times square 1997 kent kanouse

So, we’ve been “going out” for the past nine weeks, painting Manhattan red on a weekend night in various eras of the past. Is it time for a commitment? Is our relationship that steady now? Maybe you should reserve judgment until after tonight’s installment, in which we visit a fairly recent era, the late 1990s. For the record, the past articles in this series showed you what was going in New York in November 1938, March 1977, August 1922, October 1951, September 1985, April 1943, May 1967 and December 1916. Now we go back a comparatively short distance in the past, only eighteen years. But recent history is still history. So, here we go!

As is true of all the articles in this series, the details–prices, addresses, establishment names, shows playing, etc.–are all totally accurate down to the exact date.

It is Friday, June 27, 1997. Bill Clinton is in the White House, the economy is booming and Wall Street is hitting new highs. This has been a hot, muggy week in the Big Apple. Yesterday the temperature was in the 90s, very muggy, and there were thunderstorms in the afternoon that took down tree branches. Today the weather will be sunny, less humid, and a high of 89, cooling off to 69 overnight. In the news, the Supreme Court is issuing its big end-of-term decisions. Yesterday they struck down the Communications Decency Act, which I know Senator Exon will be sorry to hear. Clinton was in town yesterday speaking at the UN about climate change. Although he identified it as a serious threat, he stopped short of endorsing deep cuts to greenhouse gas emissions that the rest of the world is talking about, pending a climate summit in Kyoto later in the year.

mottsu restaurant nyc

Mottsu, a Japanese restaurant in Little Italy, has received some excellent reviews and is said to be quite affordable.

We usually start our historical evenings out with dinner, and Manhattan in the 1990s is a fool’s paradise of incredible boutique restaurants. There are so many to choose from that it’s dizzying. But, a restaurant got reviewed in the Times today that sounds good: Mottsu, 285 Mott Street (in Little Italy), which is a sushi joint. Dinner can be had for $25 and under, which isn’t bad in New York. In addition to the standard tuna rolls ($2.50) and eel ($4.50), sashimi dinners are available from $12-$25. Another restaurant, though, didn’t fare as well in the Times. Trois Jean, at 154 East 79th Street, is said to have terrific food but dreadful service. The food sounds great, though: grilled tuna, halibut with summer truffles, and steak tartare. (I prefer my steak to be cooked, actually). Or we could go to Ralph’s, a famous Italian joint at 862 Ninth Avenue. Prices are supposed to be pretty good.

There’s a Spanish restaurant called El Quijote which is evidently very popular. It’s at 226 West 23rd Street. They’re advertising a lobster dinner fro $13.95, which comes with soup, salad, potatoes or rice. That same price, $13.95, is what we’d pay for a full dinner at the Jewel of India, 15 West 44th Street. There’s also a restaurant with fusion West Indian/Spanish food called Caribe, 117 Perry Street. On their menu is curried goat, oxtail, and red snapper, and I hear we can get mango daquiris there too. Dinner is $6.95-$9.95. Or if you want to see a piece of living history we can go to Sparks Steak House, where a mob boss was gunned down on the orders of John Gotti. That was 12 years ago but the place mostly looks the same.

Christopher Plummer has received wide acclaim for his portrayal of John Barrymore in Barrymore. This clip is from a revival of the play.

Let’s go to a show after dinner, but I have one categorical rule: no Cats. Absolutely no Cats. I can’t believe it’s still playing after all this time–we had to work hard to avoid it back in 1985–but there it is, down there at the Winter Garden Theater. The big show now playing is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, at the Majestic Theater, 247 West 44th Street. Tickets start at $15 and the show is at 8PM. Whoopi Goldberg is appearing in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, at the James Theater right next door, 246 West 44th Street. Christopher Plummer–I loved him in Somewhere in Time–is starring in Barrymore, for which he won a Tony. That’s at the Music Box Theatre, 239 West 45th Street. I’m told that one of the best shows on Broadway right now is The Gin Game starring Julie Harris and Charles Durning. That plays tonight at 8PM at the Lyceum Theater, 45th Street just west of Broadway.

Or, off Broadway, a play called How I Learned to Drive, which has gotten great reviews, is at the Century Theater, 111 East 15th Street. Louise Parker and David Morse (famous for the ’80s doctor show St. Elsewhere) star. If off-Broadway isn’t highbrow enough for you, the ballet Romeo & Juliet will be staged at the Metropolitan Opera tonight at 8. Julie Kent and Julio Bocca are dancing in the leads. Somewhat less snooty, but still cool, we could see some live jazz. Joe Henderson is playing at the Blue Note, one of the world’s most famous jazz clubs, 131 West Third Street. We can get dinner there beginning at 7PM.

As for movies, this is late June and it’s summer blockbuster season. The John Woo action picture Face/Off, starring John Travolta and Nicholas Cage, opens tonight at theaters all over New York. That’s competing directly with The Lost World, Steven Spielberg’s sequel to Jurassic Park. That may be the biggest movie of the summer. It’s playing at dozens and dozens of theaters. If it’s a “chick flick” you want, there’s the new Julia Roberts picture, My Best Friend’s Wedding, at Lincoln Square on 66th Street. But the most-hyped film out right now is Batman & Robin, featuring George Clooney as Batman. Why are there nipples on the bat-suit? I’m not sure I want to find out.

John Woo’s Face/Off was a surprisingly good movie, as far as fluffy summer blockbusters go.

The final option is that we can stay home and watch TV, but that seems like a waste. Nevertheless, there’s a very good movie, The Boston Strangler starring Tony Curtis, on Channel 55 (WLNV) tonight at 8. That’s up against a new episode of Unsolved Mysteries on NBC; tonight’s segment will profile the death of Kurt CobainSliders is on Channel 5, and JAG on CBS at 9PM. I never did like lawyer shows. Goldeneye, the Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan, is on Showtime at 8PM. And of course, the cinematic tour-de-force Leonard Part 6, starring Bill Cosby, is on Cinemax at 6:30. It’s supposedly one of the worst films ever made, and I’ve heard some very unsettling things about Bill Cosby. But I’d still rather watch that than go to Cats. Please–anything but Cats.

I hope you enjoyed our night out in Manhattan in 1997. Next week we’re going to have to crank the time machine way back, because frankly I like the less recent ones better. See you again on the town, somewhere in time!

The photo of Times Square was taken in 1997 by Flickr user Kent Kanouse and is used under Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution) license.