Friday, November 20, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 9) - The Metropolitan Museum of Art

   Day 9 is all about one of the greatest treasures in New York City, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It would take weeks just to fully explore the museum. The figures are staggering. The museum's front stretches along for five blocks of 5th Avenue. Inside is two million square feet of exhibit space and a collection of more than three million pieces. The museum includes everything from contemporary 21st century art all the way back to a Persian jar from 5,700 years ago. It features fully reconstructed rooms from ancient Egypt, renaissance Italy, and 20th century Wisconsin. What I'm trying to say is, you aren't going to see the whole museum. Don't even try. In fact, even trying to spend a whole uninterrupted day there is exhausting. So I've developed a few strategies. I actually love going to the museum on Fridays and Saturdays when it is open until 9 PM. That allows me to break up the day by going for a few hours in the morning and then returning in the evening. So that's the way I'm going to lay it out today. As for what to see at the museum, that's really up to each visitor individually. There's so much to see that there's no need to focus on an area that doesn't interest you. So I'll focus on some of the most popular highlights as well as some personal favorites. But by no means will this be an exhaustive guide to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
   Finally, a note about the museum's admission policy: The Met requires visitors to pay to access the museum but visitors may pay any amount they like. So yes, if you want to be a jerk you can pay with a penny. As you enter the museum, there are ticket counters displaying an adult admission prices at a "recommended" $25. However, when buying your tickets you can pay any amount you feel comfortable with. I fully support anyone who pays the full admission fee. I also realize many people are unable or unwilling to pay the full amount and that is perfectly fine. The Met is meant, in both law and spirit, to be a place where everyone can appreciate the finest works of art in the history of the planet. There's no pressure to pay the full amount. And I've never found the ticket agents disagreeable if I decide to pay a smaller amount. It does make it slightly less awkward to have the exact amount in hand you want to pay, that way you just slap it down and ask for however many tickets you want.

Monday, August 24, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 8)- Queens

   For many years Queens was seen as the everyman, middle-class borough of New York City. It was seen as not only lacking Manhattan's glitz, but also lacking The Bronx's grittiness, Brooklyn's creativity, or even Staten Island or New Jersey's 'we get no respect' swagger. Queens has been the TV home of New York's unglamorous, mostly White middle class for years. From Archie Bunker, to the Costanzas on Seinfeld, to King of Queens and Fran Drescher's "Nanny." Essentially, Queens has a reputation for being boring. But things have changed in Queens over a generation. Queens is still home to the hard-working, unassuming residents it always has been, but now there's a twist. Queens is now the most ethnically and culturally diverse place on Earth. Immigrants from all over the world call Queens home and now foreign-born residents make up almost half of Queens' population. Exploring Queens is like making a trip around the world. You can taste the food and hear the music of cultures as varied as can be found anywhere.So it's time to put the sitcom tropes to bed and explore the incredible culture of Queens.

Day 8 - Queens (Forest Hills, Jackson Heights, and Flushing)

Morning - Unlike Manhattan and Brooklyn, Queens is a product of the 20th century. For most of the 18th and 19th centuries Queens was just farmland, with scattered towns or factories mixed in. Construction and development exploded with the completion of the Queensboro Bridge in 1909, the opening of Penn Station and the Long Island Railroad tunnel in 1910, and the first subway tunnels in 1915 and 1917. Suddenly and entirely undeveloped part of the city had rail, road, and subway access to Midtown Manhattan. Developers madly rushed into the void and began building houses and apartment buildings all over Queens. In some neighborhoods, developers were able to buy up farmland in large swaths and create entire communities. Forest Hills and Jackson Heights both were built up in this fashion and Forest Hills is where we start the morning. Multiple subway lines bring you to 71st Ave, the E and F are express from Manhattan and get you to Forest Hills in only a half hour from Midtown. Walking down 71st Ave brings you past the commercial strip of Austin Avenue, under the Long Island Railroad tracks and into Station Square, the grand entry to the Forest Hills Gardens section.

Monday, May 25, 2015

New York Reading List - The Great Bridge

   The Great Bridge by David McCollough is one of those wonderful pieces of non-fiction where a great historical event is rendered into such a irresistible narrative that the pages fly through your hand. The bridge to link Manhattan to Brooklyn for the first time took almost two decades and twisted through years of corruption, scandal, dedication, construction, illness, and tragedy. The Great Bridge is a detailed yet evocative report of every aspect of how the Brooklyn Bridge was built, from conception to completion.

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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Broadway Alternatives: The Apollo Theater

There are a few music venues that have come to ecapsulate what American music is and what it sounds like. The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville has defined country music for generations. The Fillmore in San Francisco made 60s flower power and rock n' roll an American standard. And up on 125th Street in Harlem stands the Apollo Theater. It's hard to believe that a theater that opened in 1914 as whites only burlesque in a largely Jewish neighborhood would become the soul of black music in America. But now more than a century after it opened it remains one of the best concert venues in New York City and a living history lesson of soul, R&B, funk, hip-hop, and everything in between.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 7) - Rockaway Beach

  There are cities all over the world known for their beaches. Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Honolulu, Barcelona, Miami, Los Angeles, and others are cities where the beach is to focus of life and culture. But do you ever think of the beach when you think of New York City? Almost certainly you don't. And you're wrong. New York may not be a world class beach town, but we have long stretches of sand that makes for a great day on the ocean by anyone's standards. And I don't mean a tiny little pebbly cove with beach chairs. New York City actually has about 20 miles of sandy beach to enjoy along the coastal edges of the city. But the biggest by far is a 14-mile long barrier peninsula in Queens, the longest urban beach in the USA: Rockaway Beach. So Day 7 is a day to ditch the summer heat of Manhattan, and get some sand between your toes.

Day 7 - The Rockaways

Morning: Rockaway Beach is one of New York's favorite summer playgrounds and has been for more almost 200 years. This prime shoreline was once a beachside destination of great fame. The first resort and spa opened in 1833, and all through the 19th century well-to-do New Yorkers took summers and weekends at the dozens of resorts along the beach, reached by new turnpikes, railroads, and ferries. Rockaway Beach even got into the amusement game rivaling Coney Island's attractions with the construction of Rockaway Playland in 1902. The beaches attracted more summer visitors with the construction of tidy bungalows in the 1920s for working class vacationers. The heyday wouldn't last though, and by the time The Ramones write their hit "Rockaway Beach" in 1977, much of The Rockaways had devolved into gritty, forgotten shoreline. Rockaway never went away though, and many more people are re-discovering Queens' shoreline these days and joining longtime fans of the long sandy shore. The past few years have been hard, however, particularly the destruction wrought by Hurricane Sandy in October, 2012. The storm destroyed more than a hundred homes and flooded almost every structure on the peninsula. The boardwalk was destroyed, businesses lost, and seven lives were lost on The Rockaways. The area is recovering, and is back to welcoming visitors every summer who still help provide the bulk of the economic activity in The Rockaways. So despite the damage, a visit is one where most of the amenities and businesses have returned.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Broadway Alternatives - Rockwood Music Hall

   Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side is a fantastic small music space and makes for a great casual evening out. There's a ton of great music venues in New York for independent music. But unless you are an expert in the local NYC music scene, it's hard to know what type of evening you're in for. That's what's so great about Rockwood Music Hall. The music emanates from multiple stages in about every style imaginable and if something doesn't tickle your fancy you can move down the block.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 6) - Brownstone Brooklyn & Prospect Park

On day 6 it's back to Brooklyn to explore some of the historic neighborhoods and major landmarks of the city's most populous borough. Brooklyn was once an independent city with its own government, parks, landmarks, and culture. Brooklyn grew up around its waterfront and the ferries to New York, but with the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, development multiplied in Brooklyn. Day 6's itinerary covers some of Brooklyn's most notable historic landmarks as well as neighborhoods that have become some of the trendiest in the city. This is an itinerary best done on a weekend to take advantage of programs like the Brooklyn Flea Market.

DAY 6 - Prospect Park and Brownstone Brooklyn

Morning: Head to Grand Army Plaza to start the day. Don't confuse this with the landmark of the same name on 5th Ave in Manhattan. Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza is New York's answer to the Champs-Elysees. It's not quite up to the grandeur of Paris, but it's not too shabby either. As Flatbush Avenue approaches Prospect Park a large traffic circle forms around New York's biggest triumphal arch, the Soldier's and Sailor's Monument. The arch was built to honor the fighters for the Union in the American Civil War and is actually much bigger and grander than the Washington Arch in Manhattan . This is the central intersection of Brooklyn and it also forms the northern entrance to Prospect Park, Brooklyn's 585 acre emerald jewel.
   Prospect Park was designed by Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead in 1865. Both were in the midst of building their first project, Manhattan's Central Park, when they were brought in to propose a new plan for the new Brooklyn park. They proposed a realignment of the park's borders and designed a sylvan, rustic park in the same style as Central Park. Vaux and Olmstead's parks heavily borrowed from nature and shunned formal architecture. In Manhattan, they had been forced to create many small natural spaces but in Brooklyn they amplified their design scheme and created three major landscapes: a large lake and shoreline, a rugged woodland, and the first sight when you enter Prospect Park the Long Meadow. The designer's themselves thought the Prospect Park design superior to Central Park and many New Yorkers agree. Have a walk through the meadow, which undulates and winds almost a mile down the spine of the park. Just past the picnic house on the right, you'll see a lake and stream on the left side of the meadow. Cross the rustic Esdale Bridge into the Ravine. This is a rugged, rocky, hilly forest built onto the natural glacial hills of Long island. These hills provided a line of defense during the Revolutionary War and George Washington led the ill-fated Battle of Long Island among these hills in Prospect Park and the surrounding neighborhoods. The Ravine is easy to get lost in so stick to following the stream downriver through the woods. Eventually you'll reach the beautiful Prospect Park Boathouse. From here you can walk behind the boathouse and exit the park.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 5) - Midtown Manhattan II

   Day 3's activities took in the stretch of Midtown south of 42nd Street. Now, it's time to partner that with the stretch of Midtown north. This is the busiest business district in North America and is always jammed with crowds of workers and tourists. Weekdays often mean shorter lines at museums and attractions, but they also mean surges of office workers on the sidewalks in the morning and evening rush hour, and especially around lunch. So just be wary of those lunch crowds and you'll be all set. Grab a hearty breakfast before setting out and head over to Rockefeller Center

DAY 5 - Midtown North

Morning: Start the day exploring Rockefeller Center. This is one of the greatest architectural treasures of New York City. The complex cover three blocks between 51st and 48th Streets and was built during the depths of the Great Depression. It's a masterpiece of understated Art Deco design, but is also one of the most forward-thinking commercial spaces ever built. Rockefeller Center was built so that it's buildings would all gracefully fit together. It was designed with public promenades and gardens, and even some private gardens on rooftops. There's places to sit, shops to visit, and a large underground concourse of shops and services. It was built with truck loading bays and subway connections underground so the sidewalks aren't quite as packed with trucks and office workers as other parts of Midtown. And since it opened in 1933, it has housed NBC studios. If you arrive before 9 AM, you'll be able to check out the broadcast of Today that usually wraps up with a number of outdoor segments. I've gone by around 9:00 before and always found there to be lots of space from which to watch the last few segments as they're broadcast live to the whole East Coast. Inside the GE Building (aka 30 Rock) there is the studios of The Tonight Show, NBC Nightly News, Saturday Night Live, and other NBC classics. There are studio tours offered but it's hard to know exactly what you'll see on the tour. Tours obviously don't get into studios that are in use. So it can be fun or a disappointment depending on what you see. More reliable is the tour of Radio City Music Hall, which is a world icon of Art Deco and coordinated kicking. The theater is sparklingly restored and the opportunity to see it without seeing a show is worthwhile.  Tours run every half hour and take a little more than an hour.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Puttin' on the Ritz

   The Lower East Side was a place that the multitudes came for a new life. They stormed the shores of New York harbor on ships from Hamburg, Liverpool, Cork, Palermo, Naples, and many others. And for a time, the greatest number were fleeing the lands of Eastern Europe. Jewish immigrants from all over the Russian Empire joined the rest of Europe in one of the great migrations of modern time. And they crowded themselves into Lower Manhattan. So thick they were that a square mile of the neighborhood was home to 500,000 residents. Over the generations these families would rise up out of the slums, but there were a lucky few who made it big. One of these lucky few was a young man who came with his family from the Russian Empire in 1893. His name was Israel Baline, but the world knows him as Irving Berlin.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 4) - Staten Island

 So far, the first three days have taken in some classic sights of the city. Even the trip to Brooklyn Heights doesn't venture too far off the beaten track. So now that you've gotten your feet under you, it's time to check out New York's forgotten borough. Day 4 heads to Staten Island. This day's itinerary will be written with an eye to the future however. By summer of 2017, the shoreline of Staten Island will be very different.

Day 4 - Staten Island

Morning: Staten Island is often considered the forgotten borough of New York. The island's busiest hub is five miles across the harbor from Lower Manhattan. The only connections to the rest of NYC are the Verrazano Bridge to Brooklyn and the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan. In fact, there are three bridges to New Jersey, making the island much more connected to the nearby state than the rest of its own city. In addition, the island is much more suburban than the rest of the city. More cars, fewer apartments, and more single-family homes. But there's still some awesome coastline and some great food to be had, so it's time to hop on the ferry,
   The Staten Island Ferry is one of my indispensable New York experiences. There's plenty of nice harbor tours, but the ferry is truly part of the commute of tens of thousands of Staten Islanders. It's a blue-collar kind of commute. The snack bar reaches the height of its culinary prowess with bags of popcorn. Best of all, the city-operated boat doesn't need to pay liquor taxes, so $3.50 tallboys of Budwesier make this one of the best floating bars in America. The ferry used to carry a small fee, but political protest by Staten Islanders in the 90s led to the fare being eliminated. So now, one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world is free for all passengers. The ride begins at Whitehall Terminal at the southern tip of Manhattan. My strategy on the ferry has always been to ignore the crowds going to the front decks and west railings and instead to park myself on the rear decks where you first board the ferry. There are multiple decks and any of them will do, though the bottom deck is almost always nearly empty. Standing on the back deck, the city recedes slowly from view. The skyscrapers that begin as looming behemoths gradually shrink. Before long the Statue of Liberty comes alongside the ferry and the reward for waiting to see her is no jostling crowd to compete with for the great views.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

How to navigate short-term rentals in NYC

   The vacation rental business is booming New York City. Record numbers of tourists have been flocking to New York City every year, 56.4 million in 2014 according to the city's tourism agency NYC & Co. And while hotel construction has kept up with the new arrivals, hotel rates continue to be some of the highest in the world, with an average room often running more than $300/night. The booming numbers of visitors has led to a surge in the market for short-term apartment rentals, as visitors look to find less costly alternatives to hotels.
   There's a lot of appeal to these kinds of accommodations for many travelers. Large groups of family or friends are often forced to book multiple hotel rooms, significantly expanding the cost of a trip. Families with more than two kids feel the extra burden on the checkbook particularly acutely. So cost is a major factor in how popular vacation rentals are. Apartments also come with more residential amenities like full kitchens and living rooms with places to sit. This is a big benefit for visitors staying for more than a few days and for those who want to save some money by having some meals or snacks at home. Finally, there's the experience of staying in an apartment. It isn't just the sights of New York that are iconic, but the lifestyle. Everything from the local pubs, quaint coffee shops, tree-lined blocks of high stoops, and cups of soup at the deli have entered public consciousness through TV and movies. The experience of not just being in New York, but in some sense being a New Yorker are big draws for people visiting the city. Not to mention that staying in a residential area gives much greater access to grocers, bars, restaurants, shops, and some of the amenities that draw people to the city. There's a lot of good reasons to ditch the hotel and stay in an apartment. There's a catch though.
   In New York City, it's almost always illegal.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 3) - Midtown Manhattan

This series of posts is a selection of itineraries covering 30 days in and around New York City. This isn't meant as exactly what to do if you're here for a month (it would be exhausting!). But more a great selection of things you could do while here for any length of time. Now that we've gotten a good intro to the city, let's dive into the crowds...

DAY 3 - Midtown South

Morning: After we've gotten to see the skyline from the water and from Brooklyn, it's time for the all-time classic view. Head over to 5th Ave and 34th Street. It's time to go up to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. This is, of course, one of the most popular visits in New York, which means the lines can often be massive, especially at peak times of year and on weekends. So first thing in the morning is the best time to check it out. It opens at 8 AM, and on busy days is packed by 10. So either head over early, or visit at off-peak times. Nevertheless, the view is a classic, especially the south view looking over Downtown and the Financial District. And one piece of warning, there are lots of vendors selling a variety of passes to the top, but they are often shilling crappy package deals so just avoid them and head inside.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Great list of unique shops in New York

   I'm not usually the type to simply link to a bunch of other people's lists or writings about New York City, but this one is a topic of which I'm particularly fond. One of the great charms of New York is that in a city whose essence is often defined as motion, progress, striving, and whiplash changes, there are still hundreds and thousands of small local businesses that have served their communities for generations. Some like Katz's Deli or Nathan's Hot Dogs have become international icons of New York's food and history. But scores more are famous only to their customers. They don't change their signs. They don't change their menus (much). They are passed down through generations, or sold to loyal customers who keep the ship sailing on the same course. They provide a living history, and one that continues to perform vital functions in their community. Just in my neighborhood, I can buy bread at at 40-year old Italian bakery. Buy my meats at a 50-year old butcher shop, grab a drink at a more than 60-year old Irish pub, or get breakfast at the neighborhood diner that has been under the elevated tracks about as long as there have been elevated tracks. You can't ignore New York's history and the people that have lived there in past generations because you live that history and that life everyday. So here is Buzzfeed writer's Mathew Perpetua's list of 44 unique, old, small businesses in all 5 boroughs. Not only are there some classics there, but a few I didn't even know about. Enjoy!

44 Amazing old NYC businesses

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 2) - DUMBO & Brooklyn Heights

 This series of posts is a selection of itineraries covering 30 days in and around New York City. This isn't meant as exactly what to do if you're here for a month (it would be exhausting!). But more a great selection of things you could do while here for any length of time. Day one brought us through the center of Manhattan around 23rd Street. But for the next day, it's all about the views OF Manhattan. Day 2 is off to Brooklyn...

DAY 2 - Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO

Morning: This morning is a relaxed one so no need to rush out in the morning. Start by heading to Borough Hall. These days, New York City is made up of five boroughs--counties, in fact, according to the State of New York--but it wasn't always so. Until 1898, New York City meant Manhattan island. Towns and villages of Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island were all independent. But Brooklyn was more than just a satellite. It was an independent city, home to almost a million people, and was the third largest city in the U.S. Borough Hall was built in 1848 to house the government of the newly incorporated City of Brooklyn. While unification with New York stripped Brooklyn of its independence, Borough Hall remains a symbol of Brooklyn's pride and history. Behind Borough Hall is Joralemon Street, which leads to the right to the quiet streets of Brooklyn Heights, the most well-preserved historic neighborhood in New York City. The neighborhood is situated on a bluff above the East River and first developed as a residential area 200 years ago when the world's first steam powered ferry service began puttering between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The streets at the northern end of the neighborhood, such as Hicks and Middagh Streets feature dozens of clapboard houses almost two centuries old that look straight out of a small New England town. Further south, the small alleys of Grace Court and Love Lane (yes, really!) feature rows of old carriage houses. And all through the neighborhood are beautiful brick and brownstone townhouses.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

30 Days in NYC (Day 1) - Chelsea & The Flatiron District

Most visitors to New York City realize very quickly in planning their trip that they won't see everything NYC has to offer. I've had clients staying for multiple weeks who still feel as if they'll never get it it all in. So I got to wondering, what could a whole month in New York look like? Are there a full 30 days worth of activities and sights in the Big Apple? Well it turns out there's way more than 30 days but i needed to control myself, so I decided to come up with 30 different daily itineraries. I wouldn't really advise coming and doing all 30 days at once. It would be the most tiring vacation ever! But it's a fun way to give people an idea of all the different types of places and things there are to do in New York. So think of these as 30 different suggestions for any trip. I did include a few day trips, since there is so much to see outside the city. But I made sure that there is no overlap on any of the 30 days. Each day will include activities, sights, food, drink, and entertainment ideas. So, all of New York is fair game. Where to start?

DAY 1 - Flatiron and Chelsea

   First of all, if I was planning a trip to New York, this would be the area I would pick for a hotel. There's lots of good ones around Union Square, like the W, Hyatt, Jade, or Verite. There's also many near Madison Square including a Hampton Inn, the Lex, Giraffe, and Gramercy. Chelsea has one of my favorites, the High Line Hotel, as well as the Gem, Maritime, and Dream Downtown. The reason I like these areas so much is that they have a little bit of everything. They are centrally located right between Midtown's famous landmarks and trendy downtown spots. There's lots of major brand shopping in the Flatiron District, local food markets in Madison and Union Squares, eateries running from blue-collar diners to the most prestigious restaurants in the city. There is historic architecture in Flatiron's beautiful old lofts and department stores, as well as Chelsea's historic rowhouses. And the boldest new design in the city is in West Chelsea's galleries, parks, and new condos.
   Most of all, I think this area makes a great introduction to New York because of how vibrant the streets are. Most visitors head straight for Times Square or 5th Ave when they arrive. After all, you don't come to New York for quiet charm, you want to feel the energy of the streets! And Times Square sure does have energy. The problem is, the whole enormous crowd is made up entirely of tourists and office workers. The tourists stand around gawking and the office workers hustle to leave the area. Plus there's the endless annoyance of touts, tour operators, ticket sellers, and costumed characters bombarding visitors with requests for money. So while those are iconic sights, it's not the best vibe in the city. Flatiron and Chelsea are filled with shoppers, workers, residents, and tourists doing all kinds of different things. It's the true heart of the city. So let's start the day!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Scrapple in the Apple

   New York City's history is full of tragic creative figures. Edgar Allen Poe spent the last tortured years of his life in Greenwich Village and The Bronx. Dylan Thomas drank himself into a fatal coma at the White Horse Tavern. Jack Kerouac and Jackson Pollack both became the face of new American cultural movements and both lives spiraled out of control. But few others have personified the tragic artist persona like Charlie Parker.