New York may not be the birthplace of the skyscraper—Chicago holds that distinction—or even home to the world’s craziest super tall buildings. No matter: When people talk about skylines, we bet that midtown Manhattan—home to the cloud-piercing spires of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings—is what they’re imagining. Other noteworthy structures, including the Woolworth Building and the Twin Towers (whose absence is being filled by the rising One World Trade Center), helped cement Manhattan’s skyscraper supremacy throughout the 20th century. And not only do we have an entire institution—the Skyscraper Museum—devoted to tall towers, but Gotham is also the birthplace of the word skyscraper. Take that, Chicago.
The Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which proposed NYC’s pattern of numbered avenues and streets, led to many changes: Real estate began to be packaged in easy-to-sell units, fueling the city’s development; eminent domain was established as a tool for grand projects (um, yay?); and Manhattan became easy enough for any mouth breather to navigate. But more than that, the grid amplifies and feeds the relentless pace of life here. In a 2012 interview, legendary street photographer Joel Meyerowitz said that Manhattan’s streets “run for miles straight ahead, and so the energy on the street is funneled this way. And when you participate in that, you become part of the energetic dimension of life on the streets.” If antiquated cities like London and Paris are for meandering, then New York is for purposefully charging forward.
When do your watering holes close again, London? What’s that? We couldn’t hear you. Oh, 11pm?!? Bloody hell! (Okay, fine, some pubs are open until 1am. Still.) Not that we necessarily condone drinking in the wee hours—or telling anyone about doing so; that’s too much bro bragging for our tastes—but there’s something oddly comforting about knowing that you can do just that on weekends. Typically, American cities (Chicago, for example) are peppered with a few places for the post-2am crowd—which are almost impossible to get into after regular joints’ last call. In the world’s greatest city, however, late-night spots are the rule, not the exception, which means that an array of choices—hookup spots, dives, and bars for both cocktail and beer snobs—are waiting for you come 3am.
New York is the birthplace of many a great concoction, including the iconic, rye-whiskey-based tipple. Legend has it that the drink was created by Dr. Ian Marshall in 1874 for an event at the Manhattan Club (hence the name), though some liquor historians claim that it was actually the handiwork of a bartender nicknamed Black, who worked at a Soho lounge. Regardless of the origins, this cocktail is replicated in countless watering holes across the world, but there’s no better place to enjoy it than its hometown. You can find top-notch versions at Milk and Honey and the Flatiron Lounge.
The third oldest person in the country is Susannah Mushatt Jones, a 113-year-old New York City woman who was born in the 19th century and has seen MTA fares rise from a nickel. This proves that city life isn’t just better, it’s lengthier: NYC residents live about two years longer than the national average. In 2010, a New Yorker’s life expectancy at birth topped out at 80.9 years. Maybe it’s that after surviving the job hunt, the apartment search and calorie-count menus, the rest seems easy. (That we walk more than other Americans and eat fewer trans fats also probably helps.) To quote Dorothy Parker, “As only New Yorkers know, if you can get through the twilight, you’ll live through the night.” And she died at the ripe old age of 73, despite drinking like a fish.
Yes, the holy grail of urban real estate is indeed out there—for those intrepid enough to find it. According to the New York City Rent Guidelines Board, there are approximately 1 million (!) rent-stabilized living spaces in Gotham. Adopted in 1969, the city program was created to shield tenants from steep cost increases enacted by greedy landlords. And thanks to a 2011 state law, those lucky leasers are in safer waters than ever: A stabilized apartment’s monthly rent has to climb higher than $2,500 before it can be deregulated. (As for those stories of crazy-rich renters with super cheap spaces, they’re largely bunk: A recent New York Times piece reported that the median income for tenants in rent-stabilized apartments is $36,000.) So don’t lose hope, home hunter; the rent isn’t always too damn high.
There’s no hip-hop hall of fame—not yet, anyway—but if you’re searching for rap’s birthplace, look no further than the rec room of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, an unassuming Bronx apartment building close to the Major Deegan Expressway. That’s where Clive “DJ Kool Herc” Campbell and MC Coke La Rock first mashed up break beats and Jamaican-style toasting at a back-to-school shindig 40 years ago, inventing a genre that’s since come to dominate popular music. Rap’s evolution has taken place largely in the five boroughs, through the work of originators such as Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang; golden-era hip-hop artists like Big Daddy Kane, the Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C.; and ’90s kingpins such as the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas and the Notorious B.I.G. (And let’s not forget Long Island–bred MCs like De La Soul, LL Cool J and Public Enemy.) Despite the rise of West Coast hip-hop and regional scenes throughout the South and Midwest, New York still dominates: Jay-Z, A$AP Rocky and Nicki Minaj continue to top charts, while up-and-comers such as Action Bronson and Joey Bada$$ line up to snatch the crown. View our list of the 50 greatest NYC hip-hop artists here.
Our mixed parties, such as Hey Queen!, Scissor Sundays and Rebel Cupcake, draw diverse crowds from all points on the gender and sexuality spectrums. Sure, there are still shindigs for specific scenes (glamour lesbians, bears)—as there should be—but in the wake of gay marriage, gay people all over TV and the like, NYC queers embrace and celebrate their outsider status as a diverse community.
It’s becoming an increasingly common tale: Scrappy outfit plays a tiny DIY space in Williamsburg; that same now-buzzed-about band returns months later and sells out a much bigger venue in town. Just look at U.K. postpunk sensations Savages, who graced Bowery Ballroom having made their U.S. debut at Glasslands. So why does this happen more here than anywhere else? It could be the large contingent of press and industry people at shows. Or that NYC is typically the first stateside stop for a budding foreign rock band. And the CMJ Music festival, held each October in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, certainly doesn’t hurt. But the fact remains that as much as this is an incredibly tough town to be a musician in, it’s the best place to see one—any night of the week offers the possibility of peeping the next bbig thing on a tiny stage.
The song-and-dance show has come a long way since The Black Crook, a five-and-a-half-hour-long pageant considered to be the world’s first musical, took primordial Broadway by storm in 1866. In the intervening century and a half, New York City has more than earned its name as not just as musical theater’s birthplace, but the spot where it’s done better than anywhere around the globe. Sure, the spectacle-drenched tuners of London’s West End (Les Misérables and The Phantom of the Opera) get exported to our shores. But many of the most innovative, memorable musicals of our time came to maturity on the Great White Way, from the golden age of Rodgers and Hammerstein and the rise of Sondheim to the unorthodox, form-reinventing hits of the past decade like Avenue Q, Spring Awakening and The Book of Mormon. Many of shows, such as Wicked, are now performed internationally, but Broadway is still the mecca for bright-eyed hoofers, who flock here like moths to a lit-up marquee.
Come T-shirt weather, New York positively explodes with free cultural fests. Among the multitude of offerings, you’ve got the River to River Festival, featuring a huge variety of art, theater, dance and music along the lower Manhattan waterfront; Lincoln Center Out of Doors, which transforms the entire campus of the venerable cultural institution into a performance space; and the City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage, which presents stellar free concerts and more at green spaces citywide, with offerings ranging from Wilco to the Metropolitan Opera. The Public Theater’s much-loved Shakespeare in the Park series mounts a pair of performances in Central Park each summer, attracting big names from Broadway, Hollywood and beyond to tread the boards. You can also catch free film screenings in Bryant Park and Central Park, and for lit fans, open-air readings from prominent authors via Books Beneath the Bridge at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Our advice: Bring sunscreen and an open mind.
Yes, many cities allow fluffy creatures to hunker down in shops and other venues—we’ll admit to being jealous of Japan’s cat cafés—but New York’s bodega cats are an altogether scrappier, more interesting breed of feline. Typically kept on the premises for the purpose of rodent control, these corner-store kitties have inspired all manner of tributes, including several blogs and a short documentary. But what makes them so beloved? Like knowing the best time to visit your regular watering hole, or having the scoop on the cheapest laundromat near your apartment, knowing your local bodega cat is another way to show your NYC bona fides. It’s a point of pride for New Yorkers to know their neighborhood’s quirks, and bodega cats fall squarely—and adorably—under that description.
“I’d rather be nine people’s favorite thing than 100 people’s ninth favorite thing,” goes a lyric in the Off Broadway musical [title of show]. And while we couldn’t agree more with the song’s message—that truly great artistic efforts tend to be divisive—thinking up one movie, song, play, technological finding or whathaveyou that doesn’t have a fervent fan base in NYC seems pretty…impossible. Like David Lynch? Bashes and even burlesque shows celebrating the man’s work have happened at Le Poisson Rouge and Parkside Lounge. How about astrophysics and ’90s Disney musicals? The Bell House in Gowanus hosts boozy fetes for both. Are you a cult-film buff? Spend hours sifting through the selection (organized by auteur and country!) at Kim’s Video. Only use vintage fabrics to make your clothes? Too many stores to count have you covered. The point is that you’re in New York, not high school: Obsessions of all sorts are embraced.
It’s fitting that in the city that never sleeps, the subway doesn’t either. Tokyo’s trains pull a Cinderella, conking out a little after midnight. In London, the Tube calls it quits between midnight and 12:30am, while Paris’s Metro manages to hold out until a relatively late 1:15am on most nights (2:15am on Fridays, Saturdays and holidays). What’s more, our setup has the most stations (a whopping 468) of any public transportation scheme, as well as the largest amount of track (660 miles dedicated to passenger transport). We’re also the only city with a “love conductor,” Erika Christensen, who plays matchmaker for straphangers throughout the boroughs. So not only is our underground transit system bigger and better, it’s also more romantic.
There is no shortage of ways for New Yorkers to get a cup of joe: Outdoor carts hawk highly caffeinated and overboiled mud in iconic Anthora containers; sit-down establishments brew cups to order from a $16,000 Japanese siphon machine (see Blue Bottle’s Chelsea shop for this experience); and there are more than 250 Starbucks outposts throughout the five boroughs. And while Chicago and Portland, Oregon may have birthed great roasters like Intelligentsia and Stumptown, Gotham trumps all in terms of sheer number of places where you can sate your coffee craving.
We’ve forgotten more languages than other cities have even heard of, since as many as 800 tongues are spoken in the five boroughs. There’s even an Endangered Language Alliance, founded by professors from CUNY, NYU and Columbia to preserve the fragile Garifuna, Mamuju and Nahuatl languages. Just how rich is the city’s oral tradition? Experts think there is more Bukhari spoken here than in its home countries of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Census takers found that a whopping 49 percent of New Yorkers speak something besides English at home—mostly Spanish, but also French Creole, Armenian, or Yiddish. It only took one Hurricane Sandy to make a superstar of one of the city’s many multilingualists, Lydia Callis; the effusive sign-language interpreter instantly put Mayor Bloomberg’s woeful Spanish to shame.
Iconic institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History are lovely, but going to one doesn’t necessarily feel like discovering something odd or special. But a museum located in a former subway station, or one in a elevator? That’s pretty unique. And those examples aren’t hypothetical: The New York Transit Museum opened in 1976 in an out-of-commission IND station, and just last year, the itty-bitty Museum—which bills itself as the smallest such institution in the city—debuted in a Tribeca freight elevator. Thanks to the city’s general sense of crammed-in-ness, planners often seek innovative solutions, reclaiming disused or run-down spaces and transforming them into cultural-landscape enrichments. Socrates Sculpture Park, for example, opened atop a former garbage dump in Long Island City, while one of the city’s most ambitious projects—the development of Freshkills Park—will turn what was once the world’s largest landfill into NYC’s largest green space.
In a metropolis with 7,966 sit-down restaurants, countless mom-and-pop takeout shops and hundreds of food trucks, it’s no surprise that New Yorkers have access to just about any edible they want, whenever the whim strikes. Late-night or early-morning options in most other towns are limited to whatever’s on the menu at 24-hour diners or fast-food drive-throughs, but our round-the-clock culinary clout extends far beyond rubbery omelettes and greasy, overcooked french fries. If you’re craving lamb and rice at 2am, you can hit the Halal Guys on 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue—or any of the other street vendors who soldier on through the wee hours. When you need your pierogi fix at 4am, hightail it to Veselka for six different varieties of the Eastern European dumplings. Jonesing for pastrami at 3pm? Stop by Katz’s or the 2nd Ave Deli. And for those times when you’re too tired, cold or hungover to venture out, you can dial up one of the 9,056 places that deliver—and that’s just on MenuPages—while laughing at the comparatively few choices in Washington, D.C. (749), Chicago (1,676) and L.A. (1,693).
There are too many great songs and albums written about New York to list here (we dedicated a whole cover story to that very subject last year, remember?), but here’s a CliffsNotesian rundown of a few seminal moments in Gotham’s musical history—all rooted below 14th Street: Bob Dylan arrived in the Village in 1961 and eventually became the face of folk music—only to smash that legacy by going electric on three locally recorded albums (Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde). That three-album run is perhaps the most fruitful of all time (all three were recorded within just over a year—talk about a New York work ethic) and, you know, changed music forever. That same year (1966), the Velvet Underground gigged in the East Village, are billed as part of Andy Warhol’s traveling Exploding Plastic Inevitable shindig, and created cacophonous, exhilarating and distinctly New York music that nobody knew what to make of. A decade later, carrying the primitive torch handed down by the Velvets, punk blew up on the Lower East Side and across the pond (although our bands were clearly better), with back-to-basics rock & roll (the Ramones) and envelope-pushing minimalism (Suicide) acting as much-needed antidotes to the guitar-god-dominated rock culture.
It’s unclear exactly which Manhattan nabe inspired the setting for the greatest kids’ TV show ever—people involved with the program have claimed the Upper West Side and Alphabet City. Nevertheless, the 44-year-old series couldn’t be based anywhere else, with Gotham touches like brownstone steps, a subway, wildly diverse residents, a newsstand and even a bodega popping up throughout the show. Sesame acted as a career launchpad for Jim Henson and has remained clever, pop-culturally savvy (Robert De Niro, Paul Simon, Richard Pryor, Feist, Amy Poehler and Seth Rogen have all put in guest appearances) and, above all, educational since debuting in the late ’60s.
New Yorkers respect the newest new just as much as the tried and true; for example, there’s enough room here for $3.50 tres leches treats at Doughnut Plant and $1.10 old-fashioneds at Donut Pub. If anything, New Yorkers have a hunger to see which city innovations can hang around long enough to become tradition: which newfangled dish will become the next menu staple (like eggs Benedict, invented in NYC), or which nascent musicians will spark the next big genre shift. But in a city that has seen plenty of standbys disappear from the landscape—everything from Shoot the Freak to Filene’s Basement to the Twin Towers—we know that, as much as it’s important to embrace the new, it’s equally important to not take the classics for granted.
One of the few things uniting hapless tourists and die-hard locals is an appreciation for the peerless New York slice: the scorched, thin crust; the heavy mantle of tomato sauce; and the molten blanket of creamy mozzarella. The handheld meal became legendary after Gennaro Lombardi obtained the first U.S. pizzeria license in 1905 for his Spring Street grocery store. Since then, countless imitators—along with Lombardi’s disciples John Sasso (John’s), Patsy Lancieri (Patsy’s) and Antonio Pero (Totonno’s)—have served pies to the masses. Recently, new-breed pizzaioli have created modern iterations, with spots like PeteZaaz, Franny’s and Roberta’s bringing quirky toppings and locally sourced ingredients to far-flung locales like Crown Heights and Bushwick. (Bill and Hillary Clinton even gave Roberta’s their stamp of approval last year.) In a city whose very fabric is made of novelty and dynamism, we can’t even predict what tomorrow’s slice will look like.
We have to give Robert Moses some credit: As the driving force behind the 1964 World’s Fair, the controversial figure was, in some way, responsible for the creation of a number of New York City landmarks, including Shea Stadium (RIP) and the iconic Unisphere. But our favorite relic of that grand affair is The Panorama of the City of New York, the 9,335-square-foot scale replica of the five boroughs. Permanently located in the Queens Museum of Art, the breathtaking attraction features approximately 895,000 NYC structures—including the Empire State Building, Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge—and new models that are added periodically (Brooklyn Bridge Park was the most recent, in 2012). In 2009, the QMA launched the Adopt-a-Building program as a way to help offset maintenance costs for the attraction: You can stick your name on your old apartment for $50, or shell out $2,500 to claim a whole neighborhood or park. (Hey, it’s cheaper than buying a real apartment.)
Recently, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle caused a stir by performing an impromptu, nearly hour-long set together at the Comedy Cellar. It’s not the first time the iconic West Village club has been unexpectedly visited by big-name stars: Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld are among the comedians who occasionally drop by to perform in the intimate space. The best part? These drop-ins often happen during the weekly shows (Rock and Chappelle showed up on a Tuesday night), where the cover charge is only $12–$14. (L.A.’s Comedy Store has a similar setup and prestige, but shows are slightly more expensive.) Plus, between the two Upright Citizens Brigade outposts and a network of well-regarded indie theaters and bars that host shows in Brooklyn and Queens, you never know when you’ll see one of the stars of The Office, Parks and Recreation or Saturday Night Live for next to nothing.
New Yorkers are a notoriously tough bunch; the same goes for many of Gotham’s monuments and iconic venues. To wit: The Grand Central Oyster Bar, which opened a century ago in February 1913, went bankrupt in ’72 and burned down in ’97, but it still thrives today, selling 5 million bivalves each year. The iconic Central Park eatery Tavern on the Green embodies the city’s fighting spirit too. Built on the site of a sheepfold, controversial Parks commissioner Robert Moses ordered the landmark restaurant’s construction in 1934. It shuttered for the first time in 1974, was acquired and renovated by local businessman Warner LeRoy that same year, and reopened in 1976. When LeRoy’s lease ended in December 2009, the venue went dark once again and pieces of its elaborate decor were auctioned off. In August 2012, Philly-based restaurateurs Jim Caiola and David Salama won a competitive bidding war to revamp the space, with a tentative opening set for this fall. We love Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z’s NYC anthems, but maybe we should throw Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” into the mix.
There’s a reason aspiring writers still flock to New York in droves: The Big Six (soon to be Big Five) publishing houses—Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and the soon-to-be Penguin Random House—have headquarters in Manhattan, which means much of the industry is centered here. The borough is also home to many indie companies, including W.W. Norton, Perseus Books Publishing and New Directions, along with industry must-reads like Publishers Weekly and The New York Review of Books. But in the past few years, Brooklyn has also established its bona fides as a nucleus for book fiends. Kings County is home to small presses like Melville House and Akashic; journals like Vol. 1 Brooklyn, The Coffin Factory and n+1; and, increasingly, writers themselves, with Martin Amis, Jennifer Egan, Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Ames, Jhumpa Lahiri and countless others putting down roots in Brooklyn. You can see the borough’s lit community in action during the annual Brooklyn Book Festival, which has grown exponentially since its founding in 2006.
Between the demise of Borders in 2011 and the proliferation of e-readers, cultural trend predictors were poised to hammer nails into the printed word’s coffin. New York responded with a resounding eff-you in the form of an indie-bookseller scene that’s stronger than ever, with many ventures focused on—and sometimes funded by—the surrounding community. Just look at recent success stories, like Washington Heights’ initially temporary, volunteer-run Word Up, which became so popular that the store is reopening for good this spring on the strength of donations. LGBT-focused pop-up the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division recently announced an indefinite partnership with Strange Loop Gallery, and operates out of that space. Dumbo’s powerHouse Arena recently opened an outpost in Park Slope, and Greenpoint’s WORD is expanding to a second spot, in Jersey City. Plus, many shops—including Fort Greene’s Greenlight Bookstore, McNally Jackson and Housing Works in Soho, and Boerum Hill’s BookCourt—have thrived thanks to author readings, book clubs and lit-themed parties that bring book fiends together. Long story short: NYC is a bibliophile’s dream town.
Unlike elsewhere, our A-listers don’t live in walled-off fortresses. Increasingly, they don’t even live in Manhattan: On any given day, famous folks like Patrick Stewart and Steve Buscemi can be found strolling through Park Slope, or complaining about the ’hood’s atrocious cable-and-Internet provider, as Stewart did on Twitter last September. Point being, for New Yorkers, celebrities are like tourists and crosswalk signals: We ignore them, and defiantly so. Ferris Bueller is just another guy in line at Dean & DeLuca, and Jack Donaghy is the dude who just stole our cab.
Two words: Toilet. Paper. New Yorker Joseph Gayetty is responsible for creating a commercial version of the bathroom staple, and for that alone, NYC deserves props. But plenty of innovators have called Gotham home, bringing indispensable creations to life here. A short list: Scrabble, invented by Jackson Heights resident Alfred Butts; gelatin, patented by Peter Cooper (also famous for founding Cooper Union); air-conditioning, invented in Williamsburg by Willis Carrier, an engineer; and Foursquare, launched in 2009 by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai—they worked on the social-media program at Crowley’s East Village apartment.
Those claims about NYC’s H20 making our pizza and bagels better? Probably not true. “The fact is, our tap water has changed quite a bit since that rhetoric started making the rounds a few decades ago,” explains Scott Wiener, who runs Scott’s Pizza Tours. “Believe me, I wish it was true; it would mean all the pizza in New York would be amazing—but we all know that just isn’t the case.” Fair enough. (Although someone may want to give New York Pizza Water—which hawks bottles of the stuff based on that myth—a heads-up.) But that doesn’t change the fact that NYC’s water is superior: Our water supply, which comes largely from upstate reservoirs, is nearly lead-free (any of the substance that does appear most has likely leeched in via old pipes). And the city’s aqua is routinely cited as among the country’s best-tasting, having placed second in the American Water Works Association’s nationwide taste test in 2010. So go ahead and fill those water bottles with abandon.
Between the still-sluggish economy and our workaholic tendencies, Gothamites can’t always prioritize vacations—especially ones that involve traveling halfway (or all the way) across the globe. Luckily, we can feast on traditional dishes from destinations near and far by simply hopping on the subway (or the Staten Island Ferry). Even beyond the well-known enclaves (Flushing for Chinese cuisine, Elmhurst for Thai), there are myriad countries represented in our own backyward: In Jackson Heights, you’ll find Colombian arepas (the Arepa Lady) right around the corner from dozens of Indian and Bangladeshi eateries, and in Greenpoint you can sup on Polish borscht and blintzes (Pyza). Vietnamese banh mi can be sampled in several different ‘hoods (Hanco’s in Boerum Hill, Banh Mi Zon in the East Village), while a trip to the Upper East Side yields both German and Burmese dumplings (spaetzle at Heidelberg, phet-htoke at Café Mingala). Feel like Canadian poutine or smoked meat? Mile End represents Quebec’s staples with aplomb. You can also spend a Sunday afternoon comparing a half-dozen Mexican tacos or swapping Benedicts for pork buns and other dim sum delicacies without ever leaving Sunset Park. And when you’re in need of a noodle fix, you don’t have to look far for top-notch ramen whether you’re in Manhattan (Ippudo, Hide-Chan), Brooklyn (Ganso, Chuko) or Queens (Hinomaru). The best part: no passport required.
Smell that greasepaint? Hear that crowd roar? The numbers don’t lie. In 2012, the World Cities Culture Report did a survey of 12 key metropolises across the globe, and found that NYC far and away has the highest concentration of theaters: 420, with Paris a distant second at 353 and that other legendary performing-arts city, London, trailing in fourth (behind Tokyo) at 214. What’s more, on Gotham stages, upwards of 43,000 performances took place in 2012 alone. And no wonder: Between Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway—plus marathons for newcomers, like the New York International Fringe Festival and the New York Musical Theatre Festival—you can see countless actors speaking the speech (trippingly, on the tongue) in venues ranging from grand old proscenium houses to downtown parking lots.
Quick: Think of a hummable song about Indianapolis or Newark or Tallahassee. Now think of all the memorable songs about NYC—heck, TONY listed the 100 best songs about Gotham without breaking a sweat. Imagine The Age of Innocence or The Catcher in the Rye or From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler without Manhattan as a pushy, protective character. And even as New York has become a major producer of great TV, home to both Carrie Bradshaw and Liz Lemon, plenty of shows filmed in Los Angeles still pretend to be in the Big Apple (we were never fooled, Friends). In the 2011–12 season alone, 23 series were filmed here—and not all of them were Law & Order—along with 188 films; the $420 million the state gives in tax credits helped. But there are no tax credits in comic books, and the big three—Spider-Man, Batman and Superman—all get heroic in approximations of New York City. What, did you think Gotham City and Metropolis were based on Cleveland?
Are we living in the Promised Land? Considering what a huge chunk of the Jewish diaspora has settled in New York City, we may as well be. According to the North American Jewish Data Bank, the city was home to 1,538,000 Jews as of 2012—that’s the largest concentration of Chosen People anywhere outside of Tel Aviv, representing a staggering 14.9 percent of the group’s worldwide population. Jewish culture has had a huge hand in shaping the identity of the city, ever since progrom-fleeing Russian Jews arrived in NYC in droves in the late 19th century. Many of the city’s most cherished cultural and culinary associations—Woody Allen’s oeuvre, Seinfeld, the 2nd Ave Deli, Irving Berlin, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Zabar’s, bagels and lox—bear the Semitic stamp. The culture and the metropolis are inextricably linked, and both are the richer for it.
When you’re having an intimate conversation in a restaurant, you imagine the couple next to you aren’t listening. When you’re the other couple, you pretend you’re not eavesdropping. You can have your cake and eat it, too. Plus, just walking down the street keeps you honest: You will see people in every compromising emotional or physical position imaginable (how many times have you walked by people fighting on the street, or seen someone crying on the subway?). The beauty of this is that New Yorkers don’t judge this type of behavior—because we know that we might be there ourselves in the near future.
In his 1997 drama, Closer, playwright Patrick Marber calls Gotham “a twenty-four-hour pageant called Whatever You Want.” Although the implicit showmanship and excess in that statement may not always be present, there’s no denying that New Yorkers actually can have pretty much anything at any time, day or night. Hair Party 24 Hours goes beyond its name to offer manis and pedis, massages, waxes and more at any hour; multiple pharmacy chains (Duane Reade, CVS, Walgreens) have locations throughout the boroughs that always keep the lights on and doors open; and continuously running bodegas keep us supplied with everything from Cheetos to laundry detergent. What’s more, no matter where or when you wander around town, other people are out doing the same thing—some with purpose, some content to just explore.
What is it about New York City that inspires musicians to create some of their most complex, brilliant works? We don’t rightly know, but we do know that some of the most compelling musical moments of the past century have been composed or recorded here. We outlined 100 of these in our recent list of the 100 best NYC songs, but here’s a short list of the songs and albums created in Gotham: George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” (written when the composer was a sickeningly young 25), Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, Patti Smith’s Horses, Nas’s Illmatic, the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs and Jay-Z’s The Blueprint. And that’s not even taking into account Carole King, Ellie Greenwich, Neil Diamond and the many artists who composed classics in the Brill Building era. The point: Our songwriters are better than your songwriters.
No, we’re not L.A. (and thank god for that), but just because Hollywood happens to be on the opposite coast doesn’t mean we aren’t the best city to watch a movie in. Gotham boasts great theaters for retrospectives and talks (Film Forum, BAM), and arty, indie, envelope-pushing fare (IFC Center, Anthology Film Archives), not to mention a new crop of dine-and-drink theaters (Nitehawk Cinema, Videology, rerun Gastropub Theater). And come summertime, NYC holds plethora of free outdoor screenings in locations both classic (Bryant Park, Central Park) and unconventional (Coney Island beach, Lower East Side rooftops).
Indie-rock might hog a lot of the press, but this is still a thriving jazz town. Really thriving, actually: Any night of the week offers the option to see, say, jazz vets jam in the 78-year old downtown staple the Village Vanguard, genre heavyweights in super-classy environs of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola or Blue Note and free-jazz innovators pushing the envelope at the Stone.
Dudes don’t get the short end of the sartorial stick here: New York is home to a number of cutting-edge mens clothing purveyors, including Tim Coppens, Ovadia & Sons, Todd Snyder and Saturdays Surf NYC. Plus, a few of our favorite menswear blogs—including A Continuous Lean and Dapper Lou—are based in NYC; the Sartorialist, meanwhile, often captures photos of well-dressed gents out and about in the city, proving that Gotham truly is nirvana for dedicated followers of fashion.
New York City is a fashionista’s playground, with a plethora of sartorial destinations available for those inclined to seek them. All you need is a MetroCard to find several shopping malls’ worth of unique, interesting emporiums. Fifth Avenue has long been the city’s premier shopping destination: Many big department stores, including Lord & Taylor, Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, have been around for more than a century, and they share an increasing amount of space with mass-appeal shops like H&M and Uniqlo. Madison Avenue is still a haven for high-end designers (Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana), and neighborhoods like Williamsburg and the Lower East Side pack plenty of hip indie stores. And yes, our vintage shops and markets may be pricey—but we challenge you to name a city where the selection is larger or more diverse.
Recently, we asked comedian Chris Gethard to tell us a New York story; his involved wandering around midtown at 3am, a hot-dog purveyor and a guy coming out of a peep show looking very pleased with himself. In Gethard’s words, “If you can both come and eat a hot dog at three in the morning on the same block, what dream can’t you make into reality in NYC?” And that sentiment—if not, you know, the specific scenario—is one of the wonderful things about New York: This city is so huge, and teeming with both totally boring and utterly bizarre elements, that it often feels like you can do pretty much anything here.
No mere river crossing, the Brooklyn Bridge is an elegant reminder of New York’s history of architectural innovation. When it opened in 1883, the landmark, designed by John A. Roebling, was a feat of engineering: It was the first structure to cross the East River and, at the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world. It also made use of galvanized steel-wire cables, which had never been implemented before (although the use of wire ropes on bridges was first conceived by Roebling in 1841). The Brooklyn Bridge is just one example; many so-called modern marvels—things like super-tall skyscrapers, the subway and public water supply systems—were developed or perfected by New York City engineers. (That’s something to think about the next time you ride across one of the many bridges spanning the East and Hudson Rivers.)
Boston may be the birthplace of the American newspaper, but in the 19th century, New York quickly became the nucleus of the country’s nascent media industry.. And while that industry has grown ever-smaller in the past few decades, this is still the best place for ink-stained wretches. Many major publications—The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press and The New Yorker among them—started and are still headquartered in Gotham, while key players in the digital realm, including the Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Gawker Media, also call the city home. And thanks to a robust network of hyperlocal bloggers throughout the five boroughs, you don’t have to look far to find news about your specific neighborhood.
In an increasingly homogenized communications landscape, it’s refreshing to see that some forms of independent or audience-supported media can exist. In the five boroughs—and, okay, Jersey City—outlets like WNYU, WFUV, WFMU and the comparatively large WNYC are still plugging away, though perhaps not as robustly as in the past. Other cities would likely argue that their offerings are bigger and better—and sure, stations like Los Angeles’s KCRW and Seattle’s KEXP are better known—but we wouldn’t trade the erudite musings of Leonard Lopate or the eclectic stylings of WFMU’s Cherry Blossom Clinic for anything.
We’ve already waxed ecstatic about the films, concerts, book readings and other events available to New Yorkers at any given time. And while we love all of these different offerings individually—obviously—we’d argue that their combined effect is even more important. Thanks to the sheer number of places to visit in the city—more than 700 galleries; nearly 600 nightlife venues; more than 1,700 parks; and that’s barely the tip of the iceberg—New York is simply one of the greatest cultural powerhouses in the world. To paraphrase the noted ’90s rock band Harvey Danger, if you’re bored living in New York City, then we’re afraid you might be boring.
New Yorkers have somehow garnered a reputation as callous and cranky, but for anyone who has lived through catastrophes here—events like the various blackouts, or Hurricane Sandy, or even 9/11—you know that’s an exaggeration. In the aftermath of Sandy alone, there were countless stories of New Yorkers helping one another, whether it was someone with electricity rigging up a charging station for neighbors without power, or good samaritans descending on Red Hook, the Rockaways, Staten Island and other hard-hit areas to help clean up. Occupy Sandy came together nearly overnight to provide assistance to devastated neighborhoods, and its members can still be found doing work in the Rockaways and elsewhere. So we call bullshit on those who would dismiss New Yorkers as mean or uncaring—all you have to do is look at how the city comes together when we’ve been knocked down, hard.
One of the things that makes New York City better than any other city is our unwavering devotion to this town. Yes, we know how expensive it is; yes, we know that it’s chaotic and imposing and occasionally unfriendly; and yes, we know that from the outside, it can seem like the reasons to not live here outweigh the reasons to live here. But that doesn’t matter to us—we’re New Yorkers, and we think New York is better than your city, and if you don’t like it, well, tough!