It’s only fitting that the eponymous I heart NY logo was born in the back of a yellow taxi, one iconic symbol of this great city spawning another. I loved this article in the British Airways High Life magazine telling the story of the graphic designer Milton Glaser who put the city’s modern day image firmly on the cultural map 40 years ago this year.
It reminded me of our own trip to New York over seven years ago, when we were a young, dating couple taking one of our first city breaks together and even had the guts to take a room with a shared bathroom (luckily we never had to wait for it).
Before even going I felt like I already knew New York intimately thanks to popular narratives like the Baby-Sitters Club (remember Stacy was the cool new kid from NYC?), Sex and the City (just how did she afford to live in that apartment?!) and The Devil Wears Prada (despite Andie’s suffering I still envied her glamorous magazine job). I anticipated that stepping off the plane, I would see stills straight out of these stories, punctuated by those sharp accents and the sound of honking traffic.
Determined to get to know the city, we took on Manhattan’s mean streets by foot over four days, walking our way from Hotel 17 on the Lower East Side, all the way down to the Staten Island ferry terminal and all the way up to Harlem. As we walked, the city delivered a series of lively, on-brand vignettes that unfolded all around us, marked by the unmistakeable yellow taxis, school buses and traffic lights and blue NYPD police cars.
The morning yoga in Madison Square park hardened into the icy grey stone of Wall Street as we travelled down. It then gave way to the bustling markets of Chinatown and the Little Italy shopfronts bursting with flavour, to the bar in Tribeca where we overheard a group of 20-something guys loudly telling tall tales about their latest shenanigans. Then right on cue, a fashion photo shoot materialised in Soho followed by a New York University student protest.
We made the obligatory purchase of an I Heart NY t-shirt off a street vendor, who wearily complained to us: “New York is like a machine and you’re just a tiny part of it. You want to get out, but you can’t, because you’re stuck in the machine.”
In Central Park we witnessed Morris dancers in pristine uniforms perform while children ate fluffy fairy floss and rode the carousel. As we traversed further north, we decided on lunch at a Mexican restaurant in Spanish Harlem, and we wondered if we’d actually been transported to Mexico. We placed our orders with a red lipsticked, raven haired waitress who spoke little English, and as we ate, we watched her get swept off her feet by an equally raven haired man who danced her around the restaurant to the loudly playing Latin music. In Harlem proper, locals strutted down the street with attitude, proud to call this neighbourhood their home.
We soothed our tired feet in the evening at the Old Town Bar back on the Lower East Side, with glistening, cold pitchers of Sierra Nevada and the best cheesy, pink burgers I’ve ever had to this day. We also dined like real New Yorkers, eating generous pizza slices off paper plates, washing them down with beer out of paper cups before scoring last minute tickets to the Village Vanguard jazz club. We capped off a night by rubbing shoulders with chaps-clad, hat toting bona fide cowboys listening to honky tonk music with piles of peanut shells under their feet at the Rodeo Bar.
It’s difficult not to heart NY and there’s nowhere else like it. So happy 40th birthday to the logo, which made this gritty city into a global brand that everyone wants a piece of. Hopefully I’ll get another one.