Why 1970s New York was nicknamed “Fun City”

New York City has had some colorful nicknames over the years—from Gotham and the Empire City in the 19th century to the Big Apple in the 1920s jazz era.


But the “Fun City” moniker of the 1960s and 1970s?

The term was supposed to be a joke, a take on a phrase used by Mayor John Lindsay during a 1966 interview with sports journalist Dick Schaap, who was then a metro columnist with the New York Herald Tribune.


“Soon after the city was crippled by a transit strike on Mayor John V. Lindsay’s first day in office in 1966, Mr. Lindsay was asked if he was still happy to be the mayor,” wrote the New York Times in Schaap’s obituary in 2001, recounting how the nickname was coined.

funcityplaybill1972Lindsay responded, “I still think it’s a fun city.”

Schaap put the term in his column, using it “as an affectionate, if snide, gibe at the overwhelmed city,” stated the Times.

The phrase caught on with New Yorkers, who were unimpressed with the new mayor’s upbeat tone in a metropolis that over the next four years would endure a sanitation strike, a teacher walkout, a crippling blackout, and increasing financial distress.

Soon, the nickname was emblazoned on Times Square strip club marquees, city bus ads, and even on Broadway, where a short-lived play starring Joan Rivers debuted in 1972 (and closed a week later).

The term has mostly disappeared today—though a few critics dubbed Mayor Bloomberg’s New York of the early 2000s the “no-fun city.”


But we still have Fun City Tattooing on St. Marks Place near Avenue A, going strong since the height of the Fun City era in 1976!

[Second photo: Fun City Peep Shows circa 1988: Michael Horsley/Flickr; third photo: playbill.com; fourth photo: unknown source]

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18 Responses to “Why 1970s New York was nicknamed “Fun City””

  1. robert dowling Says:

    it can still be fun city, alot of free stuff to do, but, to do anything that is not free-will cost you $ and in alot of cases, big $. i brlirr as i guess many nyers, esp born and raied here, nyc more than free or $ fun has lost its grittyness, i guess you would say, its too clean. born in 42 and 72yrs. happy new year.

    • Ruth Rosenthal Says:

      I agree. The city was more fun for me when it was grittier and not so expensive. But there are a ton of things to do that are free and I still love it.

  2. Wesley Greenbaum Says:

    How is it that Fun City Tattooing has been going strong since 1976 when tattoo parlors in NYC were illegal from 1961-1997? Are you sure you have your facts straight?

  3. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Well the Fun City website says since 1976…perhaps they were doing them illegally?

  4. Barry Popik Says:

    Congratulations on your richly deserved “Apple Award.” (Although I solved “the Big Apple” and have a website of over 15,000 entries, I have never been nominated.) Mayor Lindsay took a helicopter trip to see the strike-ravaged city he took over. On January 4. 1966, the New York (NY) World-Telegram and Sun reported that as Lindsay had stepped out of the helicopter, he said, “It was fun. New York is a fun city.” The “Fun City Bowl,” a charity football game between the Finest and the Bravest, still uses the name.

  5. A Dutch sailor’s photos of the New York of 1979 | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] elected mayor a year earlier on a law and order platform. The city’s nickname, Fear City (or more ironically, Fun City), was a nod to rising crime and rampant […]

  6. The Inaugurations Of Co-Mayor Chirlane McCray de Blasio* And The Night Mayor | Impunity City Says:

    […] citizenry will be able to THRIVE somewhat. Or it will just turn into CrazyTown while it tries to be Fun City […]

  7. Baldwalter Says:

    Star Star by the Rolling Stones refers to NYC as Fun City

  8. James Burns Says:

    Although the ironic, if not iconic, moniker may suggest a city in distress, the diverse cultural flavor mixed with dyed in the wool New Yorkers made for a sense of ownership: this was your town and nothing or anybody could change that. Sadly, in the wake of Bloomberg era gentrification, the city has evolved into a pretentious habitat for wealthy, out of town bohemians who couldn’t care less about NYC history.

  9. August 21, 2020 | Andy Arthur.org Says:

    […] Why 1970s New York was nicknamed “Fun City” | Ephemeral New York […]

  10. Andrew Yang as Mayor Will Be a Disaster for New York | Mandala Says:

    […] candidate for mayor wants New York to be a “fun city” and thinks that by applying “modern management techniques” to municipal government, he can […]

  11. Andrew Yang as Mayor Will Be a Disaster for New York - Real Estate Break Says:

    […] candidate for mayor wants New York to be a “fun city” and thinks that by applying “modern management techniques” to municipal government, he can […]

  12. Andrew Yang as Mayor Will Be a Catastrophe for New York – Man Fine Says:

    […] candidate for mayor desires New York to be a “entertaining town” and thinks that by applying “fashionable administration approaches” to municipal governing […]

  13. Fun City - Inwood Gazette Says:

    […] Olds may still remember the go-go years when New York was unironically dubbed “Fun City” during the reign of our Kennedy-esque Mayor,  John Lindsay. But that was several lifetimes […]

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