An empire state of mind
GO NEW YORK:As New Yorkers get to grips with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, actor, director and writer ANDREW McCARTHYtakes us on a tour of his favourite places in the resilient and remarkable city he calls home
I’VE BEEN IN this relationship for 32 years. I was a wide-eyed youth when it all began – a fresh-faced punk, awed and thrilled and a little fearful of her power. She was terrible beauty like no other, but going through a rough patch. She had a bad reputation and was nearly bankrupt – even the President of the United States had publicly tuned his back on her. It didn’t matter. When I took a one-way trip across the Hudson River from New Jersey, settled into a fourth-floor walk-up off Washington Square in Greenwich Village, it was love at first sight – this was New York City.
Over all these years my relationship with the Big Apple has waxed and waned, soared and plummeted. I’ve felt completely understood by her and also so utterly alone in her belly. I’ve never been happier, or more desperate. I’m one of eight million, but my relationship with the city,like everyone’s, is unique.
Places that might mean nothing to you are filled with resonance for me. All these years later I still can’t walk past the anonymous corner of 9th Avenue and 47th Street without remembering the lobby of a rundown office building I was in when I heard the news that President Reagan had been shot.
That building is long gone, torn down when Hells Kitchen began its transformation from Irish American slum into one of the city’s hipper areas more than a decade ago, yet the memory lingers and informs my relationship with the neighbourhood, enriches it. And just down the street, you might walk past Rudy’s Bar and not look twice. But it was the first place I took a legal drink in New York. Back then Rudy’s was what we called “a bucket of blood”. The place hasn’t changed much over the years, it’s still a “dive,” but the crowd has softened and today you’re as likely to see bridge-and-tunnel tourists as you are to meet the surly old codgers nursing their scotch.
Like all relationships, things evolve and change over time. The funky Greenwich Village of my youth has morphed into one of the most expensive neighbourhoods in the city, pricing out the artists and oddballs. Places I relied upon have closed and left me wanting – only to reward my exploration and deeper investment. When my favourite diner closed down I felt betrayed, until I found the Lexington Candy Shop Luncheonette further uptown. The burgers are even better, and the chocolate shake richer than any I’ve had in the city.
As with any deep attraction, core attributes abide – dinner at Joe Allen on Restaurant Row is still my favourite way to cap a night at the theater (and their unadvertised Bar Centrale upstairs behind an unmarked door is even better). And Sunday brunch at Balthazar, a big boisterous bistro in Soho, never disappoints.
Yet the obvious charms outsiders adore, locals often take for granted. I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty, but I’ve repeatedly taken the (free) Staten Island Ferry at sunset and watched the sky turn purple over the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan.