Fran Lebowitz is, without a doubt, a quintessential New Yorker. The famed writer, cultural pundit, and friend of filmmaker Martin Scorsese (they recall first meeting at filmmaker John Waters’s birthday party), explores that in the pair’s new Netflix show, Pretend It’s a City, which premiered earlier this month and covers everything Lebowitz loathes and loves about Manhattan, from the subway system to tourists in Times Square and art auctions.
The seven-part series (shot prepandemic) is a deep dive into New York’s cultural oddities, yes. But it’s more of a conversation piece between Lebowitz and Scorsese, as well, which sheds a light onto their quirky friendship.
The Gramercy Park members club, the Players Club, and the Queens Museum provide the backdrops for the docuseries. It’s combined with footage from their public lectures, documented over the years. Watching Lebowitz’s witticisms is funny, but so is Scorsese’s laugh that follows. Lebowitz argues: Public art in the subway system? Not if the station has to close. Why are there plants in Times Square? They surely don’t belong there. And her friendship with jazz musician Charles Mingus? Legendary.
Lebowitz has been living in Manhattan since 1970—over 40 years. She saw her rise as a columnist for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, then wrote two books: Metropolitan Life (1978) and Social Studies (1981), both beacons of cultural criticism. She continued to write at Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair and is now known as a pundit who comments on everything from the art world to Washington. Below, Lebowitz speaks to AD from her home in Chelsea about living with a collection of over 10,000 books, her old furniture, and living in the West Village in the 1970s.
Architectural Digest: Do you remember your first apartment in New York City?
Fran Lebowitz: Oh, yes! Very well. It was a tiny one. I slept on a sofa bed. It was one room, and that’s generous to say even that. When that bed was open, I could touch all the walls of my apartment. It was on West 4th Street in the West Village; the building is still there. It’s a small building that was built as a sailors’ rooming house; it was not far from the river. Tiny rooms, no kitchen. I had a bar fridge and a hot plate. No sink, it was in the bathroom. I lived there from 1970 to 1978. It was horrible! It was a horrible apartment, but it was in the West Village, which was so much safer than the East Village.