“What are you doing here?” a confused Evan asks me at Doris, the new Clinton Hill hot spot. He is my barista at the Chelsea Cafe Grumpy that I frequent on my way to Vinyasa yoga class. For more than a year, Evan has seen me in my natural West Side habitat, making my soy cortados and engaging in pleasant/flirty conversation. His surprise at running into me in his Brooklyn stomping grounds puts what I have feared all too long into perspective: Manhattan has turned monochromatic. It is stagnant, boring, and a nightmare, which is why four to five nights a week I get on the train at some ungodly hour to the leave what is globally deemed the epicenter of the most desired city in the world to sip pale ale at an establishment made of reclaimed wood on the other side of the river.
I tell him I’m there for a friend’s party, worried that I have been recognized as an impostor. I’m some endangered creature still gripping on to my past. What’s a Manhattan girl to do in the era of Brooklyn’s turn as the star borough?
While the rest of my friends have already made the great migration from their East Village studios to inhabit sprawling flats with roof decks and community gardens in Brooklyn, I still remain trapped in my Peter Dinklage-sized Chelsea shoe box (However, Tyrion Lannister does live a few blocks from me). The asphalt jungle is more like an asphalt jungle gym.
I moved to Alphabet City the day after I graduated high school in June of 2007. Obsessed with Rent, I truly believed that I could have an authentic bohemian experience with an entourage of drag queens, artists, and sexy heroin chic hotties, minus the disease, deprivation, and crime (as this was post Giuliani’s golden gentrification). I wanted to smoke cigarettes on my fire escape in the dog days of summer and envelope this magical empire that I had fantasized living in since elementary school. And, for the most part, I have for the past six years.
One Friday night, another Manhattanite and I decided to give the Lower East Side a shot instead of bitching that we have to get on a train and leave the island for some casual entertainment in Brooklyn. Hot, loud, and crowded with B and T’s, below Houston Street has finally met its demise into the inferno of monotonous douchebaggery.
With our pride refusing to let us admit defeat and get on the L train, we decided to stick it out and make the most out of Ludlow Street. Walking by Pianos, the overpowering scent of Axe body spray permeated with desperation to obtain the usual plastic heeled-cankled lasses with the thick LI and Jersey accents and even thicker layers of bronzer, to perhaps go for a romp in a “nice” Murray Hill flat.
Next we tried Skinny’s, which was shut down to make room for a parking structure. Motor City, where I used to go frequently to dance in college was boarded up and abandoned. I knew it was time to get the grave marker for Manhattan at Cake Shop, where I saw a guy’s nipples peeking out from underneath faded denim overalls. The girl next to him had an “alternative” haircut in a hideous Blossom-esque floral dress that drowned whatever freshmen 15 she was clearly trying to mask. And the white kid outside with the post-punk studded vest with all the usual patches, safety pins, and not-ironic statements remained plastered onto his gangly physique like some disheveled flag on the most dog-eat-dog battlefield. All that was missing was some fucking Lisa Frank dolphin stickers to make this into even more of 1994-day care.
This is how Dirk Diggler must have felt when he came face to face with Johnny Doe, the “new kid on the street.” The painful recognition that the Lower East Side on a Friday is no longer a happening spot is literally screaming in my face at Cake Shop while I’m squashed between a huddled mass of 19 year olds sipping vodka sodas.
I used to be that 19 year old with my immaculate fake ID, traipsing up and down the island like I owned it. No bar or club was off limits. Whether it was smoking yellow packs of American Spirits inside at Lit, cavorting with older boring finance douche bags at the Gansevoort rooftop bar, or sucking at pool per usual at Max Fish, those days are no more. I’m painfully discovering that places that I used to inhabit with other privileged transplants are turning into just fond collegiate memories. When you’re standing in front of a boarded up Max Fish, you realize the owners are doing what every other 20-something has already done: moving to Brooklyn.
Returning home on the L train Eighth Avenue bound with smudgy raccoon eyes and the stale fragrance of perfume spritzed from 12 hours prior on a Tuesday morning with the “commuters” is deemed backwards, but has become my norm. Once upon a time, the young people of the tri-state area lived in the boroughs and worked/played in the city. Now, the city is considered only a place of commerce and the socialization, sleeping and Sunday brunches are done within a few block radiuses of most Brooklyn apartments. Why come into Manhattan to be inundated with B and T bullshit with the wide-striped tacky button downs from Express and bronzed up body barely squeezing into that Forever 21 cocktail catastrophe? I should be with the rest of my eco-chic and trendy peers biking around the ‘Burg or sipping coconut milk white Russians in Bushwick on the regular.
What is a poor Chelsea girl to do? I gaze enviously out from my fire escape as herds of tourists parade on the Highline. They don’t know how much I suffer. They are free to walk single file and eat their People’s Pops but have no real understanding of the constant dilemma I encounter as a 24 year-old L.A. native stuck on 10th avenue. I beg to differ with Cherry and Ponyboy: We’re not all watching the same sunset, because it looks a hell of a lot better over craft beers and farm to table local kale salad then in some fake Louboutin, Meat Packing purgatory with Avicii blasting me from all fronts.
Yet, I refuse to give up on the borough that first enchanted me at 15 and didn’t card me for my belly button piercing on St. Marks Place. I can’t turn my back on the metropolis that has watched me metamorphosize into a walking Yelp for Manhattan services. I know what time to call Please Don’t Tell for a reservation (not that anyone still goes there) or where to get an amazing Brazilian wax. While Roberta’s currently triumphs over Magnolia cupcakes on the hip scale, to have a zip code that started with a “11” instead of a “10” just feels wrong. While Brooklyn may be exuding the Technicolor dreams of millennial promise, it lacks the Woody Allen charm and magic which Manhattan dreams are made of. Even if it remains in black and white, the Manhattan moments of getting stoned in Sheep’s Meadow and endlessly wondering around the Met are timeless, and no Brooklyn microbrewery or warehouse party can even come close to recreating.
So reluctantly, I must say RIP Manhattan; you’ve held my hair back when I have screwed up and have cultured me into the woman I am today. While I’m not running off to live in a shared artists space comprised of fixed geared bicycles in your blossoming little sister Brooklyn, I’m holding my ground and going down with the ship like any loyal captain would do. So wake me up when it’s all over because the sunset looks the best from my fire escape, watching the people enjoy their pops and knowing deep down inside that secretly all of my Brooklyn buddies would fuck a Republican just to have this view.