1. Cats in bodegas. Every bodega has a resident cat. The cats are utilitarian– they’re for catching mice– but I like cats so I find it nice to have one around when I’m shopping. They’re usually very healthy and sweet. Also, I didn’t know the word “bodega” until I came here and it’s a useful word.
2. Everywhere the little parks. I live near a particularly nice one. Of course, in smaller cities it’s not so unusual to see yards, parks, and larger expanses of nature. Here one is starved for them. Still, the parks are nice.
3. Good coffee. Within a mile of my house there are at least three remarkable coffee joints: Gimme, Cafe Grumpy, and Champion. I think there may have been good coffee in Charlottesville, but I don’t remember anything being that terrific. In Buffalo there’s Spot Coffee, whose Indian Monsoon Malabar roast is one of the best I’ve ever had. In Birmingham there’s O’Henry’s, which is pretty good.
4. A plethora of poetry. You can see a poetry reading almost any time on almost any day. Miss someone’s reading? They’ll probably be reading again in a couple of weeks at a different venue.
5. So many of the world’s best art galleries in one place. Some of them cost a lot (MOMA except on Friday nights, Guggenheim) but it’s pretty amazing to just take a little jaunt over to MOMA and look at some Duchamp.
6. The architecture. I’m a geek for pretty, well-designed, and/or historically significant buildings. It’s amazing to walk along and suddenly you look up and there’s the Chrysler Building.
7. The Strand and Adam’s Unnameable Books (in Brooklyn)… there are good used book stores many places, but The Strand competes in size with Powell’s (and in filthiness with the subway). Adam’s bookstore is more my speed, small and with a big poetry section (it’s also where I’m selling a bunch of books this week… heads up…).
One of the best things about NYC is that there’s so much of everything: from bodegas to butchers, parks to poets, you really have your pick. For me, however… I feel like I don’t need all that. I’m fine with one or two butchers, one or two coffee houses or indie bookstores, a few poetry readings a week, an art gallery or two. Many East Coast cities would make me perfectly happy: Philly (esp. to see Duchamp whenever one wishes), Baltimore, DC (so many museums… for free!), Birmingham (you want parks?), Atlanta, New Orleans (I love chickory coffee), Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Boston….