Let me start with a disclaimer: I am well aware that visitors to New York come here for the city's most famous sights: the U.N., Broadway Shows, Rockefeller Center, Ground Zero, the "Met", Museum of Modern Art, the Opera, the Empire State Building, Fifth Avenue. But they miss something, in my prejudiced view, by failing to sample the unique New York life that several major neighborhoods offer.
As an example: to the Manhattan area in which I live, scarcely any tourists ever go, though it is located less than a half-hour's walk from Times Square. If they ever did make the trip, they'd find that my residential district--the so-called "Upper West Side"--is a brilliant example of the cultural and commercial variety of New York City, the reason so many people worship this town. And they'd be impressed by my "upper west side", even though it is not nearly as outstanding in cultural and commercial wonders as several other New York neighborhoods--Greenwich Village, The East Village, The Lower East Side, Soho and Chelsea--are.
In the competition among New York areas, the Upper West Side is very definitely an "also ran". And yet let me list the treasures that I am able to enjoy in a single, twenty-one-block walk from 62nd Street to 83rd Street along Broadway, the artery of my district.
On that relaxed stroll through a largely-residential area, I am able to reach three remarkable art movie houses (Lincoln Plaza, Elinor Bunin, Walter Reade) playing a continuing total of at least 15 works from the best of the world's film industry, the kind of movies to which the rest of America rarely has access; I can also visit a theater--the Beacon--presenting live renditions of the best in popular music and musical performers. As I walk along, I pass countless small ethnic restaurants that aren't confined to the seafood and Italian dishes of most other American cities, but include Greek, Thai, Indonesian, Japanese, French, Israeli, and heaven knows how many other ethnic eateries. I can visit and shop in three of the world's finest and largest groceries and fine food shops--Zabar's, Fairway and Citarella--that would cause shoppers from other cities to gnash their teeth in envy. I can pause for a snack and meal at a dozen sidewalk cafes and restaurants, and shop at scores of individually-owned small stores--not the faceless chains of the shopping malls--but independent emporiums behind street-level plateglass windows, and yet surrounded by residential apartment houses.
As my stroll continues , I pass several blocks where piles of second-hand books are heaped on the sidewalk for sale to passers-by; I spot other card tables stacked with brochures for various political causes, attended by dedicated partisans hoping to persuade. I can walk into a Mormon Temple, a Jewish Synagogue, a number of Catholic and Protestant churches, and--through a short half-block sidestreet detour--I can patronize various off-Broadway theaters and yoga centers.
These are just samples of the cultural and commercial variety that I enjoy, in a neighborhood that is regarded with disdain by residents of other areas--like the "Village"--who claim that we Upper West Siders are a bunch of mild-mannered, stodgy "suburbanites" as compared with the people who inhabit neighborhoods of New York with far more small playhouses, art movie theaters, and ethnic restaurants. No wonder New Yorkers claim that New York City is the most interesting metropolis in America!
The source of the above put-down of the Upper West Side and simultaneous tribute to Greenwich Village and other cultural enclaves, is my daughter, Pauline Frommer, author of our recently-published Easy Guide to New York City. Pauline is a New Yorker born and bred, an intense "foodie" and theatergoer, a person who goes with her husband and two daughters to countless, continuing cultural events in the city, and who is the author of award-winning guidebooks to New York prior to her latest work. The American Society of Travel Writers has named her former guidebook to New York as "best of the year" and is about to judge for a similar award a nomination of her current book.
Though I am far from impartial, I predict you will be fascinated by, and also indebted to, the intensely practical, personal, and provocative, information in her Easy Guide to New York City, available at all bookstores.