MT Rainey’s Big Apple Diary

I’m in another New York City blackout. Major outage west of midtown to Jersey City. Hell’s Kitchen got cold. Times Square flickered. CBS went quiet. Gridlock ensued. Tempers frayed. The thirty degree heat intensified, unmitigated, unchallenged, un “conditioned”. Quite prosaic really. Compared to the last one.

On another hot summer evening in 2003 a major blackout took out the whole of the U.S. Northeast for around 18 hours. I was in the West Village with friends and people who became friends. Restaurants had no power to cook or refrigerate and many closed. But some small bistros stayed open. Candlelight, bread, cheese and wine was plentiful. As the evening wore on you could hear the spontaneous combustion of many happy social gatherings on the stoops and doorsteps, balconies and rooftops of New York. Pitch black. No light for a thousand miles. No one wanted this gift of an antediluvian dream to end. A starry firmament rose over the silhouette of Jersey City. Strangely romantic. A light breeze blew over the Hudson. We could have been in Greece. I’m sure everyone who was there treasures this bittersweet insight, this strange gift. That night.

“Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe 
And I will buy you a bottle of wine
And we’ll laugh and toast to nothing and 
Smash our empty glasses down
Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers
A round for these friends of mine
Let’s have another round for the bright red devil, who
Keeps me in this tourist town
Come on Carey get out your cane (Carey get out your cane)
And I’ll put on some silver (I’ll put on some silver)
Oh you’re a mean old Daddy, but I like you
I like you, I like you, I like you
Maybe I’ll go to Amsterdam
Or maybe I’ll go to Rome
And rent me a grand piano and put some flowers ’round my room
But let’s not talk about fare-thee-wells now
The night is a starry dome
And they’re playin’ that scratchy rock and roll
Beneath the Matalla Moon

Automatic Slims

Drawn to my old West Village neighbourhood yesterday. Changed utterly. A terrible beauty etc etc. When I lived there, on Perry St, there were only a handful of very local joints. All different, all memorable, all gone. Tortilla Flats, rickety tables under shady vines and fantastic Mexican food, now no more but the old sign hangs on. Florent, an all night French diner and the very heart of the downtown scene. The White Horse pub on 7th Avenue, frequented by us Brits. Now closing. The Mineshaft of course, of which I only heard tell. And Automatic Slims: “One Bar Under a Groove”. A tiny corner bar with the best jukebox in New York, before the days of Spotify. Actually it’s still there but opens late till early so I missed it this time around. Further west from 14th St the leafy cobbled streets are still peaceful and charming. The high rises on the Hudson are much less appealing to me though the most aspirational real estate in New York. On the upside there’s the Whitney and the Highline and many more wonderful little places to eat. I went to look at the Whitney Biennial and was bemused. Still love my old favourites there. Man Ray’s beautiful sculpture “New York”, made in the machine age, as young Robert Moses (read The Power Broker by Robert Caro) started to shape the City, seemed particularly poignant to me. Lunch btw was on the roof of Soho House under a canopy facing downtown and away from a pool full of the young cool.

All that jazz 

The kind of jazz you hope to walk into in any Jazz Bar in the world. Fantastic young pianist Joe Alterman and his trio run through his own compositions and a few of the classics reimagined. Oscar Peterson, Ahmad Jamal, Ramsay Lewis and…. Marvin Gaye. Listen to the end. It’s a treat. Thanks, Matt.

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