The New York Times describe Jay McInerney’s 1984 debut, Bright Lights, Big City, as the ‘voice of a generation’, likening the work to that of J.D. Salinger and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
He’s since published a further nine books; featured in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The Times Literary Supplement; created screen plays (including Gia, for which Angelina Jolie won a Golden Globe); and has featured as the quintessential New York voice and persona for television show Gossip Girl (2010 and 2011).
His latest oeuvre, however, is as a wine fan. McInerney wine columns have been found in the Wall Street Journal and Conde Nast. And have since been made into collections – Bacchus and Me (2000) and A Hedonist in the Cellar (2006).
He’s even won an award for this wine writing.
Jay McInerney gives us more…
Have you always lived in New York? What makes it so special that you continue to call it home?
I came to the city as a young adult, in the fall of 1979, after two post-graduate years in Japan. And ever since then I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else. It’s the greatest American city, and yet it’s almost a country to itself, really, a self-contained world of stubborn natives and ambitious immigrants.
Your cult title Bright Lights Big City was an ode to hedonism and self-destruction in New York in the eighties – how has the city changed in the last 25 years?
The city has change immensely in the last 25 years. When I first arrived New York was just pulling back from the brink of bankruptcy and the city was dirty and crime ridden and dangerous. But it was also the scene of great artistic and cultural ferment. The downtown cultural scene was at its peak—graffiti, hip hop and punk rock were being invented, and nightclubs and performance spaces were springing up in abandoned buildings. That city is long gone. Gentrification and prosperity have overtaken much of Manhattan, although downtown clings to its bohemian identity—and Williamsburg and other more marginal areas of Brooklyn have inherited much of the artistic energy.
What places have survived unscarred, intact and with a reputation worth going to since those heydays?
Virtually nothing has survived from that era—except for the landmarks, although not all of those are intact; the World Trade Center was on the cover of Bright Lights, Big City. A few remnants of the scene exist, Odeon, the Tribeca restaurant, also pictured on the cover of Bright Lights. Raoul’s, a terrific French bistro in Soho, has been a Mecca for artists, writers and scruffy celebs for more than 25 years. A few bars like the Old Town Bar, north of Union Square, and Pete’s Tavern, in Gramercy Park, have survived and thrived over the decades.
Where do you hang out now? What are those below-the-radar gems that nobody really knows about?
It’s hard to find anything below the radar in the era of Time Out and the Internet, which is another way in which New York has changed. I hang out at the Breslin Bar, the Lion, Minetta Tavern, the Standard Grill and the Boom Boom Room.
For visitors coming to New York – what would you recommend they see that is quintessential NYC and gets away from the tourist trail?
Just stay out of midtown—it’s a cultural wasteland. Walk through Greenwich Village and you will find a hundred bars and shops and restaurants worth a visit. Then take the L train from Union Square to Williamsburg. Walk and explore. Go to Balthazar in Soho in the off hours, for early brunch or late dinner. Or Momofuku SSam Bar in the East Village—they don’t take reservations so you’ll wait with everyone else but it’s a great crowd to mix with.
Since those days of excess you have calmed down and wine is now your passion – which restaurants in NYC have the most incredible wine lists?
The best wine lists in New York are at Veritas, Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, Del Posto and Le Bernardin. These are all three and four star restaurants though. For fun and innovative wine lists in slightly less intimidating settings I recommend Union Square Café, the Lamb’s Club, Gotham Bar and Grill. For Italian wine Babbo is hard to beat, although Otto Enoteca and Pizzeria, also owned by Mario Battali and Joe Bastianich probably has the best list of any pizzeria in the world.
As a connoisseur – what do you favour – is it all about the big name first and second growth clarets or is the New World beginning to steal a march? If you could tip one US wine that is impeccable value – what would it be?
My favorite region is burgundy, and there are dozens if not hundreds of exciting small growers there. That said, California and Oregon have some impressive wines. David Ramey’s chardonnays are hard to beat for the money, and outperform most white burgundies. Also Melville Pinots and Chardonnays.
What are you working on at the moment? Have we got a new book to look forward to in 2012?
I’m working on a new novel at the moment, and hoping to publish in 2013. In the meantime I have a book of wine essays called the Juice coming in May.