Jennifer Lopez In New York City
by Mark Seal
Movie star, recording artist, and fashion icon J. Lo gives us the lowdown on her happening hometown.
Growing up in the Bronx, Jennifer Lopez learned how to dream big. And while she is an undeniable star today, she hasn't forgotten where she came from. Her first album, On the 6, was inspired by the #6 train that took her from her family's Castle Hill neighborhood to Manhattan for dance lessons. The daughter of a kindergarten teacher and a computer specialist, Lopez literally rode the #6 train to stardom, as her lessons began paying off. She first landed a spot as one of the Fly Girls, who shimmied into commercial breaks on the TV series In Living Color. Lopez then danced her way into Hollywood. First, she landed a role in the short-lived series South Central, before moving on to movies with Mi Familia. But it was the much-coveted lead in 1997's Selena, the story of the slain Hispanic singer, that made Lopez a star. She was named one of People's Most Beautiful People of 1997, then went on to appear with Jack Nicholson in Blood & Wine, with Sean Penn in U Turn, and with George Clooney in Out of Sight. With her most recent film, The Wedding Planner, Lopez became the first person to have both the nation's number-one movie and number-one album (her second, J.Lo) simultaneously. This month, she's back on-screen in the romantic drama Angel Eyes. But a piece of her soul is still riding the #6 train into Manhattan. Here's where you'll find Jennifer Lopez in her hip hometown.
THE SOUND OF NEW YORK
"One of the reasons I love going back to New York is the Spanish radio stations. They play the best salsa music! As soon as I get there, I'll turn on the radio in the car, tuning back and forth between 97.9 and 105.9 and dancing to the music. It always makes me feel at home."
"I've always loved The St. Regis and the Four Seasons. The Four Seasons is more modern. It's a scene downstairs, but it's nice: beautiful, clean, modern, with a great spa. The St. Regis is different. It's more conservative and low-key, quiet. The rooms are beautiful. You have your own butler on every floor, who's available 24 hours a day. The Hudson is the newest, hippest spot. I haven't stayed there, but we had the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards party there. The Hudson is like a party every night."
"Patria has Spanish cuisine and a great atmosphere. It's dimly lit, romantic. And the food, well, just reading it off the menu is sexy. Then, when they bring it to you, it's so pretty and hot you don't even want to eat it. You just want to look at it. But you've got to eat it, because it's so good. Victor's Cafe 52 is a good Cuban spot. It's been around forever. Great Cuban food, but not fancy like Patria. This is just home cooking, like you'd get at Grandma's house. I always get the steak or the chicken breasts with white rice, black beans, and sweet plantains. For dessert, don't miss the tres leches, which is yellow cake soaked with three milks (whole, condensed, and evaporated). When you cut into it, the milks ooze out. There's a white cream sauce on top and a cherry."
"I love to dance at Jimmy's Bronx Cafe. It has Nuevo Latino food and salsa music. Going there is like rolling up to a Puerto Rican party. You go in and everyone is just smiling, dancing, partying. It's like family. Everybody wants to dance and have a good time. The lighting is low and dim, but the dance floor is lit up. You can eat some really good Nuevo Latino food in the restaurant. You can work it off on the dance floor."
HOW TO LOOK LIKE A LOCAL
"You have to look like you're not trying. Most people are very casual in New York. It's casual chic: Levi's and a nice sweater - a designer sweater - with sneakers or Timberland boots."
"Good Enough to Eat on Amsterdam and 83rd has great breakfasts. It's not much on atmosphere, but the breakfast is really, really good. They have this strawberry butter that you put on the muffins. It's so delicious. They also have great omelets, waffles, and pancakes, and really good service. But I go just for the strawberry butter. I can't properly describe how good it is; you have to taste it and you'll know why."
"Go to the South Street Seaport. There's always a lot going on down there, always a lot of energy. The real New York energy is always, of course, at the Empire State Building. That's where you get a sense of what Manhattan is. It's romantic to look out over the city from the observation deck. You can sense the hustle and bustle of New York life. I love Central Park. That's where I feel New York the most. You could live in New York your whole life and never see all of Central Park. One day, you're just walking through and you think, Oh, my god, I've never seen this part of the park. And they have all of these activities going on there. I also like watching the ice skaters in the Wollman rink."
"I grew up in the Bronx in Castle Hill, a regular, lower-middle-class neighborhood. Very mixed. It was kind of like â€¦ have you ever seen that movie I Like It Like That with Jon Seda? That was kind of what our upbringing was like. To me the subway really represents New York because I grew up on it, going from the Bronx to Manhattan, which is why I named my album On the 6. You see everybody on the 6, from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high. It's a no-hassle way to get into the city. No traffic, no parking. That train is where I started my journey, going into Manhattan to practice and audition. I'd always get on the train at the Castle Hill Avenue stop and take it up to Phil Black's studio, near 51st and Lexington, where I used to take classes. It's now a tae kwon do center. That was a special place to me."
"I love having lunch at Downtown Cipriani. The best part is they have outside seating. And because it's right on West Broadway, you see a lot of interesting people walking by. I always get the artichoke salad. Delicious. They also have their famous pasta in cream sauce with ham. And how can I forget the calamari? Everywhere I go, I order calamari if it's on the menu, but Downtown Cipriani has some of the best in New York."
"My favorite shops in New York? Bagutta is really cool, by Downtown Cipriani. It's a clothing store. They carry lots of European designers, like Dolce & Gabanna, Christian Dior, Missoni, and Chloe. Downtown, in SoHo and TriBeCa, there are so many great shops you could spend all day - all weekend - down there. Furniture stores, clothing stores, record stores â€¦ all along the streets. There's also the usual Gucci, Prada, and Versace, but what's unique is a store like Jeffrey New York, which sells hot little T-shirts and all kinds of different boots. It's a really cool, hip store in the Meatpacking District. Aedes De Venustas on 15 Christopher Street sells beautiful candles and perfumes. The areas in the Bronx where I would shop are Southern Boulevard and Fordham Road, where you can get two T-shirts for about $10. Everybody walks around there on the weekends."
"The Spa at The Peninsula hotel is the best. It's on the roof. They have every treatment that you can think of, and it's all about tranquility and quietness and serenity - and all of that is important in a city like New York, where everything's really crazy. They really pamper you at The Peninsula. They make you feel like you're special. I love the facials and the body scrubs. They loofah you everywhere and then pour moisturizers and oils all over, which leaves your skin so soft. You're baby-smooth for weeks."
IF YOU CAN EAT ONLY ONE THING
"For me, New York represents my culture, which is Puerto Rican. So when I think of going home, I think of home cooking. Like rice and beans and chicken and things like that, which you can get at any cuchi frito spot. Cuchi frito basically means "fried food." They're little Spanish restaurants. Also Brisas del Caribe is the most down-home Puerto Rican cooking you can get. It's really, really good. Divey and cheap, but great food."
"Mr. Chow for the Chicken Joanna. It's breaded breasts of chicken with amazing sauce. Their chicken sates are so good. For an added treat, you have to order the crispy beef. I don't know what they do to it. It's sweet, but also a little spicy. There's always a Hollywood scene at Mr. Chow. The scene is great, but the food is even better. I go to Nobu for the rolls. That's what I get every time."
"My favorite club of all time is Lotus, a cool restaurant/club where they have good food. There's a downstairs, and the upstairs has a real nice dance floor and stage. Everybody wants to go to Moomba, and it's fun every once in a while just for the scene. There are always interesting people there, and they have a deejay who's kind of hidden and playing cool, kind of mellow music. There's a seating section on the second floor that's really nice. Everybody's huddled together, listening to the music. I've performed with other dancers at Limelight, which is a crazy club in an old church. There's a swing in the middle of one of the dance floors that you can get on. People hop on and try to swing with you. It's a great mix of people, and it's open all night into early morning."
"On Sundays, when I'm not working, I love to window-shop up and down Fifth Avenue. Some of my favorite stores are on that street. The window displays on Fifth are fantastic. I love to peek in the windows at Fendi for the new bags and shoes. I love looking at the new clothes in the windows at Saks and Henri Bendel. But my favorite thing is window-shopping at Tiffany's. Sure, Tiffany's is closed on Sundays, but I'm window-shopping anyway. Why? Because a girl's gotta dream."
ONE SPECIAL DAY
I had a big surprise birthday party at Lotus for my 30th birthday last year, and it was really cool. I had been working on my new movie, Angel Eyes, and came home to New York to spend my birthday with my family. I could have gone anywhere for my birthday: to Miami or back to Los Angeles or to some island where I could have just been by myself to relax. But instead I decided to go home. And it was the best thing, because I got to share it with everybody. It turned out that Puff [recording artist Sean "Puffy" Combs] had planned this big party for me at Lotus. I walked in and I thought we were going to somebody else's party. But all of New York was there. Not just my family, but everybody in New York who means something to me. Tito Nieves sang 'Happy Birthday' to me with his band. 'N Sync was there. My whole family, friends, people I work with. It made me feel incredible. It made me feel like there's no place like home."