Monday, December 30, 2013

Last Chance for New Year's Eve Parties!

We're less than 48 hours out from New Year's Eve 2013/2014 and I'm guessing there are still some last-minute stragglers out there who haven't yet firmed up their plans. Well, there's no time like the present. Don't wait until next year! Or do, with 12:30am tickets now available at many venues:

Many parties are already sold out, but there are still some VIP options, door tickets available, and post-midnight entries. Some New Year's Eve cruises and Times Square lounges, attractions and clubs still have tickets. Pubcrawl.com's New Year's Eve Pub Crawl is still available. And the posh parties thrown by "Best New Year's" have various ticket levels still open, as well as several 12:30am entry ticket options. Toshi's Living Room has sold out for advance tickets, but you can still pay at the door or purchase 12:30am entry tickets online, which include a 2-hour open bar.

Whatever you do, have a safe and fun night and see you in 2014!

Previous WGINY New Year's Eve 2013 posts: 
New Year's Eve Party Updates
Where to Celebrate New Year's Eve

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Spotlight on Blesset Unrest and the Innovative Theatre Awards.

The New York Innovative Theatre Awards celebrates "Off-Off Broadway" theatre by recognizing the excellence of artists working in these productions. You can read more about the mission of the "IT Awards" here, and learn about current productions here. As a show wraps up a season of performances, voting for that show for the IT Awards closes. I recently saw Blessed Unrest's production of A Christmas Carol, and I took a few minutes today to cast a ballot for that performance, giving especially high marks for choreography, ensemble performance and outstanding actors. Here's why.

Founded by Artistic Director, Jessica Burr, Blessed Unrest has been challenging theatrical norms since 2000 with a wealth of productions that often emphasize ensemble casts and physical theater. In A Christmas Carol, just six actors played thirty-seven characters as they led you through a very unusual journey with Scrooge (played by Damen Scranton) and his spirits of Christmas past (played by Sora Baek), present and future (both played by Ensemble members).

The basics of the story remained unchanged -- Scrooge was a miser who could never see further than his own nose, even when it came to the holidays and especially when it came to his own employees, such as his poor clerk, Bob Cratchit (played by Nathan Richard Wagner). Then suddenly he is shown the err of his ways by the Christmas spirits. However, Blessed Unrest's unique and imaginative take on this classic tale had me impressed by the ability of the cast to move so fluidly together in motion, dance and gymnastics in often farcical synergy. Together, the Blessed Unrest cast made me feel moments of merriment and moments of sorrow as they moved towards the valuable moral of the story. The minimalist scenery, mostly a variety of old trunks and doors, was used in unique ways and added to the ideals of the stark contrast of wealth and poverty presented by the performers.

Damen Scranton, the only actor to maintain the same role throughout the show, played a stoic Ebenezer Scrooge, whose character quickly became tragically appealing to the audience. Joshua Wynter, who played Scrooge's deceased former business partner, Jacob Marley, among other characters, first stepped onto the stage in stilts as Marley's imposing ghost. Wynter could walk on those stilts like he was born on them as he presented a poignant message for "Scrooge." From there, the show moved on to a touching portrayal of Scrooge's last memories of his deceased sister, Fan (played by Jessi Blue Gormezano), and onward through Scrooge's isolated life and interactions with others, or lack thereof. A Christmas Carol was peppered with comedic scenes, such as a party hosted by the lively Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig (played by Wynter and Wagner, respectively), and pitiful ones, such as Scrooge watching his former beau, Belle (played by Tatyana Kot), enraptured with another. The show left me with a tear, even as it left me with a warm and jovial heart.

A Christmas Carol ran from December 5-22 and voting for the IT Awards ends for this show TODAY. I look forward to what's in Blessed Unrest's future.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Warm Up With This Winter With Some Cajun Flair at Masq Restaurant and Lounge.

Spicy Jambalaya at Masq Restaurant and Lounge
Photo by WGINY
Every February or early March, travelers from around the world flock to New Orleans for the annual Mardis Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," festival. This past March, 2013, one restaurant decided to bring New Orleans to New York. WGINY had the opportunity to sample dishes at Masq Restaurant and Lounge at a press dinner last week, and left feeling warm and satisfied.

Masq's Lounge
Photo Courtesy of Masq
Though the decor at Masq lends itself toward a fanciful New Orleans masquerade, as the name suggests, don't come here expecting beads (except perhaps on New Year's Eve, see below...). The restaurant is actually a cozy floor-through that maintains the semblance of a Cajun bistro while remaining residential enough to resemble a close relative or intimate friend's home you've just been invited to for dinner. In fact, owners George and Nora Chaprastian searched antique shops "up and down the East Coast" for furnishings and accessories that would make the restaurant seem more homey. In addition to the antiques, there are also some eye-catching, custom-designed elaborations, such as the horseshoe shaped bar at Masq's entrance, or the avant garde masquerade mural towards the back of the restaurant.





Asian Marinated Salmon
Photo by WGINY
Masq's main fare is "New American with New Orleans flair," but the menus actually present an international cuisine, with New American and New Orleans inspirations, among others. One of the most surprising dishes I tried was an Asian Marinated Salmon. I've never been a salmon fan, but Masq's presentation persuaded me to move outside of my comfort zone and try something new. I'm glad I did. The sweet marinade, a honey garlic soy sauce, really made this dish shine. It also helped that the salmon itself was not overtly "fishy," but rather as appealing and appetizing as a tender steak. According to Executive Chef, Marc Getzelman, who is also a co-owner, the marinade was a "happy accident" that resulted from trying to reduce salt while preparing the salmon recipe.

Shrimp Po'Boy
Photo by WGINY
Even the more typical New Orleans dishes at Masq tended to have a unique twist. The jambalaya, usually made to share, was topped with creamy goat cheese to "smooth out," Getzelman said, the fiery kick of the hot Andouille sausage. A cajun shrimp po'boy and mac 'n cheese croquettes were both served with a spicy remoulade that rounded out those fried sensations without overpowering the taste. For a lighter flavor, we also had prosciutto fig flatbread, which was a rich reminder that there's no such thing as too much cheese. Covered with large slices of prosciutto, goat cheese, and shaved pecorino romano, there's so much going on that you don't even taste the flatbread, but you'll savor the savory blend nonetheless. Although I didn't get to try the Maryland crab cakes, I'm told it's one of the more popular dishes and that even guests from Maryland will swear that the crab cakes prepared at Masq are better than those at restaurants back home. Apparently some Southerners have also said this about the jambalaya. The menu is always a work in progress so make sure to speak up about what you like, and anything you don't. The chef takes your comments seriously and several former daily specials have become featured menu items. Look for a crawfish dish to make an appearance on Masq's main menu in the very near future.

Custom-Made Horseshoe Shaped Bar
Photo Courtesy of Masq
Of course, no good meal is complete without drinks, and there's no shortage of alcohol where a restaurant with Fat Tuesday roots is concerned. Seasonal cocktails rotate often at Masq, and some Fall and Winter favorites featured hints of pumpkin, apple, and pecan pie. You can also ask your server to suggest wine pairings to complement your meal. I enjoyed a white wine blend paired with the flatbread, "Le Tre Uve 2011 Bianco Di Valpanera Blend," which was a light Italian wine comprised of Chardonnay, Sauvingon and Verduzzo Friulano, and later a full-bodied Argentinian Malbec, "Alamos 2012," which paired richly with the jambalaya.

Masq Restaurant and Lounge is located at 309 E. 49th Street, between 1st & 2nd Aves, in Midtown East. Masq is open for both lunch and dinner, and you'll find happy hour specials at the bar from 4pm-8pm. In true New Orleans fashion, the restaurant closes for rest on Sundays.


Upcoming at Masq: A New Year's Eve masquerade for $80 in advance or $90 at the door includes a 5-hour open bar, 2 hours of some of Masq's best appetizers (buffet-style), live music, party favors, and a midnight champagne toast as the ball drop is broadcast on flatscreen TVs around the restaurant. After you ring in the new year, return on January 8 for the 2014 kickoff of Masq's Spotlight Lounge Music Series, when the restaurant transforms into a coffehouse scene with singer-songwriters taking the stage.

Masq's Private Party Room
Photo by WGINY
For private events, there is a party room in the back, designed to look like a sitting room, and maintaining the residential quality of the restaurant, with antique furniture, mirrors and other interesting pieces. The party room can hold approximately 45 guests. If you have a larger party, arrangements can be made to rent out the entire restaurant.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Unofficial Google+ Film Festival Goes Global

By Tami Shaloum

The third annual Unofficial Google+ Film Festival, which took place December 13-15, has concluded but viewers can still watch the nearly 80 short films and web series online. The festival was truly a global event, taking place through a series of live screenings and panels made viewable on Google Hangouts in locations as varied as London, Singapore, New Zealand, Mexico, and New York City. In addition, the festival brought together filmmakers from 23 countries around the world.

WGINY had the opportunity to attend the live event in New York at Katra, a Middle Eastern restaurant and lounge in the lower east side. The eight films screened were from Film Block 4, representing filmmakers from the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Of particular note are “Unplugged,” a visually unique, pro-nature animated film; “Love Squirts,” an ├╝ber-short comedy that explores the fine art of zit-popping; “The Story of an Egg,” a documentary about the real meaning of terms such as “free range” and “cage free;” and “Los Santos (The Saints),” a comedy about a couple of inept kidnappers and the three couples they mistakenly detain.

The discussion afterward took place on Google Hangouts with some of the filmmakers and actors live in New York or streamed live on screen. Some film students from a university in Tijuana, Mexico were also in virtual attendance. It was interesting to see the way Hangouts was used to facilitate a Q&A. With only a few minor technical glitches, the conversation seemed to run smoothly. Some of the topics discussed included the number of submissions (500), the veracity of the mockumentary “Fished Out: The Truth Behind Lionfish Addiction” (inconclusive, as the filmmakers were playfully ambiguous), and the conceptualization of some of the films: “La Comida (The Meal),” “Fuck You, Lucy Pickens (The Orientation),” and “The Wood House.”

It’s nice to see some younger, newer filmmakers getting recognized for their work. Events like this really help to celebrate the diversity and creativity of film.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

New Year's Eve Party Updates

We're just about two weeks out from New Year's Eve and What's Good in New York continues to bring you updates on the hottest parties. 

Looking for some chic, festive revelry with a unique combination of live music (9 piece orchestra) and DJ? Check out the NYE Gala Party at Toshi's Living Room. Open bar, appetizers and midnight champagne toast are included. WGINY readers may get a special discount via promo code "earlytoshi," while supplies last. 

Have an appetite for an adventure at sea? Try a New Year's Eve cruise with dinner and dancing. With the New York City skyline behind you and fireworks above you, you've never seen New York on New Year's quite like this. 

Focusing on Times Square? Check out these Balldrop.com events. Enjoy the magic of Times Square while you bowl at Frames, play arcade games at Dave and Busters, catch a movie at AMC Theaters, or dine, dance and drink the night away at a host of neighborhood clubs and restaurants. Some packages include exclusive access to balconies and terraces where you can watch the ball drop while avoiding the large crowds in the streets below. 

Seeking a world-class nightclub or luxury lounge with DJs that will rock your socks off? Best New Year's has a party for you and every New Year's Eve package includes open bar. 

Not the nightclub type? Kick back at a local pub, or try several in one night with a PubCrawls.com package.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse: An Intimate, VIP Music and Culinary Venue Designed Exclusively For You.

There's something intriguing at the corner of 26th & Broadway. If you've passed by this corner in the past two or so years, you've probably noticed the big picture windows looking in on an alluring lounge with live music endlessly reverberating through the glass walls. What you're glimpsing is a taste of Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse, a chic, modern take on what could be a prohibition era music club, except there's definitely alcohol available here.

Pop/Rock/Hip-Hop Band "Hello Brooklyn" is Kinetic at Toshi's Living Room
Despite the large open windows, step inside Toshi's and you will instantly feel whisked away into an intimate, VIP music and culinary venue designed exclusively for you. Toshi's Living Room really aims to embody its name, as an inviting space where you can feel like family yet be treated like royalty. Although owner Toshi's venue is part of his larger, luxurious Flatiron Hotel, this is unlike any hotel bar you've ever experienced, and to even call it a "hotel bar" does it no justice. With eclectic live music nightly and a hip crowd that often includes proprietor Robert "Toshi" Chan himself, and his dog Ponzu, Toshi's Living Room has real character and soul, with just the right amount of kitsch, to strike at your heart.

Whatever musical stylings you prefer, Toshi's has a show for you, often two shows in one night, mixing genres such as rock, pop, jazz, funk, motown, soul, acoustic, indie, dance, hip-hop and anything else you can envision. Come for a jazz show such as modern jazz vocalist Melanie Marod, who can scat like she was born for it, and enjoy dinner while her mellow music compliments your meal. While the volume of an early evening jazz show is kept at a low enough level for patrons to carry on conversation, the performer still remains the focus of the room.

Dance the Night Away to Radiant Rock, Pop, Jazz and  Other Musical Stylings
Later in the evenings, find a radiant rock or pop band, such as Brooklyn-based cover band, Hello Brooklyn, whose lead singers, Liz Reagan and Ray Ramos blew me away at a recent Toshi's Living Room show with their talented versatility and their come hither ability to draw dancers to the aisles. Even Toshi couldn't escape the charisma, as I glimpsed him grooving in his seat. The vibrant and captivating female lead, Liz Regan, was cheeky yet magnetic as she fluently covered tunes from Amy Winehouse to Adele, Bon Jovi, and Sublime, and Rihanna to Cee Lo Green, Guns N' Roses and Daft Punk, while the breakout rap and rock genius of Ray Ramos, kept the band's set fresh and interesting. I was excited to learn that, beginning January 9, 2014, Hello Brooklyn will be playing a weekly Thursday night show at Toshi's Living Room.

Not surprisingly, music isn't the only reason to visit Toshi's. Come dine on the "Food of Love," imbibe some "Glasses of Happiness," or try the seasonal, rotating menu of cuisine and cocktails. Although there's never a cover for music, be prepared to pay premium prices for beverages, and rightly so for the exclusive experience and entertainment value at Toshi's. Try the Mango Tango, a rum based drink crafted with a hint of mint and a fruity infusion of mango and lime, or consider ordering some wine from "Toshi Vineyards" Private Reserve.

Hungry? To start, enjoy the tangy Avocado Mango Ceviche, made with baby shrimp, calamari, and avocado and mango of course, but also mixed with a special blend of jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, onion and cherry tomato to create a delightfully piquant array of flavors. Crouch close to your plate with Ninja Calamari, a spicy, crispy brown appetizer that's big enough for 2-4 people to share, though with a palatable Wasabi/Togarashi seasoning, and sweet contrasting plum sauce, you may want to keep it all to yourself. With more than ten "small plate" options including an assortment of appetizers, salad, and focaccia, you may just find that you'll fill up on these as I did. However, Toshi's menu also offers enticing entrees available for even the most discerning diner, including beef, seafood and vegetarian options.

The "Living Room" Crowd Enjoys an Evening Out at Toshi's 
A mention must also be made of the elegant yet tasteful decor, and the mesmerizing aquarium centered between Toshi's Living Room and the entrance to the Flatiron Hotel. The aquarium is accompanied by an informative iPad where patrons can click to find information on the beautiful fish in Toshi's tank. Find out more about the colorful and unusual marine life such as "Bubbles the Kole Yellow Eye Tang," "Ramona the Remora," or "Zeus the Henichus Black & White Butterfly Fish." Get a better view of these fish from the mezzanine, where you can sit and let the bands play on in the background below you, or use the restroom facilities which are located on this level. From the lobby, head all the way upstairs to Toshi's Penthouse and overlook the iconic skyline that defines New York City.

What's even more impressive is that despite little to no advertising, rather growing a fan base by only word of mouth, it is a rare night that leaves Toshi's Living Room and Penthouse with empty seats. You would be hard-pressed to guess that this is "Toshi" Chan's first venture into the hotel/restaurant business. Read more about how Toshi's legendary parties gained him notoriety in New York before he opened up the Flatiron Hotel and its corresponding "Penthouse" and "Living Room." Aside from his business and mixology experience, the bulk of his background is as an artist and actor, a trait that helps him select the best of the best when it comes to performers who grace his stage. Though Toshi at times scours the city looking for new talent, for the most part these days emerging talent finds him, and new acts are free to submit to an audition. Changing acts are always being added to the lineup so check the Event Calendar for the most up-to-date information on performances.

Toshi is a purveyor of arts not just in the entertainment scene, but as a philanthropist as well. His toshiNow Foundation aims to introduce the arts to the youngest of New Yorkers, with music and art lessons, and scholarship opportunities for "tots, tweens and tweens." Learn about the toshiNow Mission, and look out for a fundraising event in early 2014.

Speaking of 2014, if you haven't yet found a place to party this New Year's Eve, Toshi's New Year's Eve Gala is certain to be a night of festive revelry that you won't soon forget. Separate events will be taking place at the Living Room and the Penthouse, but both parties will include live music, a 6 hour open bar, appetizers and a midnight champagne toast. Early bird prices may still be in effect if you act quickly.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fostering Change for Children Raises $11,000+ At Its Annual Holiday For Change Fundraiser.

Fostering Change for Children Co-Founder
April Dinwoodie Speaks at "Holiday for Change"
Last Wednesday, December 4, Fostering Change for Children held its 3rd Annual Holiday Fundraiser, "Holiday For Change," raising $11,000 for child welfare awareness and initiatives, and once again surpassing their target fundraising goal for the holiday fundraising event. Fostering Change for Children is a non-profit that works to improve the lives of children and families through programs such as Adoptment, a mentoring program that pairs adults who were formerly adopted or in the foster care system with children currently in foster care, and Children's Corps, a "Teach for America" style two-year work corps for social workers and caseworkers interested in child welfare and youth work.


Although this was Fostering Change for Children's 3rd Holiday Social, the organization celebrated the 10th Anniversary of its Adoptment program, originally realized by Fostering Change Co-Founder and Vice President of the Board, April Dinwoodie. This year's event honored long-time Board Member and Adoptment Mentor, Robert Chirlian, who was surrounded by at least three of his former mentees as he expressed both his gratitude for and dedication to this pioneering charity. Mr. Chirlian spoke of the holiday season and how, because of Fostering Change for Children, "instead of having nowhere to go this Thanksgiving," many of the children on whose behalf the organization works were able to share their holiday with family.

Fostering Change for Children also works to combat the high turnover rate for children's welfare workers in New York City. While the local child welfare system tends to yield a 60% retention rate, Children's Corps retains 87% of its child welfare workers annually. I had the opportunity to speak with several Children's Corps members, many of whom who raved about their experiences working "hands on" with children on a daily basis, most often in association with Family Court permanency proceedings. One thing was abundantly clear -- Children's Corps members have a passion for protecting and advocating for children's rights and wellbeing. Alana Mihovics, a student of both social work and law, noted that she had "looked at [the system] from both sides" and "found it interesting to consider ... ways to improve the system" via a more "holistic approach" as a Children's Corps member. The other common response from Corps members was a deep appreciation for the support system that the program offered them, often as young professionals just starting out in their careers. Miriam Kwietniewska, another Corps member, exclaimed that she "love[d] [her] job," could not have done it without the support of the Corps/Fostering Change for Children, and that she was "intrigued" by the genuineness of the field into which she was essentially thrust, and the "courageous people" she encountered within. Ms. Kwietniewska enjoyed working to keep children "safe and comfortable," with a goal of providing them with "some kind of loving environment." Typically, Corps members are recruited from various disciplines including social work, law, and psychology.

With over 400,000 children in foster care in the United States at any given time, Fostering Change for Children acts as a beacon of light for children in a confusing and murky system.  According to the organization's website, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Barry Chaffkin, LCSW "believes that every child deserves a safe and permanent family, and [he] has dedicated his life to finding new and creative ways to achieve this." Together, and with the support of their staff and board, Chaffkin and Dinwoodie have established an organization that takes hold of neverending opportunities to impact the lives of children and families.

This holiday season, consider donating to this worthy cause, or if you're looking for deeper involvement, become a Children's Corps member or an Adoptment mentor. And don't forget about their diverse training programs in the field of child welfare. There are so many ways to help.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Leslie DiNicola: Man, You Should Hear This Woman Sing.

By Heather K.
Edited by Lauren L. 


You may not know who Leslie DiNicola is yet, but man, you should hear this woman sing. In her three years on the “New York music scene,” she has already released three EPs, with a fourth album in the works for 2014.
Leslie DiNicola at Arlene's Grocery
With an all-male band backing her this past November, DiNicola played a weekly Saturday night residency at Arlene’s Grocery, a Lower East Side music venue that since 1995 has played host to upcoming rock, alternative and indie artists. Ever heard of a little band called “The Strokes”? They once had a residency at Arlene’s Grocery. 

Not every soprano can belt out Demi Lovato, Jewel, Journey, and Dolly Parton within minutes of each other, but Leslie DiNicola has got it down. Add to that a firm selection of emotive original music, and it becomes no secret that this girl is going places. DiNicola often pens her lyrics based on her own personal experiences, such as the touching song, “Weight,” about a friend who had passed away. 

Leslie DiNicola's special talent for rock ballads really shines on songs like Journey's "Separate Ways," a challenging song for any band to master, let alone a female vocalist, yet DiNicola achieves it with apparent ease and enduring devotion to the music that is evident from her presentation of it. Perhaps ironically then, her original music tends to evoke a lighter, earthier mood and a soulful style that you'll want to sing along to. 

Explore her music and discography here, and check her on January 8, 2014, at 7pm, at The Bowery Electric.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Where to Celebrate New Year's Eve 2014 in NYC

By Tami Shaloum with Contributions by Heather K.  

It’s almost New Year’s Eve, and instead of scratching your head wondering what you’re going to do this year, let What’s Good in NY bring you the scoop on the hottest parties around the city.

One unique option to welcome 2014 is a party cruise around Manhattan perfectly poised to view the fireworks display at midnight. NewYearsCruise.com offers 11 different yachts from which to choose. All cruises include dinner, dancing, an open bar, and spectacular views of New York City, with complete packages starting at only $125. The Hornblower Infinity and Cornucopia Majesty are two yachts that also include a champagne toast at midnight, the perfect setting for that special night you’ve always dreamed of. Other boats include the rock n’ roll-themed Lucille Yacht and several family-friendly options. Get the best deals on cruises by booking online at http://whatsgoodinny.ievents.com/type:cruise/new-york/new-york, and use code WGINY5 to receive 5% off any New Year's Eve cruise. 

BallDrop.com brings you all the nightclubs, restaurants, bars, lounges, hotels, and other unique venues around Times Square that are hosting NYE parties. For an 80s throwback, try the Culture Club. General admission includes a 5-hour open bar, four floors of DJs, party favors, and a champagne toast at midnight. Two other playful options are Frames Bowling Lounge and Bowlmor, featuring bowling, a buffet, DJs, and an open bar. Lucky Cheng’s offers fun, interactive drag performers, passed hors d’oeuvres, dancing, and an open bar. Many of the parties referenced in WGINY's Times Square New Year's Eve 2012 post can be found at BallDrop.com. Choose your New Year's Eve experience and buy your tickets at http://whatsgoodinny.ievents.com/type:new-years/new-york/new-york

If luxury nightclubs, lavish rooftops and exclusive VIP spots strike your fancy, you may be interested in some of the hippest parties around town from BestNewYears.com. Go for the bling at Stage 48, voted NYC's #1 New Year's Eve nightclub for 2014, get posh at the The DL's chic rooftop lounge, or cuddle up in a more intimate space at Union Square Ballroom, among other venues. General admission to any "Best New Year's" event comes with a 3-6 hour open bar, depending on venue, and tickets start as low as $75. Buy them at heatherk.bestnewyears.com/newyork

Maybe you'd rather not stick to one spot. PubCrawls.com has got your bar hopping needs covered with enough options to satisfy everyone in your party. Their official New Year's Eve Pub Crawl offers $3 draft beers and 2-for-1 mixed well drinks at participating venues. Your night begins at Bar None near Union Square and continues all the way into the wee hours. Pub Crawls tickets can also be purchased at http://whatsgoodinny.ievents.com/type:pub-crawl/new-york/new-york.