Why people still take the bus tour

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Actress Sarah Jessica Parker shares her thoughts on ‘Sex and the City’ as the iconic HBO series marks its 20th anniversary.
Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY

Many TV shows in the late 1990s and early 2000s were set in New York City. But they typically shot their scenes in studios in Los Angeles.

Not so with Sex and the City. The show, which ran from 1998 to 2004, was about four women navigating the New York dating world. Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda became cultural icons.

But there was a fifth major character on the beloved series, which turns 20 years old this year: New York City.

On Location Tours is offering a “Sex and the City Hotspots” bus tour that takes its guests to more than 40 filming locations as seen on the show over about 3 and ½ hours. Tours are available every day.

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As the Manhattan tour begins, the drop-down TV screens on the bus play the Sex and the City credits with Carrie Bradshaw, the heroine, walking in Manhattan in a tutu. The familiar song from the opening credits fills the bus as the mostly female audience delights in it.

The 18 or so people on the bus hail mostly from Canada, Australia, England, and the Netherlands. There are a few U.S. residents.

On a recent day, the meeting point is the Pulitzer Fountain in front of the iconic Plaza Hotel.

Every stop the tour makes comes with a reminder from guide Melissa Stokoski of the scene that was filmed there.

The Pulitzer Fountain is where Carrie runs into Mr. Big, her on-and-off lover, after his engagement party with another woman.

As Stokoski reminds us, Carrie’s opening remark is “Your girl is lovely,” quoting from the Barbara Streisand-Robert Redford movie The Way We Were. Mr. Big doesn’t understand the reference.  “I don’t get it,” he says. “And you never will” she responds.

The Plaza Hotel remains an iconic building in New York. It once carried the Trump brand. No longer. It is now just the Plaza Hotel, managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, part of AccorHotels. It still has dining options such as The Plaza Court for afternoon tea and drinks and The Plaza Food Hall, with offerings from celebrity chef Todd English.

Across the street is The Paris Theater, were Carrie catches a movie during one of her single periods. It still runs independent films.  

There is the Tiffany’s store on Fifth Avenue, where Charlotte officially gets engaged after a not-so-romantic proposal—or non-proposal—from Trey.

A group of five Australian women around 28 or 30 years of age are on board. They were not old enough to watch the show without censoring at their age. But they say they are hooked on the re-runs.

“Each character is unique, their own person,” says Clare Russ.

Melissa points out familiar sights such as St. Patrick’s Cathedral and 30 Rockefeller Center, places that might not have made it on the show but are iconic New York spots.  

On Fifth Avenue, our group gets to see the many luxury shops that Carrie shopped at. The thing about Sex and the City is that it was realistic about relationships but not about lifestyles. Retail therapy on a journalist’s salary like Carrie’s would have not happened at Cartier and Versace, among the spots we get to see on the tour.

Stokoski, our guide, shares show gossip with us, such as the fact that Cynthia Nixon, who played Miranda and is now running for governor of New York, was also pregnant during the truncated season five that Parker was pregnant during. Hence, the story line about Miranda trying to lose weight after having a baby and the many efforts to conceal Parker’s growing belly.

We head downtown towards the Flatiron District. To our left is Madison Square Park, where things happen on the show that we cannot write about here.

“It’s a good way of seeing parts of New York you don’t get to see,” says Maraya Bell,  blogger visiting from Sydney in Australia.

A subway station nearby serves as the only subway stop that Carrie ever used.

We head deeper into the West Village, where the street names become more unpredictable.

“Notice the different vibe with each neighborhood,” Stokoski says. “That will continue. It’s the Bermuda Triangle down here.”

She tells us that Parker, in her real life, has purchased two brownstones in the Village that she is renovating into one big mansion. But she’s not allowed to do anything with the façade as the buildings have been designated historic landmarks.

We get a chance to get off the bus to visit the Pleasure Chest to peruse the sex toys.

On Christopher Street in the West Village, we drive past the Stonewall Inn, which in 1969 was the site of the riots that started the gay rights movement.

Once an artists’ colony, it is now filled with upscale shops such as Jo Malone.

“It’s a good way of seeing parts of New York that you don’t get to see otherwise,” says Australian Marya Bell. “New York is so big. It’s hard to see all of it.”

We drive by Tortilla Flats, a Mexican restaurant on Washington Street, where Carrie rekindled her relationship with Aidan.

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We stop by the Abingdon Square Park in Greenwich Village, where actress Heather Graham made an appearance on the show.

We move on to the Meatpacking District, where Samantha buys an apartment to get away from her stodgy uptown neighbors.

Back in the early 2000’s, moving to the Meatpacking District was considered a bold move.

“One of the reasons the show was so revolutionary was that they let the city tell them what was happening,” Stokoski says.  “They let the city tell them what was happening and it influenced the show. It was out of the box filming. They made sure the show was up to date.”

Many of the spots featured on the show are still around, even more than a decade since it ended. A few spots are gone though. The Banana Republic where Carrie made out in a fitting room in Season 1 is gone. But you can still see where the crew shot the scenes of Charlotte’s art gallery and Aidan’s furniture store, and much more.

The tour culminates in a photo op in front of the Perry Street brownstone where Carrie lived. The current owners have a chain to keep people from walking up the steps, but pictures are allowed.

Erin Avery of Michigan is celebrating her 40th birthday in New York and has dragged her husband Christopher along for the tour.

“You get to see how people live,” she says while taking a break on Perry Street. “Instead of doing the usual things, you get to see the culture of the city.”

 

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