Part of the reason some move to Gotham is the glamor. Some of us grew up with the city projected only on the Silver Screen. We did not live in the real city. We knew only an incredible flickering wonderland writ large – or in our case … on the Telly, 14″and black & white. Those old black and white talkies showed us the finer things in life. A svelte woman in dresses that hugged their curves like she was poured into it or it was painted on. She wouldn’t be any pushover. She would be fast talking to some guy in a tuxedo who had just accomplished a war or found a diamond under a mountain. And all of a sudden, these two would break out into a tap dance number or start a gunfight or both.
In my day, those old films were on the TeeVee late at night. If Gotham was in the movies, it was a grimy mess, a total Dog Day Disaster, but even in the edges of this, there was still some reminders of the days gone by or the hints at the wealth and sophistication of the city. The rooftop bar would be filled with men in blue suits or an artist loft in SOHO would have a model sitting on one huge chair petting an unnaturally large dog. Even if the streets stunk from time-to-time in these films, many of still hoped to be Slaves of New York. And so when we could, we moved to Gotham to snap up whatever scraps of the life we yearned for that were tossed off the truck of success. We hoped to catch some moment when we could say; we made it there, and we can make it anywhere. The day when we could call over to Harold or Mike or Fred. “I’ll have the usual. Make it a double. I’ve had a long day.” We would always be where the fashion models gathered to dance while tycoons while they chucked back sidecars, we would all have fantastic conversations, hatch evil plots and we would all be dressed like Italian film stars each one of us.
Some of us came to the city with a suitcase and a dream. Or we lived in a car for a few weeks scanning the Village Voice for work and a place to stay. We lived in terrible conditions and ate bad food, but at night, if we knew how to play our cards right, we were able to leave behind whoever we had been back home, whoever were that morning, and just slide in to sit next to the Richandfamous at the bar. There were places where if you saved enough by not eating or not drinking [as much], you could don a heap of formal wear smuggled out of the dry cleaners, and for a few hours pass as one of those New Yorkers. There were so many places then.
The Cafe des Artistes, Tavern on the Green, The Oak Room, nightcaps at the Ritz, front row at the Zigfield, a night at the Rainbow Room when suit and tie were required for men. Top of the Sixes was still right out of the 1960s, we had Brasserie, and a number of other establishments where one still stood up when a lady joined your table. We didn’t belong there, but we knew what we wanted to work towards. We wanted to discuss charity events, plan art fundraisers, meet writers and thinkers, and once in a while, have the best goddamn meal and be taken care of by the same waiter we saw last week because neither he nor the entire place would ever be anything other than what it was that night. Right out of a movie.
However, tastes changed among the ruling classes. The old society of Gotham was eroded and then seemed to implode and has yet to finally, inevitably to fall to the march of history .. but it is headed there. And the fancy schmancy we worked so hard to aspire to has been encroached upon by a new world order. Some of us maybe grew up and realized our position in society had ossified or that wealth is a dirty business that we’re just not good at. But, it seemed clear, that the places we could all dress up and go to were shuttering down as the city breathed in New Money, money that was so ensconced in privilege it no longer needed those felt hats, cuff-links, or pleated dresses to set itself apart. So untouchable is the new wealth that they can play grunge in ripped blue jeans and tee shirt that costs as much as you made in a week right after college. They need not be formal about anything. You can’t approach them. If they live right, they will pass through the city without you even seeing them. It is not that the expensive drinks are gone, or that the menus have become flat and affordable, it is that the glamor has been exchanged for laziness and false comradely with the poors.
This new Gotham money is the CEO who says the Uber drivers are lucky to make “extra money” driving cars, the Techie who builds an empire on giving people ‘exposure’ in exchange for getting their ‘content’ for free, the widget coder who enforces all rules to the letter but obeys none personally. The new wealthy grunge is that same selfish urge to have it all and give nothing in return. Not flying buttresses, no civic institutions, no carrying the responsibility that comes with power and wealth, not even wanting to dress up and sit up straight at a table. They would rather spend millions inventing a robot that prepared food so they can eat in their pajamas than hire someone to set a table correctly and pay that person a living wage and wear linen and lace to dinner because they can afford to get the duck duck confit a la mode stains out if need be.
And so, in this atmosphere of autofisting self-loathing Walmart Billionaires that the Four Seasons shuttered its doors further flattening the cultural landscape of Gotham but allowing more Trustifarians in Hollister Teeshirts to roam free and bathe less. In the many decades since it opened, I had walked by but never been to the Four Seasons. It was one of those places that defined Gotham without having ever to enter. It was the place one worked to get in to. It was known. It was expensive. You may have met people who went there. Certainly, the place was prohibitively expensive for a welp such as myself, and even today I had little business in going there its final week, but go there I must see it at least once. Also, I now owned a closet of bespoke suits, and a little splurge would no longer mean I couldn’t pay the rent. I had been to the Rainbow Room before it was cheapened to a former whisper of itself and then finally closed. It was a treat. One of those places I saved up and then splurged. But that was the function for so many; I suspect so many secret aspirational young people who came to the city having seen all those dance numbers, watched too many music videos and perhaps read a novel or two.
Built in 1959 at the height of what later would be called the Age of Mad Men, The Four Seasons ran as one part machine and several parts Museum of New York Society. The night I was there, a weeknight, the bar was exceptionally busy and the clientele a mixture of ages but many older patrons came to “pay respects” as one said, to this pillar soon to be set to rest. The staff had, for the most part, worked there for decades, and one gentleman seems to have worked there for over thirty years. I was joined by others, friends of my popular sibling – a mover and shaker of his own right – and associates who had gathered there for the same reason I had. “This is so sad,” the designer said, “we’re also losing the Campbell Apartment. When I first came to the city, I was down on my luck but got dressed up, took the last money I had out of a jar, and went out for one fancy drink. It made me feel … special, like I could do this.” I too had done similar things. At moments where the wise would say keep the pennies in the jar, I would rather pick myself up off the proverbial floor of actual depression, get into whatever good clothes I salvaged from a thrift, and head out for a drink or two at one of those old stalwart hallmarks of the city. At times, I needed to be reminded of why I was in the rat race, what I was hoping to accomplish with my life. Then, for a moment, I was black and white and at any moment, I would break out into song and dance. Seeing how I was escorted out a few times in my life … I may have actually done that.
Maybe it’s foolish youth, hanging on to old vestiges of high society to want these places to stay in the city that wouldn’t want your kind in it anyway. However, the new flashy brash trash doesn’t want you either. And all the selfies you take in these new places will have you shiny, bleary-eyed, and … oh my … did you put on some weight honey? At least as you got swizzled on James Bond martinis greedily eating the olives as they were the only solid food you had all day since those crackers you ate for breakfast because one of the six roommates forgot to put it away … You still looked glamorous in your attire. Just like those old films.
So, we drank our martinis that night, chatted about the old times (which is silly as we’re not that old, right Diane? We’re not that old are we?), and watched the other patrons ebb and flowed in and out to dine or drink. As it was a weeknight, The Four Seasons was closing down on the early. We all parted ways. I poured myself into a taxi and drove off. I knew the morning would find my head pounding and me, reviewing my charge card to ensure I hadn’t spent all my funds for the month. Since, glamour is what it is, and it does cost money.