My LES – Royal Young
What do you do?
I contribute literary coverage to Interview Magazine (as well as the new website, Holy Diver). I also recently completed my debut gritty Manhattan memoir “Fame Shark.”
How long have you lived on the LES?
I was born on a five-flight walk up on Crosby Street and lived there for my first year, while my artist social worker father and neuropsychologist mom removed hypodermic needles, rats and mountains of garbage from an old tenement building on Eldridge Street. I would grow up in this building until dropping out of Bennington College and getting kicked out of my parent’s house at 20. I lived in sketchy apartments in Brooklyn for the next six years and went through intense family therapy, before returning to the Lower East Side and my own crib a (couple) weeks ago.
Favorite block in the hood?
I would have to say Eldridge. It’s where I went trick-or-treating, lost my virginity, got drunk for the first time, had family Thanksgiving dinners, where my parents invited strangers from Craigslist. I’ve seen so many changes on the block, but it’s always what I come back to.
Favorite date spot in the hood?
In high school, it was my parent’s roof garden. A semi-private place in a packed city where I could bring my girlfriend. We got pervvy among the flowerpots, water towers, and in retrospect probably prying eyes of many neighbors. Now, I would probably avoid the dingy chic wine bars that have sprouted everywhere and take a date somewhere that reflected my own seedy LES past. The projects are off limits though.
Favorite coffee in the hood?
My crack of choice is Diet Coke. But, I’m a huge Irving Farm fan, especially their Everest from El Salvador, which tastes like earthy, dark chocolate caffeine fire. They’re served at 88 Orchard and Inoteca.
Favorite slice in the hood?
I went to kindergarten with Leon, the son of Doris and Phil, who ended up opening Two Boots. We were really close friends as kids, and I’ll never forget the time their car was broken into, all the smashed glass glittering over the seats. I’ll also never forget my first slice of Two Boots. The spicy, thin crust pizza got me through many an awkward pre-teen pizza party, where everyone had sticky sweet soda breath and secretly wanted to make-out, but didn’t know how to yet. The Den of Cin was an amazing screening room where I watched I Know What You Did Last Summer and Empire Records, while stuffing my face. To me, a Two Boots slice has the sweetness of coloring with Crayola’s while waiting for a pie with my dad and the spiciness of cutting class later in life.
Where do you take your visitors when they’re here?
I always take international guests and visiting celebrities to El Castillo de Jagua. Their eggs over easy, buttered toast and home fries orange from Sofrito are a staple of my childhood breakfasts. I love their hood attitude and the heaping piles of arroz con habichuelas y pernil or chicharones de pollo. After going there so long, I’ve finally warmed the waitresses’ hearts and now they even indulge my mediocre Spanish speaking after a few Presidentes.
Favorite dive/local bars in the hood?
I’ve always been a big fan of drinking at home, which got me kicked out of my parents’ home in the first place. I went through a huge Colt45 phase and for awhile considered getting a tattoo of their infamous horseshoe, thereby insuring my exclusion from most Jewish cemeteries. But, as I’ve gotten older, my booze tastes have admittedly gotten more bougie. I’ve had many a wild Glenfiddich fueled night at Lucien and the bowl of flaming alcohol at Painkiller (PKNY) is killer.
How has the neighborhood changed in the last few years?
The neighborhood is unrecognizable. There are pockets of the past that still linger, but mostly I feel any remnants of the rough hood streets I knew have been too well trodden by Manolo Blahnik boots. My grandparents and great-grandparents grew up in the LES when it looked more like an Eastern European shtetl, so I’m very connected to the streets and feel of the neighborhood over time. Though sometimes the changes I’ve seen—empty lots become Whole Foods, businesses collapsing under rising rents, no more hookers—upset me, there is a Yiddish saying my grandmother is fond of which translates to, “out of an old city, we build a new one.”
I am constantly surprised and sometimes delighted with the ways the Lower East Side has reinvented itself. In fact, as someone who chased fame for a lot of their life, looking for external adoration instead of dealing with my own desperate internal loneliness, I have modeled myself after the neighborhood which shaped my heart. Gritty, tough, malleable, flirtatious and constantly adapting.
Favorite LES memory?
Moments of quiet. Waking up in my parents’ bed after a night of bloody dreams and watching the snow silently fall into our backyard. The summer Puff Daddy’s “Missing You” blasted from boom boxes across the neighborhood was all you could hear. The rainy day I left and the sunny day I returned.