Thursday, January 19, 2012

Go "On Location" to Famous NYC TV and Movie Sites -- Whether You Have Lived Here Your Whole Life or Are Just Visiting for a Day!

Recognize this firehouse?

How about now?

"When was the last time you went "on location"? That's the motto of the only television and movie tour company in New York City, "On Location Tours."

Private "On Location Tours" Bus
WGINY recently had the opportunity to go behind the scenes with "On Location Tours" to visit NYC sites featured in popular movies and TV shows. Although I have lived in the New York metropolitan area nearly my entire life, I was quite impressed by the unique vantage point offered by the "On Location" tour, as I was whimsically guided through a city I thought I already knew.

During the approximately three to four hour Signature New York City TV and Movie Sites Tour, visitors and native-New Yorkers alike (I met at least three of the latter on our tour) were whisked away by a private, luxury coach bus, and taken on a movie-magical journey to discover NYC like they've never seen it before. We visited sites from movies such as "Breakfast at Tiffany's," the "Men in Black" franchise, "The Devil Wears Prada," "When Harry Met Sally," "Miss Congeniality," "Ghostbusters," "Serendipity," "August Rush," "Spider-man," "Superman," "Zoolander," "Scent of a Woman," "Kate & Leopold," and countless others. We also encountered sites where episodes of timeless sitcoms such as "Friends," "Seinfeld," "30 Rock," "Will & Grace," and "Sex and the City," have been filmed, as well as beloved dramas such as "Law and Order," and even those guilty pleasure shows you don't want to admit you watch, like "Gossip Girl," or "The Apprentice."

"I'll have what she's having..." became an oft-quoted line from "When Harry Met Sally" after a scene between Billy Crystal ("Harry") and Meg Ryan ("Sally") at Katz's Delicatessen.
The "Friends" apartment at Bedford and Grove

"I am Legend" fans may recognize these apartments...
"The Cosby Show's" Huxtable Residence
Throughout this exciting tour, our guide, Scott Bolohan, who, like the other six rotating guides that lead this tour, is an actor himself, also pointed out where certain celebrities resided around the city. We learned where stars like Bruce Willis, Renee Zellweger, Billy Crystal, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and others have their NYC digs. Bonus points were offered to anyone who actually spotted a "celeb" from the bus (although none of us did). As I learned on my tour, and as I also know from personal experience, it can sometimes be difficult to walk around neighborhoods like Midtown or TriBeCa without spotting someone famous. No stranger to the spotlight, our guide kept a comedic personality and showed off his expansive knowledge of random NYC movie and television facts (making sure to also point out each and every role he's played here...).

One of the best parts of the tour were the TV and movie clips that the guide played on the bus, to complement each site the tour came upon. It really gave the tour a special flavor to be able to watch, for example, Chris Reeves (as Superman), landing on Margot Kidder's terrace (Lois Lane) in the 1978 original, sensational "Superman," and then look up and see the very building "Ms. Lane" lived in towering above us, or to view clips from more modern movies like "Enchanted," in Central Park, or "I am Legend," in Madison Square Park, just as we passed these spaces. And while an enclosed bus might not be the very best way to see each of these sites (despite large, clear windows), our tour did literally stop to go "on location" five times -- in Greenwich Village, SoHo, TriBeCa, and twice in the West Village. Some of the many highlights of these stops were visiting the famed firehouse from "Ghostbusters," which remains a working firehouse to this day, hanging on the porch of the "Cosby" residence (Surprise!... it's not really in Brooklyn...), and standing outside the "Friends" apartment building.

Overall, the On Location Tour, which began at 11am, was a wonderful way to spend a morning and early afternoon. Even if you've never seen any of the movies or TV shows I've mentioned (which I would find highly unlikely...), at its core this tour provides a relaxed adventure through some of NYC's most historic landmarks. Any guidebook will note the popularity of iconic sites such as the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, the Flatiron Building, St. Patrick's Cathedral, F.A.O. Schwartz, Columbus Circle, as well as the many public parks the city thrives on -- Central Park, Washington Square Park, Bryant Park, and Madison Square Park, to name a few. The tour passed by all of these, and we were treated to the rich histories of each site, both on and off the screen, as well as given some tips for how to come back and visit these sites on our own (e.g. to go to the top of the Empire State Building).
St. Patrick's Cathedral is featured in "Spider-man"
Central Park's southwest entrance is featured in "Enchanted," and the park overall is the most filmed location in the world!
For just $42, this tour is a true steal, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to explore the city, especially, of course, if you do happen to be a TV or movie buff. **Special discount for WGINY readers: use promo code "TakeTwo" when you purchase your tickets online to save 10%**

On Location Tours also has other tours tailored to Brooklyn TV and Movie Sites, Central Park TV and Movie SitesSex and the City Hotspots, Sopranos Sites, and Gossip Girl Sites, or combine your "Signature" TV and Movie Sites tour with a visit to Madame Tussaud's or an NBC Studio Tour. After your tour ends, check your tour's "playbill" for tips on how to score free tickets to live tapings in NYC.

Never a dull moment in vibrant Washington Square Park.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pandora Presents: Portugal. The Man

"Pandora Presents: Portugal. The Man" at Bowery Ballroom
Internet radio sensation, Pandora, recently implemented yet another innovative way to bring music to the masses -- through live "courtesy" concerts geared towards Pandora listeners' preferences. Last night, WGINY attended the second installment of the new concert series, "Pandora Presents," and was treated to an intimate, and totally free, show by "Portugal. The Man" at the Bowery Ballroom.

Pandora Founder, Tim Westergren, Introduces the Show

These guitar-driven, percussion heavy purveyors of rock performed solidly for nearly two hours, and were full of energy, enthusiasm and jamming instrumental solos. So, what's the catch? That's the best part -- there is none! The Bowery Ballroom show was personally introduced by Pandora's founder, Tim Westergren, who described his dream that the "Portugal. The Man" show, and a prior "Dawes" show in Portland, Oregon, would be the first of many "Pandora Presents" concerts, with a goal of creating a "musicians middle class," increasing exposure of featured Pandora bands and making live music more accessible.

Pandora users who received an exclusive invite to the "Portugal. The Man" show included internet radio listeners who had "thumbed up" songs while listening, indicating that they liked similar tunes.

Admittedly, WGINY recently strayed from Pandora and has devoted much music discovery time to the cloud-like site of a competitor. (Thus, I received my "Pandora Presents" invite from a friend...). This type of marketing, however, may be just what Pandora needs to remain a fierce competitor in the wake of sophisticated cloud computing. As I write this, I have myself rediscovered my lost Pandora account. Feeling mellow at this particular moment, I decided to listen to my Okkervil River station, and was instantly reminded why this site has been such a huge success. When you use Pandora enough, it literally learns your tastes, playing songs it thinks you may like, by various artists, including some you may never have heard before. (Case in point -- I now plan to research Pedro The Lion, a band I previously had not heard of, which just came up on my Pandora radio. Just before and after that, my ears were pleased as Pandora pumped out tunes by Elliot SmithBand of Horses and Noah and the Whale for me).

Want to see "Portgual. The Man" before these Alaska-based boys embark on an Intercontinental tour? Tickets are available for a NYC show this Friday, January 20, at Brooklyn Bowl. (Note: The Brooklyn Bowl show is not affiliated with Pandora).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jewish Community, Heritage and Culture Come Alive at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

If you have already seen the quintessential NYC museums -- The Met, The MOMA, the Museum of Natural History -- and you are looking for something a little different, yet still quite captivating, head downtown to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, located at 36 Battery Place.

At the MJH, follow the timeline of Jewish history from the late 1800s through the present day as you make your way through the museum's three floors. Beginning on the first floor, step into a rotunda in which a vivid, nine-minute montage introduces Jewish life and culture to visitors. The museum's exhibits then continue, with the first floor examining Jewish life from 1800 to 1930, the second floor presenting the plight of European Jews between 1930 and 1945, and the third floor concluding with the Jewish experience since the end of World War II.

Your journey through this museum is sure to be an emotional one. On the first floor, feel the joy and awe of various Jewish customs and rituals surrounding family milestones such as a wedding or the birth of a child.  Learn how members of Jewish communities interacted with each other and cared for each other, as well as for their "Gentile" neighbors, and how the Jewish population grew and expanded worldwide between 1880 and 1930.

Prepare your tissues for the next floor, however, as you explore intolerance, hatred, Anti-Semitism and the plan for Jewish extermination in the wake of World War II.  Explore the sad truth about how many people, and even world leaders, closed their eyes, and their countries' proverbial gates, to the violent persecution of Jews in Europe in the years leading up to the war and throughout Adolf Hitler's Holocaust.

Nevertheless, despite the devastating experiences of the Jewish ghettos, kristallnacht, and the concentration and death camps, post-war Judaism persevered, and Jewish culture slowly began to thrive again.  On the museum's third floor, see how European Jews began to rebuild their lives.  Learn about the birth of the State of Israel, and come to understand how "the story of Jewish heritage continues ... guided by the same principles that existed before the war -- tradition, community, and justice." (Quote attributed to MJH's Visitor Guide).

The Museum of Jewish Heritage also has rotating special exhibitions.  Due to time constraints, WGINY was only able to explore one of three current exhibits, "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race," which focuses on the controversial practice of, and theories behind, eugenics, especially as it related to the preservation of the "Aryan Race" in the mid 1900s.  Fueled by racism, stereotypes, and pure ignorance, the idea of essentially weeding out all but one superior "Master Race" is chilling.  Make sure to see this exhibit soon, as it only runs through next Monday, January 16, 2012.

In order to have time to see all of the museum's permanent exhibits, as well as the current special exhibits, "Deadly Medicine," "Emma Lazarus: Poet of Exiles," and "Let My People Go! The Soviet Jewry Movement, 1967-1989," allow at least three hours.

The museum is easily accessible via public transportation.  Find information about tickets, including free Wednesday evening access, here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

You Won't Believe It's Tofu at Soy Restaurant!

If you're in the Lower East Side and searching for some fresh, healthy food that's good for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, swing by 102 Suffolk Street (between Delancey and Rivington) and pop into Japanese home-cooking restaurant, Soy. Don't walk too fast, or you just might miss this small, charming restaurant.

Interior of Soy
Able to comfortably seat about ten people, with a handful more at the counter, Soy features dishes made with, you guessed it, soybean, as well as tofu (which actually comes from soybean curds...). However, the menu doesn't stop there. Traditional Japanese homemade plates such as "Niku Jaga," a beef and potato dish (made with real beef...), and "Daizu Gohan," a soybean rice dish, are juxtaposed with comfort foods like croquettes, and inventive items such as edamame cheese rolls and, what is arguably the restaurant's most popular dish among LES residents and visitors, a spicy tuna and avocado bowl that is raved about on food-review sites such as yelp and menupages. Soy is consistently highly rated for both dine-in and neighborhood delivery.

My mouth salivating for the spicy tuna and avocado bowl before I even sat down, I knew I had to try it. Our waiter even expected as much, and guessed I would order the bowl before I could place my order. Thus, despite the title of this post, I actually didn't order any tofu... Glancing over at the specials board while waiting for our food, I wondered whether I should have taken a chance on something new and different, one of the soybean specialities perhaps, or one of the daily changing entrees, which on the day I dined at Soy included Miso Snapper and Garlic Chicken, but I had already placed my order. Nevertheless, my meal indeed left me smiling.

Spicy Tuna and Avocado Bowl at Soy
Served in a warm bowl and beginning with a bed of fluffy white sushi rice (although the restaurant does not actually serve any sushi, owing to the fact that sushi as Americans know it is not a dish many Japanese people cook at home...), followed by a bountiful serving of spicy tuna nestled on top of pieces of creamy avocado, I knew this dish would delight. If you try it, make sure to mix the items in the bowl together to really enjoy the tasty texture of the avocado and spicy tuna melting together in your mouth.

If you like the laid-back, green, tranquil atmosphere of cafes in New Paltz or [insert name of any hippie-college-town here], you'll love the vibe at Soy. The decor is quaintly adorable, if not a bit eccentric, and overall the restaurant/cafe has a very homey feel.

At the end of our meal, I still could not take my eyes off the specials board, and the interesting-sounding desserts like green tea cheesecake or the "I can't believe it's not tofu" pudding, but my dining companion and I had tickets for a show and couldn't stay. If you get to try some of these desserts, please leave a comment.

Daily Specials Board at Soy
Soy apparently goes even beyond just serving food, into the realm of pedagogy, offering Japanese cooking classes with themes such as "Soy Cooking for Clueless," "Everyone Loves Japanese Curry," and "Sushi Master." The three-hour evening classes are only $65 each, and they're limited to six students  to provide a very intimate experience (and, also because the kitchen is really small).

Soy is typically open Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 12pm-10pm, Saturdays from 5pm-10pm, and closed Wednesdays and Sundays. Delivery ends 30 minutes before closing time. Check Soy's website for updates, as the restaurant also tends to close on popular holidays like Christmas and New Year's.