The Big Apple is learning to live again


The Russian businessman I was having a drink with lived in London. “I prefer London to New York right now; in London not everyone talks about their depleted bank balance; in New York everyone does,” he said. I agreed. But then a friend took me for a late dinner at a restaurant I’d never heard of, Charles in the West Village.

I expected the usual: a near empty restaurant and, given the hour – 10.30pm – to see most of the clientele leaving, not arriving. So I was shocked to see an unbelievably handsome guy in his twenties open the door. Behind him was a packed space fizzing with energy, sexuality and fun. This was the New York I used to know but which these days feels like a forgotten dream.

The room was bursting. There was not a seat left at the bar, though the waiter was quick to serve the drinks. Beautiful young women spilled out of revealing, barely-there tops while their dates consumed vodka like it was going out of fashion.

The secret to the place’s success, I was told, was that the six young founders all had “day jobs” but at night put their energy into running the place like old fashioned maĆ®tre d’s. They took turns seating people, opening the door, making guests welcome. For eight months the place has been heaving – which means their ingenuity has paid off.

They’re not the only ones. One former Morgan Stanley employee, having been laid off, is now reportedly making $160,000 as a pole dancer. Intriguingly, she says she finds her new working environment more comfortable than her old one (Morgan Stanley later said she’d only been a temp). Still, I must say I did stop and wonder for a second whether I should take pole-dancing lessons. I even have a French friend who could teach me.

Such stories of New York’s inventiveness are inspiring. I’m reminded of a man I spoke to over the summer. He had been laid off from work and marched up and down Park Avenue wearing a billboard that advertised he was for hire. His tactics paid off and he is now employed.

So I say to my Russian friend: come back to New York! It isn’t the one-dimensional place we thought. The Big Apple may be down – but it is most certainly not out. V

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