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Sunday, 1 July 2012

Tourist in My Town

New York City feels to me like a place I will never have fully explored, and that makes it even more appealing - it remains quite the elusive figure: she whose depths will never quite be plumbed. Luckily, excited friends visiting often have their own ideas about fun places to go. And I can host and go along for the ride.

My great friend Nina visited me a couple of weeks back, armed with the latest copy of Time Out - circled in black throughout with the must-sees and the might-sees. I've known Nina for ten years, since we both worked on an American study abroad program(me) in Oxford, she as a visiting professor, I as British student mentor. On our very first day of meeting we discovered a shared love of literature, films and cocktails. A potent combination for friendship. Ten years later our weekend plans, perhaps unsurprisingly, included a bar or four, a movie and a trip to St Mark's book store.

The Original Speakeasy Look

A long established trend in the city of New York is a revisiting of the drinking heritage of speakeasies. Once the way around the prohibition era, the speakeasies paved the way for women's entry into bar life. (Well, if you make drinking in bars illegal for everyone, what's to say that some are more illegal than others?) An FBI study proved that the longest time it took - across America - to get an illegal drink in any such speakeasy from the time one arrived at any railway station, was about 3 minutes. (In New Orleans they even had a speakeasy in the station. Smart thinking!)

Two modern speakeasies of note are PDT (Please Don't Tell) - which I will obey and leave mysterious for now (though I'm pretty sure that those in the know need no telling anyhow) and Death and Company. Addams' Family-style doors and a sombre, soberly dressed doorman lead the way into the dark bar, lit by candles and not much else. Air conditioning and credit card payments the two key modern attributes of this otherwise authentic looking bar. Well, that and the hipster clientele.

A candle-lit Vesper - chilled and delicious

Further to the speakeasy trend, the prevalence of bearded New York city bar tenders only contributes to the air of casual subversiveness. I'm not quite sure why this is. Bill Bryson is someone I'd never describe as casually subversive in this way, beard or no beard, but the young, bristly bearded men seem like they've said, "Aesthetically I'm over the studied chic. It's time to let it all hang out." So maybe Sixties cocktail lounges will be next.

Visiting Gilbert and George's London Pictures, East Village NYC

Discovering new places with old friends is one of the greatest pleasures of catching up - when there's so much in the way of catch up conversation, but there's also enough new experience in the mix that one can fluctuate between the two - take a break from one and get back to the other. Bar hopping, gallery dipping, cinema viewing (we saw Headhunters - Danish crime / suspense drama) and book shop browsing provided perfectly poised antidotes for our incessant catch up chatter.

Sushi at Ooki, to finish it all off on Saturday night, was a perfect end to a perfect 'staycation' with a great friend.

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