Friday, October 24, 2014

How to eat well in NYC

   Food is the most memorable part of any trip for me. I have wonderful beach memories from Hawai'i, but I have even better memories of slurping noodles and shave ice. The Hagia Sofia is Istanbul was awe-inspiring, but sipping coffee in back alleys was even better. The memories we associate with food trigger different senses and are more powerful than just remembering what we see. And the pressure is on when you visit New York, one of the great food cities on Earth. You don't want to come here and have a bad food experience. Rather than make a list of great restaurants (there's plenty of those already), I figured I would compile some tips and resources to help you find the best food. So let's start with some habits to avoid.

Quite a feast in #flushing. #chinesefood #queens #oystersauce #taiwanese #nyc #realnytours

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Broadway Alternatives - Sleep No More

   Much of theater in New York is easily divided into categories. Is your theater larger than 500 seats? Then it's a Broadway theater. Between 100 and 499 seats? Well, that's Off-Broadway. Smaller still is Off-Off-Broadway. There's lots of different styles of plays performed on these stages, from Shakespeare to Disney. But what if the theater doesn't have seats? What if the performers don't speak? What if the audience can move and observe whatever they like? There's no category for that. But it's called Sleep No More.
Photo courtesy of Sleep No More

Monday, September 15, 2014

Neighborhood Guides - Astoria, Queens

   There's a feeling to Astoria, a kind of nostalgic haze of old New York that hangs over the neighborhood. When you imagine growing up on the streets of New York the image is just like Astoria, filled with playgrounds, swimming pools, the smell of fresh pastries, and grandparents tending their front gardens. The life of the sidewalks is timeless, but the new residents of Astoria epitomize modern New York. Diverse immigrants from dozens of nations mix with long-time residents and newly arriving professionals. It's the perfect neighborhood for visitors to experience the best of everyday life in New York, and perfect for enjoying bars, restaurants, cafes, shops, parks, and the city's diversity.

Friday, August 22, 2014


   Artie Shaw was one of the most popular bandleaders of the Swing Jazz era. A succession of bands he led with his gliding clarinet produced massive hits in the late 30s and his radio audiences and record sales rivaled and sometimes surpassed the popularity of his rival, the great Benny Goodman. He was selling millions of records in 1938 and '39, touring to raucous crowds around the country. He led the most popular band in the nation. And then, he suddenly broke up the band, retreated to Mexico and went quiet.
   He would form another, smaller band shortly thereafter but the pattern of break-up and then diverting to a new direction would define Shaw's life and career. He defined the archetype of the reluctant star who disdains his success, spurns his fans, rejects commercial opportunities, pursues a unique artistic vision, constantly seeks new artistic ground, and ultimately gives it all up without a thought to his legacy or future career. It's no wonder that in a musical genre defined by good times and happy feet, his self-penned theme song would be a stark, droning, macabre number called "Nightmare."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Broadway Alternatives: The Bell House

   Few venues in the city are as eclectic as The Bell House. The venue stands in a former printing press building near the banks of Brooklyn's industrial waterway, the Gowanus Canal. The location might be uninspiring (unless fetid sewer water inspires you) but the ramshackle old industrial buildings bristle with creative energy. Up the hill in either direction might be the fine homes and well-to-do families of Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, but down in the valley it's more freewheeling. The Bell House anchors the neighborhood with some great entertainment for folks who aren't impressed by bright lights and expensive bottle service.
   In the front of the venue is a large and charming lounge. The old garage doors open wide onto the street allowing people to gather around outside on pleasant nights. Inside, sofas and lounge chairs allow everyone to hang out before the shows start. It's a striking thing about the best venues in the city that they all have comfortable places to hang out separate from the venue. It helps when the front bar is a simple neighborhood place that you'd want to hang out.

Friday, May 16, 2014

The 9/11 Memorial is now truly open

  The President and other dignitaries were in New York yesterday to celebrate the opening of the 9/11 Memorial Museum. The museum is a crucial part of the overall World Trade Center project, especially as the years pass and the generation born after 9/11 grows older. It is always somewhat shocking to think of the high school sophomores and juniors on my tours and to realize that they don't remember 9/11. The museum will bring a visceral and personal reminder of the stories of New York in late 2001 and what people experienced on that day and in the months after for generations of young people. But up on the plaza above the museum, where the memorial's sunken pools mark the site of the Twin Towers, something even more important happened with no fanfare at all. A few small lines of fences were removed.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Pizza Wars: Juliana's, Grimaldi's, and the unanswerable question.

  "What is the best pizza in New York?" The question tantalizes the lips of locals and visitors in New York City alike. The siren call of melting cheese, fresh basil, charred dough, and tangy tomato sauce beckons all who walk the streets of here. A slice of pizza is the food most associated with New York City. And it should be. After all, it was an Italian immigrant to New York named Gennaro Lombardi who received the license to operate the country's first pizzeria in 1905 at 53 1/2 Spring Street, in what was then Little Italy and today is called NoLiTa (short for North of Little Italy). The clientele was mostly Napolean immigrants like Lombardi who appreciated the humble, flavorful tastes of home. Pizzas were especially appreciated on Fridays when the Catholic community shunned meat.  His restaurant survived until 1984 when an economic downturn shuttered the business. But it has since reopened though it moved to a new location on Spring Street. Today, Lombardi's is owned by John Brescio, who partnered with childhood friend Jerry Lombardi (grandson of Gennaro) to open the new location down the block from the original in 1994.

The original Lombardi's