Christopher Bonanos: New York City Was Never Dead
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On the reinvention of NYC:
There is a long and illustrious history of people declaring, mistakenly, that New York City is dead. The obvious one that we all know about is the 1970s and 80s when the crime wave was spiking and the infrastructure was decaying and a lot of people left. The real dynamic at work there was a lot more complicated. It was really about job loss, [now] it’s an acute rent crisis. New York in the 19th and first half of the 20th century was a factory town. That’s what cities were; they were places that had a lot of middle class people in one place to run factories where things were made not necessarily by hand, but pretty close. We forget that all of those loft buildings downtown, which are now very nice places to live, were factories. . . . In the 1960s all of that business drained away, to places in the West and the South and eventually overseas. New York lost a million people in the 1970s. Unthinkable now. All of that changed the character of the city, and that’s when New York really felt like it was over, because its reason for being ended. Did it end? It did not. We invented our way out of it.
On the invention of TGIFridays:
TGIFridays was created in the mid 1960s, on First Avenue around 63rd Street, and it was aimed at young single professionals in the neighborhood at the time, particularly young single women. The idea was to make a bar that they could go to that would look modern rather than old, that was brightly lit rather than dark. The average dark, smoky corner tavern was not hospitable to women. You could perhaps come in as a couple and sit in a back corner somewhere. But a lot of saloons didn’t want women at all, and if you showed up as a single woman at a hotel bar in that era you would perhaps be escorted out because they thought you were a prostitute. McSorley’s, in the East Village, did not admit women at all until a lawsuit was threatened in 1970. 1970! . . . Friday’s was meant to be modern, where secretaries and flight attendants could go to feel comfortable and maybe meet a guy.
Christopher Bonanos is city editor at New York Magazine, where he covers arts and culture and urban affairs. He is the author of Instant: The Story of Polaroid and Flash: The Making of Weegee the Famous, and he is the editor of Encyclopedia of New York by the editors of New York Magazine.