Category Archives: Architecture

Nighthawks At The Diner

I’d wanted to visit the Empire Diner ever since I saw John Baeder’s painting of it on the cover of the Tom Waits album, Asylum Years. Roughly twenty years later on a cold Sunday evening in November I got my chance. Though perhaps the quintessential New York diner, this 24-hour Chelsea eatery is far from your average truck-stop, but more a paean to a bygone age.

The food is refined, the Art Deco decor positively glistens, and there’s a hushed atmosphere after-hours. There’s even a pianist tinkling in a corner — he played Leon Russell’s “Song For You” as I sat at the shiny black counter, while reflected in the mirrored walls the yellow cabs silently glided up Tenth Avenue.

Weekend in South Beach

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Last weekend I flew down to Florida to visit Hillary. She is staying in a crew-house in Fort Lauderdale, until she gets a job aboard a yacht. It was my first time in Florida, and what hit me most was how wild it seemed. Cars speed along highways with a recklessness I’ve never seen outside of Italy, with little or no regard for the laws of the road or other drivers. I felt less safe than I’ve ever done in Manhattan, even after dark. Everything felt older than in New York: Hillary and I went in a laundromat across the street where nothing had appeared to have changed since the 1970s — even the magazines. We rented a Chrysler and drove down to Miami. Arriving in Downtown Miami, we eventually parking for lunch in Little Havana. After a ridiculously large portion of chicken, rice, beans and plantains, we elected to hop back in the car and cross the water to South Beach.

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South Beach’s grid system makes it feel kind of like a mini-Manhattan, but with prettier colours and better beaches. I had always wanted to see the architecture of Ocean Drive, but I had no idea there were so many perfectly maintained Art Deco buildings on every street, and not as tourist attractions, but functioning as hotels, bars and houses. The whole experience was a stunning visual, and slightly retro overload. Part Miami Vice, part The Godfather Part II, Miami is like being transported back to the 1950s and 1980s simultaneously. I expected hoards of J.Lo-esque clubbers crawling the streets, Gloria Estefan pumping from blacked-out SUVs, but instead the vibe was extremely laid back and simply exuded an effortless cool.

We stayed in a little hotel between Collins and Washington Avenues, a beautiful little pink and turquoise spot where sand gets walked into the lobby. There was a long corridor on our floor, with spinning ceiling fans and a hardwood floor. I became somewhat mesmerized by that corridor, and still dream about it sometimes. South Beach immediately ranks as one of my favourite towns ever: it’s one of those places where you can’t believe you’re there when you’re there, and you can’t believe you were ever there when you get back. Kind of like how New York used to feel…