Wanna know how to be hip? After five nights in the hippest of hip hotels in New York’s hip Lower East Side, I’m the man to tell you. Never mind why I was there. That’s stuff for another conversation. Let’s just allow that I was hanging out, doing my shit, being hip.
The first rule of hip is that you don’t ring a hip Lower East Side hotel from London and ask if they have tea-making facilities in the room. Of course they don’t have tea-making facilities in the room; they don’t have any facilities in the room. Bar a bar, that is – in this instance one that’s better stocked than Salvatore’s. You might not think you want a highball glass of Knob Creek bourbon and a bag of Doritos the minute you wake up, but you do if you’re hip. Tea and coffee, if you must, you get in the breakfast room where servers (it’s not hip to call them waiters) wear trainers and black track suits and look at you with deep suspicion when you request a breakfast menu. What is it you’re really seeking? Just ask. They’ll have it. “English breakfast tea,” I say, enunciating my way out of any misunderstanding. English breakfast tea, not to be confused with crack cocaine. They are clean out of teapots so I get a cup with a diaphanous sac of something brown floating in it. I think about shoving it up my nose. As for the bacon bagel I fancy, that they can’t do. “But you serve bagels,” I say. My server nods. “And you serve bacon.” He nods again. I make a question mark of my body. The hip equivalent of light – let’s call it darkness – breaks somewhere in his brain. “I can give you a bagel and a side of bacon,” he finally says. I settle for that.
From the corner of my eye I catch him watching me putting the bagel around the bacon. He’ll be telling the guys he hangs around with about this. It could even catch on. If you are in the Lower East Side in the next few months and find all the dudes putting bacon between two halves of a bagel, while watching out for the cops, you’ll know how it originated.
Back in the room, I resume my search for a cupboard or a drawer. A wardrobe I have. But a shelf have I none. Such things are getting hard to find wherever you stay these days. The hotels my father used to take me to when I was a small boy and he was driving a lorry between Manchester and London were marvellously furnished with spaces to put things. I still recall a chest of drawers with separate compartments for cuff links, collar studs and tie pins. Since then exiguousness has come to be the fashion in the matter of hotel storage. But there’s usually somewhere to cram in a sock and maybe a change of undergarment – even if it means removing the Gideon Bible. In hipsville, though, there’s absolutely nothing – just the floor of the wardrobe where you’ll never be able to find anything because of the exiguousness of the light.
The more hip the hotel, the less light you get. Don’t ask me to explain this. It could be that it’s not hip ever to see yourself. It could be that you don’t mind losing shit if you’re hip because possessions don’t matter. It could be that the truly hip can see in the dark. I’d ring reception to ask if there’s some hidden switch but the phone is more complex than the cockpit of a space ship and it isn’t hip to put instructions in the room. I’d try skyping on my laptop but that means lying on the floor, because there’s no desk or table and no chair that allows me to make a lap to rest my laptop on. If you think this is a cheap hotel you’re missing the essence of hip exclusivity. We’re in art-world territory here, where less is more, and none is everything. They have to do only one thing to this hotel to make it not just hip but super-hip and that’s move the bed out.
Out on the hip streets of Off Soho that get less hip the closer I get to On Soho I see an artisanal juice bar and cake shop that is advertising for “talented baristas” and happens to have a free seat in the sun. Somebody’s Daughter, it’s called. I don’t recognise the name of the father but the smell’s good. I ask the talented barista for a skinny cappuccino – having no fat in my milk accords well with having no light in my room – and a cinnamon pastry. He isn’t sure about the cinnamon. He’ll have to go check. Ten minutes later word is delivered that if they have a cinnamon pastry they can’t find it. That’s hip – a cake shop that can’t find the cakes. But hipper still is the time it takes to get me my cappuccino.
There are eight, say 10 customers sitting out in the sun, waiting for something. There are 10, say 12 talented baristas visible in the kitchen. So how much longer should my cappuccino take? But I’ve yet to realise that the difference between a talented hip barista and any old barista is that the talented, hip barista has no talent. After 15 more minutes I raise an arm. A passing barista says he’ll ask. Another arrives – this must be about the sixth not to have served me with anything – and surveys me with laconic contempt. “We are working on your coffee, sir,” he says.
“Working on it! It’s a cappuccino not the fucking Empire State Building.”
In fact I don’t say that. It’s not hip. Hip is consenting to getting nothing you really want because there’s nothing you really want. I, who never smile, smile.