By Eileen Katz
Eve Yohalem, pictured here with her faithful companion Magnolia, is a children’s book author (Cast Off and Escape Under the Forever Sky) and a volunteer tutor at the Professional Performing Arts School who lives on the Upper West Side with her husband and two children. So yes, she has excellent grammar, but even better taste in picking neighborhoods to live in.
So Eve, why the Upper West Side?
This is actually my second time living up here! The first time I lived here was right after college and I knew this was the only place I wanted to be because I was an aspiring opera singer and Lincoln Center is here and tons of classical musicians are around. Not as many as there used to be, though. I remember in the late ‘80’s – early ‘90’s walking down random blocks up here and hearing scales coming out the windows. Singers, musicians just practicing! For me, this was the center of the universe and I wanted to be here. When I moved back in 2000 it was because I had missed it. I had lived downtown in Soho with my husband and then we moved to the Upper East Side where I never felt I was dressed well enough or my hair looked good enough. So we had just had our second child, we needed a bigger apartment and it was my turn to pick what neighborhood we were going to live in and this is where I wanted to be.
What are some of your favorite things about living in this neighborhood?
Definitely still the music! The Park! I’ve become a huge park user. Living here with small children, we were in every playground from Hecksher to Hippo and back. And that was when I really started using the parks a lot. Now that my children are grown, I still use the park, but for long walks to meet friends. I adore New York City, but the way I’ve been able to live here for so long is knowing I can get out of it when I need to and when I’m in the park, I feel like I’m out of it.
You’ve jumped way ahead to my “boxers or briefs” question! Central or Riverside Park?
I’m a Central Park person, but I have to be honest and admit that I’m intrigued by Riverside. I’ve spent some time in Riverside and I have fantasies of getting a dog and taking long walks along the river. But I’ve got a husband with allergies so it’s pretty unlikely.
Tell me some of your favorite places to go up here, once you’ve exhausted the parks.
Not to beat a dead horse, but definitely Lincoln Center. The Museum of Natural History – I remember when the Planetarium opened and that really was a thrilling moment. And it still is! I love doing that Guggenheim-ish walk, following the spiral path up to the top. And the food up here! It’s gotten so much better in the last 30 years. There used to be not a lot of great places to eat and now there are. That whole Amsterdam strip with Luke’s Lobster, Oaxaca for tacos, all these great little places where you can find delicious things. And I love The Mermaid Inn because they give you free chocolate pudding at the end of the meal. I believe all restaurants should give you free chocolate pudding at the end of the meal! So any night I can get in there I’m excited to go. And Tip Top Shoes and Pioneer Supermarket. I’ve been going to both for almost 30 years!!
Can you describe a typical Upper West Sider for me?
Oh, I think they’re readers and they’re performing-art lovers and they’re nosy and they’re opinionated and passionate…I shouldn’t say “they.” Change all those “They’s” to “We’s.”
Anything you don’t love about living up here?
There are more homeless people here than I can ever remember. And I don’t love how so many small businesses have been forced to go out of business. I’m still so sad that Café La Fortuna closed. I know it’s been a while but I miss their chocolate ice still to this day. And one of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn’t ask them for their recipe before they closed.
In all your time up here, have you seen anything or been a part of something that struck you as something unique to this neighborhood?
It’s gotta be when you walk by Citarella the day before Thanksgiving and the line is out the door and around the corner. But then there’s also another phenomenon I’ve found up here. It seems to me there is a lot of offerings of unsolicited opinions that happens. People will just tell you things, shout things at you, with the best intentions – comments about parenting…I remember strangers screaming at me: “That child needs a hat!” It feels very Upper West Side to me. It really takes a village, and the Upper West Side is definitely a village.
And one of my favorite days to live up here is Marathon Sunday. There is no better feeling than seeing all of those Marathon runners as they spill out of the park and greet their families and friends and it’s thrilling what they’ve done, you know? They’re not all professional runners. They’re mostly regular people who have pushed themselves to do something that many of us could never do. I find it uplifting and thrilling! I love Marathon Sunday.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever experienced up here
As a New Yorker, very little fazes me, so “strange” is hard. The bar is certainly high. I did have this realization once when I was driving across 76th Street though. We were stopped because there was a double-parked car and the woman driving the car in front of me didn’t think she could pass it so she had stopped. And the cars are starting to back up. Now the guy behind me starts honking his horn and he finally gets out of his car and yells: “You’ve got plenty of room! You can do it if you just cut your wheel to the left!” The poor woman, seeing this guy on the street yelling directions at her just starts to follow them. And he’s yelling at her through all these maneuvers, and it dawns on me, he wasn’t angry so much as this is how we express ourselves in this neighborhood! He was just being helpful. And that’s the strange thing about it. Living up here, you learn to decode that what might appear to others as being hostile or nosy is just us West Sider’s being ourselves.
Oh! And all the hawks!
The hawks! There’s a hawk that hangs out on the streetlight right in front of my apartment. There’s no nest we can see, but I’m guessing its close, because it’s his favorite hang-out place. And now that we’re talking about wildlife here, I’m going to tell you about our raccoons.
You have raccoons?
I have a story about raccoons. But it’s really my husband Nick’s story. He was coming home around midnight one night and he was crossing from the park side of the street to our building and he sees a group of raccoons. And he describes these raccoons as being like bear cub size. The most gigantic raccoons you’ve ever seen. He sees them hop the wall out of Central Park and cross Central Park West. They walk down the sidewalk, passing the north awning of our building, then pass the south awning of our building and turn right on the side street where all the garbage has been piled for pick up the next day and they go and have a feast. So Nick says to our doorman: “Did you see that?!” And the doorman, completely unfazed tells him that this happens pretty much every night. These raccoons know which side of the building to go to on which night to find their feast. These raccoons have the sanitation department schedule down cold.
Speaking of feasting, it’s time for the Zabar’s question: You’re stuck on a desert island and can only have one thing from Zabar’s. What would it be?
This is so easy. The chocolate babka. It’s always a winner. I know I should say the nova, but for me, it’s the chocolate babka.
Don’t be silly. It’s your island and you get what you want. And just know, very few people actually answer the nova.
Thank you. That’s really good to know.
When EVE YOHALEM DAY is declared on the Upper West Side, how would you like people to celebrate?
Okay. We wake up in the morning and we go to the park – Central Park. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is – the trees flowering in the spring time, the perfect snow in the winter, we have a great walk in the park. Then we go to Salumeria Rosi and get tons of prosciutto and cheese and then we go next store to Jacques Torres for chocolate and we have a picnic. We spend the afternoon listening to various music in the park. There’s opera, there’s jazz. At night there’s ballroom dancing at the Lincoln Center plaza, which maybe we’re brave enough to try but it doesn’t matter because it’s great to watch. Walking home along Central Park West, we can see fireworks in the Park.
To read all of our “Why the West Side” columns, click here.