NEW YORK—A stroll down Bleecker Street, once a haven for bars, nightclubs, Off Broadway theaters, Mafia hangouts, beatnik cafés, and weird secondhand shops, has recently become treacherous due to these little makeshift flash mobs that congregate in front of nondescript buildings for no apparent reason, blocking the sidewalk and gawking at their Svengali-like performance-art gurus.
Welcome to the Anti-Tourist Walking Tour.
This has been building up for a long time. It all starts with the guy who says, “Hey, I’m coming to New York on vacation, but I don’t want to do anything touristy.”
And what they mean is, they don’t wanna go to the Statue of Liberty, they don’t wanna go to Ellis Island, they don’t wanna do the Empire State Building or the Circle Line Cruise around Manhattan or take a Central Park carriage ride or see a Broadway show or—God forbid—wander through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They don’t wanna see Grant’s Tomb, either, but that’s understandable because nobody for the past seventy years has wanted to see Grant’s Tomb.
No, what they want to see is the brownstone at 64 Perry Street where Carrie on Sex and the City lived, and then they want to visit the bakery where Carrie and Miranda enjoyed cupcakes, and then they want to have lunch at Los Dados, the Mexican restaurant where Carrie’s date went bad. I didn’t realize how gangrenous Sex and the City tours had become until one day last summer when I saw one tour group walking down Perry from Bleecker, another tour group turning into Perry from the opposite direction, and a third group in a staging pattern on West Fourth Street, which is the corner nearest the target house. Apparently the third group was waiting for one of the other two groups to clear so that an additional horde of elevated iPhones could be raised in homage to the site where Sarah Jessica Parker, as Carrie Bradshaw, penned her insipid observations about Mr. Big, the Big Apple, and big penises.
You would think that coming face-to-face with the abode of Carrie Bradshaw would be disheartening for fans of the show, since it’s a luxury property that listed for $10 million ten years ago and is undoubtedly worth far more today. Carrie Bradshaw is based on Candace Bushnell’s days as a columnist for the old New York Observer—the city’s first, last, and only orange-colored weekly—and yes, they paid better-than-average freelance rates, but let’s not get ridiculous. I’m assuming the tour guides don’t point out the five marble fireplaces inside 64 Perry, lest there be a collective disillusionment: What? She was an heiress? A trust-fund baby? Her whole life was A LIE?
But apparently not, because I see by the 2018 listings that there are still plenty of opportunities to…
Live a Day Like Carrie!
Cupcakes and Cosmopolitans!
The Site of Miranda’s Embarrassing Underwear Moment!
Have a Drink at Scout, the Bar Owned by Steve and Aidan!
It’s some indication of how far this madness has spread that, when the Sex and the City tour bus stops at Fifth Avenue and 51st Street, it’s not to visit St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which is on the south side of 51st, but to window-shop at the tiny Jimmy Choo boutique on the north side of 51st. (I’m not familiar enough with the show to know which girl loved Jimmy Choo shoes, but prices start around $750 per high heel, ranging up to $5,000 if you’re going to a big party at the opera, so maybe Carrie Bradshaw was filthy rich in secret.)
There’s also a Seinfeld tour, by the way, but it’s not nearly as successful, probably because it’s only a certain type of masochist who wants to actually meet Kenny Kramer, “the real Kramer,” who has pretty much made New York tourism his full-time job, much less be yelled at by Al Yeganeh, the real-life Soup Nazi.
But I’m only scratching the surface of anti-tourism tourism. There’s a “Gangs of New York” tour, even though all those wooden buildings have long since been demolished and Five Points, the epicenter of vice and crime in the 19th century, is merely a busy concrete traffic intersection that annoys people trying to make their way to the courthouses.
There’s a Mafia tour, but since most Mafia places get eviscerated by time, prison sentences, and the efforts of neighborhood-improvement districts to erase the past, there’s very little to see, even in Little Italy. For example, Umberto’s Clam House—the restaurant where Joey Gallo was gunned down by a patsy hitman for the Colombo family—is still on Mulberry Street, and was still reputedly owned by Genovese mobster “Matty the Horse” Ianniello right up until his death in 2012. But it’s in a different location today, a full two blocks from the site of the murder. Does your tour guide take you to Da Gennaro, the charming little hole-in-the-wall that currently occupies the site, or do you walk up Mulberry to the current Umberto’s, order the clams, and try to refrain from asking Matty the Horse’s son whether his father saw anything that day? I once saw a Mafia tour group walk right by the Genovese social club on Sullivan Street, which is not surprising because it always looked like the nondescript entrance to a sewer, with steel bars over the frosted windows, but this is where Vincent “The Chin” Gigante would play cards and smoke until he was ready to venture out in his pajamas to convince the FBI he was mentally deranged.
Efforts to find “places that tourists never go” have become a full-time business for New York hustlers. Take, for example, the Rock and Roll Tour, which I became aware of after noticing a little flash mob gathered at the site of Matt Umanov’s guitar shop, always best known for Matt’s ability to fix beat-up instruments. He did it for Prince, he did it for Jerry Garcia, he did it for Eric Clapton and every punk rocker who ever came through to play at CBGB’s. Bob Dylan hung out there so much that one of his album covers has a picture of him standing on the street just around the corner. But here’s the weird thing about the tour groups: They didn’t start going there until the shop closed. They could have stopped by the place any time in the past 53 years, talked to Matt, bought a guitar, whatever, but it only became newsworthy after it was dead.
How about the Alternative Street Art tour? (Translation: walk around the Lower East Side looking at graffiti walls.)