The Upper West Side before singles scenes and Starbucks

Today the Upper West Side is known by many as the singles capital of the world. To find a modern orthodox single who does not hang out o the Upper West Side is a true rarity. Singles from around the country move to the UWS as it is called to get married, get laid and get an apartment in the Westmont or the Keywest, which have just raised their rent by the way. I have never really been a part of this singles community, I am too young, too non-materialistic (poor) and too frum apparently, though this may not be true.

I have even heard there are UWS protocol with regards to where to daven, who to date, and where to live. As mentioned above the Westmont and Key West are two prime buildings in the 96th street ward. On Friday night I hear it is custom to attend the minyan at Oheb Tzedek and on Shabbos day one must be seen at the Jewish Center. Does this raise your chances of getting married while living on the UWS? I have no clue, all the folks I ever met who got married while living on the UWS, were not married to a fellow resident, but rather someone who came from some out of town place like Teanack or Washington heights- the up and coming Charedi version of the UWS.

It wasn’t always like this you know, there was a time not so long ago when the mean streets of the UWS was my stomping ground, there was a time when every corner did not contain a Starbucks and a Bank of America, there was a time when the only chain stores around were Duane Reed and Love Drugs, there was a time when pizza didn’t cost $2.50 a slice and a time when the only singles I ever met were my fathers 50 year old friends.

Those days are long gone, but when I was growing up the UWS was a completely different world. Now when I tell people I am from the UWS they assume that I am some transplant who moved there to find a wife, when I tell them I am actually “from” the UWS they are shocked and say they didn’t know people where from there.

It is quite funny how things change, when I was a kid not so very long ago, the cutoff line for good to bad neighborhoods was 96th street. 96th street was a general cut off line that ran from Broadway all the way to the FDR on the east side. At night you didn’t walk past 96th and in the day you were cautious, even when I used to go up to Columbia to skate or ride I had to watch my back. Of course on 99th and 106th streets where the cheap ghetto movie theaters instead of Lowes on 84th street. Now the bulk of the singles scene is above 96th street, how times have changed.

Most singles know of Lincoln Square Synagogue, but being that its down on 69th street most are not willing to make the trek. Its see through mechitza would be quite a hit, if the singles would just begin to take it over. It would be so much easier then actually straining your neck to peer at the goodies on the other side. When I was just a wee boy, Lincoln Square was the place to be, all the honeys went there and you could just stare at them all shull, they also had the best Kiddush’s. Lincoln towers apartments behind the shull were also the Saturday afternoon hangout.

The place to be shabbos afternoon to see all your buddies and all the people you talk about behind their backs in Central Park near 86th street. Its amazing to see the diversity that makes up the UWS, women and men in shorts in T-shirts sit and talk with guys in black pants and white shirt attire, as well as girls with long sleeves and stockings. Guys play baseball while other guys learn. It’s truly an amazing site to see. Some would only point out that its sooooooo-modern, with regards to tznius and shabbos activities, but the diversity gets me every time. No other community contains such a diversity.

Even in the different shulls, one can find a wider spread of different types of hashkafos. In the chasidishe shteebles for instance I feel most welcome and have the best davening. This is unlike the shteebles in Monsey and Brooklyn where I feel every upon me as I walk in and try and find an ahkenazic siddur. Not all the shulls on the UWS are like this, but I find it interesting that such a diverse group of Jews all live in the same neighborhood and eat at the same restaurants and go to the same take out stores, etc…

I am not a fan of the UWS for other reasons. Starbucks on every corner, chain stores choking out the mom and pops and the demise of those tiny Korean owned fruit stores. Shakespeare Books has been closed for years and the only large book store is non other than Banes and Nobles- a Friday night after dinner during the winter hangout may I say. Cups of Coffee for 25 cents that came in those blue cups with the pictures of steam are non-existsant and Chez David Kosher Pizza hasn’t been around for years, Café Roma with its ever increasing prices and decreasing service and taste is all one has to eat above 86th street unless they want bagels. Gan Asia does provide the cheaper Jews like myself with a good lunch special that is way better then the two other Chinese eateries on the UWS.

I remember when they built the building that houses the Gap on 86th street. I grew up down the block after all, and then a Banana Republic appeared across the street, Filenes on 79th and then all of the sudden all the one of a kind stores that graced Broadway for hundreds of years were replaced by large corporate chain stores that couldn’t care less about the local market. Uniformity set in and Broadway looked exactly like a strip mall in New Jersey minus the ugly concrete parking structures- that will come eventually.

Not all is lost, H & H Bagels- a NY staple and a huge after fast day hangout and Jewish Geography festival still exists on the corner of 80th and Broadway the next block over from Zabars. I remember to Zabars on Sunday mornings with my father to get fresh lox and coffee from the huge barrels. Zabars was and still is a rather exciting experience especially for the gourmet food lover like myself. The non-chain cleaners or Chinamen as my father calls them, just like he thinks all fruit stores are owned by Koreans who hit the cahs register buttons quick enough to cheat you in change. “You always got to watch these sneaky Koreans he used to say when counting his change”. He still does embarrassing things like that; he has no idea what politically correct means.

The bums still sleep on the 86th street churches steps and the benches in the island on Broadway still stand to make people watching in NYC a very fun pastime. A few stores here and there exist but most are just faded memories and sometimes the back round of an old photograph.

Even though I do not call the UWS home anymore, every time I go back, I can see the way it used to be. Dirty, slightly ghetto and much poorer then today. The one bedroom apartment I grew up in was bought for less then 50k and now it can be sold if painted for over 10 times that.