Get your motor running in NYC

13_nyc

The world’s most beguiling city can now claim its most memourable tour: a miniature road trip through its neighbourhoods in a classic, guzzling ’75 Chevy ragtop

There are probably saner and healthier ways to see New York City in the wintertime than from the back seat of a fire-engine red Chevrolet Caprice Classic convertible, but there can’t be any more American ones. Once the domain of necking teenage couples in the 1950s, the backseat of a Chevy is about as American as apple pie and an outstanding way to experience the skyscrapers, shops, restaurants, bridges, tunnels and potholes of New York. 

My guide for the day is Isaac Komin, a born and bred Brooklynite who escorts curious visitors in his mint-condition 1975 Caprice, a car built during a time when bigger was better and white vinyl was the new black leather. We start off in downtown Greenwich Village, where the city’s wealthiest tenants lived when it was known as New Amsterdam; then, everywhere above 14th Street was covered in farmland. Rents in the Village today are the highest in the city – upwards of 3000 dollars per month for a one-bedroom apartment. 

Many downtown New York streets are embedded with Belgian block cobblestones that arrived here in the ballast of freight and passenger ships during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when these stones clattered with horses’ hooves. We cruise by Washington Square Park, whose 23-metre-high marble arch was modelled after the Arc de Triomphe to commemorate the presidency of George Washington. When he led his defence against the British in 1776, Washington lived on Charlton Street in SoHo, where Beaux-Arts façades of red brick and cast iron are grandly ornamented with classically-inspired colonnades, projecting cornices and recessed bay windows. 

Washington later decamped further downtown to the Financial District in a three-storey mansion on Cherry Street, a street that once opened into a country scene of working farms and cherry orchards. Today, it's a few blocks from the gaping, 16-acre hole where the twin towers once stood, now filled in by the beginnings of Daniel Liebeskind's Freedom Tower. 

We traverse the Brooklyn Bridge, whose Gothic granite towers were New York’s first skyscrapers. When built in 1883, the bridge was the tallest and longest structure in the world, emblematic of the epoch’s optimism and of the human desire to harness and control technology. Just opposite the East River is Brooklyn Heights, a neighbourhood of quiet lanes and cul-de-sacs where dashing couples jog in college sweatshirts and young besuited men read The New York Times inside smoothie cafés. 

Isaac and I hightail it through other parts of Brooklyn – Sunset Park, Fort Greene, DUMBO – and end up in Williamsburg, where I wolf down what is possibly the best Cuban sandwich of my life. The shivery streets of Brooklyn are bathed in bright sunlight and agust with biting curtains of wind, the steel skyscrapers of Manhattan visible just beyond. The world, to paraphrase Aristotle, “must appear strange and wonderful” – which it most certainly does when the roof is open, your head is cranked back gazing upwards and someone else is chauffeuring you through the most diverse and captivating city on the planet. 

FACTBOX

New York Fun Tours (+1 212 924-9712; www.newyorkfuntours.com) offers the Chevy convertible tour for approx. $145 per person, with room for four)

5 hip downtown hotels

The Bowery Hotel (+1 212 505-9100; www.theboweryhotel.com). Swank spot with sumptuous rooms of exposed wood, faded Persian carpets and marble. Big with the it crowd.

The Gansevoort (+1 212 206-6700; www.hotelgansevoort.com). Minimalist-chic aesthetic with pumping lounge music and beautiful people. Top floor rooms have super city/river views.

Gild Hall (+1 212 232-7700; www.wallstreetdistrict.com). Great downtown getaway featuring brown leather headboards and Sferra linens. Wonderful lobby bar with resplendent couches.

The Maritime (+1 212 242-4300; www.themaritimehotel.com). Unhurried, unpretentious Chelsea gem offering cosy blue rooms with river views, a lobby fireplace and simmering rooftop lounge.

The Strand (+1 212 448-1024; www.thestrandnyc.com). A downtown ethos at this midtown hotel, with 177 retro-modern rooms that sport jaw-dropping views of the Empire State Building.

Text and photo by Roger Norum
A version of this article was previously published in Finnair´s Blue Wings magazine (February 2010).

Published August 2, 2011

Category: Local features

Cat_en_featured
Cat_en_blog
Cat_en_latest
Cat_en_event
Cat_en_pdf
Cat_en_video
Cat_en_video
Cat_en_blog_small
Cat_en_blog_small
Cat_en_blog_small
Cat_en_blog_small
Cat_en_blog_small