Everyone knows where the hotspots are. Word gets out like wildfire and suddenly there are winding lines and abusive doorpeople. But it takes extra digging to find the notspots -- places that are so unfabulous I'm often sitting there alone and wondering why I chose to live in a big city. And yet, these destinations do have their charms, their utter lack of buzz sometimes high among them. Here are my 10 favorite NYC notspots of many.
1). Stairs. This two-level, lodge-like space in the East Village is a good choice if you're looking for solitude and can't afford the Himalayas. I went shortly after its opening and found a sparely populated hangout dotted with an occasional customer who looked like they'd straggled in from a Eugene O'Neill play. There was a friendly drag queen greeting me, but she said she was moving back to her hometown the next day. I considered doing the same thing when I went back last week and found a total of six customers. Maybe it's the awful Stairs logo, which consists of two male stick figures, one literally climbing the other. I do hear the Friday twink night is pretty good, but I'm terrified to go back one more time.
2) The Edison Ballroom. It's shiny and jazzy looking enough, and lord knows if I get invited to an opening night party there, I'm the first one in the door as well as the one who christens the buffet table. But they tend to host a lot of big-band events, with people swinging around the dance floor as if it were 1944, and that makes me a tad uncomfortable. I can't dance to Swedish progressive house either, but at least I know it's hot and happening.
3) Marriott Marquis Hotel. I always liked the elevators that gave you an aerial view of the whole place, as well as the Crossroads restaurant with its sprawling buffet, the Broadway Lounge with its specialty beverages, and the View ("New York's only revolving rooftop restaurant"). But no one else does. Only tourists have ever granted this Times Square complex any cachet, which tends to take away the cachet.
4) Bar 13. I'll let a reforming barhopper friend of mine describe this one: "Bar 13 has limitless potential, with a great location, multiple floors, and a killer rooftop, but the clientele is so B&T, waking me up with fights on the street at 4 A.M. That place is beat." Still, at least they get a crowd.
5) Bubble Lounge. Says the same invaluable friend: "I went last Thursday at 9 PM and it was nearly empty, and I had to fetch a cocktail waitress who seemed bothered to serve us. When she did, the prices were not in touch with the recession -- hence, the lame crowd."
6) The Queens Zoo. Who says I don't write about culture in the outer boroughs? A few years ago, I actually went to the Queens Zoo and even sort of enjoyed it. The pigs lick feed out of your hand, the bison stare you down with interest, and you get to walk a runway through the Aviary while birds make a Hitchcockian scene around you. The problem is, I'm Murray Hill-centric and don't drive, and this place was so out of the way that a zookeeper had to pick me up at the train station to take me there. If you can get a zookeeper to pick you up at the station, then feel free to take the "not" out of this spot. After first trying the Bronx and Central Park Zoos, of course.
7) Grand Prospect Hall. Again, I care deeply about the boroughs, but nothing could make me go back to Brooklyn for this banquet hall, which seems as frozen in time as the faces of some of the customers. When I recently saw the commercial with that heavily accented couple begging to make our dreams come true, I thought, "How cute that they're re-running that bizarre ad from the '80s." But it's new! It's still going on! Make it stop!
8) Townhouse Bar. Once upon a time, this was a spiffy, two-level place of refinement where old men hooked up with hustlers. But hustlers are online now, so at today's Townhouse, you mainly just get old men, plus a pianist tinkling "All That Jazz" in the background. Still, I love the joint -- but then again, I'm an old man. As a bonus, let's throw in BPM, which was basically the gay club xl that reopened looking very much the same, albeit with some new staffers. Their Hot Mess drag revue is great (as groupon-wielding bachelorettes have discovered), but otherwise, the bloom is off the gay rose, buzz-wise.
9) Big D Home (22 W. 14th Street). This value store announced a closeout sale ages ago, but now the closeout signs are gone and it just seems to be operating as usual. Potential heart attack averted for now. The place has reasonable shower curtains, alluring trash pails, and interesting scrubs for those who want to affect a medical look around the house. The best thing about it is I have the place all to myself. No one goes! Which might explain those signs!
10 ) D'Agostino There are still a few of these old-school supermarkets left in NYC, along with Food Emporiums and Gristedes, all bravely hanging in there despite the onslaught of the more sophisticated and varied stuff you get at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Fairway. I go, mainly because it's right across the street, plus they sell amazing Carvel cakes (sprinkled with "chocolate flavored crunchies") for 20 bucks. Also, I prided myself on having a D'AG rewards card, until I found out what it gets you -- a mere five dollar bonus after you spend $500! That is never going to happen, people. There aren't that many Carvel cakes in the world.