Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Long Island City: 5 Pointz

Somewhere between visiting four different parks, drinking one amazing iced coffee, touring the Noguchi Museum, having a picnic and watching the sunset over Manhattan, I also managed to stumble across the 5 Pointz complex in Long Island City.

Described as the "world's premiere graffiti Mecca," 5 Pointz is a building complex covered, for the most part, in really beautiful "graffiti," or as I see it, art. I was vaguely aware of its existence, and when I looked it up I found that it was actually only a few blocks from where I had tried to eat at Garage Burger. As I got closer it became easier to find by the loud music and cheering crowds, and when I rounded the corner I immediately knew I was in the right place. There was a bike competition going on that day too, with cyclists racing each other and weaving in and out of cones down the street.

Apparently the complex is in danger of being torn down and turned into high-rise residential towers, and a few booths were set up selling merchandise and providing petitions to help preserve the area.

Every angle and possible surface of the huge building is covered in works of art, each more complex and beautiful than the next. The scale and colors are really stunning, and definitely something best seen in person. I was lucky that it was a beautiful, bright and sunny day which really made the colors pop.

If you ever make it out to 5 Pointz, be sure to take in the entire 360 view. As I was getting ready to leave, I realized that the artwork continued onto the other side of the building, as well as the sides, sidewalks, fire hydrants, fire escapes, doors and lampposts.

Since 2002 the artwork has been curated by a graffiti artist, who apparently asks for samples and layout sketches from every potential artist before they can contribute to the project. A lot of graffiti you see on the streets is sloppy and abstract, but the screening process is obviously working because 5 Pointz showcases the best of the best.

After seeing it in person, I can completely understand the passion that people have toward saving the complex. I love that it's a totally accessible (and free!) way to view (and make) art in the city, and tearing it down would be completely unfair. You want to believe that the building owner has an investment in the area that means more than the millions he would make from a high-rise, but unfortunately that's not very likely.

If you want to know how you can help save and support 5 Pointz, you can find out more here.

More about Long Island City: Noguchi Museum + Socrates Sculpture Park  |  Gantry Plaza State Park + Sweetleaf

Monday, July 29, 2013

Governors Island: Fête Paradiso

I went to Governors Island for the first time earlier this summer, and this past Saturday two of my best friends and I went back to see Fête Paradiso, a festival of vintage carnival rides and carousels that made its American debut on the island in June.

We had planned on taking the ferry from Manhattan, but thanks to the MTA being kind of a free-for-all last weekend (90% of the lines were experiencing some sort of change/delay), we ended up in Brooklyn. Thankfully we remembered that there is also a Governors Island ferry that departs out of Brooklyn, so we decided to just catch that one. Not so thankfully, it only departs every hour and they cut off the line about 20 people in front of us so we had to wait for the full hour.

I recommend taking the ferry from Manhattan, if you can, now that I've done both. The Manhattan one leaves more frequently, and the waiting room and ferry terminal are definitely worth seeing. That being said, I had no idea that Brooklyn Bridge Park continued so far south, and what we saw of the park was very nice — while I won't be back to catch the ferry, the park deserves some exploration on its own.

When we finally got to the island, we found a shady spot and laid out our much-deserved picnic. Pro-tip: the official posted island rules might state that there is no alcohol allowed, but our bags were searched twice before we boarded the ferry and two of our three bags very obviously contained wine. I think it's one of those scenarios where as long as you're not doing a keg stand in the middle of the lawn,* you should be fine.

Pro-tip no. 2: You might be able to see a bit of Alisha's hand in the top of the photo holding keys — we sadly discovered that one of our wines was not a screw top and tried poking it with everything we had to get it open. After our unsuccessful attempts, she asked a group of fellow wine-toting picnic-ers for help. They didn't have a corkscrew, but they did have a spoon, which we used to push the cork into the bottle and we all lived happily ever after.

After our leisurely (and very delicious) picnic, we headed over to see the carnival. The rides aren't free ($3 a ticket), unfortunately, but they sure were pretty to look at. It's crazy to think that they've survived all of these years, and are still in working, rideable order.

They were all completely charming and the operators in cheesy French costumes added to the ambiance. There were little wooden boats for kids, a few different carousels, skill games and even a bicycle carousel that you had to pedal yourself — one of only two ever created.

It's a much more interesting installation than the "art" performances that were there the last time I was on the island. Fête Paradiso is on the island until September 29th, so I still have plenty of time to go back and explore further.

Speaking of Governors Island, a friend of mine sent me this video of the plan for the under-construction parts of the island, and it looks so exciting. I love that the city is in a constant state of change, and there's always something new and in the works to look forward to. I'm already reserving a large portion of my 2015 to be spent picnicing in the hills, who's with me?

*As deduced by my very wise friend, Alisha.

Long Island City: Noguchi Museum + Socrates Sculpture Park

About a week ago, I went to Long Island City for the first time, and loved it so much I stayed all day. After exploring Gantry Plaza State Park, I walked along Vernon Blvd, making a few stops along the way. My main destination was the Noguchi Museum, but first I stopped at Queensbridge Park.

I have to say, that I wouldn't really recommend walking all the way from Gantry to the Noguchi. Google tells me that it's exactly a 2 mile walk, and if that seems short then I'll tell you it felt longer. If that seems like kind of a haul, then I'll agree with you. It was pretty hot that day and Vernon Blvd is basically an industrial park, so you don't get much shade or nice scenery.

There's probably a bus or better way to get from one end to the other, but sometimes I hate trying to figure out the transportation system when it's so clear how to walk somewhere. It's a straight shot, which was nice, but I won't be doing it again anytime soon. That being said, at least there were a few stops along the way, and great views of the Queensboro Bridge.

Queensbridge Park is nice, although the entire waterfront is currently under construction. Like Brooklyn Bridge Park, you're almost directly under the bridge which gets you a great photo, and if the waterfront hadn't been fenced off, the skyline views would be wonderful too. The park is a little run down and scrappy, but it's a nice shady spot to chill out for a minute.

The next park I came across was Rainey Park, which had a nice waterfront view of the city and Roosevelt Island. Right in between Rainey and Socrates Sculpture Park is the Noguchi Museum. The museum itself was built by Noguchi to hold pieces that he considered to be representative of his life's work. My uncle had suggested that I go, and being that he is a man of impeccable tastes, when he says to go somewhere, I go.

I didn't know much about Noguchi before I went, but the museum was a great place to take a break and cool off. It's an incredibly peaceful and calming space, with indoor and outdoor galleries and a garden. I watched the film they show about Noguchi's life and career, which definitely helps to explain a lot of the meaning behind the mostly abstract works.

My favorite pieces were the striped ones, but there is such a variety that it's hard to pick a stand-out style. The museum was only $5 for students ($10 adults), and it's definitely worth that. It was larger than I expected, but not very crowded which I always appreciate.

After I left the Noguchi, I walked across the street to Socrates Sculpture Park. This is the part where I mention yet again that I don't really understand installation art, which is what is mostly in the park. There are a few actual sculptures, but most of the "art" is meant to be interactive (I think?). I sat on a large wooden stage — which I think was part of the "art" — and ate peaches that I had brought along, which is about the extent of my participation in any type of public art piece.

I still have one more post about Long Island City (it was a good day) but I definitely recommend the Noguchi, even if it is a bit difficult to get to. I'm am continually being pleasantly surprised by neighborhoods that I previously knew little about, which is something I love about New York. I still have a few more LIC destinations that I didn't get to that day, including the Museum of the Moving Image and walking across the Queensboro Bridge, so I'll definitely be back.

More about Long Island City: 5 Pointz  |  Gantry Plaza State Park + Sweetleaf

Friday, July 26, 2013

Restaurant Week: Summer 2013

I had such an amazing meal during the last Restaurant "Week" here in the city that I was grateful when my friend Trent invited me again this time around. He made reservations at Delmonico's in the financial district, and it was my first time there.

I will now refer to Restaurant Week as "the best meal I eat every six months," because that's exactly what it is to me. For $38 (plus tax, tip and any add-ons) you get an amazing three-course meal that would ordinarily cost much, much more. For example, just the filet mignon entree at Delmonico's is $47 normally, but is included in the Restaurant Week line-up. We were discussing whether the portions are smaller for the special price, but none of us are fancy enough to have gone to any of these places outside of Restaurant Week, so we may never know.

You can see the full menu here, but I chose the Acquerello Risotto (my first-ever risotto — delicious), filet mignon (mmm hmm) and the baked Alaska for dessert. There were 7 of us total, 5 of which had been to Delmonico's before and they all raved about the baked Alaska. So much so, that I was prepared to be disappointed but they assured me that it was more than worth the additional $5 supplement.

I had never had baked Alaska and I only had a vague idea of what it actually was. I did know, however, that theirs was made with banana gelato which pretty much sounded like the most amazing thing in the world, and it was.

When all seven of them arrived we were so excited and awed by their beauty that we actually cheers'd with our entire plates. Most of us just stared at them a while or took photos of them from every possible angle before digging in because they were almost too beautiful to eat (almost).

It was truly a work of art, and far exceeded my expectations. I felt bad destroying the perfectly charred meringue, a feeling that quickly disappeared when I discovered that it tasted as good as it looked.

While the other portions were on the small side, the baked Alaska was a monumental undertaking and by the end of it we were all completely stuffed. Restaurant Week is another fun event to add to my list of New York traditions-in-the-making and I'm already looking forward to my next fancy meal — I'm only sad that I have to wait all the way until January for it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Post Pride Party at the Met Museum

On Monday I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Post-Pride Party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In what is basically just an awesome show of support of the LGBT community, and following a VIP reception, the Met opens its doors at night, providing an open bar and access to the special exhibit.

The event is ticketed, but tickets are free and sell out in seconds. I wasn't exactly sure I believed this, but the day they became available I literally refreshed the page at precisely 11am, and by the time I had entered my info they were already "sold" out. A friend of mine got wait-listed exactly at 11, but ended up getting a ticket, so if you're interested you definitely have to be vigilant. I keep discovering new, free things to do here in the city, but I'm quickly learning that most definitely require a bit of tenacity to secure a spot.

The party was fun, and it all felt special and a little fancy. Being the in the Met after-hours is always a treat, even if I didn't indulge in the open bar as much as I could have (I might have concentrated my efforts on the cheesy-stick appetizers, instead). After some drinking and socializing, our group of friends headed to see the Punk: Chaos to Couture exhibit. It was a bit underwhelming, but I find it hard to complain too much about things I get to do for free. We also basically had free reign to take photos, which is not usually allowed in the special collections.

The exhibit was colorful and a few pieces memorable, but I don't know enough about fashion (or punk) to really make informed comments. I've heard complaints that the show misses the mark, but it was fun to look at and small enough that I didn't really even have time to lose interest.

I was definitely into the Dr. Seuss-trufffula-tree wigs, and the Project-Runway fan in me will always appreciate clothing made from "unconventional materials" — the bottle-cap skirt and trash-bag dresses were favorites.

The Met is so classically New York to me, and every time I'm within its stone walls I can't help but feel special. I do wish we had had access to the entire museum (especially the Temple of Dendur), but when I think about how much people were drinking (in such a short time) I totally understand why galleries filled with priceless works of art were off-limits.

Tony Kushner was actually there briefly (he was the guest speaker at the VIP event earlier) and Mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn gave a (very loud) speech in praise of the Met and their inclusive events. I wish I had been able to hear Kushner's speech or at least more from him than "hello, goodbye" — he's one of my idols: Angels in America, Lincoln, Mother Courage — but it was cool just to think we were sharing the same space for a moment. It was a great night, and I definitely hope to make it a tradition.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Long Island City: Gantry Plaza State Park

After a few days of doing my best not to burst into flames in the ungodly heat, I needed an adventure. Thankfully, the weather cooperated and yesterday was actually breezy and beautiful. My destination was Long Island City (in Queens). I ended up loving it so much that I spent the entire day there, so I'll break up my day into a few posts.

First up is Gantry Plaza State Park: To get to Long Island City, I took the 7 train to the Vernon-Jackson station, which is only three stops from Times Square. I'm on the 2/3 line, so it was super convenient for me but the 7 also stops at Bryant Park and Grand Central before heading into Queens.

Before the park, I stopped into Sweetleaf Coffee and Espresso Bar to grab a drink. The shop is so incredibly cute and well designed, with a ton of vintage details — comfy leather chairs, a record room and an industrial wooden table designated as a computer work station. I ordered the iced Voodoo Child, which was described as a Vietnamese-style drink, sweet and creamy. It was incredibly delicious and unlike anything I've ever had before.

I keep discovering these wonderful places to eat and drink, and the worst part about them is that they're not right outside of my apartment. Their website hints at the possibility of a second location — may I suggest 110th street, Central Park North? Or maybe a food truck that just follows me around providing me a never-ending supply of delicious coffee drinks? Think about it.

While I savored my drink, I walked a few blocks over to the park. I was expecting great skyline views — and I got them — but the park far exceeded my expectations. There are piers to get the good views, amazingly comfortable lounge-style benches, shady lawns and a well-maintained waterfront walkway.

I read in a Yelp review of the park (because I sit at home, alone on Friday nights and read Yelp reviews of parks) that there were hammocks in the summer, and I saw some poles that looked like they used to hold hammocks, but they were empty. If I had to name one thing that would make the park even more lovely it would definitely be a hammock. Now, of course, I've typed the word "hammock" so many times that it no longer sounds real, but dear NYC Parks Dept, bring back the hammocks (please?)!

I also came for the famous Pepsi sign, which was much bigger than I expected (I'm actually the worst when it comes to judging things — distance, numbers, weights, etc.). I am obsessed with signage, typography and all things vintage, so seeing the sign so close was pretty much a dream.

Full disclosure: I totally prefer Coke to drink, but the original Pepsi logo has always been the best iteration, in my opinion.

I had intended to go to the Burger Garage for dinner, but it was mysteriously closed and I had loved the park so much that I decided to return. I stopped into a market, bought some picnic supplies and stayed to watch the sunset. I sat in a lounge for a few hours, reading a book (a dollar find at the Strand!). I'm trying hard lately to do this elusive "relaxing" that I apparently need, and I think I came as close as I'll ever get, reading under a tree with the breeze blowing over the water.

As the sun began to set, I walked on the waterfront a bit, taking in the different views. I was thrilled to discover that the Pepsi sign lit up (I'm sure I knew that, but it was still somehow surprising), and proceeded to take approximately 3 million photos of it at every stage of the sunset.

I was actually staring right at the Chrysler building (my favorite) as the top lights came on — everything about the evening was pretty perfect. Out of nowhere the sky turned a brilliant pink, and in a few seconds it was dark. The sunset was actually so beautiful that I teared up a little bit (nerd alert) thinking about how lucky I am to finally call this city home.

I would be lying if I said I wasn't homesick, or that I didn't miss my family and friends back in Ohio, but every day that I discover something new, or see something beautiful I know that I've made the right decision. It's easy to get discouraged when it's a billion degrees outside, or I'm sitting next to someone on the subway who smells like turds, but for every bad moment there have been many, many more magical ones.

Long Island City is a total gem, and I have already added it to my list for the big apartment hunt. My commute to work would be a breeze, I could have picnics under the Pepsi sign and a lot of Gantry Plaza Park is a dog-free zone (I'm sorry, I don't like your dog) — when can I move in?

More about Long Island City: Noguchi Museum + Socrates Sculpture Park  |  5 Pointz

Friday, July 19, 2013

Weather Complaint

BREAKING NEWS: It's the middle of July and it's hot outside. But seriously, at least here in the city, it feels like we're living inside of a dog's mouth.

I never really had a problem with the heat when I was younger, and as someone who is perpetually cold (or so I thought), summers were a welcome respite from my layers upon layers of sweaters and jackets. But suddenly (or not so suddenly) now I'm old, and living in New York City where you (or rather, I) don't have the luxury of bouncing from air-conditioned house, to car, to office and back.

Instead I am living in an apartment without AC, temporarily so there is no point to me even thinking of buying a window unit until things are more settled. I haven't started my new job yet, so there is no freezing office to escape to, and the subway stations are stagnant cesspools that feel like you're walking into an even hotter mouth within that original disgusting mouth. That's how hot.

While I'm certainly no expert, I have found a few things to help me make it through this heat wave, and summer in general:


As I discovered during the winter (oh what I wouldn't give to relive this day right now), it's all about appropriate clothing. Before I moved, I was adamantly against shorts. They're strictly for models and children, I thought, and my ankles were the only part of my legs that ever saw the light of day. This philosophy quickly dissipated, however on July 4th.

After walking around all day in my rolled up jeans, I grabbed a pair of scissors and made one of the best decisions of my life. I am now the proud owner of two pairs of shorts (my cutoffs and one legit pair that I've since purchased) and much like the hat before them, they've changed my life. Sure my legs are white as a fresh snowfall (ahhhhhh), but not having to drag around that sweaty, heavy denim below my knees is totally priceless.

I'm also trying to be more of a dress and skirt person (maybe even sans leggings — baby steps), and H&M is certainly helping me out by putting cat faces on everything so that I have to buy them. Are cat face-print dresses and skirts considered business casual? I'm asking for a friend.

Iced Coffee

Sure, sure I've read the reports that say you're supposed to drink hot beverages and eat chili peppers to cool yourself down. But there's no amount of science that can convince me to walk around the city carrying a huge hot coffee while everyone else prances by me sipping their icy, sweating, totally delicious and refreshing iced versions.

I've actually become quite obsessed with iced lattes from Dunkin' Donuts, which is probably horrific to the cold brew coffee snobs, but who cares. There's a DD on practically every corner (and right near my subway stop) and they're about half the price of a similar drink from Starbucks. Although I did splurge on an iced latte from the Doughnut Plant the other day, and I have to admit it was one of the best (and most expensive ones) I've had.

Water Bottle

One of the first things I bought upon arriving in the city in the middle of a heat wave, was a water bottle. I originally wanted a glass one, but decided on this aluminum model that I picked up at Whole Foods. It's incredibly lightweight (at least when it's empty), and seals completely without spilling a drop.

I figure I'm saving at least $2 a day by not impulse-buying Snapples at every street cart I pass, so it's definitely worth the investment. There are enough water fountains throughout the city that it's easy to keep filled, and New York City tap water is famously tasty so it's not that much of a sacrifice.

Movie Theaters

Going to see a movie for the AC is certainly not a new concept, but one for which I've definitely developed a newfound appreciation. So far I've done a double-feature of The Heat (seriously hilarious) and Despicable Me 2 (the first one's better), and yesterday I saw The Bling Ring (wait for it to come to Netflix).

Tomorrow I'm planning on trying to squeeze in another double-feature, this time with Girl Most Likely (Kristen Wiig AND Annette Bening??) and The Way, Way Back (Steve Carrell is a fox, and I can't resist a coming-of-age story). Would you judge me if I said that by "double-feature" what I really mean is "pay for one, sneak into the other?" What about if I told you that it cost $14 to see a movie and some theaters don't even have a matinee option (and if they do, it's usually only before noon)??

No judgment, it's too hot for that.

Still hot? Try these: Winter in New York | Winter Storm Nemo | Botanic Gardens in Winter

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Picnics in the Park

I've actually only got a few more weeks of unemployment ahead of me (I accepted a job here today!), so I'm trying to relax and enjoy my last free days. Which translates to me having had three picnics in Central Park in the last two days, and I'm not complaining. It's pretty much too hot and humid here to do much actual moving of body parts, so laying on a blanket in heavily shaded areas eating chilled foods is pretty much all I'm capable of achieving lately.

On Monday I headed out for a late lunch solo picnic right by Turtle Pond, which is one of my very favorite areas in the whole park. While I was leisurely devouring my cherries, strawberries and tomatoes, I noticed that they were setting up for a concert on the Great Lawn. I did my research, and found out that the NY Philharmonic was playing that night for free. I ended up making some quick plans, ran back to the apartment to grab a bigger blanket and was back in the park by 6:30 pm with even more picnic foods to grab a spot. My friend Katie joined me, brought even more food and we sat in the shade and dined like kings (who happen to love a variety of organic snack foods).

When the Philharmonic started at 8, they were actually pretty hard to hear — we were seated about halfway back, and to the left — but mostly because the crowd was still filing in and making a lot of noise. By the time the second act came around it had gotten dark, and calmed down a bit, and we could hear much better.

I love classical music (hi, my cat is named Mozart) and it was my first time hearing the Philharmonic. It was a beautiful night, and another I-can't-believe-it's-free New York moment that I seem to be having a lot lately. The night ended with a nice fireworks display, although the trees surrounding the Delacorte Theater blocked about half of it from view (and my phone died so there exists no evidence that it even really happened).

Next time I think I'll choose a spot better conducive to listening (and fireworks watching), but in this ridiculous heat the shade was pretty necessary, too. I've also added "wine" to my picnic must-haves list, and next time I'm making friends with the guy that had 6 whole pizzas delivered right to him in the middle of the Great Lawn. I could definitely learn a thing or two about picnics from that dude.

Staten Island Part Two

As I mentioned yesterday, I took my first trip to Staten Island on Sunday. To get there, I took the Staten Island Ferry, which is as far as I know, the only way to get to the island from Manhattan. From Brooklyn you can take the Verrazano-Narrows bridge, which has the tenth longest main span in the world and is the longest bridge span in the Americas. You can see the bridge clearly from the ferry, and I've already added it to my list of bridges I'd like to walk across.

One of the best things about the Staten Island Ferry is that it is free, roundtrip. The other amazing thing about it is, of course, the views. The ferry I took was full of tourists who had zero interest in the island itself, and boarded the return, Manhattan-bound ferry as soon as we arrived. The views are pretty spectacular, and I recommend boarding on the right side of the ferry (for the Manhattan -> Staten Island trip) for the best views of the Statue of Liberty.

On my return trip I also boarded on the right for the opposite experience, which is a wonderful view of lower Manhattan. I think my skyline interest is bordering on obsession at this point, but I just can't get over how impressive and magical it all looks from different vantage points.

Once you arrive on Staten Island you pass through St. George terminal, which has restrooms and the usual food-court type food. You can catch a SI Railroad train or bus from the terminal, and I took the S-40 to Snug Harbor for the day. After I had explored the cultural center and gardens, I returned to the terminal on the same bus line.

I had done a little research beforehand on restaurants in the area, and I decided to check out Pier 76. It's only a short walk down Bay street from the terminal, and I had read good things about their pizza. I was ready to break my gluten-free streak for a slice when I noticed that they actually had a lot of GF options on their menu.

They had GF pizza, but not by the slice, so I decided to try their pasta in vodka sauce. Even if you couldn't care less about GF options, I highly recommend the vodka sauce. The whole dish was incredible and I barely even had leftovers (and what I did have I ate a few hours later). The worst part about it was that the restaurant is in Staten Island, so it won't exactly be in my regular rotation.

After dinner I headed back to the terminal and took a short walk along the waterfront. The views are, of course, amazing, as is the 9/11 memorial to the Staten Islanders who lost their lives in the attacks. The two, swooping white, wing-like columns are really incredible, and frame the spot where the towers stood (and now, One World Trade Center).

On the interior walls are the names and occupations of the people who lost their lives, with jutting profiles carved from stone. It's a really well-designed space, and a nice spot to stop and sit for a minute.

I was so pleasantly surprised with my day in Staten Island that I'll definitely be making return trips. I'd love to see the Staten Island museum or even take in a "Yankees" game in the stadium over-looking the water (again with those views!). I'm surprised it took me nearly 14 years from the first time I came to Manhattan to finally visit the last of the five boroughs, but it definitely won't be that long again before I return.