The poet reads his crooked rhyme/Holy, holy is his sacrament/Thirty dollars pays your rent/On Bleecker Street. —Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, 1963
Forty years later, $30 does not pay your rent on Bleecker. Nor will it buy much in most of the street’s stores, especially the newly opened, highly fashionable places that at first glance strike you as having gotten lost on their way to Madison Avenue. At the moment, Bleecker is veering between extremes—Ottomanelli’s still puts hunks of beef in its window, Zito’s is hawking bread, and Bleecker Street Records has John Coltrane’s Blue Train on vinyl for $16.99, but Cynthia Rowley and Ralph Lauren loom a block or two west, and Gucci, believe it or not, is rumored to be on the way.
Still, undaunted, we took an imaginary $30 to the new Bleecker and found that the case wasn’t entirely hopeless.
“Hey, the holidays are over! It’s sale time!” says the clerk at the chic Lulu Guinness (394 Bleecker), cheerful despite the frigid weather. The shop, which has striped lavender walls, a black-and-white checkerboard floor, and the air of a French boudoir, specializes in winsome, girlish handbags by British designer Guinness. And there’s actually something we can have for $30: a felt coin purse, marked down from $75 to $25, that employs purple, blue, and red in a snowflake pattern, with the initials LG in the middle of the flake. (Too bad it isn’t LY.)
Across the street at the phenomenally popular Marc Jacobs accessories store (385 Bleecker), our $30 is a joke. Most of the bags are pushing not three but four figures: The Venetia, the original double-pocket model that started the craze, is $895. The cheapest item available, a small violet leather purse—the store calls it a key pouch—sports the highly coveted buckle incised Marc Jacobs, but at $95 it is triple our limit. Down the block at the Marc shop (403-405 Bleecker), which features Jacobs’s cheaper line, we don’t fare much better, though for $78 we could buy a tank with the legend Amour Fou and a picture of what we’re sure is a rat. Whether this is a commentary on the rodent explosion under Mr. Bloomberg we don’t ponder long, since we are mesmerized by a pale pink silk flapper dress with a pattern of subtle bubbles. It’s $358 and perfect for Sofia Coppola, director of Lost in Translation and a major Jacobs booster, to wear to the Golden Globes.
To cheer ourselves, we get a cupcake at the legendary Magnolia Bakery ($1.75) and walk east, stopping briefly at a place called Blush (333 Bleecker), which we swear occupies the same premises as the late, great vintage store Dorothy’s Closet. Blush has a tiny mini in white with a goth drawing of a fairy and a frog by the exceedingly hip label Da Nang for $133, but there’s also a 70-percent-off rack offering a stretchy olive tee marked down to $45, by the Brazilian designer Tufi Duek, that has a ruffle running down each sleeve like a miniature mountain range.
Still, it’s $15 above our limit, so we proceed past the Banana Republic at Minetta Street (pricey and tame, like all BRs) and are happy to see that So Good, a favorite cheap jewelry store, has opened a branch at 177 Bleecker. Among the huge variety of baubles is a shelf of vintage-y rhinestone pins that includes slightly spooky flowers ($9.99) and a brooch with two sparkling cherries dangling from green enamel leaves, clearly inspired by the 1940s ($14.99).
We skip a place called Jokers Tattoos and Body Piercing (if and when we get a tattoo, we don’t want a joker doing it) and zip over to Broadway, where we visit Atrium (644 Broadway), a vast shop we’ve never really understood—it looks cheap, but it carries expensive merchandise. (You wouldn’t expect to find a denim jacket from See by Chloe, but here it is, marked down to $229 from $550.) Today the whole store is given over to a sale, and the racks are organized by price, an innovation we heartily approve of. Though the management is maddeningly vague about how long this sale will go on, we suspect that if you hurry you will still find items like a cabled brown muffler with pink fringe, marked down from $62 to $9. With its bohemian jauntiness and street-cred label (Triple Five Soul), it manages to flirt with the spirit of the old—and the new—Bleecker Street.