Brooklyn is very romantic. I’m sure it will be up there on some lists of Top Ten Romantic Places this Valentine’s season. If you’re looking for cozy restaurants with carefully curated selections of clams and other locally sourced aphrodisiacs to set the mood, we’ve got you.
It’s the kind of place poets immortalize in verse with sensual descriptions. Walt Whitman sung the praise of its “ample hills” that inspired “thirsting eyes” in the 1800s, and we still have plenty of green space to wander in a blissed out state of harmony with nature and lovers.
The Brooklyn Bridge is a romantic’s bridge. Each year, for the last 20 years, admirers—Bill Murray among them—have walked and recited poetry in a pilgrimage across this treasured landmark. One poem from Marianne Moore describes the bridge as:
“way out; way in; romantic passageway
first seen by the eye of the mind,
then by the eye. O steel! O stone!
Climactic ornament, a double rainbow…”
The Manhattan Bridge is no double rainbow. Its color spectrum runs from rust to vomit-in-the-sea blue. There are no ceremonial walks across the Manhattan. Known as the “Rodney Dangerfield of New York City bridges,” it couldn’t even get respect for its 100-year anniversary, just a simple toast. But as someone who lives in Brooklyn and works in Manhattan I’m ready to sing the praise of its serviceability. It’s the main vein into the city that sees more than 450,000 commuters every weekday, and the bicyclist’s preferred path.
Expediency is built into the Manhattan’s history. It was intended to relieve traffic on the Brooklyn, which was the first cross-borough structure and, at the time, the longest suspension bridge in the world. Designed by Leon Moisseiff, a proponent of a minimal design in suspension bridges, the Manhattan took nearly half the time to put up as its predecessor. Before it was finished Mayor George B. McClellan Jr. took his inaugural walk across and said, “now finish the damn bridge.”
By comparison, construction of the Brooklyn was a drawn out affair that claimed two members of one of America’s most revered families: the Roeblings. John A. Roebling the chief engineer died from tetanus after his foot was crushed in an on site accident and his son Washington A. Roebling took over the project. Washington himself was eventually disabled from the bends—a common fate for those working in depths of the river—and his wife Emily took over much of the supervision. This epic tale of tragedy and family legacy buttressed the landmark’s reputation, and helped cement the city’s status as world class.
Meanwhile, since the completion of the Manhattan, its reputation has taken its knocks. The legacy of the designer Moisseiff was tarnished after the collapse of his Tacoma Narrows Bridge, and New York spent nearly a billion dollars repairing inherent design flaws in the Manhattan. It has become the dollar slice pizza of bridges: It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.
No one walks the Manhattan Bridge. If you’re cycling across, the whole point is to fly over as fast as possible, and by subway—well, no one wants to be in a subway longer than they need to. When crossing the Brooklyn Bridge you’re meant to leisurely meander and ponder the audacious urban wonderland that is New York City. It’s a perfect stroll to impress and wear out your visiting relatives. When my Midwestern mother comes to the city I’ll welcome any alternative to her whopping me at Euchre again, so I take her across the Brooklyn, and hey, look, there’s the Statue of Liberty.
As the New York brand, especially anything Brooklyn-esque, has become a dominant aesthetic, actually living in the city can feel like you’re inhabiting a showroom. The Brooklyn Bridge established these sneaking consequences over a century ago: when you show off on the world stage, the world will want in on the act. The up side is that, after our beautiful landmarks, high-end shopping, artisanal-bespoke etcetera have seduced all the tourists, we get the quick and dirties. There’s an intimacy to the way New Yorkers treat their trash, because so much of their treasure feels like it’s on display for others.
Anyway, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. To me it’s racing the B train on the descent of the Manhattan Bridge on a good-enough bike, lanes clear of rubberneckers, as the cracks in the cement jolt my bike tires faster now to match the tempo accelerando of my heart beat. The Manhattan will never be sexy, but I love it! … Just kidding, that’s never where this was headed—but it’s nice anyway.
Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus