I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t been to New York City since the mid-1990s. I caught up with the place over Labour Day weekend when my man and I headed to his “spiritual home,” Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In case you’re not up on such things, Brooklyn is widely regarded as the hipster capital of the world. Think Toronto’s Queen Street West to the power of five.
What’s a hipster? This huckster at the Williamsburg Flea checks most of the boxes (beard/haircut/glasses) although his lack of tattoos is deeply suspicious. Hipsters wear their tats in the MOST conspicuous places, not the least.
The Williamsburg Flea has the requisite hipster amenities: live DJ, amazing food and booze and a super-cool crowd. The great view across the East River to Manhattan and the Empire State Building is a bonus. We spent a superb, sunny Sunday morning at the flea admiring pieces like the gargantuan 1970s sectional, below (asking price, $1,100 USD).
When I spotted the large ceramic lamp, below, I knew it was coming home with me even before I dickered the seller down to $25. The shade was a leftover gathering dust in my storage locker.
We wandered into furniture shops selling new and vintage wares but like everything else in New York, the prices were mostly out of reach. Quality and provenance cost money no matter where you are and Williamsburg is no exception.
Fortunately, it’s free to meander and Brooklyn has enough great street art, open bars and charming cafés to keep it interesting. The streets really come alive in the evening as the hordes head out for dinner. As my mate observed, nearly everyone looks like a local but you’re constantly hearing foreign languages – unlike Joe Pesci in My Cousin Vinny, in Brooklyn, the tourists blend.
On Saturday we headed into Manhattan for an early stroll on the fabulous High Line, a formerly abandoned railway trestle that’s been converted into a 2.3 km park. The walk wends its way through the Meatpacking District and Chelsea from Gansevoort Street all the way up to West 34th Street.
The High Line attracts 5 million visitors per year and it gets mighty crowded which is why we decided on a morning visit. The views from the walkway are incredible and the path is lined with spectacular modern architecture, much of it residential. What impressed me so much about the High Line was the hardscape which has been beautifully designed.
After an hour-plus strolling we made our way back to the southern end where architect Renzo Piano’s new Whitney Museum of American Art, below, beckoned us on a tour of American modern art since 1900.
The current exhibition, America is Hard to See, is on until September 27. It’s an excellent survey of U.S. modern art featuring more than 600 works culled from the museum’s permanent collection. The show gave my man and I lots to talk about but we were just as blown away by the building’s expansive terraces with their spellbinding city and river views.
At the Whitney, even the elevators are canvases: the Museum commissioned artist Richard Artschwager to decorate four lifts with a work he called Six in Four. It was Artschwager’s last major project before his death in 2013.
Between the High Line and the Whitney we squeezed in an outrageous brunch at the glorious Santina, a sunny, Amalfi-coast-inspired resto that drew us inside with its sublime Murano light fixtures fashioned after flowers.
The room is anchored by a large Julian Schnabel plate painting depicting an island in the Mediterranean. I was just as smitten by the bathroom with its Dorothy Draper-style cabinet and effusive Majolica tiles. Never mind that brunch for two without drinks set us back nearly $100 CAD. I was in too good a mood after the High Line to worry about pinching pennies.
Otherwise our weekend was spent walking, shopping, and eating and drinking. Eating and drinking well for not that much money, brunch aside. Yes, the exchange rate is killing and it hurts most on accommodation where you really feel it.
There’s something almost otherworldly about New York City, that magical combination of modern architecture and 19th century authenticity. You never, ever doubt that you’re in one of the world’s great cities, possibly the greatest. I guarantee it won’t be 20 years before I get back there. In fact, there’s a Picasso sculpture exhibit that just opened at the MOMA that’s already on my radar. Stay tuned.
Photos by iPhone 6 (except Whitney Museum exterior courtesy Whitney Museum)