Friday, March 28, 2014

Central Park in the Dark

   New Yorkers are scared of the dark. We are used to the bright lights and the big city. Not every block burns as bright as Times Square, but even quiet streets are bathed in the sickly orange glow of the city's sodium-vapor lamps. In the countryside, residents complain about light pollution and spend evenings gazing at the stars. But in the city, the darkness seems counter to the natural order of things. The shadows don't feel right. Perhaps that's why Central Park, even today can still feel unsettling after dark. Central Park is in fact extremely safe. Crime is nearly unheard of in the park today. So why should it still feel slightly menacing? Maybe it's just the stories from the 70s and 80s when the newspapers were awash with headlines of Central Park muggings and assaults. Maybe it's just the quiet hush of the park and the shadows dancing in the limbs of the grand trees. Whatever the reason, the park at night can still be quiet and eerie.
   It is that strange, unsettled feeling that is evoked in Charles Ives' Central Park in the Dark. Ives is one of the most independent and unique musicians on my list. He was born in Danbury, Connecticut, the son of a bandleader. Charles' father George would be the most important musical influence in his life. George was no ordinary bandleader, he experimented with polytonal composition, alternative tunings, and other musical experimentation. Charles even recalled an instance where his father had two bands play a different song on opposite sides of the town square and then march towards each other to create a blending of two unrelatred pieces. Charles would also play organ in churches around Connecticut, and in his days at Yale he would compose popular marches while at the same time being a standout athlete.

Ives in 1909, shortly after composing Central Park.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How to find a bathroom on the run

 As a tour guide, I have to remember a lot of information. I've got to know how deep the harbor is and what the filling in a cannoli is made with. I have to know crime rates and cool clubs. I have to be able to explain how to ride the subway, eat a slice of pizza like a local, and even what kind of sharks are in the East River (young kids have awesome questions). But there is one question that comes with an urgency no other query can equal. "Where is the nearest bathroom?"
   There are a critical lack of public restrooms in NYC, especially when walking around through the city all day. Residents have their homes and offices to use but tourists don't have those kind of options. The good news is that there usually are options, but you'll have to know where to look.
   First of all, there are a number of bad places to look for bathrooms. The worst place to look are shops. Most stores in NYC are small and have very little space for merchandise, let alone public toilets. Even large shops don't usually come with bathrooms. Fast food establishments aren't a great place to find bathrooms either. Many places like Subway don't have bathrooms. Others like McDonald's, Burger King, or Chipotle have facilites at some locations. But I have seen McDonald's that require paying 25 cents to open the lock. I also saw a Chipotle that required scanning your receipt to open the lock. Restaurants, of course, have bathrooms for patrons. But I find that most restaurants do a good job keeping non-patrons out of the dining room. They are reluctant to let anyone in who isn't paying. Most corner stores, or bodegas as they're often known in NYC, are also too small to have public restrooms.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The High Line Hotel

  Choosing a place to stay can be is often the most overwhelming choice facing visitors to New York City. There are almost 500 hotels in NYC listed on Tripadvisor. And while that provides a lot of options, it also means a confounding choice. Most of the hotels in the city are perfectly nice stays. Standards are high and clean rooms, good service, and convenient locations are the norm. Also normal is small rooms and high prices.
   So how to choose? The vast majority of the hotels are located in the Midtown business district, which is where many of the famous sights in New York are located. But, I prefer staying in one of the residential neighborhoods of the city. These are the districts of tree-lined streets filled with old brownstones, of high-end coffee bars and working class diners, of local pubs, and casual restaurants. These are the kind of places that make a stay special, where you can really feel the soul of New York. Where you can relax at the end of a day touring or get started in the morning. Plus the residential neighborhoods aren't overcrowded at rush hour and empty on late nights and weekends like Midtowns office blocks. So let me offer you one of my favorite places to stay outside of Midtown, in Chelsea at the High Line Hotel

Monday, March 3, 2014

Eating in Midtown: Hanbat

   Midtown is the center for most hotels and visitors in NYC. It's also the nation's largest business/commercial district. Unfortunately for most visitors staying in Midtown, the confluence of hotels and offices means that there aren't many of the casual, reliable, and affordable eateries nearby their hotels. So every now and then, I'll highlight a casual midtown eatery I enjoy. Today, Hanbat on W. 35th Street