Dining out on David Bowie’s favourite sandwiches in New York

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For whatever reason, it feels hard to imagine David Bowie chowing down. Perhaps it’s his spindly, androgynous frame that was front and centre for so much of his career. More akin to an alien that crash-landed on earth than any food-loving humanoid, you’d probably imagine his pleasures would be more hedonistic than gluttonous. But as he spent so much of his life in New York, a city with the best dishes to offer, the musician became a connoisseur of one cuisine in particular: the sandwich.

Portable, easy, on the go. It’s the perfect food for someone as busy as Bowie looking for a quick, delicious fix between late-night studio sessions, rehearsals or jetting off on a tour date or another. It’s also the ultimate savoury indulgence to embrace as a comforting, homely meal. As Bowie settled down in New York, living at 285 Lafayette Street in Soho from 1999 until his death in 2016, he gathered his favourite spots and local haunts, either popping in on his own or with friends or family.

Naturally, the restaurants remember it well. With that distinctive eye, his notable British accent and reportedly captivating, almost hypnotic energy and charisma, I doubt he often got in and out of places unnoticed. But that’s probably exactly why his favoured spots were not well-known, big joints. Instead, Bowie frequented hole-in-the-wall bistros, food stands and off-the-beaten-track eateries where he could get a bit of peace and quiet.

One of those was French Roast, a 24-hour bistro on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 11th Street that Bowie would stop in at in the early 1990s. Sadly, the actual bistro isn’t there anymore, now standing as a Mexican restaurant called La Contenta Oeste, but the new head chef, Luis Arce Mota, was a line cook at the original place. Making David Bowie a Croque Monsieur is burnt into his memory like cheese on a grill. As one of the most indulgent sandwiches you could get, with rich cheese and bechamel sauce, it was the musician’s favourite.

“He’d sit there by himself,” Mota said, pointing to a small table in the corner, “And always wash it down with a beer, either a Pacifico Clara or a Stella Artois.” He described the energy of the bistro back in the ‘90s, as a cast of well-known names would drop in for a quiet bite. “Back then, the restaurant was filled with celebrities, and Quentin Tarantino was a regular,” he added.

Another lesser-known spot that Bowie regularly visited was a favourite of his later life. Once he’d settled down in his home on Lafayette Street with his wife, Iman, and their daughter, Lexi, he seemed interested in a quieter life. The on-stage antics and characters had died down, and the musician was spotted around his local neighbourhood instead. He’d grab a coffee from La Colombe, mooch around Chinatown shopping, wander around Washington Square Park, then for food, he’d regularly head to Olive’s.

Originally, it sat on Prince Street between Greene and Wooster, closer to the park, but it’s now slightly further west on the same road. Bowie’s favourite on the menu was grilled marinated chicken breast. A far healthier option than the rich cheesy toastie, this one is packed with greens with spicy chipotle mayo and served on focaccia. 

You could read a lot into those two sandwich choices. In the early 1990s, with grease running down his fingers, that was the sandwich of a bachelor. He was started to come down off his drug-fuelled wild ride of the 1970s and ‘80s, but as he made a series of strange electronic-infused records, he was certainly in a period of figuring himself out. Little did he know that New York would end up being the grounding he needed and that the city he routinely dropped in on would end up as a stable and solid home.

The second sandwich reflects that. It’s wholesome, healthy, and even made by an establishment that hasn’t splashed his name and face all over it. Instead, on the menu, it’s still just a chicken sandwich. It just happened to be the one that David Bowie liked best, wandering up to their ordering window like any other customer and then going about his enjoyable later life.

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