This past December, as I was driving over the Triboro Bridge toward Brooklyn, I was suddenly hit with that old familiar Triboro fragrance, best described as “week-old beef with broccoli.”
To me, catching that whiff just after going through the tolls is usually the first olfactory sign I’ve arrived in New York City.
I posted this observation on Facebook/Twitter, and was surprised to get over 75 emphatic responses from Scouting NY readers describing the very particular stinks and stenches that serve as daily reminders of what city we’re in. I chose my favorite 25 bad smells below; be sure to leave your own choice NYC odors in the comments! (er, and you probably shouldn’t be eating when you read this list).
1) We always went straight to Central Park when we came in when I was a kid, so my answer is horse shit. I really feel like I’m in NYC when I smell horse shit. – Brittany S.
2) Burnt pretzels from the street vendors. – Doris K.
3) Early morning fish water in downtown Flushing when the fish markets dump yesterday’s ice, and the fish slime runs down Main Street towards the 7 station for commuters to gag on. – Kerry B.
4) It’s not there anymore, but the smell of Sbarro in Penn Station still seems to linger near the entrance to the E train. – Wendy M.
5) There is a spot down in Penn station, near some stairs that lead to the 1 train platform. You’re always at risk for foul smells in NYC, but this one spot smells like all the urine in the entire city flowed down and collected right there. – Anna T.
6) West Side Highway sewage treatment plant – as you head downtown towards 125th St ramp, it always delivers a gaseous reminder it’s there. – Joanne L.
7) Combo of people chain smoking to the left and exhaust fumes to the right while you stand in line for an eternity at the LaGuardia taxi stand. This is almost immediately followed by the inevitably unfortunate smell of the taxi you finally get into. – Melissa B.
8) Randomly encountering the smell of popcorn and Nuts4Nuts on the street, because it oddly smells like urine when it’s out of context – and has ruined popcorn for me. – Jeff L.
9) Overly deodorized subway elevators covering up the smell of God knows what from God knows when. – Jane I.
10) Burning rubber and exhaust fumes in the Holland Tunnel – sweet foul-odored memories of childhood trips to the city. – Emily R.
11) When I was kid I loved the sulphurous stench of Flushing Bay at low tide because it reminded me of egg salad sandwiches. – Nancy T. / Flushing Bay low tide merged with LaGuardia jet fuel stewed with vehicle exhaust fumes from the Grand Central. – Amy V.
12) PATH train musty smell. – Jason D. / The unmistakable musty smell in PATH stations. – Peter R.
13) Entering the city at night on a rainy trash pickup day, opening the cab door and smelling the wet garbage left out on the street. It’s trash and wet plastic but smells like I’m home. – Cindy Y.
14) The smell of shisha when walking up Steinway street (I know many who hate it but it’s probably one of my favorite things living in Astoria) – Romina A.
15) I used to live on Grand St, and take the Chinatown Bus from Boston. There is the WORST smell in NYC emanating from a sewer grate on the northwest corner of Grand & Chrystie. Burning rubber + day old fish vendor refuse + sewage. – Tamara R.
16) Durian in Chinatown. Good lord. – Manola P.
17) Coming off the ACE at Penn, just past the HSBC there’s a Subway. I take this path towards my job every single day, and every day…that smell, what is it? It’s like rotten wet bread mixed with day-old meat. – Eric H.
18) Living on Mulberry Street during San Gennaro festival. The smell after 5 days of sausage fat and onions being fired up at 10am. – John R.
19) The acrid odor of the PATH tubes. I was told decades ago that it was because the lightweight aluminum PA-1 -2 and -3 trains had rubberized brake shoes, but those trains are all gone and the stench remains. Maybe it’s just a testament to how little fresh air reaches the stations, but even the very shallow one at Herald Square has it. – Mike J.
20) Port Authority bus terminal. Smells like cinnamon-sugar-coated mildew and dirty humans. – Anna T.
21-25) [Editor’s note: I’m just going to combine these…] The morning batch of subway urine has made quite an impression on me. – Valerie R. / Steaming August night. Astor Place station. Urine. It’s like the subway is literally cooking urine. – Kathryne B. / The combination of baking garbage and piss wafting up through the subway grates that are the essence of summer in NY. – Diane P. / The inexplicable chicken soup smell in my neighborhood on the occasional early morning or weekends when NONE of the restaurants are open. – Ann R. / Urine. Everything smells like urine. – Jeff B.
Or, to sum it all up, I’ll leave it to Elaine L., who writes:
Smells like heaven to me, each time I return home.
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