The park is an oasis in the heart of midtown, but it wasn’t always. Michele Sherman, granddaughter of Nat Sherman—who opened his “Tobacconist to the World” shop in the neighborhood in 1930—reminds me that Bryant Park was once more commonly known as Needle Park (in honor of the heroin sold and shot here). Huge swaths of 42nd Street were, as Isaiah, the doorman at the Grand Hyatt, dubs it, “a slutfest.”
Then, in the early 1990’s, things began to improve. “God bless Giuliani,” exclaims Louis Gritsipis, owner of 42nd Street Restaurant & Pizza. A Greek immigrant, he boasts of being held up at gunpoint seven times and suffering through 26 break-ins during his 43-year tenure at the diner. “Giuliani had the balls to kick everybody out. When they came through here with those mounted units.…” He waves a hand dismissively through the air.
It’s a sentiment echoed by numerous people I encounter throughout the day, mostly immigrants—because it is immigrants, and out-of-towners, that I meet on my walk. Of the nearly 100 people I speak with on this day, I find exactly one native of Manhattan: Regina, who’s giving out free copies of the New York Post on a busy corner. Everyone, it seems, is from somewhere else. Mustafa, leaning against a coffee cart eating a banana, is from Afghanistan. He’s been here for 20 years. “I go back—who I see? Old people all dead. Young people gone,” he shouts at me. Pablo, a waiter from Uruguay, pulls on a cigarette and tells me, “I don’t have time to miss my family.” And Brenda, a hostess at Métrazur who came to New York to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, isn’t going back to Carol, Iowa, any time soon—“I’m here now.” Everyone, it seems, is here to stay.
12 E. 42nd St.
New York, New York