Pizza, museums and record shops in NYC

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You wouldn’t think it was that difficult to find good pizza in New York City. Maybe my mind has been irreparably damaged by an excess of good Neapolitan pizza, and maybe I even, at some psychological level, didn’t really believe that I would find as good pizza in the US as in Italy, but whatever the case, I was disappointed.

I wonder what amount of the enjoyment of food is knowing that something so good didn’t cost a lot, but anyway, I had one pizza that cost $32. It was ok. It wasn’t worth that much. It was big though and I shared it with someone else at Di Fara pizzeria in Midwood, Brooklyn. The Google summary of the place says “Pizza fans trek to this no-frills Midwood storefront & queue up to partake of its storied slices.” For somewhere with so few frills, the pizza costs a surprising amount.

Less expensive was Juliana’s pizzeria below the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side. There’s a couple of well known pizzerias there with Grimaldi’s next door, which I think is run by the same chef. I think the margherita there was $23, but for some reason they put the cheese on the bottom and tomato sauce on top, which seemed pointless to me. You’ll notice I just kept on eating margheritas, either because I’m boring, or in a vain attempt to perform a kind of control experiment to see who can do the most basic pizza well.

Again, it was ok, but by this time I was starting to get the feeling that NYC was just stupidly expensive. Third time lucky, I went to a branch of Roberta’s Pizza in Manhattan, based in Urbanspace Vanderbilt, which is a food hall similar in concept to Mercato Metropolitano in London’s Elephant and Castle, which also has a good pizza place called La Neapolitana, which I would recommend. Anyway, Roberta’s was good, and cost a much more reasonable $16. The margherita at La Neapolitana used to cost £7 but recently went up to £8. So, that’s all I’m saying.

Oh, I also went to Roberta’s Pizza with my friend Manu from university, which may have made improved the experience as it was good to catch up with someone I hadn’t seen for years.

By this point I’d really had pretty much enough of pizza and I was ready to start a fight with someone on the subway, which someone tried to do to me at some point. ‘Why don’t you hit me, you pussy?’ he said as I got off the subway car, inexplicably attempting to goad me into fighting a clearly unhinged man who I did not know in front of a nonplussed crowd of commuters. I’m trying to get somewhere buddy, and I know how much it costs to visit the hospital in this country. Maybe I would be angry too if I regularly had to pay over $30 for pizza.

It was time to stop eating and hand over my money to see some culture instead. I would definitely recommend the International Center of Photography Museum on the Lower East Side, which had a great exhibition of photographs of the history of Hip Hop, which was about $16. It included a lot of contact sheets, which photographers used to give to artists for them to choose which photos they liked best, so you can see the consideration that went into deciding the cover art for many classic Hip Hop albums.

I met some of the Wikimedia New York City guys while I was there. Richard Knipel works as a Wikimedian in Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so he kindly got me in there for free, and we spent a few hours exploring mostly the American sections, and some of the African and Australasian art too. Comparable to the British Museum, it would be hard to do the whole thing on one visit alone, and it’s $25 if you do pay to go.

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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is also $25, but arguably the collections there have the closest connection to New York itself as an important cultural centre of modern art. We went on the weekend, and it was probably too crowded, especially compared to the Met, where I went on a weekday, and you can see in the photos the difference in the numbers of people there. So if you have a choice, you might not want to go on a weekend to any of the big museums. I would have liked a bit more peace and calm to sit and enjoy a Pollock drip painting or a Warhol Monroe.

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We did a lot of the iconic-but-boring shit that you don’t need me to tell you about like walking in Central Partk (too cold in February, Strawberry Fields is just an underwhelming tiled mosaic), eating in Katz’s deli (where the Harry Met Sally orgasm scene was filmed – very good pastrami, don’t try and eat a whole sandwich by yourself, you will die), went to have a look at the Brooklyn Bridge, but didn’t bother to get the Staten Island ferry to see Lady Liberty.

Slightly more off the beaten track, we went to see the Biggie mural (there’s lots of murals everywhere, largely to iconic black cultural figures, which is cool), we went to record shops like the A1 Record Shop in the East Village, (good selection, a bit small and hard to move around in) and The Mixtape Shop near the Biggie Mural in Brooklyn, which is also a coffee shop and more spacious. There’s a ton of other record stores in Brooklyn which I didn’t have time to visit but would love to go back to, like Second Hand Records NYC, Northern Lights Records, Human Head Records and Superior Elevation Record Store.  By far the biggest record shop in NYC however is Rough Trade in Williamsburg. The company started in London and opened in NYC in 2012 in a venue which has a medium sized performace venue where we also saw Israeli indie band Lola Marsh play.

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If I was going to live in NYC, I’d probably choose either Williamsburg or the East Village. They were both really lively, and Williamsburg has a warehouse district with a good flea market which moves indoors for winter.

In the East Village, I enjoyed the bar Proletariat, though the name was a bit ironic considering the (admittedly very good) beer cost $10 for a 14 ounce. If you’re not American, beer sizes by weight won’t make any sense at all, but they’re roughly equivalent to normal beer sizes in Continental Europe, and look rather small to a British person used to pints. There’s a lot of good sounding ramen noodle places in the East Village I didn’t have time to try (we did go to Samurai Mama in Williamsburg, which I thought was generally good), though I would have liked to try Ichiran (in Koreatown, Midtown or Brooklyn), solely from seeing a friend’s Instagram post which shows that the restaurant has a no tipping policy, because fuck tipping. That nonsense puts you in a constant war with workers who are probably getting underpaid by their bosses. Pay your workers properly, don’t leave it up to the customer.

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Other good bars we went to were Two-Bit’s Retro Arcade near the East Village, Spuyten Duyvil in Williamsburg, and Billymark’s West north of Chelsea on the West Side, which had absolutely no frills whatsoever. We went there after seeing PunchDrunk’s immersive theatre show Sleep No More ($109 tickets) at the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea, and needed a less expensive drink than the $16 cocktails in the hotel bar. I’ve seen PunchDrunk shows in London before and they didn’t cost more than £40 as far as I remember, though if you love immersive theatre it’s probably worth the extortionate ticket price. Anyway, Billymark’s West was a proper dive bar, and we got chatting to a guy who had some kind of vague job at the US Department of Defense, and the barman, a real old New Yorker who had also been in the military, and the two military guys proceeded to have an amusingly macho argument about whose military service was tougher. Ahhh, America.

Anyway, that was a lot of consumption. It’s sort of traditional for Europeans to go to America and say ‘ohmygod there’s so much stuff everywhere, why all this consumption guys?’ but really it is quite insane. NYC is just about to ban single use plastic bags, so yay I guess. As the comedian Ronny Chieng says, America’s airspace at this point is just Amazon deliveries flying around and bumping into each other. I’m also reminded of the comedian Bill Hicks, who said ‘If you think you’re free, try going anywhere without money’.

So I’m not sure I learned anything about culture, society or the US concept of freedom as something that comes with a price tag, but I did take this photo in a supermarket of a stack of sugar with a flag sticking out of it, and it probably says something deep about commodity fetishism and the reification of the product that slavery helped to mass produce. But I don’t know what that is and I’ve got a lot of other things to do than write a travel blog that nobody will read. Goodbye.

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