Welcome to the first post in the New York on My Mind interview series, My New York. Have you ever wanted a New Yorker’s opinion on something? Where to go? How to avoid everyone? Where to find hidden spots? I decided to corner a few of them to find out the answers to some of these questions, and more. First in the series, Jay Lesiger, owner of the quirky Chelsea Pines Inn I’ve called home on many a visit, shows us around his West Village neighbourhood and tells us why you should really avoid that ‘Times Square nonsense’.
Are you a native?
Yes, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, escaped at the age of 20 across the bridge to Manhattan and never looked back. Yeah, I know Brooklyn is now the “new Manhattan”, but not for me!
The Chelsea Pines Inn, Chelsea, Manhattan, New York City.
What do you love most about your neighbourhood?
Just about everything, but especially the High Line park, Hudson River Park, Chelsea Market, the new Whitney museum, the endless and constantly changing array of great restaurants and fabulous little shops all over the West Village.
What’s your favourite time of year in the city?
Spring, when everything in our back yard greens up, and autumn, which is breathtakingly beautiful and can go on for months, but makes me a little sad to see my garden go to sleep for the winter.
Best brunch spot?
Coppelia, just down the street and open 24/7 (like Chelsea Pines), with the best Cuban food all day long. How often do you get to eat Cuban food, right?
There are so many! Gotham Pizza, a true “dive” pizza joint with the best New York pie. Then there are always new food stalls and shops in Chelsea Market (below) – yes, it’s all about the food! And last week, I discovered Local 92, a great little Israeli place on Second Avenue in the East Village, serving delicious Mediterranean food.
Best meal ever in NYC?
I do love a trip to Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side for its pastrami, sour pickles and tomatoes, and Dr Brown’s Diet Black Cherry Soda.
What’s your favourite shop?
Leo Design on Hudson Street – owner Kimo has the most amazing eye for finding treasures all over the world and bringing them back to his customers. Also Three Lives, one of the only small bookshops still thriving in a world with almost no book shops, still in the West Village, still going their own idiosyncratic way.
Is there a building you’d most love to live in?
The newest would be One Jackson Square just down the block; a great design addition to our ‘hood. Then there’s my old apartment on West 10th Street, an amazing studio with vaulted ceilings and a half-moon window that looks out on the Hudson River which I miss to this moment. Or any one of the great old Upper West Side buildings – Dakota, Apthorp, Majestic, Beresford – although I don’t think I’m old, classy or certainly rich enough to do so, or have clean enough underwear to pass their board inspections!
What’s the city’s most overlooked site?
There is very little of NYC that has been overlooked, probably have to go to the so-called “outer boroughs” to find such a place, and they are very rare these days (even Staten Island has perked up, they say).
Most out-of-towners come looking for “the best shopping area”, but shopping in Manhattan is everywhere. Every ‘hood, just about every street has shops worth looking into. Best clothing, all designer, is still at Century 21, but few people know that there is now a second Century 21 at Lincoln Center. Then there are the number of free or cheap concerts held all year throughout the city offering every type of music.
What would you do as mayor?
Stop the developers from building higher and more expensive condos/co-ops on every block, and force them to build more affordable housing to stop NYC from becoming only about the rich. Raise the taxes for that infamous “one per cent” and make them pay their true fair share.
How would you spend a spare afternoon?
Funny you should ask because I just played hooky twice already this winter. I went to a Wednesday matinee of On The Town with my ex-girlfriend for the first time in 49 years! I also went with my husband to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Cubist exhibition and the amazing Madame Cézanne – 19 portraits painted during a lifetime of unhappiness for the painter and his wife. Never a smile or a shred of love, but omfg, what a muse she was!
What’s the best thing a taxi driver has ever said to you?
Well, the funniest – and I take taxis almost every day during the winter – was when he tried to sell me some real estate in Queens, omfg, lmao!
What inspires you about New York?
Everything. That it’s the most resilient city on earth. The amazing bounce-back after 911 still takes my breath away. The fact that you can do just about anything at any time of the day. The Broadway theatre scene, which I have been attending several times a week for the past 50 years – I have the Playbills to prove it! The fact I can travel so easily to Europe, especially to France (OK, to Paris). The wealth of restaurants and variety of foods is staggering, but also what I have come to expect. The fact that I’m about to attend my 50th high school reunion (I went to Erasmus in Brooklyn, but wouldn’t you know that the reunion is taking place in New Jersey…New Jersey?)
The craziest thing about living in the city…
Again, everything. It never stops and neither do I. Running a hotel like Chelsea Pines, with only 23 rooms but more than 250,000 guests, some returning but many new, over a nearly 30-year period. The fact that we have a cat named Charlie Chaplin, complete with moustache, about to celebrate his 18th birthday. That so many people, both young and old, have never been to New York before, and what a thrill it is to introduce them to my favorite city.
A word of advice for tourists…
Well, come and stay at Chelsea Pines, of course! Seriously, this city is as safe a large city as any in the world. Skip the Times Square nonsense; Times Square is there to be seen, at least once, but only offers a small fraction of what the city has to offer. Chelsea Pines stands at the crossroads of the West Village, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District, a real neighbourhood where people live, but not too crowded and there’s always stuff going on.
Thanks for talking to me, Jay.
Find the Chelsea Pines Inn at 317 West 14th Street.