The funny thing about New York City is that it’s not so much an American city. Its street scenes wouldn’t soak in seamlessly if dropped in Iowa or Florida, but NYC is recognizable to us all. We’ve seen New York’s images replayed in films, sitcoms, and dorm room posters, its representations feeling so characteristic and yet so familiar. I don’t whether such a thing as “Old New York” ever really existed or if tourists are searching for a version associated with Henry James, Patti Smith, or Sex and City circa the late 90’s (before Carrie owned a cell phone). Is New York An Affair to Remember or greater parts Taxi Driver? More likely it has something to do with Sinatra, but no matter which New York you’re craving Arturo’s serves a bona fide slice.
Step inside Arturo’s after a day of battle navigating and snapping pictures, and allow the enveloping live jazz to cure your urban ennui. Its three tight rooms are crowded and chaotic, with amiable staff ensuring the steady stream of Cabernet rivers over the energetic din and gesturing limbs. You’ll have to squeeze by the piano at the end of the long bar and make sure not to block the view of the upright bass shaking out jazz standards. Wood-paneled walls are lined salon-style with oil paintings done in varying levels of style and technique by none other than the owner. Unlike many NYC destinations, the atmosphere is comfortable, like you’re a guest in someone’s home. A giant bath tub roosting in the single bathroom confirms the homey feeling and oh I wonder the stories it could share.
Arturo’s offers a full menu of Italian fare but we dive straight for the pie, pointing to our chosen of many available toppings because the waiter isn’t quite able to hear us. The place is packed with gatherings of families and friends sharing the signature coal-oven pizza – we’ve made the right choice. First there’s an arugula salad that’s fresh and not overdressed, topped by a heavy hand with shaved parmesan. The large pizza is more than enough for three, perhaps a bit too coal-fired in this instance, but the outer ring’s singe compliments the slightest hint of sweetness in the well restrained sauce (I’m not a big marinara person). The flavors meld with fresh mozzarella, parmesan, tomato, and liberally applied basil. Deep dish has its place in my heart, but New York-style wins this round in the battle of the binge.
The outer ring’s singe compliments the slightest hint of sweetness in the well restrained sauce.
We didn’t seek out Arturo’s that Saturday, rather we wove in street lights’ gleam until we found something seeming accessible, affordable, and delicious. Months later reading David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, I happened upon a passage describing Arturo’s of all places in a section entitled The Old Crazy New York II. “Arturo’s is a neighborhood joint. There are a lot of regulars. It is not the sort of place that would ever attract the attention of serious foodies or get mentioned in the new trendy guides to New York City.”* Is it the music, the wine, the clutter of local clientele that give Arturo’s an air of Old New York? Are the comfortable characteristics lending a familiarity that I mistake for something I only think I know about what New York means? Any way you slice it, the stuff is good and I’m craving a return just as long as Arturo’s is serving jazz and coal-fired pie. Whichever version of NYC you’re after it’s sure to satisfy.
106 West Houston Street
New York, NY 10012