The Russian businessman I was having a drink with lived in London. "I prefer London to New York right now; in London not everyone talks about their depleted bank balance; in New York everyone does," he said. I agreed. But then a friend took me for a late dinner at a restaurant I'd never heard of, Charles in the West Village.
I expected the usual: a near empty restaurant and, given the hour - 10.30pm - to see most of the clientele leaving, not arriving. So I was shocked to see an unbelievably handsome guy in his twenties open the door. Behind him was a packed space fizzing with energy, sexuality and fun. This was the New York I used to know but which these days feels like a forgotten dream.
The room was bursting. There was not a seat left at the bar, though the waiter was quick to serve the drinks. Beautiful young women spilled out of revealing, barely-there tops while their dates consumed vodka like it was going out of fashion.
The secret to the place's success, I was told, was that the six young founders all had "day jobs" but at night put their energy into running the place like old fashioned maître d's. They took turns seating people, opening the door, making guests welcome. For eight months the place has been heaving - which means their ingenuity has paid off.
They're not the only ones. One former Morgan Stanley employee, having been laid off, is now reportedly making $160,000 as a pole dancer. Intriguingly, she says she finds her new working environment more comfortable than her old one (Morgan Stanley later said she'd only been a temp). Still, I must say I did stop and wonder for a second whether I should take pole-dancing lessons. I even have a French friend who could teach me.
Such stories of New York's inventiveness are inspiring. I'm reminded of a man I spoke to over the summer. He had been laid off from work and marched up and down Park Avenue wearing a billboard that advertised he was for hire. His tactics paid off and he is now employed.
So I say to my Russian friend: come back to New York! It isn't the one-dimensional place we thought. The Big Apple may be down - but it is most certainly not out.
This article was originally published by the London Evening Standard