When considering the fact that New York City is a bustling metropolis of millions, it’s ironic how often you hear it’s inhabitants express feelings of loneliness. Or alienation. Or a sense of hopeless disconnection from their fellow denizens. These are trite sentiments, certainly, but that doesn’t make them untrue. Even Mark Twain, when chronicling his time in the The City That Never Sleeps, wrote:
“A man walks his tedious miles through the same interminable street every day, elbowing his way through a buzzing multitude of men, yet never seeing a familiar face, and never seeing a strange one the second time.”
If there’s one thing to know about this blog and the people behind it, it’s that Justin and I love all facets of New York City. That means loving Jean Georges and Halal Guys in equal measure. Fifth Avenue and the Lower East Side. The Met and Mmuseumm. And when it comes to the holidays, we love over-the-top displays as well as understated celebrations. One of the more quirky and lesser known holiday traditions we enjoy in New York City is that of Unsilent Night.
I grew up in Malaysia then moved to the United States as a young adult. Justin trailed along while his father’s highly transient career took him all over the country in his youth. So when it came time to make our own home, we fell into the normal trappings–we bought a house in a nice neighborhood in a state where it was sunny 299 days per year. But we found ourselves making regular trips to New York City that grew longer and more frequent, and soon we realized maybe it was more of a home to us than our house was. For us, home has never been about geography. It’s always been a feeling. A longing when you leave, and a pull to return.
You could spend every weekend doing something completely different in New York City and never run out of things to do. But there are certain events that hit can’t-miss status for us. Activities that are permanently etched into our calendars. Occasions that take precedence over anything else going on in the city that day. The Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade is one of those special cases.
With change constantly occurring around us, Justin and I often find ourselves in a perpetual state of FOMO. There’s always something shiny and new to check out in New York City, from towering new structures to pop-up exhibits. But that also means that we sometimes take the stuff that’s been around for a while for granted. Case in point: the Jefferson Market Library.
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.
Shortly after we started blogging we realized what we didn’t know could fill an ocean. It’s been a journey, one we explored more thoroughly in our year-end review after our first full year of blogging. But we’ve received a lot of help and inspiration along the way, and no small part of that has come from other New York City bloggers that we’ve been fortunate to become acquainted with.
This morning Chloe sat by her bowl, looked over at me and gave out a loud meow. I looked at her and said, “Is that really necessary? You just watched me mix your food and I am now walking towards you with bowl in hand.”
Yes, I talk to my cat. And she talks to me. Chloe has a series of meows for the different things she needs. She has a special meow for when she wants to get under the blanket and needs me to fluff it juuuuust so. There’s a special meow for when she wants to be rubbed. There’s a special meow when she doesn’t want to be rubbed. And there’s a special meow that specifically says “I know there’s food in my bowl but I find it unsatisfactory and would like you to replace it”. I think that’s what comes from spending 16 years together.
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: 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
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.
Pie is home. Pie is comfort and consistency, when life is anything but. I’ll take pie in any form: the crimped-edge, single-crusted oculus splendor, the vented double-crusted surprise, and even the lowly hand pie, with all the adult pop-tart binge baggage that comes along with it. And sure there’s a dark side to this obsession. My penchant for flaky crusts and sweet fillings has lead to undesirable trips to the tailor (I’m talking to you, skinny jeans), a couple of “I don’t feel so good” upset stomach moments, some unintentional excitement in the dentist’s chair (though causality or correlation has yet to be substantiated to my satisfaction), and innumerable half-hearted New Year’s resolutions.
The whole sordid affair began with a “sliver”. “Sliver” is a storied word in the familial lore on my father’s side of the family. We did not coin it. We do not claim its etymological origins. But it does have a particularly special meaning to us. It’s sort of a hereditary trait, perhaps a genetic disorder, pronounced over and over again through the generations. It may also have something to do with our Catholic upbringing and the inherent feelings of guilt and penance that the religion engenders in its acolytes.
Now, my family loves to eat. No, really, we do. But we also feel ambivalent (yes, in that uniquely Catholic sense) when we overindulge. Enter the word “sliver”. It works like this: You tell yourself, I won’t take a WHOLE piece, I’ll just take a “sliver”. But the heart wants what the heart wants, as they say. And so you have another “sliver” and another “sliver” and another “sliver”. Eventually, you’ve eaten three pieces of pie and you’re thinking about the next time you have to go to confession. Or therapy. Or both.
A famous incident in my youth still occasionally pops up, to my horror, as conversation fodder over family meals. Believe it or not, I was an inordinately skinny child (don’t let the contradictory visual evidence in our posts confound you). It didn’t matter how much I ate, I simply never put on weight. And like most children with extremely elevated metabolisms, I was constantly, insatiably hungry. What I remember most about my childhood is an acute feeling of deprivation. I was the type of kid who finished my plate, as well as three helpings of sides, and, to my parents’ astonishment, still managed to reach — Shaun of the Dead zombie-style — for that last piece of chicken at the dinner table.