The night before I came to New York for the first time, I cried my eyes out. In part this was because I was leaving my first important girlfriend behind, and didn’t have the age or experience to understand that “three months apart = being cheated on within six weeks”. But at the same time, I was upset because I was a smalltown boy for whom travelling to New York on his own would likely resort in near-instant death. Knowing that you’re almost certainly going to pop your clogs on foreign soil within 24 hours can be upsetting, as I’m sure you can probably imagine.
As it was, three or four beers under the radar of New York’s then-ridiculously lax licensing laws, and two Marlboro Reds hanging out of the window of my room, were enough to calm me down. I don’t even smoke, but cigarettes give you instant cool when you’re 18, until the moment you puke your guts up and suffer prolonged waves of self recrimination. Nonetheless, purchasing a soft pack of cancer sticks was enough to ward off evil spirits in my mind, and New York instantly seemed less threatening.
The fact is that New York just Isn’t That Scary. While it may be home to 8 million people and seem like a teeming metropolis, in many ways (like London) it’s just a collection of small villages and hamlets bound together by apartment blocks and corner shopsbodegas.
When you’re someone who cares about eating and drinking, of course, the problem is that there are so many great places to visit that you might never find, just because they happen to be off your beaten track or because they can’t afford an expensive PR agency. I’m almost certainly missing out on the greatest meal of my life right now, and all because Time Out has neglected to visit some Senegalese hole in the wall in the depths of Queens.
The flipside is that if you ever get the chance to wander, you’re bound to come across something good. And – as it turns out – all it takes is a failed sleepover to open your eyes to what New York has to offer.
Not that my sleepover had fallen apart, you understand. The Special One tends to frown on the concept of me having a sleepover, especially when it’s Drew Barrymore’s
mummom who has called my mummom to see if I can come over to play for the night. But The Youngest is allowed much more flexibility, it would seem. Sadly when the birthday party sleepover turned out to be just a birthday party, it was me who was designated to make the long trip to The Middle of Nowhere to pick her up.
Fortunately the long walk to the aforementioned back of beyond began in Chinatown, and given that I had almost two hours to kill, that gave me plenty of time to explore. Luckily I remembered a blog post by NYC Girl Uninterrupted which had made me dream wistfully of dumplings for months. One visit to Prosperity Dumpling later (and only $1 lighter for the experience), and I had five delicious dumplings in a box in my hand. Admittedly ten minutes later I had lost most of the roof of my mouth to hideous third degree burns caused by the dumplings being kept at a temperature which suggested that they were the product of nuclear fission rather than the frying pan. But pain is so close to pleasure, and no more so than when your mouth is handling a perfect piece of pork and chive dumpling filling like a cross between foie gras and a small ball of molten lava.
Having sated myself on dumplings, I still had 45 minutes to kill, and so wandered randomly to find a coffee shop or bar I could while away the time in. The only place I could find in the area that was vaguely empty was The Ten Bells, a wine bar with blackboards and seating vaguely redolent of something you might find on a back street in Paris. Having taken a seat, and been poured a glass of Rioja by the guy behind the bar, I instantly felt at ease – and only mildly annoyed that I had missed their half-price oyster happy hour by a matter of minutes. Ah, the problems of the bourgeoisie…
As I sat reading a paper and drinking my wine, I reflected on the fact that the evening had been the perfect reminder of all that New York had to offer. Tiny little nooks and crannies filled with great food and drink – what’s not to like?
And then four annoying Sex & The City wannabes sat at the bar alongside me, were rude to the barman, and filled the air with inanity and self-obsession. My bubble was burst.
All idylls must come to an end it would seem, and for all it’s charms, New York’s just another city after all.