Monday, December 27, 2010

Privilege to Pee

Everyone has been there: you're spending a fun-filled day in Manhattan, taking in the sights, seeing shows, auditioning, shopping, what-have-you, and suddenly . . . you need to use the facilities.  Now, in most areas of the world, this wouldn't be a problem.  In New York, it totally is.  The reason?  The "facilities" are few and far between.  And folks aren't too nice about letting you use them, either.  And, for that matter, even if you don't need to relieve your bladder, sometimes, you just need a place to rest your weary bones for an hour or so . . . preferably somewhere that does not expose said bones to the icy twenty-degree wind.   I hear you, folks.  Me too.  So, I know it's not necessarily a new adventure in the city, but seriously, most of the time, in the city that never sleeps, it sometimes IS an adventure to find a place to rest.

So, after employing the assistance of a few of my friends (thank you Julie, Rachael, Rachel, Hiatt, Michael, Bomboy, Jennifer, Brittney, Freddie, Jefferson, and Amy!), my main problem is how to organize all of my information.  I have hidden public restrooms, warm cozy atriums, secrets to avoiding long restroom lines, and general information as to how to relax in the city without paying a dime.  I'll start with the basics (so, if you consider yourself city-savvy, then scroll down) and I'll then I've decided to organize the rest by neighborhood.  Let's go.

The basics: when in desperate need of a restroom in Manhattan, always look for a Starbucks.  Their restrooms are generally open to the public and you pretty much can't swing a dead cat in the city without hitting a Starbucks.  The problem is, though, that some of the popular coffee joint's midtown locations have recently started requiring a purchase to access their restrooms and, thus, have those tacky gas station attached-to-a-spatula-or-some-other-ridiculous-object bathroom keys.  Some of the restrooms are better than others (most homeless folks know this little bit of info, too, and will often bathe in said restrooms), but if you have to go and you don't know where, Starbucks is your best bet.  So, in general, I'd say that your Starbucks restroom without-a-purchase not-completely-disgusting availability success rate is around 70-80%.  Here's another thing that people generally don't know: all hotel lobbies (and, subsequently, their restrooms) in New York are open to the public.  Now, there are tons of hotels in Manhattan, but the best thing about hotel lobbies is that they generally also have Wi-Fi.  Here's a great list of hotel Wi-Fi spots in the city:  Also, if you have a gym membership, I'm guessing that there are more than a few locations of whatever your gym is on the island of Manhattan.  It's always good to know if you're visiting, you are near a, let's say, Bally's and you want a shower, rest, or a place to change clothes (or, if you're crazy like me, a quick workout).

Oh, and you're always welcome to pick your way through the merchandise in any department store to find their restrooms.  Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Lord and Taylor, Saks, Henri Bendel, Barney's, and Bergdorf Goodman are fabulous places to use the restroom.  And they're always clean.  Just put on your blinders or you might end up leaving with a new juicy couture sweatsuit as well as an empty bladder.

Now for the super-secret rest/restroom locations:

***The best find ever: The Marriott Marquis Atrium Lounge.  Enter the hotel on Broadway between 45th and 46th, go to the central elevator, and head up to the 8th floor.  It's open, gorgeous, quiet, warm, and before 5pm, you have to buy NOTHING to hang out there for long periods of time.  I, quite literally, will pack a lunch and meet friends on the smooshy sofas for a long midday gnosh.  Their restrooms are clean and large and if you want to actually buy a lunch, there's a great little sushi restaurant across the way.

***Charmin.  It may be closing soon, but there's a public restroom on 7th ave between 42nd and 43rd courtesy of everyone's favorite toilet paper.

***New York Public Library reading room - okay, you can't bring food, but it's, in my opinion, one of the most peaceful places in the city.  It's warm and quiet and very centrally located - 42nd and 5th.  Make sure you go to the third floor (it's room 315).  And shhhhh.

***McDonald's on 7th Ave between 45th and 46th has a HUGE second floor seating area with a lovely bird's eye view of Times Square.  It can get a little crowded during mealtimes, but generally, nobody checks to see if you've purchased anything and it's, literally, in the center of everything.

***Worldwide Plaza - It's between 49th and 50th and between 8th and 9th avenues.  Worldwide plaza is an outdoor area, but if it's not really cold, it's a lovely place to sit and relax.  There are tons of tables and chairs and oftentimes in the summer, there is live music.  Also, you can grab a bite a Blockheads or Mother Burger and eat outside (I recommend the $3 margaritas).

***FYI, for all of you locals that love the Blockheads in Worldwide plaza, but hate the restroom line from the single-seater john, remember that you can walk across the plaza to the Mother Burger (same restaurant owner) for a MUCH shorter line.

***Broadway Dance Center.  I know, I know.  But it's on 45th between 8th and 9th and they have a nice lobby with at least 5 different televisions and sofas.  If you're a tourist and want to watch a New York dance class, the folks at BDC don't stop you from meandering in, walking through the facility and taking a peek at the classes in progress (every studio has windows so you can watch without disturbing). Also, it's warm, welcoming, and has a locker room in case you randomly need a shower or change of clothes.

***Bryant Park public restrooms - they're actually really nice!  The line can get a little long, but if you head to the northernmost edge (42nd) of the park near the public library entrance, you're sure to find the clean and well-maintained toilets.

Columbus Circle area/Central Park: 
***The Time Warner Center is always your best bet.  Clean restrooms, warm shopping, a Whole Foods with dining area downstairs, and a Borders on the second floor with tables, chairs, and coffee.  If you don't want to spend a dime, but want some quality reading time, head to the Borders and walk to the back and left and there are tons of chairs where people will leave you alone for hours!

***Central Park sucks if you have to use the facilities.  Trust the person that trained there for the marathon.  But . . . the few sure-fire places to relieve yourself are: the restrooms outside of the Loeb Boathouse on the east side of the Ramble, the johns in the old Tavern on the Green and the toilets by Le Pain Quotidien north of Sheep's Meadow.  There are also pretty well-hidden public toilets just north of the Jackie Kennedy Reservoir and south of North Meadow on the west side of the park, but it's a bit of a hike . . . unless you like tennis and want to watch for a while.

Lincoln Center area: 

***Bed Bath and Beyond on 65th and Broadway has a clean and accessible lavatory on the basement level.

***There's a lovely public atrium on 63nd street between Broadway and 9th called Harmony Atrium.  It's covered and warm and you can grab a glass of wine or cup of coffee before seeing a show at Lincoln Center.  Or not.  You don't have to purchase anything to chill at one of the tables.

***Barnes and Noble on 66th - In fact, any Barnes and Noble is a great place to use the commode or to chill amongst the stacks.  This particular Barnes has a large seating area on the top floor as well as a Starbucks in case you need a pick-me-up.  There are two restroom locations on the second and top floors, so take your pick.

***Pottery Barn on 67th and Broadway - after entering the store, go down the stairs and head to the right.  They're clean and I'll wager a guess that most folks don't know they exist.  Lack of foot (or other appendage) traffic is key in finding a non-disgusting latrine in the city.

***The lower level of the Trump Tower on 56th and 5th Ave has clean and spacious restrooms.  Thanks, Mr. Trump!

Other [(Brooklyn, Queens, and south of 34th and east of 5th) (not like anybody ever goes there)]:

***Whole Foods on Houston - great place to sit, grab a gnosh, and use the facilities.  If you're ever down there in KANSAS.

***Other Barnes and Noble locations with restrooms and warm seating areas: Court Street in Cobble Hill, 7th Ave in Park Slope, the north side of Union Square

***There are restrooms, a little coffee stand, and tables and chairs if it's warm enough to hang outside the Brooklyn Museum.  Also, if you're on your way to the 2 or 3 train, it's pretty convenient.

***There are a ton of delis and restaurants that have hidden seating upstairs or downstairs.  If you are game to buy some food or a cup of coffee, make sure to ask about additional seating.  Chances are, there's space to spread out and take a load off.

There you have it, folks.  It's by far not complete, but hopefully, it will, at some point, help you with your New York privilege to pee.  Rest up and stay warm, folks.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dali for the Masses

In the great words of Louise Nevelson, “Art is everywhere . . . except it has to pass through a creative mind”.   We see art in the intricacy of the petals of a rose, the contour of a dancer’s back, the music of the wind through the trees.  In New York, though, there is all of that wonderful unintentional art (well, as far as man is concerned, anyway) as well as a plethora man-made, for lack of a better phrase, intentional art.  "Art", as it were, is shoved into every nook and cranny of the city, on every billboard, on the back of every bathroom stall, in every open courtyard, and on every wall of every condemned warehouse in Chelsea.  Jean Michel Basquiat-esque graffiti, trash sculptures, complex multi-media presentations, performance art, paintings, etchings, and carvings.  To say the market is saturated is a gross understatement.  Art, in New York, is more than everywhere . . . if that's even possible.  So, I was definitely less than surprised when I heard that the mall in the Time Warner Center was hosting a six-month-long exhibit of Dali sculptures.  Dali plus shopping mall?  How could I not go check it out?

My (soon-to-be-famous-television-star) friend, Erin Hiatt, and I schlepped over to the gargantuan Time Warner Center on the west side of Columbus Circle and dodged the folks streaming in and out of the glass doors to enter the shiny vestibule.  Here's the thing about the Time Warner building: it's a gorgeous and sweeping attempt at combining upscale shopping, even-more-upscale dining, condos, a hotel, and a cultural center.  Many New Yorkers even call it the city's newest landmark (it was completed in 2004).  Yes, it's structurally stunning.  Yes, Per Se is a dining experience not to be missed.  Yes, Jazz at Lincoln Center is a blast.  No, I don't think the Time Warner Center is all it was originally designed to have been.  It has, sadly, for lack of a better phrase, been overrun by the unwashed masses.  Okay, so they're not so unwashed.  In fact, some of the clientele probably bathes in La Mer, but nevertheless, it's pretty much always a zoo in there.  Maybe it's the Whole Foods in the basement, but every time I visit, there are screaming children running through the wide hallways, dirty John Jay students toting skateboards, and fanny pack and Old Navy-sporting tourists pouring over maps and brochures.  The apparently intended Ferragamo-wearing locals are either up at the bar at Masa or have moved their shopping to Bergdorff's because of the utter pandemonium that frequents the halls of the Time Warner.  Now, add to that 16 sculptures and 40 drawings by the infamously pompous and narcissistic Spanish surrealist, Salvador Dali.  Like I said, art: everywhere.  Even where you don't want to see it.

We picked our way to the rear of the main entrance and sure enough, the first sculpture, "Woman Aflame" was literally being scaled by a snotty-nosed five-year-old while her mother negligently sampled Godiva truffles a few feet away.  Mr. Dali, I'm sure, was rolling over in his mausoleum.  We were appropriately aghast.  Eventually, the woman called off her little beast and we were able to view the sculpture without its added appendage.  It, actually, was fairly interesting.  Not that I know a ton about art (obviously), but the motion of the figure was captivating and the angle of her back, the blank expression on her face, and the empty drawers protruding from her body made me, somehow, feel her tragic desperation.  I decided to take a walk around the sculpture.  Yeah . . . not so much.  I tried from every angle to get a view of the sculpture from more than two feet away and was cut off within thirty seconds by one oblivious shopper or another.  Truly, after a few minutes of trying to genuinely appreciate this DALI, I was so frustrated that I didn't care anymore.  Hiatt folded her arms and gestured toward a large brass sculpture of one of his famous melting clocks.  A woman with a stroller and seventeen shopping bags was literally moving the red rope around it to accommodate her girth.  No attention was paid to the piece of art above her.  She was too busy sipping her latte and looking for the Coach store.  Wow.  Just . . . wow.

Now, while I understand the whole idea behind the Dali exhibit, I am more upset by the disregard for these pieces.  Well, I was.  Until I offhandedly commented to Hiatt, "I didn't know Dali was a sculptor". She responded, "He wasn't".  I looked a little closer.  She was right.  All of the sculptures that we saw were created with what was called the "lost wax casting process".  Basically, Dali approved and oversaw an initial set of castings that were done in the 1980's that were based on his paintings.  The key word being: oversaw.  So . . . he didn't sculpt them with his own hands/tools/eye/time?  Forgive me, readers, for being naive in the world of art, but do people really do this?  I guess this begs the question: how far removed can a piece be from the artist and still be considered said artist's art?  (Now, that's a whole other blog.)  I felt a little gypped.  I knew something seemed a little not-Dali-esque about them (I happen to have seen a number in person).  Now, I knew why.  Forgive the analogy, but it was like seeing a Prada-ripoff in TJ Maxx.  Okay, maybe not that bad, but I was definitely a little let down.

As Hiatt and I diligently perused the remainder of the pieces throughout the mall, I wondered how many other of these sculptures had been made from the same cast.  Somehow, that made it a little less special that there were other "Women Aflame" (potentially in other shopping malls throughout the world).  Not that I thought a first-grader should have permission to climb on the one in New York, but I realized that, perhaps, this exhibit was a little more appropriate to its surroundings than I thought.  I looked across the crowd into the Prada and spotted a purple patent leather bag.  Now, THAT'S art, I thought.  Hmm . . . Maybe that was the point of the whole lost-wax casting thing.  How many of these people would ever go to the Vatican Museum in Florence (like me!) and see Dali's "The Trinity"?  Probably not many.  How many could afford that fabulous Prada yumminess in the window?  Definitely not me.  I'm guessing these sculptures weren't as pricey as the one-of-a-kind paintings done by Mr. Dali's own hand, so how different were they than a really good Prada knock-off?  (Yes, I get that he approved the mold and I'm assuming Miuccia Prada did not approve the knock-offs, but bear with me, here.)  Essentially, the folks at the Time Warner Center had brought Dali to the masses.  Surrealist art in a shopping mall.  Art: everywhere.  Will the sculptures make your shopping experience a little more interesting?  Yes.  Will the people that have been living under a rock and have not seen the melting clocks potentially stop and ponder the brilliance of the concept?  Sure.  Do the crowded pretentious shopping mall and the kind-of-but-not-really-Dali sculptures deserve one another?  Probably.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

STAY New in New York

Hey, readers!  If you'd like to keep abreast of my newest adventures in the city, send an email to and I'll send you an email when I post new blogs.  Cheers!

Friday, December 10, 2010

New York's Best Mojito

Humans seem to have always been obsessed with finding and acknowledging the best of everything.  The best restaurant, the best moisturizer, the best singer, etc.  Even though we homo-sapiens all have individual likes and dislikes, we have some inherent need to compile our varied thoughts to find "the best".  Why?  I dunno.  But, I'm pretty much par for the course as far as this is concerned.  I use the "best" moisturizer, I long to dine at the "best" restaurants.  So . . . when a friend told me where to find the "best" mojitos in New York, you bet I high tailed it down to the East Village to see for myself.

Yuca Bar is located near Tompkins Square Park on Avenue A in the belly of the East Village (yep - you got that right - I schlepped all the way down there to try a mojito - yes I did).  Its rustic stone facade and hand painted walls perfectly compliment its "eclectic Pan-Latin fusion" menu and while the website's description for the restaurant sounds like one of those new age frou-frou fusion joints, my take was that it was much more homey and neighborhood-y than I would have expected.  And I loved it.  My first observation was that the crowd was fabulously varied and there was a general party atmosphere that permeated the joint - there was a large and boisterous group of people in the back of the restaurant cheering loudly in Spanish, a young hipster couple in the front window was surrounded by at least 6 empty mojito glasses, and our bartender was getting the life story of two thickly accented Scottish men beside us.

Victor and I hopped onto a bar stool and ordered two happy hour mojitos.  The curly-haired bartender went through a pretty lengthy process that included muddling mint, ice, limes, and sugar and shaking rum with ice, and after a few minutes, presented us with two very festively authentic-looking cocktails garnished with a straw-length chunk of raw sugarcane and sprigs of fresh mint.  For those of you that don't know, Cuba is the official birthplace of the mojito, a cocktail that is traditionally made with white rum, sugar cane syrup, mint, lime, and sparkling water (although the original Cuban recipe involves spearmint).  Most historian-types think that this drink had its origins in the 19th century when African slaves who worked in the Cuban sugarcane fields mixed cocktails with guarapo (sugarcane juice) after a long day in the fields.  Well, I have to say, whoever discovered it, thumbs up, because this mojito was fe-abulous!  A sweet slice of freshness and a cane of sugar to chew on to boot.  And at the happy hour price of $6, you seriously can't beat it with a stick (or a cane . . . of sugar)!

Victor and I perused the yummy-looking menu and ordered a shrimp ceviche and some mahi-mahi skewers (obviously, this was before my raw vegan adventure as well -  which is going very well so far, thank you).  It was all yummy-licious.  The ceviche was perfectly sweet with a spicy kick, the chips were crispy taro and sweet potato and the mahi, while not my favorite dish, had a glaze that I would love to have again, potentially on some ribs.  The food was just as joyously festive as the cocktails and the atmosphere.  We munched and, joining the fiesta vibe, ordered another mojito.

In short, on a cold and grey winter day, we took a little dinner vacation to a small town in Cuba by way of the East Village.  Subway fare: way cheaper than airfare to Cuba.  Was it the best mojito I had ever had?  Yep.  Best mojito ever made?  Probably not.  I dunno.  But does it really matter as long as you enjoy it?  Nope.  I'll definitely be back.  Well, after January.  (Rum, for your reference, is not a raw food.)  Beberse todo.  Disfrutar!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Creepy Hike Under the GWB

Directly under the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side lies the last thing you would expect would be directly under the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side.  A park.  Not like, a city park with swings and sandboxes and homeless folk.  Like, a national park, with hiking trails and campsites and picnic areas.  And, apparently, with a view of the Manhattan skyline.  Here's the skinny: Palisades National Park is twelve miles long, 1/2 mile wide, and boasts (according to their website), "mile after mile of rugged woodlands and vistas just minutes from midtown Manhattan".  Yeah . . . all that and a bag of chips, right?  Serious hiking minutes from midtown?  Dude.  Really?  I mean, how rugged could it be when the "miles of woodlands" are sandwiched between the Hudson River and the Palisades Parkway, right?  Well, last week, Victor and I endeavored to find out.

Here's how it happened:  The Palisades Interstate Park Commission was created by New York and New Jersey in 1900 to keep stone quarries from destroying the cliffs on the west side of the Hudson.  The area that is now under the George Washington Bridge and the miles north of it was the first section of land that was acquired by this commission.  Basically, it's been there ever since.  And nobody has messed with it . . . other than to establish trails, set up a few restroom facilities, and carve out overlooks and parking lots at the trail heads.  So . . . Victor and I drove to the northernmost parking area, found the nearest trail head and started trekking.  We, I believe, were on the Closter Landing Loop, a five mile trail on the north-westernmost area of the park (meaning, the upper part of the cliff or, for all intents and purposes, the high road).  The beginning of the trail was a lovely little stroll through the woods and we chatted and sipped coffee in the brisk early winter air.  The interesting thing was, the trail wove from side to side (east to west), so we could view, alternately, the breathtaking, peaceful, and sprawling view from thousands of feet above the Hudson and the very loud and very concrete Palisades Parkway.  It was, literally, a slice of nature.  A very small slice.  As we rambled through the fallen leaves, the terrain became incrementally more raked toward the east.  I could see how this hike could get a little scary.  There was very little between us and a long slide into the cold waters of the Hudson.  Still, though, it was a moderate and very pretty, if from time to time noisily polluted by traffic, hike.

After a while, though, the Parkway receded, the noise receded further and further into the distance, and we came upon what I can only call . . . ruins.  Rising out of the fallen leaves was what must have once been a large stone building.  The windows and doors were long gone, but the sun slanted through them to reveal a man-made floor and windows to an inner room.  Rubble and fall leaves were scattered on the floor and as we explored, we found small enclosed rooms containing debris, leaves, and the remnants of a previous human presence (water bottles, glass, etc.)  We climbed stairs to the roof and picked our way over the holes where the roof had caved into the tunnels of the building below.  I was suddenly aware of how quiet it had become and how utterly alone we were.  I gazed into a dimly lit completely enclosed alcove and wondered who or what lived there in the night-time.  Then I wondered if he/she/it was still here during the day and if we were potentially disturbing he/she/its slumber.  Suddenly, in my vastly avid imagination, I was Will Smith in I Am Legend and Victor and I were the only two people left on earth and some creepy alien thing was dragging its pale emaciated body out of the rubble to feed on my flesh.  I hustled to Victor's side.

"Dude.  I'm a little creeped out.  Isn't that silly?", I asked hesitantly.

"Nope.  I am, too.", he replied, "Let's explore down here away from the trail".  Um . . . yeah . . . great.

Now, it's not like you can get all that lost in Palisades Park since it's 1/2 mile wide, but it is pretty significantly steeply set up, so it was a little precarious moving away from the trail and down toward the Hudson.  But, if you know me at all, you know that I'm always up for adventure, so I headed down the steep incline after my equally-as-adventurous husband.  We encountered more stone structures that I found, after a little post-hike research, were part of what was once called "Millionaire's Row", part of a clump of old estate foundations along the Palisade cliff tops.  We carefully picked our way down the steep incline through the piles of stone and vegetation and I nearly missed stepping into a very deep hole surrounded by stone.  I peered down to the bottom of what was once a small room or a large well and strained to see the sides of the enclosed area.  I couldn't.  Yeah . . . anybody seen The Descent?  I imagined an assembly of pale, fanged, semi-human Gollum-like creatures reaching their spindly arms out to drag me down from the Palisades into Dante's seventh circle of hell.

I looked over at Victor and realized he was equally as intrigued/creeped/excited by the eerily quiet ruins as I.  We explored a bit more and as the sun began to angle toward the horizon, we decided to head back to civilization.  It took some picking through high foliage, but we eventually found our way back to the trail and eventually the car safe and sound.  As we drove home, we discussed the breathtaking views of the city, the beautifully sunny and crisp taste of nature that we had enjoyed, and, of course, the perfect beginning to a horror flick that we had just lived.  And it was all good.  And deliciously sinister.  Palisades Park is, by far, not a get-lost-and-be-surrounded-by-nature hike, but I would say if you're in the New York area and you want a little perspective (or you want a fabulous place to shoot your Jeepers Creepers-inspired student film), it's worth a little trip across the George Washington Bridge.  Just bring an extra friend in case you need to sacrifice someone to the creatures of the forest.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Winter's Eve at Lincoln Square

Last week, at the suggestion of my buddy, Brittney, I attended the annual tree lighting and winter festivities in Lincoln Square.  Winter's Eve, as it's called, is deemed (according to their literature) "NYC's Largest Holiday Festival", spreads along Broadway from Columbus Circle to 68th street, and features live music, face painting, acrobats, carolers, arts and crafts, shopping, a large scale tree lighting, and food from some of the best restaurants in the area.  It was beautiful and fun and very festive, but, to be quite honest, it was kind of a lot.  Here's the skinny.

Victor, Rachael, and I met Brittney and her adorable son, Max on the steps of Lincoln Center just after dark to pick up a little holiday cheer while watching the tree-lighting ceremony.  We joined a bevy of cheerful families in listening to an interesting conglomeration of musicians and performers (a jazz band, some cloggers, and a virtuoso fiddler) and oohed and aahed when the appropriately PC blue-lit holiday tree was illuminated.  The crowd was a little large and the performers were a bit too far away to hear clearly, but from our vantage point, we had an unobstructed view of the semi-large tree, so while we were a tad removed from the festivities, it was a pleasurable, if slightly unremarkable tree lighting experience.  (And Max really liked the virtuoso fiddler, so that alone was worth the trip!)  We then headed up to Richard Tucker Park to one of the numerous outdoor food tasting stations for a little grub and some more holiday festiveness.  Well . . . apparently, every other person in New York and its surrounding boroughs had the same idea.  Every foot of the less-than-one-block triangle of space was quite literally packed with tents from different restaurants serving winter-inspired chow and encircled by lines of people hoping to snag some of the cheap grub.  Dozens of swanky eateries featured soups, ravioli, and pasta for three and four dollars per portion and every person in the square seemed to know which tents they wanted to visit.  Luce had wild mushroom ravioli, Gourmet Garage had tomato bisque, and Bar Boulud featured a butternut squash soup.  Folks squeezed past each other, moving through the square, often toting piles and piles of cheap gourmet food and hot chocolate.  I tried some fabulous ravioli, but when we tried to find a place to enjoy it, we were jostled from side to side and were, generally, pretty uncomfortable.  It seemed that the best plan of action was to just keep moving with the flow.  Like I said, it was a lot.

We had a thoroughly addicting (and I'm assuming VERY cream-based) tomato soup from the Gourmet Garage tent and a cupcake from Magnolia and headed down toward Columbus Circle in search of a Mexican Hot Chocolate from Rosa Mexicana.  (Obviously, I participated in this adventure before the installation of my raw vegan diet).  Along the way we encountered an array of jugglers, unicycle riders, clowns, and face painters, all partially or completely surrounded by mostly impenetrable crowds.  Nevertheless, the trees lining Broadway were illuminated, the air was a crisp, and the company was unbeatable.  When we arrived at Columbus Circle, the scene was very similar to the one uptown - festive, but riotous.  We wove our way toward the hot chocolate booth just to find out . . . they had run out.  Wah wah.  Dude, that's what happens when tens of thousands of folks come out to celebrate in the cold weather.  The Rosa Mexicana people didn't anticipate tons of hot chocolate sales?  Really?  We scooted to the edge of the sidewalk to survey the situation and figure our next move (we would be trampled if we attempted to do so in the middle of the path).  We decided to head toward home and heat and peace and quiet.  The sidewalk, for as far as I could see, was cacaphonous.  Interestingly enough, though, the holiday spirit permeated even the thickest sections of the crowd as the normally (well, in my experience when bargains are to be had) combative crowd threaded politely past each other.  I heard folks actually saying, "Excuse me" and "That pulled pork looks good.  Where did you get it?".  I even, for the most part, saw more smiles than frowns.  Not to oversimplify the entire gigantic festival, but I think that perhaps Lincoln Square's Winter's Eve, in its own way, was a New York success.  What can I say?  Smooshing huge amounts of hungry New Yorkers into a small space without conflict and nary a disgruntled comment is, in my estimation, somewhat of a Christmas miracle.  Happy holidays.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Manhattan's Secret Subway Station

I had read it in a few places. has an article entitled, "The 'Secret' Subway Stop" that uses phrases like, "hidden deep under New York" and ". . . if you know how to find it".    Weekly World News has an article that says a visit to this secret stop makes "you literally go back in time", and is accompanied by gorgeous pictures of an ornate and glowing gold station of the past.  Other sites say that the ghost of a former train conductor from 1904, Fritz Barnkopf, wanders through the train when it passes through the station, asking passengers for a secret password ("Teddy Roosevelt" in case you encounter the walking deceased).  Now, I'm a sucker for a ghost story and I'm more of a sucker for solving a mystery, so you'd better bet that I, and my brave cohort Hiatt, took a journey on the 6 train to seek out the mysterious unused City Hall subway station.

First off, I did my research.  According to all of the articles, all we needed to do to encounter this station of the past was to take the 6 train to the last stop (Brooklyn Bridge) and stay on the train.  Basically, the train circles back to head uptown and the formerly functional City Hall station is located somewhere in that loop.  Sounded easy enough.  Hiatt and I boarded the train and headed south, cameras poised in anticipation of ghosts and adventure.  Like the geeky tourists that we were emulating, we even asked a stranger to take a picture of us (well, I asked him to take three - a girl's gotta look good in a pic).  Soon, the train reached its southernmost station and an electronic voice kindly asked us all to get off the train.  We stayed, feeling like naughty little kids and giggled while we paced around the train.  Secret subway stop, here we come!!!!  I must admit, I was a smidge creeped out.  There's nothing weirder than an empty subway car.  Particularly one that's taking you into the depths of the unknown, an unknown that's apparently patrolled by a dead train conductor. The doors closed, the train started forward, and we pressed our faces and cameras to the windows on the side of the train.  Dark.  The train moved on.  More dark.  Then, slowly, the dark walls moved away to reveal . . .

A dirty old barely visible run-of-the-mill subway tunnel.  Okay . . . maybe it would get better.  Between the florescent lights inside the car, the darkness outside the car, and the glare from the windows, I barely saw a grey "City Hall" pass by my window.  "Oh!  We're here!  I think . . ."  I squinted to try to see more.  We crept along and smooshed our noses against the window at the front of the car and looked toward a growing light at the end of the tunnel.  Suddenly, a dark shadow crossed our  line of vision and we simultaneously squealed and jumped backward.  The ghost!  Yeah . . . no.  Just the conductor wondering why two ridiculous young women decided to stay on the train after he had told them to get off.  We exhaled and focused on the growing light.  This must be the secret stop.  It grew and grew, and . . . we saw . . . Brooklyn Bridge.  Again.  And a lot of grumpy commuters.  Wah wah.  REALLY?  That was it!?!?!?  The much acclaimed "secret" subway stop that was the subject of so many articles was a dusty old ledge and a barely visible sign?  Boo!!!  FAIL!!!  We joined the disgruntled strap hangers in body and in spirit and settled in for the ride back to Midtown.  I looked at Hiatt, "Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?".  She rifled through her ginormous purple bag for chapstick and scrutinized a pair of too-tight jeans in front of us.  "Right.  Let's go get some sush".  Leaving: adventure.  Next stop: reality.  Moral of the story:  Don't believe everything you read on the internet.  Well, that is except what you read here.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Veganista in the Raw

So, there’s this pseudo-trendy movement these days in New York (and, for that matter, in most areas of the country) that is beginning to greatly affect the restaurant and food sales industry.  A cruel new kind of degustory torture called raw veganism is quickly spreading throughout the nation (well, New York and LA, anyway) and models, moguls, and celebrities alike are flocking to the nearest Whole Foods to comply with the newest and coolest diet of the year.  Demi Moore, Brooke Shields, Woody Harrelson, Natalie Portman, and Paul McCartney have all recently proclaimed their departure from the age-old habit of meat and cheese consumption in favor of a vegan or raw “lifestyle”.  Similarly, the likes of Rawstar, Tao Palate, and Candle 79 have taken the New York restaurant scene by storm and are only inspiring more restauranteurs to create havens for the growing number of folks looking to munch on unprocessed, uncooked, and (I’m assuming) generally un-tasty nuts, twigs, and berries.  Ellen Degeneres and Dr. Oz have devoted entire episodes to the cessation of animal ingestion while Alicia Silverstone’s new book, “The Kind Diet” is selling like hotcakes.  And for those of you that don’t consider anything trendy until you see it on Sex and the City, the restaurant where Kim Cattrall met her hottie boyfriend Smith in episode 76 (don’t judge me, people) was called RAW and had a menu that reflected its name.  What’s the deal, folks?  How much more amazing can a raw vegan lifestyle be than, let’s say, bacon?  Or brie? Or a 10-ounce filet cooked medium rare with a bĂ©arnaise sauce?  I guess I’ll have to see for myself.

According to Wikipedia:

A raw vegan diet consists of unprocessed, raw plant foods that have not been heated above 46 °C (115 °F). Raw vegans believe that foods cooked above this temperature have lost much of their nutritional value and are less healthy or even harmful to the body. Typical foods include fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and sprouted grains and legumes.

Um . . . so, like, literally, nuts and twigs and berries.  And, I guess, fruits and vegetables, too.  Okay . . . fine.  I can do that.  What’s the big fancy ultra cool deal about being a raw vegan?  Well, according to the websites I have looked at, the benefits are pretty widespread and varied . . . but you can’t believe everything you read on the internet (duh).  Nevertheless, here are the supposed benefits:

Raw foods have more nutrients than cooked food and, thus, give you more energy.

Raw vegans say that processed food (think, Sun Chips and GoGurt) have stuff in them that enhance flavor and cause excitotoxicity (the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged and killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamate and similar substances).  Whatever that means . . .

Raw foods have good bacteria and micro-organisms that are killed by cooking.  Some believe that these can ward off rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and can stifle signs of aging.

It apparently is the cool thing to do

Alright.  It seems like a pretty crazy lifestyle, but . . . why not?  On a personal note, I've also been inspired my my healthy schmealthy mother and father-in-law that have been vegan for years - and they seem to grow younger with every year.  Also, my fabulous dance partner, Freddie Kimmel, has been a proponent as well.  Ooh, and he has a great blog: - read it - it's brilliant.  So, folks, let’s do a little experiment in the interest of blogging about new stuff.  From this moment (December 1 at 6pm) through December 30th, I am going to be a raw vegan.  With the exception of one prearranged dinner party (I don’t want to be a bad houseguest), I will not be ingesting anything cooked over 115 degrees and no animal product will pass my lips.  We’ll see how it goes.  Hey, it can’t hurt, right?  And anybody can do anything for 30 days.  I’ll keep a little journal so I remember how it goes and you guys can look forward to the official “results” blog on January 2, 2011.  In the meanwhile, I’ll be blogging as usual about fun NY stuff.  Next blog: the secret subway stop.

Now . . . what the HECK can I eat?