Monday, March 17, 2008

proud to live in the most boring city 'hood

Coverage of the crane collapse continues this morning with all the feature pieces about the dead and displaced, etc. Part of one metro article made me proud to have called the area home for the past months:

For people who don’t live in the East 50s, the address connotes a series of indistinguishable city blocks, unusual only in their lack of New York associations. The streets don’t comprise a theater district, or an upscale address, or a gentrifying investment opportunity, or a place where artists or students or bankers are known to hang out.

And yet for the people who live there, it’s an unusually tight-knit neighborhood, filled with longtime residents who experience the city as a place to live, not a stage set designed to highlight Manhattan’s millennial glamour. A bar like Fubar — friendly, familiar, blissfully nondescript — could still thrive in a neighborhood like that, even serve as a focal point for a certain young, mixed crowd.

In the past few years, however, developers have seized on the opportunity to build up this relatively untouched area of the city so close to Midtown. High-rise luxury buildings with names like “the Veneto” and “the Milan” have gone up, and new pricey bars with names like “Mantra” and “Redemption” have opened, competing with the dense mix of Irish pubs and sports bars already there.

“Some of these places have dress codes,” said John P. LaGreco, the owner, musing on the neighborhood changes the morning after the accident. “They try to be all downtown, let girls in, hold guys at the door. I’m like, who do you think you are? This is east Midtown.”

Even the name of his bar has decidedly old-school roots: It is a military term that, in its polite form, stands for fouled up beyond all recognition.

It’s hard to miss the symbolism: Old-time neighborhood hangout literally crushed by the force of development run amok. Or maybe the crane crash will come to symbolize the flimsy underpinnings of a dizzying building boom. Either way, it’s fubar — and in such times, what many people crave is not an indoor boccie game or a manicure with their martini but a stiff drink in the comfort of well-known strangers.

I've complained about living there, far from most of my remaining city friends. While a fatal crane collapse is horrific, I'm glad that, before I moved away, something made me feel proud of my adopted neighborhood. East Midtown is not quaint or trendy, but it's ours.

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