A preface: I initially started this piece as a rallying cry against the gentrified Disney-fication of NYC. I felt conflicted seeing some of the changes happening in my former city, but realized, after a week of pondering/rewriting, things DO change; NYC, any city is an evolving, growing creature. Unless you live within the tangle of said creature, fighting for change (or stasis) everyday, your options are limited to just observe and enjoy. So, please enjoy.
Friday: The Drive in/Park Slope.
Eight plus hour drives usually zap the life out of me, and this trip is no different. It’s a great drive from Columbus to NYC; rolling through hilly, beautiful PA, not a lot of traffic, a bit heavier in New Jersey, then WHAM! (not the band), stuffed into the Holland Tunnel, spit out into the Manhattan frenzy, avoiding bikers, jay-walkers, fly across the Brooklyn Bridge, veer away from screaming homeless man who thinks my car is the devil, parallel park said devil car, reapply deodorant.
I coffee up for a few hours with dear friend, TV’s own Keri S. who is temporarily boarding one of my favorite people, Paige H., in a sweet one-bedroom apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I try doing jumping jacks to convert my mid-western sloth into east coast energy, but my road legs are weak as I haven’t been on a high-mile trip since 2010 when Marti and I drove across country through 14 states. Plus, we indulged in a gluttonous pleasure in New Jersey – Cracker Barrel – the trashy romance novel of foods. To anyone not in the know, Cracker Barrel is not a slang term for white people, it’s a chain restaurant (filled with barrel-shaped white people) serving ‘home cookin” or ankle weights for your intestines.
After a few hour coffee break/catching up we grab some Thai food at a new place called Song on Fifth Avenue (in Park Slope). The place is minimalist/industrial with the accompanying ‘loud as hell’ counter balance to lack of decor, and we spend dinner laughing, catching up, yelling old stories across the table. Drinks, spicy Thai – which is very good/not great – more drinks.
Even more celebratory drinks down the street at one of my favorite bars of all time; Union Hall (5th and Union). Local Park Slope-ians (?) might snort at such a declaration, as the bar has become too popular for some hipster-snug britches, but any establishment that has a library, fireplace, and bocce-ball, wins. You win, Union Hall. There’s also a music venue downstairs with taxidermied animals in glass cases. Surf-punk band Muck and the Mires is rocking the basement out tonight. Is this heaven? Hopefully.
[Quick Tip: NYC restaurants/bars are moving away from credit cards, so, if you’re going to the city, take cash. I had to walk out of Song to hit up the atm. Annoying, as I hate carrying cash, yet understandable with increasing usage percentages for entrepreneurs.]
Saturday: Soho/West Village-ish/Upper West Side/ Midtown/Park Slope Wii Dance Party
Saturday starts out sluggish – too much fun the night before – the sun blaring something obnoxious. We miss early breakfast, but rally with a bluegrass brunch at Nolita House on Houston in Soho. I can’t think of a better way to begin a day than with (more) booze, breakfast, and sweet sweet bluegrass.
The gang walks through Soho, flash-perusing the clothing/shoe stores, avoiding hordes of tourists, over to Thompson Street to check out the Little Lebowski Shop. I’m obsessed with the movie Big Lebowski, and amped-up visiting a store dedicated solely to my most favorite movie of all-time. You may say it’s kitschy, I say, ‘yeah, well, you know, that’s just like uhh, your opinion, man.’
After quoting Lebowski for a good fifteen minutes in the store, Keri heads to work while Paige, Marti, and I head uptown to the Natural History Museum to see the Bioluminescence exhibit. It’s unfortunately sold out for the weekend, and our collective inner-nature nerds curse the ticket takers. Paige heads off to work, but me and Marti stay to have a look around the museum because, according to Marti, and I quote, “Last time we were here you didn’t give me enough time with the dinosaurs.” Complementary foot-stomping/seven-year old pout.
I try to convince Marti that not only did Teddy Roosevelt killed all the Museum’s animals, but he did it with his bare hands. She doesn’t buy it.
[Quick tip: If you go to the Natural History Museum, the suggested price of $19 is just that; suggested. You can ‘donate’ $1 and still get in the museum. Same for the Museum of Art. Just a little tip to save some cash in NYC for those expensive adult beverages.]
After spending a Jurassic era (geological humor! *adjusts pocket protector) walking through the dinosaur exhibit, we take a leisurely stroll through Central Park. It’s a gorgeous day; people are picnicking, jogging, laughing, relaxing. We sit by a lake and watch the world go by with Belvedere Castle as the backdrop, which is (was) Count Von Count’s home on Sesame Street.
I love Central Park. It’s peaceful (outside of angry Italian couples fighting in front of us) and a natural buffer to the surrounding insanity of the city. Living in NY, I used to come to Central Park just to stick my bare feet in the grass; soak up some nature. Once, I even levitated a little like Robert Redford in the poster below.
We leave Central Park, strolling through the Upper East Side. Walking begets hunger, so we take the six train to midtown for dinner. Going on recommendation from best friends Paul and Nastya (who were in NYC two weeks earlier) we check out The Cannibal beer & butcher (29th – between Park and Lex) offering pates, terrines, full pig’s head to gnaw on, and as the name suggests, an extensive beer list. Seated in the garden, we order up the recommended Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (beer), and my loyalty to Great Lake Brewery’s Imperial Dortmunder gets tested, hard. I do thoroughly enjoy Brooklyn Summer Ale, but Sorachi Ace is tops. So good, I order two more.
Time Out Magazine ranked the Coney Style beef heart chili dogs as the #2 best ‘strange’ meal in the city. I’ve never tried beef heart before, let alone in the form of hot dog, but a sub-goal to my travels is to adventure eat, to try as much socially weird foodstuff as possible. I’m the better looking, but shitty version of Andrew Zimmern, with Dave Attell’s liver.
Marti gets some Kielbasa with sauerkraut, and I take a bite of my Beef Heart hot dog, which, in symbolic vulgarity, is f*&%ing awesome. The best hot dog I’ve ever had. Seriously. The Cannibal is a tremendous spot to hang out, have some beers after a day of walking. The cuisine hits on the front-end of the butcher restaurant (Butcherant -new word!) trend in the US. This is your great-grandmother’s ‘animal pieces parts’ recipes spruced-up, rejuvenated. Absolutely delicious.
After dinner, I take Marti through Gramercy Park, only to find it’s locked down to keep riff-raff/hundredaires like myself from entering. Down Irving, back over to 18th street for some drinks at the Old Town Bar. Old town has been around forever, since 1892 to be exact. Book jackets adorn the walls – I look left and ‘Angela’s Ashes’ is hanging next to the bar with a signed picture of Frank McCourt; this is a true writers bar. Old town is featured in Caleb Carr’s ‘The Alienist’, a great historical fiction novel featuring my man, Teddy Roosevelt. Whenever I’m in NYC, i stop by to sop up the ghost remnants of inspiration and talent, more so the latter due to my finiteness in this area.
We retire back to Keri’s apt. for a Wii dance off competition, which I lose, horribly.
SUNDAY: East Village/Williamsburg
It’s a sign you’re getting old when you wake up sore from playing video games.
I suffer through a bum Wii arm, Paige heads off, having some work to do for a particular film festival I won’t name drop, but will tell you it rhymes with ‘Mybecca’. Keri mentions the Park Slope ‘flea market’ and Marti gives me a threatening ‘I love you, but if you don’t take me to the Park Slope Flea Market, said love will be painfully expensive’ kind of look, so I oblige.
Moseying though Park Slope, I get that Cleveland-neighborhood vibe I wrote about (HERE). The cherry blossoms are full bloom, neighbors/friends chit-chat on the street corners – it’s homey, relaxing, and I kind of want to skip Manhattan, stick around the area for the day.
Keri and Marti check out the flea market deals while I sprint towards the used records. I buy a Talking Heads single, Rolling Stones ‘Goathead Soup’ and a Philip Glass record from a guy who looks like Leon: the Professional. He tells me five times in a whispering voice Philip Glass is the his best seller, the last time taking down his sunglasses, shaking my hand vigorously, staring through my soul. Okay…
Keri takes us to David Eggers’ lair of pure genius, the Brooklyn Super Hero Supply Shop (http://www.superherosupplies.com/) . You can actually buy superhero gear from the shop, like the giant blog containment unit, capes, black hole spray, or a Superhero alliance map, but the store is a front for a youth-writing/education charity.
Keri, Marti and I head to Manhattan for lunch at Yaffa Cafe (Saint Marks Pl – East Village) with long-time friend Joe the Scientist, who’s literally a neuroscientist at Columbia Univ. During our amazing lunch at Yaffa, I try to convince the gang to go to the Russian bathhouse on Avenue B, feeling a bit of Russian nostalgia. The consensus, deduced from a highly scientific/logical theorization of the Bathhouse, is, ‘it’s a bit rapey’. I lose out. Joe suggests some mojitos at a mexican lounge on Ave B (right down the street from the bathhouse where I could literally see the damn thing), and instead, I get a michelada which is beer, and bloody mary mixed. It’s an interesting taste, something perhaps better suited for a ninety degree beach. I love beer, and adore Bloody Marys, not so much their love-child.
We say goodbye to Joe the Scientist; a way-too-short visit, and head back to Park Slope to pick up Paige/get ready for dinner at Walden in Williamsburg (Lorimer at Powers), where my good friend Andy is the head Chef.
Chef Andy takes us through his Crawfish dinner, explaining the process for his creations while simultaneously trying to catch up with us, and run a kitchen. A multitasker indeed. The food is astounding. I’ve never eaten crawfish before, and after mowing down a heaping pile, I’m hooked. Crawfish complemented with baked kale chips, and a slamming black bean with slab bacon…oh man. Biased or not, Andy is a tremendous chef, and I highly recommend Walden to any New Yorker, or visitor of the city.
It’s not that I’m surprised by Andy’s skills, it’s just one of those moments – if you don’t mind me sappily ‘friend bragging’ – when I realize how amazing my New York (and all) friends are: Chefs, opera singers, world travelers (kindred spirits), actors/actresses, improv comedians, writers, freaking neuroscientists, radio djs, teachers – though I no longer live in NYC, they inspire me infinitely, everyday.
I get caught up in this moment of reflection/memories bathing in the candle-lit ambience of Walden, sitting among a few of the aforementioned friends, and I fail to take any decent pictures of the food. Sue me, I was having too much fun to concentrate on lighting, and a couple extra pics of food being sexy isn’t going to sway a visit. Just go there. Go to Walden; go to Williamsburg; go to New York. Get lost in the historical goodness, put a proverbial finger on the cultural pulse of the US/arguably the world. Meet some new friends, connect with old ones – this is what traveling is all about.
(material is copyrighted under Roam About Mike, written so Fox News no longer steals Mike’s materials)