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Money can't buy you class, but it sure as hell can buy you a seat aboard the Real Housewives of New York City official bus tour. It's just like one of those city tours aggressive sales people in Times Square try to get you on every time you take a breath in the vicinity, but Bravolebrity-ified: The double-decker is swapped for a plush coach bus and major NYC monument sightings are replaced by glimpses at facades of restaurants and stores where major memorable scenes from the show took place (even if they don't exist anymore).
I was one of the lucky few press members given a spot on last week's inaugural tour, which kicked off with breakfast at Tipsy Parson — a trendy, Southern-inspired brunch spot in Chelsea that is allegedly one of Bethenny Frankel's favorites. There, a number of superfans, journalists like myself, and winners from a contest put on by local radio station Z100 stuffed themselves with tiny, tiny biscuits and a seemingly endless stream of mimosas. We were "warned" numerous times by Bravo reps that the tour would be filled with "surprise and delight," and boy, oh boy, was the first surprise good.
Through the flood of breakfast carbs emerged Ramona Singer, very single and very ready to mingle. Divorce seems to look quite good on her (and same goes for the recent plastic surgery): Dressed in a short beige dress with leopard heels and strings of pearls, she was consistently thronged by fan girls masquerading as journalists and her very-on-top-of-it PR team that insisted I reel off my resume before deeming me worthy to speak with her. In our two minute and 51 second interview, Singer — the only one to star on all eight seasons of the show — revealed that that the new season is really "dramatic" (shocker), and that she is most excited about watching all the shit other castmembers say in confessionals.
Most shockingly, Singer was drinking mimosas and not downing Ramona Pinot Grigio — though, to be fair, it was only 10am. When I asked her about her wine line, she quickly and excitedly diverted the topic to her hair extension line (if you're curious, it's $49 per piece). And when talking about the bus tour, she became even more animated, professing her love for it and drawing comparisons to Sex and the City, since that show also has a bus tour run by the same company. You know you've made it in New York when your face is plastered on the side of a bus.
After breakfast, the group, including Singer and newest housewife Jules Wainstein, crossed the street through a mini mob of unexpected paparazzi, mucking up Ninth Avenue traffic as people congregated in the middle of the busy street to take photos. Singer and Wainstein paused for the photo op in front of the giant, gleaming white coach bus emblazoned with giant portraits of the seven current castmembers and "Real Housewives of New York City Official Tour" in bold letters, just in case you weren't sure what it was.
As we all found our seats on the bus — radio contest winners had reserved places at the front — the bus driver was playing the show's intro song on repeat. Like every other NYC tour, this one is led by actors just trying to make it in the big city, but they also happen to be obsessed with the Housewives franchise. Our guide, Melissa, attempted to entertain us with jokes and RHONY trivia as we waited around for the Today Show team to film its contest winner entering the bus (yes, there were winners from multiple contests on the tour).
TV screens throughout the bus played a countdown of the most memorable clips from the show's first seven seasons, which served as a great bonding moment for riders. It was a reminder that even though this tour may be campy, you get to spend a few joyful hours with people just as obsessed as you with watching grown woman scream at each other and throw their fake legs on tables — something that may never happen again. Melissa let us know that superfans from Australia have already reserved spots on the tour before we take off for our first destination.
"Looking at places that no longer exist is a recurring theme of the tour."
The bus rolled down Ninth Avenue towards the Meatpacking District as we laugh with the people ogling the bus from the sidewalks laughing at us — it's not every day you see a Real Housewives chariot blazing down the streets of Manhattan, after all. Melissa pointed out that the Dream Hotel, where Kelly Bensimon threw her Halloween party in Season 2, is somewhere over "that way." I don't think anyone could quite see it. It's also the general direction of where upscale Japanese fusion restaurant Cherry once stood, and thus the TVs show a clip of Heather Thomson's confrontation with Frankel at the eatery about not inviting Kristen Taekman to her birthday party; these flashbacks are arguably one of the tour's best features. Thomson, who is not returning to the show, was noticeably absent from everything else regarding the tour, and was only in a handful of clips.
Melissa then gestured toward the site of said birthday party, the now-shuttered The Monarch Room. Looking at places that no longer exist is a recurring theme of the tour, but to be fair, it accurately demonstrates the harsh reality of the New York restaurant scene to tourists: Even if you do make it onto a famous reality show, it often isn't enough to sustain business, and it's not rare for a concept to close after just a year or two. But it's pretty weird to pay for a seat on a bus to look at where these blips in the culinary zeitgeist once stood.
Open places that get a drive-by on the full tour include Upper East Side restaurant slash sketchy nightclub for the ultra-wealthy Beautique, Le Cirque, El Toro Blanco, Il Mulino, Ladurée, Dos Caminos, and even Dean & Deluca. We were on a condensed version of the tour so we didn't pass by them all, nor did we pause at Georgetown Cupcake (the site of Frankel's cupcake decorating night for the girls), where the tour encourages you to buy dessert with a special discount coupon in the tour booklet; instead, we were given RHONY-customized red velvet cupcakes to snack on.
What became most obvious across the course of the tour was that the Housewives have...well, really basic taste in restaurants. In an era where food reigns supreme and a city where the most essential restaurants rank among the world's best, castmembers fail to dine at legitimately cool spots in favor of places that are merely perceived to be cool because they are frequented by model types who aren't really there to eat. Would it really crush them to hold a dramatic dinner at Mission Chinese Food and fight over bowls of epic mapo tofu?
After passing a number of closed restaurants, the bus arrived at Ricky's, the makeup store and retailer of absurd fake lashes that seems to be on every corner of New York. It's built into the tour so that eager fans can buy Kristen Taekman's Pop of Color nail polish and lip gloss line — every color is named after an Elvis song — with the 10 percent off coupon in that tour booklet.
For the inaugural tour, Taekman arrived in killer gray suede knee-high boots and declared that she is happy to not be on the show this season. It almost got awkward when a Z100 contest winner busted out an autograph card that features the Season 8 cast, but Taekman smoothly flipped the card over and signed the blank backside. We were all given the cards, but that was the first time i'd seen anyone on the tour use one. Most of us were just interested in putting the Housewives on Snapchat.
The second pitstop was at the ping pong club SPiN — tour guide Melissa made sure to emphasize that Susan Sarandon was a co-founder at least three times — where I was immediately distracted by two guys sparring like their lives depended on it on a Wednesday at 1pm. Carole Radziwill awaited us downstairs in a black mini skirt, and she came off smart and chill, exactly as in the show. Unlike the other Housewives, she refused to ham it up in front of her picture on the bus and instead spent a generous amount time showering attention on the Today Show contest winner and her four wranglers, so much so that the Z100 winner collecting autographs later declared jealously to Radziwill as her card was signed.
As with any proper tour, the final stop was at the gift shop. Sonja Morgan, Luanne de Lesseps, and Dorinda Medley were waiting at NBC headquarters in chairs from The Voice, but they were too mobbed by people in the shop that weren't on the tour to even really see them. Bus riders could wait for a meet-and-greet in a special line, but since I had a backpack on that almost knocked over a display wall every time I turned for a better look, I decided to leave before I'd be responsible for paying for 26 cracked Real Housewives mugs.
I grabbed my swag bag (loaded up with Skinny Girl products, one of the aforementioned mugs, a Pop of Color lipstick, and an epically soft Real Housewives shirt) and headed back to reality, chugging a Skinny Girl protein shake — a girl can't survive on tiny biscuits and red velvet cupcakes alone — on the cold subway ride home.