Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is like a tour guide for locals. Monetarily challenged locals, mostly. Lucky for us, his new guide focuses on New York, and this week we got him to tell us all about how to live on a dime, have the perfect cheap date, and much more. Prepare to fill up your piggy bank!
Did you learn anything new about New York when you were writing your guide to the city? Absolutely! I mean, my book covers all the way from Carroll Gardens to Harlem, so every day was a learning experience. You know what I did notice after moving to New York from San Francisco though? I realized that nobody in SF checks each other out. It’s really weird. Like I’ve totally walked through Soho and gotten checked out by women that might be famous models, not because I’m the best looking cat in the world or anything, but just because that’s what people in New York do. It’s like a sport out here or something. Motherfuckers just check each other out. In San Francisco, you’re lucky if the homeless lady who just shit herself gives you the eye. It’s quite bizarre.
What are your favorite and least favorite neighborhoods here? This is easy. My least favorite neighborhood is the Meatpacking District. It represents all the things I hate about America: excess, hyper-consumption and general douchebaggery. Why would I wait in line to pay $20 just so I can go listen to bad music and spend $17 on Burberry flavored vodka? In fact, I purposely omitted the Meatpacking district from my book because I loathe it so much. But Murray Hill is a close second in terms of places I dislike. Really, what is it about upper-middle class white guys in collared shirts that make them wanna fight each other so much? Are their lives really so bad? The only redeeming thing about Murray Hill is the food. Whoever invented curry was a fucking genius.
In terms of my favorite neighborhoods I’m really in love with West Harlem; it might be the coolest area in the city right now. It’s at this weird point where, urban redevelopment has made it much safer than it was in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but it hasn’t been gentrified to the point yet where it’s lost the authenticity of being the historic capitol of Black America. Know what I mean? Plus you can get killer Mexican food there...by New York standards anyway. I also love love love Jackson Heights. Where else can you find delicious and authentic food from Bangladesh, Colombia and China all within a few blocks from each other? It’s like the United Nations is holding a summit in my belly!
Are there any nice, clean dive bars in the city you can recommend? What the hell do you want a nice, clean dive bar for? When I go out I want my money to go towards drinks, not atmosphere. It’s not that I’m opposed to atmosphere, I just can’t usually afford it. But if you’re really saying, “I’m afraid I might catch diphtheria in the Mars Bar. Where’s a cool place that I can drink for cheap, and meet someone with whom sleeping with won’t cause me to reevaluate the direction of my life?” Then there are some great places I can recommend. I’ll just list a few, Rudy’s in Hell’s Kitchen, The Ding-Dong Lounge in the UWS, Peter McManus Café in Chelsea, and The Bushwick Country Club in Williamsburg are some of my favorites.
Tell us what you would suggest for the ultimate cheap date night here? You know what I always thought would be a cool thing to do for a date? I haven’t done it yet, but I think taking the tram to Roosevelt Island around sunset would be awesome. It’s a great view and you can use your monthly metro card to do it. So lets say the date starts there, and assuming it’s a Friday night, you then stroll over to the MoMA because it’s free on Fridays from 4-8pm. After you get kicked out of the museum, you catch a train to the East Village and get some dirt cheap drinks at the Blue & Gold Tavern. Then you hop on the L train, get off at the Lorimer Stop, and get even more drinks at the Alligator Lounge. Luckily they give you a personal pizza with every drink you buy, so that way, when you go home and have sloppy drunk sex (using the free NYC condoms you grabbed at one of the bars) nobody gets the spins. How’s that for an ultimate date? A great view, free art, cheap drinks, free pizza AND you get laid at the end! Sounds perfect to me.
What's your ideal day in New York, and how much would it cost? Um, I think I just described it. The only thing that could make it better would be ending up at home with two girls instead of one...well that or ending up at home with Gilbert Gottfried. Wouldn’t that be a great story to tell at a dinner party?
Can you give us one secret about New York that would surprise most locals? I’m really into finding out weird stuff about the city like the fact that there’s an abandoned train tunnel in Brooklyn that can only be gotten to through a manhole at the intersection of Court St. and Atlantic Ave. But in terms of something that all New Yorkers can dig, how about the fact that you can go kayaking on the Hudson River for free? Just go to downtownboathouse.com where you can learn about getting free kayak lessons and trips.
Please share your strangest "only in New York" story. Hmm...that’s a tough one. I think my most telling “only in New York” story is that I lived in four different apartments in less than a year in Brooklyn. I’m not gonna get into the whole thing, but isn’t that ridiculous? If Uhaul had a rewards card, I would’ve won a free trip to Hawaii in the back of a Uhaul or something. But seriously, this city has to get some better rent control laws, otherwise living in New York as a broke-ass artist is gonna require sleeping in the Jet Blue terminal at JFK.
Which New Yorker do you most admire? I’m gonna have to go with Anthony Bourdain. I’m really not a starfucker, but I haven’t been this hard on somebody's jock since I was like 15 and got into Jimi Hendrix. Basically, I look at what he’s doing and see my future. I want a Broke-Ass Stuart travel show and watching No Reservations gives me inspiration. So if you’re a studio exec and you’re reading this interview, holla at a broke-ass!!
What's your current soundtrack? There’s a great San Francisco artist I’m really digging right now named Emily Jane White. She kinda makes me wanna burn incense and make collages and shit when I listen to her, which is weird because I hate making collages. Otherwise I’ve been bumping a lot of Smokey Robinson, M. Ward, Erykah Badu, Nas, The Clash, Elliot Smith, and Brother Ali...Oh, And I’ve also been listening to Alice in Chains Unplugged recently. Goddamn that album is SO good and totally slept on. I’m gonna catch a lot of heat for this, but I’m willing to say it’s even better than Nirvana Unplugged. There I said it. Somebody had to.
Best cheap eat in the city. I’m in San Francisco right now, and I’m really jonesing for some NYC street food. The street food in New York is more diverse than Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. Seriously you can get anything from kimchi to bbq to arepas to dosa on the streets of New York. And they are generally cheap as hell. But I’m sure you want something more specific that that right? So I’m gonna drop a dime right now. Another local Cheap eats writer named Josh Bernstein hipped me to this one. In the basement of the East Broadway Mall in Chinatown is a restaurant where the menu is all in Chinese and no English is spoken. It’s amazingly good and SO cheap! I think I got out of there last time spending like $3.50 and that included a bottle of water. Just go there, look at what someone else is eating, point to it and say you want it. That’s what I always do.
Best venue to see music in NYC. Can I say the subway? Is that too trite? I’ve actually heard some really great music down there, and it only costs a metrocard swipe to hear it. Otherwise I’d say Joe’s Pub. I know it’s not Broke-Ass at all, but it was for me. My girlfriend used to work there, so I’d always stop in, sit at the bar and dig on the music. The sound quality and the intimacy make it a wonderful venue. Plus if your girlfriend works there you can get drunk for pretty cheap.