Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Luck Be A Lady

   New York has been home to folk, punk, salsa, hip hop, and almost every other conceivable American music genre over the years. But no other kind of music is exclusively associated with New York like the Broadway musical.
   Not only has the music of Broadway defined New York to outsiders for generations, but the stories of Broadway have been told in newspapers, magazines, movies, and shows. One of the great storytellers of Broadway was the newspaperman Damon Runyon. He was born in Manhattan, but unluckily for him it was Manhattan, Kansas. He remedied that mistake after serving as a soldier and writer out west and moved to New York at the age of 30 in 1910. He covered baseball and boxing, and wrote serious news for Hearst's papers. But he was mostly know for his short stories of Broadway and the toughs and gangsters that hung out there. His stories were also where he developed his particular and strange style of writing. He only ever used the present tense, always wrote from the perspective of an anonymous first person narrator, and never used contractions. Even quirkier were the names of his characters like Madame La Gimp, The Lemon Drop Kid, or Rusty Charley. After his death in 1946, his ashes were (illegally) dumped over Broadway from a plane piloted by his friend, WWI ace Eddie Rickenbacker.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Sidewalks of New York

   "The Sidewalks of New York" is one of the oldest anthems of the city. It was written by the vaudeville songwriting pair of James W. Blake and Charles B. Lawlor in 1894. The lyrics center around a common New York experience, nostalgia. Blake's lyrics reminisce about his old childhood friends and hangouts. In a city where neighborhoods can transform in as little as a decade, the wistful remembrance of a New York gone by is one of the only permanent features of the city's fabric.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

4 World Trade Center is open today!

   A lot of visitors don't realize that there is a lot going on at the World Trade Center besides the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial. But when it's done, the site will consist of four skyscrapers, the memorial, the 9/11 museum, a transit hub, and a performing arts center. Plus 7 World Trade Center already opened in 2006 across the street. But today, 4 WTC opened for business. It's a beautiful mirrored glass building and it has some cool looking waterfalls and art in the lobby I can't wait to check out. Here's a photo I took of the building back in May.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to Hail a Taxi

One of the indelible sights of new York, a long straight avenue, painted an undulating sea of yellow. The yellow taxi is not just an icon of the city, but also a key transport link in a city where most residents and visitors don’t use a car to get around town. In the movies, getting a taxi is as simple as sticking your arm out without even looking, but in real life, there’s a lot more complexity to haling a cab.

The most important tip for visitors is NEVER GET IN ANYTHING BUT A YELLOW CAB!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Take the A Train

   Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" is one of the most iconic pieces of New York music history. But by the time it was written, Ellington was already one of the elder statesmen of jazz having been a major star for almost 15 years when the tune was written in 1939.
   Ellington was born and raised in Washington, D.C. but had come to Harlem, in upper Manhattan as a songwriter and bandleader in 1923. After honing his chops as a bandleader near Times Square, Ellington's band was hired in 1927 to provide the music at the famous Harlem speakeasy The Cotton Club. The Cotton Club was no bastion of enlightenment. It was run by gangster and bootlegger Owney Madden and billed its music as "Jungle Music." The name and decor of the club hearkened back to the antebellum South and its audience was white only by rule. But Ellington led his band with grace and talent, experimenting with new forms and ideas in a way a touring band could never do. Ellington's fame spread throughout the country via live radio broadcasts of the Cotton Club performances, first on the CBS network and later on NBC. His success even allowed to push the club's ownership to relax the all-white door policy.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rhapsody in Blue

   Jazz was born out of the music of the South and the streets of New Orleans. But New York is where ideas from all over can combine into something magical. Paul Whiteman was a bandleader who was the first to create written arrangements of jazz pieces. For 1924 he produced a concert called "The Experiment in Modern Music" at Aeolian Hall. Today the building on 42nd Street across from Bryant Park that was home to the hall houses the State University of New York School of Optometry.

The Ultimate New York City Playlist Project

   Why do New Yorkers always have headphones over their ears on the subway? Is it to try to avoid hearing high school kids on the train yell slurs at each other? Is the homeless man at the end of the train car ranting about goldfish? Or are there just so many fantastic songs about New York and by New Yorkers that there isn't enough time in the day to listen to them all? Probably all of these are correct, but I am going to focus on the third one.
   I went on a quest to find as many great New York songs as I could and came up with a list of 80 songs from the whole recorded history of the city. But there are a few rules I imposed on myself. One, the artist has to be from the New York area. Connecticut and New Jersey are cool. Also, an artist need not be from New York originally, as long as they spent significant time here. Second, an artist can not be repeated. Everyone gets one song. Third, as many different genres of music should be included as possible. And finally, if a song is about New York or reflects it in some way, it gets automatically selected. I've broken it down into four albums of four eras, with 20 songs each. So behold, the ultimate NYC playlist:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cute subway conductor prank

   Our subway system is a marvel of old school infrastructure. The oldest section is almost 110 years old! And the technology of subway service really hasn't changed much in that time. The trains are not controlled by computers but by two dedicated civil servants. One who drives the train from the front, and the conductor in the middle car who opens the doors and makes announcements. When a train pulls in, a striped board hanging from the ceiling tells the conductor the train is correctly stopped in the station. But to be extra sure, the MTA requires the conductors to actually POINT at the board, so that they don't get lazy and forget to look. So someone thought of some fun to have with this regulation.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Keen's steakhouse lives up to the hype

   There are lots of famous eateries in New York. Some, like Katz's or Grimaldi's live up to, or at least deserve the hype. Other things like Magnolia Bakery or street vendor hot dogs hardly make the top picks in their genre, let alone deserve citywide hype. Just the memory of the now-defunct Tavern on the Green is enough to sadden a true food lover.
   So in this world of hyperventilating food magazines, shows, and their ilk, I'm happy to say that I think Keen's Steakhouse deserves all the accolades it collects.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

SO many ways to see the Statue of Liberty! (part II)

  Seeing Lady Liberty up close on Liberty Island is always exciting. But it is time consuming to go through security, and if you're like me you hate waiting on line on vacation. The good news is that there are a ton of other ways you could get a great photo of the statue.

   Battery Park: This park at the southern tip of Manhattan is the easiest spot to sneak a peak. But she is more than a mile offshore from this vantage point. This is usually the spot from which people utter the oft-heard phrase, "I thought she'd be bigger." So while you will get to see her, it's quick and a little disappointing.

   Staten Island Ferry: This is one of the world's classic voyages. It might be a stretch to call a 25 minute ferry ride a voyage, but the view of the Manhattan skyline is truly epic. And not only that, the ferry passes alongside Liberty Island from about half a mile or so. Check out the view at sunset.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

SO many ways to see the Statue of Liberty! (part I)

    How to see the Statue of Liberty (part I)

    One of the most common questions asked on my tours is the ideal way to see the Statue of Liberty. She is one of the most iconic sights in the U.S. after all. But she's out there on her own island (not very creatively called Liberty Island) and it takes some planning to pay her a visit. In fact, the best way to see her is going to require some very advanced planning. For the best experience, you have to do something difficult under any circumstance: Get inside a woman's head.

    Inside the crown of the Statue of Liberty 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Picnic Time!

    The weather in New York City has been absolutely gorgeous this September and October. The elms and willows in Central Park are turning yellow and the maples are turning bright orange and red. The cooler weather makes for more activity and musicians and performers in the parks and streets. Just look at my reading spot yesterday! Doesn't it make you want to take a picnic to the park?

  So that being said, all of you visiting NYC need to know the best spots to get a picnic to take to the park. And not just Central Park, all the parks have great picnicking suppliers to give you a great afternoon in sunshine. But let's start with Central Park: