Dylan Jones: Like Woody Allen, I love New York's Upper East Side

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The Independent Online

As I made my way to the Broadhurst Theatre to pick up my ticket I saw something that really made me feel like I was in New York. As I walked along West 44th Street a tall, white, shaven-headed endomorph crossed the street, dressed in standard-issue three-quarter-length khaki shorts, baseball boots and a T-shirt that proudly proclaimed, "Do I look like a fucking people person?"

My ticket was for the evening performance of The History Boys, the first since it won a fistful of Tonys, and I was so excited I wanted to celebrate. Now, if you see an empty bar in Britain, you immediately assume it's closed; but in midtown Manhattan it just confirms that the theatre-going public don't drink. The performance was extraordinary - with Richard Griffiths still the star of the show - although unlike London, where mobile phones ring more often than people cough, the only thing to interrupt this performance was a hearing aid.

The loudest shop in New York right now is the new Abercrombie & Fitch store opposite Trump Tower, a four-storey nightclub playing deafening disco music for eight hours a day. This is the anti-Gap experience: black as opposed to white, noisy instead of church-like, and libidinous rather than straight-laced (there are black and white photographs of perfectly-toned male models everywhere). Looking at the merchandise, I knew immediately where my endomorph had been shopping.

Elsewhere here, skyscrapers are shooting up again. Glass is the new material of choice for outside walls (an idea first suggested by Mies van der Rohe back in the 1920s), and corporations want their buildings to be taller than ever. Changing technology and new materials have altered the way they are built, and thanks to slim-line insulation made from fibreglass and aluminium foil (based on the containers used to transport blood), floors can now be a lot thinner than ever before, too. However, as someone pointed out recently, the biggest problem is stopping these trampoline-like floors from becoming too "bouncy". Yikes.

When Nora Ephron moved to the Upper West Side, 25 years ago, she said that after a few weeks she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. She began, in her own words, "to make a religion of my neighbourhood" and became an evangelist for the area, obsessing about every retail detail.

But like Woody Allen, it's the Upper East Side that's always fascinated me. It's the most gentrified part of the city, and at its very heart - around the Mark and Carlyle hotels - it feels like an oddly sanitised film set. You feel cocooned, too, which is what I think Ephron was alluding too. In your own neighbourhood you feel so cut off from every other part of New York that you could just as easily be living in the middle of Oklahoma.

But the great thing is, you're not.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ

d.jones@independent.co.uk

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