Each year, GANYC proudly honors organizations and individuals that encourage and promote New York City tourism, culture and preservation, while supporting the work and contributions of professional New York City tour guides. The 2017 GANYC Apple Awards is coming up, on Monday, March 6, 2017. This year there are 44 nominees. Below, is an interview with one of them.
Nomination: Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler, Outstanding Achievement in Fiction Book Writing (published October 1, 2015 - September 30, 2016)
California-native Stephanie Danler spent years in the food and beverage industry before writing her first novel, Sweetbitter. Before her two-book deal, she was working as a server, had student loans, and was sorting out her home life – both physically and emotionally, in the Big Apple. But without risk, there's often no gain, and through her risk-taking and self-discipline, now finds herself a New York Times best-selling author with ample time for travel and continuing to frequent the same, familiar places she’s loved for years.
What was the main source of inspiration for Sweetbitter?
Besides 16 years of restaurant work, starting when I was 15 years old, the impulse to write actually came from a desire to tell a female coming of age story. To explore this moment of being 22, autonomous for the first time, blank, and coming to a city to start your life. The thrills of that journey and the dangers. When I sat down to write, I had all this experience and knowledge about food, wine, the service industry. When I hit upon the concept of self-discovery through taste, that’s when I had the first sentence, “You will develop a palate.” And really, the whole book is in that line.
Please describe, briefly, what your process is like for writing the novel?
Sweetbitter was an especially strange process because I was in graduate school and had two jobs – my time was so regulated. I blocked off a day a week to just write – I wouldn’t leave the house, I wouldn’t even get out of pajamas sometimes. That would be like a six, eight hour binge. And then the rest of the week I would make notes, maybe outline, but I wouldn’t actually compose anything. I don’t recommend it, but I still really believe in blocking off the time. No lunches, no SoulCycle, no phone calls. You have to protect your writing time.
What’s been a highlight of writing in general or a particular event or happenstance that has kept you motivated to continue writing?
I’ve had so many teachers and mentors and friends that have saved my writing life. I think contact with thinkers, writers, artists I admire has been the definite highlight of publishing – a lot of it is stressful and terrible. But you’re in a community with the best minds in the world – you’re a part of a huge conversation about how we live. It keeps me pushing myself – I always want to be furthering that conversation.
For our professional GANYC tour guide members, what things about you or your work might we share with the thousands of visitors to NYC we meet every year?
I lived in Williamsburg for 10 years, from 2006 to 2016 and it became a hotbed of restaurants, gourmet stores, new development. I worked in all these elevated restaurants (Union Square Café, Tia Pol, Buvette), lived in a very hip neighborhood, but the real New York my friends and I inhabited was mostly dive bars and classic places. I find that for a lot of industry veterans, the trendiest, hottest place to eat isn’t what draws us. I go back to Grand Central Oyster Bar, Cup & Saucer Luncheonette, Gramercy Tavern, Marlow & Sons, again and again. My favorite place for a drink is a tiny dive called Clandestino, that’s just solid and dependable.
Favorite tour you've taken in NYC, or if you haven't taken a tour, where in NYC would you next like to have a tour (preferably led by one of our GANYC members)?
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is such a gem, such an immersive experience. I love the smaller museums – the Morgan Library, the Museum of the City of New York – their exhibits are excellent, but it’s never too crowded. I would love to do a haunted New York tour someday – walking around the Financial District at night I can feel the ghosts.
What is your favorite place in NYC and why?
Chinatown. There has been so much gentrification, so much development, and yet Chinatown miraculously still exists. The crowds, the trash in the streets, the markets selling dried fish and live squid. It’s so weird and chaotic, a real nexus where cultures are meeting and mingling – it’s what I dreamed about when I moved to NYC, and it’s what I worry will disappear.
If you could be any one of the five NYC boroughs or a particular store/restaurant in NYC, what would you be and why?
Marlow & Sons – is that such a boring choice? It’s been around a long time now and it never got stale. The food is simple and seasonal and exquisite. Oysters in the afternoon with a glass of rosé looking up at the bridge – that is where a lot of happiest moments of my twenties happened. I’ll add to that a store on the Lower East Side called The Hunt. It’s ostensibly an antique store (you can find oddities, taxidermy, art, clothing, mirrors, or some fantastic piece of jewelry), but it’s highly curated. Stepping into The Hunt is like stepping into a small museum or an art show. It’s one of those, only in New York stores.