Duncan Hannah's Guide to New York

Grandlife interviews

Duncan Hannah's Guide to New York

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Painter and Twentieth-Century Boy author Duncan Hannah moved to New York in the fall of 1973 to attend Parsons School of Design, and fast became an integral part of the emerging SoHo art scene. He has been a mainstay of New York’s art world ever since. “My first residence was the towering art-deco One Fifth Avenue, on Eighth Street, which was then used for student housing,” he once told us. Now, Boerum Hill in Brooklyn is home, and the city is still a go-to for live jazz, bookstores, galleries, Italian food, and a cheeseburger at Fanelli’s, of course.

What would the title of your autobiography be? 

Duncan Hannah: I Looked  Up.

What can’t you travel without and why? 

DH: A few books and earplugs. My idea of hell is to be trapped in an airport with nothing to do but listen to CNN droning on.

Do you have a favorite travel destination? 

DH: London or Paris never fail to inspire.

What is your favorite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon? 

DH: Paint Italian starlets with the hi-fi on and coffee in my mug.

If you could choose one person to show you their New York City, who would it be and why? 

DH: The brilliant Luc Sante, author of Low Life, would be my tour guide. He knows where all the bodies are buried.

Who or what has inspired you recently? 

DH: Anna Sui’s fashion retrospective at MAD. She’s designed 82 collections in the past three decades, each one containing a multitude of ideas culled from her absorption of art history, rock and roll, film, cultural movements, etc. Staggering talent.

What are your favorite NYC restaurants? What do you order when you go? 

DH: Rucola on Dean Street (Chicken Schnitzel and ginger beer). Russ & Daughters on Orchard Street (Eggs Benedict and cucumber soda). Fanelli’s on Prince Street (Cheeseburger and a coke). I am a man of simple culinary tastes, not a foodie by any stretch of the imagination.

What’s your go-to spot in NYC for drinks? 

DH: Used to be the 55 (Christopher Street) or Café Luxembourg.

What is your favorite NYC brunch spot? 

DH: Via Corota on Grove Street.

Where do you get your art fix in NYC? Do you have a favorite artist? 

DH: The Met. I love the big Puvis de Chavannes paintings in the second-floor hallway.

What are some of your favorite late-night hangouts?

DH: Public Records on Butler Street; cool atmosphere, amazing sound.

Can you share your under-the-radar must-do recommendations for visitors?  

DH: The Oyster Bar is hardly under the radar, but it is under Grand Central Station.

What are some of your favorite NYC stores?

DH: The Strand Bookstore, Blick for art supplies, Academy Books on West 18th Street for used CDs and DVDs, Rowing Blazers, Drakes, and Brooks Brothers for button-down Oxford cloth shirts. I keep an eye out for sample sales at Paul Smith and Paul Stuart.

What music are you listening to these days? Who are some of your favorite musicians? 

DH: I like the new CDs from Ex Hex, Black Pumas, Jessica Pratt, and Ryley Walker. I always return to the British Invasion groups: the Zombies, Small Faces, Spencer Davis Group, Yardbirds, Who, etc… You never really get over what was exciting when you were “coming of age.” I still get chills from an electric guitar. I love Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Hendrix and scores of others.

What album or song would you consider your personal soundtrack to New York? 

DH: NYC is a Jazz City. Miles Ahead by Miles Davis, or Jazz Impressions of New York by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The first Velvet Underground album captures a dark Manhattan romanticism unlike anything else. Plus New York Tendaberry by Laura Nyro—a Manhattan rhapsody that never fails to give me goosebumps.

PHOTOGRAPHY Curt Hoppe 

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