An Explosion of Color: Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden



If you’ve ever been to Las Vegas, you know that everything there is magnified and exaggerated by a factor of 1000, and it’s easy find yourself with whiplash from taking it all in.  I have somewhat mixed feelings on the “More Is More” mantra, but one thing I remember being notably impressed with was the stunning ceiling of glass flowers in the Bellagio. I didn’t know it then, but that was my first experience with Dale Chihuly’s masterful craft.

Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Chihuly’s ceiling at the Bellagio, courtesy of Chihuly.com

If you happened to read our post on Chuck Close, you might notice some parallels here.  We’re​ drawn to artists who aren’t just pioneers in their field, but who have also overcome diversity on their way there. Chihuly’s path wasn’t a straight one.  He suffered the loss of a sibling and a parent early in life.  And after he had cultivated a successful career in the art of glass sculpture, tragic accidents left him with one blind eye and a dislocated shoulder.  As a result of the latter injury, Chihuly was unable to hold a glass blowing pipe. But he refused to stop creating, and assembled a team of glassblowers from around the world to execute his vision.  Now he likens himself to the conductor of a symphony.



ICYMI – Shots from our Instagram Story on the day of our outing.  There was also a duck video.  Find us on Instagram so you don’t miss any more duck videos: @madhattersnyc

Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Blue Polyvitro Crystals outside the Metz Library (AKA the rock candy display)
Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Sapphire Star
Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Red Reeds on Logs at the Reflecting Pool
Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Float Boat and Koda Studies #1 and #2 at the Native Plant Garden

Like most artists, Chihuly is constantly extracting beauty from everything around him.  The idea for one of his installations, Float Boat came to him on a trip to Finland when he was standing on a bridge over a river.  He decided to throw glass spheres into the water to see which ones would shatter. When the pieces were retrieved and placed into skiffs, he was struck by the contrast of the contemporary glass forms against old wooden boats.

Memories of his mother’s garden have also been a great source of inspiration.  It seems only fitting that his kaleidoscopic creations have found homes in many botanical gardens over his career.  The current exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden isn’t his first, but is in fact a triumphant return after 11 years.



Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Sol del Citrón

Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
White Tower with Fiori



Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Glasshouse Fiori
Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Scarlet and Yellow Icicle Tower

In an interview, Chihuly once stated that his motto is, “If big is good, bigger is better. If one is terrific, twelve is even better.”  Like I said in the beginning, I’m not entirely sure that’s true.  But if there were one artist who might convince me, it would be Chihuly.

The Chihuly exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden will run through October 29, so that it can be viewed as the seasons change here in New York City.  Additional Chihuly programs will also run throughout the course of the event.  Information can be found on the NYBG website here.  

Tip:  If you take the train from Grand Central it’s a short 20-25 minute ride. It drops you right in front of the Mosholu Gate entrance to the NYBG. On the weekends take advantage of the City Ticket, which offers a reduced rate. 

Location:
2900 Southern Blvd

Hours:
Tues -Sun: 10 a.m.–6 p.m
See website for exceptions



Pair it with:

A meal at Zucker’s

Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Chihuly New York Botanical Garden - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Taking the train from Grand Central is usually our preferred way to get to the New York Botanical Garden.  While there are a number of options to meet any commuter’s needs in the terminal itself, another fantastic option lurks just around the corner.  A skip, hop and a jump away you’ll find the Midtown branch of Zucker’s Bagels and Smoked Fish.

Zucker’s serves traditional New York style bagels — hand-rolled and kettle-boiled just as they are meant to be — with that crisp exterior and hefty, satisfying interior chew.  Try any number of their bagel sandwiches, like the classic Zucker’s Traditional with Nova Scotia salmon, cream cheese, beefsteak tomatoes, red onion and capers.

Zucker’s also partners with many local vendors, from their produce to their pickles to their snacks and coffee.  That means coffee lovers can get a La Colombe Draft Latte on tap here, and dessert lovers can top it all off with a Fat Witch brownie.  (We are both.)

Location:
370 Lexington Ave

Hours:
Mon – Fri: 6:30 am – 7:00 pm
Sat – Sun: 6:30 am – 6:00 pm

– L.

Kiku: The Art of the Japanese Garden at the New York Botanical Garden



If you follow us on Instagram, you might have caught whiff that I’m heading on a trip to Japan.  My family lives half a world away so we try to meet up somewhere we can all have a fun vacation, and this year we agreed on Kyoto.  I’ll spare you the ugly details on how many WhatsApp messages it actually took for all of us to reach a consensus — we’re one of those weird families that’s not remotely alike.  (Truth be told, my older brother is still wishing we were headed to a beach.)  

The workaround with our diverse family usually involves large swaths of time in the schedule that are “open”.  During those periods we split up and do whatever our hearts desire.  I have no doubt I will spend many of my open slots dining solo: my family isn’t quite as food-obsessed as I am, and for God’s sake, I’ll be in Japan.  I’ll want to eat every fifteen minutes!  My parents will likely find themselves in many of the gardens Kyoto has to offer, as they have long been fans of horticulture.

Serendipitously, on a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden, the exhibition that occupied the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory was NYBG’s annual Kiku exhibition.  (As an aside, the Victorian-style stunner is one of our favorite buildings.)

Kiku, which means chrysanthemum in Japanese, is a flower that has been long revered in Japanese culture.  Kiku has been said to embody the idea of perfection, and is also viewed as a symbol of the sun. It’s featured in the Imperial Seal and the Japanese emperor sits on the Chrysanthemum Throne.  The art of growing and training the flowers is a dying tradition in Japan, so the long-standing alliance between the New York Botanical Garden and the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo has been mutually beneficial.  Shinjuku Gyoen trains NYBG staff so that the craft lives on and enjoys worldwide attention.



Kiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Kiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog



Kiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Kiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Kiku NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

What’s unique to the art of kiku is that there’s a repetitive process of “pinching” that takes place over several months.  So there is a lot of trial and error — and a lot of contingency planning.  My inner control freak goes berserk at the thought of it.  The preparation for the annual Kiku event begins 11 months prior!  It’s the kind of contradiction I find synonymous with Japanese arts: they always manage to make something so complex seem so effortless.  And the lack of tension allows us to feel a sense of calm.

One of my chores as a child was to water the plants in my parents’ garden.  I had no appreciation for it then, and the idea of cultivating a garden still holds no appeal for me today.  I’ve always assumed the green thumb just skipped a generation.  But as often as I find myself at the New York Botanical Garden, I wonder if that’s still true.  I may not have inherited my parents’ gardening skills, nor the patience to pursue it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve inherited their love and admiration for the craft. 



Pair it with:

A Japanese-inspired meal at Hudson Garden Grill

Husdon Garden Grill NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Husdon Garden Grill NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Husdon Garden Grill NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

We’ve already covered the Hudson Garden Grill, because it’s quite simply the best option for a meal if you happen to be at the New York Botanical Garden.  And it’s not the kind of meal that you settle for out of convenience, either.  To further prove the point, while the Kiku exhibition was running at the New York Botanical Garden, the Hudson Garden Grill offered a Japanese-inspired menu in tandem.  The $35 prix-fixe lunch offered appetizers like a Hamachi salad and a Wagyu Beef entree.  Pictured here are the Avocado Roulade appetizer, the Miso Glazed Cod entree and the Black Truffle ice cream dessert.  It was an enjoyable, immersive experience that served to showcase how nimble the eatery truly is.  We’re looking forward to more themed menus to come.

Hours:
Tuesday–Friday:
Lunch served 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Bar service, coffee, and lights snacks 3–6 p.m.
Weekends and Select Mondays:
Full menu served 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m.

– L.

Brew at the Zoo: Halloween at the Bronx Zoo



You’re waiting on a crowded subway platform.  The MTA has announced service interruptions.  You’ve read the notices, and you’re pretty sure you know where you’re going.  So you wait.  And wait some more.  You peer down at your phone.  And pace.  Until rage begins to snake its way through your veins like morphine through an IV.  Twenty minutes passes, and you can feel that flicker of madness barreling toward you down the dark tunnel of your mind, when, finally, a train arrives.  Slowly, in a drunk’s lurching, stumbling, stagger, it draws to a screeching stop at the platform. The cars are packed, tight as sardines, a mass of arms and heads and hands.

You realize there is no room in the car in front of you.  The idea of waiting an unknown period of time for another train — with no promise of a better situation — sends you into a panic. In a frenzy, you run along the row of cars, searching for one with just enough room for you and your companion to fill a space.  You see it, and charge through the door just as it closes.  And in less than a second, the nauseating odor hits you.  Cue the music, then fade to black.  

“The Empty Car at the End of the Train” is just one of the many real-life horror movies New Yorkers can find themselves in.  (“Rent Hike” is another one.)  So what do people do in a city where scary stuff is a way of life?  They adopt Halloween as their holiday and celebrate the heck out of it.  We were scrolling through the endless list of parties and events around town when we stumbled across Brew at the Zoo.

Brew at the Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Not to be confused with Boo at the Zoo which runs on weekends in October, Brew at the Zoo was the first-ever adults-only Halloween celebration at the Bronx Zoo.  Included in the ticket was a 5 oz. commemorative beer mug which gave you access to unlimited beer samplings from over 40 different breweries.  Food trucks were on hand to make sure you had something in your tummy to soak up all the alcohol.  There was music, a photo booth, and a costume contest.  And best of all, some of the zoo exhibits were open.  

The weather for the outdoor event couldn’t have been more perfect.  We had another unseasonably warm evening, so we were able to comfortably perch on benches around the zoo as we noshed on our lobster rolls from Luke’s Lobster.  Luke’s was in good company: among the other food vendors was Coney Shack, who was the Rookie of the Year Vendy Award winner last year.  They offer Southeast Asian-style tacos and hot dogs, and our trio of tacos were excellent.  We were also pleased to find Arthur Avenue represented.  Greco’s, whose owner notoriously won a Throwdown! With Bobby Flay, set up shop to serve subs and pizzas.  (The pizza oven was located in the back of a van.  Camping will never be the same again.)  There was also an indoor VIP Glow-In-The-Dark party, which might have been a good investment had the weather not cooperated.

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

You couldn’t really beat watching lemurs hop around, or catching the adorable Fossa wide awake, but Brew at the Zoo was not without its challenges.  Most of the night was spent in line for a very small amount of beer.  (Perhaps this was a carefully orchestrated failsafe on the organizer’s part.)  And the long waits for the food vendors suggested they could have had a few more of those as well.  As with any event where people are dressed up and getting their drink on, things got a little more rowdy as the evening went on.  But overall, the beautiful grounds at the Bronx Zoo provided a fun Halloween evening for food lovers, beer lovers, animal lovers and any combination thereof.

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC
Leaping lemurs!
Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC
The wide-awake Fossa, which is related to the mongoose family but has a cat-like resemblance

Frankly, the only scary thing about Brew at the Zoo was the awful 90s cover music.  Oh, and maybe this guy:

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

We hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Halloween!  We’d love to hear what you did and/or who you went as.  You can find us on Instagram, G+ and FB – or you can just send us an email.  Thanks for reading!

Brew at the Bronx Zoo - Mad Hatters NYC

– L. & J.

Scarecrows and Pumpkins at the New York Botanical Garden



In 2003, Lynn and I — as well as our motley crew of cats, Felix and Chloe — up and moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Scottsdale, Arizona on a whim. This radical decision was predicated upon a number of factors: we were incredibly weary of the long winters; we could no longer envision a future filled with opportunities in our professional lives; and there was a discernable feeling that we were in a rut, living out lives that seemed alarmingly predictable and comfortable given our relatively youthful ages. A malaise had set in, as well as a soul-crushing ennui. Something had to change. And so something did: we moved.

The next nine years of our lives were spent in Arizona. Unexpectedly, the change of scenery revealed more about what we’d left behind than what we’d discovered at our destination. In particular, we found a new appreciation for the finite change in seasons we’d previously taken for granted. Sure, there’s a “cooler” period in Arizona, but a mild drop in temperature a change of seasons does not make. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder.

Scarecrows Pumpkins NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC

Scarecrows Pumpkins NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC

Scarecrows Pumpkins NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC

Scarecrows Pumpkins NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC

So, in the spirit of our devotion to the seasons, we recently made our way out to one of our favorite get-away-without leaving-the-city destinations: the New York Botanical Garden.  There’s no bad time to visit NYBG (you can see our different seasonal posts here and here).  But taking in the fall foliage on their impeccably manicured grounds is one of our favorite ways to usher in the cooler temperatures. On this occasion, we timed our visit with the Giant Pumpkin Weekend.

The Giant Pumpkin Weekend is exactly what the name implies. In collaboration with the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth, Pumpkins of Unusual Size (not to be confused with Rodents of Unusual Size — it is New York, after all) arrive from all over the country. And apparently it’s open to international submissions: a pumpkin from the UK managed to Brexit its way over here. Some of the more massive ones weighed in at over a ton. You could meet the growers and learn about the growing process during Q&A sessions.  Or, you could just take a picture with a pumpkin that makes you feel less bad about that extra slice of pizza.

Scarecrows Pumpkins NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC

Scarecrows Pumpkins NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC

Scarecrows Pumpkins NYBG - Mad Hatters NYC

The Scarecrow Exhibit, however, is new this year. Sculptor and artist, Ray Villafane, created an original installation of natural materials set amidst swamp and marsh in NYBG’s landscape. The exhibit explores the evolution of the scarecrow in the U.S., from their utilization in agriculture to their unique place in popular culture, superstition and lore. Also, after 3 pm and on Scarecrow Nights, the installation incorporates performances by the all-inclusive theatrical production company, Truth in Lies, with costumes designed by Bronx artist, Lucrecia Novoa.

The scarecrows and pumpkins will be on display through October 30, but check the NYBG calendar for additional events and exhibits. Also, we’ve mentioned it before but it bears repeating: if you take the train from Grand Central it’s a short 20-25 minute ride, and on the weekends you can use the City Ticket, which offers a reduced rate. 



Pair it with:

A meal at Hudson Garden Grill

Hudson Garden Grill - Mad Hatters NYC

Hudson Garden Grill - Mad Hatters NYC

Hudson Garden Grill - Mad Hatters NYC

Restaurateur Stephen Starr has proven, time and again, that he knows the formula for a successful restaurant. He has a very clear, straightforward vision which he implements with precision. His growing restaurant empire is uniformly accessible, elegant and sophisticated without succumbing to the pitfalls of stuffiness. Hudson Garden Grill is no different. Nestled on the grounds of NYBG and with views of the arboretum, the spacious open kitchen offers New American, farm-to-table fare.  The menu is sourced locally from Hudson Valley farms, and hence rotates with the season. It’s the perfect place to take a break from your garden exploration.

Hours:
Tuesday–Friday:
Lunch served 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Bar service, coffee, and lights snacks 3–6 p.m.
Weekends and Select Mondays:
Full menu served 11:30 a.m.–6 p.m.

– J.

Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden



If you took an Economics class in college, you might recall discussions around irrational behavior and speculation leading to market bubbles and crashes.  While the dot-com and real estate debacles might be fresher in our memory, one of my favorite examples of this was the boom and bust of tulips in the 1600s. Yes, tulips.  If you’re unfamiliar, the story goes that when the Dutch Republic gained independence from the Spanish crown in the 17th century, it ushered in a Golden Age with growing trade and commerce.  Fortunes flourished and estates grew, and soon the prized tulip — its bold colors unlike that of any other flower at the time — became a status symbol.  As demand multiplied, speculators were drawn to the quick profits and the prices ballooned.  At its height it was said that a single bulb was exchanged for 1000 pounds of cheese.  But in 1637, a default on a contract caused widespread panic and the tulip market abruptly crashed.

Orchid Show NYBG

Orchid Show NYBG

This year’s Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden is called Orchidelirium and celebrates the plant’s similarly exciting history, starting with the Duke of Devonshire’s obsession that led him to create one of the largest known collections.  In the 19th century the orchid became a symbol of power and wealth, creating a frenzy similar to that of Tulipomania, and orchid hunters searched far and wide for unique varieties.

As we admired the mesmerizing spider-like Bratonia and the opulent blue Vanda, it was easy to imagine an Indiana Jones of Orchids, deep in a rainforest after barely making his escape from a cannibalistic tribe, pursuing a rare specimen of this magnificent flower.

Orchid Show NYBG

Orchid Show NYBG

Orchid Show NYBG

Orchid Show NYBG

Orchid Show NYBG

Orchidelirium will be on display through April 17.  There are amazing varieties on view in awe-inducing shapes and colors.  Let your imagination run wild in this tropical paradise.

Tip: We mentioned it here but it bears repeating: if you head out to the Botanical Garden on a weekend, be sure to take advantage of the discounted City Ticket fare offered by the MTA.

Location:
2900 Southern Blvd

Hours:
Tuesday-Sunday, typically 10 am-6 pm
They are open some holiday Mondays too.  For specific hours on the day of your visit, check their website.



Pair it with:

Lunch or dinner at Salvation Burger

Salvation Burger NYC

Salvation Burger NYC

Salvation Burger NYC

As previously mentioned, the easiest way to get to and from NYBG is via the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Station.  After you return from your Orchid Adventure, make a quick detour less than half a mile northeast to Salvation Burger in the Pod 51 hotel.  It’s the latest offering from the April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman team, who also brought us the Breslin and the Spotted Pig.  As the name suggests, burgers are front-and-center here, but you can also choose to indulge in a hot dog or fish sandwich if you so desire.  And vegetarians rejoice: there is a veggie burger on the menu made with beets and rice vermicelli with an interesting, somewhat exotic flavor — it’s clearly not an afterthought meant to appease non-meat eaters.  It’s fast food, elevated.

Location:
230 E 51st St

Hours:
Monday-Saturday 12pm-2am
Kitchen is open from 12pm-4:30pm and 5:30pm-midnight

– L.

Holiday Train Show at NYBG

Being the proud owners of lush gardens and beautifully landscaped backyards, our parents probably have ten green thumbs between them.  But apparently that’s a recessive gene. Because the two of us?  We’ve killed cacti. (Yes, plural. More than one cactus, on more than one occasion.)  So instead of putting a sad ficus in the corner of our cramped apartment, to get our green fix we make our way out to the New York Botanical Garden and enjoy the Best Pretend Backyard Ever.

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Ringing in at a mind-blowing 250-acres, the gardens are great for everything you might want to do if you really owned a giant estate: take a stroll around your Reflecting Pool, meditate at your Rock Garden, dine al fresco at your Picnic Pavilion and take a ride on your multi-car tram (you know you’d own one). Even though NYBG seems out-of-the-way, your trek will be rewarded: you’ll find that due to the large variety of flowers which bloom at different times, no two visits are alike and the excursion always feels fresh and exciting. In addition to the magnificent grounds (which are beautifully lit for the holiday season), NYBG also runs some great exhibitions and events throughout the year.  

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We recently made our way out there for the famous Holiday Train Show, an annual tradition since 1992.  Model trains run along a track flanked by landmarks created entirely of bark, leaves and other natural materials (150 in all!). You’ll have to let that sink in for a moment when you look at that replica of Grand Central Station: creator Paul Busse and his team built that replica, to scale no less, using the same stuff people rake off the ground in the fall. It’s pretty incredible. So don’t make the mistake of assuming this show is limited to train lovers: anyone can appreciate the amazing amount of creativity and detail that has gone into putting this show together.  We highly recommend that you make your way out there before January 18, because there is no way our description or pictures can do it justice.

Location:
2900 Southern Blvd.
Bronx, NY 10458

Hours:
Tuesday–Sunday, typically 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
They are open some holiday Mondays too.  For specific hours on the day of your visit, check their website here.

Tip: If you’re going out to the gardens on a weekend, the trains only run hourly from Grand Central, so plan accordingly.  Also make sure to to take advantage of a discounted fare by purchasing the City Ticket: you can find additional details here.

Pair it with:

Lots of gluten from Breads Bakery

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The easiest way to get to NYBG is via the Metro-North Railroad from Grand Central Station, where a 20-minute ride to the Botanical Garden station drops you right across the street from the entrance.  Before you head over to Grand Central, make a short detour to Bryant Park and hit up the Breads Bakery kiosk where you’ll find loads of delicious baked goods. Our favorites include the Chocolate Babka (we’re not alone on this one, it was voted best chocolate babka by NY Magazine and consistently makes other “Best Of” lists) and the Gouda Cheese Straws.  But we’ve sampled many (okay, most) of their offerings and have yet to be disappointed. It’s also our go-to for holiday fare: they have seasonal offerings that can be ordered ahead and picked up from their main location in Union Square.  We still dream of the Shepherd’s Pie from Thanksgiving 2014. *sigh* 

Location:
42nd Street and Avenue of the Americas

Hours:
Mon – 7am-10pm
Tue-Sun – 7am-9pm

– L.