Friday, May 27, 2011

I Found the Future at the New York Public Library! (A Post-Game Post).

Entering the Library
I could not be prouder to have been one of the "select group of 500 nerds" chosen to participate in the New York Public Library's "Find the Future", an all night scavenger-hunt game and writing event that took place on Friday, May 21. How ironic that it has taken me nearly a week to write a post about an overnight writing event, but we all have to grapple with our day jobs...


When I first walked into the library last Friday, through the marble columns guarded by Patience and Fortitude, I was not sure what to expect. I was mostly surrounded by strangers, but we all had one thing in common - a passion for writing, a sense of adventure, and a desire to change the world. We were gathering to find the future, by examining our past.
500 "Nerds" Gather in Astor Hall

The Doors are Locked!

True to what we had been told, we were in fact "locked" in the library. Shortly after 8pm, the doors were shut and a security guard stood watch over us. We were then greeted by our team leaders for the evening, Jane McGonigal, playing the part of Patience, and Chelsea (last name?), who would lead the Fortitude team. We were instructed to follow whichever leader represented our greater strength. As patience is not my virtue, I followed Chelsea/Fortitude to the library's Rose Main Reading Room. (My Canadian friends, see older post, opted for Patience. Luckily, I found one old friend among the 500, Jen O., and we followed Fortitude together).
Gathering in the Rose Reading Room

Fortitude Beckons Us to Follow

We learned that no person had ever before stayed overnight in the library, save library caretakers and security guards, and that we 500 were making history, and kicking off the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building's Centennial Anniversary.

We were told that while "lots of books" had been written in the library, never had 500 people attempted to write one book together. There were editors on hand to assist, tech gurus, a book art designer, and even a book binder, as the original plan was to have the book bound by the event's end/sunrise (more on that later...).

Jane McGonigal
Out of more than 5000 applicants, McGonigal told us that we all had "the right combination of courage, imagination and creativity." At this point, my curiosity was nearly killing me, and I could not wait to learn more! (See, no patience...) Finally, after being informed that our book would focus on "100 Ways to Make History," and that we would be the first group ever to play the "Find the Future" game (although the hope is that millions will follow in our footsteps, literally or virtually), we were given some of the "secrets" of the game. I hesitate to reveal them here on this public blog, but since you can probably derive them from the game's website, I will give you a little preview.

Gamers Scanning QR Codes
In essence, there are over 100 "powerful" objects "hidden" in plain sight around the library. As I would come to realize later that evening, the library is not merely a place to find books, but it is a museum full of national and world treasures, from first editions of classic literature, beautiful frescos, and other priceless art and artifacts. Each of the objects we would find represented someone who "stood up and said or did something extraordinary," according to McGonigal. Using library maps to lead us to each object on our quest, we were instructed to scan QR codes near each item we located (the little bar codes you have probably seen popping up over the last year or so-- you can download a program on your smartphone to read them), in order to "power up" and receive one of ten special powers from which we might derive strength to unlock "stories that have never been told." Each object was linked to a question about the future, ways to make history, and similar ideas. Strict "writing" was not the only way to compose a story in response to these quesitons. Participants could write, draw, take a photograph, or come up with other clever mediums in which to focus their strength.

Signing Up for Stories
One of most difficult caveats was that there were 100 objects, but 500 people. Thus, we had to come together, work in teams and share ideas. Once an individual or group of participants were ready to begin a story related to an object they had found, they were required to "sign up" for that story on large easels at the front of the Reading Room, so that others would know they should seek other quests, as the final book would have a page limit.

Throughout the night, various rooms that we might need to continue our quest in closed, so we also needed to keep on eye on the clocks. One of the most memorable moments for me was when, upon completing a task/treasure hunt in the library's Genealogy Room, I instantly located electronic records for nearly all of my known relatives and ancestors that have lived in the United States. Although my family arrived mostly in the late 1800s and early 1900s, I was never able to find any information in more typical places, such as Ellis Island. I was so moved to have found these records that I was brought to tears, especially as I read the names of loved ones who were more recently deceased, family members that have touched and changed my life forever. I also learned that, while my ancestors are all from Eastern Europe (as far as I know), many came to America on ships sailing out of Western Europe cities such as Liverpool and Naples. One relative had come from Naples in 1945. I shuddered and shed another tear as I wondered if he had been a Holocaust survivor, as I know some of my relatives were (and some, unfortunately, were not...).

The Stacks
Another really interesting area we came to explore was what is known only as "The Stacks." On any given day, only 30 people are permitted to enter this underground area of the library (7 levels!), where the majority of the building's collection is kept in 75 miles of shelfs. As we walked through a special guided tour, I imagined all of the history that must be hiding in those books. (And, yes, I also thought of "Ghostbusters"...). It was mesmerizing.

For the quests, I ended up working in a team of eight Fortitude members, including myself. Our "squad captain," Erin M., was sweet, intelligent and perky, and a great leader. Although we began the night finding items together and collaborating on stories, as the evening began to fade, so did our team members. By 3am, there were only five of us left. Team "Super Awesome," as we titled ourselves, was losing stamina. But we persevered and, through tired eyes and with much fortitude, we made it until the morning light.

My other team members were Jenny O. (the friend I had met up with), Einat T., Jennifer W., Geovanni R., Lauren A., and Karen W. I really enjoyed getting to know them and working on quests and stories together. Each of us had been selected to "Find the Future" based on a 140 character answer to the question, "By the year 2021 I will be the first person to....". Jenny's creative answer was that she would go back in time to convince Louisa May Alcott to change the ending of "Little Women" (I won't say what the change would be, in case you haven't read it). Einat's ambition was to become the first female secretary general of the United Nations. We certainly had some go-getters among us.

My Note Seeking a Message
Another fun task that we were each given, as if the treasure hunt and story-writing were not enough, was that each of us would have the opportunity to find a "hidden" postcard, either in The Stacks or, after the underground shelves closed, among the bookshelves of the Reading Room. The postcard would be the key to someone else's future, and we would spend part of the night inventing ways to deliver these messages from the future to their recipients. Some went to facebook, others took to calling out names loudly in various areas of the library (after-hours, there was no "quiet" requirement!), or even posting notes around library rooms. By the end of the night, the library was practically littered with notes like the one I put up at 2am, which stated that I still had not received a postcard from the future, and if anyone had a message for me, they should text me, listing my cell phone number. My postcard was finally delivered to me through a combination of facebook and name-calling. I also lucked out with finding Ed R., whose postcard I possessed. Shortly after I retrieved his card from The Stacks, I happened to turn around and see a guy with a partially concealed name-tag, of which I could read the letter, "E". On a whim, I asked if he was Ed, and he was! His interesting and innovative future involved being the first person to fall in love with a robot, marry a robot, divorce a robot, and write a robomance memoir about their relationship.

Cuneiform Tablets
By 5:30am, I had contributed to six stories, ranging from discussing what types of banks the world may need in the future (I suggested a Natural Resource bank) to alternatives to prisons for the future (I discussed focusing on rehabilitation programs), and I even composed an anthem to my hometown, Long Beach, New York, which I titled, "Barrier Island." Each story was basically a reactive essay based on the objects we found. For example, upon finding cuneiform tablets, which contain the oldest form of writing known to man, we were asked to come up with messages/advice for future generations that would be pertinent for as long as cuneiform had existed as a style of writing, nearly 4000 years. Each message also had to be small enough to fit on a cuneiform tablet. It was somewhat fitting that, in the final minutes of the game, I quickly penned (and came up with a tune for) an anthem, as my personal quest for 2021 involved becoming the first person to invent the next wave in music.

Celebrating Finding the Future
Once the last person's story was submitted, the entire group cheered and celebrated. We had succeeded in writing our book! Although, we learned that the idea of having it go to press overnight and be bound by morning was just a bit too ambitious. As of the date of this post, the printed book is still forthcoming. However, when it is ready, it will be available in the general research collection of the library for anyone to see and read!
The End of the Night

Our Book in the Process of Binding

Overall, this was such an amazing experience, and I am glad that I got to share it with such incredible people. We will all have this night in common forever, and we will never forget it.

I took many, many pictures, but here are a sample of the ones I liked the best and/or found best represent our evening:


A Letter from a Slave to His Wife

A Lock of Mary Shelley's Hair
First Edition "Frankenstein"
Charles Dickens' Cat Paw Letter Opener
E. E. Cummings' Typewriter
McGonigal Helps Some Writers/Gamers
View of Empire State Building
from Bill Blass Public Catalog Room
My Postcard from the Future (Which Finally Arrived Around 3am)

One last note -- Please come out and Hug a Library on June 4 at 2pm to show your support for this and other fantastic library programs and rally against proposed budget cuts!!
"Patience and fortitude conquer all things." - Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Find the Future: A Pre-Game Post.

Tonight, I, along with 499 other young aspiring writers, gamers and the like, will be locked in the New York Public Library's Steven A. Schwarzman Building, which houses the NYPL's main branch, on the eastern edge of Bryant Park. Upon our entering the Schwarzman Building between 7pm and 7:45pm, none of us will be allowed to leave until 6am Saturday morning (notwithstanding true emergencies, I imagine, as well as, apparently smoke breaks...). No, this is not any sort of punishment. In fact, it is an award and an honor.

We were all selected, out of thousands of applicants, to participate in a live-action game and "Write All Night" event, directed by famed game designer, Jane McGonigal, and her husband, created with Kiyash Monsef, and designed and developed by Playmatics and Natron Baxter Applied Gaming (according to the game's FAQs) to commemorate the Schwartzman Building's centennial. Also according to the FAQ's, "[i]t is first game in the world in which winning the game means writing a book together – a collection of 100 ways to make history and change the future, inspired by 100 of the most intriguing works of the past." Although the details have been kept very secret, my understanding is that we will be broken into smaller groups and will be sent on a treasure/research hunt of sorts, around the library, with each group being assigned a number of quests to find historical objects, such as an original, handwritten copy of The Declaration of Independence. Together we will pen creative writings based on these objects, and our final product will be bound together in a book that will be available in the NYPL's general research section.

"Write all Night" entries were judged on factors such as originality, creativity and determination. As their first "quest" in the "Find the Future" game, applicants were required come up with a 140 character response to the following question: "By the year 2021 I will become the first person to...". I had some really unique and interesting ideas that I flushed out with some friends, and my initial entry was "I will be the first female masked adventurer sanctioned by the NYPD." However, after I hit "submit entry," I realized that there was a second component, in which you were asked to describe how you might achieve your goal. I started writing about things like ninja training classes, but I quickly realized that I just did not have a very good plan of attack (no pun intended) for becoming a masked adventurer. So, I edited my initial entry and instead went with, "I will become the first person to...create the next big wave in music and go down in history as the Queen of this new genre." (Scroll down to the end of this post if you would like to read my full entry.) (To read others' quests/entries, click here).

Because I am a research junkie, as soon as I learned that I had been selected (and even before, as I composed my entry), I scoured the internet for information on what tonight's event might entail. Here are some informative articles I found in my search:
Also, here is the library's explanation of the game, and the original game trailer:

Finally, you can read about some of the historical objects in the NYPL's new book, "Know the Past, Find the Future: The New York Public Library at 100," in which 100 public figures (politicians, actors, athletes, comedians, etc.) contributed stories about their favorite item in the library's collection.

That is all I know right now. I am both excited and nervous for tonight's event. I was happy to learn, based on a facebook group that Ms. McGongical started for Write All Night participants, that I actually know at least one of the other gamers tonight. Before the big event, I will also be meeting with two young women who needed a place to stow their stuff for the evening, as they are traveling from Montreal, QC, Canada, where they work in a game research lab at a university. The facebook group has been a great way to begin connecting with each other before we finally come together tonight. We have shared articles, discussed our jobs, favorite books, and also voted on our individual "strengths" that we can contribute tonight, such as patience, fortitude, leadership and research skills.  I look forward to meeting you all and writing with you tonight!

WGINY followers, look for a "post-game" post soon.


Full "Find the Future" entry for whatsgoodinny:

By the year 2021, I will become the first person to...
create the next big wave in music and go down in history as the Queen of this new genre.

What drives you... and what strengths do you have that will help you achieve your 2021 goal? 
I am extremely passionate about music in every way. I enjoy creating, listening to and performing music, as well as bringing music to my community. I currently participate in and hold an Executive Board position with a chorus whose mission it is to bring music to the community through outreach performances at venues including nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, cancer and AIDS homes. 

I have been singing in choruses since elementary school. In 7th Grade, I won a contest at my middle school by writing a song entitled, "Together," that addressed creating harmony in society. 

I frequently compose my own lyrics and melodies. I generally write songs on my own, but in the past I have also been given "beats" by others and have composed accompanying lyrics. I am currently learning to play the ukulele so that I may better accompany myself, and I also know a few notes on various other instruments.

My musical interests are unique because, as a child, I was raised listening to mostly oldies and country music, then I began listening to rock and pop, and I have since spent much of my free time discovering independent music. I am frequently driven by my desire to expand my awareness of new music. 

I am also very well accomplished professionally. Through networking I may be able to make my dreams of creating a new music genre a reality. I am currently a lawyer at a non-profit agency that advocates for children in court. During law school, I had a summer job in which I was responsible for reviewing various copyrights, trademarks and entertainment contracts. I also received the highest grade in my Copyright course during law school and won an award for this.

Finally, I enjoy blogging and bringing my knowledge about NYC to those who follow me. I began my blog,, in January 2011, and I have already had nearly 3000 page views. I believe that I am someone whose words (and, potentially, music) can have a great and lasting impact on our society.

Can Fleet Foxes Cure Your "Helplessness Blues"?

Indie folk band, Fleet Foxes, was in New York City this week promoting their new album, "Helplessness Blues," which came out on May 3, 2011.  Although I am a big fan of their eponymous debut album, "Helplessness Blues" has not grabbed me in quite the same way, despite solid reviews from Rolling Stone and Pitchfork (although it was panned by NME).

United Palace 
Nevertheless, I was excited to have a ticket to Fleet Foxes' sold out May 19 show at The United Palace, a majestic, palatial church-by-day, concert hall-by-night venue in Washington Heights, at Broadway and 175th Street. Admittedly, I was not familiar enough with the songs on the new album to fully enjoy as Fleet Foxes opened up. The audience seemed to be on the same page as me, as the crowd was relatively quiet until they reached one of my favorite songs, when the audience erupted as soon as the first few notes made "Mykonos," from Fleet Foxes' "Sun Giant" EP recognizable. It wasn't until they played "Mykonos" that I finally felt my body begin to sway to the music as I breathed in every note and lyric. Lead singer Robin Pecknold's voice is simply haunting. He brings a unique melodic style to the band's performances (I have also seen Fleet Foxes play at the Newport Folk Festival).

Fleet Foxes
Overall, the show was full of intricate, complex harmonies that really highlighted Pecknold's vocal range. The band also incorporated various instruments including flute, cello, mandolin, tambourines and maracas. There was even genuine piano accompaniment for some songs, which is rare, as new bands increasingly rely on keyboards and other electronic instruments.

The audience, which was a strange mix of preppy yuppie-types and hipster folkies, continued their cheering support as Fleet Foxes played popular songs from their debut album, including "Winter White Hymnal," "Ragged Wood," as well of, of course, many songs from the new album, followed by a "surprise" encore solo performance by Pecknold of "Oliver James."

I found that the main difference between Fleet Foxes' first and second LP was syncopation, especially noticeable at the live show. Both albums contain songs that are somewhat mellow and carefree sounding, while still chock full of emotion and, sometimes, despair. However, "Fleet Foxes" experimented much more with rhythms, while the syncopation on the sophomoric album, "Helplessness Blues" is somewhat lacking. In terms of genre, "Fleet Foxes" comes off a bit more pop, while songs from "Helplessness Blues" lean more clearly toward the folk genre.

Fleet Foxes played two nights in NY, May 18 and 19, and will next be showcasing at Tower Theater in Upper Derby, PA, at a venue just west of Philadelphia, on Saturday, May 21, assuming "The Rapture" doesn't hit first (Yes, Pecknold did make sure to mention Christian "Family Radio" Harold Camping's prediction that The Rapture will happen this Saturday)...

Although the NY shows were sold out, it appears that there are still tickets available for the PA show here.

Chicken, Spanish Rice, and Beans
 at Malecon
If you do happen to find yourself in the Washington Heights neighborhood, I highly recommend stopping for lunch or dinner at Malecon, a Dominican and Cuban restaurant across the street from United Palace (with another location on the Upper West Side at Amsterdam and 97th St). The rotisserie chicken is cooked fresh and is melt-in-your mouth tender with a crispy, buttery skin you won't want to leave behind.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Enjoy a Quintessential New York Egg Cream at Brooklyn Farmacy.

A Soda Fountain "Jerk" Delivers an Egg Cream
to a Customer at Brooklyn Farmacy
This past weekend I finally had the opportunity to try out some of the wonderful dessert and drink concoctions cooked up by the apothecarists at Brooklyn Farmacy, a retro-style soda fountain shoppe in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. Okay, so they're not actually apothecarists, but this sweet shoppe is in fact housed in an old pharmacy, and you can see reminders of ye olde pharmacy with every step, from the tiled floors, to displays containing typewriters and an old stamp machine, dated prescriptions, and empty bottles that once contained healing herbs and remedies for customers. (My dining companion and I even found a book full of black-and-white photographs from the mid 1900s!). Once you get tired of walking around the nostalgia that lives in this place, grab a board game in the back, take a seat and call over a "jerk" to begin your order.

The menu, which includes a wide variety of shakes, malteds, sundaes, egg creams, floats and even some small bites, such as soup, grilled cheese and empanadas, is updated every season or so, and there are also daily specials and events. Every Saturday, donuts are "imported" from Greenpoint, Brooklyn's very own Peter Pan Bakery. On Sundays, stop in for some "sticky buns" from Park Slope's Trois Pommes Patisserie.

Moxie Float
This particular weekend, the Farmacy was running a special on "Moxie" soda floats. Moxie, as our jerk informed us, was one of the first carbonated drinks to be considered a "soft" drink, rather than a "hard" drink, because it did not contain any drugs/medicine. (Yes, pharmacists and apothecarists really did use soda to concoct their medicinal remedies!). As I have often learned from dining out around NYC, if there is a special on the menu, it's usually good. So, we opted for a Moxie float. We also ordered a Peanut Butter Cup Sundae and a chocolate egg cream, to round out the meal.

Peanut Butter Cup Sundae
Quintessential Egg Cream

Our main ice cream dessert, the Peanut Butter "Cup" Sundae, made with real, creamy, peanut butter and shaved chocolate pieces, plus the unique addition of coffee-flavored ice cream and, of course, whipped cream was decadent and delectable, and, quite literally, good until the very last drop. We especially enjoyed the accompanying personal mug of hot fudge that we were given to pour on top of the sundae as we devoured it (and devour we did!).

Finally, while the Moxie soda alone (we had to try some in the bottle) had a bit of a medicinal aftertaste, despite it not having any "drugs" (although it does contain gentian root...), when topped with a full, rich scoop of fresh vanilla ice cream, this float was pleasing to the palate.

As an added bonus, Japanese travel television show, "Niji Iro Jean," happened to be filming at Farmacy when we arrived, as part of Jean's "Insider's Guide to Brooklyn" episode (sample video: Jean in Amsterdam). This show, which films on-location in cities around the world, showcasing "insider" tourism highlights, was demonstrating to Japanese fans how an egg cream is made, as this tasty treat is apparently not available in Japan. The plus for WGINY was that after some takes, overseas location manager, "Keith," had untouched egg creams ready and waiting to be consumed. We were more than willing to oblige.

Although we could not try everything on the menu, it was hard to stay away from ordering more goodies, such as shakes made from cherry blossoms or hibiscus flowers, so a return trip may be in order.

Brooklyn Farmacy is located at 513 Henry Street on the corner of Sackett Street, in Brooklyn.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Harry Potter: The Exhibition

As I often do when I am planning to review something, I took rather copious notes at this exhibit.  However, I inadvertently left my notes on the subway this evening, and I imagine they are now somewhere in Queens. As no photographs or videos were allowed inside the actual exhibit, I am writing this completely from memory. Here goes...

Photograph of Warner Bros. Poster
Advertising "Harry Potter: The Exhibition"
Last weekend, to celebrate the day my mother earned her rightful name (Mom), I took her to Discovery Times Square, located on W. 44th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, to view one of the latest exhibits, "Harry Potter: The Exhibition." (Also exhibiting currently at the Discovery center is Pompeii: The Exhibit, Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius, which promises to be a genuine historical adventure. I plan to return to visit that exhibit soon.)

Upon entering "Harry Potter: The Exhibition," three brave, young volunteers had the opportunity to be "sorted" by the "sorting hat," an enchanted hat from author J.K. Rowling's beloved series, that peeks into the thoughts of young witches and wizards entering their first year at "Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," and determines in which of four houses they should be dormed. Typical traits the hat searches for include bravery ("Griffindor" House), a sharp mind ("Ravenclaw"), loyalty ("Hufflepuff"), and cunning cleverness ("Slytherin"), among other traits, and students' houses also tend to determine who they will become friends with and what "Quidditch" team (wizarding sport, more on that later) they will root or play for.

Moving on, the self-guided tour, for which I highly recommend purchasing an audio guide, takes you past both "casual" and "school" outfits for the main actors from the movies, including clothing worn by Daniel Radcliffe ("Harry Potter"), Rupert Grint ("Ron Weasley") and Emma Watson ("Hermoine Granger") and others while exploring Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, as well as the school robes worn by students and individual teachers. Pass by Gilderoy Lockhart's classroom and see his many narcissistic forms. Come upon Severus Snape's potion room. See Dolores Umbridge's pink... everything. Check out the dorm room in which Harry and Ron sleep. Visit Hagrid's cottage and sit in his chair to get the feeling of exactly how large he is, and how small you are. And shortly thereafter, if you dare, venture into the Forbidden Forest...

Along the way, you will notice the wands of nearly every major wizard and witch from the "Harry Potter" movie series, even Headmaster Albus Dumbledore's "Elderwand." Be sure to also look out for Hermoine's "Time-Turner," Katie Bell's cursed necklace, Hagrid's razor-toothed "Monster Book of Monsters" (for use in his "Care of Magical Creatures" class), the Triwizard Tourament Cup, and other memorabilia. You may even spot models of house elves, Dobby, and Kreacher, hanging around the exhibit. Fun fact: although some of the mythical creatures were depicted using only CGI technology, according to the audio guide, having real-life models of the characters around the set helped directors, producers and actors interact in a more meaningful way with their CGI counterparts. Make sure to listen to comments on the audio guide at each numbered stop, where you will learn even more fun facts, such as how certain props were acquired, why/how a set design choice was made, and even about Daniel Radcliffe's allergy to his character's now iconic eyeglasses.

Have an athletic streak? At "Harry Potter: The Exhibition," you will also have the opportunity to try your hand at Quidditch, the most popular game in the wizarding world, which seems to mix soccer, lacrosse, basketball and hockey together, all while on flying brooms. Okay, so you won't actually get to fly on any brooms (although there is a showcase that holds a Nimbus 2000 and a Nimbus 2001...), chase a golden snitch or duck a bludger, but you will be able to take shots throwing "quaffle" balls into goals, which is probably about as close to playing real Quidditch as one can get without actually having the ability to fly.

After the Quidditch room, the mood in the exhibit becomes Dark, as the lights dim and the exhibit begins to focus on malevolent characters such as Lord Voldemort, Dementors, "Death Eaters," and a larger than life Acromantula.

Have no fear, though, as  you'll soon find yourself basking in the floating candlelight of the Great Hall (although sans tables/chairs, and full of even more props, costumes and memorabilia from the movies), where your journey will then lead you, finally, into the Gift Shop (where one look at the prices will make you wonder if it isn't magical how quickly your money leaves your wallet...).

"Harry Potter: The Exhibition" will be on display throughout the summer, ending its North American tour in September. The exhibit is appropriate for children and adults of all ages who are familiar with the "Harry Potter" books and movies. (Of course, young children, especially those who might be frightened by Death Eater masks, a larger than life spider, or  a Dementor, should be accompanied by an adult).

Purchase tickets online here for the "Harry Potter" exhibit only, or buy a discounted combo ticket that also includes admission to "Pompeii." If you pay with an American Express card, you will also be entitled to one free audio-guide (otherwise guides are $7 each). See more ticket info here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yo La Tengo - Do They Have It?

Last night, I ventured to The Bell House, a bar and concert venue in the still-slightly-too-industrial Brooklyn neighborhood of Gowanus, to see a sold-out Yo La Tengo show. According to lead singer, Ira Kaplan, Yo La Tengo played their first show in 1984 with the band, Antietam, who opened for them last night. Twenty-six years later, they were back together playing to a packed crowd at The Bell House.

Current YLT Members James McNew On Drums, Ira Kaplan
and Georgia Hubley on Synthesizer and Keyboard
"Yo La Tengo" is Spanish for "I Have It." (To see a video about how the band got their name, click here). So, does YLT have "it"? While I was not blown away by their show, I was certainly able to lose myself in their music for a couple of hours. (I should also mention that I only recently became acquainted with the majority of their music, which may have colored my judgment).

Having spent the evening climbing at nearby Brooklyn Boulders (look out for a future post on indoor climbing in the NYC-metro area...), I arrived late and missed the opening act, Antietam. However, I was just in time to catch Yo La Tengo bringing an audience member up on stage to spin a wheel which would help them decide which of the songs in their 200+ repertoire they would play.

The multi-talented band members, Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew, could all play a wide range of instruments, swapping between electric and acoustic lead and bass guitars, drums, keyboard, synthesizer, and vocals. Some songs were soft and mellow, like a lullaby, while others aimed to challenge the loudest heavy metal bands around, complete with twenty-minute-long guitar solos (including distortion, of course).

James McNew on Bass Guitar, Ira Kaplan on Lead Guitar,
Georgia Hubley on Keyboard
My impression of this band was that if Thom Yorke, Rogue Wave, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, Explosions in the Sky, and a few heavy metal bands got together for an orgy of music, beginning with some smooth wine-like sounds but unable to resist the cacophonies of mixing harder liquors, this is what it would sound like. (Granted, YLT is older than most of these bands, and I also don't know enough hard rock bands to pinpoint any names, but you get the picture).

Despite playing two consecutive sold-out shows at The Bell House (second show is tonight, 5/11, at 8pm, with The Baxx Sisi's), I was disappointed by last night's lackluster audience. As I glanced around the venue, other than myself and maybe three others, I hardly detected even a head bop. Nevertheless, although I was not compelled to remain for the encore(s), as I made my early exit I did have to push my way through a crowd of cheering fans begging for more music.

Will I see YLT again live? I am not sure, but my interest has been piqued enough to continue exploring their many albums. Fan, John H., noted that YLT is "noise rock done right, what 90's rock was supposed to be but so seldom achieved."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Celebrate National Burger Month in NYC

May is National Burger Month and New York City is no stranger to good beef. So where can you try some of the best burgers in NYC in honor of Burger Month?

If you are looking for some quick grub, try Burger Joint, which I have blogged about before, Shake Shack, with five current locations (including a stand at Citi Field), and two more opening this year, Blue 9 Burger, Island Burgers, or Five Guys, a national chain with locations all around NYC.

For a solid burger at a location where you can sit and make a meal out of it, one of my favorite burgers in the city is at Arctica Bar and Grill, located on 3rd Ave at 27th Street. Their signature burger, the "Arctica" burger is always cooked fresh, encrusted with spicy peppercorns and topped with french Roquefort bleu cheese and portabella mushrooms. This burger needs no ketchup, devour as is.

Another signature burger I thoroughly enjoy is the "Original 5 Napkin Burger" at 5 Napkin Burger, an upscale burger restaurant with locations in the Upper West Side, Hell's Kitchen, and Astoria. Gruyere cheese, caramelized onions and rosemary aioli sauce really make this 10 oz. burger made with "custom ground beef" stand out.

If you live in Queens, or don't mind taking a train ride (20-25 minutes on the 7 train from midtown, or 12 minutes on the LIRR), Donovan's Pub in Woodside, Queens, serves up a juicy, filling beef patty in traditional pub-fare style, and while I'm not sure I agree with some of my friends that it is the best burger in New York, it is certainly high on the list.

Have a little dough to spend and/or want to split a large, gourmet burger with a friend? Try the 20 oz. Kobe beef burger at Old Homestead Steakhouse in Chelsea, served with chipotle ketchup and a side of tater tots. At $41, this may be the most expensive burger in NYC (overtaking celebrity chef Daniel Boulud's "DB Burger," a $32 patty filled with surprises like braised short ribs and black truffles, and offered at his restaurant, DB Bistro Moderne). However, if you head over at lunchtime, you can grab their $19 lunch special, which includes a 10 oz. version of the kobe burger, salad, a glass of wine, and tater tots.

Some runners up, where burgers have been lauded by others, but that I have not found extremely impressive: Corner Bistro, in the West Village, and Stand 4, in the East Village.

Finally, some burger restaurants are offering special deals in honor of National Burger Month:

Tuesday special: Every Tuesday in May, Bill's Bar & Burger will post two winning burger numbers on its facebook and twitter sites, one for its two locations in the Meatpacking District and Rockefeller Center. If you are the lucky patron who orders at the right time, you will win $500 on the spot! I highly recommend Bill's "Classic Burger," which is served on a toasty sesame seed bun, and is topped with a secret sauce, that I have on good authority is a mix of BBQ sauce, from sister restaurant Wildwood BBQ, and mayonnaise. Bill's has also created a unique ketchup concoction by adding a hint of cayenne pepper to its tomato paste. I am a fan of Bill's Rockefeller Center location, as it is rare to find good, affordable food and spirits in that area.

Wednesday special: Stop into any one of six locations at fast-food style burger joint, Goodburger, between the hours of 3pm and 5pm on a Wednesday, and enjoy a single burger for only one dollar!

Also see LookyTasty's National Burger Month post for more great burger ideas.

UPDATE: Reader Fred S. notes that "Burger Heaven belongs on any list of reasonably-priced and really excellent burgers, and understands better than most the crucial concept of RARE."

WGINY and Companions Chow Down at Bill's Bar & Burger
**Note: I have not personally been to Blue 9, Island Burger or DB Bistro yet, so references to these restaurants are based on word of mouth. All others I can attest to from personal dining experience.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Non-Pretentious Rooftop Bar in Midtown Manhattan, Can It Be?!

Summer is rapidly approaching, the weather in NYC is warming (finally!), and the socialites are already strutting about New York's finest rooftop bars, where bouncers, dress codes and trust funds are the norm, not to mention $15 cocktails. 
The Outdoor Space at Mé Bar
If you'd like to sip a cocktail outdoors, but you don't want to empty your wallet to do it, or be asked to don a plush robe as you head outside (yea, some bars actually do that...), head to Mé Bar, on the 14th Floor of the La Quinta Inn, located at 17 W. 32nd Street. This cool, laid-back bar offers a chill vibe unlike any other rooftop bar I've been to in this city. The clientele are friendly and unpretentious, and I'd bet most could not tell a Gucci from a Louis Vuitton. The air feels crisp, the drinks are subtly strong (and nearly half the price of most other rooftop bars), and there's no bouncer judging your attire and/or attitude to make sure you're "cool" enough to enter. 
Bartender Julian Serves Up Some Fresh Drinks
The rooftop is not large by any means, but it is spacious enough to accommodate a fair number of guests, sitting or standing. There is only one small bar, which is often manned by bartender Julian, who is embarking on his seventh summer serving up cocktails at Mé Bar, and his easygoing approach to tasty concoctions keeps customers returning. (Make sure to also ask around for some free spiced popcorn while you enjoy your drinks, or have some food delivered -- Mé Bar has no kitchen).

View of the Empire State Building from Mé
 Bar Deck
The actual bar area is inside a vestibule, or windowed hallway of sorts, which also offers some seating and has wi-fi. From this area, as well as from certain areas of the rooftop, if you know where to look, you can catch a pretty splendid view of the Empire State Building. 

So next time your friend or relative is visiting and you want to take them "out on the town," skip the overpriced, overhyped club-style atmospheres at the other midtown bars, and relax on the roof at Mé Bar, which opens everyday (even in the winter, thanks to heat lamps!), at 5:30pm.