I grew up in London and lived my whole life there, apart from an adventurous three years at college 120 miles away. (That’s far for England, you know; it’s a small country). I didn’t go to New York until I was twenty-six, which is weird, because I was fixated on it from an early age. I don’t know why I didn’t go sooner. Perhaps because I didn’t really go anywhere till I was twenty-six. A combination of indolence and paralysing shyness meant the rites-of-passage year off that many British people take before university was not an option for me. Perhaps because when I was a student the idea of travel was to go somewhere completely different, a remote island where people use large stone disks as money. You didn’t travel to go somewhere that was a bit like home, only the cabs were yellow, the shops were better and people spoke the same language with a different accent. And perhaps I was afraid New York would be a let-down compared to the shimmering Paradise I had always held the city to be in my mind—the New York of Annie Hall, the Plaza and Central Park in The Way We Were, and of Cagney and Lacey. (I loved that TV show so much I forced my mother to purchase me a flared corduroy skirt and knee-high boots in tribute to Cagney and Lacey and the way they strode insouciantly down Fifth Avenue, choppy bobs blowing in the breeze. It was an odd look on a nine-year old).
Or perhaps it was a little of all three.
I don’t know why I worried, though. The first time I came to New York, we arrived at JFK late at night. We took a cab into Manhattan, and as we left the airport behind, the city sprang up in front of us, glittering with light. And –this is the best part – the cab driver’s radio was tuned to an all-Sinatra station. I crossed the Queensboro Bridge for the first time listening to “Witchcraft”. It doesn’t get any better than that.
So when people ask me for recommendations of cool places to eat, shop, drink, and hang out in New York, I almost want to say: don’t worry, it’s such a great city something magical will happen to you, too.
Nevertheless, I have very clear ideas about what would constitute my dream day there. It is based on my love of three things in New York: root beer, food and shopping. We don’t really have root beer in the UK. They tried to introduce it in MacDonald’s in the1980’s. For some reason it never took. (Who wouldn’t want to drink a cloyingly sweet drink that tastes like it’s been laced with antiseptic mouthwash? Answer: no one in the UK besides me!). So, if I were to pick my dream day in New York– and remember, I’m a tourist so I can be as cheesy as I like – it would go something like this.
I’d be staying at the Mercer (this is a DREAM day, not a real day) and I would have spent the previous evening watching US sitcoms, reading People magazine and ordering room service. I would have breakfast at Lucky Strike in Soho and then walk up to Anthropologie. I LOVE Anthropologie. More than any man. Is that wrong? Have you seen my citrus lemon lace-trimmed black-and-white striped top that I bought there in January? Well, you would love it more than any man if you saw it. Anthropologie is coming to London. I don’t want it to. I want it to stay in the US, so going there will continue to be as magical as waking up on Christmas Day when you’re a child.
Then, I’d walk to Union Square, where I would buy some apple juice at the Farmer’s Market, and pop into Barnes and Noble to buy some beautiful American books. I like American jackets much more than UK ones and I wish Barnes and Noble was in London. I love it there.
Afterwards, I would head for the West Village, and go to the Spotted Pig for lunch. The first time I went there, Malcolm Gladwell, Maggie Gyllenhaal AND Lou Reed were there (separately, not together, although that’d be a good dinner party, wouldn’t it?). I would walk back through Greenwich Village, looking in the windows of the shops and cafes, and head east for a post-prandial drink at the Beauty Bar, on E. 14th Street, where they offer “Martinis and Manicures” – you can drink cocktails while you get your nails done! Brill.
If I got super-hungry and needed a snack (all that walking works up an appetite), I would stop by a Chipotle. My love for Chipotle knows no bounds. There ain’t no Mexican food in London unless you count soggy tortilla chips sold in cinemas. Then home to the Mercer – wow, I am enjoying this day – to read in the bath and have a nap. A nap is very important.
Evening: I’d put on my new Anthropologie purchases, and head out for a Manhattan at Cipriani in Grand Central Station. I would meet my old friend Lance, who lives here. We would go to the new production of Guys and Dolls, which is not only my favorite musical of all time, it is the best musical ever written, and it’s set in New York!
Afterward, we’d go for a glass of champagne at some glamorous hotel bar, maybe the Plaza’s Oak Bar, or the St. Regis’s King Cole Room with the fabulous Maxfield Parrish mural.
A very late dinner afterwards at Decibel, on E. 9th Street, a cute Japanese sake bar which does great sake and delicious food, then we’d have a few beers at Max Fish on Ludlow Street on the Lower East Side if I’m still able to stand upright.
Finally, back at the Mercer, as I lay in bed, I would think – that was the best day ever.
If I had one more day, I’d walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to Park Slope, take the subway back into Manhattan and go to Zabars on the Upper West Side and then I’d walk across Central Park to spend a little time with the Old Masters at the Frick Collection. But that is another day….
If you’re coming to London let me know, and I’ll draw up my dream day for you there. Be prepared though – there’s no root beer, the sidewalks are much narrower, and the people speak weirdly.