Murder, Mayhem and Meat Pies: Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre



I know it sounds a bit flaky (pun absolutely intended) but when we heard that there would be a new off-Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony Award-winning musical, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at Barrow Street Theatre, Lynn and I could barely contain our excitement.



Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Harrington’s, the oldest working pie and mash shop in London. Image courtesy of the Sweeney Todd Facebook page.

There were a number of reasons, of course. First, we had seen a Sweeney Todd production years ago by a traveling tour back when we lived in Arizona, and it was very, very good. But we had always regretted that we hadn’t caught it while in New York. Second, we knew from previous Off-Broadway adventures–take, for example, In the Heights–that plays and musicals at smaller venues offer a much more intimate experience. Third, we had never seen a show at beloved Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village, though we’d passed by it so many times during our other excursions. And finally, we’d read that the revival began in London a few years back and was produced after-hours at Harrington’s Pie and Mash, one of London’s oldest pie shops, and that Barrow Street Theatre had painstakingly re-created the shop inside the venue.



Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

And on all counts, we were not disappointed. The production was excellent, as intimate and interactive as we’d hoped. The stage design was inspired: the historic space featured tiles, grimy yellow walls, a narrow countertop, and a menu board which included daily specials. It was like actually stepping into Harrington’s. Audience members​ were seated at dining tables in lieu of traditional theater seats, and the talented Sweeney Todd cast utilized the entire “pie shop”–both upper and lower levels–as their performance area. The actors pulled audience members into the show. They also consorted with us in the lobby during intermission. (We overheard the evil judge asking a couple of audience members where they were seated. When they looked nervous, he said “At least I’m not the demon barber!”)



Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Pie available as a pre-theater meal. Image courtesy of the Sweeney Todd Facebook page.
Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Former White House Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. Image courtesy of the Sweeney Todd Facebook page.

And there are real pies! As part of a pre-show experience, former White House Pastry chef, Bill Yosses, is offering theatergoers a meal of pie and mash in the theater/pie shop. Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theatre is a fun update to a classic, and an unforgettable immersive theater experience.

Visit their website for additional information and tickets.

Tip: $39 lottery tickets are available for each performance and you can try your luck here. And if the interactive part of this experience scares you, shoot for seats in the front row of the balcony. You’ll have a great view but remain separate from most of the action.



Pair it with:

Savory pie at Jones Wood Foundry

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Sweeney Todd Off-Broadway Revival Barrow Street Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Lynn and I decided to forgo the pre-theater pie (though, by all accounts, it was quite good), instead opting for a selection that our readers might enjoy sans this theater experience. But that doesn’t mean we opted out of the theme! Meat pies are sort of the grisly gimmick of the musical, so of course we visited a British Pub.

Jones Wood Foundry, an Upper East Side gem (yep, I used “gem” and “Upper East Side” in the same sentence) describes itself as a casually elegant, food-centric pub with a friendly staff, an expansive bar and a secret courtyard. And they weren’t lying. The food, particularly the savory pie, is well above what one would expect from a pub.

On this particular occasion, I went with the Pie of the Day, a delectable chicken and vegetable pie. The staff is not only friendly, but also knowledgeable​ and attentive. The bar in the front is separate from the more intimate dining area below, serving both casual drinkers and serious diners simultaneously. And that “secret courtyard”? Yeah, it’s lovely. The weather happened to be perfect on that spring evening and we took full advantage. The whole experience was so enjoyable, we couldn’t help but linger just a bit longer than we would normally find appropriate.

– J.

Deja Vu All Over Again: Groundhog Day The Musical on Broadway



Imagine that you’ve had a record-breaking, Seinfeld-esque “Serenity Now!”-level, unbelievably AWFUL day. Some of it is the result of one calamitous decision after another, while the rest is just the universe playing tricks on you. You descended into the subway instead of walking. You spoke up when you should have been silent. Someone hit you with their bag. Twice. You didn’t make reservations. You wore the wrong shoes for this much walking. WHAT is that smell, and dear Lord in heaven, where is it coming from? Oh, and it’s raining. Really, really hard. Of course you forgot your umbrella. Nothing–and I mean nothing–has gone your way. Then add to that the fact that this happens while you’re in New York City, an unforgiving megalopolis with a bloodhound’s nose for the scent of weakness.

Now, take a beat. Breathe. Imagine that you could get a do-over.  A chance to start the whole god-awful thing over again but with the benefit of the memories of that horrible day intact. What would you do?



Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Harold Ramis’ and Danny Rubin’s 1993 cult classic, Groundhog Day, which stars the inimitable Bill Murray, answers that question along with a few others. It’s a film that still resonates with us all these years later. What makes it unique is that it’s a cerebral, philosophical film charading as a simple comedy. The premise of the film cleverly articulates, through the follies of its protagonist, Phil Connors, the existential theme that actions without consequences are meaningless.  Or that immortality, even when attained, is not a virtue but a curse.

This past weekend, we attended the musical based on this beloved film, which recently opened on Broadway. If you’ve watched the movie, you might have reservations. How does one live up to the genius of the original? You wouldn’t be alone in that pool of doubt. The musical adaptation was rumored to have been in the works for almost ten years. But it wasn’t until Tim Minchin, the man behind Matilda The Musical, was handed the baton that the musical came into being.



Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Image courtesy of the Groundhog Day Musical website
Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Image courtesy of the Groundhog Day Musical website

We’re happy to report you can cast those concerns aside. Groundhog Day The Musical does a tremendous job translating the myriad charms of the film from the screen to the stage. Solid acting, imaginative set design, and ambitious sequences, while more or less faithfully adhering to the original story line, made for a truly memorable and enjoyable performance. If you liked the movie, it’s a good bet you’ll enjoy the musical. And if you’ve never seen the movie, the musical is definitely a worthwhile introduction. You’ll be quoting the lines in no time. (There are so many good ones.)

Purchase your tickets at their website here.

Location:
245 W 52nd St



Pair it with:

Brunch at Maialino

Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Deja Vu Groundhog Day Musical Broadway - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

While repeating the same day for an eternity would eventually grow tiresome, let’s all acknowledge how freakin’ awesome it would be when you realize that 1) you could eat whatever you want without getting fat, and 2) you would never have to pay that Visa bill. And there’s no better place to celebrate that epiphany, than at Maialino.

Maialino’s brunch is legend, and appropriately so. We’d like to tell you that our blogger selves ordered the pancakes because we wanted to specifically tie in the reference to flapjacks from Groundhog Day. But the truth is that we just really wanted some delicious pancakes. The ricotta pancakes here are some of the best in New York City. You won’t get a stack, just two oversized, fluffy, luxuriant, perfect pancakes. A choice of toppings will accompany them, so you can choose to swipe on some marmalade, or drench them in syrup. There’s no way to mess this up. So maybe if you’re having an amazingly awful day, this is one thing you could get 100% right.

Location:
2 Lexington Ave

Hours:
Monday 7:30–10am, 12–2pm, 5:30–10pm
Tuesday 7:30–10am, 12–2pm, 5:30–10pm
Wednesday 7:30–10am, 12–2pm, 5:30–10pm
Thursday 7:30–10am, 12–2pm, 5:30–10:30pm
Friday 7:30–10am, 12–2pm, 5:30–10:30pm
Saturday 10AM–2:30pm, 5:30–10:30pm
Sunday 10AM–2:30pm, 5:30–10pm

– L. & J.

Four Score and Seven Years Overdue: Our Visit to Hamilton on Broadway



In the summer of 2007, while Justin and I were still living in Phoenix, we made our annual pilgrimage to New York City with great anticipation.  Our trips always included an ambitious list of restaurants to tackle, as well as a sampling of plays and musicals.  That summer, we were excited to check out an Off-Broadway production we had read about called In The Heights.  

At the 37 Arts Theater in Hell’s Kitchen (since renamed the Baryshnikov Arts Center), we were seated in the second row, close enough to see the beads of sweat on the performers’ faces and watch the spit escape from their lips.  It was everything we’d hoped it would be: exciting, fresh, funny, captivating.  We were so enamored with the performance that we waited after the show to speak to the creator, a young upstart named Lin-Manuel Miranda.  But there was no one else waiting, and we questioned ourselves.  Was this not done?  Were we not supposed to approach the cast?  We suddenly felt starkly like out-of-towners, clueless about the lay of the land.  He exited the theater, and we lost our nerve.  We stood there and watched him go by.



Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Crowds gather to collect cast autographs before and after the show



Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Do we have Hamilton glow?

Fast forward almost ten years later, and here we are, in our seats at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.  We purchased our Hamilton tickets NINE MONTHS AGO, after taking out a small loan against our future unborn child.  At this point, Lin-Manuel Miranda is a bonafide celebrity with a number of Tonys, Grammys and, oh yes, a Pulitzer Prize under his belt.  He’s performed at the White House on numerous occasions.  He’s chased down in the street.  

The core of what made In The Heights a success is what makes Hamilton a success, just on a much grander scale.  In broadest terms, it’s an American immigrant story.  It draws on the time-honored thematics of ambition, adversity, determination and perseverance.

But what makes Hamilton unique is its historical framework. Ron Chernow, whose biography set the ball in motion, acted as the historical consultant for the production.  The bold decision to cast multi-ethnic, multiracial actors to play what were predominantly white figures essentially said, in one fell swoop, that the history of this country belongs to all of us.  Hamilton celebrates the notion that we all have our personal histories and a place in our shared history.  And dammit, that music is catchy.

These New York City streets getting colder, I shoulder
Ev’ry burden, ev’ry disadvantage
I have learned to manage, I don’t have a gun to brandish
I walk these streets famished
The plan is to fan this spark into a flame
But damn, it’s getting dark, so let me spell out my name




Pair it with:

A meal at The Smith

Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Hamilton on Broadway NYC - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

When a restaurant calls itself an “American Brasserie”, you never really know what to expect.  But what you hope for, is The Smith.  The fact that it’s been around since 2007, has grown to four locations, and still pulls in massive crowds is a testament to its quality.  New York City is a harsh mistress, and even the best among us have had to call it a day.  But The Smith sticks to a simple, winning formula: a great space, great people, and great food.

Head north on Broadway to the Lincoln Square location, where you’ll find classics on the menu like French Toast or Grilled Chicken Paillard.  The best part: they take reservations, and you don’t have to book nine months in advance.

Location:
1900 Broadway

Hours:
Mon-Wed: 7:30AM – Midnight
Thurs & Fri: 7:30AM – 1AM
Sat: 9:00AM – 1AM
Sun: 9:00AM – Midnight

– L. & J.

Thoughts on Life and Death: Wakey, Wakey at Signature Theatre



We’ll let you in on a little secret. While theater is something we love to experience, it’s not something we love to blog about. It’s a daunting task trying to capture the essence of a play or musical.  But when we experience something unique, like we did with Wakey, Wakey, we want desperately to share our experience.

In Will Eno’s new off-Broadway play, Guy gazes out at the audience and says:

“This was supposed to be something different.”




Wakey, Wakey Will Eno Signature Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Image courtesy of Signature Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Wakey, Wakey Will Eno Signature Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Image courtesy of Signature Theatre. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The character is played brilliantly by Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Emerson (you’d likely know him from his portrayal of Finch on Person of Interest). Something about his delivery of the line stood out to us.  Was it meant apologetically or as a mere statement of fact?

As it turns out, it held a special meaning.

When we approached the play’s co-star, January LaVoy, to commend her on her performance after the show, she shared some intel on this wonderful play.  She revealed that James Houghton, the founder and former artistic director of Signature Theatre, had succumbed to stomach cancer and passed away in the latter half of 2016.  Will Eno, the playwright and director, was so profoundly affected by the event that his work-in-progress morphed into Wakey, Wakey.  

“This was supposed to be something different.”





Wakey, Wakey Will Eno Signature Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Wakey, Wakey Will Eno Signature Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Wakey, Wakey deals with issues of mortality but there was a sense of reverence to it all.  There was a feeling that this was deeply personal, and that we, the audience, had not only been invited into this private moment of grief and celebration but were also being asked to be a part of it, to share this man’s final moments, to see him off on this last, solitary journey.  And January LaVoy’s beautiful, minimalist rendering of the archetype of a calm, gentle, humane and caring stranger was the perfect complement to Michael Emerson’s moving portrayal as Gus.  The relationship gives us hope that in our final moments, humanity can save us from feeling entirely alone.

It’s a poignant work made infinitely more touching by the personal experience.  And don’t let the subject matter deter you, we promise there is no shortage of celebration.  And if you’re still feeling particularly melancholy after the performance, a nice spread of snacks and beverages are available for free after the show to cheer you up.  (Free food always cheers us up.)

Wakey, Wakey has been extended through April 2.  For more information and to buy tickets, visit Signature Theatre’s website here.

Location:
480 W 42nd St



Pair it with:

Ramen at Ippudo

Wakey, Wakey Will Eno Signature Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Wakey, Wakey Will Eno Signature Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Wakey, Wakey Will Eno Signature Theatre - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

You may be wondering why we keep pairing our theater outings with ramen.  We wish we could produce a hyper-intelligent string theory to explain how they are inextricably linked.  But we can’t.  It just so happens that there are a lot of great ramen places in Hell’s Kitchen near the Theater District.  And it also just so happens that we really like ramen.

Ippudo, which hails directly from Japan, has elevated ramen from fast food to a culinary delight.  While it always offers its signature products, it continues to innovate.  Ippudo is one of the few chains to offer a wide variety of vegetarian ramen bowls.  They also offer a multitude of toppings, with recommendations for each specific bowl to suit the flavor profile.  

There might be a wait, so try to come on off-hours.  We promise, it’s worth it.

Location:
321 W 51st St

Hours:
Monday-Thursday 11:00am – 3:30pm, 5:00pm – 11:30pm
Friday 11:00am – 3:30pm, 5:00pm – 12:30am
Saturday 11:00am – 11:30pm
Sunday 11:00am – 10:30pm

– L. & J.

An Evening with Neil Gaiman at Town Hall



The books we read are as much a part of our identity as the clothes we wear and the music we listen to.  They inform our worldview, build our vocabulary and shape our sense of humor.  My father tried to cultivate a love of reading in all his children at a young age. Book stores and literary festivals were common stops.  We were initially nudged towards popular kids’ titles, reading lots of Enid Blyton then favorites like Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. But once we recognized the wealth of material out there, we started to gravitate towards books that interested us personally. I went through an embarrassing teen romance phase (Sweet Valley High, anyone?) then thankfully moved on to a wide variety of literature.

As a family we didn’t always have shared tastes in reading material, but one author that we seemed to agree on was Neil Gaiman.  I can vividly recall my brother’s obsession with the Sandman series, and my cousin’s excitement when she read Good Omens. Gaiman’s books and graphic novels made you feel like you’d discovered something special and were now part of a cool members-only club.  Except it’s a REALLY LARGE club.



Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Neil Gaiman reading from his new book, Norse Mythology
Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Opihra Eisenberg and Neil Gaiman

We recently attended a Neil Gaiman event at Town Hall.  Town Hall is Gaiman’s preferred New York City venue; he revealed that it was his fourth or fifth visit to that location.  We can certainly share his enthusiasm, Town Hall is a wonderfully intimate venue.  Neil Gaiman read from his latest book, Norse Mythology, then sat down to tackle audience questions.  In between, fans were also treated to advance previews of two additional projects based on his writings: How to Talk to Girls at Parties on the big screen and American Gods on the small screen.

Neil Gaiman’s fans are enthusiastic, to say the least. As he read a particularly timely excerpt from his book, the audience hung on every word, breaking out in laughter heartily at every turn.  Credit is due to Gaiman, who brought his prose to life with the affectations and pauses of someone who knows his material and his audience well.  Not all authors manage it with such ease.

Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog



Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

The evening would have been a success with just the reading and the sneak previews, but I found the Q&A session to be the most enjoyable part of the evening. Prompted by audience questions which were read aloud by Ophira Eisenberg (of NPR’s Ask Me Another), Neil Gaiman spoke from the heart about his work and his personal life, and was surprisingly candid about his successes and his failures.

This is Neil Gaiman’s first undertaking involving mythology, but Norse Mythology feels very much in his wheelhouse.  His talent lies in making the line between fantasy and reality feel particularly fluid.  I’m sure it’ll make a wonderful companion on a cold day, along with a large cup of coffee and a box of chocolates.  What are you reading next?



Pair it with:

Poke at Maui Onion

Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Neil Gaiman Norse Mythology Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the poke (pronounced poh-kay) bowl trend.  Originating in Hawaii then sweeping the West Coast, it finally made its way east and hit New York City by storm.  It’s a trend we welcomed heartily, since we love seafood.  We covered one of our favorite outlets in our food pairing here.

Although Midtown dining options continue to evolve, the restaurants still largely cater to the weekday business crowd.  There’s a draw to places that can provide semi-healthy, cost-effective meals in an efficient manner.  But it can be difficult to find something that isn’t Pret-A-Manger or Chipotle.  Or eat something that isn’t a salad or a sandwich.  Enter Maui Onion, a new poke bar ready to capitalize on the demand for interesting fast-casual eateries.  

Here you can choose from a number of combinations as a bowl, salad, temaki or burrito.  You can then personalize it with a variety of toppings.  The space is open and inviting, but those in a hurry can also grab the order to go.  Service is quick but friendly, and the food is fresh and delicious.  Add it to your Midtown roster, you won’t regret it.

Location:
35 W 26th St

Hours:
Mon – Sun 11:00 am – 9:00 pm

– L.

 

Evening at the Talk House at Signature Theater



Long ago (before the invention of the wheel, it sometimes feels like!), we were just a young couple in love. And when we first started dating, during that universal period in a relationship when everything is about connection and shared interest, we discovered with a great amount of satisfaction that we both had a mutual passion for film, from foreign gems to esoteric indies to cult comedies. We re-watched some of our favorites films together. There was Cinema Paradiso, The Sweet Hereafter, The Shipping News, Young Frankenstein, Dr. Strangelove, and, of course, The Princess Bride. The Princess Bride, in particular, became a rich source of our inside jokes.

Often, in those early days, I would muster my best (awful) impression of Fezzik (Andre the Giant, RIP) and drop this line at an absurdly incongruous moment:

“Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid, or something like that?”

It never failed to crack us both up. Lynn’s favorite, one she still occasionally employs to this very day, was Inigo’s (Mandy Patinkin’s) response to Vizzini’s (Wallace Shawn’s) repeated use of the word “Inconceivable!”:

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

And we’re not alone in our devotion to this film or our continued admiration for the brilliant dialogue and its flawless delivery by its brilliant actors. A quick Google search will produce endless memes appropriating its lines. I found this posted on a co-worker’s cubicle:

Evening at the Talk House Theater - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Needless to say, we purchased more cookies than we should have.

So when we heard that The New Group was going to put on a play written by Wallace Shawn himself, we were intrigued.

You might have noticed, as we have, that television and movies have been regurgitating material for a while now.  Reboots, sequels, prequels, and trilogies have become a normal part of the landscape.  And Broadway has not been immune.  Show runners have been producing musicals or plays that are derivative of already-popular movies, guaranteeing patronage from a loyal fan base.  So Evening at the Talk House, an original work, already had us rooting for it.



Evening at the Talk House Theater - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Then we flipped to the Who’s Who in the Cast part of the Playbill.  It’s a dream team of character actors, featuring such names as Matthew Broderick, the husband-wife team of Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, and of course, Wallace Shawn himself.  When we arrived at the intimate Linney Theater and saw that the cast members were actually serving sparkling wine and hors d’oeuvres to the guests, we knew we were in for something different.

Evening at the Talk House isn’t easy to describe.  Nor would we want to give too much away.  Broderick’s character, in a spectacularly long monologue executed to perfection, describes how a play he wrote occurred in a realm that existed outside of the real world, running parallel yet apart from it.  And Evening at the Talk House feels the same way.  It’s a world that’s rooted in our own, but where things have taken a dark turn.  It’s not so far off course that you relegate it to fantasy, which creates tension and an uncomfortable sense of foreboding.



Evening at the Talk House Theater - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
This image, as well as the featured image, are courtesy of The New Group’s Evening at the Talk House website

Evening at the Talk House brings together a powerhouse of talent and feels particularly timely.  Post-performance talkbacks will undoubtedly be thought-provoking.  Visit their website for more information or to buy tickets.

Evening at the Talk House runs through March 12.

Location:
480 W 42nd St



Pair it with:

A meal at Ivan Ramen

Evening at the Talk House Theater - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Evening at the Talk House Theater - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Evening at the Talk House Theater - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

With all the dining options available in New York City, we haven’t yet found cause to repeat ourselves in our food pairings.  But Pershing Square Signature Center, where Evening at the Talk House is being staged, is further west than most theaters.  Which means it’s practically next door to Gotham West Market.  Although we featured Ivan Ramen’s flagship in our post here, the Gotham West Market outpost (appropriately nicknamed the Slurp Shop) is worth its own visit since it offers several location-specific exclusives.  And let’s face it, when you’re deep in the heart of winter, nothing sounds better than a bowl of noodles.  Try the Roasted Shrimp Ramen or the Miso Mushroom Mazemen.  And if you’re feeling particularly piggish (like we usually are), try one of their combos and add a specialty bun.  You won’t regret it.

Location:
600 11th Ave

Hours:
Sunday-Thursday 11am-11pm
Friday- Saturday 11am-midnight

– L. and J.

An Evening with David Sedaris: Laughter Really Is The Best Medicine


“I haven’t got the slightest idea how to change people, but still I keep a long list of prospective candidates just in case I should ever figure it out.”

-David Sedaris

Before he became a contributor at The New Yorker or a best-selling author, I discovered David Sedaris where so many of his other fans have, on National Public Radio, and through Ira Glass’s spectacular radio program and podcast, This American Life (you can find many of his past contributions here). From there, I went on to read his essays, all of his books and attended live readings (read: performances — because, undoubtedly, that’s what they are) on what are now three separate occasions.




https://goo.gl/maps/q77jwyrixVp
All images are courtesy of David Sedaris’s Facebook page

I’ve gifted Sedaris’s books on at least five separate occasions over the years, and have always, without fail, received glowing responses from those who have received them. On that note, I have also gifted one my absolute favorite books, Shalom Auslander’s Foreskin’s Lament, just as many or more times than that. And coincidentally, he, too, was a discovery I made through This American Life, a testament to the program’s incredible quality.

Sedaris is compared to innumerable authors, most often Fran Leibowitz and Mark Twain. I agree, wholeheartedly, with the Twain comparison, but am hesitant to throw Leibowitz into the mix. Make no mistake, she’s a brilliant humorist, but I find her darker, edgier and much more caustic than Sedaris. 

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

-Mark Twain

For my part, I’d categorize Sedaris as a fairly even mix between Mark Twain and Gore Vidal: quick witted, keenly observant, and always wickedly funny. He’s one of the few celebrities I find myself imagining would be fun to hang out with. Maybe over a coffee. More likely a beer.

“The four most beautiful words in our common language: I told you so.”

-Gore Vidal

I don’t just recommend his books, though. His readings are incredibly entertaining as well. Most recently I caught his performance at Town Hall, and he was even better than the other times I’ve seen him. His composure, delivery, timing and mastery of language — all of it was on full display. He usually offers a few new and longer stories he’s been working on — so new, in fact, that he occasionally pauses briefly to make a notation in his draft as he reads. And of course, Sedaris always makes time for reading a few entries from his ever-more-fascinating diary.

I should also note that Sedaris is a particularly gracious and accessible celebrity, spending hours before and after his events to personally interact with his fans and sign copies of his books. If the opportunity presents itself, I highly recommend going to see him live.

David Sedaris Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

For information about his books and tour dates, click here.




Pair it with:

A burger at Bar Sardine

David Sedaris Town Hall - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

So usually, if at all possible, I attempt to pair a meal or snack in fairly close proximity to the activity. Unfortunately, Town Hall is in Midtown.  It’s an area, by and large, I loathe in general — but particularly so as it relates to food. Therefore, with no better options presenting themselves, I venture downtown to the West Village neighborhood gastropub, Bar Sardine. I’d read an article awhile back espousing the merits of their Fedora Burger, so I decided this was the time to test it out.  

Though the small space was nearly packed to the gills, my burger arrived at my seat at the bar quite efficiently. A quick check under the hood of the mildly sweet, seeded bun revealed smoked cheddar, a sizable and juicy beef patty, house flash-pickled cucumbers, shoestring potatoes, and chipotle mayo. It was delicious. The anti-burger-purist’s dream. I’ll definitely be revisiting.

Location:
183 W 10th St

Hours:
Sunday – Wednesday   Noon – Midnight
Thursday – Saturday   Noon – 2 am

– J.

First Comes Love: This Election Blows at Lynn Redgrave Theater



Before I’d ever visited New York City, my first introduction was through television. More so the late night variety shows than the procedurals. And none more so than the venerable live broadcast of Saturday Night Live, with its ever changing cast and crew of comedians and writers plucked, seemingly at random, from the inestimable local theaters, clubs and performance spaces found in every nook and cranny of the city. These establishments, where so much raw talent is skimmed off the top of a limitless, un-homogenized pool of hopes, dreams and aspirations, are the incubators for creativity, experimentation and collaboration.

But it’s not all roses, as they say. New York City is a place where you’ll find incredible successes but also abject failures. You may stumble across the blueprints for achieving unparalleled fame and fortune, but you ignore the cautionary tales of ruin and misery at your own peril. New York City is hard. It’s survival of the fittest. And you don’t survive long on your own.

We’ve touched upon these themes before, when we covered a screening of Don’t Think Twice, which you can find here. But watching a film or reading a synopsis is one thing, seeing it play out in person is entirely another.

first-comes-love-b46a7372

first-comes-love-b46a7636
All show photos are from a different performance and are courtesy of firstcomesloveshow.com

First Comes Love: This Election Blows at Lynn Redgrave Theater gave us a bird’s eye view. First Comes Love is a series borne of Kyle Ayers’ ingenious idea to solicit pornographic movie scripts from a fake ad he placed on Craigslist. The response was overwhelming, providing him with so much material that he decided to turn it into a show. The unedited (and sometimes previously unread) scripts are acted out by comedians and actors with improvised costumes and props. Presented by CounterCulture, First Comes Love: This Election Blows was a selection of political election-themed scripts from the treasure trove.

While the idea of watching scenes from amateur adult movie screenwriters might seem a little raunchy, the essence of First Comes Love was far less about sex than one would expect. The atmosphere created by the close-knit band of comedic players was fun and lighthearted. Lynn and I laughed, and laughed hard, at various points throughout the show. The material was mostly weak (remember, these were responses to a Craigslist ad), but it was the intense expression of camaraderie between the cast, the contagious fun and enthusiasm they exuded, the blind trust they placed in each other, and the irrepressible joy they shared with us, the audience, that made it a unique experience.

You can stalk their website for a return visit to New York City, but First Comes Love is now also a podcast on Howl. Just maybe don’t play it during Thanksgiving dinner.  Or maybe do.



Pair it with:

Dinner at Minetta Tavern

Minetta Tavern - First Comes Love - Mad Hatters NYC

Minetta Tavern - First Comes Love - Mad Hatters NYC

Minetta Tavern - First Comes Love - Mad Hatters NYC
“Should we get dessert here, or pop into By Chloe down the street?”

I don’t really do “crawls”. And I don’t say that with disdain. There’s nothing wrong with them or with people who enjoy them. But I tend to feel going from one establishment after another over a single night numbs the palate. I do, however, pay close attention to “Best of” lists, and will, from time to time, methodically strike from the list different iterations of a culinary item over a relatively short period of time. Burgers are one such item. And I’ve tried many.

Until recently, Spotted Pig’s chargrilled burger with Roquefort cheese held the top ranking, unchallenged and by a wide margin. That is, until I visited the West Village and Keith McNally’s legendary French bistro, Minetta Tavern.

Steaks are excellent here, but let’s not waste time. The reason for this stop is the Black Label Burger — easily the best burger I’ve ever had. And yet, it’s the definition of simplicity: a beef patty allegedly consisting of a proprietary mix of NY strip, skirt steak and brisket, sauteed onions and a Balthazar Bakery seeded brioche bun. That’s it. And it’s incredible.

Opened in 1937, and purchased and renovated in 2009 by McNally, the space is filled to rafters with its charismatic ambiance. With the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Eugene O’Neill, E. E. Cummings, Dylan Thomas, and Joe Gould, as well as various other famous writers, poets, and pugilist regularly frequenting the tavern over its storied history, it’s a special and unique place to share an incredible meal.

Location:
113 Macdougal St

Hours:
Lunch:
12pm—3pm (Wed—Fri)
Brunch:
11am—3pm (Sat—Sun)
Dinner/Supper:
5:30pm—12am (Sun – Wed)
5:30pm—1am (Thurs – Sat)

– J.

The Merchant of Venice at the Lincoln Center Festival



As I mentioned once before here, I studied English Lit at university. And I’m sure it will come as no surprise that I read a fair bit of Shakespeare during that time, and by “fair”, I mean a lot. And throughout my studies, I analyzed, discussed, and wrote a lot of papers about the famed playwright and his innumerable works. The Merchant of Venice was one of those works — a challenging one. It was required reading in a few of my later classes, so I’m quite familiar with it. It’s sort of notorious for being an emotionally complicated and intellectually treacherous play to study, and it’s much less read for enjoyment due to its subject matter. And for this reason, it’s anathema for many students. Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, I cannot think of another fostering a more strained and contentious relationship between readers, academics, historians and the material itself.

Merchant of Venice - Mad Hatters NYC

The Merchant of Venice, in simplest terms, thematically explores the conflicting ideas of vengeance, mercy and justice and portrays the events and consequences surrounding the agreed upon terms and later default of a monetary loan between Shylock, a Jewish Venetian moneylender, and Antonio, a Christian Venetian merchant. All other subplots aside, that’s the center of the story.

Though considered a Shakespearean comedy, which, by Elizabethan standards, meant that it was a play with a lighter, more humorous tone and typically had a happy ending, The Merchant of Venice is widely criticized as a mean-spirited, bigoted, anti-Semitic play. After all, the antagonist is Jewish, caricatures and stereotypes abound and were likely played for laughs, and the climactic “happy ending” is Shylock’s absolute defeat and abject humiliation. He is stripped of his dignity, his daughter, his property and his religion.

Merchant of Venice - Mad Hatters NYC

So it begs the question: Why read this play or see it performed? Well, because it is a play that is not without opportunity. Take, for example, the revival production Lynn and I recently took in at The Rose Theater during the Lincoln Center Festival. In the able hands of the renowned Shakespeare’s Globe (who last brought Broadway their incredible productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III in 2014) and with a masterfully nuanced performance by Jonathan Pryce, the audience is afforded a fresh, compelling, and, above all else, timely interpretation of the play. Shylock’s monologue — as famous as any others Shakespeare ever put to paper — become not the words of an equivocating, villainous perpetrator but the words of a victim in abject despair. They become the words of a man who knows there is no justice because the game is rigged and that the righteous majority can become a specious euphemism for an angry, lawless mob.

After the final curtain fell and the audience solemnly dispersed, Lynn and I were pensive. We found ourselves in the unfortunate position of having to admit that the narrative of The Merchant of Venice perfectly captures the tragic marginalization of minorities in this country — right now, in the 21st century.  And we’re confident that’s exactly the impression that was intended.

Visit the Lincoln Center Festival website to see what other thought-provoking programming awaits when next season rolls around.



Pair it with:

A drink at Box Kite Coffee

Box Kite Coffee - Mad Hatters NYC

Box Kite Coffee - Mad Hatters NYC

There are few things I enjoy more than coffee. An incredible discussion with someone I respect and admire is one of those things. Give me both, simultaneously, and I’m in heaven. That was my experience at the once upon a time sibling, now orphaned (their original and much larger East Village location closed) Upper West Side location of Box Kite Coffee. It’s an intimate, modern space, and by intimate, I mean the size of a modest walk-in closet or a diminutive hallway. But don’t let the interior distract you, the coffee here is top notch. Cora Lambert, the proprietor, had a simple vision for Box Kite: to meticulously source and eclectically curate a seasonal selection of the very best beans from the very best producers, utilize only state-of-the-art machines for optimal extraction, and hire top-of-the-line professionals to orchestrate the whole process. And I’m happy to tell you, she succeeded. From tasty seasonal concoctions to espresso tonics to the staple One+One (espresso and macchiato combo, with a glass of tonic and a homemade graham cracker), you can’t really go wrong. Add an order from their à la carte menu of toast and spreads and you’re ready for that long post-theater discussion.

Location:
128 W 72nd St

Hours:
Mon – Fri: 7am – 6pm
Sat & Sun: 8am – 7pm

– J.

She Loves Me on Broadway



When I was younger, our family would spend the Christmas holidays visiting family in Singapore.  My uncle was a fan of musicals and often had the recordings playing during our stay.  I’d grown familiar with the scores of Cabaret and Jesus Christ Superstar, but had never actually seen a production.  Then during the Grammy Awards in 1988 they featured a performance from Phantom of the Opera, and I became obsessed.  When I finally made it to New York City, watching Phantom of the Opera was at the top of my to-do list, and it was the perfect culmination of my Broadway dreams.  

Since then I’ve added somewhat to my Playbill collection.  But Justin and I haven’t figured out how to become independently wealthy (tips welcome!), so we hem and haw, then judiciously try to pick shows that have something unique to offer.  We’ve gravitated towards less conventional musicals — Fun Home’s deep material drew us in, while American Psycho’s promise got us there (you can find our post on that one here).  When we heard about raves for She Loves Me, we were a little skeptical.  It seemed too… basic.  But boy, did it prove us wrong.

She Loves Me Broadway

She Loves Me Broadway

She Loves Me is an adaptation of Miklos Laszlo’s 1937 play Parfumerie, and this is the second revival since the 1963 original. While it has the charm of an old Cary Grant movie, it still manages to feels surprisingly fresh.  It’s a live rom-com, with an emphasis on the com part, as the actors deliver a wonderful comedic performance that had our audience LOL-ing through the show.  It’s not all-too-surprising if you look at the cast.  It’s a television fan’s dream — Laura Benanti (Supergirl, Nashville, Nurse Jackie) and  Zachary Levi (Chuck) play the leads, with support from Jane Krakowski (Kimmy Schmidt, 30 Rock, Ally McBeal) and Tom McGowan (Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond).  You’ll also recognize supporting actor Byron Jennings from movies like Lincoln and Julie & Julia. Gavin Creel has deep Broadway roots and is unforgettable as the charming villain.

Besides the wonderful performances, the musical also delivers eye candy throughout.  David Rockwell’s vibrantly hued set was fully deserving of its Tony.  And I fell head-over-heels for Jeff Mahshie’s wonderful costume design — the dramatic long coats with matching hats and gloves, luscious dresses, and amazing T-strap heels gave me serious closet envy.  The dreamy ensembles managed to capture the spirit of a different time, but were still items I’d snap up in a store today.  Oh, and the men looked pretty dapper too.

She Loves Me is such an enchanting musical, and one I’d recommend heartily.  Even the theater is a celebrity in its own right: She Loves Me is currently playing at the iconic Studio 54, which was home to the Johnny Carson Show as well as the notorious disco nightclub with regulars like Andy Warhol, Elton John, Grace Jones and Steven Tyler.  You can find tickets and schedules at Roundabout Theater’s website.

Notes:

[1] We received a great tip from Mary Lane at New York Cliche and wanted to update the post: “Did you know Roundabout has an amazing program for people under 35? Hiptix they call it and if you become a member (free to join if under 35!) you can get really cheap tickets to their show… Usually tix are $25.”  Thanks, Mary Lane!

[2] Also, we’re happy to share that She Loves Me will be livestreamed via BroadwayHD on June 30 (a Broadway first!), so you can enjoy this lovely musical from the comfort of home!

Location:
254 W 54th St



Pair it with:

Treats at Petrossian Boutique and Café 

Petrossian Cafe and Boutique NYC

Petrossian Cafe and Boutique NYC

Petrossian Cafe and Boutique NYC

She Loves Me is set in 1937 Budapest, so let’s keep with the vintage Europe theme and head over to the Petrossian Boutique and Café just a short distance from the theater.  Petrossian was established in Paris in 1920 by a pair of Russian brothers and is well-known throughout the world for its caviar.  But in addition to all the gourmet food treats, they have a wonderful bakery that sells breads, pastries and tarts which are perfect for dining in or for taking home.  I cultivated a late appreciation for croissants, and have recently scoured the city for the best — Petrossian’s happens to be at the top of my list (I’m not alone, Martha Stewart is a fan).  The service, in my experience, has also always been impeccable.  So pop by for a croissant, throw in a canelé or palmier, grab a cup of coffee, then sit back and enjoy.

Location:
911 Seventh Avenue

Hours:
Monday-Friday – 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Saturday – 8:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
Sunday – 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

– L.