After September 11, 2001, longtime friends of my in-laws sent around an email detailing a new emergency response plan. Should all forms of modern communication cut out once again, we were to follow one simple directive: Head to McSorley’s.
Located at 15 East 7th Street in the once dangerous but now hipster Lower East Side, McSorley’s serves beer. You must buy two–either light or dark–and you must keep drinking to keep your seat. When I first moved to the area we went once a month on Saturday afternoon, crammed around tiny wooden tables and ordered rounds. And plates of cheese and crackers, with slices of onion and extra sharp mustard. There was nothing hip, cool, insider, or happening about it but to me it represented the best of New York.
Until 1998 when I caught a striped bass.
The best essay published to date on the city was was written in 1949 by E.B White. The best book detailing its modern infrastructure is The Powerbroker by Robert Caro. There are countless others but no matter how many books you read, nothing will emotionally prepare you for the moment when you look up to see the other passengers move from one end of a crowded subway car to get away from the half-naked, face-painted man twisting animal balloons. And he’s sitting next to you.
I once lived in Hoboken, New Jersey, which a friend of mine from Brooklyn referred to as, “The Gateway to the West.”
There is the idea that New York is the center of the Universe. (And the idea, pointed out by residents, that the least “New York” area of the city is its most visited.) This is just an article of faith, but at least one aspect about New York is grounded in fact: the heart of the city sits on an island in the tidal section of a striped bass spawning river.
The young fish that show themselves in the backwaters of the boroughs and suburbs of the Sound each spring are Hudson fish. News travels fast in the big city (and everywhere) and if you blink you’ve missed it.