The Real.Est List
East Village to the Upper East Side: Singing the Trader Joe's blues
When I first moved to New York last May, I was lucky enough to end up in an East Village sublease. I was interning at my dream job over the summer, renting a furnished room in the middle of Stuyvesant Town--affectionately dubbed Stuytown--and didn't know how good I had it until I moved to the Upper East Side.
During those months in the East Village, I spent most of my free time--and money--dining out. With almost all train lines connected through the L--as constantly-closed and hipster-ridden as it was--I could go almost anywhere in the city quickly.
But I never had to travel far. The best cheap food was right at my fingertips: warm everything bagels at Ess-a-Bagel for $3.50, sesame pancakes at Vanessa's Dumplings for $2.75, huge falafel sandwiches at Maoz for $5, or the occasional $30 splurge for unlimited sushi with friends at Kumo.
And when I wasn't using various Groupon deals or composing meals of small bites, I was handing over my paychecks to Trader Joe's.
I am a Trader Joe's junkie, but since moving to the Joe-less UES, I have to trek from my apartment at 95th and Third across town to get my fix. While I love the 86th Street Fairway, the friendly, welcoming mood of TJ's simply can't be replaced--I even miss the cramped, wrap-around lines at the Union Square store, which often made for some good conversation.
In addition to budget-friendly, delicious groceries, I spent a lot of time at the wine shop next door to Trader Joe's. On the UES, six bottles of wine for an in-home tasting costs $60 instead of $30, and the shopkeepers aren't half as friendly. And don't even get me started on the cheese platter.
The UES does feel more homey, and I've already been recognized as a semi-regular at Fetch, a restaurant on Third Avenue between 92nd and 93rd streets. It's just a completely different vibe.
Also, despite its reputation as a quiet neighborhood, I hear more noise up here due to the Second Avenue subway construction and the nearby Metropolitan Hospital on 97th Street. (And I'd take screaming artists over sirens any day.)
I'm not artsy by any means, but the UES feels sterile in comparison to the lively, creative atmosphere of the East Village. I rarely see someone sketching on a sidewalk bench or snapping photographs with anything but Instagram.
Gone are the mom-and-pop shops and artisan pretzel shops, replaced with dry cleaners and overpriced nail salons.
These may seem like trivial first world problems, but it's the little things that add up. I can't grab a pizza at Motorino or a cup of cereal milk ice cream at Momofuku Milk Bar without taking a 20-minute--and usually packed--subway ride. At the end of the day, I still spend most of my time downtown.
A few weeks ago, my friend came to visit for a few days, and we only went above 14th Street to sleep. I took her to Ippudo for dinner, explored the shops on St. Marks, and ended the night with a concert at Irving Plaza.
If I was still in Stuytown, we would have had a 10-minute walk back to my place. Instead, we had to deal with weekend train construction and late-night train debacles, waiting nearly half an hour for a train to come.
However, the 4/5/6 trains don't normally give me trouble like the L, and it's not like I'm trekking to Brooklyn or Queens. It's just that I can't walk everywhere like I used to. And since I work on the West Side, my morning commute involves two trains, (which usually means running to transfer downstairs at 59th Street to watch the yellow train pull away).
But hey -- at least it's not as bad as the L; and the crosstown bus is a quick fix for my long-distance relationship with Trader Joe's.