I’ve expressed as much in several posts over the years, but I don’t think it’s really too much of a stretch to say “Downtown is Dead.” I mean, “Downtown” obviously means different things to different people, but in terms of Lower Manhattan -- I cannot speak for Brooklyn -- still being a thriving, roiling, lawless hotbed of art, music, nightlife, creativity and expression, I think you’d be pretty hard pressed to make a case for it remaining so in 2017.
What? Am I wrong?
That Downtown – the Downtown of the Punk rockers, Beat Poets, maverick street artists, free-loving bohemians, etc. – is gone. The coffee houses, galleries, bars, discos, clubs, live music venues and shops that defined that Downtown have been gradually picked off over the years. Sure, a few remain, but face it – its glory days are over.
Obviously, this is not to say that Downtown is no longer desirable. Talk to your nearest real estate agent about that. Sure, the streets still exhude a bit more character than is found north of, say, 30th Street and the architecture is more interesting – or at least on the buildings that haven’t yet been razed to accommodate all things new and shiny. But if you came Downtown to capture the same essence first felt by Richard Hell or Laurie Anderson or Jean-Michel Basquiat or Ann Magnuson or RuPaul or Lydia Lunch or __________ (insert your favorite here), you probably aren’t going to find it.
But, again, it’s all relative.
I spotted something on my way to work that got me thinking about all this stuff. Affixed to several mailboxes, lamp posts and other surfaces around the southern border of SoHo was the below sticker.
This caught my eye for a couple of reasons. For a start, more discerning music-heads might recognize the design as one appropriated from the old Beastie Boys logo circa `86/`87 (i.e. their “She’s On It”/License to Ill era). While it’s not a phase of their career the surviving members of the band necessarily look back fondly on, it remains an indelible part of their story.
Secondly, there’s the legend itself: “Downtown Lover.” Now, this could either mean one of two things, specifically a self-styled Casanova who happens to reside (or lurk) downtown, or simply someone who loves downtown.
While it’s probably the former (I did some light Googling, and didn’t come up with anything), it’s the latter that resonates with me. No, Downtown isn’t “Downtown” anymore … all the cool stuff has been replaced by pricey crap, boring chains, touristy shlock, giant glass shampoo-bottle condos, cloying NYU kids and roaming hordes of shrill brunchers, but I still prefer it to other parts of town … not least in that my little family has pushed our current apartment to its limits, and we are currently looking for new accommodations in neighborhoods I never would have considered viable contenders in the past. For all intents and purposes, we very well may end up back on my native Upper East Side … a stretch of the city I shook my fist at and waved goodbye to with two emphatic middle-fingers back in the mid-`90s.
Or we’ll just have to leave Manhattan.