Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Stop Comparing DC to New York

Best mailbox graffiti: DC or NYC?!
This is a request main in vain, I know. Before I was born, this debate was going on. After I die, this debate will go on.  I get it. It won't die. But that doesn't mean I can't wish that it would.

Everyone: stop trying to compare DC to New York. It's useless. Just stop. These are two great American cities. Capitals of politics, culture, finance, protest, fashion, food, history, architecture and the urban life in general. But they are fundamentally different from each other in soooooooo many ways. Comparing the two cities "apples to apples" is futile. That being said, here are my two cents:

Food: DC and New York are plagued --not unlike other affluent areas-- with overpriced, underachieving restaurants. On the other hand, each city has standout, time tested, critically acclaimed spots that are worth the hype. I am not a major foodie. I appreciate simple, affordable menus in unpretentious settings. Richmond and Baltimore get it. DC is trying. New York does, at times. And don't get me started on molecular gastronomy. The food debate is a wash. If you can find restaurants you like in New York, the next person will find just as many here in DC. Good food really is in the eye --or taste buds-- of the beholder. This debate will never be settled.

Fashion: Really? Fashion. Ann Taylor Loft vs. Designer With One Name. You decide. Face it; each is equally untenable. While there are apparently no firm rules for what passes for good fashion in New York, we're fatally crippled, wallowing in mediocrity here in DC. Hell, I could wear a over-sized paper bag over my torso in New York and get ushered to the front of the line at the best night clubs. Here, I'd be condemned on the street as a mentally ill and probably reported to the police if I tried to get into a club. We're stuck inside of a middle of the road rut and can't find our way out to save our lives. New Yorkers are supposedly fashion trend setters, but no one stops long enough to decide whether those trends are truly innovative or plain ridiculous. But to each his or her own. Some of us need to step out of the box, others need to go running back into it. Do what works for you.

24/7: A major knock on DC is that we aren't a "24 hour city." In Manhattan you can get veggie lo mein, a pizza or your dry cleaning delivered to your door at 4:00AM. And yes, you can take the subway home at any hour, provided you live near a station. (But, try getting from LES to Kew Gardens Hills after a night out. Not happening). In DC, well, most of us can't do those things. We do have a number of 24 hour eateries and I think more will open in due time. Honestly though, is this a big problem? In DC's entertainment districts, you can eat until the wee hours and take the train home to the suburbs until 3:00AM on the weekends. Take a cab otherwise. Whenever I hear this complaint, it's from the mouth of some insufferable NYC ex-pat who relocated to DC for work/school/spouse/whatever. Please, just move back. Problem solved.

Nightlife: Another category like "food." Every individual has a different, equally valid take. I've never set foot inside DC's Love or Tattoo Bar, but if that's your thing, go bananas. On the flip side, I've also never partied at NYC's Webster Hall or Beauty Bar, but I'm sure they are fine establishments. Both cities get first class DJ's and there's a club scene for every stripe in either location. For me this is a toss up. There are literally more venues to choose from in New York, but in all fairness they have 7.5 million additional people to entertain than do clubs in the District.

Alas, I have a solution for all the complainers and everyone else that favors one of these cities over the other: Amtrak. You can get advance tickets over the internet or even at the last second from a teller as the train is pulling away. An early morning Acela Express train will transport you to and from Union Station and Penn Station at 2 hours, 45 minutes. Done. If you have some extra time or are on a budget, another solution: There are at least, I don't know, 7 or 8 legitimate discount bus services that travel daily to and from Manhattan and downtown DC. Tickets are often cheaper than a signature dish at Ben's Chili Bowl or Gray's Papaya. Make it happen. Just don't try to convince me which hot dog was better afterward.