Get to know Fran Lebowitz’s New York, as shown in “Pretend It’s a City”

“When people say, ‘Why do you live in New York?’ you really can’t answer them, except you know that you have contempt for people who don’t have the guts to do it.” – Fran Lebowitz

Ever since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March of 2020, New York hasn’t been the same. Sure, it’s slowly reopening, after being the epicenter of the pandemic, but it still has a long way to go.

One show to watch to remind us of how vibrant and crowded New York City used to be (and will be again), is Netflix’s “Pretend It’s a City”, directed by Martin Scorsese.

It’s a seven-episode docuseries in which he interviews author Fran Lebowitz, known for her very strong opinions about everything, specially about New York. The episodes are divided by themes and we get to see Fran visiting many different places in the city. It’s a fun show to watch and a good guide of places to go!

1. Panorama of the City of New York

Throughout the seven episodes of “Pretend It’s a City“, Fran Lebowitz is walking over a miniature model of New York, while pointing out some places she used to live or visit in the city. The same place was used in the movie “Wonderstruck” (2017), starring Julianne Moore.

The miniature model is actually called “Panorama of the City of New York” and it is part of the collection of the Queens Museum. Originally built for the ’64 World’s Fair, its most recent renovation was in 1992. As of 2009, the Museum launched its “Adopt-a-Building” program, “aimed at securing the future of the model while simultaneously bringing it up to date. For as little as $100, real estate on the Panorama can be “purchased,” with property owners receiving a deed in exchange for their donation.” You can see more information directly on the Museum’s website here.

2. The Players

Another location that is frequently used for interviews on the show is The Players, a historic private social club. Located on Gramercy Park, the club “draws its membership from the international theatre community, the related fields of film, television, music, and publishing, as well as respected patrons of the arts.”

Martin Scorsese conducts great part of the interviews with Fran in the Grill Room, on the ground floor. We can also see Fran reading in the club’s library.

3. New York Public Library

It’s no secret that Fran Lebowitz loves books – she famously owns over 10,000 of them. So it’s no surprise that one of the episodes would be dedicated to books, which calls for a visit to the New York Public Library.

4. Library Walk

One very common feature of the show is Fran walking around New York and reading the many plaques engraved on the sidewalks throughout the city. One of them is the Library Walk, very near the New York Public Library, along E 41st Street, between Fifth Ave. and Park Ave. You can find quotes about writing, reading, and literature as you approach the Library.

You can read about about the Library Walk and its quotes here.

5. Hess Triangle

Speaking about plaques on sidewalks, Fran also makes a stop at the Hess Triangle, at the corner of Seventh Ave. and Christopher Street.

6. Grand Central Station

Fran also visits the Grand Central Station. According to her, “[t]he great thing about Grand Central Station, the reason it’s so beautiful, is because one person built it. A building that size now would never be built by a single person. There would not be a single sensibility.”

7. Bust of Sylvette

One of the conversations Fran has with Martin Scorsese is about art and its appreciation today. She doesn’t understand why, during an auction of a Picasso, the audience breaks into applause when it’s sold at an enormous price and not when the piece of art is first introduced to the potential buyers.

Speaking about Picasso, Fran walks past by one of his sculptures, called Bust of Sylvette. It’s located at NYU Silver Towers, on Wooster Street.

8. Film Forum

A couple of interviews in the last episode of the show were shot at Film Forum (209 W Houston St.) – specifically in its offices above the theatre, as confirmed by their Instagram account:

9. Argosy Bookstore

Fran also visits a bookstore while talking about books. We can see her going inside Argosy Bookstore, on E 59th St, between Park Ave. and Lexington Ave. Founded in 1925, its “stock of antiquarian and out-of-print items fills a six-floor building in midtown Manhattan and a large warehouse in Brooklyn.”

10. Strand Kiosk at Times Square

In a show about New York, it’s almost impossible not to mention Times Square. Fran talks at length about how she avoids it at all costs and how she doesn’t like anything about it. Nevertheless, we see her strolling down Times Square for the docuseries and she stops by the Strand Kiosk on 43rd St., between Seventh Ave. and Broadway.

She even asks the Strand’s employee if he sells any books at that location, noting it’s an insult to the books to be displayed there.

If you wish to visit the Strand Book Store’s main location, it’s at 828 Broadway at 12th St.

11. Majestic Theatre

It is also impossible to talk about New York without mentioning Broadway shows. Fran tells Martin Scorsese about the first time she saw The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway and how she was unaware of what happens mid-show with the chandelier (which we won’t mention here in case you haven’t seen it).

While she’s telling the story, we see her walking past the Majestic Theatre, where Phantom was playing before the COVID-19 pandemic closed all theatres. Hopefully, it will re-open in 2021.

12. 23rd Street Subway Station – M/F Lines

Episode 3 is dedicated to discussing modes of transportation and, of course, Fran has very strong opinions about the subway system in the city. She was particularly annoyed when the subway station close to her apartment was closed for months for enhancements, which didn’t include track improvements or station cleaning. Instead, it included art installation.

The art in question was a series of photos of Weimaraners, by artist William Wegman. The exhibit, called “Stationary Figures”, features 11 mosaic panels of his Weimaraners portraits. The station is on 23rd St and 6th Ave.

13. Floating Subway Map

There are many segments in the show when we just see Fran walking around the city and stopping occasionally to look at the sidewalks. One of the things she sees is a floating subway map of Manhattan on a sidewalk in Soho. It is embedded into the sidewalk in front of 110 Greene Street just south of Prince Street.

It is literally entitled Subway Map Floating on a New York City Sidewalk and it was created by Belgian artist Françoise Schein.

14. Alexander Calder’s Sidewalk

Fran also walks on Alexander Calder’s Sidewalk, which is located located on Madison Avenue between 78th and 79th Streets. It was installed in 1970 and it’s 75 by 15 feet.

15. Charging Bull

During an episode in which Fran Lebowitz and Martin Scorsese discuss money – and Fran’s hatred for it -, she ends up at one of the most tourist-filled places in New York City: the Charging Bull, in Lower Manhattan.

Currently at Bowling Green, the bronze statue is a symbol of Wall Street.

Fran also walks by Lincoln Center and the Chrysler Building, as well as many other streets in New York which makes us long for the times when we could all walk around carelessly and, maybe, stumble upon her while looking at our phones.

Sources: Untapped New York, Place Matters

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