For a new mayor, notes on Yorkville
Dear Mayor de Blasio,
Last night after you sent revelers home from your midnight ceremony, and retreated to the bosom of family and friends in your cozy Park Slope rowhouse, there’s something I think you might have considered: You’re about to leave leafy, neighborly, hip Park Slope behind for Yorkville.
It’s probably not that big a deal that you supported the Marine Transfer Station near Asphalt Green, though it may earn you a few scowls. But even with the whole neighborhood rooting for you, it can get pretty pretty lonely way up there in Gracie Mansion, where the wind whips down from Hell Gate like a draft from the moors of Wuthering Heights. And it’s bound to be a bit boring, once those cut-ups Tony Shorris, Emma Wolfe, and Lilliam Barrios-Paoli head back to civilization each night.
Like any neighborhood Yorkville has had its ups and downs. And you’re a neighborhood guy. And right now Yorkville isn’t exactly the center of things.
This isn’t the Yorkville that mayors dating back to Lindsay helped to make a scene out of. If only Elaine’s were still open just three blocks west on East 88th Street, you might’ve been able to grab a nightcap with Vince Gilligan or Sam Shepard when they’re in town. New restaurateurs have now opened the Writing Room in the space, but it remains to be seen whether Elaine’s New York regulars like Carol Higgins Clark will come back uptown from Neary’s.
And if you crave that Brooklyn craft-beer tang, you’ll have to go down to the Penrose gastropub on East 82nd, where, the Daily News noted, “your feet don’t stick to the floor.” You’ll have to decide whether the tuna melts at the Mansion diner on York Ave. measure up to your de facto Park Slope office, the Purity Diner; if not, try Arturo’s, one of the last family Italian restaurants left on the Upper East Side, just blocks away.
Of course, there are practical things to consider besides the isolation from the elites up the hill near the park on Fifth and Park avenues, and in lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
You’re upgrading from a rowhouse to a mansion of course, with a servant staff of 12, including private chef; four bedrooms; and eight bathrooms.
But the Upper East Side isn’t what it used to be, and you are on the fringe of even that.
You’re likely to save some money living in that part of Manhattan. The cost of living in Yorkville is 4.5 percent lower than the city average; Park Slope is 7 percent higher.
The graceful 1799 pastel Federal-style beauty was built by Scottish immigrant Archibald Gracie, who first gleefully tore down the star-shaped fort the British had used against us during the American Revolution. His b.f.f. John Jacob Astor lived in a villa next door where Carl Schurz Park is now. That was when being rich meant being far away.
It’s been a long time since that was true. Before then, over at 179 E. 93rd Street, the Marx Brothers grew up in a tenement and participated in every mayoral election. In “Harpo Speaks About New York,” the immortal comic and member of the Algonquin Round Table recalled how Tammany Hall operatives would pick up his father and grandfather in a hansom cab to vote several times throughout the city, and that “nobody was concerned over the fact that Grandpa happened not to be a United States citizen.”
It wasn’t really until after midcentury that the neighborhood started attracting the kind of people that led J.D. Salinger to call the neighborhood “swanky.” And sometime during the Koch administration, the city’s worthies started moving south, as a lot of your friends probably did, and ultimately to Park Slope and deeper into Brooklyn from there. Elaine’s, by the time the owner sadly died, was a massive trek for most of those who would want to be there.
On the other hand, maybe this is just the right time for a man born with the name Warren Wilhelm to live in Yorkville. You’re a completely self-made guy, and you won’t forget where you came from just because your crib is fancy. You are after all moving to a neighborhood where you can get away from New York’s elite more easily, probably, than you can in Park Slope.
One word of advice if you do decide to stay: as a 6'5" man, don’t worry about cutting your head on the shower door, as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani claimed to have done in November 1995.
Giuliani was taken to the hospital emergency room to get stitches for an inch-long cut on his forehead. Giuliani had been at Lenox Hill Hospital all through the previous night, keeping vigil by the side of his press-secretary and confident confidante Cristyne Lategano, who was in for treatment of chest pains, while Mrs. Giuliani cooled her slippers at Gracie.
When the story of the bonked mayoral head broke, a source of mine happened to be meeting with Mayor Ed Koch. “That’s funny,” Koch remarked drily, “I’m almost 6’3”, and I never hit my head on the shower door once.”