Social Customs Among the Moneyed Class in New York City: A Case Study

According to the dissertation research of social anthropologist Caspian Ancién (University of Cambridge, 2013), the hideous practice of bottle service first emerged in New York City. For those of you still fortunate enough to remain blissfully unaware of this travesty, bottle service refers to getting a table in a posh dance club and, instead of having the competent bartenders who work there make you delicious cocktails with top-shelf ingredients, as is their job, getting served a bottle of crap vodka and a selection of low-grade mixers so that you can make for yourself and your party the same crappy screwdrivers and greyhounds you made in college, only now at a two-thousand-percent markup. Bottle service was sold as the height of luxe sophistication; idiot stockbrokers with too much money jumped at the chance for a new, ever-more-moronic form of conspicuous consumption; and soon enough the idea swept the whole country. These days, there are actual clubs in Las Vegas where you simply aren’t allowed to sit down–not at all, not anywhere–unless you’ve purchased bottle service. If you’re a woman and your date isn’t willing to spend $450 on a bottle of Absolut, you better be ready to stand to pee.

On this trip to New York, I was horrified to see that a similar idea has made its way to the restaurants. They call it platter service. Now, instead of having well-trained, gifted, experienced chefs actually cook for you, you can spend a few hundred dollars on a platter of cold cuts, Wonder Bread and mayonnaise and make sandwiches for your whole party. At a small bistro not far from Central Park, I peered at the table behind the velvet rope, where a hedge-fund manager in a $7000 bespoke suit prepared bologna-and-american-cheese sandwiches for the three leggy supermodels competing for his attention. One of the women caught me looking, glanced at the immaculately prepared wasabi-crusted New York strip steak and flash-roasted vegetables on the plate in front of me, and rolled her eyes.

On the Craft Beer Scene in New York City

Microbrewing has finally come to New York, and while it’s certainly improved the quality of beers available around town, their beer scene can’t hold a candle to that of any even medium-sized city in Colorado. You heard me right, New York: You aren’t actually the center of the universe. Go ahead and console yourselves with one of your so-so beers.

Lesser-Known Ethnic Neighborhoods of New York

When you’ve lived in Boulder as many years as I have, this city’s lack of diversity becomes something of which you (optimally) remain intellectually aware, but isn’t something you notice, per se, on any given day. New York is like the reciprocal of that. Pick an ethnicity, race, color of skin–it’s not just that people of that category are present, not just that they abound, but that there are enough of them that, somewhere in the city, there’s a neighborhood that celebrates their ethnicity. (This is beautiful, of course.)

We’ve all heard of Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Italy. But there are lesser-known enclaves as well. In south Brooklyn, there’s the Lesser Pyramids, where you can get great Egyptian food and, for the right price, have your departed loved ones mummified. Many consider Staten Island’s España Pequeña a must-see, especially during the summer bullfight season. Memphis II, built around the questionable assertion that west Tennesseans are their own race, features terrific barbecue and an exact replica of Graceland, no more and no less tasteless than the original. The French Quarter is actually in New Orleans, but knowledgeable people know the exact abandoned phone booths that will instantaneously transport you there.

Don’t be fooled into going to Little Tony, though. That’s just what Big Tony calls his fifth-floor Murray Hill walk-up. Big Tony is pretty creepy. He’ll probably try to touch you.

Unknown New York History

Many years ago, prostitutes in New York got tired of the stigma associated with their line of work and declared themselves a separate ethnicity, their occupation no longer either choice or hardship, but an expression of cultural pride. They took as their (let’s call it) homeland an area in the southern part of Manhattan. Embarrassed New Yorkers, trying to sweep this period of the city’s history under the rug, try to tell you it’s because it’s South of Houston, but in truth SoHo is so named because there are So Many Hos.

In the Know

One thing that hasn’t changed: being in the know, having some kind of insider knowledge, is still an important currency here. A city of 11 million people, 750,000 separate restaurants, and everyone wants to act like he or she knows exactly the best place in the city.

Like yesterday morning, I was having coffee with my friend Melodious, and he said, “You know where you should go? Over in Little Brazil, right at the corner of 79th and Park, there’s a restaurant to die for, most authentic Brazilian food this side of Copacabana Beach, they bring the raw sewage in the drinking water directly from Rio.”

Change

I can’t remember the last time I was in Central Park–maybe back in 2005, for Christo’s The Gates?–but boy has it changed. First of all, they finally cleared out all the wolves, you don’t worry about being devoured as much anymore, but I gotta say the park has kind of lost the flavor that made it so special.

Plus with global warming, the glacier in the center has receded almost completely, all that’s left are some big boulders down near Central Park South and of course the big U-shaped valley. Barely any marmots left anymore, it’s sad the way their habitat is shrinking.

I sometimes wonder what keeps people in New York now that all the stuff that made it so special has been bleached out. The place is like Wonder Bread now, I swear to God. The taxicabs are still yellow and the place is still full of self-obsessed assholes, but other than that, it’s nothing like the New York I used to know. These days, you get within five blocks of Times Square, it’s even illegal to download porn.

New York-Style Pizza

“There’s nothing like New York pizza,” said the cab driver. “You should do that while you’re here.”

“‘Do that?'” I replied. “You mean eat a slice of pizza? Isn’t this when you’re supposed to tell me exactly where to go, the best place in New York?”

He was quiet for a few moments. I could see his eyes flick toward mine in the rearview mirror. His voice dropped. “Nah,” he said. “They’re all the same. A group of tech companies–Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Pinterest, maybe Uber, I forget–formed a conglomerate a couple of years back, bought out every pizza joint in the five boroughs, said they could leverage efficiencies brought about by the Internet, change the game forever. They fired all the local guys, brought in pizza makers from India, built these new ovens that are more like one of those 3D printers, you know the kind I mean? Prints out the pizza right there in the box, comes out piping hot in like five seconds, you don’t have to wait, and there’s no more of that sad slice of pizza just sitting there under that weird red light, staying warm-ish until they throw it back into the oven. Just-in-time pizza-making, they call it.”

“Wow, I’ve never heard a word about that,” I said. “Does it work?”

“People seem to like it,” he acknowledged. “But it’s not for me. First of all, before they let you eat it, there’s all these goddamn pop-up ads. You have to sit through some guy trying to sell you some kind of pizza-ordering subscription, I’m like, I just want a fucking slice, you know what I mean?”

“That does sound annoying,” I said.

“And then there’s the fact that no matter what you order, what comes out is two slices of pepperoni. You complain, all they can say is, ‘It’s in beta.'”

New York Stories

I’m in New York this week for the U.S. Open. While it would be lovely to be writing and publishing about what I’m experiencing while it’s happening, I’d rather focus on my experience than worry about getting pieces finsihed while I’m here. (Weird, eh?)

On the other hand, it didn’t seem right to not publish pieces about New York City. I haven’t been here since 2009, and a lot has changed.

With that in mind, I decided to write all my pieces before I got here. Which means that what you’ll be reading may not be exactly 100% factually accurate. But I promise you’ll learn some interesting stuff about New York.

By the way: yes, I will certainly be writing and publishing about my experiences at the Open. Watch this space.


I was at a Jewish deli on 34th Street, not far from the French Quarter, eating a grilled-cheese-and-bacon sandwich and a really delicious shrimp cocktail. Wait. What? I went outside to look at the sign. “Non-Kosher” it said, and boy did they mean it.

Just then, the wind came up and a guy riding a windboard–you know, one of those windsurfboards on wheels–came zipping down the street, followed by a guy on an ATV pulled by sled dogs.

New York has changed a lot since I was last here.