Notable New Yorkers Reveal Their Sacred City Spots

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By Emily Thomas

"Curiouser and curiouser!" cried Alice in the classic children's story by Lewis Carroll. The well-known phrase became an adage for 9-year-old Jeryl Brunner when she wandered into Central Park and discovered the sculpture of Alice atop a bronze mushroom reaching for the White Rabbit's pocketwatch.

"I remember looking at the statue and thinking of all the possibilities and all of the magic in the city," Brunner, 46, author of My City, My New York: Famous New Yorkers Share Their Favorite Places released in October, said. A seasoned celebrity journalist, she asked over 300 famous New Yorkers to share their favorite New York fix.

I met Brunner in the garden at St. Luke in the Fields in the West Village beneath a crabapple tree. It's a scene straight out of a Carroll fantasy.

"Can you believe you're in Manhattan?" she said.

The quaint garden is also from the first sequence of her book, this site being actor and director John Cameron Mitchell's favored oasis, where he rehearsed for his role in the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The gamut of New Yorkers who share their "fixes" in the book ranges from Tina Fey to Hugh Jackman to New York Times crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz.

Growing up in Hastings-on-Hudson, Brunner wanted to be an actress. She attended NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and majored in drama and politics.

"I really wanted to be an actress," Brunner said.

However, the inconsistent paychecks eventually changed her mind.

"I got scared of starving, I was scared of the struggle," Brunner said. "I thought, well if I can't be an actor, why not talk to other actors about their craft?"

After attending law school, which Brunner quickly found wasn't for her, she found a job as a one of the first staff members at InStyle magazine. After a nine-year stint there, Brunner needed a change of pace.

"I hit a limit. Nine years at a magazine is measured like it's in dog years," Brunner laughed.

As a freelancer she wrote for publications such as O, the Oprah magazine and National Geographic Traveler. In 2002, she wrote an article for the latter about what notable New Yorkers would do if they had one hour to spend in the city, which became the seed for her book.

After a decade of tiresome rounds with publishers, Globe Pequot finally accepted her proposal. By March the following year, she had a finished manuscript, but continued to contribute celebrity quotes up until this August.

Brunner's book captures nostalgic New York and reminds us why we continue to put up with aggravating subway delays, hour-long lines to buy groceries and outrageous rent. Her book offers readers glimpses into the places where celebrities let loose and find calm, like Saturday Night Live's Will Forte and Jason Sudeikis' late-night karaoke sessions at Sing Sing and Matthew Broderick's favorite bike route up the Hudson River pathway.

When I ask Brunner about her own New York fix, she said she's on the same page as Broderick. Twice a week, if her busy schedules permits, she takes bike rides along the Hudson River to Fort Tyron, bringing along a basket of health food purchased from Fairway market.

"It feels like Oz up there-it's so pristine and special." Brunner said.

Photo: Jeryl Brunner in St. Luke in the Fields. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

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