Even with its Code Red terror alerts, kamikaze cabbies and sidewalk pedestrian traffic that make old Roman chariot races seem tame by comparison, the streets of New York can still excite paunchy middle-aged men into feeling like young Mary Tyler Moores.
Happens to me every time. At some point in my visit -- I go about every six months -- I’ll want to pirouette right in the middle of Times Square, fling my hat toward the heavens and sing out, “I love New York!”
Of course, should I ever decide to do just that, the outburst wouldn’t turn a single head. Not even if I was naked. On the back of a llama. A green llama wearing a sombrero.
It just takes an awful lot for anything to get noticed in New York.
That’s why I called a friend to ask what he thought of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to rebrand the city splendidly renown throughout the world as The Big Apple (jazz musicians used to say there are many apples on the tree of success, but New York was “The Big Apple”). Bloomberg has filed U.S. Patent and Trademark Office application 78484751 that, when approved, will allow the city to begin marketing itself as “The World’s Second Home.”
“Now that’s something we did notice,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. Nobody likes it. It’s part of a cheap attempt to get the Olympics to New York City in 2012 -- something else nobody wants. We don’t want to be anybody’s second home, much less the entire world’s.”
As an outsider, I wouldn’t want a second home in New York. I’d prefer the Outer Banks or maybe the Florida Keys, someplace tranquil and soothing, peaceful qualities no one would ever associate with New York.
But if Bloomberg’s bent on re-casting the way the world looks at New York, he at least ought to do it with a slogan that will resonate with the reasons many of us go back to the Big Apple again and again. Here are 10 suggestions:
“Where the Brightest Stars Shine Even Underground” -- In the past three years, I’ve seen Hilary Swank, Keanu Reeves and Sarah Jessica Parker all riding the subway along with the rest of us schlubs. The indispensable subway makes this a very tactile city where you can shake the hands of celebrities who enjoy the rough-and-tumble of a city with soul. Go to L.A. and you’ll see tinted windows that conceal stars in their cars.
“Just call us, ‘New And Improved York’” -- New York’s finest restaurants and hotels must constantly top themselves or risk the perception that they are, gadzooks, slipping. The quality bar was raised to stratospheric heights in 2004 with the opening of the new Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle. The address features what may be the best hotel and the best restaurant under one roof. The restaurant, Per Se, is run by Thomas Keller, chef from Napa Valley’s French Laundry, perhaps the most famous restaurant in America.
Then there’s the Mandarin-Oriental Hotel, a hotel whose elegance is so rarified that the lobby is on the 35th floor. That’s right. Guest bags are checked at a supplemental street level lobby and then it’s an elevator ride to the dazzling sky lobby with its two-story windows peering out over Central Park. The luxurious hotel spa features a 650-square-foot VIP Couple’s Suite designed to look like a sumptuous oriental-style home with dual massage tables, a fireplace, an elevated bath and a special kang treatment bed. Cost? $975 per couple for a three-hour spa spree.
“New York: Our Taverns Have More History than Your State Houses” -- McSorley’s Old Ale House is the oldest still-existing tavern in the U.S., first opening its doors in 1854 when President Franklin Pierce presided over just 31 united states. Abraham Lincoln imbibed here after giving a famous speech at nearby Cooper Union Hall. More upscale is the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel, named by Historic Traveler as one of the top10 historic bars in America. Its luminaries included Dorothy Parker, James Thurber, Harpo Marx and Eugene O’Neill. They were among the inspirations for young John F. Kennedy who, when asked of his life’s aspirations, replied: “To be a Lindbergh-type hero, to learn Chinese and to become a member of the Algonquin Round Table.”
“You Liked Seinfeld? You’ll Love New York!” -- Show creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David insisted L.A.-based show writers spend substantial time in New York each season to troll for offbeat story ideas involving despotic soup mavens, big salads, puffy shirts and rancid handsome cab rides. Kenny Kramer, the flesh-and-skyscraper-hair inspiration for the Kramer character, offers Seinfeld reality tours (www.kennykramer.com) that for $37 will allow you to munch on Junior Mints, nosh at Tom’s Diner (“Monk’s”) and view other sites familiar to “Seinfeld” fans. The still-popular show features four people, but make no mistake: It stars New York.
“New York: We Bridge the World” -- Strolling the promenade across the 1.13 mile Brooklyn Bridge is one of the city’s most sublime treats. And it’s free. You’ll hear the babble of a dozen different languages as tourists from all over the world come to appreciate the majesty and the history of one of the world’s most famous spans. Do yourself a favor and walk the extra 150 yards to The River Cafe directly beneath the bridge on the Brooklyn shore. The lobster salad and the view are memorable, and if you go at lunch you can beat the mob. Really. Tony Soprano and Johnny Sac were filmed discussing “family” business during a scene filmed at The River Cafe.
“Not One Big City, Just a Bunch of Little Neighborhoods” -- The thought of immersing oneself in a city with 8 million strangers is enough to scare any sensible person straight back to Dubuque. Try not to think of New York like that. Really, it’s a collection of neighborhoods, each with its own deli, grocer, tavern, boutique hotel, coffee shop and firehouse. Why not adopt a neighborhood of your very own? Then you can sound worldly by saying, “Well, we prefer going to Chelsea. New York’s just too big.”
“Our Niches fill Enormities” -- Some city hotels stay booked catering to demographics that, in any other city, might lead to starvation. For instance, The Affinia Dumont Hotel is a comfortable place for people who are 7-foot-6. NBA star Yao Ming and his Houston Rocket teammates are regular guests there, as are other visiting teams who’ve found the hotel has extra-sized everything -- and they do a fine job with average-sized folks, too. The Hotel Pennsylvania across from Madison Square Garden is renown as the most pet-friendly hotel in the city with a Dog Concierge in charge of “pooch relations” during peak pet seasons. The RIHGA Royal is perfect for anyone who’s ever dreamed of getting down on one of America’s poshest potties. Each room has a $700 Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat. Each hi-tech wonder features an ergonomic, heated seat, twin warm-water bidet nozzles and an anti-slam lid, truly a throne fit for a king.
“Come for our Shows, Stay for our Pizza” -- Food writer Ed Levine, author of “Pizza: A Slice of Heaven” (Universal, $24.95), says New York is the world capital for great pizza. Of his top six slices on the planet, four of them are found in New York. They are: Una Pizza Napoletana, DiFara Pizza, Nick’s Pizza and Totonno’s Pizzeria Napolitano. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the licensing of the New York and America’s first official pizzeria, Lombardi’s in SoHo.
“New York: Where Leaving a Good Impression No Longer Means a Really Deep Dent in the Skull” -- City streets that once made hearts beat faster due to the prospect of lurking muggers now make them accelerate solely with vitality. America reached out to a grieving New York after September 11, 2001, and now the city’s hugging America right back. More than 39.6 million visitors in 2004, a new record, went home with stories of a New York that seems to have emerged from a long winter of dread and mourning. New York has regained its swagger, its poise. “So Come Join the Party!”
Come to think of it, that’s not a bad slogan for a city that’s again on a restless quest to prove it’s still the best.
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