David Rakoff’s new collection of essays, Half Empty, out this week, isn’t just brimming with glass-half-full pessimism. The thesis is worse than that: “[T]he world is going to hell in a hand-basket and the nerds and geeks will someday be the globe’s financial and political tyrants.” That said, Rakoff does live in New York City, which, despite gentrification and Donald Trump and the Mets’ pitiful record, hasn’t been completely ruined yet. And he loves it. At least, Rakoff still loves at least five things about it, which he shared with us via e-mail. After the jump, the killjoy takes a break from dystopian satire to focus on the upside: “Five extremely random yet quintessentially New York things, still in existence, not upgraded, not bulldozed or ironically restaged, still authentic and affordable.”
1. Tout Va Bien on West 51st Street.
“I went there on a date 21 years ago, when it was already something of a nouvelle cuisine–resistant throwback, and we ordered the rack of lamb for two for 40 dollars. It turned out to be40 dollars each — a huge bite out of our respective budgets — and we sat there huddled over the bill, mutually apologizing, feeling almost sick, the pleasures of the meal we’d just had almost threatening to reverse themselves on us. They didn’t, happily. I suppose part of me must be mythologizing early financial hardship (which is kind of gross), but the food was really good, and remains so; the place is almost 60 years old, still there, and still full of French people.”
2. Next Stop, Greenwich Village by Paul Mazursky.
“One of the loveliest films ever made about coming here as a young person with dreams of an artistic, as opposed to a commercial, nature. With heartbreakingly lovely performances from a sylphlike Christopher Walken, Shelley Winters (who’s listening to Caruso with tears in her eyes is a highlight), and gorgeous reed-thin, hook-nosed Lenny Baker, who had all the makings of a true star but who died tragically young the following year. It makes it doubly poignant to watch him fall in love with … “
3. Ellen Greene.
“When Next Stop played at the Walter Reade, Mazursky described her face as being ‘straight from the fifties,’ which has to be partly encoded for Jewish. Certainly she is the embodiment of a time when a New York actress with miles of training and a bounty of God-given talent could have a viable career and loyal following, despite being the kind of beauty seen too little lately. She’s never given anything less than an interesting performance, but she is an astonishment in this movie — her lying phone call to her mother immediately following her abortion should be required viewing to anyone who thinks that anti-choice media contraption Meghan McCain is harmlessly sassy and a whole lotta Twitter fun. Greene’s turn as Audrey in the chronically underrated Little Shop of Horrors, another creative triumph straight outta Gotham, is also a work of squeaky virtuosity. She sings the shit out of ‘Suddenly Seymour.’”
4. The Group by Mary McCarthy.
“Before Richard Yates, before The Best of Everything, before Mad Men, obviously. Simultaneously highbrow and trashy, this novel about the growing up of a cohort, starting from Vassar in the thirties, begins with a wedding at St. George’s on Stuyvesant Square, both church and park still lovely and unchanged (and, curiously enough, both visible in the films Revolutionary Road and Next Stop, Greenwich Village).”
5. The lobby of the Daily News building on East 42nd Street.
“Possibly the most perfect, over-the-top Art Deco interior in the city, dominated by a huge globe that turns slowly. Its concentric arcs of polished black stone and dynamic brass accents (even the clock is a platonic ideal) would fit both 50 pairs of highly synchronized Busbey Berkeley–choreographed legs, or a Buster Crabbe–era super-villain bent on world domination. It’s so untouched and so gorgeous and right there on one’s way to or from Grand Central. It seems insane it’s not the meeting place of choice for those who love the city.”