Midtown gives Andrew WK energy.
Andrew WK moved to the city at 18 and bounced between Manhattan and Brooklyn for a few years before moving to Hell's Kitchen and, later, Midtown. These days, Andrew, 36, lives mostly in hotels while touring ("I decided I like the feeling of hotels more and it costs about the same or less"), but still considers Midtown Manhattan home. He lives for the over-the-top part of town that most people would find simply exhausting. Midtown gives Andrew WK energy.
VICE: What's your earliest memory of Midtown?
Andrew WK: First time [I visited] I was 13. There was still a heavy adult industry presence in the heart of Times Square—I'd never seen anything like that. I was just sort of crushed by that. Having had very few experiences with pornography in general at that time, seeing sort of what seemed like real life versions of photos or even to see the idea of an adult world come to life and not just be in pictures or in thoughts in my head or as a vague concept but as a living, breathing, phenomenon... a lot of it was quite upsetting. But it was upsetting in a way that, that I liked. That would have been 1992.
Who's your favorite neighborhood character?
There's one gentleman who comes to mind immediately. He was relatively understated, not particularly well dressed; you would probably mistake him for a tourist because he always had a small rolling suitcase with him. He was casually dressed in jeans and a T-shirt and maybe semi-dressed shoe. But he was always noticeable because he had his hair in sort of a pompadour with Elvis-style sunglasses that really contrasted with everything else he was wearing. I saw him a lot and always wondered what he was doing, but he was always on the move. I'll remember him for the rest of my life and every time I've been in the neighborhood I usually have seen him one point or another.
What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you in the area?
Scams. Taxi scams going on out front of the Port Authority or Penn Station, which were quite elaborate and in depth. I've always been fascinated with that. My dad and I were taken advantage of and scammed years ago on one of our trips. We were cheated out of around $170 for theater tickets. I was just really amazed by that. It was an intense life experience on all sides. My dad was very distraught, very humiliated. And I was very frightened but very intrigued and fascinated by the complexity of the scam, the con. We had tickets to see Miss Saigon.
Where do you like to eat?
Michael Jordan's Steak House in the main terminal concourse [at Grand Central Station]. Whether you're at a bar or restaurant, you're sitting with a view of the entire main floor of Grand Central Station and in front of the incredible, starry sky constellation ceiling that used to be just complete blackness from soot and smoke and filth. They left a patch of the ceiling as it used to be before it was restored. Just a black square in the midst of this beautiful turquoise blue sky with the amazing constellations illustrated and lit up. It's just remarkable.
There's Del Frisco's Steak House by the Time-Life building that has really sweeping two story ceilings in what is already a very huge lobby. That's a really fun place to go. I really like going to these places by myself. That's what I did a lot. Just walk around and go and even if it was just to sit in the bar. Just to be in these places, it was very special.
There's a good Szechuan restaurant called Lan Sheng that's really great if you like really, really spicy, peppery Chinese food, which is really hard to find outside of New York, in my experience.
There's two McDonald's, one on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Aves, the other one on 7th Avenue and 46th Street—that one's good too but it's not as big. What I really like about the one on 42nd Street is the way it's evolved. It's wide open [like] a boardwalk. 42nd Street now has that feeling, as a boardwalk, like Atlantic City, Coney Island, or any boardwalk I've been to. You can kind of walk in and out of places easily. You smell different smells coming out of different places and that McDonald's really has that feeling because it's almost like a big gateway and very spacious. And quite comfortable. People are drawn to it because it's perhaps the most familiar and comforting oasis in the midst of a very unfamiliar and threatening environment. It's somewhat of a safe haven.
Where do you go for a drink?
Any and all bars that don't have dress codes. The best one is Gabby O'Hara's on 39th Street—because they have the best bartenders. I also really like Kabooz's in Penn Station because of the atmosphere and location.
What's the best place for peace and quiet?
Bryant Park is very beautiful and has really been refurbished and rejuvenated. That part of town used to be pretty rough but now it's very desirable and that park is one of the main reasons. It's immaculate, there's a beautiful merry-go-round in there. They do outdoor movie screenings in the summer and there's bocce ball. There's really no other park like it in the city. It's very, very active. Beautiful fountains. It's right there by the library.
The [New York Public] library is a good place to go if you're looking for quiet. It couldn't be more stoic and serene at the same time. And I think that feeling kind of spills out into Bryant Park itself.
Finish this sentence: The most underrated Midtown destination is...
Penn Station. It's a really fun place to hang out. Not as beautiful in a real obvious way compared to some place like Grand Central Station but it has its own atmosphere and its own feeling. Again, going there when you don't have to get on a train, it's a good time to be by yourself and do whatever you want. It's great.
Boil down the neighborhood into a few words.
Outlandish. Unreasonable. Undeniable.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
ANDREW WK'S QUICK PICKS
Fave slice: Any dollar pizza place. Joey Pepperonis. It's just like 2 Bros. Any of those places.
Fave block: 40th Street between 8th and 9th Aves. This block was held out for a while. I haven't been there in the last few weeks. Anytime you don't see some place it could all be torn down.
Fave subway station: NQR at 42nd Street Times Square.