The buildings that fill the blocks of the Upper West Side tell historic, funny, and even upsetting stories, and the West Side Rag is determined to reveal all of them.
Since the wry, addictive, up-to-the-minute neighborhood blog launched in 2011, it has deservedly been named one of the top four neighborhood blogs by the Village Voice and “the best insider’s source to the Upper West Side" by Life & Style. One of its posts, about Zabar's lobster fraud, was even featured in the The New York Times.
Averaging about 150,000+ pageviews per month, the Rag covers news, food, culture and history, its territory stretching from 59th to 110th Streets between Central Park West and Riverside Drive.
In the third installment of our Confessions of a Neighborhood Blogger series, we asked the Rag's founder and editor, Avi, to give us some insider information on his neighborhood.
1. What would you tell someone moving in?
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Then I'd probably say "Where ya from?"
If you've already moved in, you've clearly solved the hardest puzzle: finding a place to live here that you can afford (or, like the rest of us, you're probably paying more than you logically should).
My advice: Get to know your neighbors, your doormen (if you have them), and local shop owners. The Upper West Side is so dense with people that it can be a little overwhelming. But the more people you know on your block, the more it will feel like a small, manageable community.
2. Where are the best deals in the neighborhood?
Gray's Papaya hot dog on 72nd and Broadway for a cheap meal. There aren't many deals in real estate, sadly.
3. What's your favorite location within the neighborhood to live?
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If I could afford anything, it would be hard to beat a Central Park West apartment overlooking the park.
4. Do you have a dream building?
The Dakota would be it, if it wasn't for all the gawking tourists. I love the massive old landmarks--the San Remo, the Apthorp, the Majestic, the Belnord. But I can't afford them, not even by a longshot.
5. Any buildings that feel out of place with the feel of the neighborhood?
The Columbus Square development between 97th and 100th streets shocked some people, because the buildings are so glassy and modern in an area filled with brownstones, pre-war apartment buildings, and older housing projects.
The Riverside Boulevard buildings between 59th and 72nd also clearly stand out, because they're set off of the regular street grid and they offer a different kind of luxury living than Upper West Siders are used to -- more private, and with fewer stores.
6. Any real estate related controversy brewing or currently happening in your neighborhood?
This summer, two homeless shelters suddenly opened at 316 West 95th Street and 330 West 95th Street without any community consultation. The two facilities didn’t have certain safety measures, like surveillance cameras or security guards. That was a big deal. And we broke the story.
7. What are some of your most popular recent stories?
We profiled 10 restaurants that are set to open this fall and winter in the neighborhood. We've been chronicling the invasion of the rats on the Upper West Side. And people love our series by Marjorie Cohen about the history of the Upper West Side, using documents and photos from the New-York Historical Society. It's called History Beat.
8. What do you think your "sister" neighborhood might be?
The Upper West Side is often compared to Park Slope. Some say: "Park Slope is like the Upper West Side 25 years ago." It's liberal (to the point of endless caricature), and filled with writers, young families, and the labrador retrievers who love them.
9. Which neighborhood feels like the opposite of your neighborhood?
The Upper East Side of course. Upper West Siders consider themselves cultured and less snooty than their neighbors across the park. Of course, some of that is a fantasy. For instance, Woody Allen seems like the quintessential Upper West Sider in many ways. He set many of his movies in the neighborhood. And yet he lives on the East Side.
10. Would you stay in this neighborhood forever if you could?
It's a good place to grow old because there are so many amenities within walking distance, from cultural activities to great supermarkets, to parks; but I'm not ready to think about that.
11. If not, where would you want to go?
I’d go somewhere in Brooklyn or maybe a wide-open farm, far, far away from here.
12. What is one of the biggest misconceptions about the neighborhood?
There are quite a few. The Upper West Side has been seen by conservatives as a kind of liberal bogeyman for decades. And yes Elena Kagan is from here. But we don't exactly live in Portlandia. You can still get plastic bags in the supermarkets, for goodness sake.
Another misconception: As the neighborhood has gotten wealthier, there's a notion that everyone here is wealthy. But the core of the neighborhood is still made up of middle-class families.
13. Is the UWS still the UWS depicted in “You’ve Got Mail” with sweet, mom-and-pops battling it out against the big guys?
I think that dynamic is still at play. But it's complicated: "Fox Books" in You've Got Mail was based on Barnes & Noble, but when Barnes & Noble closed a big branch on the Upper West Side a couple of years ago, people were actually kind of sad. It turned out lots of locals had come to like some of the "big bad guys."
That said, people still lament the loss of mom-and-pop stores. That's one reason why the City Council passed a law this year limiting the size of storefronts on the Upper West Side. We covered it pretty extensively, and wrote about the final vote here.