebook group I first saw it, but this video is indeed a compelling little clip. I would embed it here, but privacy settings unfortunately forbid it.
Shot by one Mark Mannucci, here’s a great, nine-minute piece on the Upper West Side of 1977. While in gritty, antiquated black n’ white, you can still spot several familiar landmarks and storefronts. It’s an interesting step back into another era.