After nine years and more than 200 episodes, beloved podcasters the Bowery Boys release their first book, Adventures in Old New York, on Tuesday 21. Calling it a “historical guidebook,” show hosts Tom Meyers and Greg Young explore the isle of Manhattan from tip to top and era to era.
The book goes by neighborhood, touching on the Great Fire of 1835 in the Financial District, the Egyptian obelisks of Central Park, the nightlife of 1920s Harlem and everything in between. Each chapter’s nabe includes a map with numbered points of interest, so you know exactly where to stand to imagine long-demolished buildings or find the tombstones of famous New Yorkers. “This isn’t a John Grisham book,” says Young. “This is the kind of book you savor and walk around the city with.”
Since the podcast’s first episode in 2007, The Bowery Boys’ popularity has skyrocketed—it’s now one of the top podcasts in the travel genre, with 250,000 downloads per month. Meyers, a travel writer and editor who recently moved to New Jersey after 17 years on the Lower East Side, and Young, a writer who lives in Cobble Hill, are longtime friends who started the podcast with some wine and a karaoke microphone. In each episode, they dissect a fascinating person, event or landmark of NYC’s past, doing hours of research beforehand. With expertise and some bad jokes, they explore in-depth topics such as the infamous murder of Madison Square Garden architect Stanford White and the history of Gramercy Park in-depth, reading salacious clips from newspaper articles at the time and sharing the involved characters’ own words from letters or books while providing witty commentary.
When the Boys started working on a book last February, they thought of their audience (half New Yorkers, half people around the world that maintain a steadfast love affair with the Big Apple) and the fact that their most popular episodes focus on Old New York, meaning Manhattan in the 19th century. The book is built on that framework, creating a “historical treasure hunt,” with the unique voices listeners love built into every page.
And what parts of NYC’s annals excite the journalist-historians most? Meyers could talk about the street-grid system for hours, while Young loves the city’s connections to the mysterious social organization the Freemasons. (“But we are not conspiratorial historians,” Meyers is quick to add.)
While some outside the city (those who believe “New York values” are a bad thing or that Trump is our mascot) hold on to negative perceptions of New York, “there’s a silent majority [of people] out there who have a much more thoughtful, romantic view,” says Young. “Hopefully we’re this vessel for people to project all the positive aspects of New York City history and life upon us.”