“Murray Hill, here we come!”
For many a Manhattanite, more frightening words cannot be spoken. You see, as far as neighborhoods go, Murray Hill is the slutty, state school-educated little sister to the East Village’s grungy art major. It’s the weekend warrior cousin to nearby Gramery Park. The air in Murray Hill smells of Axe Body Spray; the streets are paved with bronzer.
So what better place to take Jane Kim, owner of Queue Showroom, home to an impressive array of high-end and artisanal womenswear?
Meeting just before the sun went down, Jane and I steeled ourselves for a mini bar-crawl through the most frat-tastic neighborhood in New York. Will we stand out in my paisley shorts and Jane’s handwoven Guatemalan scarf? Will we be forced to do Jaeger Bombs? Will there be bros?
Well, yes. And there was also free Corona for the first 100 customers at Tonic! Jane and I gladly accepted our imported cerveza from two eager young ladies in XS tank tops and made our way to the rooftop lounge, where Maggie, our waitress for the evening, awaited. Maggie, as Jane pointed out, looked a lot like Janice from Friends. Jane also noticed another detail of our new setting.
“Smells a bit pukey, no?”
It certainly did. The crowd at Tonic skewed young and hair gel-y. This was driven home by the conspicuous absence of windswept looks, despite the eight giant fans spread across the bar on full blast, aimed directly at patrons’ heads. Above us, TV’s flashed Top 40 videos from the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Katy Perry.
“They play good music here!” Jane enthused. “They don’t play this in the cool places. Gaga!”
It is true; I have never heard them play a “DiscoTech” remix of “Another Brick in the Wall” at the Smile. The videos also caught the attention of some locals in suits next to us, unwinding with a casual after work vodka Red Bull.
Guy #1: “You seen this video before?”
Guy #2: “What is it?”
Guy #1: “Pink, bro.”
Perhaps emboldened by a shared love of the greatest hits of yesteryear, Jane decided we should ask these two gents about their recommendations for Murray Hill hot spots. For some (perhaps unnecessary) added texture to our inquiry, we told them we were from LA. Both happily informed us that all the action is on Third Ave. So it was decided: our next stop would be The Waterfront Alehouse, located on 2nd.
The Waterfront Alehouse is a strange bastion of civilization within the madness of Murray Hill on a Thursday night. When we walked in, Lauryn Hill was playing and several couples in their late thirties were laughing together quietly over an IPA. Another tell-tale sign of the clientele: they were out of Pinot Grigio. On the menu was wild boar and grilled, maple-cured Berkshire pork loin.
This all made us feel oddly introspective. “Maybe Murray Hill is nice?” Jane posited. “Free beer, nice people, good food. What if Murray Hill is the next cool place to go?”
This clearly would not do. After a debate about whether or not to try the absinthe (we passed), we headed down the street to our final destination: Van Diemens, a sports bar with several large flat screens and at least one horny bartender.
“You look familiar. Do you work around here?” the bartender asked as she poured us Bud Light drafts into glasses that were perhaps once clean, her hoop earrings reflecting light like a tarnished disco ball.
“No, I’ve never been here before,” I said.
She bit her lip. “Are you sure?”
Across the street, a tanning salon advertised “Open Till Midnight” in flashing neon letters.
“Positive,” I said.
“You should flirt with her,” Jane decided. “Make her do a shot of pucker! What bonds people more than…” And then she made a shot-taking motion.
While I considered my options, a house remix of Bad Romance blasted through the speakers. Lady Gaga is the one constant of Murray Hill. Well, Gaga and Derek Jeter: the Yankees game was playing everywhere we went. Sports, bro. The only people who weren’t paying attention to the game were two girls in the corner, having an aggressively loud debate about the merits of Duane Reade vs. CVS.
“Maybe it’s time we wrap things up here,” Jane suggested. The alternative was looking kind of bleak. “If you need to make something up when you’re writing this, it’s ok.”
As we stepped outside, a drunk girl in a halter top and flip flops traded a homeless man a cigarette for his half-wilted flower.
“I think I have enough material to work with,” I told Jane as we parted ways and crossed the border back out of the wild.