New York Confidential: The sound and fury of the downstairs bar

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The Independent Culture
ONE OF the hazards of living in a funky New York neighbourhood is that at any moment a bar might open up on the ground floor of your apartment building. This happened to a friend of mine, Kate Sekules, earlier this year when the street-level apartment directly beneath hers was turned into the Vig Bar. She lives in an up-and-coming neighbourhood called Nolita - so-named because it is north of Little Italy - which is rapidly becoming the Camden Town of Manhattan. Unfortunately for her, the Vig Bar has quickly established itself as the area's equivalent of Dingwall's.

"I haven't slept at home over the weekend for four months," she says. "If you factor in emotional fall-out and lack of sleep, it's dominated my entire year since it opened."

Even though Kate is a well-brought up Englishwoman, she's been in New York too long to give up without a fight. In addition to being the travel editor of Food and Wine Magazine, Kate is also a former professional boxer and the author of a forthcoming book called Boxing For Girls. She's written to the Mayor, the Governor, the Department of Environmental Protection, the State Liquor Licensing Authority, the local community board and her local councillor to complain about the endless stream of techno music that is pumped into her apartment at full volume until 4am every morning.

So far, only the Little Italy Neighbourhood Association has been persuaded to take up her cause. "I've lived in the flat for five years," she explains, "and I have become very attached to it. The last thing that I want to do is move out."

My apartment building in the West Village is sandwiched between a fancy restaurant and a gay hairdressing salon, both of which are mercifully quiet. The ground floor of my building used to be occupied by a shop selling African knick-knacks at vastly inflated prices but, not surprisingly, it's gone out of business. The other day an ominous sign appeared in the window saying "Space For Rent". I pray to God it isn't turned into a bar.

A RECENT article on the front page of The New York Times Styles section has caused a sensation among Manhattan's expat community. The piece documents the emergence of two 28-year-old British twins, Lucy and Plum Sykes, at the epicentre of New York's social scene. I took a particular interest in it since I used to go out with Lucy. Evidently, it all started to go right for her after she broke up with me last year.

Lucy and Plum both work for American fashion magazines - Plum at Vogue, Lucy at Town & Country - and their confident, British accents can often be heard at trendy New York parties - or so I'm told.

According to The New York Times: "The Sykes sisters are among the most visible on a list of single, young Englishwomen working in New York right now - lionised in a small world, unknown to the general public."

The article was written by Bob Morris who asked Lucy and Plum if they'd still speak to him after it had come out since it was bound to make them famous. At the time I thought this was typical, New York Times arrogance but, in fact, he was right. Since the article appeared last Sunday, Lucy and Plum have been deluged with offers from television producers, book publishers and fashion designers, all wanting to cash in on the Sykes' magic.

All this has a flipside, of course. The New York Times Styles section is the city's chief arbiter of social prestige and it inspires as much jealousy as it does obsequiousness. For each Park Avenue hostess who will now include Lucy and Plum on her A-list, there is probably a hard-working fashion assistant who has pinned the article to her dart board. "People are like, `Omigod, have you read that?'" confided one junior member of the fashionista. "A lot of people were very surprised that they got that kind of press."

In general, though, I'm sure that the publicity will do Lucy and Plum's careers no end of good. They'll probably be married to billionaires and be editing their own magazines by the end of the month. I only hope that they'll still speak to me when they do.

AMONG THE handful of bars, restaurants and nightclubs that dominate the New York social scene, it used to be commonplace to see rich old men accompanied by gorgeous young women. However, I've recently noticed a sharp decline in these sightings and can only attribute it to the end of the bull market. Indeed, it was revealed this week that Ron Perelman, New York's richest man, has lost $2.6 billion since the beginning of the year. The poor creature is down to his last $4bn.

Fortunately, all is not lost. Last Sunday's New York Times reported that Rupert Murdoch has taken a suite at the fashionable Mercer Hotel with 31-year-old Wendy Deng, a Yale-educated, Chinese-born vice-president of Star TV. News Corp. issued a statement last Monday explaining that Mr Murdoch and Ms Deng "shared a number of close interests". Could it be that the recently-separated Australian billionaire has discovered the joys of Viagra?

JUST AS the Watergate tapes popularised the phrase "expletive deleted", so the Linda Tripp tapes look set to provide us with a similar euphemism. Before releasing transcripts of the telephone conversations between Tripp and Monica Lewinsky, the House Judiciary Committee went through them with a blue pencil, deleting various offensive words. Take the following transcript of Tripp's response to Lewinsky's complaint about White House aide, Marsha Scott:

TRIPP: Yeah. Well, she - you know, Marsha did lie to you. She [REDACTED] you over...