Sunday, July 27, 2008

New York City Street Fairs

Each year from April through October (depending on the weather) neighborhoods throughout New York City host street fairs. Streets are closed to traffic and tents and booths are set up as temporary store fronts for all kinds of merchandise.

From handcrafted wind-chimes to discount cosmetics to second hand jewelry to local clothing vendors, street fairs offer a shopping smorgasbord.

It is always such a pleasant surprise to be out on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and run across a New York City street fair. They are usually crowded, but unlike the fast paced, crammed in, irritated crowds that you might experience during say rush hour, the street fair crowds are casual, laid back and are usually quite amiable. It is almost as though the street fair is a designated chill zone.

The smell of freshly roasted sweet corn on the cob wafts down the street and mingles with the aroma of polish sausage being smoked on the grill. Ice cold lemonade, carmeled apples, spicy chicken shishkababs and fruit filled crepes are all characteristic fare for these community gatherings.

Neighbors greet each other and catch up while they stroll from tent to tent as they survey the wares.

I love looking through the original art work or chic sundresses. My BF can always be found browsing the CD's, DVD's or gadgets. It is a great way to spend a couple of hours and more than a couple of bucks.

Insider Tips:

  • Take cash, the outdoor venue makes it a challenge to use credit cards.
  • Treat yourself to a nice hot ear of roasted corn slathered in butter. MMMM. MMMM.
  • Check out the website for a schedule of the New York City Street Fairs or try these links:

As You Like It

One of my favorite summertime activities is catching some of the live outdoor performances in Central Park.

This last weekend, my BF and I enjoyed a production of Shakespeare's As You Like It presented by Boomerang Theatre Company. This production had all the requisite elements of good outdoor theatre; live music, comedy, physical action and good actors who are able to project. It also didn't hurt that As You Like It is one of Shakespeare's most popular (and easy to follow) plays.

It is not always easy to perform outdoors. The weather of course is a wild card and then there are constant distractions such as other park goers, snack vendors, city traffic, playful children laughing and screaming, etc. etc. However the Boomerang cast was up for the challenge. Wandering minstrel, Scott Williams entertained the crowd as we found seats and continued to add to the buoyant atmosphere throughout the show. Jessi Gotta was the anchor of the production with her fully realized portrayal of Rosalind the quick witted heroine and Matthew Trumbull turned in a wonderfully humorous and unexpected performance as the pretentious know-it-all Jaques.

Director Matt Johnston cleverly pared down the production to the essentials of the story and let the script and the actors do the rest. A large rock and tree surprisingly provided the perfect setting for the romantic comedy. Set in contemporary times and with few props, the cast quickly grabbed the attention of the assembled audience and entertained us throughout the very quick 2 hours.

As You Like It runs through August 10th and is Free to attend.

Insider Tips:

Friday, July 18, 2008

You've Gotta Have Heart

This week a friend of mine scored us tickets to the opening of Damn Yankees presented by New York City Center's Encores! Summer Stars series. The cool thing about New York City Center is that it brings in some of the country's best and most recognizable talent and presents them for extremely reasonable prices ($25 - $110 per ticket).

Damn Yankees, for example stars Sean Hayes (from Will and Grace), Jane Krakowski (from 30 Rock) and Broadway star Cheyenne Jackson. To see these kinds of celebrities perform, you would expect to pay at least $80 per ticket and yet I think the best seats were selling for less than $50. New York City Center is certainly living up to their mission "to make the finest in the performing arts accessible to the broadest possible audience."

Plus we got to attend the opening night party. Let me tell you opening night parties are always a good time. You have the chance to mix and mingle with the cast and creative team. There is usually good music, eats and an open bar. The fare for this party was appropriate to the baseball theme, featuring mini hamburgers, popcorn and crackerjacks.

The production itself was adequate. All the players performed admirably and sufficiently entertained the audience. The stand outs of the evening were Cheyenne Jackson as the young Joe Hardy who turned in a soulful performance; Veanne Cox who provided some great comedic timing; Sean Hayes as the Devil himself who really shined during his solo number "Those Were the Good Old Days" and the costumes which were designed by Broadway veteran William Ivey Long.

This production used the original Bob Fosse choreography, which unfortunately didn't really work. I do not believe that the performers were able to fully embody the choreography and so the dance numbers were not fun and energetic extensions of the scene, but rather people on stage just trying to get all the steps.

Several years ago I saw a production of Damn Yankees that was fantastic. It was exciting, moving and entertaining. I left the theatre and for weeks afterwards caught myself humming "You've Gotta Have Heart." While the performers in the Encores! production all hit the right notes and had the right bravado, there was definitely something missing. They didn't have heart. And ultimately, as the musical itself illustrates, that is what it takes to score a homerun.

New York City Center has a fantastic season lined up that features more musical theatre, the "Fall for Dance Festival" with tickets starting at $10 and some of the best dance companies in the country.

Check out the New York City Center website for ticketing and schedule information.

Insider Tips:
  • The Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert has 3 more productions this season (On The Town, Music in the Air and Finian’s Rainbow). Performers have not yet been announced, but I'm sure it will be a good opportunity to catch celebs performing live theatre at less than Broadway prices.
  • Check out the "Fall for Dance Festival." There are some fantastic dance companies participating and tickets are only $10.

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Live Sing-along with Pearl Jam

Madison Square Garden is one of the most iconic and renown arenas in the world. The building that currently stands above Penn Station on 7th Avenue between 31st and 33rd Streets is actually the forth Madison Square Garden. The first two were located on Madison Avenue and 26th Street, hence the name “Madison Square” garden. The third was located on 8th Avenue and 50th Street and became wildly popular for presenting boxing matches. And finally, the building currently known as MSG was built in 1968.

Hosting over 320 events a year, everything from the New York Knicks to Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus to the Democratic National Convention to the Westminster Kennel Club dog show has filled the 20,000 seats of The Garden. However on June 24th my BF and I took our seats to attend a concert by one of Patrick’s favorite bands, Pearl Jam.

The opening act, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists began playing at 7:30pm. They were passable and played to a mostly empty stadium while beer venders shouted their wares. The 45 minute set drummed up a spattering of applause from a less than appreciative audience.

My BF and I took advantage of the 45 minutes between acts to locate the nearest bar in our section and purchase $12.00 drinks that included flashing light-up mugs. Admittedly the mugs are completely over the top and ridiculous, but I think they are awesome. We giggled to each other as we paraded them back to our seats and to the delight of our fellow concert goers held them high at key moments in concert as though they were lighters gently encouraging the beloved band.

By the time that Pearl Jam finally took the stage, all 20,000 seats were packed. Wild cheers met them as they began their first song, “Hard to Imagine.”

There were no pyrotechnics, no fancy projections or graphics, no coordinated dancing just the band, their music and the audience. I certainly appreciated the simplicity of the presentation.

I am not an avid concert goer, but I have been to several concerts in my lifetime. I have even been to a few previously at Madison Square Garden. However this was one of the oddest concerts that I have ever been to. As the band began to play, the entire stadium began to sing along with them, word-for-word. Okay it was the first song. People are excited. I can understand. The second song and the group singing continued. The third, the forth, the fifth song and still the entire sold-out arena of fans crooned the words along with Eddie Vedder. This continued through every single song of the performance. It was in essence a live sing-along with Pearl Jam.

I wonder if this happens at all of their concerts. It has got to be an odd experience for the group. People are not really coming to hear them play, but to ... experience the music in a very personal way in a very public venue?

Pearl Jam played for nearly 3 hours, which included 3 encores. My BF and I had been looking forward to the concert for several months and left humming the tunes and feeling invigorated.

Insider Tips:
  • Buy tickets early, they sell out. If the event you are trying to attend has already sold out, try StubHub. Many folks who need to sell their tickets post them there and there is no scalping.
  • Eat before hand. Food at The Garden is expensive and honestly, not that good. There are lots of little pubs and restaurants in the area that offer better fare at better prices.
  • Leave your bags at home. There is no place to put a bag, it will probably get stuff spilled on it and of course security will have to scrutinize it. Avoid the hassle and leave it at home.

Friday, June 27, 2008


Sometimes the best thing about living in New York City is getting away from it. Luckily we are located near a number of spots that are perfect destinations for day trips. Last week my BF and a group of friends took the day off from work and enjoyed the mild weather in Riverhead, Long Island at the water park Splish Splash.

It was a 2 hour ride from the city, but filled up on coffee and breakfast sandwiches and with an assortment of CD's in hand, we were all up for the challenge. We arrived at about 1pm and were pleasantly greeted by a mostly empty parking lot. The $35.00 admission charge is a bit steep and it is $8.00 to rent a locker plus a $4.00 refundable key deposit. However, once we were all in our swim gear and slathered in sunscreen, it didn't seem to matter any more.

With child-like eagerness, we each grabbed an inner tube and headed to the nearest waterslide. There are about a dozen waterslides that are appropriate for adults as well as the "lazy river" and the wave pool. My favorite ride was the "Alien Invasion" which is a group (4 person) ride that speeds you through a short but very dark tube and then spits you out into a giant sideways cone. Momentum along with strategically placed water jets, push the inner tube from one side of the cone to the next like a pendulum. It was a blast! I also really enjoyed one of the older rides call the "Great Barrier Reef." It was not fancy or high tech, but man was it fast. It is one of those rides that takes your breath away and just at the point when you think you might be going too fast, you are shot out into the wading pool.

Splish Splash offered us an ideal summer day of playing hooky. In fact we were some of the last people ushered out of the park at closing time.

Insider Tips:

  • Wear tevas or water socks. You are not allowed to wear flip flops, sandals, sneakers or other shoes on any of the rides. However tevas and water socks are allowed on most of them and honestly walking around the gravel paved water park in bare feet is unpleasant.

  • Bring a lunch or money for food. Outside drinks and food are not allowed in the park. However they do provide a picnic area just outside the entrance and there are a number of food stands inside the park. Lunch will run you approximately $15.00 per person.

  • You are allowed to bring plastic water bottles into the park. However no glass of any kind is allowed in.

  • Bring lots of sun screen.

  • Stop by P.C. Richards for a $6.00 discount coupon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Best BBQ in NYC

For the last 15 years, I have been conducting a very scientific study of the best barbecue joints in New York City. I have conducted exhaustive research and have employed a myriad of methodology for this study. I am proud to now present the findings to you.


Summer time is the time for barbecue and Dinosaur's Bar-B-Que on 131st Street and 12th Avenue offers the best in town. The roadhouse atmosphere and hot live bands are just garnish for the amazing cuisine. The food is spicy, surprising and comfortable. Their menu includes some southern favorites along with a few Cajun delights and even some worldly dishes such as churrasco chicken steak and Korean style beef ribs. They have a great bar and you have got to try their fried green tomatoes. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. The menu is moderately priced and their staff is very friendly and quick. Make sure to make reservations on the weekends because the joint is hopping. Check out their website for a schedule of entertainment and special events.

From blackened catfish and gumbo to juicy burgers and succulent ribeyes, Spanky's offers anything and everything you could want from a barbecue joint. Their slogan is "Big butts, we got 'em" and if you ate there on a regular basis you'd have one too. The food is so good you will definitely want to wear pants with an elastic waist. Located in the middle of Times Square at 127 West 43rd Street they are very conveniently located and very reasonably priced. This is the perfect spot for folks looking for delicious down home food in the heart of NYC. Their rather entertaining website can provide you with a look at their menu and other helpful information.

Admittedly he d├ęcor is a little cheesy. It looks like my grandfather decorated it, but the food is tasty and the portions are huge. The down and dirty, no-frills barbeque will leave you licking your fingers. My father loves the beef ribs and I always enjoy the brisket or the pulled pork. And believe it or not, their salads are good too. Of course Dallas BBQ is famous for their "Texas Sized" frozen drinks because really who doesn't enjoy a giant frozen, fruity, girly drink? Their plates are very inexpensive and there are lots of locations. This chain is quite popular in NYC so the atmosphere is often crowded and a little chaotic. Go to their website to find the location nearest you.

A traditional American barbeque restaurant you will leave Virgil's full and happy. Their menu draws inspiration from around the country offering Memphis pork ribs, Owensboro lamb, smoked Maryland ham and Texas brisket to name a few. With sides and appetizers that include hushpuppies and buttermilk onion rings any barbeque lover would enjoy the bill of fare. The atmosphere is pure small town Americana. Virgil's offers a moderately price menu and is located in Times Square at 152 West 44th Street just East of Broadway. For more information check out their website

If you want an honest to god barbeque experience you should try Hill Country Barbeque. Nothing pretentious, nothing fancy, just some of the best barbeque you will ever have. Mostly smoked or dry-rubbed, their entrees are served on butcher paper and priced by the pound. And they know that the only thing better than good food is good music. Located at 30 West 26th Street they are easily accessible by public transportation. Get there early as they are often very crowded and sometimes literally sell out of food.

Insider Tips:

  • Don't wear a white shirt but do wear loose fitting pants.

  • Ask for extra napkins or wet wipes

  • If you can make reservations do. Otherwise show up early.

  • Try something new. You won't be disappointed.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A quiet and introspective afternoon

My BF and I recently spent an afternoon at Grant’s Tomb. Located at 122 Street and Riverside Drive, the grounds of the stately building are a lush and peaceful. The adjoining playground and park was filled with families, students from the nearby Columbia University and folks from the neighborhood who were just out enjoying the beautiful weather.

One of the most interesting and memorable elements of the grounds is the fanciful mosaic benches that surround the monument. Pedro Silva and the City Arts Workshop sponsored the brightly colored artwork that was created by children utilizing Italian glass tiles in 1973. Some years ago, there was talk about removing the benches because they were "garish" and were devaluing the memorial. Contrary to that belief, I think the installation is actually an attraction and should be promoted as one of the unique elements of this landmark.

The quiet and unassuming memorial was erected on April 27, 1897 and the dedication parade featured over 60,000 marchers. Originally, plans had been made to bury Ulysses S. Grant at his alma mater, West Point, but he refused because his wife, Julia Grant would not be allowed to be buried next to him. Therefore Grant himself selected the alternative location where a place could be reserved for his beloved wife. Upon his death from throat cancer on July 23, 1885, his family finalized the location in Riverside Park because it was one of the highest elevations in the city and it overlooked the Hudson River. In a recess in the center of the room, stand the two majestic sarcophagi where President and Julia Grant rest side-by-side. Grant's tomb is currently the largest mausoleum in North America.

There are 2 simple displays that relate the notable incidents of President Grant’s life including his military career and significant events of his presidential terms. There are also some display cases that show a few historic mementos such as photos and remembrances given to the President from friends and loved ones.

Towards the end of his life, Grant and his family were plagued with debit from bad investments and were facing poverty and bankruptcy. Therefore, the former President accepted an offer from Mark Twain to publish his memoirs. Grant past away only days after finishing the work and it is said that his desire to complete it kept him alive. His memoirs were extremely popular selling over 300,000 copies and earning a substantial sum which provided the much needed financial income for his family.

It is generally acknowledged that a more adequate visitor's center would be needed to properly memorialize the contributions and achievements of President Grant. I agree. While there is beauty in simplicity, Grant was an incredibly important figure in American history and culture. He led the nation during one of its most uncertain periods following the Civil War and was tasked with reunifying a suspicious and war-weary population. He deserves a permanent installation that does justice to the service he provided this country.

Our trip to Grant's Tomb was quiet and introspective. The mausoleum itself is impressive and well worth the visit especially for folks with an interest in American history.

Insider Tips: