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London - David Bowie has spent half his adult life in America, most of it in New York, the city he “fantasised over” since his teens and where he has lived since 1992. A major exhibition examining his effect on culture has just opened at the V&A in London, so it’s a great time to explore Bowie’s Big Apple.
Start your crawl at Washington Square Park, the place that Bowie cited in 2003 as his favourite spot in New York. This open space in Greenwich Village, overlooked by the Washington Arch, is a great place to people-watch. At one time you could have heard Woody Guthrie sing and Allen Ginsberg read poetry here. Today you’re more likely to encounter dog walkers, nannies and students rushing between lectures.
Head to the south-west corner, exit between the chess tables and walk down MacDougal Street.
Turn right on 3rd Street, and on the left you’ll see the red neon window signs of Bleecker Bob’s (bleecker-bobs.blogspot.com), Manhattan’s longest-surviving independent record store, and a Bowie favourite for rare vinyl, where second-hand records are lovingly sorted, labelled and stacked. It opens at 11am but doesn’t close until the early hours.
Turn back on to MacDougal. A few yards along is Caffe Reggio (cafereggio.com) established in 1927. It’s everything you could want of a Greenwich Village coffee bar, and the ideal place for a late breakfast. Bowie has been spotted there.
MacDougal and Bleecker were at the heart of the folk music revolution of the early 1960s, a period Bowie evokes in his new track (You Will) Set the World on Fire through references to The Gaslight and The Bitter End. Alas, The Gaslight, a cellar café beneath 116, has long gone.
Continue on MacDougal and turn left on Bleecker Street. Three blocks down is The Bitter End (bitterend.com), another pioneer folk venue that trades on its illustrious past.
Follow Bleecker three blocks along to Broadway, cross over and turn right. Walk past the giant Urban Outfitters, Ugg and Adidas stores, cross Houston Street and you’re in SoHo. Another block down on the corner of Prince Street is Dean & Deluca (deandeluca.com), a food emporium with marble floors and staff in white uniforms. The choice is overwhelming: 150 to 200 varieties of cheese, 100 types of bread. In 2008, Bowie was snapped carrying a Dean & Deluca bag back home.
Two blocks along Prince is Lafayette Street, Bowie’s NoLita (North of Little Italy) home since 1999 when he bought two adjoining apartments for $4m in a newly converted chocolate factory. From his window he can see a punk boutique, a German handbag shop, a garage and a huge Calvin Klein billboard of two young men in clinging underpants.
Cross Lafayette and on the right side of Prince is McNally Jackson (mcnallyjackson.com), an independent book store frequented by the star. Want to buy a Bowie biography? There are three by different authors in the basement.
Walk back across Lafayette and then another block along to the narrow, cobbled Crosby Street. Turn left. On the left is the Crosby Street Hotel (crosbystreethotel.com), owned by London-based hotel group Firmdale, where Bowie and his wife Iman have attended events. Stop for a spot of lunch in its popular Crosby Bar.
Further down Crosby behind an unmarked grey door is The Magic Shop (magicshopny.com), the studio where Bowie recorded his new album The Next Day.
Return to Spring, turn right, walk five blocks to The Bowery and then one block left. Over the road, looking like a stack of grey boxes, is the New Museum (newmuseum.org; open 11am-6pm Wednesday to Sunday), Manhattan’s only museum dedicated to contemporary art. The show NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star runs until May 26.
Finally, turn right outside the museum, walk one block and turn right on Stanton Street. Six blocks down you will reach Ludlow Street, home to Manhattan’s more adventurous music scene. Here are Pianos (straight ahead rock), The Living Room (singer-songwriters) and Cakeshop (art rock, punk).
Bowie has been known to drop in but, at 66, is reputedly happier spending time on Lafayette, looking down on the Earthlings below. – The Independent on Sunday.
l David Bowie Is on at the V&A in London until August 11 (vam.ac.uk/davidbowieis).