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NEW YORK

For Republicans, a Brave New World

By Michael Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page P01

As a kid on Manhattan's Upper West Side, I'm not sure I knew there was such a species as Homo Republicanus. I knew old IRA men who tipped a pint or three at the Dublin House and spoke longingly of Eire. And Puerto Rican nationalists who played the congas like a fever on humid summer nights.

I knew Jewish refugees with terrible tales of flight and old Ukrainian Trotskyites and West Indian trade unionists and the few odd WASP families like my own. We lived in rent-controlled apartments, cursed in Yiddish, worshiped the Knicks and voted Democratic.

Times Square, New York City. (Copyright Jeff Greenberg - NYC & Company, Inc)

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But Republicans?

I remember one got elected mayor in 1965 and his name was John V. Lindsay. His liberal politics would make Tom DeLay's hair curl.

This is where Republican delegates will gather Aug. 30-Sept. 2 at Madison Square Garden to crown their candidate: President George W. Bush. It's a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans by better than five to one. In the 2000 election, 373,636 New York City residents voted for Bush -- and another 1.6 million or so cast votes for Al Gore.

"A Republican club?" says James Oddo, one of three Republicans on the 51-member city council. "We meet in a phone booth on 42nd Street."

None of which is to suggest despair for the Republican delegates. This is a tower of Babel burg, with 200 tongues and as many political persuasions. The city even has another Republican mayor. The sensible coping strategy is not to flee -- as one national Republican worthy suggested last year -- to a cruise ship parked in the middle of the Hudson River.

Plunge in. Take the subways, ride the buses, listen to the Pakistani cab driver spin stories of hometown Lahore. Hop the Staten Island Ferry -- the best cheap date in New York City, as it happens to be free -- and see Governors Island (which once held imprisoned Confederate soldiers and later German saboteurs) and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which stretches from Brooklyn to Staten Island.

On the return trip to Manhattan, stare at the glittering, if always broken, necklace that is the downtown skyline.

Many of you will be lodged in Midtown, in handsome Central Park South hotels such as the Essex House, the Ritz-Carlton and that grand dowager, the Plaza, at the corner of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue. Or you will stay in the industrial-strength hotels nearer to Times Square and Penn Station. All of these hotels are within walking distance of Central Park, the grandest of Frederick Law Olmsted's 19th-century creations. It's a fine gateway to the city. Wend your way along its (rather safe) walking paths to 84th Street and the East Side, where you'll find the Metropolitan Museum.

Then walk west across the park to Teddy Roosevelt's (a Republican!) American Museum of Natural History at 79th Street and Central Park West, with its dinosaurs, elephants and refurbished blue whale. Or visit the New-York Historical Society (2 W. 77th St. at Central Park West), with its splendid collection of Hudson River School painters. Through Nov. 3, the society is featuring a special exhibit, "If Elected: Campaigning for the Presidency."

Afterward, stroll back down Central Park West and try to pick out the apartment building featured in "Ghostbusters."

Finding a place to eat in New York is no problem, although it might leave your wallet substantially lighter. The Regency (540 Park Ave.) and Peninsula (700 Fifth Ave.) hotels are the power breakfast hot spots, where Al Sharpton enjoys his ham and eggs and Donald Trump breaks bread and bones.

Midtown is chockablock with fine restaurants -- Le Cirque 2000 (455 Madison Ave.), Jean-Georges (1 Central Park West), Le Bernardin (155 W. 51st St.) and the Four Seasons (99 E. 52nd St.) are for the best-heeled Republicans, not least our billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Molyvos (871 Seventh Ave.), perhaps the best upscale Greek joint this side of Naxos, sits on Seventh Avenue south of Carnegie Hall. Michael's (24 W. 55th St.) is a pleasant if overpriced place filled to the gills with real and wannabe media and political celebrities, from Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings to Andrew Cuomo and Liz Smith.

More reasonably priced eating is found along Ninth Avenue between 42nd and 57th streets. Two of the better choices are La Locanda dei Vini (737 Ninth Ave.), a terrific Italian spot, and Bali Nusa Indah (651 Ninth Ave.) for Indonesian. And for a true taste of old New York, try Old San Juan (765 Ninth Ave.). And that's not to mention a Sinhalese place, the Ecuadorean joint . . .

For those delegates -- Texans perhaps -- who yearn for dead cows, fear not. The city has a collection of fine steakhouses. Sparks (210 E. 46th St.) was the favored haunt of crime boss Paul "Big Pauly" Castellano. Big Pauly arrived there one winter evening in the 1980s in search of a T-bone. Alas, he was greeted by rival mobsters, who gunned him down before he could swallow even an appetizer.

Tours and Hangouts

Inevitably, one wanders into Times Square. It has 28 electronic zippers, it's jammed with visitors from 49 states and 61 countries, a well-endowed cowboy stands on a traffic island and plays the guitar in his underwear, and it's either a lot of fun or a 24-hour-a-day nervous breakdown. So check it out -- but don't tarry. You can shop just as easily at the Toys R Us in Tysons Corner, and what does the Virgin Megastore have that you can't find in Tulsa?

Stop by Madame Tussauds (234 W. 42nd St.) to stare at actor Samuel L. Jackson. (Hint: He's wax.) Check out the Broadway plays, and not just the 1940s revivals. Try something edgier -- like "Fiction," a new play about a very dysfunctional couple, at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Off-Broadway home (111 W. 46th St.).

If skin is your thing, that's gone. Father Rudy (Giuliani) banished all that back in the 1990s.

From Times Square, wander east on 42nd Street to Bryant Park, which sits behind the sprawling, stone-lion-guarded steps of the New York Public Library (Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street). This park was all but lost to the forces of urban disorder 20 years ago; now it's a sylvan space with cafes and jazz and trees and skyscrapers rising. It's worth the hype.

Before you wander still farther, some advice is in order about the natives. New Yorkers put the "p" in parochial. (When I moved back to New York from Washington, a Queens assemblywoman inquired: "S'ya'happytobeback?" Without pausing she answered her question: "Of COURSE you are!") They can be a bit brusque. Hank Sheinkopf, the streetwise political consultant, advises delegates: "If you're looking for 'excuse me,' you're in the wrong city."

But our rudeness can be overstated. If you can slow down a New Yorker, we'll be glad to tell you what subways to take, which coffee shops to eat at and which presidential candidate to vote for. Accuracy is guaranteed, at least half the time.

Now a word on politicos' hangouts. There aren't all that many anymore. The once-grand Metropolitan Republican Club (122 E. 83rd St.) still houses the vestigial "Rockefeller" wing of the Republican Party. And a few pols of the posher kind can be found at the 21 Club (21 W. 52nd St.), a former speakeasy with a brilliant wine list and some very private back rooms.

Former Mayor David N. Dinkins favors Sylvia's (328 Lenox Ave.), a splendid if touristy soul food spot in Harlem. Former mayor Ed Koch likes any restaurant with a picture window, the better to be recognized by New Yorkers. Bill Clinton (you might remember him) enjoys Babbo (110 Waverly Pl.), an extraordinary Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village. Rudy Giuliani, the city's former mayor/generalissimo, favors Italian restaurants. His favorites are Cafe Nosidam (768 Madison Ave.) and Gargiulo's (2911 W. 15th St.) in Coney Island, the pasta palace where Al Capone allegedly served his apprenticeship as a busboy before relocating to Chicago.

But to find the epicenter of city politics, hop a cab or subway downtown to Chambers Street. There you'll find City Hall, an elegant cupola-topped building with a French Renaissance facade and an American Georgian interior. The body of Abraham Lincoln lay in state here for a few days in 1865. (Another Republican president, Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife are buried in grand Napoleonic fashion on 122nd Street and Riverside Drive. It's the largest mausoleum in North America.)

The old Tweed Courthouse sits behind City Hall on 52 Chambers St. This splendid Victorian pile of stone and chandeliers and inlaid oak was the Halliburton project of its day. It seems that William M. "Boss" Tweed -- Republicans please note: This is a city refreshingly rich in Democratic Party scandal -- handed out the contracts, and the workmen kept pouring cement until it was the most expensive building, foot by politically connected square foot, in the nation.

New York, in fact, always has been a fixer's heaven. Shea Stadium is named after William Shea, that legendary counsel for the well-connected. Thanks to another deal, the owners of Madison Square Garden pay virtually no property taxes. Aficionados of political scandal might even consider a pilgrimage to the fine diners of Queens Boulevard, where in the 1980s Donald Manes, the late borough president, took his eggs sunnyside and his envelopes of cash under the table.

Anyway, where were we?

While Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg has retained his own flat -- a humble little five-story townhouse number on the Upper East Side -- the elegantly appointed Gracie Mansion (East End Avenue at 88th Street) still functions as the official mayoral residence. Tours are available by reservation, and reportedly all the crockery remains intact, even after the spectacular meltdown of the Giuliani-Donna Hanover marriage.

On Lower Broadway, look for the Woolworth Building (233 Broadway), the nation's tallest skyscraper when it opened in 1913. Then walk south to lovely St. Paul's Chapel (211 Broadway). It was completed in 1766 and is the oldest public building in continuous use in New York City. George Washington favored the pew on the north aisle.

Ground Zero stretches behind the chapel. Keep in mind that this vast hole is hallowed ground where about 2,750 lost their lives, and many who knew these victims still come here each day to work and live. The line between memorial ground and tourist attraction can be maddeningly indistinct.

The Rest of This Place

A final bit of advice for Republicans: Get lost -- it's how you discover the real city. Here's a brief tour guide.

Little Italy has essentially become a Chinese neighborhood with Italian names. Chinatown, by contrast, thrives, with hundreds of restaurants, fish stores and vegetable stands. "For the best hot and sour soup go to Wo Hop" (15 and 17 Mott St.), says John Ravitz, Republican chief of the city's Voter Assistance Commission. "Don't look at the floor or in the kitchen. Just concentrate on the soup."

SoHo has some fine art and photography galleries, but the only artists who live there anymore moved in around 1962. Williamsburg (one stop into Brooklyn on the subway's L Line) and even Bushwick (the next neighborhood east) have the hipper art scenes, and yes, those are diamond studs in the young artists' lips, noses, tongues and God only knows what other body parts. Ten years ago, Alphabet City had the best heroin in the city. Now you'll find a string of nice little bistros.

Greenwich Village is thick with James Gandolfinis and Sarah Jessica Parkers -- not to mention a few thousand Wall Street brokers. But the old village asserts itself on the side streets, with venerable standbys such as La Metairie (189 W. 10th St.), Blue Hill (75 Washington Pl.), the Cornelia Street Cafe and Po (29 and 31 Cornelia St., respectively). Most of these are the size of well-appointed closets, but that's the point, no?

The basketball court at Fourth Street and Sixth Avenue is where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar honed his game.

Just north of the Village are the cobblestone streets of the Gansevoort Meat Market, which has carted vast slabs of meat to restaurants for more than a century. Now it's getting the high bourgeoisie makeover, as the meat-boys get crowded out by boutiques and hipster hotels. Pick between Spice Market (403 W. 13th St.), Rhone (63 Gansevoort St.)and Florent (69 Gansevoort St.) and leave well-fed and substantially poorer.

We must be realistic: Strenuous outer borough exploring likely isn't on your dance card. But should you hanker for the real outer-borough New York experience, try riding the No. 7 train to Jackson Heights in Queens, where just about any Chilean, Ecuadorean or Peruvian restaurant promises massive quantity, good quality and profoundly discounted prices. Or take the D Train to Brooklyn and Coney Island (the last 10 stops or so are elevated, at no extra cost) and walk the boardwalk past a splendid aquarium to Brighton Beach, where the lingua is purely Russian. Step into Rasputin at Avenue X (2670 Coney Island Ave.) and feel yourself transported to Odessa.

Finally, if partisan solidarity requires that you patronize a Republican neighborhood, councilman Oddo has a suggestion. Take the Staten Island Ferry and then get on the train to the Dongan Hills stop. Tumble down the hill to Lee's Tavern (60 Hancock St.). The pizza is splendid, with a crust soooooooo thin that aficionados moan with pleasure. Oddo will cue up a cold one.

"If they're brave enough, and they're Republicans in New York so I know they are, they'll come here," Oddo says. "Anyway, it's the only place in this city you'll find a dozen Republicans in one spot."

Michael Powell is The Post's New York City bureau chief.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company


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