48 Hours Back In NYC: The Top 10

1) Le Dû Wines. If you love The Clash and The Replacements, good Bordeaux, excellent Burgundy and have VERY deep pockets, this is the wine store for you, with lots of great music coming through the store system while you examine what what you can’t actually afford. A bottle of 1945 Haut Brion sitting out on the front table in preparation for the night’s Bordeaux tasting? $8,000. Holding it for a moment? Priceless. (Fortunately, there are some bargains to be had, too. My thanks to Andy for turning me on to a fine budget Tempranillo I’ll be writing more about very soon. Jean-Luc Le Dû, incidentally, was among those who participated in the Times Condrieu tasting last week.)

2) Academy Records. Didn’t shop here the whole time I lived here. Still, when you’re hunting down old records, I guess it’s never too late to start. Saturday morning I found me a mint condition copy of Tito Puente’s Dance Cha-Cha-Cha from 1954, on the original Tico Records, for just $8. I’d sooner have found its elusive follow-up In Percussion, but this will do for now. By the way, the vinyl-only store was mobbed with Saturday shoppers thumbing through its fairly-priced old vinyl: the record business may be dying, but the record itself remains in demand.

3) Olive’s at The W. Sometimes you get what you pay for. At Duke’s on 19th Street, I’d lasted barely five minutes surrounded by loud 20-somethings drinking jam jars of margaritas while TVs blared out the Yankees game and I got jostled at every turn. But at Olive’s, the trendy Union Square W Hotel’s ground floor lounge bar, there were couches to stretch out on, friendly (not snooty) bar staff and waitresses, and a wine-by-the-glass list almost as long as your arm. The Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier came in a proper crystal glass with a generous pour, at the perfect temperature, and it was absolutely delicious. Sure, I don’t like paying $10 for a glass of wine, but sooner that than $7 for a cheap blend in a smaller glass, as at Bar 4 in Brooklyn the next night. And thanks for coming round with the free water glasses, too. (PS: The W at Union Square will soon be hosting the inaugural In The City of New York conference, all the way from Manchester. Hopefully Tony Wilson will be back to health and in attendance.)

4) Where’s a policeman when you need one? Right here, right now. Walking through the West Village Thursday, I found a couple of streets blocked off by multiple fire trucks and police cars for what seemed like the removal of a dead body. Right around the corner, some thug got all violent on some innocent nobody – hate crime? Mugging? Random madness? – and might, under normal circumstances, have got away with it. Not this time. One of the cops was called off the other scene in a heartbeat, and the wayward youth was quickly cuffed in the middle of the street in front of a growing crowd. I’m not sure if this signifies crime going up, arrests going up, or just a bad day in the West Village. But at least someone was doing their job.

5) Saigon. For all that I complain about the cost of New York these days, there are bargains still to be had. Thursday evening I had dinner with some friends on at a vast Vietnamese restaurant easily enough remembered for its name, Saigon. Main dishes were under $10, and though the fact that they were served approximately thirty seconds after we ordered them obviously means they weren’t cooked to demand, I had no complaints about my vegetable curry. Saigon is on University Place, appropriately enough for all those NYU students who have to eat cheap to afford the local bar prices these days.

I didn’t take pictures on this trip, and I don’t have time to find many to accompany this piece, but I did come across some great snapshots of New York City life on photographer Tony Stamolis’ web site. Anyone know where this sucky pizza store is located?

6) The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. I spent Good Friday immersed in this Harlem research library, a phenomenal resource center that I’d never previously visited. I was able to watch, in private, a rare movie about Machito, read dissertations, and get my hands on out-of-print books. The Center has been around long enough that one of the pieces I read, dating from 1927 – the peak of the Harlem Renaissance – made its own reference to the Center and complained that it was not being used by local residents. I’m not sure if all the people around me were local or not, but at least the Center is currently in high demand.

7) Football on the Terraces. It’s one thing to watch a Saturday game from the comfort of my home TV; it’s another thing entirely to watch it in a crowd of partisan fans. I stopped in to Nevada Smith’s for the second half of the Arsenal-West Ham game, and was reminded why I used to make a point of attending almost every weekend. Arsenal had not lost at home this season; West Ham should have been consigned to relegation already. But for these second 45 minutes, the Arsenal fans could only shake their heads in horror as their team hit the cross bar, the post and drove shots at goal every 30 seconds, yet could not cancel out West Ham’s 1-0 lead from the first half. The Hammers ran out the winners and choruses of ‘Bubbles’ filled the air from all those blokes in the beer guts. Maybe it’s the claret and blue, or maybe we just all love the underdog, but I was happy for them. As they rejoiced, Man United fans eagerly took their place for the next kick-off, unaware they were about to experience a similar shock to that of Arsenal. I love this game.

8) Chelsea Wine Vault Saturday tasting. Most weekend wine tastings are from the bottom of the barrel. But if you sign up to enough e-mail lists and study them carefully, you can get lucky. This last Saturday, Chelsea Wine Vault rolled out 11 mostly New World wines, of which the ten I tasted were all well worth their briefly discounted prices. I was particularly impressed by the A-Z Wineworks Chardonnay from Oregon (unoaked, thanks), the Kingston Family Estates Syrah from Tobiano in Chile (produced by Saintsbury’s winemaker from California), and the ’75 Wine Co.’ Cabernet Sauvignon from a single vineyard in Lake County, a California region I’ve never knowingly enjoyed before. And I was truly blown away by the depth of flavors and textures in the 2005 Cristom ‘Mt. Jefferson’ Pinot Noir from Oregon; though this one pushes at the $30 barrier, it appears to justify the cost. Those on a budget and who missed the tasting, take note: Only two of the wines cost above $20, they’re on sale price throughout the month, and all eleven will return for a tasting on April 21.

9) Beautiful babies. Stopped off in the old hood of Park Slope to check in on some friends and their new babies. (It’s not like they would find time to come out for a drink, is it?) Congrats to Hub and Zoe on three-week old Happy, and to Kristin and iJamming! pubber Tom on their 7-week old twins, Jack and Marlowe.

10) Moving on out. The above couples seem intent on staying put, but over the weekend, two other families with toddlers told me they’d given up trying to attain true happiness in the limited space of their Park Slope apartments, had no chance of “trading up” because of the property prices, and were ready to move on out. Like us, two hours out if need be, to find their ‘quality of life.’ I guess this is just the normal flow of things through the ages, and it may just be that I notice it more now that I’m at the age where it happens amongst friends, but I couldn’t help seeing it as further proof that the new wealthy New York is squeezing out the middle classes. Those who didn’t buy a sizeable property in a run-down neighborhood ten years ago have almost no chance of raising a family in anything like comfort. This can’t be good for what is otherwise still a great city.

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November 2021