Q104.3's Jim Kerr has been the voice of morning rock and roll radio in New York City for over four decades.
Since arriving in the Big Apple in the mid-'70s to do his first hit morning show, Jim has seen the city evolve from being crime-ridden and nearly-bankrupt to one of the safest, wealthiest (and still somehow dirtiest) cities in the world.
In the music industry in New York, Jim has had a front-row seat to watch artists like KISS, Blondie, The Talking Heads, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen ascend from mere local curiosities to full-fledged genre-defining icons.
And in a business as volatile as radio, Jim says the fact that he hasn't had to change cities since getting transferred from his job in Chicago to New York in 1974 is extraordinary.
"My original goal was to work in New York City for a year—to last that long—and head back to [my home state of] Michigan and spend the rest of my life bragging to my friends that I worked in New York once," he says. "But it didn't work out that way."
Forty-four years is a lot of time to take in the city's countless cultural and culinary offerings. And while Jim won't claim to know the best place for dinner in the five boroughs in 2018, he knows what works for him.
A regular at a number of establishments around the Upper East Side and elsewhere in the city—perhaps none more so than the drawer of takeout menus in his own kitchen—Jim admits he still sometimes can't believe his luck at where his career has taken him and kept him for so long.
"Some of these questions are very, very difficult to answer because it has to do with what you consider to be your favorite places," he cautions. "And in New York there are so many choices, it's almost impossible to have a favorite. The favorites that I name are just among the favorites that I have."
So here are some of Jim Kerr's recommendations for places to eat, drink and be merry in New York City, along with some of his recollections about the city he's called home throughout his career.
What were your first thoughts when you moved here?
Times Square was one of the first places I visited. Of course it was rather seamy back then, kind of like you see on the HBO series The Deuce. And it was kind of dangerous, but it was exciting nonetheless. Because I had seen images so often on film, you know in the movies, or in television shows, and in fact that was the case with just about every neighborhood that I visited in New York.
You walk down the street, turn the corner—and as a person who didn't grow up here, as soon as you turn the corner you see something that was instantly familiar, even though you had never see it in person before.
What’s your favorite place for dinner?
That is a really, really difficult thing to answer. New York City has some of the finest restaurants in the world.
How about for a steak?
I like the Palm Too on Second Avenue on Manhattan's East Side in the east 40s.
How about for Italian food?
Well, that requires a trip on the Q train to Coney Island to Gargiulo's Italian Restaurant, which is a restaurant that's been there for over a century.
But that poses a problem because when I get to Coney Island, before I would go to Gargiulo's to have dinner, I had to go to Nathan's and eat hot dogs—because it's impossible to go to Coney Island and not have a Nathan's hot dog!
What is it about Nathan's hot dogs at Coney Island specifically?
I know they're sold all over the country in supermarkets and they have restaurants—you know, I've seen them in airports—but the hotdog at Nathan's on Surf Avenue tastes different. And I think it's because of the combination of the salt air from the ocean.
A Nathan's hotdog at the original Nathan's at Coney Island is to die for.
So after I have a couple of hot dogs—because you can't just have one—I walk a couple of blocks to Gargiulo's and stuff myself with some of the most incredible red sauce Italian food available in the entire city. It's just amazing.
What do you like for takeout?
I have a drawer in my kitchen filled with takeout menus. They're in the kitchen because you know that is where food is prepared. Now, the way I often prepare food is I open a drawer and I take out a menu and make a phone call or else order online.
In my neighborhood there are so many places I really can't tell you the name of a favorite one.
MazMezcal on East 86th Street is absolutely amazing.
As is Móle on 2nd Avenue.
If I want to hang out with my friends, have a couple of drinks, have a good time, have some bar snacks, The District on 94th Street and 3rd Avenue is a great place with a really nice crowd.
If I want to spend a few more bucks, I go to The Writing Room, which is located in the space that was Elaine's for about half a century, a very famous place. And when they redid it, they made it kind of an homage to Elaine's, which was a famous hangout for writers, hence the name The Writing Room.
All you have to do is walk a block in New York City and you'll find a good place to have pizza.
I love the beef stroganoff on Balthazar, which is on Spring Street in SoHo, just east of Broadway.
In the Village there's the Waverly Diner, which has been there forever. They serve the breakfast at your table in a skillet.
And the hash browns are real hash browns; they're not home fries, they're not fake hash browns. They're real hash browns and they're absolutely stunning.
Jackson Hole Burgers taste really good, but they're so huge I can't open my mouth wide enough to eat them without looking like an idiot.
I always get a good burger at J.G. Melon's, which is at 74th Street and 3rd Avenue in Manhattan.
I like coffee from our coffee machine here at Q104.3. People make fun of me, but I like it!
And I like my Maxwell House instant coffee when I'm at home.
How about for a date?
Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel.
What’s your favorite drink?
I went through several stages in my life. I went through the margarita stage. I went through the Tanqueray and tonic stage. And then I went through the Johnny Walker Black and water stage. Then for some insane reason that my shrink can't even help me understand, I went through a Harvey's Bristol Cream stage. Boy, I'm glad I emerged from that one!
Now it's Cabernet, that's the drink of choice. That seems to work well for me.
Do you have any menu items named after you?
No, I don't. Some of my friends do, though...sandwiches is what they ordinarily are.
What’s your favorite place to see live music?
Well, we have the World's Most Famous Arena here in New York City, Madison Square Garden. The Beacon Theatre is absolutely beautiful. Radio City Music Hall, it doesn't matter what kind of a show you're going to see there, you feel like you ought to get dressed up just to walk into the lobby because it's just so beautiful.
Then we have a lot of small venues, like the City Winery, which is a great place to see a show.
Do you remember the first place you saw a show in New York?
The first place I saw live music in New York was at the Bottom Line, which was at 4th and Mercer, and that doesn't exist anymore. The first week I was in New York, I went and saw the Strawbs there. But I've also seen Billy Joel there, I've seen The Hollies. That's where Bruce Springsteen really made his mark.
There's so many neighborhood places where you can go see music not necessarily by people who are famous. But there are small venues where you can go see people who are really well know, like The Cutting Room, which is where Ken Dashow and Maria Milito spend a lot of their time.
They can go out at night more often than I can, so they see a lot more shows than I do. But anytime I've gone there I enjoy the performance on the stage, the room is beautifully designed and the special baked potato soup is outstanding.
What’s a place in New York everyone should visit at least once?
What can I tell you? We've got the Bronx Botanical Garden, the Bronx Zoo, the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens have those beautiful Japanese gardens. We have the Central Park Zoo, where you can just go spend some quality time with the seals.
We also have a lot of museums that fall under the radar, very small museums that have extraordinary exhibitions from time to time.
I remember once, because I thought it would be very interesting, I went to the Jewish Museum to see an exhibition about Yiddish Radio Broadcasting, which apparently was very big here in New York City in the 1920s - '50s. So you can always find an interesting exhibit as far as museums, art and culture go.
Where do you recommend tourists go for ‘the real New York’?
Well, the 9/11 Memorial, obviously.
While downtown, there's Frances Tavern, which George Washington used to frequent.
On a more commercial level, you have to go to Macy's. It's the largest store in the world and it's a lot of fun just to walk around in there. And besides: that's where the real Santa Claus is every Christmas. I know that because when I was a little boy, I saw A Miracle on 34th Street.
Do you consider yourself a New Yorker?
This is a great city. I was so lucky to end up here. It was one of those weird things where I got transferred in my job.
When they told me I was being sent to New York to do the morning show on a radio station here, it was a scary moment, but as it turned out in retrospect, it was one of the best moments of my entire life.
Do I consider myself a New Yorker? Well, on my 25th anniversary in New York, I asked Governor Mario Cuomo if after a quarter century I could now, finally, call myself a New Yorker?
The governor paused and said, "No."
Maybe one of these days.
Photo: Andrew Magnotta