THE DEBATE CLUB • October 2021
A culture war between the US coasts has long raged, with LA loyalists and New York natives often insisting superiority over their ‘rival’ city. Now, it’s time for you to pick a side. To help make the decision, New Yorker Sebastian Modak and long-time LA resident Louise Roe have a face-off
New York, all the way
Says who: Sebastian Modak, former Condé Nast Traveler editor and The New York Times’ 52 Places Traveler
You’ve got three days to experience a city that most people spend a lifetime trying to understand. You could use that time popping into world-class museums on a whim or eating too much, because each new restaurant and food stall looks even better than the one you just left. You could spend your time walking through its streets, noticing the changes in neighbourhoods, languages, sounds and smells as you go. Your day could end late, maybe with cocktails on a glitzy rooftop or a low-lit dive bar that hasn’t changed in 50 years.
Or, in another city on the other side of the country, you could spend the bulk of that time in the back of cabs, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, listening to a rotating cast of drivers pitch their latest screenplays. The sun might be perpetually shining and Korean tacos are pretty great, but how much will you be able to enjoy either when you spend one half of your day strategising which parts of the sprawl deserve the effort, and the other half of it trying to get to them?
Head into the Bronx for an Italian feast on Arthur Avenue, where waiters lure you to try their famous Bolognese
See, New York City’s greatest appeal is how much you can do in so little time. Start with a multicultural breakfast binge in Queens, where more languages are spoken than any place in the world. Then pop down to Brooklyn for barbecue-to-go in Red Hook. Hop on the ferry and you’re back in Manhattan in minutes. Make your way uptown for the Guggenheim, MoMA or the Met – you choose. Then, as the sun sets, it’s on to the subway as you head into the Bronx for an Italian feast on Arthur Avenue, where waiters line the streets, luring you to try their famous Bolognese. And that’s all before you’ve even considered the ‘classic’ sights.
But these aren’t the reasons you’ll fall in love with New York. You’ll fall in love with New York for all the things you discover in between: the parks, the people, the surprise finds, those bagels from that nondescript looking bodega. And, after a while, even the occasional rat on the subway platform or whiff of sun-baked garbage suddenly starts to carry its own cinematic ‘only in New York’ appeal. See, Los Angeles may be famous for the movies, but all the great stories are here.
Nowhere beats Los Angeles
Says who: Louise Roe, TV presenter, author and blogger
I spent 11 years living in, and loving, Los Angeles. It’s a city whose reputation precedes it, one filled with preconceptions and clichés (many of which are true – good and bad). And despite me taking the decision to move back to England last autumn, there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t catch myself dreaming about the palm tree-lined boulevards, drenched in sunshine, that snake up towards the hills where we used to live.
Los Angeles provides one of the best lifestyles in the world (24/7 blue skies and more Farmers’ Markets than I’ve ever known in one city) and, by extension, one of the best holiday spots, too. You might be tempted by its Hollywood history, which lends some iconic story or other to every neighbourhood, or its recently exploded modern art scene, which has gained so much international acclaim that the first Frieze Los Angeles was launched in 2019. But, for me, it’s about the energy.
Sure, the Big Apple’s energy is infectious, but it’s also exhausting
Here, people are motivated. They rollerblade… for fitness. They seek out all things fresh and have an incredible can-do attitude. I tried New York and, though the idea was originally enticing, I realised I’m always ready to leave after a few days. Sure, the Big Apple’s energy is infectious, but it’s also exhausting.
Los Angeles, meanwhile, has an irreplaceable Zen – if you know where to go. Beneath the flashing billboards of Sunset Strip, there’s a world of culture: a melting pot of kitsch, cool, and hidden corners. I remember when the city’s foodie landscape was dominated by junk food chains slap bang next to juice bars (I’ve always laughed at the extremes you see in LA!), until an influx of talented Aussies arrived to launch epic restaurants around town. Nick Mathers was first, he opened The Eveleigh, a rustic restaurant with log fires and glittering city views. I can tell you the menu off by heart – sip the Poor Carlito (actually that’s off-menu!) with the truffle fries and squid.
Plus, there’s both beach and mountains (perfect for sporty types who go for hikes around Griffith Park, coastal cycles and morning surfs), while a one-to-two-hour drive will have you daydreaming beside waterfalls or in the desert. It might even have you squashing grapes in Wine Country – now that’s something the East Coast can’t give you! LA certainly cast a spell on me, and, if you give it a proper chance, it’ll cast one on you, too.