The Messenger’s Guide To The City: Rooftops and Sandwiches with Cooper Ray
Words and photos by Chris Lee
Bicycle messengers have the unique opportunity to touch every single corner of their city. This often leads to discoveries once hidden in plain sight that most people, not even long time locals get to experience.
In the first installment of “The Messenger’s Guide To New York City”, I followed Cooper Ray, a young talented photographer and a full time bike messenger with a knack for finding his way up to rooftops and knowledge of the rich history of his hometown of Manhattan.
Cooper decided to show me some of his favorite rooftops that he managed to sneak up to over the years and two really important eateries that represents the history of New York City.
Lets start off with Eisenberg’s… What’s so very New York about this place and why is it so culturally relevant to this city?
Cooper: It’s one of the last few examples of a luncheonette in New York. Just a really good diner thats open really early in the morning and they always have breakfast specials and its one of the oldest.
It’s been open since 1929! I grew up in a photo studio on 21st between 5th and 6th avenue. I remember going to Eisenberg’s as a kid and drinking egg creams and having reuben sandwiches. You can just feel how well lived the space is, the flow of people. Its very relevant to the area. To think of every person thats gone through that space over the years. I’m just glad its there. Its not easily accessible to find a good affordable diner anymore.
You wanna add anything else to that?
Cooper: They got the best reuben… Go get a fuckin’ reuben at Eisenberg’s!
What is it about Ess-A-Bagel that makes it not only your favorite bagel spot but an accurate reflection of what an NY bagel should be?
Cooper: My first introduction to Ess-A-Bagel was on 1st avenue between 20th and 21st. Went to middle school around the corner. And we would always go to Ess-A-Bagel. We would leave our skateboards with the guys there… I even think I left my bike there once! The bagels are unparalleled. It’s perfectly crispy on the outside, its soft in the middle and they refuse to toast it. And they’re always hot. You don’t toast a bagel there.
They won’t let you toast their bagels! The New York water, you can make it a certain way: the classic Jewish bagel. You can get all sorts of different fish and spreads. It just doesn’t really compare to anywhere else. Ess-A-Bagel is a New York bagel, period.
*unfortunately during the time we conducted the interview Ess-A-Bagel was closed for Passover*
What is it about rooftops that means so much to you?
Cooper: For me it’s more than just going up to rooftops just to go. I’m not a graffiti artist. I don’t paint. I take photos. New York is unique in many senses, but from an architectural stand point because the density of tall buildings. Other cities will have a few tall buildings, maybe even the tallest in the world. But New York is the first metropolis.
I had an apartment maybe 300 feet above the ground and seeing everything look tiny on the ground: that was such a significant memory for me. To grow up with divorced parents and many different apartments and always sneak up to the roof of the building when I was a kid, and be so humbled with everything around me. It’ll be city for as far as you can see. I’ve developed a love for architecture and I taught myself about the development and redevelopment of the city.
What is it about New York that always draws you back other than the fact that you’re from here?
Cooper: That’s such a hard question to answer! It’s the energy of this place. The liveliness. The amount of everything. There’s everything of everything and there’s alway someone that can do it better than you. It’s humbling. I’m beginning to travel more. I recently traveled internationally and you can even see bits of that (other cities) here in New York. But nothing ever compares to Manhattan. But it all comes back to the fact that I grew up here. If I go somewhere else, I slip in to complacency. Its too slow, too quiet.
There’s no urgency to do better and to do more with yourself and to learn more. It’s a never ending learning experience. A city of so many millions of people, but all the subcultures and the people are intertwined and interconnected, more so than you can imagine. And I wholeheartedly believe if you go ahead with the spontaneity of the city, let it flow, and just pay attention. It just unfolds beautifully year after year. Its obviously gonna be difficult, but just the flow and energy that this city holds is unparalleled anywhere I’ve been to in the world. And its New York. Its New York City!