I literally just finished reading Last Exit to Brooklyn this evening (so I’ll have to do a book review really soon), and it made me so glad I don’t live in that part of Brooklyn…at least in that time period. Now Brooklyn seems to be a pretty happy place of plaid-wearing, bike-pedaling, vinyl-loving, thrifting vegans and their friends. More on Brooklyn and the horribly depressing book about it later because I want to be selfish and talk about my own NYC neighborhood!
If you look at a map or just good ol’ Google, you’ll know that East 82nd Street is in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. So you might think that it’s straight out of Gossip Girl:
OK, maybe that’s just me because that’s my guilty pleasure TV show (don’t judge). And yes, there has to be lots of wealthy people living along 5th near Central Park. In fact, Madonna owns a $40 million mansion on East 81st. $40 million! I don’t even know where the number came from when I researched this (you know, Googled), but that is a really big number.
But where I live is, well, we’ll just say that it is much closer to the East River than Central Park. Technically, if you walk aaaaall the way down our street toward the park, you’ll eventually encounter this:
Voila! The front steps of the Met. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, everybody. Which I have yet to visit since moving to New York. I’m saving it for a rainy/blustery winter day, when indoor activities are best. Lately, it’s been too gorgeous to not spent time outdoors in one of the parks on the weekend. Plus, one of my favorite areas of Central Park, the Conservatory Boat Pond, is very close to an edge of the park bordering the UES.
However, like I said, it’s a bit of a hike. Although it’s a fun hike, because as you walk in a westward direction along East 82nd, you can actually feel the rent prices steadily hiking up and sidewalks becoming sparkling clean. This is because such buildings have doormen that must hose off the ground literally every time a pedestrian, especially a canine-toting pedestrian, walks past. Or so it seems.
Also, it’s fun to walk past Park Ave. and look downtown toward the MetLife building and remind yourself that you actually live in New York City.
We live in a more down-to-earth neighborhood within the UES: Yorkville. Even the name is down-to-earth! Yorkville was once heavily populated by Eastern European immigrants from the likes of Poland, Ukraine, and Hungary, as well as a decent number of Irish and German families. East 86th, which remains the main commercial street of our area–it’s where the metro stop and movie theater is located and a bunch of large chain stores/restaurants like H&M, Banana Republic, and Best Buy–has always been the hub of Yorkville and was once known as the “German Broadway” as well as “Sauerkraut Boulevard.”
Today there are very few remnants of the neighborhood’s cultural roots. Two long-lasting German establishments, The Heidelberg Restaurant and Schaller & Weber, continue to preserve their heritage through the well-respected tradition of German sausages. 😉 I’ve also noticed a number of local parishes that reflect some of the original residents, like St. Stephen of Hungary Catholic Church, which is just down our street (one Mass each weekend is celebrated in Hungarian), and St. Joseph’s, which is a few blocks away (once a month, they have a German Mass).
I also found something else hilarious in my research of the history of Yorkville. Apparently there was a children’s book set in the area called Incident in Yorkville. From my understanding, the story is the tale of a young German-American who is pro-Nazi and part of the Hitler Youth and the conflict that inevitably caused with the all-American, anti-Nazi family upstairs (this is a very, very brief and probably mostly inaccurate summary). The book takes place at the fictitious address of 260 E. 84th St., just two blocks away from real marches held on E. 86th St. (Sauerkraut Ave., remember?) by the German American Bund. Yorkville was closely watched by the FBI during WWII because of the large German population, and several raids were conducted in the area to arrest alien enemies who were supporters of the Third Reich.
HISTORY, IT IS ALL AROUND US.
Especially if you live in a pre-war walk-up. There are a number of high-rise condos in the neighborhood, and while I’m sure they have spiffy modern conveniences like central A/C and elevators and doormen, I couldn’t be happier with my four-flight climb each day. There’s nothing that quite says living in New York like hauling your shopping cart full of groceries up the front stoop and then remembering you still have to get them ALL THE WAY UPSTAIRS. Seriously though, living in an old building is charming, and ours has been recently renovated, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds, you know? Old-school, super-fast-cookin’ gas stove top with gorgeous granite counter tops.
The avenue we live closest to is York Ave., which I’m sure some New Yorkers don’t even know exists because it disappears when you head further downtown (let’s not even talk about East End Ave.). I love this avenue because it is. completely. devoid. of. tourists. Having lived for some time in an area of Florida quite frequented by tourists, I am familiar with the breed. Of course, I’ve been a tourist myself many times, so I can’t dislike the people. My main issue with some of these individuals is their need to videotape everything, and I mean everything, on their NYC trip. Pictures I totally get. Tweets and FB statuses are cool, too. But the videos? Does anyone ever actually watch the 40-minute footage of their trek around the Financial District again?
I’m losing my focus here. The point is that York Ave. is a quiet place full of nannies pushing strollers and elderly folks who have probably lived here since the Incident in Yorkville took place, college students enjoying the fairly reasonable rent (for Manhattan), and young professionals like myself and my husband. There are a lot of little restaurants, convenience stores, grocers, hair and nail salons, laundromats/cleaners, and the occasional bank, school, or post office lining the street. Most are locally owned places, too, which is a welcome change from East 86th & Lex, where with such nationally known chains, you might as well be in any other major city in America and throw in a few iconic yellow NYC cabs for fun.
We also live really close to Carl Schurz Park, which is also great because it is completely devoid of tourists. This place is Nanny Central during the weekdays–once I even saw a goofy man playing child-friendly songs on his guitar to a whole crowd of nannies and their tots–and also dog central (if all of the UES isn’t Dog Central, I don’t know what is) because they have two off-leash dog run areas. The park has everything you could want: grassy, shady areas; a children’s playground; a basketball court; public restrooms; a covered picnic area; and a lovely paved walk overlooking the East River.
Gracie Mansion is also tucked away in the park. Built in 1799, this lovely abode is the official residence of the mayor of New York. Bloomberg doesn’t live there though; he does use the house for official meetings and events. You can walk all around its well-secured borders, but you cannot enter, sadly, unless you are visiting for official city business.
From what I can tell, a lot of cafes, diners, and even one of the local USPS branches are named “Gracie,” in reference to either the mansion itself or Archibald Gracie, the Scottish-born shipping magnate who made it big as a merchant in NYC and built, of course, the Gracie Mansion. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but it’s what I’d like to think.
Let’s talk about the wildlife of Yorkville! By wildlife, I mean completely spoiled city dogs of all sizes, shapes, colors, and breeds. New Yorkers are well-known for having dogs and taking them with them everywhere (hey, it could get lonely living here by yourself!), but I swear the UES is extra-obsessed. People take their dogs with them into the bank, to outdoor dining areas (a way to guarantee business as a restaurant), and even to bars. Occasionally, these dogs are retrievers, labs, or St. Bernards, but usually they are dogs our cat could eat for breakfast. Hence, the title of this post.
Disclaimer: I am 125 percent a cat-person, but now that I get to watch the dog parade around my neighborhood on a daily basis, I think it would be really awesome to get a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel one day because they are super-adorable.
That’s all I have to say about Yorkville for now. Maybe my fond opinion of the area will change when I have to walk to the subway in the icy cold winter, but for now I think it’s a good transition to city life. Some people might think it’s too quiet/safe/clean/boring (uhhh, boring?!? clearly they didn’t know about the Nazis), but I like it. If I want to enjoy nightlife, I’ll go to the East Village or some place where that’s a big thing. But when I want some place where I can feel safe walking to the drugstore by myself at night or can read quietly in a park, I know Yorkville is my go-to place.