New York City, I love you…

23 March 2013
Ben Pentreath

I’m not so in love with New York anymore” said my friend Thomas the other day, and I can’t remember who else it was I was chatting to recently who was totally down on the whole NYC deal as well. I have a suspicion that the fashionable view is that the really creative stuff’s happening in London right now… an idea which, coincidentally, rather often seems to be promoted by really creative people who, um….happen to live in London. Geddit?

Well—you can say what you like, but I flipping adore New York. I guess, in part, the three days I’ve just spent were tinged with a bit of nostalgia, revisiting old haunts as well as visiting new ones, but… I don’t know, I think it goes deeper than that. I love the colours, size, vigour, strangeness, guts of New York so much; the palimpsest, the noise, the elements of chaos. I love the fact that history is simultaneously completely ignored but is a scratch below the surface (whereas we in London revere our history in a warm deadly bath of aspic while allowing toxic chain stores and ubiquity and blandness to overtake every nook and pore of our great city).

I love the fact that I know of NO other city in the world where people have so obviously collectively decided – now, today – that this is the way that great people are going to live in a civilised way in a city. To live and let live; to participate in Jane Jacobs’ ballet of sidewalk life…”not a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself”.

And I am afraid I don’t mean Paris, where (to my mind, am I alone?) there’s a touch of meanness these days, an edginess, despair even, that I find a little unsettling.  Rome: too much swagger, not enough action. Nor death in Venice, thank you very much. Berlin: wonderful Berlin, but it knows it’s not at the centre of the world.  Perhaps New York is losing its razor sharpness; perhaps I didn’t love the new profile of downtown with the ‘Freedom’ tower rising (which made one realise just how elegant that pair of towers were, how beautifully, unfailingly, they would locate you). Who knows, perhaps I need to get to China, or Brazil? I’m not sure. For me, I can’t think of any other place in any city in the world I’d sooner live than the richly textured streets of lower Manhattan.

There’s a whole funny joke out there, isn’t there, of certain magazines (who had better remain nameless) who once a year promote the idea that some random city in Sweden or Denmark is the most liveable place on earth; while curiously the editors, who are rather often telling us to disparage the city we live in, continue to carry on living in London themselves.   So I’m not going to fall in that particular trap. I’ve made a life in London, now, which I love, and I love our funny old chewed-up slipper of a city.

But can we have a shout for beautiful, messy, imperfect but perfect New York? I think I spent the happiest years of my life in her embrace, and nothing, nothing, nothing gives me such a shot in the arm as three days here. I’ve got to confess that arriving back this morning into the grey, frozen, wet sleet of London felt a little dull…. Please, spring, will you warm us soon?

A pair of stoops I designed in 2001, settling in nicely now:

Spring in Greenwich Village:

Hello Soho:

In the window of a Greenwich village pharmacy; old Doctor’s prescriptions:

Happiness: Brunch at Schiller’s:

Cafe Habana:

Old cast iron Soho:

Even more happiness: a liquid lunch at Odeon:

Civilised Wyeth:

The Freedom Tower rising (I miss the twin towers):

Olatz: the best bedlinen on earth (if you can cope with 5 years of poverty thereafter):

Life in New York is in the small details:

New York, I love you.

19 comments on this post

I love this post, its absolutely brilliant, not your generic topic of why people love New York, some great photo’s some people may think i’m boring but i absolutely love New York’s squashed architecture.

Somr stunning shots of New York buildings. I hope to go there myself one day!

Love New York, and with your pictures i begin to love it more!

Tim Ssays:

Love your writing, Ben. As a Londoner I loved “funny old chewed-up slipper of a city”…perfect.

It’s a pity that I haven’t been to New York yet. The photos and all these beautiful stores convinced me that this summer i should give it a try!

Always, always love New York! The second image looks like Sarah Jessica Parker’s front door in Greenwich Village, certainly her street anyway? (I recognised it from Anna Wintour’s presidential party last year.) New York is so glorious. I always get a little quiet when we drive in from JFK and the Chrysler Building rises up on the right. Next time you’ll have to stay at the NoMad Hotel; the interior is quite possibly the most beautiful in New York, if not the US. Tall call, I know. Schiller’s is lovely. My new favs are Joseph Leonard in Greenwich Village (if you like Balthazar and Schiller’s you’ll appreciate it), the John Dory Oyster Bar (same designers as the Ace), the beautiful emerald-green pub inside the Ace Hotel, the gorgeous new revamp of the Roger Hotel in the Flatiron (terrace suites for SO cheap), and the exquisite canary-yellow Caffe Storico in the New York Historical Society on Central Park. (The Historical Society is as interesting as the cafe.) Rizzoli Bookstore is beautiful too – has the most sublime mezzanine. Assouline’s bookstore is wonderful also. Oh, New York. London is always grand but New York is like the cheeky, slightly dangerous, downright sexy rebel of a boyfriend you had at 21 and can’t quite forget…


Janelle – so spot on IN EVERY DETAIL 😉

Sheena Wardsays:

Of course NYC is fabulous, always has been always will be. London is also fabulous, always has been, always will be.

Totally different cities.

Thanks for the great post and great images.


Beautiful photos accompanied by my favorite Jane Jacobs quote! You have to read deep into her book to reach that one.


Although I live in the U.S. I’ve only been to NYC once. Your photos brought back so many memories. Beautiful! But, “palimpsest”? I had to look that one up!

Great photos and those are really nice stoops!

Never been in NY but its one of my biggest dreams to go there. Thank you for posting here such a nice NY photographs…


Oh Ben you are so good at this. Stayed in a walk up last year on Bleecker street and doubt will ever go to a hotel again in New York. Airbnb is the way forward just wish could afford a longer stay. Until this post found it hard to describe the appeal of New York but this post has done the trick, thanks for brightening up a very dull Sunday.

Fabulous. My daughter and son-in-law have been living in Manhattan for four years and I have come to know the city a little too, very much in love with it, the eateries every twenty yards, the fabulous flower market on W28, dog walkers and their charges in the cafes in Central Park. It never fails to charm, even in the edgier places. A wonderful post, thanks.

Ben, this piece has just made me cry! Your words are magical, summing up my feelings for NYC like no one else has in a long long while!


New Yorker here. Thank you for the wonderful gift of your beautiful pictures. You capture so much of what our City is now.

Jill Rowesays:

I too thought that London was having an edgy moment and certainly it is pulsing on many different levels, but having lived in Manhattan since 1981 ~ it is an enduring and ever renewed love affair that I have with this city and always will. So glad you had a chance to visit your old stomping grounds and fall in love all over again!

Lisa (Los Angeles, CA)says:

I got a shot in the arm just looking at these pictures – thanks!

I adore New York! Thank you for these wonderful pictures.

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