Saturday, August 8, 2009

Going Back to School

I've written several posts about great free seminars around town - places that offer worthwhile one-night workshops or classes, but for those of you who are looking for a little more (such as homework, grades and even a degree), then read on. SUNY, CUNY or state schools are the way to go for serious learning with out shoveling out serious cash. Being a NY State resident allows you to attend these state schools for about a quarter of the price you would pay at a non-state school.

For the past five years I've taken various design courses through the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.). While not as fancy a name as Pratt, Parsons, SVA or NYU I've taken similar design courses through F.I.T. at a fraction of the cost. I've taken both semester-long, for-credit courses as well as non-credit, continuing-education courses through F.I.T. Usually one course will cost somewhere between $200 - $300. The semester-long, for-credit courses are your best deal, offering 15 full classes, graded assignments and final projects.

They have an array of class schedules (both for the credit and non-credit classes), enabling you to work a full time job and attend night classes. Conceivably you could slowly earn a degree if you took enough of the credit classes. The non-credit courses can be packaged and combined allowing you to earn various professional certifications.

There are also many other state schools around town, though I have only attended courses at F.I.T. The teachers are great and very knowledgeable and it has always been a good investment of my $250. F.I.T. is located on 7th Ave. between 28th and 26th streets.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Around the World without Leaving Manhattan

Of course New York has its high end gourmet restaurants with celebrity chefs, but what really makes this city the food capital of the world is that it offers hundreds of ethnic cuisines from around the world. The fact that it is not uncommon enjoy Moroccan, Ukranian and Peruvian dishes - all within a 2-block radius - makes dining in New York unparalleled.

Although not exhaustive and in no particular order, below is my list of some of my favorite ethnic eats:

RESTAURANT: Zum Schneider
ADDRESS: On the corner of 7th Street and Ave. C
NOTES: Tastiest, heartiest German food I've found. Pair with a good beer.

ADDRESS: 1239 Amsterdam Ave at 121st Street
NOTES: Though not a vegetarian restaurant, their vegetable-special dishes - such as chick peas simmered in butter and garlic, or pumpkin with rosemary and berbere - are delicious! Be sure to go with clean hands.

RESTAURANT: The Hummus Place
ADDRESS: St. Marks Place between 1st and Ave. A, and other locations.
NOTES: Simple, healthy, inexpensive and tasty. The hummus is excellent. Try a side of the health salad with your hummus dish and wash it down with a cold glass of their lemonade with fresh mint.

ADDRESS: 14 Stuyvesant St (which is really 9th Street at 3rd Ave)
NOTES: Good value - quality Japanese food at reasonable prices.

JAPANESE (for Sushi)
ADDRESS: 3rd Ave, between 34th and 35th Street
NOTES: Excellent sushi you can afford. Why pay more at Nobu?

ADDRESS: 47 Bond Street, between Lafayette and Bowery
NOTES: Though not on the cheap end, Il Buco has the best Italian food I've tried in the City. Atmosphere is also excellent. Good place to take your date.

ITALIAN (on the cheaper end)
ADDRESS: 130 Mulberry Street at Hester, in Little Italy
NOTES: Better than many of the other restaurants in Little Italy, nice outdoor seating and good prices.

ADDRESS: 6th Street between 2nd Ave and 1st Ave
NOTES: Nestled among the Indian restaurants of "Brick Lane," Zerza has delicious Moroccan fare, a cross of something between French and Middle Eastern.

ADDRESS: 34th Street between 2nd Ave. and 3rd Ave.
NOTES: Big servings, good prices and tasty (if greasy) food. Great takeout food for a party.

Below are my three picks for Indian. Also for more info on Indian, read post "Curry Hill vs. Brick Lane"

ADDRESS: 6th Street at 1st Ave.

ADDRESS: 6th Street between 2nd Ave and 1st Ave (closer to 1st Ave.)

ADDRESS: 27th and Lexington

RESTAURANT: Caracas Arepa Bar
ADDRESS: 7th Street between 1st Ave. and Ave. A
NOTES: The place is SMALL, so crowds are always a problem, but it is worth the wait for these delicious arepas. And it is so cheap too!

RESTAURANT: Shanghai Cuisine
ADDRESS: 89 Bayard Street at Mullberry
NOTES: For good Chinese, of course head down to Chinatown. Try their soup dumplings. Yum!

CHINESE (for Dim Sum)
RESTAURANT: The Golden Unicorn
ADDRESS: 18 East Broadway, at Catherine Street
NOTES: If you live in New York and have not tried a weekend brunch at a dim sum joint, I shake my head at you. Go now. Try The Golden Unicorn. If you don't speak Chinese there is a bit of a language barrier, but don't let that stop you. Just point to trays as they roll by and ask to see what's inside before you accept.

RESTAURANT: Mexicana Mama
ADDRESS: Hudson Street at 10th Street
NOTES: Some of the freshest and most flavorful Mexican dishes I've tried. Try their Tostada de Ave as an appetizer.

RESTAURANT: Rosa Mexicana
ADDRESS: 18th Street between 5th Ave and Broadway, and other locations
NOTES: Not the cheapest, but certainly delicious!

ADDRESS: 2nd Ave. at 9th Street
NOTES: Try their pierogis (boiled, not fried!)

ADDRESS: 85 Baxter Street, in Chinatown
NOTES: Hard to find, and minimal atmosphere, but very good (and cheap) authentic Vietnamese food.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Have I Got A Bridge to Sell You!

It may not be as well known as its older sister, the Brooklyn Bridge, but the Manhattan Bridge also offers great city views and an interesting 15 minute walk-across. In fact, one could argue that the Manhattan Bridge can boast the superior view because it offers the walker a stunning view of the Brooklyn Bridge against downtown Manhattan.

Walking across this bridge last week the thing that I found the most exciting is the birds-eye views of Chinatown and the Lower East Side before the bridge even rises above the the East River. The Manhattan Bridge picks up relatively far inland - at Bowery and Canal in the heart of Chinatown. This makes for some great voyeuristic sightseeing as you get to peer into the windows, rooftops and colorful streets of Chinatown below.

Continuing on you are then treated to the aforementioned views of lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge as you stand above the East River. On the Brooklyn side you get the parallel pleasure of peering down over DUMBO. Note the difference in character of the neighborhoods on each side of the water.

The one downside that I must mention is the constant noise of car traffic and subway trains that share the bridge with pedestrians. Unlike the Brooklyn Bridge, where there is a bike and foot path above the cars, on the Manhattan Bridge the cars, subway and walkers traverse in relatively close quarters on the same level. So bring earplugs if you must, but don't miss this bridge less traveled.

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Highline

PHOTO BY Lindsay Kurz

Bursting on to the scene at the turn of the century (that's the recent turn of the century, folks) the Meatpacking District was just too cool. With trendy clothing boutiques and faux dive bars popping up next door to every meat packaging house left, the turn around was so quick one wondered whether the lingering smell of beef carcasses was supposed to be part of the ambiance.

The Meatpacking District today is still, of course, cool, but not like it was seven or eight years ago. The darling of the neighborhood, the Chelsea Market is still visited but it is not talked about as much as it once was. Evidence of this slowdown in hype is the simple fact that the meatpacking operations were not completely "gentrified-out," as you will notice if ever you visit the area in the early mornings and stumble across the refrigerated vans unloading their goods.

However, this summer the Meatpacking District is cool again. With the opening of the much-anticipated (semi-urban-legend) Highline last month, the buzz is again re-focused on this neighborhood. (On the opening weekend in June the queue to see the Highline stretched around the block).

In keeping with the neighborhood's self image, the Highline is an exhibit in sleek lines, steel and concrete and a capricious pattern of gardens. Not wanting to be mistaken as trying to hard, the garden colors are variations on lavender, sage and white, making the statement that its design does not need to rely on flashy, overly-saturated flowers for effect. The vegetation almost feels alpine, with aspen trees and grasses, - giving the effect of a Colorado ski resort in the springtime.

The Highline currently stretches from Gansevoort street to 20th Street (above 10th Ave.) Along the way the elevated path swerves left and right and even meanders through a newly constructed apartment building. With views of the Hudson River to the west and the neighborhood streets below, you'll have to admit that indeed, this is cool.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Art of the Book

A peek into the studios at The Center for Book ArtsThe storefront of Printed Matter, Inc.

I love books. And I also love art. And, like peanut butter and chocolate, when books and art cross it makes for something even better! Think illuminated manuscripts, graphic novels, illustrated diaries, sketchbooks. . . there is something very appealing about the the combination of the written word and graphics. As well as I like the succinct presentation of art in a bound codex, allowing the viewer/reader to flip through pages, discovering multiple levels of art within one piece.

In today's post I am happy to introduce two places in Manhattan each centering around book arts. The first is The Center for Book Arts. The Center for Book Arts is a multi-purpose book artist's studio, education center, exhibition space and center for resources on everything related to bookmaking. They have classes in bookbinding, printing, letterpress, paper making, paper marbling, leather tooling, typography, collage making, paper cutting, illumination, and so much more. They also host lectures on book-related topics, hold book-related events or invite guest artists in to share their work.

Artists can rent studio space at the center, giving them access to all the printing and book binding equipment and supplies. There is a small gallery at the Center, with a fascinating rotating exhibit of book art. A visit to the Center offers a glimpse at the current exhibit, a small book shop offering rare and limited edition handmade art and poetry books, and a peek into the bustling studios and workshops where artists and students are busy cutting papers, stitching bindings and manning the letterpresses. Classes can run a bit on the expensive side, but it is worth checking out the schedule of events if you have any interest in learning anything related to bookmaking. The Center for Book Arts is located at 28 West 27th street, between Broadway and 6th Ave.

The other place I recently discovered is Printed Matter, Inc. This is an unusual shop on the far west side that sells rare, limited-edition and handmade books. It describes itself as being "the largest non-profit organization dedicated to publications made by artists." 'Odd' and 'fascinating' are two very appropriate words that come to my mind to describe this shop. Visit this shop to see the variety of ways printed matter can be presented, to inspire you to print and bind your own writing or to just buy an offbeat publication. Printed Matter, Inc. is located at 195 10th Ave. between 21st and 22nd Streets.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Hidden Parks of Manhattan: Ford Foundation Building

Midtown is a busy place. So finding a refuge from the crowds, noise and traffic is a happy blessing. Though Midtown does not seem to have as many corner parks as say, the West Village, they do exist - they're just harder to find.

One green oasis in Midtown that I just discovered is the Ford Foundation Building, located between 1st and 2nd Avenues and 42nd and 43rd streets. It's actually a beautifully lush garden and pond enclosed within the indoor atrium of the building. The striking thing is that the building is so tall that the courtyard walls rise magnificently upward from the garden. The garden and pond receive its water supply from rooftop rainwater and collected steam from within the glassed-in atrium. Built in the sixties, the building is headquarters for the Ford Foundation, an organization that funds all sorts of charities and grants around the world.

So whether you're looking for a quiet place to relax or if you're simply passing by the area, stop and take a peek inside this unusual building.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sweet Cuppin' Cakes

With the explosion of various chic cupcake bakeries around town I imagine you're expecting the post where I publish my informal results of a cupcake competition. Is it Billy's or Magnolia? Crumbs or Cupcake Factory? (Yes, inevitably that post too come, . . . but at the moment I am still eating myself around town. I must carefully weigh all the options, you see).

However, if you prefer to skip this tired competition all together and instead think you can make a cupcake as good as from any of these trendy cupcakeries, then I suggest you head to N.Y. Cake & Baking Dist. shop to stock up on baking supplies. The shop is filled with cake tins, decorative paper cupcake cups, frosted flowers, baking tools, candles, cake toppers, frosting dyes and glitter, silver gilded almonds, sprinkles, cake stands, wedding cake supplies and so much more. Even if you are not a seasoned baker, browsing the aisles of this shop might just inspire you to go home, remove the handbags and winter hats from your storage closet, ahem, I mean oven, and bake a cake or two.

N.Y. Cake & Baking Dist. is located at 56 West 22nd Street, between 5th and 6th Aves. The service is very rude, but you might have to put up with it as this may be the only baking store in Manhattan that is this good.

Just a word of warning - remember, you live in NYC, . . . your kitchen is TINY and you already use your oven as a storage closet. Don't buy too many baking supplies!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Flower District

Today's highlight is the Flower District. Running between 6th and 7th Avenues on 28th street, the Flower District is a visual delight of exotic flowers, plants and floral and garden supplies. Even if you don't intend to buy, just walking along the street is like walking through a greenhouse. But if you do plan to pick up some greenery, prices are good, especially for the dried flowers and decorative/floral supplies (vases, ribbon, props, etc.). Here are a few of my favorite stores along the street:

For Fresh Flowers:
- Fischer & Page, Ltd.
- Tropical Foliage - United Wholesale Florist, Ltd.
- G. Page

For Potted Plants:
- International Garden Inc. (this is on 6th Ave. between 27th and 28th streets)
- Paradise Plant, Inc.
- Noble Planta

For Floral/Garden/Decorative Supplies:

- B&H Florist's Supply (great prices for ribbons and vases!)
- Jamali Garden Supplies

For Silk or Dried Flowers
- Dry & Silk Flowers, Inc.
- Center for Floral Design
- Silk Gardens and Trees
- Pany Silk Flowers

For Tree Branches:
- U.S. Evergreen Wholesale Florist (this is on 6th Ave. between 27th and 28th streets)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Try Tai Chi. Why Not?

Today I tried the free Tai Chi class held at Bryant Park. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, from 7:30-8:30am, (April - Oct) there is a free and open Tai Chi class given by the Tai Chi Chuan Center. Though early in the morning, it felt refreshing to be awake, stretching and moving in the cool morning air at the Park. At 7:30 the Park is still and fairly quiet, but by the end of the class the Park is flooded with the usual Midtown crowds rushing to work.

The class was fairly basic and is accessible to all skill levels and ages. There were about 25 students this morning. The founder of Tai Chi Chuan Center, Master C.K. Chu leads the class and 2-3 other assistant instructors move around the open air "classroom" correcting postures and positions.

The class is held, rain or shine, at the Fountain Terrace (at the west end of the park).

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The People's Museum

At top left: Adriana Lara's "Installation (Banana Peel)" exhibit on display at The New Museum as part of the current show "The Generational: Younger than Jesus." A museum employee is instructed to eat a banana each day, then discard the peel on the floor of the exhibit for people to look at and think about.

At bottom right: "Lov'Orchid Coupelle Objet," created by master glass makers at Daum. Materials: lead crystal glass. On display currently at Bergdorf Goodman in their 7th Floor Gallery (Home Dept.).

New York can boast it has a good number of renown modern art museums - from The MoMA to The New Museum. But what I truly think is impressive is the high number of world class "commercial art" museums New York has. When I say commercial art I mean art that is chosen and displayed on the basis of popular demand, a truly democratic method of curating an exhibit by letting the people decide what is exhibited. And how do the people decide? With their pocket books, (which is a very truthful way of determining what people actually value and what inspires them, and not just what they might say that they value or appreciate in art- for sake of sounding sophisticated). I am talking about what is more commonly referred to as "stores."

From Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany's to Pearl River Market and the various import jewelry stores south of Herald Sq. area, - these are the true museums of art. These museums hold objects that are relevant to people's lives, exquisite, beautiful and far more interesting than say a pile of torn up pizza boxes you could see on the floor of The New Museum. Who decided that a pile of pizza boxes was worthy of a place in a guarded museum and that you should pay $12 for the privilege of viewing it? This decision was made in an extremely narrow top down manner, by one person, or a small group of museum directors. A select few individuals have the power to shape what society should view as "art." The rest of us are expected to be in awe at such "thought-provoking," pieces and anyone who thinks otherwise must be ignorant or too simple-minded.

But do you really consider such pieces art? I believe that if the masses truly did believe this was art then Bergdorf Goodman would be selling torn up pizza boxes instead of delicately crafted necklaces or handmade china. It strikes me as ironic that art is commonly thought of as an expression of individualism and often meant to make a viewer reflect and think, and yet the world of modern art has quite the opposite effect - "art" is filtered through a select few museum directors and then the people flock like sheep to art museums and nod introspectively at twisted pieces of metal wires that are displayed under hushed museum lighting. If there is anyone at all deserving of the title of artist it is not the person who crumpled up the wires, but the material science engineer who originally figured out how to create a metal suitable for wires.

If people value democracy and openness in thought, why, of all places, should it not extend to the modern art world? Why is the art world still so controlled by dictatorships? Think beyond what you are supposed to view as art museums and realize that every store is too a museum. Every store is an art museum curated by the power of the people. True, democracy is not perfect, but as history bears out, decisions made by the people and for the people seem to create a much more diverse, rich and creative society than the ones controlled by a dictatorship.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

June Bride

The happiest day of my life! Photo by Melissa Blemur

With wedding season in full swing, what better a month than June to talk about weddings. I myself was a June bride exactly a year ago (June 21, 2008), and during the long course of planning leading up to the big day I discovered a few great resources here in the city for wedding planning. While hosting the actual wedding in the City would be extremely expensive, there are a lot of free and unique resources to be found here for wedding planning. (I spent last year in NYC planning my wedding and benefiting from the vast array of opportunities and inspiration, but the wedding itself was held upstate in Ithaca).

One of the best things I discovered was The Wedding Library on the Upper East Side. The Wedding Library is a shop/library/wedding planning center. They have swatch-books, portfolios, and contacts for bakers, bands, caterers, calligraphers, cleaners, DJs, floral designers, linens suppliers, makeup artists, musicians, officiants, party planners, photographers, registries, stationery, stylists, venues, videographers and wedding dresses. It is open to anyone and though reservations are strongly encouraged, I did manage to stop by unannounced and they were happy to help me and let me browse through their collections of stationary (which was great help in giving me ideas for designing my own invitations). With so many resources all under one roof it is a great place to start wedding planning and gather some ideas of how you want to shape your own event. The Wedding Library is located at 43 East 78th street. They also have an e-newsletter that I suggest you sign up for and you'll receive new wedding related ideas every week in your inbox.

For wedding dresses, the best place to go is Kleinfeld's. (Perhaps not necessarily to buy the dress in the end - prices are steep, - but as the first place to look at dresses and figure out what styles you like). Kleinfeld's is a beautiful luxuriant gallery of wedding dresses. You must make an appointment first, often a few weeks in advance. When you visit you will be assigned a personal dress consultant. You can begin by browsing the showroom or closets for wedding dresses (like a kid in a candy store), or if you have an idea of what you want your consultant can find dresses that fit your description. But go in with an open mind. I myself never envisioned a strapless wedding dress, but at her suggestion I tried a few on. . . .turns out strapless looked the best on me and in the end that is the style I went with (though I purchased the actual dress from a more discount store). Your consultant will help you try the dresses on and you can try as many as you want on in your 1 1/2 hour appointment. Visiting Kleinfeld's is not only a great way to explore the vast possibilities of wedding dresses and figure out a style that suits you, but it is also an exciting experience a bride-to-be would not want to miss. After all, isn't the dress the most exciting part of the wedding to plan?

Whereas the upscale places such as The Wedding Library and Kleinfeld's are great resources to look at for inspiration, New York also has extremely budget places that are absolutely unique to New York. Keep your eyes open in Chinatown, the Lower East Side and the area just south of Herald Square for Asian import stores that often sell bridal accessories such as veils and hair pieces. They are often the very same pieces you would find in wedding retail stores, just with out fancy packages and high prices. I found my veil in one of these stores on 6th ave around 27th street for a third of the price you would pay at David's Bridal (and even David's is known for low prices in bridal retail).

For corsets and specialty bras, go to Orchard Corsets in the Lower East Side. Run by orthodox Jews, the small shop is a throwback to the early 20th century with an antique sewing machine, old-fashioned decor and cluttered shelves of corsets in cardboard boxes behind the counters. Again, prices are much lower that you would find in a more, ahem, modern looking store. Orchard Corset is located at 157 Orchard St. They are closed on Saturdays.

If you are the kind of DIY person scouring the city for deals and planning every detail of your own wedding, then I assume you'll also be handling your own flowers. For this, the best place to go is the Flower/Plant District on 28th St. between 6th and 7th Avenues. I won't go into details on all the stores - but stay tuned next week for an upcoming post on the Plant District where I will highlight all the best stores. I will say that the Plant District is a great resource for exotic flowers and cheap prices, and is unique to New Yorkers. Much of the flowers that come into the U.S. from South America and around the world pass through this street on their way to the rest of the country. Take advantage of this, people! You can compete with professional floral designers in having access to the best variety of flowers for your wedding!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's the Economyaki, Stupid

For cheap, very tasty and very unusual Japanese food, try okonomiyaki (pronounced "economy-ah-key") at Otafuku's. This minuscule restaurant on "Japanese Street," (east 9th) in the East Village serves up some of the most satisfying, finger-lickin' good dishes that you've probably never heard of. Their signature dishes are okonomiaki (egg, cabbage, spices and shrimp pancakes topped with mayonnaise, dried seaweed powder and bonito flakes) and takoyaki (fritter balls made of octopus, scallions and ginger).

There is no sitting room - food is served up only for take-out, but their hours are late so this makes Otafuku's a good post-party nosh, (if you happen to end up in the East Village). Otafuku is located at 236 East 9th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Aves. It's small, so you might just miss it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Celebrate the Swedish Midsummer Festival

Tonight from 5:00 - 9:00pm the Swedish Midsummer Festival takes place at Wagner Park (in Battery Park). Swedes celebrate the summer solstice by celebrating on the Friday closest to the actual solstice (which is June 21). This year's events include decorating the maypole, traditional folk dancing, making summer wreaths, a parade, traditional music and fiddling (by Daniel Dahlin and the American Swedish Institute), games, and Swedish food. The event is free and everyone is welcome to join.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Campbell Apartment


I like to tell the story about the first time I had drinks at The Campbell Apartment. An upscale bar located (hidden) in Grand Central, it took me quite some time to find this place. I had never heard of this place before, and was simply told it was at Grand Central. I should have asked for more details . . . Grand Central is not at all small, or simple.

After hunting for some time in the restaurant area and passing through the shopping area and the market place several times, I began asking people. No one was very helpful, many store clerks had not heard of it. I began to wonder if it was actually in Grand Central at all. Finally someone I asked instructed me to take the freight elevator up to The Campbell Apartment. Freight elevator??? I finally found the elevator, though not a freight elevator, it is somewhat non-descript and not easy to find.

Indeed it did take me up to the bar, and upon stepping into The Campbell Apartment I was amazed at its grand and dark interior. I felt as if I had entered some secret drinking club headquarters at an Ivy League school. The ceiling is very high with ornate antique rafters. There is an old fireplace and the lighting is dark and quiet. Tall glass pane windows rise above the bar, but you can not see through them. (When walking through Grand Central later I always look up and wonder which set of glass windows high along the terminal walls belong to Campbell Apartments, but I am never really sure). The bar's atmosphere is austere and antique, think dark reds, leather and wood paneling. I felt swept away into some other world, far removed from the bustling terminal just outside the stone walls of the bar.

Drinks are pricey (and elegant), so come here for the experience, not for a night of drinking. The Campbell Apartment is located in Grand Central, and I am not being any more specific than that . . . good luck finding it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Exploring NYC's Shores with the Shorewalkers

Me along the East River, with Manhattan Bridge behind me as I walk the Union Square Shuffle

Manhattan is a city of walkers. The sidewalks are always overcrowded with people walking to work, walking to dinner, walking to do errands, walking to parks, walking everywhere. Walking is not a just a leisurely exercise activity - here it is the way to get from point A to B. That's why New Yorkers walk so fast.

Still with a city of millions of professional walkers, we often ignore our waterfronts. Many people have never explored the perimeter on foot. Granted up until the past decade the edges of Manhattan were grimy, often unsafe and (unusual for Manhattan) inaccessible by foot. But this excuse is no longer valid. Though cafes, shops and friendly neighborhoods have not yet ventured to the edges of the island, the city has taken big steps in the recent years to complete construction of a connecting ring of parks around the entire island. Battery Park connects seamlessly to Hudson River Park, then Riverside Park, then Ft. Washington Park, then Ft. Tyron Park, Inwood Park, etc. The path is a bit sketchier on the East Side, especially up north and then around the U.N. area, but by the 30's it picks up strong again and flows into East River Park, then back down to Battery Park.

I just discovered Shorewalkers, a wonderful club that organizes informal group walks all around the various shores of the New York metro area. They concentrate on shorelines, but plenty of the tours also include various neighborhoods. Anyone can participate in a walking tour, you do not have to be a member (non-members pay $3 per walk).

This past Saturday I just joined a Shorewalker group for the Union Square Shuffle. It was a 6 hour walk, starting at Union Square and continuing through the Village, East Village, then walking the perimeter park path around Manhattan from east 6th street all the way around the tip of Manhattan and then up the Hudson and ending at the newly opened Highline. We also took an excursion to Governor's Island (on the free ferry), as well as stopped along the way at various landmarks, exhibitions and historic monuments. The leader focused on free events and packed the tour with announcements of all the many free concerts, events, and freebies being offered at various places throughout the summer. I estimate we walked 16 miles in all.

There are organized Shorewalker events every week this summer covering the NJ Hudson shores to Brighton Beach and Coney Island (See their Hike Calendar on their website). Their biggest event of the year is The Great Saunter, where they walk the entire perimeter of Manhattan, starting and ending at the South Street Seaport. An all day walk, covering 32 miles it is an extreme event but which I am sure many experienced New York walkers could handle. The Shorewalker group is a participatory group, and if you become a member you can start organizing and leading your own tours through areas you know well. (Becoming a member is only $20). If you have never walked along the New York shorelines, trying a walk with a Shorewalker group is an easy and rewarding way to begin exploring the waterfronts.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Get Out. Find Others. Meet Up.

There are over 1.5 million people in Manhattan and almost 19 million people in the greater NY-NJ-CT metro area (that's almost two-thirds of Canada's entire population, folks!) With this many people, chances are there are others out there in the city who share your same interests, passions and hobbies . . . whatever they may be. It's just a matter of finding them. Enter

Though not NYC specific (you can use Meetup in any U.S. city), is a great way to find people or groups that share your interests. And with so many New Yorkers, it is especially easy to locate groups or clubs dedicated to every odd hobby or field. From proffesional associations to music groups, sports clubs, discussion groups, foreign language groups, activist organizations, support groups, volunteers, collectors, enthusiasts, etc. chances are you will find a specific group through Meetup, find out how often and where they meet and join the group yourself. This is not simply an online meetup forum, it is area specific and the goal is to get people together, to meetup face to face.

For the past three years I have been a member of the NYC Web Design Meetup group and one of the Bellydance groups. The Web Design group meets usually once a month downtown and we spend a couple hours discussing new web innovations and design issues, as well as sharing our own work with others in the group. It is a chance to meet with others, ask questions and learn and contribute. The Bellydance group meets to dance, watch bellydance shows and listen to Middle Eastern music. Each meetup group is different and shaped by what the members want.

And if you can't find the type of group for your oddball interest - say a pigeon watching club - then you can start your own through Meetup and begin uniting all the other fellow urban bird watchers out there.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Carl Schurz Park


Unfortunately, like many old coastal cities, as New York City grew over the centuries its waterfront property was never appreciated for its leisure or visual potential but for its industrial value in shipping. When the city's perfectly protected harbors ceased to be its main raison d'etre, Manhattan's coastline never shook its grimy industrial past from its shores. Instead of the most coveted apartments lining the peripheral with stunning waterfront views, the best addresses tend to cluster within the center of the island (think 5th Ave.). Gas stations, parking lots and highways ring the outer avenues. Such a waste of beautiful waterfront land!

But there are a few areas that reclaim waterfront views. One of these places is the lovely Carl Schurz Park. Originally built to surround Gracie Mansion (the mayor's official residence), the park is a charming garden oasis tucked away in the far upper east side.

Not willing to lose its riverside front row seat to the FDR, the park cleverly bridges over the highway the entire length of the park, completely hiding the FDR below and providing the park visitor with panoramic East River views. The park is built on various levels with connecting paths, stone foot bridges and stairs winding through beautiful volunteer-tended flower gardens.

So the next sunny afternoon you find yourself heading up to Central Park with a book and picnic blanket, head just a little farther up and a little farther east and explore this smaller but quite unique park perched on the edge of the East River. The park runs from 84th street to 90th street, east of East End Ave.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Meditation at the Tibet House

It is often claimed that with the noise, the tight spaces and the crowds that it is stressful living in Manhattan. It is also claimed that meditation relieves stress. (Personally, NYC enlivens me rather than stresses me, and meditation sometimes can be stressful because of how much time it takes out of my schedule). So while I am not thoroughly convinced by these two claims, for curiosity's sake, I decided to try a meditation session at the Tibet House last night.

Each Tuesday evening from 7:00 - 9:00pm they have an open meditation session led by an experienced Tibetan Buddhist tradition practitioner. The session consists of half lecture and question & answer concerning the art and practice of meditation and the other half is devoted to practicing meditation. There were about 30 people who attended last night. There is a suggested $10 donation ("dana").

The Tibet House also offers various lectures and classes about Tibetan culture and Buddhist spirituality. The House has a museum-like gallery displaying various Tibetan antiques, artwork and photography as well as a Buddhist altar and a bookshop full of Tibetan and Buddhist books.

So whether you're just curious about Buddhist meditation or if you are a stressed out New Yorker, stop by the Tibet House on a Tuesday night to try a session. The Tibet House is located at 22 West 15th street, between 5th and 6th Aves., on the second floor.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

This One's for You, Jackie

Hey all you sweeteeth out there, listen up: I just discovered Economy Candy, where (as the name might suggest) you can get not only relatively cheap candy but also all sorts of "retro"/"vintage" varieties as well (think Cracker Jacks and Pez galore). Yum! Located among the hipster streets of the Lower East side, and has been in business since 1937, Economy Candy can authentically be labeled as "old school" cool.

Glass jars line the walls with all sorts of per-pound confections. Hundreds of wrapped varieties such as hard candies, gum, mints, pastiches, halveh, gummies, caramels, lollipops, dried fruits, taffy, candy buttons, pixie stix and even some fine European chocolate bars stock the aisle shelves. I even spotted some Lindor chocolates, my longtime flame.

Next time you find yourself down in the LES, stop by this classic candy store for some old time kicks, to satisfy your sweetooth, or perhaps just to stock up on gingerbread house materials. I myself couldn't leave the store without a box of Cracker Jacks and a pack of Beemans Gum. Economy Candy is located at 108 Rivington, between Ludlow and Essex Streets.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Besides the ABCs of Home Decor


There are some places, like ABC Home & Carpet that we all know. We all love. We all wish our apartments looked just like store. In-the-know tourists visit ABC for an afternoon of sightseeing. It is a museum to interior decor. But ABC is old news.

I'd like to present two other of my favorite "interior decor museum" stores: The John Derian Co. and Apartment 48. Smaller and tucked away on east 2nd street, just off Bowery, The John Derian Co. is an exquisite storeroom of furniture, art, textiles, antiques and curiosities. Most well known for their decoupage items, you might recognize their glass and decoupage paper weights, which show up in other home stores or gift shops around town. But The John Derian Co. store on 2nd street offers so many more treasures. Just like ABC, prices here are steep, so plan to come here mainly for design inspiration.

There are actually two disconnected stores on 2nd street - the eastern one skewing more toward textiles and bedding, and the other filled with a more eclectic mix of everything from Astier de Villate ceramic glazed tableware to 18th and 19th century prints to antique chandeliers. The store is a 3D version of a page from Blueprint (RIP) or Design*Sponge.

Apartment 48, located on 17th street between 5th and 6th Aves., is another beautiful home store. Unfortunately in the past year Apartment 48 has moved from its original (and much cooler) underground storefront (still on 17th street) to its current above-ground and sadly average storefront. The underground storefront felt hidden and secret. The store itself was made up of several separate rooms, each decorated like a different room in a house, giving the effect that you were wandering through someone's cozy railroad-style apartment. Still, despite the boring store of today, Apartment 48 still offers unique and beautifully designed housewares and art.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Renegade Craft Fair

This is a blog devoted to the places and happenings of Manhattan. But just this once, I am stepping off the island to highlight an upcoming event in Brooklyn. This weekend, June 6th and 7th the annual Renegade Craft Fair is coming to McCarren Park, Brooklyn.

I attended this outdoor craft meet four years ago and I plan to go again this year. For anyone that gets excited about bookmaking or who regularly visits Flat Iron's Paper Presentation, this is the event for you! With over 300 crafters gathered to showcase and sell their wares, you'll see everything from sewn items, jewelry, papers, knitted wares, posters and prints, photography, soaps, silkscreens, zines, comics, clothing and handmade home decor. By the end of it, no doubt you'll be scratching your head and saying "Why didn't I think of that?" and be planning to open your own booth next year.

The event is free and open to the public. Take the L subway line to Bedford Ave. and walk north on Driggs Ave. until you reach the park.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Open your Mind, Not your Wallet

I wanted to announce another center in town that offers great free classes: The Open Center. I just attended their free introductory seminar of "Healing with Whole Foods and Chinese Herbs" last night. Though I might be a bit skeptical of some aspects, I enjoyed learning the basics of Chinese medicinal theory.

To sum up The Open Center, as described in their welcome statement, they are " dedicated to offering educational programs and cultural events that expand the mind, nurture the body and awaken the spirit. We offer workshops, classes, lectures, conferences and professional trainings, led by teachers of wisdom, passion and skill. Thousands have come through our doors finding fresh intellectual perspectives, paths of healing, deepening of their spiritual lives and new careers that allow them to be of service and express their true calling."

I myself admit that I am dubious of the more far-fetched practices involving "chakras," "life force" or most things with "spirituality" in the title. Still I enjoy learning about everything, and am open to trying new things. They offer a variety of multi-week long classes (that you pay for), but many of these classes start off with a free introductory seminar open to anyone. I should note that many of the multi-week long paid-for classes are in fact not that expensive themselves.

Topics range from Belly Dancing, Aromatherapy, Learning to play the Native American Flute, Prana Yoga Teacher Training, How to Communicate with Difficult People, Myofascial Trigger Point Therapy and hundreds more. From massage to spirituality to eastern medicine to psychology they cover a wide breadth of topics loosely under the holistic health and wellness category. They also have a shop that carries an eclectic selection of books, world music, cards and aromatherapy products.

The Open Center is located in Soho at 83 Spring Street (but next month they are moving uptown to 22 East 30th street). To attended a free introductory seminar pre-register by calling 212.219.2527 x 2.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Talking Dirty


With "Art Museums" showcasing toilets as sculpture and elephant poop as art you'd think you could just throw some dirt in a room and call yourself an artist. Wait, (shocking) that has already been done here in NYC. Actually twice. In fact - even stranger - twice on Wooster street, to be exact.

Yesterday while strolling through west Soho, I visited two, totally separate, galleries that were each a large room full of dirt. The Earth Room at 141 Wooster street fills the entire second floor with about a yard deep of dark rich earth, or 280,000 pounds of it. The gallery has a wonderful mossy earthy smell, much like the smell of old houses in the East in the humid summer months. I have to say that it was an interesting and usual site - quite a weird juxtaposition of an urban Soho loft with the expanse of natural earth unnaturally filling the space. The dirt is very dark, soft and fertile looking. Apparently they mist the dirt and rake over it several times a week to keep it in shape. The Earth Room opened and has not been altered since 1977, and so I wondered, quite practically, if the floor of the loft has decomposed at all? I also wondered if gallery viewers are ever tempted to throw a handful of seeds across the art? One also inevitably thinks about what a large and beautiful Soho apartment this would be sans the dirt.

The second stop on Wooster street was the Peter Blum Gallery, just south of the Patagonia store. The one-room gallery simply holds one large slab of concrete leaning against the wall, with mounds of dry reddish looking dirt piled against the concrete. This dirt is entirely different, instead of looking rich and agricultural it had the feeling of dirt dug up at a construction site and left to bake dry in the sun. The interesting thing about this exhibit is its theatrics of presentation: You can walk under the exhibit to the back side to see how it is constructed. Like a theater set, the "concrete" slab is a hollow prop. The "mounds" of dirt aren't really mounds, but instead just a thin layer of dirt spread across a hollow hill of wire mesh and canvas.

Both are open to the public. The Earth Room, by Walter De Maria is open Wednesday - Saturday noon-3:00pm and 3:30-6:00pm. It is closed during the summer months. The Peter Blum Gallery is located at 99 Wooster St. and is open Tuesday - Friday 10:00-6:00 and Saturday 11:00-6:00. The exhibit of dirt in the Peter Blum gallery is by Ruben Ochoa and is showing until July 24, 2009.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Curry Hill vs. Brick Lane

One of my favorite cuisines is Indian, and luckily New York does not disappoint in its quantity of Indian restaurant offerings. From the upscale Indian tasting menus of Devi to the colorful take-out joints like Curry in a Hurry, Indian food is never far. Though Indian restaurants can be found anywhere in Manhattan, the two competing Indian epicenters seem to be Curry Hill in Murray Hill and Brick Lane in the East Village.

While Brick Lane is much more colorful - often with live musicians and restaurant windows bedecked with thousands of twinkling lights - Curry Hill seems to attract a bit more Indian clientele. Both neighborhoods claim some very good options.

Brick Lane, which is 6th street between 2nd Ave. and 1st Ave. has many cheap dinner options and the atmosphere in many of the restaurants is lively. But don't get lured in simply by the lights and music. Not all the restaurants are worthwhile. The three best I've tried are: Ghandi, Banjura and Brick Lane Curry House. Ghandi and Banjura are on the far eastern end of 6th street, and Brick Lane Curry House is on the far western side. Ghandi and Banjura both offer very reasonably priced meals, and are always tasty. Brick Lane Curry House is slightly more expensive ($15 - $20 per entree). Though this post is about Indian food, I can't talk about 6th street without mentioning Zerza - a wonderful Moroccan restaurant (next door to Brick Lane Curry House).

Curry Hill roughly stretches from 30th to 26th on Lexington, and overflows somewhat on the the side streets. My favorite in this neighborhood place for a good chicken mahkni is Curry Leaf, which is on Lex at 27th. The pricing of the Curry Hill restaurants varies much more than on Brick Lane. You can find extremely cheap (and somewhat dingy) takeout joints as well as more upscale chic restaurants. In addition to restaurants, Curry Hill holds a variety of various Indian shops - from sari shops to grocers. The best thing to be found in this neighborhood is Kalustyan's grocery (on Lex between 28th and 27th). Kalustyan's is a grocery offering exotic foods (with a bent more toward Middle Eastern than Indian). Explore the shelves for labne (heavy cream), baklava, teas, incense, spices, dozens of varieties of rice and lentils and all sorts of tasty international treats.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Hidden Parks of Manhattan: GreenAcre Park

With spring beautifully in full bloom, I decided to enjoy the season with a visit to GreenAcre Park. Never heard of it? Until recently, neither had I. It's one of the many small parks hidden around the neighborhoods in Manhattan.

GreenAcre Park is located on 51st street, between 2nd and 3rd Aves., next door to a synagogue. It is just a small nook off the street, but it has a stunning 25-foot waterfall cascading over a rock and concrete wall and small man-made rock-bed stream running down to the pool. It is a quiet secret oasis in midtown where you can enjoy lunch or read a book while the soft spray of the waterfall mists across the small gardens and flowering trees.

There are three different levels to the park, each with tables and chairs overlooking the waterfall from different vantage points. Shady trees project dappled sunlight upon the water, tables and chairs and the landscaping envelopes the park with lovely manicured flower beds and lush greenery. There is also a small refreshment stand, which I hear offers excellent apple pie.

The park is open to the public, but privately maintained by the Greenacre foundation.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Take a Bite Out of The Big Apple

At risk of sounding like an Apple computer evangelist, today I am posting about the great FREE classes offered at the Apple stores. With its latest addition of the West 14th street location (fittingly in the tragically hip Meatpacking District), Manhattan now holds a total of three Apple stores. Which means there is a free computer class going on just about every hour of the day. People, take advantage of free learning!

Obviously this post is somewhat limited to those of you with Macs (the rest of you. . . your next computer should be a Mac. . . again, not to proselytize or anything). But for those of you who do use Macs, or want to, the Apple classes are a great opportunity to learn everything about your computer and its programs. They are the missing classes you always wish you had when you wonder how other people seem to know all those little computer secrets.

The classes range from 'Getting Started on a Mac Computer' to Adobe CS4 classes such as using Illustrator and Photoshop. There are classes covering all the Apple programs - iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand, etc. There are various classes covering the operating system (Mac OS X Leopard), teaching you all the new features, tips and tricks. They offer in depth two-hour classes covering programs like Final Cut Pro and digital photography using Aperture. They also have classes on iPhone, iPods, wireless networking and all the peripherals. Besides the extended in-depth sessions and the hands-on sessions most of the classes are an hour long.

The Soho store hold the classes in a comfortable upstairs auditorium (as compared to the Fifth Ave store, which just holds the classes in a more informal setting around a large table). I've always felt comfortable asking questions and the teachers are happy to show you everything. In addition to the classes, keep an eye out for special free events they hold - business networking events, music performances, lectures, etc.

So for whether you just want to get up and running on a new Mac computer or whether you want to learn something about a particular program, take a look at all that's offered and start learning.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How Did the Elephant Cross the Road?

Q. How do you transport a troupe of circus elephants onto the island of Manhattan (when they are too big for a truck and all the trains into NYC are just passenger trains)?

A. They walk.

Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the circus! Each March the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey big top comes to the Big Apple, but the most unusual site to see is not one of the circus acts, but the informal "Elephant March". They lead the elephants through the Queens Midtown Tunnel and across 34th street to Madison Square Gardens the midnight before the opening night. The last time I gathered along 34th for the Elephant March was in 2007. It was an extremely unusual and surreal site to see a line of pachyderms walking down the streets of Manhattan!

This year the Elephant March is rumored to happen the night of March 23 (Monday night/Tuesday AM). Crowds will begin gathering along 34th street around 11pm. Often the elephants are late, slightly after midnight, but once they enter Manhattan they're surprisingly fast and you don't want to miss them.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

One Food Wonders

One Food Wonders (OFWs): I'm talking about those trendy food joints that have popped up just in the last few years all around Manhattan that offer only one type of food (usually simple, perhaps even retro foods, but with new marked up prices). OFW joints must also have a long line of people out the door, excited to pay those high prices for a bowl of say, rice pudding.

So here's a short run down of a few of Manhattan's singular pleasures:

Yes, good old mac n' cheese, but now in 12 haute flavors - from Swiss Alpine to Masala. (My favorite is the buffalo chicken). Very tasty. Where: 345 East 12th Street (btwn 1st and 2nd).

Pommes Frites
Not to be out done, Pommes Frites serves up Belgian fries with 25 different dipping sauces. I've tried several, but I think I might have to go with the Dill Lemon Mayo as my top choice. I have yet to try some of the more exotic sauces like the Vietnamese Pineapple Mayo or the Sambal Olek Hot Chili Paste. This is another East Village find (yes, do you notice a trend here? The East Village seems to attract OFW joints like skinny jeans and fedoras). Where: 123 2nd Ave (btwn 7th and St. Marks).

Rice to Riches
Probably the most well known place on the list, (as well as one the tastiest, if you are of the sweet-tooth variety), this place offers a daily rotating menu of about 20 different flavors of rice pudding. French toast, cappuccino, cream-cicle, honey graham, chocolate rocky road . . . you'd think we were at Baskin Robbins with this variety! They'll offer one or two samples before you pick your poison, so be sure to take them up on this and try some of the wilder flavors. Where: 37 Spring Street (btwn Mott and Mulberry streets).

There are of course the many creperies, gelato bars, cupcake bakeries and arepas, hot dog, empanadas, and dumpling joints that come close to making this list by focusing on one food type, but technically they do offer other foods as well. Crif Dogs, Caracas Arepa Bar, The Dumpling Man, Empanada Mama and Grom (gelato) are a few of these pseudo-OFWs.

I will be sure to update you with more true OFWs as soon as I find them.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Bollywood Bhangra

Today's the first Thursday of the month . . . which means . . . BASEMENT BHANGRA at S.O.B.s tonight!!! Get over to the Sounds of Brazil at Varick and Houston tonight after 9pm for some seriously funky South Asian rhythm.

Though more and more people are discovering Bollywood film, music and dance and American pop singers are infusing their songs with dance-inducing eastern undercurrents, still it's hard to find a dance club that outright uses the label bhangra. S.O.B.s is one of the few places in town I've found that devotes a night entirely to this dance style. Music is mixed by DJ Rekha, who seems to be somewhat of the national DJ for Indian dance music.

Here's the details: Doors open at 7pm, with free mojitos from 7-8pm. It's $5 before 8pm and $16 after 8pm (although with this printed web flyer you can get in for $13 after 8pm). I strongly recommend paying the extra money (though use the flyer), and come later in the evening when the dance floor is pulsing. There is a free bhangra dance lesson at 9pm, which is worthwhile if you want to brush up on your shoulder shimmying.

S.O.B.s is located at 200 Varick Street, on the corner of Houston. Closest subway is the 1 train to Houston. S.O.B.'s phone is 212-252-2392.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Moi, a model?

Ladies, who would like to enjoy a free hair style, cut and color from a world renown salon? Ever heard of Bumble & Bumble Salon? That's right. . . . free! Just one of the many luxuries of living in New York City - Bumble & Bumble headquarters happens to be located right here in town and they are always looking for models! Not the skinny 5 ft. 8 models (though there happen to be a lot of those here in the city as well), but anyone with a full head of hair and time to relax at the salon.

Here's the deal: Bumble & Bumble runs a hair school, called B&B University, and just as they do for their regular customer salons, their University is top notch. They offer their students live models (not a plastic mannequin head) to practice on. So, I took the opportunity to sign myself up as model. All you have to do is sign up online and then show up for a scheduled "model audition" (which is just showing up with your hair brushed and they check to see if you have an appropriate length). Once you are an approved model, the fun starts. You can sign up for as many styling, cutting or coloring sessions as your schedule allows. Ever fantasized about being the practice-body for a massage school? Well, this is one of those instances.

Each session is about two hours, and each time I've left with an amazing new style. The students are always very nice, and usually are professional hair dressers themselves who are just attending to get B&B certification credit. They are from all over the world - the last session I attended the students were all from France. To encourage loyal models, each time you attend a session, B&B gives you a $10 credit toward any of the Bumble products (as if you needed this extra incentive?). And just as an extra bonus, the B&B Uni salon is on the 6th floor of a beautiful glass-and-steel Meatpacking district building, complete with skyline views of the city!

My only word of advice is that you should be sure to schedule a dinner date that eveing, as you'll be looking too fabulous to simply return home for the day. Go to the B&B University Model page to sign up and for all the details.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pick a Card, Any Card

For today's post, I am not merely recommending one NYC restaurant, but 52. That's right, 52 - as in the number of weeks per year, or the number of playing cards in a standard deck (minus the jokers). I would like to introduce The Diner's Deck, by City Shuffle.

The Diner's Deck consists of 52 cards, each card being a NYC restaurant pick and a $10-off coupon at that restaurant. (With 52 cards, theoretically one per week, that is a savings of $520 if you were to try every restaurant. The deck itself costs $29.95). The restaurants range from great burger and fry joints to upscale Argentine, and all seem to be great discoveries. I've explored the City's restaurants for two years using The Diner's Deck as my guide and none of the restaurants have disappointed. If not even for the $10-off coupon, the deck itself is simply a savvy guide for choosing a new restaurant.

Each card gives a short restaurant description (often times suggesting an extra-special dish), the cuisine, the price range, the address and website and the neighborhood. Sort them and methodically try each restaurant, or be wild and pull one randomly from the deck. This is a fun way to break the usual habit of going to that same neighborhood Vietnamese place each weekend.

You can buy decks for Manhattan restaurants, Downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn restaurants, or Manhattan bars & lounges. The deck is valid for the calendar year, so start the new year off right and pick up a 2009 deck today!

(For purchasing info, see: