Rarely, do I ever, make it Uptown. It's one of those dogmas set in symbolic stone by Downtowners.
Never cross 14th St. Never fall into the trap of tourist-ridden 5th Avenue. Never, never visit Times Square.
This past night, I completed all of the above. Each and every task, with diligence and a hint of ambivalence. Ok, I was purely disgusted and ashamed.
But besides the downfall of crossing over, I did enjoy a few points.
One, the fact that you can feel self assured that you are a genuine native of the city, unlike the millions of camera-obsessive individuals toddling around, eyes wide open, mouths on the ground. You can pat yourself on the shoulder for never riding those repellent red double deckers. Yes, the tourist buses we copied from London. Can't we at least be original? We're New York City - drive people around in mini-General Slocums for God's sake.
Eventually, I made my way to Stage Deli. Set upon the dreaded 7th Avenue, a mere 100 yards from Carnegie, it was surprisingly in need of customers.
Maybe it's the obscene prices. Or the indecent service? Horrible sandwiches?
Alright, scratch the last one. Identical to Katz's and Carnegie, Stage relishes in charging their 80% tourist-based customers $14 for a pastrami sandwich. Then $10 for a slice of cheesecake. "Real" New York cheesecake.
What a bunch of shit.
For the price you pay, at least you get full. But other than that, the service, prices and atmosphere of tacky tourist-New York is far from worth it.
But it's got everything one could expect of "New York". Dirtied, tiled floors. A Mets game blasting in the background. An old kook of a woman manning the cashier. A half-pregnant gal working the tables.
It's dirty, grimy and full of attitude.
I question though, why these landmarks represent the city of New York. High prices? Fatty, moist, luscious pastrami on Jewish rye? Pickles (Must be Guss', right?) on the side with everything?
It's as if the city were an entire tool for marketing. A product of the economy. Oh wait, Wall Street.
What I left with was more than a bad memory. I left with a distaste for what tourist-hungry spots offer. The sandwich was fine, don't get me wrong - almost sublime. Tender, salty, thick with flavor. The rye, shoddy in durability yet still the perfectly subtle partner in crime. But still, I couldn't get over the fact people fall for this.
A fallacious idea that we live off overpriced pastrami sandwiches. The idea, that the Big Apple is Times Square all over.
Stage Deli, truly sets the stage. It takes it with triumphant chutzpah and wonderfully placed charisma. It lives up to what New York embodies - a case of truth, flavor and artificiality.
So what if my cheesecake looked like heaven, but tasted like paste. That's New York. Beautiful on the outside, magnificently captured and presented in photographs, yet a letdown to those who witness it in person.
The magic ends, the second you taste it for yourself.
Instead, what you realize is that Stage, New York and the sidewalks of our city are as human as any city in the world. So maybe they have the museums, the money and the history. That doesn't necessarily make it worth the ultimate praise.
And just like that, Stage gets the thumbs down. If only we were able to lower this curtain of pretentiousness, we'd be able to satisfy all that came.
Forget the tough guy shit, forget the bloated prices - then maybe, just maybe I might feel like making it Uptown again. And on top of that, referring to myself as a "Real Deal New Yorker". Or as the man taking a photo of his suburban wife in Times Square - "New Yawwker".
834 7th Avenue @ W 54th St
$14 Pastrami Sandwich