Samantha Gillison on living and eating in New York:
Once upon a time, as Gore Vidal observed, New York City was a delightful place to live – especially if you were an impoverished foodie. Legendarily delicious eateries abounded, everyone had a favorite dive bar and, if you got bored of the local places, endless interesting, tasty yummies awaited discovery throughout the five boroughs. But the past is a foreign country: things are done differently there.
What, you can’t get food in NYC now? I find that a little hard to believe…
Anthony Bourdain, professional authentic and globe-trotting foodie, is seemingly trying to address the Zurich-ification of Manhattan by converting one of the largest shipping piers on the Hudson River into a mega-food market. “Think of an Asian Night Market,” he described, attempting to help The New York Times’ reporter envision the incipient 155,000 square foot “Bourdain Market”. “Eating and drinking at midnight.” You know, fun? Remember that?
See? What on earth are you complaining about?
Many bitter old New Yorkers like myself, mark the shuttering of fiercely adored eateries and bars, as the tolling of the city’s death bell. I’ve mourned the passing of the famous, Chez Brigitte, The Holiday, Café Figaro, FOOD and Florent with tears in my eyes. But it’s the loss of some of the lesser known spots that feels unbearable.
On the corner of Bethune and Hudson Streets once stood the greasiest of greasy spoons, The Bus Stop Coffee Shop. A few of its regulars – uniformed bus drivers and other city workers – were always inside, on break, reading the newspaper and having a smoke and a plate of eggs. The windows were filthy, the air thick with grease, but MFK Fisher herself would have wept tears of gastronomical pleasure when the food arrived: the Bus Stop cooked simple, cheap, unpretentious food, with creativity and care. They served the greatest grilled cheese I’ve ever had: fried in bacon grease for precisely the right amount of time to crisp the bread and imbue it with the smoky-tasting bacon which was an impeccable foil for the gooey, Swiss cheese. On the plate, you got a single side: a dill pickle, the exact proportion of salty and sour to cut the grease of the sandwich and cleanse your palate for the toe-curling vanilla egg cream.
And if it was profitable, it’d still be there. It isn’t, so it ain’t. That’s progress.
The anti-gentrificationists in London who, last week, donned pig masks and rioted outside a hipster restaurant that sells bowls of cereal for US$7 were not wrong: had I known the future I would have donned pig mask and waved flaming torch outside The Magnolia Bakery in 1996. When sugary food originally meant for children becomes an overpriced fetish that rich people line up to pay for, beware: your city is about to get its newly-acquired blandness explained by terms like extreme-gentrification.
NYC is bland, folks. You heard it here first.