At midnight last night I sat in a wine bar in the lower east side. The dimly lit restaurant was appropriately full for the hour, but was still teeming with life. One of the eggshell colored walls had an old, cracked sign that said “Fromaggio” hanging by some twine on a rusty nail. Even though we ordered the cheapest glass of red that they had on the menu, a very beautiful and very foreign waitress came by and poured the nectar into a vintage glass carafe, which of course made it taste like ambrosia. The bartender, next to his candlelit bar that was artfully cluttered with an international collection of old Perrier bottles and handblown glassware, was so handsome that I was glad for the dim lighting, as if his true beauty might be too overwhelming in the daylight.
“This place is cool,” I said. As the tea lights flickered, I thought how lucky I am to live in New York. Here there are very few misses. Every restaurant is the best food you ever tasted and has an ambiance and character that is incomparable to anywhere else you’ve ever been.
As we walked home, two guys in bowler hats asked us if we wanted to partake in some LSD usage with them. Ha, we said. Like we need to be high on such a beautiful night. We kept walking and the city lights sent us on our ways, taking the bowler hat’d men to the Hudson and us to the East River, never to cross paths again on this tiny island. “Only in New York,” we said.
No. Not “Only in New York.” I have been in SEVERAL cities where strangers in ironic clothing have solicited me to get high with them and I’ve been in many wine bars, including one in Orange County, California (specifically, Disneyland) with that same “vintage” ‘Fromaggio’ sign.
I’m coming to realize that every place of business in New York City creates an ambiance that causes me to say “this place is cool.” when in reality, it’s all just a big distraction to the fact that New York has the same people, the same drama, and the same problems as anywhere else.
My friend David said it best; New York has better lighting. Crazy people are sweet and fun because they’re sleeping under the beautiful Brooklyn bridge instead of a sad freeway in Compton. Wine tastes better because you’re looking at the Empire State Building while sipping it. People get away with ridiculous clothing because having an outfit that looks like every member of The Salvation Army threw up on you is considered having style.
I also can’t decide if places of business in New York are actually very unique and cool on their own, or they just decorate them crazy ways to try and one-up each other, like Vegas. For example, I recently went to a bar/concert venue/homemade sweets shop in Brooklyn. The stage was lit with blue twinkle lights and there were headless barbies hanging from the ceiling. Bookshelves lined the walls and everyone there looked like a young librarian from an old Stanley Kubrick movie. Everywhere your head turned there was something fun to look at; a chandelier made of colorful condom wrappers, horse-shaped salt and pepper shakers, an assortment of vegan cookies. “This place is cool,” was the general reaction.
I was about to hoover a dairy free snickerdoodle when a short guy wearing a grey blazer and purple ascot started hitting on me. At first I was intrigued, but then I saw that he was so drunk he couldn’t even keep his eyes open. He told me he was divorced, from Miami, and in a band. Then he asked me to do LSD with him. I declined.
It was then that I realized that the bookshelf lining the walls was full of books that my mom donated to our library back in 1987. A few people tried to “read” the books but quickly found that the shelves were filled with mostly outdated calorie counters (“All your favorite name brands!”) and copies of Catcher in the Rye that had been run over to look older than they actually were. I’d done more interesting reading in the bottom floor of an Urban Outfitters. The horse salt and pepper shakers were caked with mildew and the condom chandelier was kind of melting. Plus, I’d seen that brand of Vegan cookies for sale in Elephant Fun Deli on C Street where I buy my toilet paper.
This was just a bar that had could only afford a location in the middle of Brooklyn on the very shady Malcom X Blvd. To compensate for the danger that their patrons were in by coming to the place, they filled the venue with junk that looked cool from afar but was broken and uninteresting up close. That included the clientele.
What would be considered the site for the beginning of a horror film anywhere else is trendy and sought after in New York City. It’s the lighting. Like beer goggles, there are New York Goggles.
It seems that New Yorkers need ambiance as some sort of validation. For what, I don’t know.
When I went to my neighborhood Laundromat and saw that all the tables were made of Legos and painted to have chess sets on them, I felt like it was their way of saying “See? We’re better than everyone else. We have are so cultured that we can make soiled garments trendy.”
And yet, the guy at the machine next to me was really struggling with the pizza sauce stain on his favorite boxers. Just because it was New York pizza didn’t make the crisis any different than the typical problem of stainage that exists across the nation.
Perhaps the need for incredible ambiance is just another reason for New Yorkers to feel they’re better than those who live outside the five boroughs. Listen, I know I can’t call myself a New Yorker, but I don’t think I’m better than anyone, and I’m not about to judge someone based on the fact that they don’t live here. Despite this town being ‘the center of the universe’ and ‘unlike any other place in the world,’ drunk guys still hit on me, people still try to sell me recreational drugs, and I still don’t know what fromaggio means.
Paying ridiculous rent to live in a cool place doesn’t promote you to a higher level of the human race. We just are who we are and New York just is what it is; and that’s an incredibly awesome city where virtually everything makes you say “This ___ is cool.” There is simply no denying that it is way more entertaining and fun when someone hits on you in New York than when it happens in Orange County. That pizza that the guy at the machine next to me had eaten could have come from a 24-hour hole in the wall, but it was probably so delicious that it caused him to remove his pants with joy and drop marinara sauce all over himself.
New Yorkers are the same as every other human in the world, but this city is where they all come to melt together in one giant Fromaggio.