Photo Essay: Unlocking Canal Street’s Secrets via Jane’s Walk



There’s really no end of things to explore in New York City, but insiders know it takes some digging to uncover what’s hidden beneath the city’s surface.  Citywide events like Open House New York and Jane’s Walk make urban exploration attainable to the masses.  They feed our never ending curiosity by giving us access to sites and experts that would normally be out of reach.

Jane’s Walk is named for Jane Jacobs: journalist, author, activist and all-around local legend.  She fought tirelessly to protect the authenticity of New York City neighborhoods.  Jane was a pioneer in promoting diversity and supporting local economies.  Tides Canada initiated Jane’s Walk to promote her ideas.  The Municipal Art Society of New York organizes the event locally in New York City, and has done an amazing job shepherding its growth.  One weekend a year, they offer a number of free walking tours led by local citizens.



Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
A view of the new Jenga Tower against a Beaux Arts building and 33 Thomas St (rumored to be an NSA spy hub)
Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The entrance to the trendy Haus nightclub
Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The Canal Street Station Post Office Art Deco building built in 1937

On the most recent Jane’s Walks event, we joined licensed New York City tour guide Robert Brenner on a tour of Canal Street.  Most people associate Canal Street with Chinatown, but locals know it’s a major thoroughfare that cuts through Lower Manhattan.  Robert kicked off the tour with a cold open about the street’s sordid past, then led us on a walking tour of some of the city’s most amazing landmarks.



Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
A bright fire escape located next to the old Pearl Paint building
Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Cortlandt Alley, one of the city’s famous backdrops often used in music videos and photo shoots
Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Exotic fruit stalls in Chinatown – don’t sample the wares unless they are offered to you or you might get charged!

Robert’s tour included picturesque (read: Instagram-friendly) corners, as well as juxtapositions of the old and the new.  The variety of architectural styles we came across in this short walk would thrill any urban architecture fan.  As with all good tours, he included personal anecdotes and associations to long-forgotten landmarks.  Robert also helped all of us cement our insider status by showing us a secret passageway in Chinatown.  (We’ll be sure to show that one off the next time we have friends or family visiting.)  He gives you homework too: he pointed out several places to explore later.



Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Captivating street art along the route

Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The abandoned old Loew’s Theatre, whose terracotta facade is designated as a New York City Landmark

True lovers of New York City aren’t afraid of its grittier side.  There are so many stories lurking in its cracks and crevices, and walking tours of the city are a great way to discover them.  The Municipal Art Society of New York offers tours throughout the year hosted by historians, professors, and other qualified guides.  Whether you’re a visitor looking for an in-depth tour, or a local looking to learn more about your neighborhood, their website is a great place to start.  And Robert Brenner, our guide for this walk, hosts multiple tours, including one on Gritty Old Times Square.  You can learn more about him and seek out his services here.

What secrets will you uncover?



Pair it with:

A meal at Aux Epices

Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Uncovering Canal Street Secrets Jane's Walk - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

When you move to New York City, you dream of having a neighborhood joint like Aux Epices.  It’s a tiny space that’s easy to miss, but still manages to channel a ton of charm.  They don’t advertise, it’s strictly word-of-mouth.  Owner-operators Mei and Marc are the Malaysian and French couple behind the eatery, and the marriage of their cultures is reflected in their food.  Located on Baxter Street right off Canal Street, where Chinatown and Little Italy meet, Aux Epices offers the kind of fusion fare that perfectly highlights the melting pot that thrives in New York City.

Location:
121 Baxter St

Hours:
Daily: 11am – 10pm

– L.

Flatiron Walking Tour



Are you a fan of Serial? How about Making a Murderer? So are we. It seems all the best crime dramas are products of real life. So let us tell you about one that happened in our very own Flatiron district: the sensational murder of acclaimed American architect, Stanford White, by the wealthy Pittsburgh railroad heir, Harry Kendall Thaw.  All you have to do is step back in time to a little over a century ago.  1906, to be exact.

Stanford White was a wealthy, powerful man who maintained a bachelor pad”on 24th Street, just off Madison Square Park.  He was a serial womanizer, and a young model turned chorus girl, Evelyn, soon caught his eye.  White slowly gained the trust of her mother then convinced her to go on an all-expense-paid trip and leave Evelyn in his care.  During this period he drugged and raped the young Evelyn, then swore her to secrecy.  

Flatiron Walking Tour - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The MetLife Tower was the tallest building in New York City from 1909-1913. The Woolworth Building knocked it off its top spot.



Flatiron Walking Tour - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Part of the Admiral Farragut Monument. Farragut is known, among other things, for defeating Confederate forces and taking Mobile Bay where he uttered the immortal words: “Damn the torpedoes . . . full speed . . . ahead!”

White eventually moved on to greener pastures and Evelyn found a new suitor in Thaw.  Thaw proposed to Evelyn, but her sordid past prevented her from accepting.  He continued to push, and finally, Evelyn broke down and confessed the truth.  Thaw persisted in his proposals, so she eventually capitulated and became his wife despite his increasingly unstable behavior.  One evening in New York City, prior to attending opening night of a new musical, the married couple dined at a nearby restaurant and found themselves in the company of White.  Thaw became agitated, which continued throughout dinner and the show.  So when White showed up at the tail end of the performance, there on the rooftop of the original location of Madison Square Garden, Thaw marched up to him and shot him three times in the head.

The proceedings were dubbed “The Trial of the Century” since it included all the hallmarks of such a public spectacle: Wealth. Check. Influence. Check. Sex. Check. Insanity. Check. And, of course, murder. Check. Add to all that the rise of tabloid journalism, the first time a jury had to be sequestered and the first successful use of the insanity defense, and it’s just magic.

Flatiron Walking Tour - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
The Appellate Division Courthouse Beaux-Arts building, featuring historical, religious, and legendary lawgivers including Confucius and Moses.



Flatiron Walking Tour - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Statue of William Seward, which is rumored to be Seward’s head added to an existing statue of Lincoln’s body because the employers ran out of funds

And who tipped us off to this true crime bonanza?  It was none other than Mike, our guide during the free walking tour offered through the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership Business Improvement District. That’s right, we said FREE.  The non-profit organization spearheads improvement projects, markets the area for business investment, maintains and increases value for residents and promotes the area to visitors.

Longtime tour guide, Mike Kaback, offered an immersive and passionate discourse on the history of the area and many of the surrounding buildings. Having lived in New York his entire life and worked for decades in the nearby Fashion District, Mike was a veritable trove of information. His love for the city and its rich history was undeniable, from the books he recommended to us for further reading to the scrapbook of notations and photos he carried along with him as he presided over the tour.

Free tours are offered weekly on Sunday at 11:00 am and meet at the southwest corner of Madison Square Park.  We covered the current art installation in the park here, but the tour will cover some of the other art fixtures, the buildings, and the rich history that comes with all of it.  

For additional information on the free Flatiron walking tours, visit the website here.  For additional tours by Mike, visit his website here.  

(And for more a really detailed account of the White murder, with great pictures and news clippings, visit Keith York City’s blog post about it here.  You know you want to.)



Pair it with:

Breakfast at Pondicheri

Flatiron Walking Tour - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

Flatiron Walking Tour - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

As much as we love breakfast — and boy, do we! — the comfort and familiarity of the accustomed breakfast offerings occasionally feel a little Groundhog Day-ish. So that’s how we ended up at Pondicheri, the Houston transplant offering multi-regional Indian fusion cuisine.  Here, the omelet is made with “everything but the kitchen sink” and is available as a vegetarian or non-vegetarian dish.  The non-vegetarian version includes lamb keema, and it promises to wake you up with its curried spices and waves of flavor. If Indian food first thing in the morning makes you nervous, opt for one of their milder options, like the Green Dosa or the Beet Uttapam.  Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are plentiful.  Why not try something different?

Location:
15 West 27th St

Hours:
Mon through Thurs 7:30 am – 10 pm
Friday 7:30 am – 10:30 pm
Saturday 9 am – 10:30 pm
Sunday 9 am – 10 pm

– L. and J.

Better Late Than Never: 2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays



Whether you’re noshing on leftovers, watching Christmas Vacation again, or shopping the after-Christmas sales, we thought we’d help you eke out another ounce of holiday cheer with some pictures from the holiday window displays around New York City.  The amount of creative work that goes into the windows is always inspiring.  Making the pilgrimage has become one of our treasured holiday traditions, so we thought we’d share some of our favorites here. 

Here are some highlights from the same route we shared in last year’s post:

Bloomingdale’s:

Bloomingdale’s windows feature the work of visual artists who created one-of-a-kind chandeliers based on the word “light”, which is their holiday campaign theme. The chandeliers will be auctioned off to benefit the Child Mind Institute.

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Brilliant by Susanne Bartsch
2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Moon Glow by Abby Modell
2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Sparkle by Allison Eden




Barneys New York:

Barneys unveiled the Love Peace Joy Project with windows featuring the work of well-known artists and celebrities.  “Our intention was to take the theme of Love Peace Joy and filter it through the eyes of five extraordinary, creative people,” Creative Director Dennis Freedman said of the project.

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Artist Collective Studio Job
2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
Contemporary artist Rob Pruitt
2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog
And of course, Trey Parker and Matt Stone

Bergdorf Goodman:

Bergdorf’s theme, Destination Extraordinary, is a compelling collection in shades of green from rich emeralds to leafy tones.  The windows depict a dreamlike itinerary of lush locales, unexpected landscapes and verdant gardens.  According to David Hoey, Senior Director of Visual Presentation, “The windows are like magical realist versions of natural history museum dioramas.”

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog




Saks Fifth Avenue:

Saks Fifth Avenue chose the delectable theme Land of 1000 Delights, tempting all passersby with windows filled with candy-colored decor.  The festive windows draw a parallel between the sweet childhood temptations and the luxe store offerings that grace many an adult wish list.

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

2016 NYC Holiday Window Displays - Mad Hatters NYC Blog

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas weekend with loved ones!

– L. and J.

 

Washington Heights Walking Tour



Every neighborhood in New York has a story, but only a neighborhood within a neighborhood has secrets. Unfortunately, the prerequisite for discovering these secrets is usually the possession of an address within its boundaries, with time and growing familiarity eventually earning the distinction of being accepted within the community as a “local”.

And that’s exactly where Local Expeditions comes into play. Billed as the “anti-tour” and offering “unique 2-3 hour excursions designed by locals for a true New York experience”, the previously mentioned prerequisites are graciously waived.  We spied a new tour available on the website billed as the “Cabrini Heights/Fort Washington” tour, and we got slightly nostalgic for a previous visit during which we stayed with my cousin in Washington Heights.  It was a whirlwind trip that didn’t permit us much time to explore the area and we hadn’t been back since, so we signed up.

Commendably, the business model for Local Expeditions incorporates a 5% charitable donation, as well as a generous wage for the guide, giving back to the community and supporting the wider New York economy.  In the interest of full disclosure, at $40 per person, the cost of the tour is still on the higher end of the market, even factoring the 5% donation in.  Most tours average $20 per person, while tours from established names like the Municipal Art Society and Untapped Cities run at $30 per person.

Washington Heights
Fort Washington was located at the highest point on the island, now in Bennett Park
George Washington Bridge
The Little Red Lighthouse and the George Washington Bridge

The tour guide, Jim, used to live in the area.  The larger neighborhood covered is Washington Heights, with greater emphasis on the section mostly known as Hudson Heights.  The tour started off with some time at the St. Frances Cabrini Shrine, then moved on to highlight some of the history pertaining to the Battle of Fort Washington, took us past some interesting local architecture and then down to Fort Washington Park for an up-close view of the George Washington Bridge and the Little Red Lighthouse.

Washington Heights
One of the many Art Deco apartment buildings in the neighborhood
Washington Heights
Hudson View Gardens housing cooperative with Tudor-style arhictectural elements

While there was much to see, we feel it necessary to highlight some things to consider: the amount of walking was definitely more advanced than what you would find in other walking tours, partly due to the steep drop from the neighborhood into Fort Washington Park (and the necessary sharp incline back once the tour is over).  Jim’s knowledge displayed a sincere affection for the neighborhood, but there were many significant historical events that could have been better explained — the area has experienced displacement (the Munsee tribe), warfare (Revolutionary), migration (prewar German and Austrian Jews followed by post-Soviet Eastern Europeans), a crime wave (the 80’s crack epidemic) and, most recently, a sustained period of gentrification — but most of this was missing from his commentary.   

At the end of the day, it’s still a great, off-the-beaten-path tour that highlights a unique New York City neighborhood, with some kinks to be worked out.  Check out the Local Expeditions website for all the tours available.



Pair it with:

Brunch at Le Chéile

Le Cheile

Le Cheile

Le Cheile

Here’s what you’re unlikely to ever find at Le Chéile (pronounced leh key-lah, just so you don’t embarrass yourself like we did): burrata, foie gras, caviar, chorizo foam or anything “truffle-infused”. What you will find is solid, no-frills pub food and a number of interesting vegetarian offerings (a few on the breakfast and lunch menus, many more on the dinner menu). And of course, served alongside the food are an eclectic selection of old favorites and local craft brews on tap — it is, after all, a pub! Whether it’s hearty egg-based basics, traditional Irish dishes or one of the more interesting and tasty veggie burgers I’ve ever had the pleasure to put to the test (a pattie, akin to a croquette, on a brioche bun with all the fixings), Le Chéile didn’t mislead or oversell and will more than meet a hungry (or thirsty!) adventurer’s needs.

Location:
839 W 181st St

Hours:
Mon-Fri: 11 am – 3 am
Sat & Sun: 10 am – 3 am

– J.