Goodbye to Old Hat
Sometime in the summer of 2001, before Sophomore year of college started, my friend Nick Buccelli and I ate lunch at Lucien, in the East Village. I thought Lucien was the coolest. It was on First Avenue and First Street, which was cool. It was a French bistro, and French things are credibly cool to 18-year-olds. Also, they didn’t card us, because French bistros don’t care about underage drinking, and that was cool.
Nick and I ate an amazing meal — one of us ordered rabbit, which felt sophisticated, and we both had lots of wine. Our bill, when everything was settled, came to over $50 a person. Nick saved the receipt and gave it to me in a frame for my birthday later that year. A meal that cost a hundred dollars? Laughable! What a crazy place New York is, we thought.
I was insistent I wanted to live in New York City for college. It’s actually a great place to be a college student. NYC is much better when you have the luxury that many of the people who live here do not: time. Time to wait in lines, take public transportation no matter how late it gets you home because you don’t have classes until the afternoon the next day, or walk somewhere 30 blocks away because it’s too expensive to take a cab.
College brought me here, and I stayed. I don’t think I ever considered not staying. Where else would I go? Sixteen years later, my time in New York City is coming to a close. I bought my one-way airplane ticket — out of Newark, no less. I’ll wake up November 30th in a new home city: Portland, Oregon.
“Why I’m leaving New York” isn’t all that important, mostly because the reason is I don’t want to live here anymore. Which is allowed! As with so many other things in life as we age, the urge to fight wanes. Put me somewhere with ample seating, ample parking, and ample sky. It’s been years since I gave a city bus the finger.
Is New York City incredibly different than when I moved here in lots of ways? Of course. My first apartment had a bathtub in the kitchen, ONE sink, and a toilet that was in the hall. It wasn’t shared, but you did run the risk of seeing your neighbor in the morning, with his newspaper tucked under his arm, headed to his mirror image toilet. Around the corner from the building was Kurowycky Meats, a deli where Martha Stewart sourced her Easter hams. There was a restaurant, Bendix Diner, on 10th street that was, like, just a not-very-good diner, without a “concept.” Where the first Momofuku Noodle Bar opened was a BBQ takeout spot. All those things are gone now.
Gentrification happens, and in the above story, I was the gentrifier, so I am not without blame. Everything became a Chipotle or a Chase or a Duane Reade. Rents rose. New condos went up. There’s very little in the way of neighborhood anything anymore. People don’t know the guy who owns the deli, or his cousin, or the regulars who get their bagel the same time. Watching and listening to New Yorkers being New Yorkers is one of the great pleasures of living here. As a species, they’re wiseasses. When we don’t speak to one another because there’s no shared local spaces in which to interact, another thing that feels New York-y about New York City goes away.
New York City became the thing I never believed it would: boring. Lots of places are boring, but at least they’re easy. Boring can be nice! Boring is how we get places like Panera Bread and the Minneapolis Airport. It’s more difficult than ever to be a weird person who creates the things that make New York “vibrant” because the rent is high and the city unforgiving. When you *had* to make it here, it felt worth the suffering, perhaps. Now, you can make it somewhere else, so why live here?
New York City is ever changing, and future generations will find things in it to claim and love and, I hope, make it better, because it’s not a lot of fun right now. Lucien is still there, though. The rabbit costs $36.
Thank you for a lovely time, New York City. Before I go, I’d like to apologize to the following people:
Anyone who lived next to me when I was in my 20s
Any bartender at Sophie’s from 2001–2003
Anyone who ordered a Negroni from me when I was a bartender, 2003–2004
Every food delivery person who delivered to me when I lived in a sixth-floor walkup, 2004–2010
Every friend who visited me when I lived in a sixth-floor walkup, 2004–2010
I’d also like to remember some dearly departed bars and restaurants:
Miracle Grill (on First Avenue)
International Bar (original incarnation)
Grand Sichuan St. Marks
The Oak Room
Kaz an Nou