First bite of the apple

By Mark Edmonds, Daily Mail

Last updated at 10:14 20 October 2003

For once, the cliches are true. This is a city ruled by money: Babylon on the make.

You will be abused by taxi drivers, ignored by offhand shop assistants and pushed and shoved on the subway. But you will still want to come back.

New York in 15 minutes: buy a pretzel from a vendor in Central Park and walk to the Bethesda Fountain where Woody Allen met Diane Keaton in that classic scene in Annie Hall.

Stand on a street corner and watch the steam coming out of the ventilation shafts.

Walk into a sandwich bar, order a corned beef on rye and yell: 'Hold the mayo.' There is a 50-50 chance the sandwich maker will understand you - and if he doesn't, so what ?

There is no road map to the heart of Manhattan, but you should plan your days carefully. For most people, the price of hotel rooms, driven skywards by recession-proof property prices and expense accounts, rules out a long stay.

Five nights is about right; fewer than that is manageable but tiring. Your choice of hotel will depend on your budget and whether you need internet access from your bidet, wheatgrass juice for breakfast or a meeting room for 48.

Plus service and taxes. Rather more important is location. Manhattan, a rectangular island 13 miles long and three miles across, is the most important of the five boroughs that make up New York City.

For shopping, Midtown - above 34th Street and below 60th Street - is the place to be, but you want nightlife, you'd be better off staying downtown.

Greenwich Village and the East Village have their own enthusiasts but in recent years, the action has moved further south.

SoHo, NoHo and TriBeCa, with their reclaimed warehouses and industrial space, may be too gritty and grungey for some. Call me oldfashioned, but I prefer bars with paint on the walls.

This is the New York of hugely expensive modern galleries, puffed-up designer shops and a gourmet restaurant owned by Robert de Niro.

It's fun to visit, but it lacks the glamour of old New York - gleaming skyscrapers, Art Deco detailing, Audrey Hepburn, and dry Martinis for lunch - that seems familiar even if you have never set foot in the city.

For proper New York glamour, you cannot beat the Rockefeller Center.

In winter, when the ice rink is open, it is the most romantic spot of all.

It sums up the essence of old New York: smart, stylish and as well-finished as one of Frank Sinatra's suits.

There is no graffiti, no litter and the subway station is spotless. The sheer pride of the city shines out of its Art Deco friezes.

And, above all, there is the overwhelming sense that for all its apparent chaos, New York as a city actually works: events such as this week's tragedy on the Staten Island Ferry are mercifully rare.

The subway is also remarkably efficient and safe these days. If you travel on it, there is a risk - not that you will be mugged, but that you will get lost.

The buses, which ply up and down the avenues from north to south, are simpler to use. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, but useless.

Do not count on the driver to be able to take you to your destination unless you know its number and the nearest cross street. 'Empire State Building, 5th Avenue' is just not good enough. Who do they think they are? Professional drivers?

And therein lies the city's great paradox. For all its global importance, New York is probably the most insular city in the world. The locals, including the taxi drivers, know only their own little bit of it.

As Woody Allen put it: 'There is no question there is an unseen world; the question is, how far is it from Midtown, and how late is it open?'

It's a cliche, but New York is a city of villages: Hispanic, Russian, Irish, Italian and Afro-Caribbean neighbourhoods.

But you are unlikely to see them on a fleeting visit as they are no longer found in Manhattan - increasingly a ghetto for the affluent - but beyond, in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.

The Lower East Side, traditionally the first port of call for immigrants, still has a small Jewish population and a tiny Italian one - about all that's left of the melting pot, though Chinatown, a few blocks north, continues to expand.

These old neighbourhoods are rapidly becoming gentrified while many public spaces have undergone a transformation.

The lovingly refurbished Grand Central Station shows what can be achieved when civic leaders put their mind to it.

The bums and panhandlers have gone, leaving a building that looks more like a set for the opera Aida than a working railway station.

And Central Park, once a forbidding and dangerous, has been landscaped, cleaned up and purged of its dodgy reputation. Take a walk across the park, a huge green lung that dominates upper Manhattan.

To the east, you are faced with the discreet charm of the Upper East Side: handy for ' Museum Mile' - the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art - and one of the world's most stately residential districts. Across the park, the Upper West Side has a different feel altogether: bohemian, Jewish, intellectual and European. But still monied and primarily residential.

It's difficult to find somewhere to stay here, but Columbus Avenue is worth a visit, offering a snapshot of a New York that first-time visitors tend not to take home.

Visit the memorial to John Lennon, Central Park close to the Dakota Building where he was shot in 1980. Throughout the city are reminders of more recent sadnesses.

In Greenwich Village, there's an empty car park covered in small ceramic tiles, some of them painted by schoolchildren, commemorating those who died on September 11.

Equally moving is an exhibition at St Paul's, a small Episcopalian church used as a base by rescue and construction workers in the aftermath of the attacks.

Birthday cards to spouses and parents who never came home that day are placed on a table near the door.

Ground Zero itself is a symbol of New York's overwhelming desire to be seen to bounce back. It is a surprisingly small patch of land hemmed in by neighbouring skyscrapers.

The wrangling over its precise future continues but it seems likely that an office block - and probably a big one - will once again stand there.

Few New Yorkers, with their overwhelming selfconfidence, are in no doubt that Ground Zero, along with the city itself, will rise up again.

Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.