Friday, December 30, 2011

Watch the Ball Drop in Times Square Without Standing Outside All Day...

The rumors you've heard about trying to watch the ball drop in Times Square on New Year's Eve are true ... no alcohol allowed, no bathroom breaks unless you want to push your way back through the crowd, heavily monitored by police... And now that it's actually gotten cold outside in NYC, do you really want to stand outside for hours just to get a glimpse of the ball dropping at midnight?

If you're wondering what all the fuss is about, check out the Times Square Alliance's description of the New Year's Eve festivities here. For cool facts about the ball's history and how it is and has been constructed over the years, see here. Some people are lucky enough to have a friend or family member who has either rented a hotel room or works in an office building surrounding Times Square. However, if you're not one of those people, please read on.

While, admittedly, WGINY will be snug and warm at a cozy house party on NYE, watching the ball drop live on TV from a comfy living room, I can offer some suggestions for those of you who want to get out of the house and experience one of the most iconic New Year's celebrations worldwide:
  • Buy a ticket for Dave and Buster's New Year's Eve celebration, which gives you access to Times Square (to get to the venue...). Note: D & B does not offer private viewings of the ball drop, but having a ticket for a Times Square venue will help you work your way through crowd control. $75pp+.
  • TGIF -- You may be thinking you don't want to spend your NYE at a chain restaurant in NYC, but think again... If you buy a ticket to TGIF's Times Square New Year's Eve party, you can have the opportunity to exit the bar just before midnight, right onto the heart of Times Square, and then re-enter after the ball drops. $220pp+.
  • Madame Tussauds -- Spend your evening mingling with famous celebrities, sports figures and politicians, or at least with their wax likenesses... And if you're willing to drop some extra dough on these tickets, you can watch the ball drop from the museum's second floor which overlooks Times Square. $700pp. (Less $$ if you just want to hang at the venue and not have access to the overlook).
  • Dream Hotel -- Still pricey, but for less than Madame Tussauds' package, you can buy a ticket that will give you access to a top-floor lounge with views of Times Square. $495pp.  (Less $$ for venue access without view of Times Square). 
  • For more ideas on how to get tickets to New Year's Eve events in Times Square, so that you have a legitimate reason to be there, see here. There's a party for every budget! Re-entry is not guaranteed at most of these venues, but if your aim is to get to Times Square, you may be able to accomplish just that...
  • A friend's mom gave me the following idea, which I have not personally tried, but which I do trust, and which can save you at least a few hours of freezing outside: buy a ticket for a movie at one of the major movie theaters in Times Square -- either AMC Empire 25 or Regal E-Walk Stadium 13 -- make sure to show your movie ticket to police at showtime, and when the movie ends, walk right out onto prime Times Square area. Although the movies at AMC end pretty early in the day, with the last movies beginning at 3pm, Regal has at least one movie beginning at 6pm on December 31. In other words, you can have food/drink/bathroom access with a Regal movie ticket until at least 8pm in Times Square... 
  • Finally, a few years ago, Caroline's, a top-rated comedy club on Broadway, had a special for New Year's Eve where patrons could have the opportunity to come to a late-night comedy show and then spill out onto Times Square just before the ball dropped. It's not clear from their website whether or not Caroline's still offers this. Contact the club directly for details. 
One last side note: I randomly found this event, "Times Scare," while Googling Times Square activities (and I realized it also appears on the link above). It does not appear that the event will offer an actual viewing of the Times Square ball drop (besides on live TV), but it just seems like a super cool idea -- a 6-hour open-bar Halloween-themed haunted masquerade party, and there's even a magic show! 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A True "Nightmare (Before Christmas)" Comes to Life on the Lower East Side

The creators of the critically acclaimed "Nightmare" themed haunted houses (as described in WGINY's Halloween suggestions post) are at it again. Not even two months past the thrills and chills of Halloween, the creative team behind Nightmare brought back, and significantly expanded, a popular nightmarish attraction for a limited time--"The Experiment," originally developed in conjunction with Nightmare's 2011 "Fairy Tales" haunted house, is a 50-minute off-Broadway show where every audience member is a potential, no, a probable, subject.

The show at "Los Kabayitos Laboratorio" ran from December 9-23. Although WGINY did not get to experience "The Experiment" until the night before it closed, I still felt it deserved some recognition here, and by way of this review, I hope that the creators are encouraged to develop more attractions like this, and/or re-open this show for a longer engagement.

According to the creators, "[s]tudies have shown that the anxiety of the holiday season, coupled with seasonal depression, heightens the neurotransmitters associated with feelings of fear," and "The Experiment" exploits "those levels of fear for an adrenaline rushing 50 minutes of twisted holiday pleasure."

This "Nightmare (Before Christmas)" was no kids' show. Rather, the very limits of participants' fears were tested and re-tested in a small, poorly lit lab, controlled by two rather mad scientists. Those who did not do as these stern scientists said, found themselves relegated to a special corner reserved for cowards (and anyone with food or animal allergies was advised to tell the experimenters at the beginning of the show...). Every moment kept the audience on the edge of their seats, or cuddled up in their friends' seats, afraid of what might happen next. If you've ever seen TV's "Fear Factor," then you may have some idea of what audience members experienced during "The Experiment." What do you fear? Pain? The dark? Humiliation? Large flying cockroaches that enjoy burrowing into their prey? Ten tests conducted by the scientists explored these fears and more, using participants from the audience as test subjects.

I definitely left this show with the heebie-jeebies, and a paranoid feeling all the way home that someone, or something, was watching me. Even as I type this, my mind reverts back to the fear I experienced at this show just two nights ago, of the terrifying and revolting things I saw (and didn't see...) that made me cower and cringe.

Glancing at the time now, it looks as though this will post just in time to actually be up the night before Christmas... so, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. Mwuahahahaha....

Friday, December 16, 2011

WGINY on Vacation

WGINY is leaving this suddenly cold New York weather for sunnier skies. Look for new posts at the end of December.

Meanwhile, my music enthusiasts should check out these events:

Brooklyn Night Bazaar, December 15-17, at 149 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg. Tickets for James Murphy (of the late, great LCD Soundsystem...), Fucked Up, and The Hold Steady can be purchased here.

DJ Jonathan Toubin Benefit, Friday, December 16, at Brooklyn Bowl, featuring the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bear in Heaven, and more.

Parisian Favorite Comes to New York City

Saturday Evening Service at Le Relais de Venise NYC
Recently, upon the recommendation of a trusted co-worker and friend, I was excited to dine at
"Le Relais de Venise "L’Entrecôte", a Parisian restaurant she had first stumbled upon while traveling in Europe. She told me of how an extravagantly long line and the fierce aroma of fresh steak drew her in to the restaurant's original location in Paris. When she learned of a new New York branch, she did not dare dream that it could hold a candle to the original, but she found that it was just as hearty and fulfilling. Of course, WGINY had to give it a try... 

First Course = Salad 

The handful of worldwide locations of "L’Entrecôte," as it is often referred to, all have no menu. No menu is necessary as the only meal served is steak and frites. As soon as you walk into the New York branch, your senses are overpowered by the satiating scent of sizzling steak. (Don't worry vegetarians, there are some exceptions made for you...). Your first course is a simple salad mixed with walnuts and topped with a mustard-vinaigrette dressing that has just enough kick to keep it interesting. 

"Steak and Frites"
At some point, a waitress, who is most likely a young, pretty female styled in "French Maid" attire, will visit your table and ask each member of your party how s/he likes his or her steak cooked. There are only three options -- rare, medium or well -- no in betweens allowed. Although the restaurant says that the main course of "steak and frites" is served in two portions, it is really more like one regular-sized plate of steak and frites followed by a very small second helping of steak and some more frites. Nevertheless, the steak is absolutely superb. Entrecôte is a French term meaning a "premium cut of beef" (Source: Wikipedia), and there is no doubt that this steak is of premium quality.

As you bite into each tender morsel of the sliced steak, what will really make you swoon is the "secret sauce." That's right, according to the restaurant's maitre'd, the sauce is made from a true secret recipe known to only four living persons in the world. I did try to ask a variety of waitresses if they could reveal any ingredients, but each one responded that she herself did not know how the sauce was made. Apparently, the base of the sauce for all for all of the restaurant locations is made in France, shipped out to the other branches, and then finally mixed fresh at each individual location. You will definitely want to lap this sauce up by the spoonful, even when the steak is all gone. It also makes a good dipping sauce for the frites, which, while served traditionally thin and crispy, could use a touch more salt and/or pepper. There is also homemade mustard on each table. Add a dollop to your steak every so often if you like things spicy.

Wine and Coffee Bar 
While enjoying your meal, be sure to also check out the wine list. Although the options are fairly limited, each bottle has been chosen to pair perfectly with your dinner, and since full bottles start at only $23.95, there is no excuse not to order one.

Finally, you will also want to peruse the 16 or so dessert options to round out your Parisian dining experience. If you don't speak French, call over a waitress to describe the desserts for you, as the printed list does not include English descriptions.

After much debate, my dining companions and I settled on two sweets -- a classic creme brulee, and what we were told was the house specialty, "Le Vacherin de Relais," a tower of meringue layered with vanilla and hazelnut ice cream, drowned in hot fudge and topped with whipped cream. The latter was actually a bit too rich for my tastes, but the creme brulee was divine. The caramelized top tasted like the crispy skin of a freshly roasted marshmallow, and the thick, sweet cream underneath the sugar-coated top was heavenly.

I can honestly say that my friend's recommendation for Le Relais de Venise "L’Entrecôte" was spot on. I enjoyed a wonderful, fun meal in an atmosphere that sought to transport me to Paris from the moment I arrived. 

Note that "L’Entrecôte" does not accept reservations, so plan accordingly. The New York branch of Le Relais de Venise "L’Entrecôte" is located at the corner of Lexington Avenue and 57th Street. A full meal of salad and two portions of steak and steak and frites costs $25.95 per person. Drink and dessert options can be found here

Thursday, December 8, 2011

New AMNH Exhibit Asks, "Are We Going Where No Man Has Gone Before?"

"For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon, and to the planets beyond." - John F. Kennedy, 1962 

The latest exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History ("AMNH"), "Beyond Planet Earth: The Future of Space Exploration," is, quite literally, a stellar experience. After attending "Cinema and Space," a presentation by the exhibit's curator, astrophysicist, Dr. Michael Shara, I was extremely eager to visit "Beyond Planet Earth," to explore what might be "humanity's next steps in space."

I had the opportunity to journey through the exhibit this past weekend, and it was awesome ride.

  • Did you know that between 1969 and 1972, there were 6 successful manned missions to the moon (all American...), but that no human has landed on the moon since 1972? 
  • How about that, in just the first four months it was operational, the Kepler telescope located more than 1,000 stars in our Solar System that appear to have at least one planet in orbit, some of which may be capable of sustaining life? (Don't miss the beaming "exoplanet" hologram at the end of the exhibit...) 
  • Or that the Hubble telescope has captured images of galaxies as far as 13.1 billion light years away, nearly as old as the Universe itself, and which may provide vital information about the Universe's origin?

"Beyond Planet Earth" takes these and similar inquiries and makes them accessible and interesting for museum-goers of all ages. After briefly examining the recent history of space exploration, including models of "Sputnik," the first satellite ever launched into space (by the former Soviet Union in 1957), and a robotic Mars "rover"(launched by the U.S. in 2004), the exhibit hones in on a not-so-distant future where we may once again send a manned mission to the moon, and may even travel to Mars, to Europa (an icy moon of Jupiter thought to have a salty ocean flowing just beneath its surface), or to a near-Earth asteroid (which, if rich in precious metals or other resources, may provide abundant mining opportunities).

Model of rover, "Curiosity," that will leave Earth in late 2011 and is expected to reach Mars in 2012.
Its primary mission is to search for signs of life.
I was most excited by one of the simplest premises presented during the exhibit: water = life. On Earth, it is beyond a doubt that wherever there is water, there is life. Does the same hold true beyond our planet? If so, then must moons like Europa, or even the areas around the polar ice caps of Earth's own moon, be viable breeding grounds for life in some form? Was there once flowing water on Mars and, if so, was there life there as well? As you move along the exhibit, you will learn how, as we wait for humanity to develop the technology that will guide future manned missions in search of this knowledge, robots have already explored every planet in our Solar System. At least one robot was even sent into space carrying messages in 55 languages, just in case it ever made contact with any intelligent life forms.

You will also learn why establishing a base on Earth's moon, where scientists can work and live, may be crucial to expanding human space exploration, as a lunar base could essentially serve as a launch-pad for exploring outer space. A fantastic, detailed mock up of what a lunar base might look like is all part of your tour as you continue your journey Beyond Planet Earth. Pause here and, as the display suggests,  just imagine the magnificent, unobstructed views of the Universe one might see standing on the moon.

Mock Up of a Lunar Base at "Shackelton Center," a Crater Near the Moon's South Pole.
(Earth is visible in the distance)
If traveling to the moon isn't enough for you, make sure to stop and evaluate whether you "have what it takes" to spend 6-9 months living on a ship bound for Mars, as scientists estimate that just a one-way trip from Earth would take the better part of a year. Through inventive dioramas coupled with a "Mars Personality Test," you can discover how well you might survive (or not survive) such a journey.

In fact, as is typical of special exhibitions at AMNH, the "Beyond Planet Earth" exhibit is full of interactive media. You can smell the moon (or at least get whiff of moon rock), hear historic sentiments by John F. Kennedy and Neil Armstrong, terraform a barren planet (which is a way to make a planet more "Earth-like," essentially by creating a viable ecosystem), deflect an asteroid from a collision course with Earth, and explore Mars. Make sure to look up, down and all around as the exhibit's curators have really created another world within this contained space, complete with a lunar elevator, a Martian surface, asteroids and other celestial objects and modes of exploration.

Getting the Feel for a Not-So-Futuristic Space Suit on "Mars"
"Beyond Planet Earth" challenges us to consider whether we are really alone in the Universe, and where the future of humanity may be headed. Could we colonize any of the "exoplanets" identified by Kepler? And if we could, should we? Visit this special exhibition and find the answers for yourself. 

Timed-entry tickets are available here. Allow approximately 2 hours to explore the exhibit, which runs through August 19, 2012. If you have an iPhone or iPad, download this special app before you go. 

Further reading: Just two days after I visited the exhibit, and obviously too late to be included, NASA publicly announced that Kepler had located a potentially Earth-like planet "in the habitable zone of a sun-like star," meaning that the planet might actually contain water. A "mere" 600 light years away, "Kepler-22b" is 2.4 times the size of Earth (apparently the smallest planet yet found orbiting any "habitable zone") and takes approximately 290 days to make a full orbit around its star. The planet may also have Earth-like temperatures. Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist at AMNH, explains during an interview with why this may be the "Holy Grail" of discoveries. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pioneer One: Season One Finale Screening Tonight

It's finally here -- the long-awaited finale of the debut season of "Pioneer One," and you can see it first, as the series' sixth episode (and yes, the final one of the season) premieres tonight at Anthonoly Film Archives, at 32 2nd Avenue. As I explained when WGINY initially covered this new, rivteing viewer-supported web/torrent "science faction" series, "Pioneer One" is a fresh, fun and original show. The five episodes that have aired so far have created an exciting story that explores humanity, morality, and xenophobia, of a sort, in the context of modern-day heightened national security fears and waxing and waning U.S. international relations policies. The theme of the series centers on the possibilty that, decades ago, at the height of the international "Space Race," the former Soviet Union sent two cosmonauts to Mars, who have been living on the planet ever since, and may have recently sent something (or, in actuality, someone...) back to Earth.

You can catch a FREE screening of what I can only imagine will be a gripping season finale of "Pioneer One" at Anthology Film at 9pm tonight. Make sure to reserve your ticket(s) here and/or find more info here. There is also a 7:30pm showing, but reservations for the earlier show have reached capacity. Doors open at 7pm and a reception will follow the first screening in the lobby.