NYC’s Decade That Was: The People, Places, and Things That Defined Our 2010s

Goodbye, second decade of the 21st century!

Photo courtesy of David Zwirner/Facebook

Spotify and SoundCloud made discovering new tunes an easier endeavor. Date nights became “Netflix and chill” nights. We grew thirsty for seltzer and a very hot duck. The 2010s have been many things, but nobody can argue that they’ve been boring. Here in New York City, the decade has been transformative for our cultural landscape, even more so than in years past thanks to the acceleration of social media and other technology. For those living under a rock for the past 10 years—and for those who just love to reminisce—this is what happened. 

Art turned interactive.

It all started when performance artist Marina Abramovic invited strangers to sit in silence with her at the Museum of Modern Art. The 2010 installation, titled “The Artist Is Present,” paved the way for other trailblazers to present interactive works for mainstream audiences. Pictures inside Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” broke the Internet (while its hours-long lines became notorious); high-brow museums transformed into punk-rock, neon wonderlands; artists created wearable art that makes a statement; and icons made for surround-sensory exhibits.

Photo by Jonathan Muzikar/Courtesy of MoMA 
Food was almost too beautiful to eat. 

Avocado toast became New York’s hottest breakfast, and açai and poke bowls grew more elaborate as time went on. Don’t think we forgot about the city’s drinking culture: Bubble tea became bubblier (and you can put your photo in the foam!), Aperols became spritzier, and millennial pink–clad crowds legit drank rosé all day at bars, picnics, and pop-up mansions.

Photo courtesy of Pokee
Theater got more immersive.

Sleep No More’s opening in 2011 spawned a new realm of performance, in which, for the price of admission, audience members are thrown into the action. Theater has transported us to the a surreal dinner party, a brunch in Wonderland, and even a small apartment bathroom, while Lewis Carroll stans have descended down the rabbit hole at Third Rail Project’s Then She Fell for the past seven years. Who knows where else we’ll end up in the next decade?!

Photo courtesy of McKittrick Hotel
We did everything for the ’gram.

Going shopping? Take a selfie! Washing your hands in a cute bathroom? Work those angles! The birth of Instagram in 2010 meant more opportunities to #HumbleBrag on the Internet, and no setting was off-limits. Pop-up museums and retail experiences became the norm, while classic settings like Keith Haring’s Crack Is Wack mural got upgrades for aesthetic seekers of all ages.

house of yes bathroom selfie
Photo courtesy of House of Yes/Facebook
Impending cultural armageddons turned out to be no biggie. 

We spent a lot of time stressing over the L train shutdown and Amazon moving its headquarters to Long Island City. Would Amazon workers embrace Queens’s rich culture? What would happen to our love lives?! After we had all just about figured out how to reconfigure our weekday schedules based on the retail giant and the MTA, the inevitable changes that were anticipated in Queens and Brooklyn…magically got canceled. Amazon said sayonara to the borough and hello to Manhattan’s West Side, while Governor Cuomo figured out how to inconvenience Brooklynites a whole lot less.

amazon nyc
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com/Facebook
The city’s landscape changed for the better.

Hurricane Sandy left behind a string of reconstruction along New York’s coast, permanently altering neighborhoods like Coney Island and the Rockaways as a result. Beyond crucial rehabilitation, though, were much-hyped projects that were worth the wait. Governors Island solidified its status as a poor man’s getaway with cultural events and access seven days a week. Brooklyn Bridge Park and the Williamsburg waterfront became family-friendly destinations. And the High Line’s full 145-acre stretch was finally completed this past spring, stretching from the Whitney Museum of American Art’s geometric home in the Meatpacking District to the glitzy new neighborhood known as Hudson Yards. 

whitney museum chelsea manhattan

Smorgasburg redefined cheap eats.

Starting as a food-oriented offshoot of Brooklyn Flea in 2011, the open-air market has not only expanded throughout the city but the entire country, too. Smorgasburg also inspired a handful of other foodie destinations spanning the five boroughs—Urbanspace, the Queens and Bronx Night Markets, Hester Street Fair, Japan Village—and was the launching pad for many of the city’s beloved bites. Where would we be without Smorgasburg vets like Mighty Quinn’s, Wowfulls, or—home to this writer’s favorite sandwichCemitas El Tigre

ramen burger 2010s
Photo courtesy of Ramen Burger/Facebook
Unsung music was heard—loudly.

Hey, exposure to new genres is never a bad thing! Festivals such as Prototype, GlobalFest, and the Brooklyn Folk Festival celebrated the niche fields of American opera, international music, and Americana, respectively. On the brassier end of the spectrum, New York’s Winter Jazzfest underwent a massive expansion after earning continuous acclaim from one of the scene’s top critics

winter jazzfest
Alarm Will Sound / Photo by Michal Ramus/Courtesy of Winter Jazzfest
Thanks to new legislation, the nightlife scene got better. 

The death of New York’s ancient cabaret laws proved that the city was ready to embrace the late-night scene more than ever before. Bespoke cocktails were sipped in ever greater quantities; burlesque took over Bushwick at House of Yes and Theatre XIV; and the births of experimental venues like Club Cumming, Elsewhere, and Nowadays made the closings of Output and Brooklyn Bazaar hurt a little bit less. We have the city’s first nightlife mayor, Ariel Palitz, to thank for much of the above. 

Photo by Sayaka Ueno
New York women painted the town pink.

The courage of many sparked a powerful movement that was a long time coming. Pink pussy hats became a symbol for resistance, and the Women’s March and #MeToo movements proved that there’s strength in numbers. Under the radar, though, came statewide anti–sexual harassment legislation, museums addressing gender inequality, and hospitality workers aiming to amend toxic restaurant culture.

#metoo 2010s
Photo by Sayaka Ueno

Feeling nostalgic? Read some of our past content on the blog.