I had a bit of a chat earlier this week with a media outlet that endeavors to cover New York City news events with the same granular, neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach as a small town newspaper. During the course of this discussion, it was somehow disclosed that despite being a native New Yorker and dyed-in-the-wool Manhattanite of …good lord… 47 years, I’d never stepped inside the revered Frick Collection on Fifth Avenue at 70th Street. My excuse was a pretty haggard one. It’s just that, as a kid, I’d always remembered that unlike other museums up and down Fifth Avenue and around town, the Frick didn’t let anyone under the age of 10 inside its hallowed halls. As such, I’d always associated the Frick ….. rightly or wrongly… with a sort of snobbish exclusivity. The last time I was in close proximity to the lavish expanse of the Frick, I had my two children with me … both technically ineligible-by-age from perusing the galleries of same, so the stigma remains.
I’m sure it’s lovely. Maybe I’ll get there one day, but it still felt so strange to confess. Here’s this storied institution — however stuffily high-brow it may be — right in my backyard, so to speak, and I’ve never taken advantage of it.
The Frick may not exactly be one of the “absolute must-sees” of New York City, but I suppose that depends on whose opinion you solicit. Personally speaking, after 47 years of living in New York City, I feel fairly confident that I’ve covered most of the crucial bases.
Not to get all gloaty and boasty, but in terms of my New York City experience….
I’ve attended Shakespeare in the Park, visited Ellis Island, gazed out of the windows from the crown of the Statue of Liberty, scanned the vast horizon on an atmospherically misty evening from the observation deck of the Empire State Building and even watched as my college friend Steve turned several shades of green while his newly discovered acrophobia blossomed into panicky flower from the top of the World Trade Center.
I’ve circumnavigated Manhattan by Circle Line, taken my chances on a tram ride over to crushingly dull Roosevelt Island, stood on the sprawling deck of the U.S.S. Intrepid, spun myself senseless on the Central Park carousel and spied down into formerly private apartments from the perspective of the High Line.
I’ve stared across the verdant expanse of Central Park from the windy rooftop of the New York Athletic Club on Central Park South, marveled at the gleaming towers of the financial district from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. I’ve peered out of the triangular Art Decco windows of the Chrysler Building from a headhunter’s office, stared across the East River at my old Yorkville neighborhood from Queens’ Socrates Sculpture Garden and measured the distance to the tip of Manhattan from behind the windows of the Rainbow Room. I’ve crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge by foot.
I’ve seen the Mets, the Yankees, the Knicks and the Rangers all play on their respective home turfs. I’ve ridden the Staten Island Ferry. I’ve seen snow fall from within Lincoln Center during a performance of “La Boheme,” and listened to a marathon Bloomsday reading of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” at the Symphony Space.
I danced at Studio 54, Danceteria, The Tunnel, Big City Diner, the Limelight, The Roxy and the Palladium. I saw countless bands play at Fez, Cake Shop, Under Acme, The Cooler, the Lismar Lounge, CBGB, The Ritz, The Marquee, Tramps, Irving Plaza, The Academy, Roseland Ballroom, The World, The Bowery Ballroom, The Beacon Theatre, The Felt Forum, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden, The Nassau Colosseum, Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium and Giants Stadium.
I saw Woody Allen play jazz at Michael’s Pub, fed the snapping turtles at the Village Idiot and discussed the merits of Joy Division with a stripper at Billy’s Topless.
I’ve had breakfast at the Plaza Hotel, lunch in the Oak Room and spent a few nights at the Waldorf Astoria. I’ve partied in the Chelsea Hotel, gotten completely lost wandering around the University Club and watched two women fall off the bar they’d been dancing on at Hogs & Heifers and land on their heads.
I’ve had the fabled 21 Burger at 21, had brunch at Tom’s Diner, dodged flying bits of seared shrimp at Benihana, partook of a “pastrami toss” at Katz’s Delicatessen, sampled the bacon strips at Peter Luger’s and burned my tongue at Eisenberg’s Sandwiches.
I’ve consumed beers at — among many, many, many others — the Grassroots Tavern, Downtown Beirut, King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, The Scrap Bar, Dorian’s Red Hand, Cafe Carlyle, Folk City, the Old Town Bar & Grill, Max Fish, Motor City, The Ear Inn, The Madison Pub, Pete’s Tavern, McSorley’s, the White Horse Tavern and from within a hidden alcove behind a pedestal on the mighty edifice of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I’ve poured drinks at an art gallery opening on Mercer Street, gotten high at Lazer Floyd at the Hayden Planetarium and patronized the dank confines of Show World on 42nd Street.
I wandered around uncomfortably at The Vault, got scolded by a whip-brandishing hostess at La Nouvelle Justine, been given the finger by a waitress at Sammy’s Rumanian Steak House, had my life threatened at the Mars Bar for taking someone’s bar stool and informed that I’d have my legs broken by a bouncer if I launched a second attempt at crowdsurfing at Wetland’s Preserve during a performance by the Royal Crescent Mob.
I’ve ridden the Cyclone at Coney Island and replicated the cover shot of The Kids Are Alright by The Who at Morningside Park.
Overall, I think I’ve done alright.
That said, however, there are a few other things — like visiting the Frick Collection — that I still haven’t done, despite being a native New Yorker.
In no particular order, they are as follows….
1. I’ve never watched the ball drop from within Times Square
I’d offer, however, that I’ve absolutely never harbored a desire to do so, either. Shortly after the strike of midnight in 1993, I did find myself cutting through Times Square with a friend, but the ball had already dropped by that point, and we were just trying to get to a destination across town. Beyond that, the whole ritual holds absolutely zero fascination for me.
2. I’ve never been to the Russian Tea Room
I don’t even know if it’s still there, for that matter. Whatever, I’ve never been. Sorry.
3. I’ve never rented a boat at the Central Park boathouse
Seems like too much work, frankly speaking.
4. I’ve never gone to Elaine’s
It’s a bit before my time, anyway. Can’t say I care that much. Not sure if it’s even still there either.
5. I’ve never ridden in one of Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages
Can’t say I have a great degree of regret about this one either. Seems like an inefficient and olfactorily unpleasant mode of transport. I have, however, sped through the blackness of Central Park on my bicycle in the middle of the night. Not quite as romantic, I know.
6. I’ve never been to the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall
I have nothing by fond memories of Radio City. I saw “The Wind & the Lion” with Sean Connery there. Saw Devo, the Psychedelic Furs, Twisted Sister, Public Enemy and the Sisters of Mercy there. Helped ring in TIME Magazine’s anniversary party there (clinking glasses with George Plimpton, chatting with Dr. Jack Kevorkian and seeing a lover’s quarrel between Claudia Schiffer and then-boyfriend David Copperfield in the process), but the thought of attending the Christmas show makes me want to eat my own vomit.
7. I’ve never been to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Being that I’m shamefully ignorant of all things of a financial and fiduciary nature, I feel I lack the comprehension to warrant a visit.
8. I’ve never stepped inside the Dakota, the Ansonia or One Fifth Avenue
Well, I’ve never been invited.
9. I’ver never been to The Top of the Rock
Despite working in that building for four and a half years, and even patronizing the Rainbow Room at one point (see above), I never made it to Top of the Rock.
10. I’ve never waited on line for a Magnolia Cupcake
This is no accident.
What arguably quintessential New York things have YOU never done? Weigh in.
Photo of the Vault signage courtesy of the great Gregoire Alessandrini