Only In New York: Are you hip enough for the hip list?

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The Independent Culture
IT'S AUGUST, and genuine news is on the wane. That means it's lists time again. Tina Brown has one in Talk. It's called the "The Hip List", and you will find some curious entries. Perhaps to flatter readers, she offers Vietnamese food and Australian shiraz; we have all been enjoying both for years. She also has potted meat (Fray Bentos), scabby knees and Gap Kids.

Pete Hamill, the writer and former tabloid editor, contrived a clever variation in The New Yorker recently. His New York Aptitude Test is meant to weed out prospective political candidates in the city. Anyone scoring less than 60 per cent on his Gotham general knowledge questions should try elsewhere, he suggests. (Get out your pencil, Hillary.) It may also be intended to embarrass correspondents who think they know the city and find they don't. I was defeated by nearly every question. Some are simple to research, such as: how much is the fare on the Staten Island Ferry? Others I still can't answer. How many blocks in a Manhattan mile? Where is the Barneys warehouse sale held? Put me down for a fail.

Here is the "What's In in Manhattan This Summer" list, compiled by Only in New York: air-conditioners from K Mart; outdoor dancing at Pier 61; Organic Groove; the Hamptons (it's still true); in-line skating alongside the Hudson; new VW Beetles; old VW Beetles; the economy; 30th anniversaries; Chelsea; sky-diving; Nicole Farhi, pictured left (jumping the gun here - she opens her first NY store later this month); the Dalai Lama, right (who will be speaking in Central Park next week).

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THEY HAVE been fond of lists for ever at Florent, assuredly my favourite restaurant in the city. I take all my visitors to Florent. It's a 24-hour joint with a long counter and vinyl-covered stools that after midnight attracts stars, models, transvestites and people who roll their own cigarettes. It is not so hot early in the evening, though, when the so-called bridge and tunnel crowd pours in (the pejorative term for people from New Jersey and Long Island, otherwise B&T), the hair-gelled bucks who never get beyond, "Hey, guy, what's up?" and "Hey pal, what's going on?" in their conversations, and who wear steel watches too big for their wrists.

Florent might be called cool-slum, partly because of where it is, in the midst of the foul-smelling, cobble-stoned Meatpacking District on the northern edge of the West Village. Distressingly, though, slum in the neighbourhood may soon be conquered by cool as streams of new restaurants prepare to open in the area. Already serving is Fressen on 13th Street, where the clientele is reportedly more delicious than the food.

In the autumn, we can expect a new French bistro from the British restaurateur Keith McNally. He once said that his super-successful Balthazar in SoHo would be his last new venture in Manhattan. Seems as if the lure of the Meatpacking District got the better of him.

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BUT WE digress. Lists. Florent has two of them, one on the Daily Specials menu and another on boards above the counter (those black-ribbed affairs with white letters you can stick in) spelling out what's what in New York. "High season fashion" means "tight white denim jeans, tan suede driving shoes, buff perforated suede shirt and 24-carat gold cuffs". Peruse the entries on the board and things get a little weirder, as they should in Florent. There is the weather forecast for the day and some pointers to nearby "classic" establishments. "Gay: Hell and Mother. Straight: Hogs and Heifers." Classics, indeed. A friend and I were turned away one night recently from Mother. We didn't know that it was lesbian night. Isn't that gender/sexual discrimination?

One board, however, is reserved for the whimsy of "anyone who drops by", as my waitress explained. These are some of the trippy things on this anonymous Manhattan mind last week: "Lavender Crochet Lady, Trannie Midget, Butch Bag Lady, Psychedelic Cycling Horse, Can-a-Week Instant Hair, Horrible Woman With Stroller."

Well, none of them means a thing to me. Did I mention that I am bridge and tunnel, too?

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FINALLY, A bit of worrying news from Indy Towers in Midtown. Somewhere in New York City a new hotel has opened, called "The Independent". Isn't it bad enough that there is already a restaurant sharing our name? Now I am getting phone calls from people asking not just for table reservations but for room reservations, too.

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