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Drama at New York’s Only Wholesale Farmers’ Market

Smelling faintly of fish and diesel, the parking lot at the Fulton Fish Market is the kind of place where people make jokes about dumping bodies. It also happens to be the makeshift home of New York’s only wholesale farmers’ market—or what remains of it.

One blustery April morning, five trucks were parked in a semi-circle next to the river, the water slapping against the rocks below. The farmers—most of them well over 60 and clad in overalls—huddled stoically in the cabs of their trucks, dozing off or chatting until a buyer pulled up to inspect their wares. The farmers had arrived at 2 a.m. and would stay until about 8:30 a.m., after which they’d pack up and head back to their farms.

The New York wholesale farmers’ market has a long and vital history, but now it’s virtually without a home and teetering on the brink of extinction. If the group loses just one or two more farmers, the market probably won’t survive.

Why should you care? You’ve heard the arguments for buying local: The produce is fresher; less fuel is consumed; it’s good for small farmers and the local economy. But trekking to greenmarkets with cute cloth bags only goes so far.

The big wholesale buyers—stores and restaurants—don’t find it feasible to shop at consumer greenmarkets. So if you want more local produce from shops and restaurants, there has to be a convenient wholesale source. And because big wholesale merchants generally don’t buy from small and mid-sized farms, those farmers need to find a way to band together and market themselves to wholesale buyers.

None of the chefs I spoke to had even heard that a wholesale farmers’ market exists at the Fulton Fish Market, even though they all thought it was a good idea. “A wholesale farmers’ market would be ideal. Unlike the everyday shopper at the greenmarket, we’re buying in heavy bulk—so cost-wise, it would be ideal,” said Neil Ferguson of Allen & Delancey.

Lee Gross, chef at Broadway East, agreed: “A wholesale produce market for the restaurant industry that is akin to the Union Square farmers’ market would be great. Who wouldn’t want that? I do a fair amount of shopping in Union Square, and as a chef, it gets frustrating maneuvering around all of the civilians who are taking a leisurely Saturday stroll.”

Bolstered by data that indicate this unmet demand, the state Department of Agriculture and Markets has proposed creating a dedicated site for an expanded wholesale farmers’ market with indoor and outdoor facilities for 130 farmers. The department is betting that better infrastructure, publicity, and organization would attract more farmers and buyers. Both Toronto and Paris have already done this successfully.

Last year, the project’s proponents found a champion in Governor Eliot Spitzer, who declared in his 2007 State of the State speech that he was making a wholesale farmers’ market a priority for 2008.

And then Spitzer ended up screwing the farmers as well as Ashley DuPré. Spitzer’s ouster means that 2008 will see no new construction. Governor Paterson said through a spokesperson that he “remains committed to the wholesale farmers’ market and pushed to keep funding for it in this year’s budget.” And there’s $40 million for agricultural development in this year’s state budget. But can the various bureaucracies and players agree on a plan?

Jack Hoeffner is a fifth-generation Hudson Valley farmer and the coordinator of the current market in the parking lot. He’d heard about Spitzer’s plans, but he’s skeptical about promises from the government. Hoeffner has seen the devolution of the market over the past 50 years. In 1935, his family, along with about 100 other farmers, started selling their produce in the Bronx Terminal Market, near Yankee Stadium. But when the city handed over the Terminal Market to a private company under a 99-year lease, the farmers were eventually kicked out to make way for the market’s redevelopment as a retail space. They moved to a parking lot under the Major Deegan Expressway. Two years ago, the developers said they needed that parking lot for construction equipment, so the farmers—their numbers rapidly dwindling—were homeless again. They rented part of the parking lot of the Fulton Fish Market; this is their second season there.

There’s an obvious fix to this situation that wouldn’t require a whole new building: Give the farmers space in the Hunts Point wholesale produce market. That’s where the big produce vendors are located, and it’s where the vast majority of wholesale buyers in the city get their produce now. That option was on the table at the start of this season, but the deal fell through.

“We made several attempts to go into Hunts Point and were always beaten back by the merchants,” said Hoeffner.

Actually, Matt D’Arrigo, one of the biggest vendors and the co-president of the market, says he was all for the plan. But Hoeffner heard that a few vendors—the ones who also deal in local produce—were wary of bringing in the competition. Hoeffner got nervous and decided to sign the lease with the Fulton Fish Market for the 2008 season—right back where he was before.

Curt Conklin, who owns Homestead Floral Designs, a floral and produce shop in Westchester County, buys from Hoeffner, whom he’s known all his life. “I’ve seen it change from something gigantic and very vibrant, to something . . . still vibrant, but much smaller,” he said. “I was upset when the vendors didn’t allow the farmers to come to Hunts Point, and I think that the state has neglected the farmers by not putting in a decent facility.”

For his part, D’Arrigo is trying to get the Hunts Point produce market refurbished. He proposes that one of the old buildings could then be made into the farmers’ market. In his vision, the new produce market for the traditional big wholesalers would be next-door to the old one, which would house the farmers—a perfect one-stop produce shopping setup for stores and restaurants. D’Arrigo will propose his plan to the Economic Development Commission this month.

Meanwhile, Hoeffner and his fellow holdouts will be out in their trucks by the East River six days a week, selling herbs and flowers, then tomatoes and sweet corn and other summer fruits and vegetables, before packing it in for the season around Thanksgiving and waiting to see what next year will bring.

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Hanging at the New Fulton Fish Market with an insider

Joe Catalano tries to go to bed by 7:30 p.m. About five hours later, he hitches a ride in a delivery truck to the New Fulton Fish Market in Hunts Point. He likes to get there by 1 a.m. “There’s only so much great stuff that comes in,” he says as he passes through rows of swordfish and giant slabs of tuna. Restless, he might smack the cardboard boxes with his fish hook as he walks by, sending ice flying behind him. “That fucker never stays still!” one of the purveyors complains.

Catalano is the man behind the fish at Eli’s and the Vinegar Factory, and he’s the fish buyer for B.R. Guest Restaurants, which include Aqua Grill, Blue Fin, Ocean Grill, and others. In the market’s 400,000-square-foot refrigerator, he’s a respected fixture. Not that he’s ever stationary. Flipping through his clipboard full of orders, he scurries up and down the stalls, returning here and there to press gently on a sea bass or lay hands on a fat scallop or two. Catalano is hired for his knowledge, but he trusts his instincts. “You can tell a good fish by looking at it,” he says. “When you open the box, does it say, ‘I’m good to eat’?'”

Sometimes it seems this simple. Running his finger along a striped bass, he says, “You want the firmness. When you cut it, filet it, it doesn’t fall apart.” But there are tricks. At one point, he holds a shrimp under a visitor’s nose. “Smell the iodine? It’ll eat like iodine,” he says, tossing it back onto the pile. He offers a different shrimp, from a different pile. It smells like absolutely nothing. “That’ll eat good,” he says.

About 30 years ago, when he was 26, Catalano found himself miserable on a business trip in Milwaukee and promptly quit his job, with no plan. “I was a jerk,” he says. He started driving trucks for his brother-in-law, who owned a big shellfish company. It was just “a means to an end,” he says, but pretty soon Catalano opened his own store on the Upper East Side. “I had no knowledge of the fish business,” he recalls. “I happened to hire the right guys.”

And many of the guys he knows become pals. Not only a fish person, Catalano’s a people person. Besides pressing bass, he may even grab-ass one of his pals. “I love that guy—and he has great fish,” he says of one of his “victims.” Good relationships can lead him to some great catches. At Emerald Seafood Company’s stall, one of the guys points out John Dory, a favorite of Catalano’s. Intrigued, he asks whether any have sold. “I would never sell them,” the guy tells Catalano, “until I showed them to you.” Catalano picks out a few, and they become specials that night at a couple of the restaurants.

The “hot fish” this particular day is wild king salmon, and they’re huge. “Are you kidding me?” Catalano exclaims. “They gotta be freaking elephants. What do I need a 40-pound fish for?” The seller comes over and says he thinks the fish looks good. Catalano replies: “Great. Take it home. Feed the family!” After a few minutes, the guy says “All right, you old fart,” and magically produces some smaller fish.

“There’s always something,” Catalano later explains. “If you don’t bitch and moan, you don’t get the good stuff.”

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I Smell Dead People

Outside an exhibit of the dead, a ticket for which is $24.50, you will encounter the following: The Gap, a Baby Gap, a Guess store, Brookstones, The Body Shop, J. Crew, and a boldly-lettered sandwich board for the Buskers Hall of Fame. There is one entry on that board.

The attraction, “Bodies: The Exhibition,” takes up the corner of a downtown shopping plaza, a museum in a mall across from the South Street Seaport. Posters promise real human bodies.

In the distance, old ships bob in the moonlight. The Fulton Fish Market is abandoned. I notice the Heartland Brewery. On a grim, bitter Sunday night, the lights look inviting. There’s beer in there.

On the corner of the building, there’s a brass fish bolted to the fresh concrete and brick. The fish feels like a committee decision, bearing all the signs of “fish-ness” but lacking any likeness to famous fish, like cod or striped bass.

“They say this is Christmas,” that song where all the Western musicians wonder if Africans know about Santa, is playing on outdoor speakers. There’s a flabby, 100-foot holiday tree mounted in the mall’s square.

Before I brave the exhibit, I stop to observe other attempts at the human form. These are headless, wrapped in pink cotton and denim imported from Hong Kong or India. It’s the Gap, and even without the heads, they still capture an athleticism that I understand is also a goal for “Bodies”—what we look like, want to look like, should look like.

I enter the store and start taking notes. This act catches the attention of three employees, who triangulate. “Do you need help?” a manager asks, and I nod my head no, scribbling.


The exhibit takes up a series of darkened rooms filled with cadavers. “I’m a little nervous,” I admit to the ticket-taker. “Don’t be,” he says, “it’s really quite clinical.”

He tells me it’ll take me a half-hour if I hate it, two to three hours if I love it.

The first room gives off a vague, waxy smell. The first skeleton with tissue preserved is giving a thumbs-up. There are real eyeballs and ears. This is a real human body. I’m standing six inches from a dead man’s nose. I could lick his lips. I really want to leave.


The body never lies, a sign says.

The eyebrows of the dead man are arranged as if he were calmly taking a football for some extra yards. A strip of black tape is a half-hearted effort to mask the brand of the ball, Nike.

My intention to eavesdrop on the other museum-goers seems like it will be derailed by the German and French speakers, who seem to dominate the audience for the exhibit.

Dust or sweater fluff dances in the warmed, track-lighted air, the weightless, visible stuff nearing the flattened, dead lips of the preserved man in front of me. I stare at the toe nails and nuggets of each toe’s joints.


The heat blower disturbs the fat of one cadaver, who has been flayed in such a way as to reveal his muscles. He’s setting up for a jump shot. I pause to stare, my stomach tightening, and I notice that, barely perceivable, the entire dead body is listing back and forth in the hot breeze, the dead tissues warming in the bright glare, giving off the sweet smell of dead meat, fat, and bone.

Is this OK?


A blind man sits next to a gentle-looking older woman, who is describing the exhibit in tender Spanish. They sit with their hands folded in their laps, resting in these chairs in the shadows, talking in a room filled with almost 600 pounds of dead meat.


Near one of the dead men, a live one from one of the outer Boroughs is describing an injury he suffered to his Achilles tendon. His companions, three small women with dark hair and bright lips, all listen as he gestures at the dead foot. “I was walking on the beach and it snapped,” he said. “It hurts to this day.”


In a glass case the size of a dinner table, one dead man’s spinal and nervous system has been completely ripped from its natural moorings and is spread out under the harsh glow. It’s repulsive, resembling a giant, goose-grey 100-legged waterbug. This lies deep within all of us, but just this once, we’re witness to it naked and pinned.


Soon I enter a darkened room, where dozens of cases filled with fluid hold entire sections of the body’s arterial system. They resemble sea creatures, or jungle blooms, these iridescent red structures. Close up, you can see many of the systems are deteriorating. The glass cases bear the weight of no tide, but the liquid seems to move, and at the bottom are the light dustings and more significant chunks of dead veins and arterial connections. A fresh bit drifts down, glittering and fluttering.


Where is the puke bucket? It’s nearing 7 p.m., and guests are using cell phones to secure dinner reservations. One couple in neat, matching windbreakers bicker over which restaurant to visit. He resolves to leave, saying he’ll meet her at the bar. She stares at a cancerous thyroid in a glass case, nearly three times the size of the healthy organ to its rear.


The dead woman they’ve used for the fat exhibit—her body has been sliced vertically into four sections—had a polio shot some time during her life. It looks like the one on my dad’s arm, which I puzzled over as a kid. I stare at the mark on her dead hide. The sign says that underneath is half-an-inch to three inches of fat.

Someone hugged this fat woman. Someone loved the way she had dimples at the base of her spine, the way her arms sloped from her shoulders. You can see her pores, you can see the folds in her neck. At some point, they shaved her skull, leaving no stubble.

They sawed her in half, and then sawed each section in half again. Mercifully, they sawed off her face, too. That way, as we consider her fatness, there’s no face to confront, just her round thighs and chubby ankles.

“I’m eating salads from now on,” says a trim, tall woman in tapered jeans and a green turtleneck. Her husband nods up and down, inches from the fat woman’s squat, dead knees.

In the next room, we learn more about the health of one dead man. He had high blood pressure, which created a persistent lack of oxygen.


In the guest books available for comment in the final room, I read every word that’s been written. Children seem to favor the dead babies exhibit, a room proceeded by a sign that warns, “Please pause a moment and consider if you wish to enter.” A Chinese woman writes that it’s “so weird” for her to see dead people from her country. An NYU professor references Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson,” which depicts the “never-satisfied desire of the western gaze to consume the body.” Nurses are grateful for the precision. Doctors say it’s better than Gross Anatomy. High school kids say it’s fun stoned. Tourists say it ruins the appetite. Teachers say it’s too expensive, that the sponsor should consider special discounts.

In all the literature—neat anatomy books and the glossy exhibit brochure—though, there’s no effort I can find to account for where the bodies came from.


This exhibit is expensive, but it’s also a rare and powerful privilege, an interaction with the dead not to be taken lightly. Growing up, I used to hold my breath every time we drove by a cemetery. I helped a friend bury his dead snake. I cried with my sister when we ran over a family of raccoons.

But tonight, it’s a lonely, vacant feeling. By 9 p.m., the place is nearly empty. The complimentary coat check is now staffed by the ticket-taker who calmed my nerves at the outset.

“Did you like it? ” he asks, licking his lips. He’s a large man, with waxy skin and a light haze of sweat on his brow. He invites me to McDonald’s, but I decline.

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The Old Man and the Seafood

Joseph Mitchell was a reporter. It’s tempting to say his beat was the waterfront, but though he’s certainly the poet laureate of the Fulton Fish Market, this would be too literal-minded and geographically limiting. His beat was the margins, including the metaphysical margin of life itself. Mitchell invented a temporal dimension for his stories, a strange and twilit place—Mitchell Time—where a density of historical fact and the feeling of whole eras fading from view are sharply juxtaposed with scenes of cinematic immediacy related in the present tense. A cozy aura of death pervades his work, which often features oldsters experiencing the chilling fear of its approach while gleefully playing hide-and-seek with the reaper.

Mitchell arrived in New York City from rural North Carolina in the early ’30s, developed his style at several local papers, and then joined The New Yorker, where he had a distinguished career as a contributor and, to a degree, inventor of that magazine’s long-form profile. He worked at The New Yorker from 1938 until his death in 1996. That span, during which he was present at the magazine’s offices more or less daily, can be divided roughly in half—the time up to 1964, when his work appeared in the magazine’s pages, and the long, mysterious episode from 1964 till the end, when his work did not appear. Which is to say, he never published another word. So the Mitchell legacy falls into these two camps, an abundance of work on the one hand, and an extreme practice of Joyce’s maxim for a writer: “silence, exile, and cunning.” In Mitchell’s case the exile occurred in and around his office, where he fielded the polite if exasperated queries from colleagues about what he was working on and if they would soon see a piece. No one ever saw a word.

His substantial body of work, collected in 1992’s Up in the Old Hotel, suggests a man allergic to fame and power. Life’s nourishment was found in the city’s nooks and crannies, where he encountered subjects who, in their own circles, behaved with the self-assertion of the rich and powerful. When Diane Arbus was scouting for freaks to pose for her in the late ’60s, she called Mitchell, whom she considered an expert on the subject. The courtly Mitchell spoke to Arbus at length but didn’t open his address book for her. Their tendencies as artists were almost diametrically opposed. Arbus could take even an innocent young girl and bring out something ghoulishly lonely about her; her work with more unusual subjects also highlighted their freakishness, even as it humanized them. Mitchell, however, possessed a natural empathy, approaching even his more unusual subjects without condescension. As a result, he could get very private people to open up to him. His idea of research seems to have been to hang around a scene for five or 10 years; when he wrote his pieces, one of the marvels was how effaced the reporter was, often to the point of invisibility.

He had a flair for finding what Janet Malcolm calls the “Auto-novelist”—people who deliver grand soliloquies on the nature and structure of themselves. And Old Mr. Flood (the eponymous star of a book just published by Macadam/Cage) is one of Mitchell’s grandest auto-novelizing characters. I say “character,” because, as Mitchell tells us in his introduction, “Mr. Flood is not one man; combined in him are aspects of several old men who work and hang out in Fulton Fish Market. . . . I wanted these stories to be truthful rather than factual, but they are solidly based on facts.” One truth, if not fact, about Mr. Flood is that one of the people Joseph Mitchell is writing about seems to be Joseph Mitchell. This might be a matter of passing interest except for the aura of mystery that has always surrounded Mitchell. Part of this mystery is the one surrounding all artists who have made something in an original style, but the other part involves his long period of silence. I have always been obsessed by this silence and that it coincided with the hibernation of another writer affiliated with The New Yorker who also made his reputation in the ’40s and ’50s and whose vision of the world seemed to center on an emotional sweet spot, a purity of spirit: J.D. Salinger. Salinger’s sweet spot was the wise child. Mitchell, by contrast, found his in the obstinate energy that incongruously appeared in people like Mr. Flood and his gang. Both went silent in 1964, the year the Beatles arrived.

Mitchell writes: “For a man past ninety who worked hard in the wet and the wind from boyhood until the age of eighty, he is, in fact, a phenomenon; he has his own teeth, he hears all right, he doesn’t wear glasses, his mind seldom wanders, and his appetite is so good that immediately after lunch he begins speculating about what he will have for dinner.”

[

Having a good appetite may be Mitchell’s highest praise. But beneath this litany is Mitchell’s reiterated theme: We are all survivors. Mr. Flood, aged 93 in the mid 1940s, when these pieces first appeared, is in one respect an extremely contemporary figure—obsessed with food and its implications for a better life. He calls himself a “seafoodetarian,” claiming, “When I get through tearing a lobster apart, or one of those tender West Coast octopuses, I feel like I had a drink from the fountain of youth.” Mitchell isn’t coy with the details of Mr. Flood’s diet: “He eats with relish every kind of seafood, including sea-urchin eggs, blowfish tails, winkles, ink squids, and barn door skates. He especially likes an ancient Boston breakfast dish—fried cod tongues, cheeks, and sounds, sounds being the gelatinous air bladders along the cod’s backbone.”

The book consists of three long stories, none with much of a plot beyond Mr. Flood holding forth about life, often while eating and drinking. The last piece is an account of his 95th birthday party, where there was a lot of drinking to go along with the seafood. There is so much boozing in Old Mr. Flood, described with such merriment and approval, that if Mitchell suddenly became widely read I wouldn’t be surprised if AA issued a reproach to his whole oeuvre.

Mr. Flood is casually but deeply concerned with history, speaking not just about now extinct oyster houses (such as Still’s Oyster and Chop House, Third Avenue between 17th and 18th streets), but about a particular horse named Sam, owned by George Still himself, who opened the place in 1853. If this information sounds a bit obscure to be the thread of a whole book, note that what makes Old Mr. Flood so satisfying is not the information, but the enormous spirited gusts of Joycean declaration on which it is delivered. The wild ramblers and free-associating talkers of Joyce are present in Mitchell’s work, transplanted to the flinty, vanishing waterfront milieu of early-20th-century Manhattan. Mitchell is a pioneer of the long quote in journalism and a master of making it sing.

Here is one of Mr. Flood’s friends posing a question to him: “You’ve got enough money put away you could live high if you wanted to. Why in God’s name do you live in a little box of a room in a back-street hotel and hang out in the fish market when you could go down to Miami, Florida, and sit in the sun?”

“Nobody knows why they do anything,” Mr. Flood explains, and to illustrate this point he launches into a long anecdote involving a New Jersey farmer who has just taken the train to Trenton to pick up his supply of booze. On his way home a drummer sitting across from him on the train asks the farmer the time. The farmer, who has just looked at his watch, will not tell him the time.

” ‘Friend, all I asked was the time of day. It don’t cost anything to tell the time of day.’ ”

Mr. Flood acts the whole thing out, speaking both parts: “If I was to tell you the time of day,” says Mr. Flood, as the farmer, “we’d get into a conversation, and I got a crock of spirits down on the floor between my feet, and in a minute I’m going to take a drink, and if we were having a conversation I’d ask you to take a drink with me, and you would, and presently I’d take another, and I’d ask you to do the same, and you would, and we’d get to drinking, and by and by the train’d pull up to the stop where I get off, and I’d ask you why don’t you get off and spend the afternoon with me, and you would, and we’d walk up to my house and sit on the front porch and drink and sing, and along about dark my old lady would come out and ask you to take supper with us, and you would, and after supper I’d ask if you’d care to drink some more, and you would, and it’d get to be real late and I’d ask you to spend the night in the spare room, and you would, and along about two o’clock in the morning I’d get up to go to the pump, and I’d pass my daughter’s room, and there you’d be, in there with my daughter, and I’d have to turn the bureau upside down and get out my pistol, and my old lady would have to get dressed and hitch up the horse and go down the road and get the preacher, and I don’t want no God-damned son-in-law who don’t own a watch.”

[


Thomas Beller’s How to Be a Man: Scenes From a Protracted Boyhood (Norton) will appear in August.

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Dog Runs

Country Dog comes to visit City Dog at his railroad apartment in the East Village. “I don’t envy you,” says Country, a leggy golden retriever with a shaggy coat and drooly mouth. “You spend your days in a cracker box. When you go outside, you’re leashed to your owner. I can’t imagine life without a backyard. How do you cope?”

City, a French bulldog with a curlicued tail, manicured fur, and a spiked collar, looks up nonchalantly from his favorite napping cushion and replies, “It’s all about the dog runs, Country. I can’t imagine living without the poodles, greyhounds, and beagles. How many butts a day do you get to sniff in your yard?”

Being a dog in New York—like being a human here—has its spatial drawbacks. We can’t read dogs’ minds—well, most of us can’t, anyway—but we suspect that a daily trip to one of the fabulous dog runs the city boasts might dispel some of the negatives. Not all runs are equal, so we rated some of our favorites using these criteria: digging (D), running (R), ball playing (BP), poop cleanup (PC), and the all important wild-card factor, human entertainment (HE)—e.g., people-watching, pickup potential, street performers, annoyances. On our scale, 0 means nonexistent; 1, poor; 2, average; and 3, excellent.

The oldest and most popular downtown run, at TOMPKINS SQUARE PARK (East 9th Street and Avenue B), attracts an eclectic mix of dogs, owners, and rubberneckers, from punks with pugs to dotcommers with dachshunds, to its wood-chip surface. About one-quarter of the run is reserved for pooches weighing less than 23 pounds. Water available. D3, R3, BP0 (no toys allowed), PC3, HE3 (great pickup spot)

Nestled between a rusting on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge and the Fulton Fish Market, among cute cobblestone streets, the brick-surface run at FISH BRIDGE PARK (Dover Street between Pearl and Water streets) overlooks a community garden. The hard surface and long, narrow layout make this cozy run fun for bouncing a ball, but the bricks make cleanup a pain. Water available. D0, R2, BP3, PC1, HE2 (pastoral garden setting)

For sheer entertainment, you can’t beat WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK‘s well-situated doggy play zone (West 4th and Thompson streets). On one side, a magician wows a crowd; on the other someone tries to sell you drugs. Yes, there’s something for everyone, including the mutts, who dig in the gravel, jump onto the benches, and zoom around the ice-cream-cone-shaped area at full speed. D2, R3, BP2, PC2, HE3 (fun street performers and cute college students)

On weekday afternoons, the stragglers at the sandy UNION SQUARE run (Union Square West and East 15th Street) often get a free concert from a man who strums his guitar while his shaggy black-and-white hound curls up beneath his feet. The smallest of the runs surveyed, this one caters more to canines and owners who prefer to strut (or strum) than run and jump. D2, R1, BP2, PC2, HE3 (people-watching bonanza)

At first glance, the brand-new run at THOMAS SMITH PARK (Eleventh Avenue and West 23rd Street) looks like a dog habitat at the zoo. Boulders jut from the asphalt-and-concrete surface, and a fallen tree trunk provides a “natural” bridge for dogs to play their own version of King of the Mountain. The only disadvantage is that this hound Habitrail sits on a traffic island between the West Side Highway and Eleventh Avenue. Your dog can always pretend the automobile din is the call of the wild. Water available. D0, R3, BP3, PC2, HE1 (the traffic)

Sandwiched between the skyscrapers, with the Empire State Building at one end and the Flatiron Building at the other, MADISON SQUARE PARK‘s gravel run (Fifth Avenue and East 24th Street) provides the most urban landscape. But it’s also surprisingly large, given its location. Professionals’ pooches predominate in this park, which seems busiest after work. D2, R3, PC2, HE2 (panoramic views)

Don’t see one near you? Central Park, Riverside Park, and Carl Schurz Park (near Gracie Mansion) give uptown a good rep among Fidos in the know. Brooklyn boasts some desirable real estate too: McCarren Park in Greenpoint, the dog beach at Prospect Park, and DiMattina Park in Carroll Gardens, to name a few. The Bronx has at least six dog runs, while Queens has only three (too many backyards?). Check out nycgovparks.org or urbanhound.com for a complete list.