Having travelled the west of the US, and back over to visit my dad in New Jersey via Austin and Philadelphia, and therefore blown so much money on various things (mainly booze and food) – I could only really afford to visit one further place on my American adventure, and there is no better place to go than to New York City. Where else to spend a couple of weeks than a place that embodies the key aspects of American life: capitalism is represented by Wall Street, the history of immigration is represented by Elis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and the current trend of bigotry towards immigration is represented by Trump Tower.
New York is a place that, as I’m sure most people will know, is made up of a number of districts (the five boroughs) and during my time in the city I stayed in two of them. First up was Manhattan, greeting me out of Penn Station with the skyscrapers and LED billboards, instantly recognisable from the thousands of iconic pictures of the city (honourable mention to Hooters for being the first sign you see out of the station). Next up was my Air BnB in Brooklyn, the borough I had come to know as both the epicentre of cool in the 00’s and more recently as the centre of the city’s gentrification. However, when I was greeted by tweakers and a letter from NYPD on the door of the house asking us to vacate – it’s safe to say that gentrification is yet to take over the whole of Brooklyn.
Gentrification may not have taken over the whole of Brooklyn, but the effects are showing across the borough, particularly in the buzzing centre of Williamsburg. Beautiful old industrial buildings that were originally converted to lofts and offices by thrifty companies a decade or so ago now stand alongside new-build apartments that combine sleek glass with bricks (in a minor attempt to try and camouflage). Gentrification is often seen as a dirty word, but Williamsburg is packed full of bars, coffee shops and eateries that I would happily inhabit, many of which appear to have actually been here longer than most of the people, alongside hipsters pretending they were. Sure the prices of rent may have gone up, however, it is certain that the days of not being able to get a taxi from the city out here are long gone.
On the number of occasions I had visited New York before, the visits had been very much Manhattan-centric which is quite frankly overdone and boring, so I was glad to get a visit to the iconic Coney Island. The first thing I should clear up is that it is not, in fact, an island, but rather a beachside resort similar to Blackpool in the south of Brooklyn. However, where Blackpool pretends to be some sort of Vegas – Coney Island does not. It is iconic and you will have probably seen it in any film set in the first half of the last century to try and represent a day at the beach in historic America. An element of authenticity has been maintained, whether through neglect or through conscious effort with rusting of rides and a creaky wooden boardwalk that may not fill you with hopes for your safety, but they certainly offer the inner child a sense of what it would have been like to visit in the resort’s heyday. The absolute must-have in Coney Island is Nathan’s, the iconic dirty water hotdog that can be bought from vendors across the city – however, this is the original. Not to mention, if you are so inclined (which I just happened to have been) you can enjoy a beer while people watching and chowing down on your hotdog. Bliss.
It isn’t just Nathan’s that serves up a feast in the city though no, New York has plenty to offer in terms of food. With an expansive China Town and Little Italy, it’s safe to say that New York embraces its rich immigrant heritage and offers up a feast that has you working your way around the world. For just a dollar, you will find plenty of outlets where you can pick up a slice of “utility pizza” – a slice of cheese pizza, that although not the best you will ever eat, definitely serves its purpose at a price I love more than life itself. The iconic foods don’t stop there, you can get yourself the aforementioned hot dogs, a bagel or doughnut to enjoy with a coffee, or nip into a deli to get yourself one of the most perfect sandwiches you will ever eat, and diners aren’t exactly hard to come by either. New York offers you everything from street food to sit down, from classic to contemporary, but if you’re asking me: there’s no point in splashing out on fancy food when you can enjoy the real taste of New York at the pace it was intended, accompanied by the beautiful scenery of Central Park or dazzled by the lights of Times Square, and all for a fraction of the price of the fancier crap.
Many things had led me to believe that nightlife in New York was going to be dead. Whether it was the constant hatred towards Guiliani for shutting down clubs and enforcing the “no dancing” law during his time as mayor, or James Murphy saying that the neighbourhood bars are no longer fun in New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down. However, when I realised that, unlike many other places I had been to stateside, many places were open until 4am my disappointing expectations immediately vanished. It may not be the golden era for New York nightlife, and there may not be a “scene” as such in terms of music currently, but with the size of the city, there is always going to be something to do. There are bars for everything, many of which are good bars might I add. During my time, I watched the Champions League final in a sports bar, got hustled at pool at a dive bar, got leathered during happy hour at a number of other dive bars, and attended the most amazing warehouse party I ever have. It’s safe to say New York nightlife is alive and kicking guys.
There are things I haven’t felt the need to cover in masses of detail, for example, the incredible spirit that the city showed in being able to rebound from 9/11 and the stories that locals shared with me about the aftermath. Or on the more boring side, there are all the tall buildings that everyone else feels the need to harp on about. Sure, they’re big. They’re really fucking big, some of the biggest I’ve seen in fact. However, New York is more than big buildings and a statue of a lady holding a torch. It balances the urban and the suburban, trees lining the streets despite being only 20 minutes walk away from trees being replaced with billboards and skyscrapers. It balances the touristy attractions of the day with a nightlife to complement it, providing equally beautiful views on both sides of the coin. Whether you’re into sport or music, have expensive taste or like things a little more reasonable, regardless of what you’re looking for New York has an answer for you, you might just have to look around a little bit.