In stride with Carrie “perpetually 10 minutes late” Bradshaw, I arrived late to the Sex and the City Hotspots tour and nearly missed the bus. Running from the 6 train on Lexington to the Plaza, I breathlessly thought of how I could do the same 3 and a half block run in Manolos. For both logistical and financial reasons, I can’t, but just imagining little old ungraceful me flying to a tour bus in $800 shoes was enough to put me in a Sex and the City state of mind. My desire to go on this bus tour began with mere rumors of its existence before I moved to New York. It wasn’t until I finally found myself both living in New York and bestowed with a random day off that I was granted because of the sweltering heat.
Shortly after 11 a.m. on the hottest day of the summer, I found myself on a tour bus outside of the Plaza. Though this translates to Dante’s ninth circle of hell to many New Yorkers, I couldn’t help but let a little giddiness bubble out of me. In the years leading up to my move here, the Sex and the City series played a pivotal role in not just my opinion of New York, but in my life goals. The script was hilarious but had a bite to it, like a best friend’s sarcasm. If I could have any byline, it would go on one (or all) of the show’s episodes. New York wasn’t a place, enemy or backdrop in the show — it was another character, a boyfriend even. The streets lived, breathed and spoke back to the girls. It made me realize how much location pulls on the tides of our lives, and of course, made me want the city to be just as involved in my life as well. My future career and habitat were both tied to the fantasy world of the show.
The women and several men on the bus were calm and quiet. They didn’t seem at all like the typical tourists I witness wandering around town, jacked up on Starbucks and the sight of countless neon lights. Our tour guide, Stephanie, boarded the bus and brought with her a chipper glow that struck me as more LA than NYC. A petite woman in a flashy gold top, she was bouncing and happy to be working. It was like the day’s sunlight bore a daughter and she was incarnated as our tour guide. Stephanie noted her surprise to see men on the bus and chirped, “Raise your hand if you have a penis!” The bus pulled away, and the fresh apprehension of the few males present was nearly palpable. We slowly made our way south on 5th Avenue, which was bursting with filming locations for the show and its movies. There was the Plaza, where we had launched, and right next to it was the Paris Theatre, where Carrie happily saw a movie alone. It looked like a nice enough place to go on a “date” with New York, as she had. Because I myself had come alone to the tour, I was happy to be reminded that here, flying solo was perfectly acceptable.
Our first stop came in the West Village, where we were invited to try Two Boots pizza (been there, done that, paid too much) and/or visit the Pleasure Chest, the site of Charlotte’s infamous Rabbit vibrator purchase. After grabbing a bite at an anonymous, cheaper pizza shop, I walked down to Pleasure Chest to scope the scene. It was a tiny and colorful shop. Dare I say it was inviting? The store had whimsical elements, like rainbow-colored penis-shaped lollipops that called to mind the unicorn horns children sucked on at Sea World back in the day. A few middle-aged men, for sure on their wives’ invisible leashes, mulled about the shop as well. I did not purchase anything. I apologize if I’ve disappointed anyone.
Our next stop was at Buddakan in Chelsea, the cavernous restaurant featured in the first film’s rehearsal dinner scene. I admit that I had no idea where that party had taken place and I never looked into it — typically if the series wanted to recommend a hotspot to the viewer, it made the place’s name and whereabouts very clear. The movie’s subtle glimpse of Buddakan’s sign was lost on me. Nevertheless, I was taken aback by the restaurant’s collection of cream chandeliers hung over the large communal table that appeared in the dinner scene. The upper floor had a seemingly endless amount of tables and dark corners, and instead of fantasizing about eating there I just couldn’t shake the thought that Buddakan’s wait staff must double as marathon runners.
We continued driving about on the bus as Stephanie rapidly pointed out location after location for us to crane our necks and gawk at. Normally all the bus action would piss me off, but as I mentioned, this was the hottest day of summer — well over 100 degrees. The air-conditioned bus was sweet mercy until we arrived in the Meatpacking District. It’s an area where I spend absolutely no time in my day-to-day life, but Sex‘s crew certainly spent quality time on its cobblestone streets. The designer storefronts and Soho House’s pool called to me. The little village outside the windows seemed like a different city entirely, one that’s completely off the radar of my New York existence. I wanted to take in Meatpacking’s clash of history and modernity on foot, but the bus continued on its course. If there comes a time when cooler temperatures and another day off coincide, perhaps I’ll stroll through the hood and drop a day’s pay on lunch at a local joint.
Next up was Onieal’s, a former speakeasy and brothel in what was once the corrupt and vicious Five Points section of the city. It had played the role of Steve Brady’s bar, Scout, and today served as the tour’s Cosmopolitan watering hole. The pink cocktail was available at a discount to all on the tour, but I declined the offer to avoid drinking alone at lunchtime (it’s a slippery slope). Instead, I stared at the ornate imported ceiling and finally chatted with an Australian couple who approached me. I must have looked lonely and far too sober. It was Tim and Wendy’s first time in New York, and they asked for a recommendation on a steak house. Knowing very little about steak, I mentioned the place I walk by most frequently, Morton’s. You can’t be a connoisseur of everything.
When our vehicle finally emptied us onto the searing sidewalk outside of HBO’s headquarters, I stepped inside their air-conditioned shrine to television with Stephanie. The door guard watched us silently but the store’s employees didn’t seem to mind us free-loading the air. Stephanie explained that all of the Sex and the City guides are actresses, and she referred to the tours as a “one-woman show.” “I was absolutely terrified the first time I did it,” she said. But now, “it’s a way to show what I love most about New York City. And it’s better than restaurant work!”
That’s the appeal of a delightfully silly TV location tour. For just one day (or in this case, for Stephanie’s day job), Sex and the City’s fantasy lifestyle was better than my less glamorous urban reality. It also made me respect the show’s dedication to New York even more. The filming locations numbered in the hundreds, costing copious amounts of money, time and headaches to shoot; nevertheless, LA soundstages and other artificial backdrops were out of the question. That unfailing authenticity was apparent after such a dizzying blur of restaurant names, notable sidewalks and elegant building facades. That ability to touch the world the show created only intensifies tour-goers’ love for Sex and, well, the city.