What Exactly Does New York Smell Like?

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When I climb out of the subway in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I don’t inhale deeply. Instead I get hit with eau de Fulton Street: top notes of unmistakable $1 slice pizza (even at 9:30am), then greasy base notes of KFC combined with Golden Krust beef patties, and lingering hints of incense, sweat, exhaust, and—on a good day—weed.

Bond No. 9, the high-end fragrance company that I've always sort of secretly believed would elevate my life from normal to “heiress' with just one bottle, has scents for over 30 Manhattan neighborhoods (even the recently downgraded snoozefest of the Upper East Side), all major beaches including the chlorine-and-money-scented Hamptons, The Scent of Peace, a Saks Fifth Avenue-inspired perfume, and one all-encompassing Brooklyn. Their most recent creation: Park Avenue South.

On this occasion, I decided to visit 10 neighborhoods with Bond No. 9 perfumes in their name as I ran my weekend errands to see how the manufactured scents compare to the city’s odors IRL. I must also note that artist Kate McLean specializes in this: She has researchers rummage through garbage, stick their noses into fish markets and sewers, and then makes “Smellmaps” of cities—and you thought your fashion closet internship was rough. Meanwhile, I am an amateur sniffer.

As the saying goes, I started from the bottom.

Wall Street

Bond No. 9 says, “dollars and scents never smelled so good”—I mean, that’s copy-writing at its Adderall-fueled best. A marketed androgynous scent, along the lines of Acqua di Gio rather than Irish Spring or Old Spice—both of which I dabble in like any other progressive young lady. The bottle is fittingly Trump Tower black and gold—labels all over the place. The perfect gift for the banker in your life (also, where can I get one of those?).

At the Charging Bull on a sunny Saturday afternoon, tourists shoved each other until they got the chance to take a hilarious, original photograph beneath the bull’s testicles. Christmas card material, really. Yes, you can smell the scent of the Hudson when the wind ruins your hair (a “salty hint of sea breeze,” as Bond claims), but it's not that romantic. On a weekday, I’d say the financial district does smell very much like Bond’s “Wall Street,” because it’s filled with fast-walking bankers in expensive suits and manly cologne. What I’m saying is: the perfume smells like the perfumes people in that neighborhood wear more than the scent of the concrete, endless construction, and Nuts 4 Nuts on every corner. This theme comes up often.

Chinatown

Bond says the peach blossom scent is a “sultry, mouth-watering, equal-opportunity, East-West bouquet.” I committed it to my wrists, to which my gentleman said it made me smell like his “crazy Aunt Sally.” Normally that’s the highest compliment, but in this case it actually meant it was a tad too floral for me. But good for people who like floral, for sure.

As a fiend for dim sum, I feel I know the scent of Chinatown pretty accurately: strong base notes of very, very dead fish with top notes of fried dumplings. I took the bottle for some Phở (yes, Vietnamese—this city is diverse), stopped at Ten Ren so I could re-up my jasmine green tea stash, and shopped for mystery fish on Elizabeth Street. That’s just a list of things I did this weekend, so you can take that information and do what you want with it.

Nuits de Noho

Google translate tells me this is Noho at NIGHT. I don’t go “out” at “night” because I have wine to drink and stories to watch, so I went one civilized afternoon. The perfume is musky, the muskiest of all I sampled from Bond No. 9. (We all know what musk is made from, right?) Some people are into that, like my friend Alison, who is the sexiest person I know—she's also a top-notch fact-checker: dream combo. Whatever “sexy avant-garde urbanity” means, it is Bond’s signature scent, because their mothership is on Bond Street. I don’t think Noho is a must-see neighborhood (the only landmark is like, Il Buco), but it does have those authentic cobblestone streets, so we gently placed the $280 bottle literally on Bond Street and snapped a pic while a family of seven (?!) climbed out of an Uber, looking very confused with us. I inhaled deeply: it smelled like crisp, damp bricks, with a hint of street corner trash. Nice. Fresh.

Astor Place

Whoa, where did the big ol’ cube go? When I was snowballing debt at NYU’s journalism school (ugh), I was used to seeing it get pushed around, Sisyphus-style, endlessly going nowhere—like what might happen if you decide to go to J-school. No sign of the “sweet come-hither” freesia-poppy-violet scent. But that's because we want our scents to be enjoyable, unlike entering or exiting the 6 stop at Astor Place.

Bleecker Street

I’m running low on coffee, so let’s go to Porto Rico on Bleecker Street. The street’s perfume was unexpectedly masculine, influenced from the vanilla frosting at Magnolia (please note that the correct order there is banana pudding—consider this a PSA), but then topped with musk and patchouli. Like Nuits de Noho, this one is very much for the musk-lover in you. Do not take that lightly.

Actual Bleecker Street, depending on where you are, can smell like the intoxicating aroma of piles of cheese from Murray’s Cheese, pizza from John’s of Bleecker Street, the slow takeover of Marc by Marc by Marc by Marc by Marcwest Jacobs, and yes, Magnolia cupcakes fresh from the oven.

High Line

It was still the dead of winter in disguise as spring when I visited, so the High Line was far from in bloom. When it is, it does smell incredible...like “nature,” which the West Village hasn’t seen since around 1850. * The Bond fragrance is a very light, floral scent with a hit of grass, really bright and springy. Very young. Like Clinique Happy young. “The scent of wildflowers, green grasses, and urban renewal,” writes Bond’s next-level copy editor. Seriously, give this guy a raise, he’s killing it. Speaking of urban renewal, there are tons of expensive condos going up there, so you can pay millions to have strangers see you wander around your apartment naked. On my visit, I inhaled the scent of European tourists in Acqua di Parma and sawdust from construction. Funny to think that a mere 40 years ago this neighborhood would have smelled like fresh cow carcasses!

*not based on fact in any way.

Union Square

The Bond No. 9 Union Square is also very floral and sweet, similar to High Line in that it reminded me of dousing my skin with Sheer Freesia Bath and Body Works Fragrance Mist back when I thought heavy white eyeliner was a good idea on me. Plus, my favorite version of Union Square is when it’s home to the Christmas markets and smells like waffles, cinnamon, and apple cider. On a spring Greenmarket day when the overpriced petunias are for sale, it is a lovely floral scent, but in my opinion, the lavender from the dried lavender hawkers is much more present than other flowers. Breathe in deeply, though, and you can smell the free-range lamb.

Park Avenue South

Bond No. 9’s newest scent is probably one my favorites (I’m also fond of Shelter Island, which is beachy, light, and reminds me of babysitting there back in the day). Park Avenue South is very clean, apple-forward, and feminine without being a bouquet of desperation. The neighborhood is no destination on my map, though, unless I need to stop into Sephora for blotting papers or for a beer at Old Town Bar (seek it). It’s a nice, wide wannabe-Parisian boulevard, but it’s got nothing on Brooklyn's Eastern Parkway.

Central Park West

I thought De Blasio’s campaign was built around getting rid of those cornball horse-drawn-carriages, but what do you know, at least 10 trotted by me one afternoon. I'll let you imagine the smell. The Bond perfume smells more like you would imagine the people live in those buildings with a view of the park smell: rich—but in an old money kind of way. I imagine Chanel-wearing old ladies who have no idea that the Subway doesn’t take tokens anymore, who plan on leaving at least thirty percent of their estate to their dogs, and have EZ-passes to the Metropolitan Opera (ideally me in 50 years). It's aspirational in that way. I think this is also where my dentist’s office is, but I haven’t been in a few years, so I can’t be certain.

Queens

And now for a trip on the 7 train! Another un-gendered scent (“male and female, king and queen, flamboyant and restrained”), I found Bond No. 9’s Queens perfectly suited for those more mysterious times in your life when you cover lamps with scarves because you'd like your interior decoration to invoke ideas of an opium den—it’s got a lot of amber, sandalwood, and tuberose. Now I’m going to tell you what I ate in Flushing on this reporting trip just because: cucumber salad with Szechuan pepper oil, spicy and tingly hand-pulled beef noodles (I KNOW), cold noodles with chili oil, lamb dumplings in a sweet-and-sour broth, some sort of tofu, plus a red-bean bun for the train ride home. Then I “burned it off” by walking through a scenic Home Depot parking lot to see the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which smelled intensely of lighter fluid in the wind with base notes of fresh cut grass. Pleasant!

—Alex Beggs

Photos courtesy of the author. Read more on fragrances here.