Monday, February 28, 2011

Play Dead.

This weekend I had a spooktacular time at a haunting new show at The Players Theatre -- "Play Dead" is a thriller written by acclaimed illusionist Teller (yes, that Teller), and famed sideshow actor Todd Robbins, and starring... Todd Robbins! Apparently a master of illusion himself, Robbins takes the audience on a journey to play, quite literally, with Death. In keeping with the Spirit of the show, I cannot reveal much more, as the audience was asked to hold our tongues regarding any secrets we may have learned during the hour-and-a-half, no-intermission-fear-fest. I wish I could tell you about the... or how Robbins... or the audience member who... but, alas!, you'll have to go see this show for yourself.

And what will you see exactly? Well, for parts of the show, absolutely nothing, as the entire theatre is plunged into deep darkness. (Don't forget to turn off that cell phone completely so as not to ruin the experience for anyone!). But don't despair, I assure you that the rest of your senses will be quite heightened. You'll laugh, you'll scream, you'll cower and you may even cry. You'll witness things you have never seen before, and some you'll hope to never see again. You may even be called on to participate, and who knows where your fate may then lie. Some of what you'll see you won't believe, but if it's happening right in front of you it must be real, right?...

If you're looking for a unique date idea, this may be the perfect way to get that woman (or man) to grab and grope you and ask you to please, please, hold her tighter. I personally chose to enjoy this show with my mom, and I can honestly say that I have probably not held onto her so tightly since my days of grasping reflexes.

A fair warning: this show is not for the faint of heart, and may also be inappropriate for those who have very recently experienced loss. However, if you like dark comedy and you're ready to allow yourself to have a real sense of humor about Death, as Teller states in the show's playbill, "[D]on't sit back. Don't relax. It's time to play dead."
Left: Todd Robbins
The Players Theatre is located at 115 Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village, off of West 3rd.

Luxury Movie Theaters in NYC?

I recently received an email from a reader who posed the following question:

"I lived in Seattle for two years, and one of the best things I found there and in Portland were movie theaters that were comfortable. By comfortable I mean one has couches, serves gourmet pizza and micobrew beer. Another has cocktail tables and serves tapas and fancy drinks. I'm looking for a similar place in NYC... Know of anything?"

After considering the plethora of movie theaters I have visited in the nearly seven years that I have been living in NYC (Manhattan and Brooklyn), as well as conducting some research online, in the hopes that NYC might have some Muvico-style palace theater I was unaware of, here is what I came up with:

Unfortunately NYC doesn't yet have anything really like the Seattle theaters you miss. I am hoping that AMC opens one of their dine-in theaters here soon, as they have in some areas of New Jersey...

In the meantime, you check out Sunshine Cinema, in the lower east side, which shows mostly independent movies and has a good espresso bar. Another indie theater, Angelika Film Center, has a sit-down cafe inside, though I believe it is non-alcoholic. Tribeca Cinemas also plays hosts to many film festivals throughout the year. Other well known indie theaters: Film Forum and IFC Center

Finally, this "gastropub" indie theater in DUMBO, Brooklyn, with an often changing movie schedule, may be closest to what you are seeking: reRun Gastropub Theater
[Note: In my original response to the reader, I linked to the yelp reviews, rather than to reRun's home page, which is now linked to above. I have yet to explore this particular movie theater experience, but it seems like fun! I am certainly hoping to see more theaters like this in NYC's future.]

Some larger "first-run movie" theaters also do offer some food options like pizza and chicken fingers, sandwiches, etc.. AMC Empire 25 Theater in Times Square, on 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th ave, is probably the best example of this. It is also a very large theater, connected to Dave and Busters and Applebees, and I believe you can access some terraces with views of the city. Other large theaters are AMC Loews on 34th Street between 8th and 9th ave, and AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13, at Broadway and 68th Street, which is the only Manhattan movie theater to have a "real" IMAX. (There is also one in Brooklyn, the United Artist Sheepshead Bay). 
[Added note: I forgot to mention this to the reader, but I recall that when I was looking for a NYC New Year's Eve venue for 2010-2011, the AMC Empire Theater was offering packages to view Times Square. Eventually I just threw a party in my apartment with my awesome roommates...Still have yet to do the Times Square thing...]

You may also want to check out these articles on best movie theaters in NYC:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Review of West Village Trattoria, Pesce Pasta.

Contributing Author For This Post: Mom (who is very excited to have her first byline)

Looking for an intimate restaurant to enjoy a dinner among friends or spark some romance with a date? Try Pesce Pasta, located at 262 Bleecker Street, in the village.  This trattoria serves up trendy Northern Italian fare without emptying your wallet. My mom and I recently tried it for dinner after reading various reviews on yelp, menupages and citysearch.

The ambiance at Pesce Pasta was quaint. The walls were lined with "pesce" (Italian for fish) themed art, which is not surprising considering that the restaurant is known for its fresh fish selection, which changes everyday based on availability. Nevertheless, my mom and I were both craving some rich carb-laden food, so we went with more traditional Italian choices -- sharing a chicken parmesan and a lasagna bolognese. We also started out with a caesar salad which we shared, and rightly so, as every dish seemed made for at least two people.  The salad, topped with fresh parmesan cheese and creamy dressing, was crisp and tasty.

The chicken parmesan, which was breaded and fried, had just the right amount of cheese paired with flavorful marinara sauce. The chicken was tender and easy to cut, and not a single morsel was burned, which is something I have unfortunately come to expect based on dining experiences at other restaurants.

The lasagna was especially interesting and somewhat unusual, in a very delectable way. The bolognese sauce, which had as its base the same flavorful marinara sauce as the chicken parmesan, was prepared with velvety, smooth cream, and choice meat, and, as our waiter explained, "lots and lots of parmesan cheese." The chef at Pesce Pasta certainly knows his way around the kitchen.

Unlike some reviews have foretold, the wait staff was extremely friendly and attentive. The prices were also reasonable. Know before you go that this restaurant has no bar, but they do serve beer and have an extensive wine list. I'll keep this in mind next time I stop by, as I surely intend to return to see if their pesce lives up to its name.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Make the Most of Your Public Libraries -- They're Not Just For Books!!

If you're like me, in this digital age of internet, smartphones and e-readers, you may have forgotten all about your friendly, neighborhood public library. Remember that place where you spent hours in grade school researching Abraham Lincoln or borrowing a copy of Brave New World? Well, keep reading and you'll learn that libraries aren't just about books and book reports.

At your local public library you can find, not only the expected books, newpapers and magazines, but also CDs, DVDs, graphic novels, comics, free internet access, and more. Don't have time to rummage through the Dewey Decimal System at the New York Public Library (NYPL), which has branches in Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) or the Queens Library? Visit the libraries' websites to learn how to reserve books and other materials online, place holds on material you want to read, schedule interlibrary loans, and renew material, all with just a few clicks! Did you know that you can also "borrow" material on your e-reader?

Another great feature is that while some branches may most be useful due to convenience (BPL boasts that "[e]very resident of Brooklyn lives within a half-mile of a Brooklyn Public Library...location"), there are also a number of speciality libraries, like NYPL's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,  Performing Arts Library, and Science, Industry and Business Library, or BPL's Business Library. Find your preferred branch and hours here: NYPLBPL, Queens.

Looking for a unique first date idea? Check out library event calendars. Last year, I went a date to BPL's Central Library, to visit an art exhibit centered around everyone's favorite street, Sesame Street! If you're ready to delve into some heavy philosophical discussions, check out NYPL's Three Faiths exhibit before it ends this Sunday, February 27. Perhaps you'll even catch a glimpse of some Ghostbusters hot on the trail of paranormal activity. Libraries not only often play host to cultural activities, but also offer career-oriented and other classes and programs, from art and concerts to computer/word processing/and internet classes, resume assistance, tax advice, foreign language (and ESL) classes, a bridge club, children's events (arts & crafts, storytelling, etc.), and more, you'll never be bored at the library. Many library branches also often exhibit local artists and photographers, so don't be shy, send in your work! See events calendars here: BPL, NYPL, Queens.

The value of all of this immeasurable. However, if you want to attempt to measure it, try this nifty Library Use Value Calculator provided by the New York Library Association (NYLA). My own estimated use comes out to well over $1000 a year! When you see how valuable the library can be, consider donating to the NYPL, BPL or Queens Library, making a donation to or even joining NYLA, and/or attending New York Library Advocacy Day on Tuesday, March 1, 2011.

Get a Library Card:
New York Public Library (good at any NYPL branch, including Staten Island and the Bronx)
Brooklyn Public Library (good at any BPL branch)
Queens Library (good at any Queens branch)

Tip: If your personal and/or business address allow you to do so, make sure to get a library card for multiple library systems, as on some rare occassions you may find that NYPL has access to material that BPL does not have, or vice versa. A prime example - you won't find beloved graphic novel/comic series Y, The Last Man at BPL, but you will find the entire series at NYPL.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sing With Your Community!

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending, and participating in, a "Community Sing" with five-time grammy nominated choir, Conspirare. The FREE event, hosted by Carnegie Hall's Weill Music Institute and sponsored by Target, took place at the New York Public Library's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and was part of the Center's February programming in conjunction with Black History Month. (See post following this one about making the most of your public library...).

Conspirare is a national ensemble, based in Austin, Texas, but made up of professional singers from across the country and Canada who often come together just days (or a day!) before performances to rehearse with each other. During tonight's Community Sing, renowned conductor Craig Hella Johnson led the chorus and the audience in deeply moving hymns and spirituals such as "Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal,"arranged by Alice Parker, and "Soon-ah Will Be Done (a-with the troubles of the world)," arranged by William Dawson.

As I sat with approximately 150 attendees in the auditorium of the Schomburg Center, Conspirare members (29 singers in total at this performance) slowly emerged from backstage and surrounded us, sopranos, altos, tenors and bases, all singing Carly Simon's "Let the River Run." Mr. Johnson then invited the audience to participate as he worked on some warm-up exercises with the group, such as singing "tip of the tongue the teeth the lips" throughout a musical scale. As we then turned to musical arrangements, we worked on syncopation, dynamics and harmony, listening to parts from the chorus members that surrounded us, or creating our own. The conductor quoted African-American songwriter, Bernice Johnson Reagon, and told us that, "When we sing, we announce our existence."

Such beautiful music was being made as I both sang and listened to the collective voices, those of the Conspirare members as well as audience members, rising up together in song. We were informed that the name "Conspirare" is derived from Latin words meaning "to breathe together," and that the focus of the performance was to share our song, and our hearts, with each other, with these strangers, to sing with our "community." Each song produced such an intense musical and spiritual experience for me that I had constant chills throughout the evening.

This amazing group also treated the audience to some songs for which they went on stage and sang out to us. Highlights included spiritual "Hard Trials,"arranged by Mr. Johnson himself, and featuring soloist Nicole Greenidge in a song inspired, in part, by the story of a woman recalling her childhood as a slave, and a "mash-up" of spirituals "Soon-ah Will Be Done," and "I Wanna Die Easy," the latter also arranged by Mr. Johnson. Soloists for the mash-up were Matt Alber and Abigail H. Lenox. Ms. Lenox's beautiful tone and stage presence for "I Wanna Die Easy" were haunting as she portrayed an enchanting pain that may otherwise have been hard to convey without the poetry of music.

After a requested encore spiritual, "Walk Together Children," arranged by Moses Hogan, was performed, Conspirare received a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd.

A member informed me that Conspirare's Community Sings in Austin can draw as many as 600 people, a fact that does not at all surprise me. If you missed out on tonight's performance, you have ONE MORE opportunity to see them/sing with them in New York, tomorrow, February 24, at 7pm at Jacobi Medical Center, located at 1400 Pelham Pkwy S, in the Bronx.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Save Big on Broadway Tickets

One of the most popular ways to save big on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows is to stand on line at one of TKTS' three discount booths, located in Times Square, South Street Seaport, and Downtown Brooklyn. Check each individual booth's hours on the site, and note that times for purchasing matinee and evening tickets will differ. At the Times Square TKTS location, on Broadway and 47th Street, which sells only same day theater tickets (matinee and evening shows), you'll be closest to the shows you're most likely to see, but you'll also probably wait on a much longer line, up to an hour or longer on weekends. Why not plan ahead and travel instead to the South Street Seaport booth, at Front and John Streets, or the Downtown Brooklyn booth at Metrotech Center on Jay Street? At these locations, you can buy tickets to evening performance for the day-of the show, and matinee performances one day prior to shows, and you'll rarely ever have to wait more than five or ten minutes in line, if there's a line at all. Discounts at any of TKTS booth range from 25%-50%. The only drawback is that your chosen show may not be offered at a discounted price for the day you wish to see it. You need to come to these booths with an open mind, check this site for the prior week's sales to see if your show is on there, and be prepared to have a backup option or two.

If you do have one particular show in mind, try these websites for deep discounts:

Broadway BoxTheater Mania and NY Tix all provide discount codes for FREE, that will earn you up to 50% off of face value of theater tickets, and can often be used for either online, ticketmaster, telephone, or box office purchases. NY Tix has a particularly helpful list of currently available discounts and lineup times for "rush" tickets (see note about rush tickets below).

Playbill Club: You must sign up on their website and join the "club" in order to access discounts, but membership is free. Discounts on theater tickets range from 10% to 50%.

Score Big: This is a very new website and members currently can only join (for free) by invite, or by getting on the waiting list. If you can get on the site, it is well worth it. Score Big is for theater and other event tickets what priceline is for airfare/hotels/travel. You are "guaranteed" to get a deal by bidding on tickets for lower than face value, and seeing whether or not your bid is accepted.

Hip Tix: If you're between the ages of 18 and 35, sign up to receive $20 ticket offers to broadway and off-broadway theater, sponsored by Roundabout Theatre Company (but be careful, once you're on Roundabout's calling list, they'll never leave you alone...).

TDF: TDF, the Theater Development Fund, not only runs the TKTS booths, it also offers an online ticket program for "eligible theatergoers," which includes teachers, retirees, civil servants, non-profit workers, union members, students, armed forces and clergy. It requires a $30 yearly fee but if you go to even 1-2 shows, your discounts will pay off.

Plum Benefits: If your company doesn't already have a Plum Benefits account, talk to your HR manager today! You can only access PB if your company signs up. I have ordered so many great tickets from this site and saved a lot of money. PB offers discounts for theater, sporting events, concerts, comedy and restaurants.

Many productions also offer "rush" or at least student rush tickets (purchased via waiting on a line a few hours before curtain and being subjected to a lottery system, but you usually get great seats), and standing room only tickets. Call the box office for more details.

Another idea is to go to your local library, college or community center and see if you can get "school ticket" discounts. These are flyers, about the size of bookmarks, that advertise the show and also provide discount codes for a finite time-period. Although they are known to be "school" discount tickets, and are most often found in some principal's office, you don't actually have to be a student or school administrator to use the code. You just have to know where to find one...

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Upstairs at the Square -- A Great Music and Book Series at Barnes and Noble

Neko Case, beautiful female singer-songwriter and on-and-off member of indie rock group, The New Pornagraphers, will be participating in a free discussion and performance at Barnes and Noble's Union Square location on Thursday, February 24, at 7pm. Along with writer Michael Showalter, who will be reading excerpts from his latest book, Mr. Funny Pants, Neko will be interviewed by journalist Katherine Lanpher. This intimate event is part of Barnes and Noble's Upstairs at the Square series, which "pairs writers with musicians for an evening of words and music." A few months ago, I saw quirky singer-songwriter Ben Folds and author Nick Hornby at Upstairs, in an interview and performance related to an album they recently collaborated on, Lonely Avenue (Nick Hornby wrote the lyrics and Ben Folds then composed the music). It was a treat to be so close to the artists and hear their unique perspectives on their compositions. 

Get there early for Neko Case and Michael Showalter, as seats will surely fill up fast. See the official event announcement here.

If you like Sci-fi...

then you should come out tomorrow night, Monday, February 21, 2011, at 7pm, to the Bookstore Cafe at Housing Works. The cafe will be holding a screening, followed by a question and answer session, of the first two episodes of one of the web's hottest new TV shows, Pioneer One (download episodes here).

Pioneer One, which won Best Drama at the 2010 New York Television Festival, is the first viewer-supported made-for-torrent-downloading series to air on the world wide web. In fairness, I only watched the first episode because some friends of mine were involved in creating it, and I did not have high hopes. However, the pilot episode completely hooked me. I immediately downloaded episode 2, and cannot wait for episodes 3 through 6, which are currently in production. So far, the first two episodes of the show have been downloaded nearly 2 million times!

Here is a synopsis of the pilot episode from "An object in the sky spreads radiation over North America. Fearing terrorism, U.S. Homeland Security agents are dispatched to investigate and contain the damage. What they discover will have drastic implications."

I found the story to be creative and surprising. It holds true to the sci-fi genre as a show that tests the limits of what may or may not be possible, yet falls into the category of somewhat plausible, if you're willing to let your imagination go just a little bit. A preview of some key topics that might interest sci-fi buffs: Mars, Soviet Union, Cosmonauts...

For more information, visit Pioneer One's facebook page, or this fan-created blog.

The Housing Works Bookstore Cafe is located at 126 Crosby Street in SoHo.

2/21 UPDATE:
The Q & A session with writer Josh Bernhard and director Bracey Smith, following tonight's screening, was very interesting and informative. The screening drew a sizable crowd and filled the cafe. It was also attended by a majority of the show's actors, who sat in the audience and were available to ask and respond to questions, and many of whom mingled with fans after the show.

I learned that the creators consider the genre of the show to be more "science-faction" than science fiction (a term I believe they said was coined by a fan), because the audience will probably never see any "little green men" in the series. Four episodes have been shot so far, with six total episodes planned for the first season. Expect the next two episodes, 3 & 4, to come out sometime around mid to late March. Unlike some other competing shows, Josh told us that there is a strong, complete plot idea for how the story will unfold, and 5 total seasons have been planned to round out the full story. One girl in the audience asked whether two of the main characters, Tom Taylor and Sofie Larson (played by James Rich and Alexandra Blatt), will ever get together romantically, but the creators were mum.

Some other fun facts I learned were that there is already fan fiction out in cyberspace, and that some fans have even taken it upon themselves to translate the show into various languages, approximately 20 so far. Download subtitled versions of the show here.

Left: Bracey Smith
Right: Josh Bernhard

Actors James Rich ("Tom Taylor") and Guy Wegener ("Vernon") listen intently to the Q & A session.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Volunteer Opportunities in NYC for Every Personality (Even Yours!).

Looking to fulfill some school credit, build your resume or impress a girl/guy? Or perhaps you just genuinely want to devote some of your free time to those who could really benefit from it. Taking time out from your busy schedule to give a little back is a great way to make a small difference in your community, and there are so many opportunities for nearly any skill, interaction or task you desire. Listed here are some of the many options available, several of which I have some personal experience with and can give some recommendations on if you leave a comment or email

Like sports or arts and crafts and want to help children with mental and physical disabilities? Try KEEN (Kids Enjoy Exercise Now) for one-to-one sports, swimming and arts and crafts programs.

Looking for a soup kitchen? Check out this list of soup kitchens operated by the Coalition for the Homeless. Want to volunteer at the oldest and largest soup kitchens in Manhattan? Try St. Francis Xavier on Sunday late morning - early afternoons.

Have a special interest in food, hunger and/or nutrition? City Harvest is a wonderful organization that works to feed hungry New Yorkers and many of their programs do not require any long-term commitment. You volunteer when you can. I highly recommend the Mobile Markets, where you distribute food at community programs. It's a great way to interact with members of the community and see the benefit happening right in front of you. You've never fully appreciated the importance and privilege of access to good produce until you see someone's eyes light up over a what may appear to be just a few free potatoes, something many of us would probably take for granted. You've never savored the gift of life until you ask someone how they are doing and their response is, "Well, I'm positive," and it takes you a moment to realize that they're not talking about their sunny disposition. 

Food Bank for New York City is another great organization with volunteer opportunities focused on hunger and nutrition. 

Interested in helping domestic violence victims? Try Sanctuary for Families, or the Anti-Violence Project (AVP specifically focuses on violence within the LGBTQ population).UPDATE: I forgot to mention Safe Horizon.

Many local hospitals also offer opportunities to serve as a rape crisis, violence or assault counselor, after undergoing a lengthy training and committing to at least one year of being "on-call" one to two nights or weekend days per month. Here is a list (that could probably use some updating...) to get you started searching for these programs. Most hold training once a year, in the fall, and will start recruiting in the summer, but some have different schedules. I know that NY Presbyterian/Cornell Medical Center on the UES, and Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn are both recruiting now for training that begins in the spring.

One group I learned about recently, while looking into domestic violence organizations, is Camba. This non-profit organization encompasses much more than providing assistance to domestic violence victims. Camba has six "core" areas: Economic Development; Education and Youth Development; Family Support Services; HIV/AIDS Services; Housing Services and Development; and Legal Services. You are bound to find something interesting under one of those categories. 

If you're Jewish, single and 28 years old or younger (strange parameters, I know, but it's a fun group), try jcorps. Their motto is "make friends, make a difference." Group volunteering events vary from week to week but may include doing arts and crafts with seniors, beautifying parks, spending time with children at a pediatric hospital, and more. Jcorps is actually how I learned about St. Francis, and also another group, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. Don't be fooled by Met Council's name. The organization serves Jews and Gentiles alike, and any person of any faith (or no faith) can volunteer. Met Council literally has an endless list of programs.

Are you a lawyer or in the legal profession? Check out Legal Outreach, which helps prepare urban youth for college and grad school.

Are you a singing lawyer or legal professional? Audition for The City Bar Chorus. CBC's "primary mission is to reach out to the community through music." The chorus sings at community venues across the city, including senior residences, rehabilitation facilities, cancer centers and more. I also have it on good authority that they may be looking for some tenors and bases right now...

Like animals? The Bronx Zoo, Queens Zoo, Central Park ZooProspect Park Zoo and New York Aquarium, which are all run by the Wildlife Conservation Society, have various volunteer opportunities, as does the Staten Island Zoo. Most of these require a long-term commitment.

Feeling political? There are likely volunteer and outreach opportunities available within whatever party you support. Try the New York State Democratic Committee or the Republican Party of New York State, or if you're a young professional, try the New York State Young Democrats (I have personal love for the Manhattan Young Democrats chapter) or the New York Young Republican ClubIndependent? Libertarian? There's something for you!

Also, don't rule out your local house of worship, even if you're agnostic or atheist! Synagogues, churches and the like offer many varied volunteer and outreach opportunities, which may be more secular than you'd expect (e.g. Brooklyn Heights Synagogue runs a secular women's shelter November through March, in cooperation with Camba).

If none of these appeal to you, you can conduct your own search for whatever opportunity may suit you at a number of different websites:
New York Cares
Idealist (non-profit job and volunteer search engine)
Volunteer groups on
And finally, anything and everything else you could possibly ever want to do for others you can probably find at's volunteer site.
UPDATE: Another search engine - volunteermatch

Now, get out there and Do Something!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Music, Comedy, Bocce Ball and More at Brooklyn's Bell House, Floyd and Union Hall.

Valentine's Day is a treasured holiday for lovers and greeting card companies alike. So what's a single gal to do on February 14? How about gathering friends together to go see a comedy show where the object of the night is to laugh at other people's romantic (and other) pain? Yes, please!

Last night, The Bell House welcomed The Rejection Show's "Valentine's Day Heartbreak Haven," hosted by writer/comedian/producer Jon Friedman. The night began with an opening musical act by Cudzoo and The Faggettes, whose festive pink-sequin dresses, sophisticated hairdos and doo-wop style tunes reminded me of some famous 60s girl groups, except that the lyrics would never have been approved by American Bandstand. Can you imagine baby boomers singing "New York Girls are the $h!t," while rhyming with certain private parts I loathe to mention on a public blog, or belting about showering with a friend? Neither can I... Clearly, the show was off to a good start.

Following The Faggettes were no less than fourteen short comedy acts which incorporated a variety of media, from stand-up comedians like Elna Baker (whom my friend described as "the funniest Mormon in New York City...") telling stories about rejection, to musical comics like "Erin and Her Cello," performing the catchy bluegrass tune, "I love you sober and I love you hungover,"to the premiere of a new episode of a web-based TV series, Broad City (which apparently is in its second season, newest charming episode very adorably titled, "Valentine's Day"). My favorite acts were Elna Baker, who described a magazine article she wrote about losing her virginity in her late 20s and then receiving a voicemail from the boyfriend she lost it to, who was less-than-happy to see their story in print and had some hilarious choice words for her; Sara Schaefer, who gave a great anecdote  about "guilty pleasures" upon abruptly becoming single after co-habitating; and comedy couple Sean Crespo and Carol Hartsell, who told the story of their break-up (fictional, I imagine), as if they were telling the story of an elaborate proposal. More than half of the comedians/musicians/writers/however they want to refer to themselves really had me laughing and having fun and, mostly, forgetting all about the fact that I was there because I didn't have a date on Valentine's Day. In fact, looking around the room it was clear that some couples made this their date of choice for the evening. To those great couples with a true sense of humor about themselves, love and rejection, I ask, do you have any single friends for me?..

Bell House is the sister bar to the only two Brooklyn bars that can boast indoor bocce ball courts, Union Hall and Floyd.  (FYI, a quick google search led me to find only one Manhattan bar with bocce ball -- restaurant Il Vagabondo, on the Upper East Side). Bell House and Union Hall frequently host indie and other concerts, comedy shows, karaoke, bingo, and tons of other cool, inexpensive events. See their calendars here: Bell House calendar Union Hall calendar. Besides being known for bocce, Floyd, which is probably too small of a venue to host larger events, whereas both Bell House and Union Hall are converted from warehouses, is also known for its cheap drinks, especially hard liquor, and its chill, neighborhood sports bar atmosphere. It's also a favorite haunt of Brooklyn Law School students. Bell House has the most upscale, "clubby" feel to it, while Union Hall is somewhere in the middle, and Floyd is a total comfort zone bar.

I should mention that bluegrass band The Defibulators closed out The Rejection Show, I think... By the time they took the stage it was nearly 11pm, and since I had no date to fake a headache for, I chose to head home when my eyes began to close involuntarily. This wasn't because The Defibulators weren't good... they were a lively, bawdy, interesting band (I counted at least ten instruments, 2 guitars, a harmonica, bass, fiddle, banjo, washboard, drum, token female vocalist -- no this wasn't Arcade Fire, but they kind of looked like them, sans Grammy and adding tons of 'twang) whose jams would have really gotten me moving if I was at a Sunday afternoon picnic, or at least a night when I didn't have to travel 45 minutes home from the depths of Gowanus and then wake up for work the next morning. I would definitely like to check them out on a night when I have the energy to enjoy them, as their songs on myspace are really fun.

The Bell House is located at 149 7th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Ave, in Park Slope/Gowanus.
Union Hall is located at 702 Union Street, off of 5th Ave, in Park Slope.
Floyd is located at 131 Atlantic Ave, between Henry and Clinton, in Brooklyn Heights.

UPDATE: I originally got the names of Sean Crespo and Carol Hartsell wrong, but have edited this post to fix the error. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why You Should Support Epic Theater Ensemble.

Tonight, after dining at Empanada Mama (see post below), I was treated to a wonderful FREE production of Shakespeare's Othello by the Epic Theater Ensemble. From their website: "Epic Theater Ensemble is a company of artists and activists dedicated to creating theatrical events Off-Broadway and in the NYC Public Schools that inspire vital dialogue about social, ethical and political issues." Among other supporters, Epic Theater is partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

The non-profit theater company travels to schools and other venues around New York City and performs "socially minded plays" aimed at inspiring audiences, especially students, to learn to embrace empowerment, and also to become involved in the arts themselves. Students are often encouraged to create their own plays modeled on Epic Theater productions.


The production of Othello that I saw tonight made me laugh, gasp, jump, feel love, rage, hatred and sadness all together, and even nearly shed a tear or two. Before the play began, I had recalled that Othello was a tragedy, that it involved love and revenge, that Othello and Desdemona had found a love that was not accepted by all, and that Iago was somehow the villain. Beyond that, I left the memory of much of this beloved tale in my own high school classroom. However, the actors at Epic Theater more than brought this play to life for me again. The character of Iago, played by James Wallert, was exceptionally well-done. Sitting in the first row, I oft' felt like I myself was being threatened by the villainous knave. Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., who played Othello, also impressed me with his transformation from doting husband and respected General to an impassioned, vengeful killer. Even as I write the word "killer," and even as I witnessed his murders unfold before me, on stage, I find it hard to accept, because of how easily and simply Mr. Simmons presented himself as an affectionate, lovesick man, who was tragically turned towards an unspeakable deed by the plotting of his trusted "Honest Iago." The play was also not without humor, and was given a modern update, as characters conversed on walkie-talkies and used cell-phones as flashlights. Prior to the first scene, we even got a glimpse of Iago's facebook page. I think it said he was off in Cyprus...

While the current run of Othello ended tonight, Epic Theater will be presenting the show again from March 30-April 3, in Harlem, and in May at a Brooklyn location. Click here for more info on these and other shows. (If I understand correctly, not all of Epic's productions are free, but those associated with their "Impact" tour, including Othello, are all offered free of charge, with donations accepted).

Where to Find Pre-Theatre Dinner Without Breaking the Bank.

If you're looking to eat out close to the theater district, but can't afford to splurge on Restaurant Row, here are a few suggestions you can try:

Empanada Mama, a 24-hour "Latin patty place," was recommended to me by a friend and tried tonight by yours truly. I was surprised to find that, although there were nearly 30 varieties of empanadas available (not even including the dessert empanadas...), the menu consisted of much more than these delectable fried pastries. For our main meals, dining companion ordered "chuleta empanizada," or fried pork chops, which she thoroughly enjoyed, and I ordered "pollo guisado," a seasoned chicken and potato stew that warmed my soul with its heartiness and is certainly worthy of the title of Comfort Food. In addition, we ordered both appetizer and dessert empanadas. If you like spicy foods, I recommend the spicy chicken empanada. We also ordered a "cuban" empanada, which consisted of pork and melted mozzarella cheese. It was good, but didn't make my mouth water the way the spicy chicken did. For dessert, we had an apple & cinnamon empanada, and a belgian milk chocolate empanada, each topped with ice cream and whipped cream. Total cost for 3 courses and non-alcoholic beverages (soda for my friend, tasty cappuccino for me): ~ $25 each, with tip. (One note: each individual empanada is priced separately and comes with only one empanada per order, so if you want to try a lot, consider making a meal out of just the empanadas!). Empanada Mama is located at 763 9th Ave, between 51st and 52nd Street.

In the mood for hamburgers? Some might suggest Five Napkin Burger (a suggestion I whole-heartedly agree with and recommend, especially if you try the cleverly named "five napkin burger"), at the corner of 9th Ave and 45th St, but if you are looking to cut costs, consider trying Island Burgers and Shakes, at 766 9th Ave, between 51st and 52nd Street. I must admit that I have not tried Island Burgers myself, but it comes highly recommended by a friend who lives in the area. Prices are slightly more reasonable than Five Napkin and, after fifteen years of selling burgers and shakes without fries (blasphemy!), Island Burgers finally got a deep fryer. So, even if you've been there before, it might be time to try it again (I know this because when I walked by today I picked up a menu and it said "Now Serving Fries," and gave the story about how they never served fries before because there was no deep fryer...).

For some "real" thai food, head to Pam Real Thai, on W. 49th Street, just west of 9th Avenue. PRT offers everything you expect from a classic thai restaurant, at affordable prices-- pad thai, curry, etc., and also has unique daily specials that are worth stopping by to check out.

Craving Italian? A little further south on 9th Ave, between 37th and 38th Street, is a cute neighborhood trattoria called Mario's. Serving pizza, pasta and all of the traditional chicken, veal and seafood Italian entrees you could want, but sans some of the traditional prices (chicken parmesan for only $14, served with pasta!), this place may be worth the walk.

Ready for something completely different? Meskerem is an authentic Ethiopian restaurant located at 468 W. 47th Street, between 9th and 10th Ave. Don't bother asking for a fork here-- if you don't like to use your hands as utensils, then this is not the place for you. However, if you want to try a new experience, Meskerem is a dining gem. Order everything to share and don't be surprised if it looks small when it comes out, it's just a trick of the eye-- you will not leave this place hungry. Also, don't be afraid to ask your waitress how to eat the food... it's what I had to do!

Finally, if all you want is a no frills meal, try Westway Diner, on 9th Ave and 43rd Street. It's a diner, and it's good. What more do you need to know?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pizza Post Part 2: Where to Find Chicago Deep Dish Pizza in New York

While I understand some New Yorkers may boycott this blog simply for my posting this information, please keep an open mind. :) After all, it’s just pizza, people, not religion…

Now that you know where to go in New York City for some of the best New York style pizza around, check out some of the following locations if you’re craving some Chicago deep dish pizza. As a self-proclaimed New York pizza lover myself, I was skeptical the first time I stepped into a deep dish pizzeria in Chicago, but the carb-fiend in me fell in love with the thick golden crust underlying layers of baked goodness. The two styles honestly just cannot be compared. To reference the old adage, it is literally like apples and oranges – two sweet but very different fruits – sometimes you want to eat the apple and sometimes you desire the orange. Try approaching the pizza like that, and expose yourself to something new.

As a disclaimer, I must admit that, unlike Pizza Post Part 1, I have yet to try the following restaurants and I am only providing this post for informational purposes, in alphabetical order, so as not to show any favoritism. Go and try them yourself (and then leave a comment)! At some point I will try to make my way to at least a few of the pizzerias listed here, and in that case, I’ll report back for sure.

Big Nick’s Burger and Pizza Joint, at 2175 Broadway, at 77th Street, has “Chicago-style deep dish pizza” on their menu.

La Bruschetta, at 256 7th Ave, between 5th and 6th Street in Brooklyn, has “Chicago deep dish pizza” listed under their specialty pie choices.

Knapp Pizza II offers “pan pizza” that is supposedly tantamount to deep dish. It is located at 261 Avenue X in Brooklyn. (Anyone who has ever been to Pizza Hut knows that “pan pizza” doesn’t always really mean deep dish in the Chicago-sense, but sometimes it does…).

L’asso , at 192 Mott Street, has a deep dish pizza pie. (I kept this on the list because L’asso’s thin crust pizzas, which I have tried, are very good. However, if their deep dish really anything like this, it might be a hard sell… And, they got panned, no pun intended, by slice).

Last Stop Restaurant Cafe offers deep dish “pan pizza” and is located at 22-35 31sst Stret in Astoria. Great reviews here.

Pizza Natanya, at 1506 Ave J in Brooklyn, has “deep dish pizza” on their menu.

Ray Bari Pizza has three locations, two in Manhattan and one in Queens. Has mixed reviews on their deep dish at their East Midtown location, 930 3rd Avenue between 55th and 56th Street, but seems worth a try.

La Villa Pizzeria, located at 261 5th Ave, in Park Slope, brags about their "Thick Crust Deep DIsh Pizza baked to order in our Fire Deck Oven with whole Milk Mozzarella and San Marzano Tomato and Basil Sauce."  I'm inclined to think this one must be good, as I've tried their thin crust margherita, which La Villa describes as "Wood Fired, Simple, Classic, and Delicious!," and I couldn't agree more. 

Also consider checking out Previti Pizza, located at 123 E. 41st Street, at Lexington, which has focaccia “deep dish” pizza and that these reviews recommend. And Enzo’s Brickoven, at 217 Prospect Park West, according to these yelp reviews has deep dish pizza, although it doesn’t yet appear on their menu pages page. There’s also Tony’s Pizza, at 355 Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, which supposedly has deep dish, but slice say it really isn’t so….

You may be wondering, what about Pizzeria Uno? While there are plenty of Uno chains lurking around the New York metropolitan area, I would not recommend equating it with real deep dish pizza. Don’t get me wrong, if you try Uno’s or Due’s in Chicago, you mouth will experience a pleasure it has never had before, but you won’t find near the same ecstasy at the chain locations, sorry.

Alternatively, if you can’t get to Chicago but you really want the true, original form of the deep dish pizza, then try ordering online from Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’sIf you want traditional deep dish, try Lou Malnati’s. For a twist, order stuffed pizza from Giordano’s. Your pizza will be partially baked, frozen, and shipped to your doorstep with precise baking instructions. I have tried both Lou Malnati’s, in Chicago, as well as shipped version, and Giordano’s, at an Orlando, Florida branch, and I can promise you won’t be disappointed. 

If you want to know how I found the NYC places, here are some of the searches I did:
“deep dish” and “deep dish pizza” on menu pages
“deep dish pizza” on yelp
“deep dish pizza brooklyn” and “deep dish pizza nyc” on google

Then I perused what I found, read the reviews I located, and created this post. Manga!

UPDATE: Just found another one -- Vinny's Brooklyn, on Court Street and 4th Place, claims to sell "Chicago Stuffed Pizza" pies...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Pizza Post Part 1: Where to Find The Best New York Style Pizza in New York

Inspired by a love of pizza along with the discovery of companies that take NYC tourists out on "pizza tours," such as Scott's Pizza Tours and A Slice of Brooklyn, some friends and I have essentially built a mission out of trying famed pizza shops around New York. We've been to John's Pizzeria of Bleecker StreetArtichoke Basille's Pizza, Lombardi's, Grimaldi's, Totonno's (the original one, in Coney Island), Di Fara Pizza, Lucali, L & B Spumoni Gardens, and more. (Pictured above: Large Pie at Lucali's, half pancetta, half mushroom).

Considering the plethora of pizza possibilities in the city, if you ask ten New Yorkers where to get the best pizza, don't be surprised if you get ten different answers. Following are my personal suggestions.

I love the sweet marinara sauce used at pizzeria's like Lombardi's and Spumoni Gardens. If you want to sit and enjoy classic, thin brick oven pizza, then be sure to wait the obligatory hour or so at Lombardi's, supposedly the first pizzeria in America, located at 32 Spring Street, off of Mott Street, in Little Italy. You can't go wrong with the slices at Lombardi's (whole pie orders only, but they do deliver). Always cooked fresh, never burnt, and has a good sauce to cheese ratio.

For a more traditional counter-style experience, head to Spumoni Gardens, located at 2725 86th Street in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. I promise the subway ride is worth it. Ask for one "square" (a sicilian slice) and one "round" (1/8 of a round pie), and you will have in front of you two of the best tasting slices of pizza you'll experience in all of New York City. Between the two, I personally prefer the square slice, but in terms of "round" pizza, which is the most typical slice one thinks of when imagining "New York Pizza," Spumoni's hot, cheese-dripping, foldable, round certainly satisfies. And, while there, don't forget to stop by the Spumoni counter to grab the delicious frozen treat that gave the pizzeria it's namesake. Regular ice cream just won't ever be good enough again once you've had Spumoni.

If you're just a little adventurous, consider trying the "Artichoke" slice at Artichoke Basille's, which recently added two new locations in addition to the original, well-known storefront on E. 14th Street between 1st and 2nd Ave. It's hard to predict when there will be a line. I've gotten lucky on some weekend afternoons. On Friday and Saturday nights, especially as the local bars close, be prepared to wait outside on a long line at the original location, but you may have better luck in Chelsea or Greenwich Village. The must-have "Artichoke" slice is a thick, creamy masterpiece made with spinach, artichoke, cheese (no marinara sauce), and secret ingredients the owners have declined to reveal. This is absolutely one of the best quick dining options in all of New York City. Not surprisingly, both the margherita and the square slices at Artichoke are also superb and rise to the level of some of the best pizza in New York, certainly somewhere in the top ten.

What was I most disappointed by? Grimaldi's Brooklyn Heights location. I have given this location many chances and, despite the hype, I have found that there are simply much better places to go. The pizza is not necessarily bad, but it is just not always that great. On more than one occasion it's even been sort of...soggy. It might indeed receive a higher WGINY rating from me (WGINY is the new acronym suggested by a friend for this blog...get it, "What's Good in New York"?...), if this wasn't New York City and there weren't 1001+ other pizzerias around...

In the future, I hope to be able to try some of the local pizzeria's I have yet to visit that have been recommended by trusted friends/fellow pizza aficionados, including Keste Pizza & VinoDean'sPatsy's (I've really been dying to try a slice at Patsy's original 1933 iconic Harlem location), Motorino Pizza, and Fornino Pizza, to name a few. Have another suggestion? Leave a comment.

For more NYC pizza reviews, check out the Slice blog.
Stay tuned this week for Pizza Post Part 2: Where to Find Chicago Deep Dish Pizza in New York...
UPDATE:  A friend just shared info which led me to this article, explaining how some of the best-known pizza in NYC (such as Lombardi's, Grimaldi's, John's, Coney Island Totonno's and Harlem Patsy's) is made in coal-ovens, which new pizzerias in the city (like Motorino, Keste, Lucali, etc.) are no longer allowed to build by law. Here is a list, as of 2007, of NYC pizzeria's with coal ovens.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why a 30-Day Unlimited Metrocard May Be Worth It For You (Unfortunately)

When the MTA recently decided to yet again raise the cost of commuting in New York City, I wondered if I could beat the system by purchasing pay-per-ride metrocards instead of shelling out $104 for a monthly card. I initially tried to figure out the math on my own to see if this made financial sense, but it was too daunting, even referring to articles like this one or checking out various metrocard fare comparison charts and calculators that were floating around the internet. Instead, I resorted to a much simpler method, one of trial-and-error. 

On the 20th of every month, I get a transitchek metrocard with my paycheck at work, and the cost of the card comes out of that paycheck, tax-free. In the past, when the cost was "only" $89 each, I have always ordered 30-day unlimited metrocards, but was often curious whether I was actually realizing that value every month. Now that the same metrocard costs $104 each month, I figured it could not possibly be worth it, and I opted instead for pay-per-ride. With transitchek, this meant that on January 20 of this year, for $96, I received two $48 pay-per-ride metrocards (worth $51.36 with bonus) that were supposed to last me through February 20.

It is now lunchtime on February 9, and I have exactly $2.25 left in subway fare. That's one ride to get me home from work tonight, and then ten days of extra costs I could have avoided. Even assuming I do nothing but go to and from work from now through the 18th (the 20th falls on a weekend), which is usually not the case, I need 14 more rides to get me there, after I use my last $2.25 tonight. Those 14 rides will cost me an extra $31.50, bringing the total cost of my subway use this month to $127, when I could have paid $104. I could also purchase a 7 day unlimited card to get me through the next week, for only $30, but that would leave me again needing to purchase further rides for getting to and from work on February 17 and 18. It seems that my trial really was more of an error.

Why do I say this "may" apply to you? The links above show that the 30-day unlimited metrocard at $104 is only valuable if you use at least 50 rides per month. While you may not be able to precisely calculate exactly how often you are riding mass transit each month, consider that if you commute to and from work everyday, sometimes use mass transit to go out after work and also sometimes use mass transit on the weekends, you are probably riding more than 50 times. I personally keep a very active social calendar and know that, this Thursday I will need to take the subway to work, then to a bar for a friend's happy hour, then to another bar for a date, and finally home. That's four rides in one day. On Saturday I am attending a birthday party in Brooklyn (I live in Manhattan) and on Sunday I am getting a haircut and then seeing a play, and although I may be able to walk to the haircut and the play from my apartment, depending on the weather, I may opt for a subway or bus. That's two to five weekend rides. On Monday I am going to work, and then taking the subway to a Valentine's Day-rejection-themed comedy show, and then home. That's three rides... You get the picture.   

(Btw, in case you weren't aware, if you are still holding on to your 30-day unlimited metrocards you stocked up on in 2010, go ahead and throw them out. A sign in the subway station this morning reminded me that $89 unlimited metrocards not activated by yesterday, February 8, are now worthless).

UPDATE: Commenter Tami S. notes that you may be able to get a refund for unused $89 unlimited metrocards, as the activation time for those cards expired yesterday, February 8. I did some research and here is what I found: During the 2009 fare hike, commuters were instructed to go to any subway station and "ask a station attendant for a postage-paid envelope," to mail old metrocards in for a pro-rated refund. I called MTA's Customer Service and confirmed that if you mail your unused or partially used metrocard(s) into Metrocard Customer Service, MTA, 2 Broadway, New York, New York, 10004, and include your full name and address, you will in fact get a pro-rated refund.

Monday, February 7, 2011

This is Happening.

After nearly ten years of banging out epic tunes and mixing music that gets crowds on their feet and keeps them there, LCD Soundsytem is calling it quits. The grungy, gritty, disco-y, dance-y, hipster-y, indie-y, electronic-y, anything it wants to be-y, rocking band project of musician/DJ/producer James Murphy has announced that: "lcd soundsystem are playing madison square garden on april 2nd, and it will be our last show ever. we are retiring from the game. gettin’ out. movin’ on."

Fortunately, for the lucky few who will be able to beat the internet traffic to purchase tickets on ticketmaster and bowerypresents this week (official on-sale on Friday, February 11, at 11am, pre-sale details to appear on LCD's website and pitchfork sometime before then), LCD promises to play for nearly three hours, and will even surprise fans with never before heard "stuff."

Some of my favorite LCD Soundsystem songs (to name a few):

Dance Yrself Clean
I Can Change
Someone Great
New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down
Daft Punk is Playing at My House
(btw, how awesome would it be if, like they did when Phoenix played MSG last October, Daft Punk mysteriously shows up at MSG on April 2 as James Murphy, quite literally, brings down the house...?!)

You can bet I'll be anxiously hitting the refresh button on my computer to score tickets to the Saturday, April 2, 2011 show at Madison Square Garden. Assuming I'm successful, look for a follow-up post on or about April 3.

UPDATE: As the MSG show general sale tickets sold out in less than five minutes, apparently mostly to "scumbag scalpers," as James Murphy so delicately referred to them in this awesome rant, LCD Soundsystem added four more shows at Terminal 5! Tickets for the added shows on March 28, 29, 30 and 31 will go on sale Tuesday, February 22. To circumvent scalpers, there is a two ticket per-person limit and you must be prepared to show I.D. on the day of the show to pickup your tickets.

A Review of Brunch at Cafe Mogador.

Recently, one of my two lovely roommates suggested that I try brunching at Cafe Mogador, located at 101 St. Marks Place, between 1st Ave and Ave A. She noted that, while Cafe Mogador offered all of the conventional brunch items, including omelettes, french toast and pancakes, the cafe also served more traditional Mediterranean and Moroccan style breakfast meals. Pictured above are the "Halumi Eggs" my roommate recommended, and which I, in turn, ordered. The eggs were precisely poached and served with delicately roasted tomato, delicious halumi cheese, sweetly tangy olives, salad with a hint of mint leaves, and herbed za'atar pita. Yum!

If you glance at both the breakfast menu (available everyday, including weekends, a la carte items) and the brunch menu (available only on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am to 4pm, but $12 includes meal, juice and coffee or tea), you'll notice that there are more than ten options for egg dishes, and that doesn't even include the omelette variations. Ever had "Middle Eastern Eggs," with hummus, tabouli, salad and za'atar pita? How about "Moroccan Benedict" eggs with "spicy tomato & green pepper sauce"? Neither had I, but I will definitely return soon to try these and other dishes.

The cafe itself was charming and appeared designed to resemble a cafe or bar & restaurant in Morocco (at least from what I know of Morocco in TV and films..."Of all the gin joints in all the towns in the world, she walks into mine..."). If your palate is looking for some culture and diversification, Cafe Mogador is the place to go. 

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time

Every Friday evening, the Whitney Museum of Art offers pay-what-you-wish admission. What better time to visit the museum's Edward Hopper exhibit, on display through April 10, 2011?! 

If you want to see Hopper's Nighthawks, you'll have to travel to the Art Institute of Chicago (a trip I highly recommend taking). However, if what you seek is a good dose of American Realism, as shown through the paintings of Hopper and other realists of the early to mid 1900s, including George Bellows and John Sloan, then head over to the second floor of the Whitney to view Modern Life: Edward Hopper and His Time. (Fun fact: Many Hopper pieces have come to the Whitney through a friendship between Mrs. Hopper (Edward Hopper's wife) and Mrs. Whitney (guess who that is), the latter of the women purchasing certain pieces after Hopper's death in 1967). 

In the four or so rooms that make up this exhibit, you'll find at least two self-portraits by Hopper, including the one posted here (after taking this photograph I was unfortunately told photography was prohibited, and I was unable to snap anything else, even though I tried to do so discreetly), but the main draws are Hopper's paintings and etchings that show scenes across America's towns and cities, including a village street, a city block, bridges, barns and homes, apartments you can peer into, a gas station, railroad crossings, and more. Some of these scenes were from landscapes Hopper himself observed and chose to paint. In many of his works, you can even detect a hint of impressionism. However, you won't see anything resembling abstract expressionism, as a tour guide informed us that Hopper detested painting anything abstract (I was also surprised to learn, from the same tour guide, that Hopper was a staunch Republican, anti-New Deal, and voted against FDR...). Hopper preferred to give life to figures (usually female), depict shops either on an empty street or on a street full of people going about their daily business, never aware that they are being spied upon by observers standing outside the picture frames. There is also a very noticeable use of blues throughout his works, as many of his paintings are outdoor scenes. 

One very beautiful work is Soir Bleu, one of Hopper's largest paintings and also, as the guide explained, one with more fully-visible figures than nearly any of his other works, I believe I counted seven. This painting evokes a Parisian theme and we were told that "Soir Bleu" refers to that time between dusk and twilight when "anything's possible," and not necessarily to the literal translation of "Blue Evening." Also intriguing are two famous Hopper pieces, New York Interior, showing the back of a woman who you know is beautiful, even though you can't see her face, sitting in a classic New York home, and Early Sunday Morning, which shows a row of shops with illegible names painted on, so that the only one which is actually recognizable is a store that has a red and white barber pole outside. I wonder if Hopper was trying to say something about the uniformity and repetitiveness of life with Early Sunday Morning... 

As you pass by these and other works, make sure to also stop at George Bellows' famous Dempsey and Firpo, painted in 1924 and depicting a scene between the aforementioned boxers, from a September 14, 1923 fight, when Firpo was knocked out of the ring, even though Dempsey was the night's eventual victor. Look closely and, according to the Whitney's description card, you'll see that Bellows painted himself in-- he's the bald guy on the left. 

The Whitney Museum is located at 975 Madison Avenue, at the corner of E. 75th Street. 

A hidden burger gem inside Le Parker Meridien.

If you think that Shake Shack is the best thing since sliced bread, then you need to head over to the ritzy, upscale midtown hotel, Le Parker Meridien, at 119 W. 56th Street, walk inside, pass the front desk, and then take a sharp left into the small, hidden, cash-only, divey heaven that is Burger Joint, for some of the best fast food-style shoestring fries, milkshakes, and, you guessed it, hamburgers and cheeseburgers.

The walls are covered with music and movie posters, as well as articles about Burger Joint (apparently Johnny Depp has dined there, among others), and the colorful handwritten sign at the counter illustrates the simple steps for ordering a burger: tell the cashier whether you want a hamburger or cheeseburger (vegetarians can even order grilled cheese, er, "cheeseburger hold the burger"), how you want it cooked (rare, medium, etc.), and what fixins you want on it. Then give your name and wait for your opportunity to savor the deliciousness. The so-thick-you-nearly-need-a-spoon milkshakes certainly rival Shake Shack, and the Burger Joint's crispy thin fries hold more than a candle to Shake Shack's mushy crinkle fries. Although you don't get to smother your burger with secret Shack sauce, if you're a burger purist like me (I often like nothing more than some ketchup on my burger, maybe some onions too), then you'll appreciate the juicy meat patties at Burger Joint. My one wish was that they offered sesame seed buns and that you didn't have to order a medium if you want your burger cooked medium rare, a medium well if you want your burger cooked medium, etc.
Prices are also not horrible, although, like Shake Shack, Burger Joint is certainly not an inexpensive steal. A burger, fries and chocolate milkshake cost me a little more than $17.  

A happy customer enjoys her burger: 

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Skiing and Snowboarding Daytrips From NYC Without a Car

By way of personal experience, word of mouth, incessant research on Google, and some reference to all of the sites linked to here, I've compiled a guide for my fellow urban car-less skiiers and snowboarders out there who need their fix of snow this season but may not know the best way to get to the slopes.

There are a large variety of companies that provide buses from NYC locations, typically by 6 or 7am, for travel to New York area ski resorts, or as early as 3 or 4am for travel to Vermont resorts. Expect your bus to leave the slopes at any resort by 4pm to head back to the city. Cost may range from $60-120, depending on whether you are traveling mid-week or weekend and whether or not you have your own equipment, and will cost more if you need a lesson (although be sure to check out beginner packages that cost less and include a lesson, but restrict you to "beginner" lifts/runs). While some of these groups may focus on singles and/or young professionals, many offer mixed crowds.

Some downsides: you may be forced to watch The Ali G Show on the bus's DVD system, your fellow skiiers may be very, very loud and drinking, and you may/will get hit on. Also, many of these buses arrive at exactly the same time to your chosen mountain, so be prepared to wait awhile for your rentals and expect long lines at the lifts on weekends (on a recent Urban Sherpa trip, I boarded a 6am Saturday bus to Windham and did not ski my first run until nearly 11:30am). The upside: make new friends/find skiing and  boarding companions, you don't have to drive, and you can sleep on the bus, as long as you're not getting hit on.

Try These For Day Trips:

Adirondack Trailways Bus has day trips to Belleayre Mountain. (As, let's call it an advanced beginner, I'm a big fan of this mountain!)

Blades NYC takes New Yorkers to Hunter, Windham, Mount Snow (VT) and Camelback (PA) Mountains. Through March 20, you can find a day trip to at least one of these mountains operating nearly every day of the week/weekend from Blades, with the exception of a few Mondays. Breakfast is provided on the bus.

Emilio's Ski and Snowboard Shop in Forest Hills runs day trips to Okemo (VT) on Saturdays and Holidays; Hunter Mountain on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; Mount Snow on Sundays; Windham on Wednesdays and Holidays; and also sometimes has day trips to Stratton (VT). There is always a pickup at the Forest Hills shop, but most trips also offer at least one Manahttan location as well, and some also have Brooklyn stops.

Homage Brooklyn runs day trips to Hunter every Tuesday through Thursday and weekends, and also has trips to Stratton, Okemo, and Mount Snow. Pickup locations are in Manhattan and Brooklyn. This seems to be one of the "cheaper" options... Weekend bus to Hunter, for example, is only $69, including lift ticket, but not including rentals.

NJ Transit operates a bus to Mountain Creek on weekends and holidays.

Outdoor Bound runs a lot of cool day trips like snowshoeing in the winter, and hiking in the summer, and once in a while you'll find a skiing day trip on their calendar (such as Singles Skiing on Sunday, February 13).  (Also check this group out if you've ever wanted to climb Mount Kilamanjaro...).

Paragon Sports in Manhattan is known for running ski and snowboard trips to Hunter and Windham Mountains, and serves a "light breakfast" on their buses, but since no trips are listed on their site, I have to assume there are no upcoming dates.

Urban Sherpa Travel will take you by bus most weekends, and some weekdays, to Hunter or Windham, and sometimes also sponsors both day and overnight bus trips to Killington (VT) and Stratton.

Another resource you may not have thought of is Meetup. I won't post all of the different meetup groups that run skiing and snowboarding trips, because it seems infinite. Just go to the site and type in keyword "skiing" and you'll see what I mean (make sure to scroll down to the list of groups).

Want more than just a day trip?

The Ski & Snowboard Club of New York has two more upcoming weekend trips this ski season from NYC, the first heading to Stowe, VT, from Friday, February 18 to Monday, February 21 (President's Weekend), and the second to Lake Placid, NY, from March 4 to 6.

Dyamic Outdoors is also hosting a weekend ski trip, from NYC to Killington, March 4 to March 6.

More Information:

Being the exceptionally snowy ski season that it is, I am not the first to come up with the idea to disseminate the above information, so here are some more articles you can follow up with :

Glenwood NYC Rental Management Company's List of Skiing and Snowboarding Daytrips

New York Magazine Article: "Top 5 Quickie Ski Trips"

Time Out New York Article on Ski Resorts 2-5 Hrs from NYC

I have yet to find any bus that goes directly to Plattekill mountain upstate... If you know of one, please leave a comment.

UPDATE: Tried the Homage bus to Hunter Mountain and had a really great time. Bus was right on time, even left early, and got us to the mountain with plenty of time to ski. I also liked the skiing options better at Hunter than Windham, and the rental process was a lot smoother and quicker, as was the rental return process. I probably will avoid Windham in the future and go to Hunter.