By Maria Gorshin

When was the last time you heard the words, “bridge and tunnel”? I’m guessing the term began fading into New York City history at least 10 or 20 years ago. But think back to the days before Manhattan moved to Brooklyn, long before Hoboken was cool, before you’d ever been to a museum in Queens, or toured the Bronx, bike-trekked Staten Island or considered moving to a distant Long Island town. If you recall those long-ago days then you may remember what it was like back then for some New Yorkers who lived in the outer boroughs.

You might cringe remembering what people who spoke with a pronounced New York accent, walked with swagger, sported big hair and a bit of flash had to contend with when they came into Manhattan for nights on the town.

It’s embarrassing to recall, but back then, depending on the place, your friends visiting “The City” might encounter snickering, sometimes crass impressions, and, occasionally, stage whispers – “Look, ‘Bridge and Tunnel’.” In extreme cases, fellow New Yorkers were even turned away from the city’s most exclusive bars and nightclubs. Proprietors dreaded the moment when their establishments might become recognized as “totally ‘bridge and tunnel” – the perceived kiss of death for businesses striving to cultivate a sophisticated image – so they maintained strict door policies enforced by ‘bouncers’ who, in most cases, commuted to work via bridges and tunnels themselves.

But then two words worked their magic to change everything: priced out. The skyrocketing rents and burdensome commercial leases of the 1980s and 1990s helped dissolve the Manhattan-centric outlook when affordability could only be found across the East and Hudson rivers.

Soon, Brooklyn became the East Coast’s version of San Francisco. Parts of Queens emerged from urban decay to become mini cultural hubs – a first since the days when Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, John Coltrane, Benny Goodman, Woody Herman and Glenn Miller each called the borough home back in the 1930s and ‘40s. The Bronx, Staten Island and Long Island started drawing earnest visitors. Walking, biking, foodie, history and architecture excursions to those areas attracted interest. Hoboken reinvented itself into a hip small town with ideal views of the Unaffordable Apple.

You could say that a new level of understanding had finally developed between New Yorkers, one that transcended zip and area codes. We outgrew the ‘bridge and tunnel’ moniker. The words were abolished from our city vocabulary and were never heard again…

Until recently, I read this in the New York Times:

“I lived in Manhattan in the ’80s and we used to talk about ‘bridge and tunnel’ people,” said Sunny Chapman, 60, a dance instructor and artist who moved to Williamsburg 16 years ago. “Now we talk about bridge and tunnel people coming in from Manhattan.”

Reading those words confirmed what I’d been suspecting for some time – Manhattan, we’re “bridge and tunnel” now. Yes, fellow Upper West Siders, that includes us. We pour across Brooklyn’s borders, for example, looking for a taste of old New York, new bohemia, but being accidentally annoying in the process. (Read Williamsburg, Rocked Hard for the harsh details.) Luckily we’re not alone. The “Battle of the Boroughs” that took place recently at Gothamist suggests that perhaps all New Yorkers, at one point or another, see each other as “Bridge and Tunnel” these days.

There may be only one antidote to the “us vs. them” NYC mindset that emerges every few years: keep inter-borough love and appreciation for each other growing. One good way to start is by participating in city-wide educational programs, colorful events, and unique tours hosted year-round across New York City’s five boroughs. The organizations below offer the kind of programming that all new New Yorkers and every life-long local can enjoy:

Maria Gorshin, who runs the blog City Girl Writes, is a West Side Rag columnist and native Upper West Sider.

Photos by Will the Thrill, BT Indrelunas, KLINX, and jc via flickr. Photo-montage by Avi. The people depicted may or may not be from Jersey.

ABSURDITY, COLUMNS | 1 comment | permalink
    1. Howard Freeman says:

      Sadly true. Of course, as I was raised on the Upper East Side, it’s safe to say there are sections of the Silk Stocking District that will never become the bridge and tunnel crowd, because those folks couldn’t care less about Third Avenue, much less Williamsburg.