Ten Years After: How The World Has Changed

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHEN DESCRIBING the Dakota Building on Central Park West in Manhattan, the Eighties edition of the Virgin Guide to New York uses one of the all- time crass lines to be found in a guide-book: "John Lennon and Rosemary's Baby were both shot here".

Thankfully, this affront has been deleted from the new version of the Virgin city guide. A decade on, the tone has changed. The new book, published this week, gives a more sombre description of the apartment block where the Beatle was murdered - and of the Strawberry Fields shrine, dedicated to Lennon's memory, opposite the site of the murder.

Readers of The Independent Traveller responded splendidly to the request for a copy of the original Virgin Guide to New York, even though one disgruntled user suggested all copies had been pulped.

Rufus Isaacs of Buckinghamshire and Michael Zucker of London both sent their personal copies, the latter kindly adding "you are welcome to keep it".

The Eighties and Nineties versions have numerous similarities, such as size and appearance - a blue cover with distinctive red Virgin logo - though the price has increased nearly fourfold, from pounds 3.50 to pounds 12.99.

For comparison, transatlantic fares have remained stable in the same period: in 1989, Richard Branson's airline offered a low-season special ticket of pounds 89 outward, pounds 55 ($89) inbound, giving a return fare of pounds 144; earlier this year, Virgin Atlantic was offering a fare that was much the same - except that taxes now amount to about pounds 50.

While the original edition (pictured left) suggests some of the other carriers you could use - such as the late-lamented British Caledonian, PanAm and People Express - the new one, below right, mentions not a single airline; an opportunity missed for cross-promotion of Virgin Atlantic.

The Virgin Megastore on Times Square does get a plug ("the biggest selection of music in town"); previously, the venue recommended as "Manhattan's premier disc merchant" was Tower Records, where in the Eighties you could get the latest cassettes and find "a particular browser's bonanza, their 45s section". Nowadays, Tower is just "a good starting-point for any mainstream release".

The New York City subway has improved radically in the past decade. That was then: "Generally foul". This is now: "Much cleaner and less intimidating than anything you may be expecting".

The same does not apply to the Chelsea Hotel, scene of many a music-business indiscretion, where the room rates have more than doubled in a decade. The Waldorf Astoria, meanwhile, seems to have undergone a complete transformation, even though rates are up by only 50 per cent. Ten years ago, the rooms were "elegantly poky for the sort of money you are paying". Nowadays, "standard bedrooms are large with classic decor".

The attitude of waiters and waitresses regarding tips remains the same: "A minimum of 15 per cent is the bottom line. Anything less is considered an insult. And at the finer establishments, it's nearer 18-20 per cent. For easy maths, double the sales tax [eight per cent] at the bottom of the check."

As an indication of how aesthetics change, what was described in the Eighties as a "building better suited to be a space-age car park than an art museum" has changed into "one of the great architectural achievements of the 20th century".

The structure in question is the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. More surprising still, according to the new edition, the spiralling rotunda of Frank Lloyd Wright's final work has moved several miles south, from 1071 Fifth Avenue to 575 Broadway.

A call to the gallery (001 212 360 3500) reveals that the first edition is correct. Despite its lapse into dismal humour, don't pulp that old guide-book just yet.

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