It's a not-so-best-kept secret that one can find reasonable rents on the Upper East Side—so much so that young people and others in search of almost-affordable housing are forgoing more happening downtown and Brooklyn neighborhoods to live a few blocks from the IRL Cruel Intentions and Gossip Girl kids. Until now, those intrepid Uptown Pioneers were forced to contend with lost friendships and long commutes to the hip part of town. But what if the UES is the hip part of town, assuming Brooklyn's cool brand has already soured? Have we ceded Williamsburg to the old, rich and boring? Is it just a matter of time before Todd P. starts curating shows at The Carlyle?
In fact, Daily Beast writer Tom Teodorczuk argues in a post today that the UES has already eclipsed Brooklyn in coolness, if just because Brooklyn's gotten so cool that it's totally uncool. Per Teodorczuk:
Especially in Brooklyn, the social pressure to stand out can seem suffocating. The atmosphere in bars and eateries in Williamsburg and Greenpoint often feels like an aesthetic arms race in which farm-to-table restaurants and cocktail bars exhaustively compete to innovate at the expense of the pleasant and fun experience they’re supposed to provide.
In a Williamsburg bar last week, I couldn’t help thinking, while scanning the predictable sartorial backdrop of skinny jeans, retro T-shirts and kooky eyewear, that this restless desire to embrace the new is shrinking the scene. Brooklyn style has become as predictable as a Mad Men actor telling us about their transition into film.
The Upper East Side, on the other hand, is "refreshingly devoid of bourgeois bohemianism." Unlike Brooklyn, Teodorczuk purports, the neighborhood doesn't draw in transplants, making it far more "authentic" than some of its Kings County counterparts, and far less frequented by tourists in Ray Bans and fedoras. "We have a lot of regulars and we know their names. Downtown I feel like it’s more transient—there’s more of a scene, more pretense," Stuart Holt, who manages Yorkville pub Jones Wood Foundry, told the Daily Beast. "You’re not going to sit and read a book at The Spotted Pig, but you can do that here."
It's true that although the UES recalls a neighborhood filled with rich old ladies in pearls and people who Instagram cupcakes that come from an ATM, there are plenty of excellent eateries, bars, museums and close-ish proximity to Central Park—which, coming from someone whose most accessible green space is Maria Hernandez Park, is nothing to sneer at. And though downtown and Brooklyn were once the respite from the moneyed, fratastic masses, you're perhaps more likely to run into that crowd on Orchard Street than on 2nd Ave. Now, apparently, the UES is drawing in some of Brooklyn's newest refugees, "hipsters who like everything vintage and ‘Old Cool.’” As an owner of a video rental shop said, "More young people are members. Many are from Brooklyn and they like that there are a lot of local stores and it’s not so corporate here.”
I recently visited a friend who lives in the far reaches of the UES—her studio apartment is cheaper than most in my neighborhood, her sidewalk and those that surround it are clean and inviting, and the streets boast plenty of low-key pubs, inexpensive restaurants and mom-and-pop shops scattered amid the Duane Reades. People aren't too cool to wear flip-flops, for better or for worse, and there seemed to be far fewer loud, drunk kids on 1st Ave than on Troutman Street in Bushwick. It's easy to see how someone turned off by Brooklyn's money-fueled HOTHIPNOWness might seek refuge somewhere a little less likely to inspire the "Brooklyn Girls" video.
But of course, therein lies the problem. Once upon a time, Brooklyn was heralded as the antidote to a corporate, expensive Manhattan, and now the Upper East Side is potentially an antidote to a dishearteningly twee, corporate, expensive Brooklyn. Once upon a time, the UES drew in lots of single suburban ladies who wanted to model their lives after Upper East Sider Carrie Bradshaw, because that was what was "cool" then, and now, obviously, Brooklyn draws in people who want to be like Lena Dunham's hair or whatever, and we all sneer at people who scoff at the idea of crossing the East River, because what's left in Manhattan other than the elderly and their pure-bred dogs?
But if Brooklyn's no longer cool, and all the "cool" people in Brooklyn move to the Upper East Side in search of a more "authentic" NYC, how long do we have until those people start building their own "brand" of cool uptown, jacking up rents, transforming Michael's into a Beacon's Closet, redecorating Dorrian's Red Hand with reclaimed wood and throwing 6 a.m. sober raves at SoulCycleEast? WHAT IF THE UPPER EAST SIDE GETS GENTRIFIED?
Ahem: "When we opened there wasn’t really much here,” Holt told the Daily Beast. “It was just Irish sports bars and there was no such thing as a gastropub or speakeasy. Since we opened there have been 15 or 18 places open on the Upper East Side. The area is classier, cooler and edgier.”
That settles it; let's all move to Manitoba.