When we booked Amy Sohn to come on Radio On The Real, we had no idea what to expect. Here is a writer who has spent the last 20 years giving us a weekly (sometimes less) blow-by-blow of her mating, dating and breeding life. She’s got four novels published with Simon & Schuster and another one called The Actress set to come out next summer. Two movies. A TV show. Some pilots. She’s written for Playboy, The New York Times, Men’s Journal, The Nation, The New York Post and Harper’s Bazaar to name a few. And she royally pissed of half of her borough (that would be Brooklyn) with a satirical piece she wrote for The Awl called The 40-Year-Old Reversion. In it, she details the monthly antics of a group of Park Slope and Carroll Gardens moms who dub themselves Hookers, Sluts and Drug Addicts. It’s a romp of a read, but maybe hit too close to home for one too many. What we found in Amy was a quick, brutally honest and candid woman who isn’t afraid to talk about mean girls, relationships, the blur between life and art and why marriage is hard work. She managed to flip the script on us a couple of times and we all managed to laugh our asses off over a fantastic bottle of Rioja. So, download this one and let it act as your Xanax for your Thanksgiving traffic jam or flight delay. Ladies and Gentlemen, we give you Amy Sohn…unedited.
For today’s edition of the Street Name Game, we’re going to zero in on Delancey Street. Delancey Street was named after the patrician Loyalist and acting colonial governor of New York in the 1750s, James DeLancey. DeLancey was born into a rich landowning family who had the good fortune to own a sprawling farm downtown which stretched all the way from the East River to the Hudson. The pride and joy of the DeLancey farm was a spectacular cherry orchard, which was located on the site of present day Orchard Street.Suffice it to say, old DeLancey chose sides poorly (spoiler alert: the British lose the War for American Independence) and so after the redcoats were sent packing the farm was forcibly confiscated and divided up among smaller (and decidedly not British sympathizing) landowners. Presumably his prize cherry trees were plowed under, seeing as how the last time I was on Orchard Street there were none to be found. Today all that remains of the legendary DeLancey cherries can be found on the uptown side of the F train subway platform in the form of several beautiful mosaics.
A sexy little machine has been catching my eye on East 6th Street for the past few mornings on my way to work. She’s black and sassy with incredibly spicy and petite curves. Her top’s on now, but comes off easily when it’s warm. And as fast as she looks, she’s kind of slow by today’s standards. That’s okay because she’s almost a half a century old. She’s a 1969 Triumph Spitfire. A bad-ass little snake of a drop-top built two generations ago in Coventry, England. And bad-ass she was…for the late ‘60’s. Made for swingers, she got to 60 in 13 ½ seconds and topped out at 95 mph. Her voluptuous rack-and-pinion steering let her turn a tight 24 foot circle and her deep cushiony cockpit made her the easiest and most comfortable little dame to drive around town as hard as you could. And at $2,199, a Triumph Spitfire could be purring lustily in your driveway for the about the same price as a MacBook Pro and an internet connection today. Suck it, Craigslist! You’ve got nothin’ on this bird. Dig?
This week we had a fascinating talk with educator/entrepreneur, Jordyn Lexton. You might remember your high school years being tough, but as Jordyn explains, attending class in prison is whole different ball of wax. You see, Jordyn’s niche was teaching kids within the New York City criminal justice system and after an eye-opening stint at Riker’s, Jordyn was inspired to invent a business from the ground up called Drive Change. Drive Change addresses the persistent issue of recidivism and it’s an outstanding concept. It builds and operates state-of-the-art, locally sourced food trucks that hire and train kids returning to the community from prison. Drive Change provides real, transferable and life-changing skills for these young adults… as well as delectable pork buns for your lunch hour. It’s billed as food with a side of social justice, and we love it. It’s impossible to not root for Jordyn Lexton! We dare you to try.Portrait of Jordyn Lexton by Craig LaCourt for On The Real.
Happy Election Day! The mere mention of city politics these days is enough to elicit a chorus of groans. But here’s the thing: our politicians today are total wimps when it comes to serious graft and scandal. You want to go back to the glory days of corruption? Hop in the DeLorean, set the clock to 1929 and pay a visit to Tammany Hall.Tammany Hall was a New York City political organization founded in 1786 and very quickly became the dominant political machine in New York City. Sensing an opportunity in the unending waves of immigration, they created a brand as the “working man’s party” which enabled them to draw strength from the city’s newest arrivals. Back then, if you were a fat cat in the Machine, you lived damn well. Quite literally no one was ever appointed, no building was ever built, and no law was ever passed without the proper cash kickbacks to the Tammany politicos. And top Tammany guys like Boss Tweed made millions of dollars this way. Just think about several million dollars… in 1875. And their grass roots party members did more than hand out bumper stickers, too: they hired street toughs tasked with cracking skulls and making sure the popular vote always “went Tammany’s way.” Now that’s some serious political persuasion.The final home of the organization was eventually built at 100 East 17th Street. This Colonial Revival building, finished in 1929 at 100 E. 17th St, housed the party machine at the height of its power. Jimmy Walker was mayor of the city at the time - though within a few years, he was forced out of office over corruption charges, paving the way for the election of “Anti-Machine Man” Fiorello LaGuardia in 1933 and Tammany’s fall from grace.You probably pass by mighty Tammany Hall everyday but now you only know it as the New York Film Academy, or La Soiree, or a pretty crappy liquor store and deli. It was finally landmarked by the city last week, ensuring that its fascinating legacy of patronage and corruption will remain for generations. Will Mayor Mike’s fountain soda bans and luxury condo legacy stand the test of time as well? We will have to wait and see.
A year ago this evening, I was with my family playing a board game at our apartment at the corner of East 8th and C. We had been mentally and physically prepping for Hurricane Sandy to make landfall. Irene had hit us the year before and we basically came through unscathed, so expectations for Sandy were low. How naïve were we until one of us got up off the floor to look out the window. Avenue C was underwater and getting deeper. We walked downstairs to get a closer look and this was the scene.As the water crept up the sides of the parked cars, the cacophony of car alarms was astounding and then slowly, they faded under the water and then ceased entirely. It was dead quiet, but eerily lit by the emergency lights on top of the police precinct across the street. I stood on our stoop with my wife and daughter in complete disbelief that Mother Nature was in the middle of dealing such a devastating blow so peacefully. The family went to bed around midnight, when we were sure the water was on its way out. I stayed up as late as I could to make sure our building wasn’t going to float away, burn down…or both.The next morning, we woke up to a cold and quiet house. Thankfully, one of our neighbors was kind enough to share an extension cord hooked up to a small generator with enough juice to keep the fridge moderately cool and our phones charged. The first order of business for the day would be to procure gasoline. We were in Mad Max mode. We got on our bikes and headed north. What we saw was devastating. Cars turned and toppled upside-down and inside-out. Splintered and scattered lumber and trees piled high onto the Jersey wall and into the FDR. Homeowners, business owners, people on the street standing in utter disbelief.It was too cold for the bikes and still a little damp, so we parked them in Midtown and got a car service. We had to go all the way to 117th and First to wait in line for a gallon of gas. I ended up paying a guy $20 for the privilege of cutting in, so we could start our long journey home. The traffic was awful and we were hungry. After an hour or so, we found ourselves sitting in traffic on 49th Street in front of Wollensky’s Grill. Perfect. We paid our driver and went in. Here we are in Midtown… a beat to shit Carhart, a ratty little blond, a gorgeous yet un-showered mane of red and a gallon of gas. A sight to these faces who didn’t seem to realize that half of their city was under water just 12 hours before. Precious. The food was terrible, but it did the trick and so began our routine for the next couple of weeks with no gas to cook or heat our hot water.Wake up. Walk around. Talk to neighbors. Help where you can. Bike somewhere uptown and ignorant. Meal. Grocery store. Back home. Build a fire. Spaghetti, hot dogs, burgers. A warm reposado. Bed.The two weeks that began one year ago today were rough ones. We saw friends leave, business struggle and nerves fray. But during those two weeks, I was once again shown what it is to be a New Yorker. To participate as a New Yorker. To trust as a New Yorker. In my twenty years here, I have witnessed several events that should have taken this town down. That should have killed the spirit of its motley porridge of beings who choose to call this place home. But the events never win. The people do.
Coming up on the one year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, we thought it was a perfect time to revisit our conversation with our pal, St. John Frizell. If you missed this the first time around, it was one of our earliest Radio on the Real podcasts (recorded guerilla-style in a kid’s bedroom with a USB mic) but remains one of our favorite talks.For the uninitiated, St. John is the owner and proprietor of Red Hook’s homey mainstay, Fort Defiance. Aptly named, Fort Defiance began life as a widely enjoyed café/bar/restaurant on Van Brunt Street, but in the devastation following Hurricane Sandy, it became something even bigger…a leader and champion of the Restore Red Hook movement. A fantastic storyteller with a great life story, St. John raps with us about the restaurant business, why the Third Place matters, and the bright future of Red Hook.Photo courtesy of Red Hook’s other favorite son, Craig LaCourt.
This really happened today. A random guy set up a boxing ring (with duct tape) at Union Square, provided gloves and (optional) headgear, and then loudly challenged all comers to a fight. White Tanktop decided to exercise extremely poor judgment and step into this makeshift ring. Ding, ding. Round One. No headgear against this Pitbull? Are you fucking kidding me? 20 seconds in and White Tanktop is down. A few sips of water, a minute or two later and he’s back up and ready to keep fighting…but, this time with the headgear literally pounded on to his huge noggin. Ding! Round Two.Right about now, the crowd is on fire and seriously debating White Tanktop’s wisdom in making the decision to fight this unknown man built like Bruce Lee. It was like a cock fight on oysters in muddy New Amsterdam. White Tanktop is (I’m sure) shitting himself about now. Let me out! Too late, chum. Fight!Stick and move! Pitbull lets White Tanktop get a lick or two. You know, so he’s got a good story to tell his kids when he wakes up from his coma a week from now. Because sure enough, it’s the old rope-a-dope and Pitbull proceeds to beat the deep fried shrimp salad out of White Tanktop up against the ropes.Except they’re not ropes at all, but a giant granite wall…in Union Square. Only in New York City can you suddenly have a front row seat at a title match when you were just out walking to get a falafel.
Our days are filled with running all over the city, dealing with clients, meeting with vendors, putting out fires and occasionally acting as marriage counselors. And because of this, we often forget to have lunch between the generally accepted hours of noon and three. As a result, we’re rewarded with options of junk. A dirty-water hot dog. A limp doughy slice. Good old-fashioned American fast food. Blech! We live in New York City, folks! There have to be some better options for worker bees who eat outside the generally accepted feeding times.Thankfully, we found one solution for “dunch” or “linner” and it’s at Back Forty West on the corner of Crosby and Prince. Between the hours of 3:00 and 5:00, BFW offers up a slightly abbreviated menu that beats the pants off of most other gray-area offerings in a 20 block radius. Currently, they have some admirable sandwiches on the menu…roast pork, smoked blue fish and a fantastically bloody grass-fed burger served up with hand-cut fries. Grab a seat at the bar, order up an afternoon cocktail (sometimes it’s required) and one of their locally sourced yummies, but you can also go in for a coffee and pastry at that time. Decisions, decisions. And with winter coming, you won’t want to miss that roaring fire they’ve got going on the 2nd floor. So go ahead and skip lunch today. You’ve got a standing reservation at Back Forty West.
In honor of old Columbus, we present an excerpt from the great and silly Ogden Nash:
Columbus said, Somebody show me the sunset and somebody did and he set sail for it,
And he discovered America and they put him in jail for it,
And the fetters gave him welts,
And they named America after somebody else,
So the sad fate of Columbus ought to be pointed out to every child and every voter,
Because it has a very important moral, which is,
Don’t be a discoverer, be a promoter.
Happy Friday! Continuing on with our car week theme, today we’d like to bring you an automotive public service message. Before you head out for the weekend, double-check to make sure the spare tire in your car trunk is filled with air. If it is not filled with air, it is not terribly useful.We also suggest that if you happen to get a flat tire at the entrance to the Verrazano Bridge ($15 to cross Staten Island!? WTF) that you determine the viability of this spare before you take the flat off and put the spare on. If you do not, there exists the possibility that when you jack the car down on to a flat spare tire you will feel stupid/frustrated/cosmically thwarted.And when you finally limp your way to your local quik-repair tire shop, take pains to arrive before the dude who shows up to get all four of his purple Nissan Altima’s tires changed out with all new phat rims. Or whatever those are called. If not, chances are you may be sitting there a while. But on the positive side, at least then you’ll have plenty of time to write a lame post for your website.
June 1st of 2014 will be an historic day in motorsport. 22 drivers from all over the world will line up on a grid and race 59 laps equaling 188.8 miles at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour and g forces pushing five in carbon fiber, open wheeled rockets with 800 horses under the lid and hundreds of millions tuning in for this earsplitting, malodorous and exhilarating spectacle. Where, you ask, will this be taking place? Right across the river, friends, in Weehawken, New Jersey. That’s right, Formula 1 is coming to New Jersey and our iconic skyline will serve as its back drop.Now, now, we know that going to a car race isn’t top-of-mind for most New Yorkers and is likely looked down on as a beer-swilling, gut-busting event that most of us will leave to folks to the up, the down or the over there. But, Hipsters, Dilettantes, Intellectuals…this is not NASCAR or sprint car racing….THIS is Formula 1. The pinnacle of money, sport, athleticism and technology wrapped up into nearly two dozen races all over the globe over the course of nine months. From Australia to Bahrain, Germany to Russia and now Brazil to Weehawken. I, for one, cannot wait! I’ve been to four or five of these truly amazing races and can tell you that you will never see cars and their drivers perform quite like they do in F1. The noise, the acceleration. The deceleration. The noise! The noise! The noise!But don’t take my word for it, allow yourself two hours and an open mind to check out the new film Rush from Ron Howard and his continually apt clan. Rush is a ’70′s romp of a story that will give you a little back story and history on this, the world’s second biggest sport and its legends. It’s the account of the rivalry between F1 greats Niki Lauda and James Hunt battling it out for the 1976 World Championship. One of two men clawing their way to the top via severely contrasting paths. It’s an incredible human portrait that digs to the very core of what drives us to succeed. A dude film for sure, Rush is well written, well shot, well directed, damn good and worth seeing. It’s full of thrill, obsession, drive, love, sex, cars, models and fiery crashes. If that’s not enough for you, my hands are in the air. But if it is, go spend the 11 bucks to see Rush and then I’ll meet you in Weehawken on June 1st where we’ll both spend way too much money to see the greatest show on earth. Sorry, Mr. Ringling, but you have been served.
Is there anything that ISN’T made better when sandwiched between a hot flakey buttermilk biscuit? It’s a universal truth, and one the folks at the Orchard Street sandwichery called Cheeky’s are down with. The sandwich artists at this tiny hole-in-the-wall shop slap a perfectly crispy fried chicken breast covered in crunchy, briny red cabbage slaw and luscious brown gravy in between a halved biscuit to make for a freakishly excellent breakfast, lunch, dinner or late night snack.It manages to scratch a deep itch in the soul you didn’t even know you had. It’s like a Southern fried hug. It’s the best sandwich we’ve had in a long time. We’re eager to try some of the other amazing looking sandwiches on offer at Cheeky’s but there’s really no way to not order the damn chicken and biscuit. It’s a culinary tractor beam and we are powerless to resist.
Webster defines scrappy as having an aggressive and determined spirit and there is no shortage example of scrappy in this week’s interview with this dude we’ll call Scrappy T. You see, Scrappy T grew up in the 70’s on Long Island with a hard-ass commercial fisherman for a father. He figured out early on how to have a little fun squarely in the grey areas of illegality and make some money doing it. While we here at On the Real can not, will not, dare not condone the activities mentioned in this rollicking hour of tales from the sort-of-dark side, we did have a devious chuckle or twelve with our buddy, Scrappy T. And in most of the words of the boys from Jackass, “ WARNING: The following show features stunts performed by professionals or under the supervision of professionals. Accordingly, On the Real and the producers must insist that no one attempt to recreate or re-enact any stunt activity performed on this show.” But, please do enjoy it.
Portrait of Scrappy T. by Craig LaCourt for On the Real.
The only reason you should be wearing that spandex outfit with advertisements printed on it on the New York City streets is if you are training for the Tour de France next year. Otherwise, you are a dipshit.
Don’t you dare give me a dirty look as you hurtle towards me going the wrong way down a one-way street. I’m in the right here, you have no moral authority.
Don’t you dare give me a dirty look or tell me I’m going the wrong way as I hurtle towards you going the wrong way down a one-way street. I know. I just have to get to that place on the corner so stop being such a tight ass.
To the food delivery guy downtown who manages to smoke while biking. Well done, sir.
To the a-hole who is texting while biking. While I know it’s wrong to wish you immediate bodily harm, just know that I am debating whether it is wrong to wish you immediate bodily harm.
To the delivery van driving 50 miles per hour down a side street and missing me by and inch. Come on, dude. I have kids.
To the pedestrian standing in the bike lane, kindly step 17 feet forward into the middle of the avenue. Cars and trucks will get the job done far more quickly and with less pain than a 148 pound hipster on a ’58 Raleigh will.
And, finally, to the new mom standing in the aforementioned bike lane with a newborn in a stroller…respect.
My dad is an aficionado of classic greasy spoons, and as sometime happens, some of the parental oddity has worn off on the son. I, too, delight in the simple pleasures of a bottomless cup of black coffee served in a lip-worn chipped mug while sitting counterside to some frying homefries. Back when I first moved to New York, there was a legendary joint I frequented called the Cheyenne Diner at 33rd Street and Ninth Avenue, right near my shitty apartment. Sadly, it has since closed but I’m always on the lookout for that kind of sensory experience.But I accidentally stumbled upon a gem the other day, unironically titled Cup and Saucer. It’s on Canal Street (no, seriously) over on the east side and I had high hopes from all the way across the street. Classic 50’s luncheonette period exterior? Check. Cramped seating, with bar stools? Check. The sounds of a mound of bacon sizzling rising over the din of regulars discussing today’s NY Post headline? Check, check, check.I got a seat at the counter and I asked the patron to my right (clearly a regular) what was good for lunch. Dude didn’t so much as take a breath: “Get the fish onna roll.” Done. One fish on a roll and cup of coffee, please. Five minutes later I was presented with crispy deep-fried cod on a hard Kaiser with lettuce, tomato, side of tartar, and French fries right out of the fryer. Simple, no fanfare. No garlic rémoulade. No port wine reduction. Not friggin’ organic. Just tasty food served well, and fast. My mug was never less than half full the entire time. I was happily vibrating with caffeine by the time I left, and dammit if I don’t have a new favorite greasy spoon in town.
Here at On The Real, we love a good independent bookstore. Small shops like McNally Jackson, BookCourt, or 192 Books are favorite haunts of ours due to the abundance of lovingly curated literature as well as the comfortable friendly book-nerd environments. Recently we stumbled across the “weekend only” shop called Freebird Books on the waterfront in Red Hook, and in so doing, we did a little dance. Billed as “a general used bookstore specializing in New York history and culture,” the only question we had was how the hell did it take us this long to find it?The place is small and densely packed with used titles of all shapes and formats. It’s not dusty but it is certainly redolent of old books, with just the right amount of worn-in couches and reading nooks. Can air be sepia toned? If so, they managed to nail that. The overall effect for me was like walking into the rambling, rent control apartment of your wonderfully eccentric old uncle who is an author (and maybe a swinger in the ‘70s?) on the Upper West Side. It was just awesome. And true to form, there were fantastic titles I’d never seen before on New York City history, culture, architecture, as well as all kinds of pulpy goodness. The proprietors have a solid sense of humor—shelves are organized into quirky collections like “BAD TITLES” and “UNFORTUNATE AUTHOR PHOTOS.”You could easily spend a Sunday morning poking around this place and finding strange and arcane stories about your hometown for your collection. We did just that. Alas, no books for kids, but the place is honestly magical enough that even a person who prefers their books with pictures can find entertainment aplenty.
Had a completely delicious sandwich the other day at a shop called Black Tree on the Lower East Side. A serious winner. It’s called the Summer Pig Sandwich. Shoulda called it the Wilbur, because this is Some Pig. It’s a beer braised pork belly with cheddar, mint and spiced blueberry jam, topped with a farm fresh fried egg on a crusty baguette. Whoa.I partnered this robust bad boy with a delicious Southern Tier Double Milk stout, causing tears of joy to run unchecked down my face. “I’m OK, thank you, I’m just so happy eating this sandwich,” I said to no one in particular. I’m guessing the other patrons probably understood.We suggest you sit belly up to the bar there and chat with the restaurant’s owner/chef Sandy Dee, as we did, because he’s an interesting guy who can chat about the inventory of ingredients like a farmer. Much of the menu availability is, in fact, based upon what’s gathered at the Union Square or Brooklyn Greenmarkets. So you know it’s fresh, and the menu changes all the time as a result. And it’s really tasty. Finish one of their sandwiches off with one of their home-brined pickle pots, too. You must. Because you can smell like homemade pickles, but you can’t go back to work smelling like a stout.
We recently sat down in the studio to talk with a man called Schatzie. He’s a kick-ass, pure butcher by trade and the very definition of a New York character. Schatzie’s been slicing, carving and pleasing discerning palates for 50 years, and by die-hard carnivore standards, is akin to royalty. You see, Schatzie’s father was a butcher. And Schatzie’s father’s father was a meat master in the Old Country. So friends, this is a man who knows everything there is to know about prime meat. And having observed his customers from behind the butcher block for half a century, he also knows a thing or two about psychology. A self-declared old-school New York original, we had a blast rapping with Schatzie about everything from his days growing up on the Grand Concourse to butchering bear legs…the RIGHT way to cook a steak to his appreciation of broads…yeah, them…and don’t get him started on how so-called celebrity butcher “burger blends” are fulla crap …but have some damn genius marketing. Oh, and we also got schooled on the majesty of Sinatra b-sides and why they’re, hands down, the bomb. When Schatzie’s holding court, you definitely want to sit back and shut up. Don’t be a schmuck and miss this one! Press play below, or download on iTunes for free on the go.
Portrait of Schatzie by Craig LaCourt for On the Real.
Eat your heart out, Bob Vila: feast your eyes on The Edward Mooney House. It’s the oldest surviving row house in New York City, located on Pell Street and the Bowery. Built sometime between the British evacuation and New York’s designation as the nation’s capital (1785-1789), in theory it’s entirely possible George Washington could have soaked his wooden teeth here after a tasty supper of squab and ale. In theory, it’s possible and I like to imagine it.It was originally built by a wealthy merchant named Edward Mooney, who was a prominent wholesale meat purveyor and a racehorse breeder. You’d think folks would have been uncomfortable conceptually with a meat salesman who raised horses, but these were ye olden times. Anyway, the story goes that Mr. Mooney bought the land from the forfeiture of James Delancey. Old Delancey was a Loyalist during the American Revolution, and so when the British (spoiler alert) lost the war, Delancey’s assets were seized. Thus Mooney was able to build what would become his enduring legacy: this house. Inside, the building still contains its original hand-hewn timbers—possibly hewn from the same stock that made General Washington’s teeth. Very possibly.Mooney lived in the house until his death c.1800. It was reborn as a tavern in the 1820′s, then a general store and hotel, then a pool parlor, next a brothel, followed by a restaurant and a Chinese club, and most recently and revoltingly, a bank. And now, Edward Mooney would surely be tickled to know it will most likely be turned back into a residence once more. It was purchased just last year by a buyer for just under $5.4 million, which is a whole heckuva lot of Washingtons.
Ever been to the small triangle park at the intersection of Washington Place, West 4th Street, and Barrow Street? Good old Sheridan Square. Even has its own subway stop. So who the hell was Sheridan, and what’s so special about him that he gets his own Square?Well, the year was 1864, and the country was in the throes of the Civil War. A fellow by the name of General Philip Sheridan was appointed by Ulysses S. Grant as commander of the Army of the Shenandoah, where he was successful in routing the Confederate troops. A year later, his cavalry relentlessly pursued General Robert E. Lee and was instrumental in forcing his surrender at Appomattox using a series of scorched earth tactics later disturbingly coined, “The Burning.” In 1888, his career reached its apex when he was appointed General of the Army by President Cleveland. He passed away that same year, and he died a national hero (more so in the North, perhaps). Check out the picture below. Scrappy looking character, right? Check out the posture. Guy looks like he chews thumbtacks for fun.In any event, the decision was announced in 1896 to officially name the aforementioned triangle strip of land “Sheridan Square” after the General. It was not yet a “viewing garden” in the nineteenth century, but rather was used an open public space for political campaign speeches, community gatherings, drilling and marching, and a place for children to play. In 1918, the IRT subway station at Christopher Street/Sheridan Square opened, cementing Sheridan Square as Village fixture. Would Sheridan be happy to have a genteel little viewing garden named after him? We suspect he might spit some tobacco juice in your eye for suggesting it.
No question that Manhattan is a dense place with layers under layers under layers, but no neighborhood is as seemingly bottomless to me as Chinatown. I’ve been wandering around it for years and can still stumble into hidden places and things there that are completely new to me. Case in point: Malaysian jerky. Until recently, I myself was a Malaysian jerky virgin. In truth, I was unaware such a foodstuff even existed. But it exists, it is real, and there’s an unassuming shop called Ling Kee Beef Jerky dedicated to selling it and its various flavor incarnations right on Canal Street.The first order of jerky business is picking your protein: beef, pork, chicken or shrimp. Sanguine in color and cut in exact squares; piles of this stuff sit stacked stickily behind the glass counter. I went with the pork jerky because, well, duh. And it’s not at all what you expect, kids. Like the author here, it’s tender, not tough. I guess that has to do with it being freshly made? The flavor is very rich and surprisingly sweet, smoky, and tangy. It’s friggin’ tasty, is what it is. Despite the shopkeeper advising me it was not sufficient, I tentatively ordered one piece (slice? square?) and walked out to the sidewalk to eat.She was right. A minute later I was holding another two squares in their wax paper and munching happily on my way to the East Broadway subway. I bet this stuff would be great sliced up over a bowl of white sticky rice. Or maybe as an unexpected addition to a crunchy bahn mi sandwich. Or perhaps as an exotic side for your Sunday flapjacks. Anyway, you get the picture. Malaysian jerky! Who knew? Only in Manhattan. And Malaysia, presumably.
Deep within the heart of Madison Square Park, there lurks a growing threat: that of the Super Squirrel. Having feasted off of Danny Meyer’s potent blend of Pat LaFrieda patties and concrete shakes for almost a decade, these steroidal rats in fur coats have quietly been growing strong, fearless and capable. They have been studying human behavior up close and can now effortlessly emulate the characteristics of the stereotypical urban street tough. Don’t believe me? Go eat lunch there.The size of small cats, they clamber up on to your table where you are unwittingly shoving hot crinkle fries into your maw. They rear up and will stare you unblinkingly in the eye. They’ll dare you to blink, bitch. If you raise your hand as if to swat them away… they do not flinch. If you yell at them, these squirrels do not run. They want your goddamn Double Shackburger. They want it now. And having seen the way they can manipulate a packet of mayonnaise open, I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of time until they have cultivated the ability to operate an iPhone. And all their Instragram photos will be of Shake Shack cheeseburgers. No joke.
Holy crap, true believers, it’s been over two weeks since our last posting! What on Earth happened to us, you may be wondering? Summer brain melt, for starters. We desperately needed a breather. Then, because we don’t actually know how to “relax,” we concluded that the website needed a cosmetic facelift. This facelift quickly turned into a complete redesign. A total gut job.And we have People working on this hot mess right now as we speak. But now the time has come to let you in on our intention. When we roll out the new design, we will slowly start to incorporate fresh posts and entries from other writers. By other writers, we mean writers who are not Jesse and Greg. They will not even look like Jesse and Greg. But true to form, these other writers will be locals, and they will be from all walks of life. The proverbial butcher, baker and candlestick maker, all duly represented. Worry not, as this site will still be On The Real with Jesse and Greg, and the focus on the first person experiences living in the Big Apple (served up fresh with a side of smart ass) will remain the same. For now, we’ll resume our regularly scheduled programming again. But at least now you know what we’ve been up to (and where we’re going).
With three weeks left until school starts and five until the official end of summer on September 21st, you’re all probably at the beach or on the cape or cruising the Mediterranean on your yacht. Grrrrr. But if you’re stuck in the city, voluntarily or otherwise, here’s an adventure to an irony-free zone you won’t want to miss. Get a bike, head to the southern tip of Manhattan, get sniffed by a bomb-detecting dog and hop on the Staten Island Ferry. That’s right, you’re headed to the forgotten borough for the day and here’s why it’s worth the trip.The 25 minute trip across the Upper Bay is free and filled with glorious sights along the way, but it’s mostly great just to get out onto the water and breathe the salty air. Once you arrive at the St. George Terminal, head south down Bay Street toward the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. There are signs and a bike lane, so pretty easy going through this slightly-suburban, slightly-urban landscape of true and thriving Mom and Pop shops of every ilk. There’s something oddly bucolic about this stretch that we enjoyed in a kind of Tony-Soprano-roamed -these-streets kind of way. And there were more surprises to come.Yeah, that’s a goat right there. At the end of Bay Street, you run into Fort Wadsworth, which despite its green and lush setting today has been a major contributor to New York NOT being invaded since 1783 when the British relinquished control at the end of the American Revolution. Until it closed as a military installation in 1994, Fort Wadsworth was the oldest continually manned fort in the United States. As a green initiative, the National Park Service employs a herd of goats to chomp and manage invasive plant species including poison ivy and recycle food scraps left behind by less than considerate visitors to the park. Goats’ll eat anything!For the next portion of your adventure, head down the hill and out of the park to the south and you’re in for another surprise…a big wide glorious beach with frontage onto New York Harbor’s Lower Bay…or we can just go out on a limb and call it the Atlantic Ocean. Seriously, it’s hard to believe that this beach, 200 yards wide in places, is within the five boroughs. It was hard hit by Hurricane Sandy, but the Army Corps of Engineers has done a fantastic job of replenishing the sand. We think you’ll be hard pressed to find any place to take a dip with this much elbow room this close to midtown Manhattan. Our blood pressure just dropped. Ahhhhh. This is a great place to hang out for a while, grab a burger or dog and an ice cream at the food shack a few hundred yards down the boardwalk and head back to the ferry when you’ve had enough relaxation.But if you really want to leave the city behind, we’ve got one more stop for you. This trek is not for the faint of heart…or leg muscles. If you keep on the boardwalk all the way to the end, you’ll hop onto a bike path that will wind you through these amazing waterfront groves until you get to Ebbitts Street. Hang a right on Ebbitts and go about a mile to Hyland Boulevard. A left on Hyland and four miles to Hillside Terrace. We told you it wasn’t for the faint of heart! Another left on Hillside and straight down to the water and The Marina Café. You made it!!! The restaurant was demolished in Sandy, but the Tiki Bar is open and it’s right on a huge marina that’ll make you think you’re hanging out in the Florida Keys. Gentle breezes, reggae, frozen drinks, great food, boats bobbing in the tide…not bad for a day that started in can’t-walk-down-the-street-because-there-are-too-many-tourists Soho.So, back to the top, this is an irony-free day trip. No hipsters. No attitude. No bullshit. Every single person, from the bartender and manager at the Marina Cafe to the dude who put air in my tires was no fuckin’ around salt-of-the-earth real. We were exhausted at the end of our six hour, 30 mile adventure. But it wouldn’t have been complete without the dragonfly that got smashed into my sunglasses on the long ride home. Sorry, poor guy. Rest in peace. The Island of Staten. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
For most of us, when we envision the New York skyline we think about high-flying skyscrapers. But if you look closely at the horizon on any given day in Manhattan, what you’re bound to notice are the iconic water towers dotting the rooftops like so many barnacles. They look like antiques from a bygone era (and in terms of engineering, they are) but your flush in the Big Apple is still completely dependent on them.What’s the point of them? That new Dornbracht SensorySky shower you installed would completely suck without a water tower, because all water towers do one thing: provide pressure. Most buildings in the city taller than six stories need some sort of water tower and pumping system to provide water pressure to tenants. Each foot of height provides 0.43 PSI (pounds per square Inch) of pressure, so the natural place to stick your apartment’s water tower is the rooftop. From up there, good old gravity sends the water with great force down the pipes of the building. The giant barrel is filled to the brim with glorious H2O, and basically works like a giant toilet. As a tenant uses water, the level goes down. A ballcock lets more in, and that water is pumped from the basement. (Next time you brush your teeth, be grateful for that humble ballcock.)I’ve always thought these wood towers were ancient because they look so gnarled, but most of them don’t last more than 25-35 years before they need to be replaced. Turns out even the new ones have an old look because they are made of unfinished wood that isn’t painted or chemically treated (so as not to taint drinking water). And although steel tanks are a potential option, they are four times as expensive (not to mention the issues with steel heating up and freezing, depending on the season.) So for the most part, city buildings still use wood to build their barrels. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Artisanal mayonnaise jokes aside, while some feel the so-called locavore movement has jumped the shark, it is tough to deny the positive environmental, economic and personal health benefits conferred upon the community that strives to support local food producers. With that, it gives us great pleasure to announce the On The Real official wine of the summer (apparently summer has its own song, why the hell not its own wine?) is made by local Long Island family-owned vintner, Paumanok.It’s called Minimalist, a name that exactly describes the wine itself (if not the experience drinking it.) Handpicked select Chardonnay grapes are harvested and put through a filter press, whole cluster, and then transferred to new French Oak puncheons for 17 months. No filtering, no messing about. Just pure, simple, beautiful wine with great depth and brilliant clarity. You can only get yourself a bottle by taking a trip out to the North Fork and visiting the Paumanok tasting room in Aquebogue– but what a perfect way to relieve your parched summer throat.
Long before MTV first aired Video Killed the Radio Star at 12:01AM on August 1st, 1981, recording artists had been experimenting with film and video as a way to promote their songs for more than 50 years. Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith & Louis Jordan all used film as a way of getting their music to the masses, but it wasn’t until 1959 when The Big Bopper coined the term “music video.” It didn’t really stick, but artists continued to use short and long form motion pictures up until that fateful day in 1981 when MTV mashed the worlds of film and music together and caused one of the biggest revolutions the world of entertainment had ever seen. In celebration of what is sure to be a rainy and shitty start to the week, we bring you one from the vault. The Beatles released three films to promote Rain which was the B-side to Paperback Writer. Here’s one of them which was filmed on May 20th, 1966.
Shot in the garden and greenhouse at Chiswick House in London, the video features John, Paul, George and Ringo wandering around aimlessly and seemingly tripping in this early example of psychedelic pop that other bands like The Rolling Stones, Yardbirds and The Who would soon emulate. The song itself is noted for Ringo and Paul’s stellar performances and the use of speeding up, slowing down and actually playing tracks in reverse to get the desired effect. John describes it best here in a 1980 interview with David Sheff.
“I got home from the studio and I was stoned out of my mind on marijuana and, as I usually do, I listened to what I’d recorded that day. Somehow I got it on backwards and I sat there, transfixed, with the earphones on, with a big hash joint. I ran in the next day and said, ‘I know what to do with it, I know… Listen to this!’ So I made them all play it backwards. The fade is me actually singing backwards with the guitars going backwards. [Singing backwards] Sharethsmnowthsmeaness… [Laughter] That one was the gift of God, of Ja, actually, the god of marijuana, right? So Ja gave me that one.”
So enjoy the rain today and tomorrow…preferably with a trippy Beatles video and a bowl full of Ja.
If you’ve entered New York City from the west or south, you’ve likely had occasion to sit in hot steaming traffic for the reward of paying $13 to pass under the Hudson River via the Holland Tunnel. This burrow of steel and concrete lined with 6 million subway tiles is the conduit that connects Manhattan to the mainland United States via Interstate 78. Unlike most U.S. bridges and tunnels, the tunnel is not named after a local or national figure of note, but for an engineer. An engineer? Yes, the one who came up with the tunnel’s design. Clifford Milburn Holland. He died in 1924 at the age of 41 about half way through the tunnel’s construction.A few years into the 20th century, the need for a permanent Hudson River crossing was deemed necessary by a joint commission between New York and New Jersey. Originally, it was thought a bridge would be the solution, but the commission realized building a span at the height of 200 feet above the Hudson was not feasible. Many proposals were considered, but they ended up going with Clifford Holland’s which called for two side by side 20 foot wide tunnels dug through the bedrock under the river; the north tunnel measuring 8,558 feet and the south 8,371. Construction began March 31st, 1922 and would move full steam ahead until the tunnel opened on November 13th, 1927 at 12:01AM. It would take three chief engineers, 14 lives, 756,000 decompressions, 528 cases of the bends and close to $650,000,000 in today’s dollars to complete the project. Over 51,000 cars passed through the tunnel on its first day of operation.Today, about 35,000,000 vehicles per year pass through the tunnel even though large commercial vehicles are no longer allowed to pass in either direction due to post 9/11 security concerns. Carbon monoxide from those vehicles is removed using 84 fans in four towers that completely change the air inside the tunnel every 90 seconds…whoa! That $13 toll mentioned at the top of this post can be reduced to as low as $8.25 if you use E-ZPass, so get E-ZPass. And to wrap it up, OTR’s tip from our third floor offices at the corner of Broadway and Broome…don’t even attempt to get out of town via the Holland Tunnel’s Broome Street approach after 2PM Wednesday, Thursday or Friday during the summer. We can all but guarantee that you’ll want to shoot yourself by the time you’re 93 feet under the Hudson River.
Stick around long enough in New York, you become aware of the existence of certain time travel wormholes. These strange tears in the fabric of the urban universe are uniquely personal and have the uncanny ability to transport the visitor into a different time and more interestingly, a different You. For me, it’s Phil’s Pizza, on Varick just south of Carmine. The year was 1992, and I was a glorified messenger for my uncle’s financial printing company at 200 Varick. Every lunch was two plain hot and delicious slices from Phil’s, with extra seasoning heaped on top. I think when you’re broke, an abundance of red pepper flake, dried oregano and powdered garlic makes pizza seem like a more nutritious meal. The guy behind the counter pounding out the dough was none other than the proprietor, Tony Russo. Yellowed photos taped the wall (then and now) show a much younger Tony, thick mane of black hair and a bushy moustache, tossing pies against the same backdrop in 1973. His wife always manned the register and asked if you wanted a Coke with that. Their boy hung around on the stools in the front, tidying up the grease spattered paper plates left behind. “Jeopardy” was on the old Zenith in the corner, and On the Road by Bob Seger played faintly on the transistor radio in the corner. And five years later, I was working my first real job as a salesman at the same printing company (thanks, Uncle Dave) and once again ramming slices of Phil’s finest down my gullet at lunch to blunt the sharp edges of last night’s hangover. By then, Phil’s son had joined him making the flour fly behind the counter, but other than that, the place remained a mosquito captured in amber.And several times a year since, I find myself nearby with a rumble in my gut and no reason not to stop in for a slice. Aside from the relative cost-per-slice index going up and the spreading grayness of Tony’s hair, the place remains as old school as it ever was. Tony is there, his wife is there, his son is there, the brick-colored tile walls, the same grated mozzarella posters… but nothing has so much as moved an a single inch. In New York City, this kind of stillness is fairly shocking. And so it was that last week, twenty one years later, I wandered in and ordered a couple of plain slices. I sat at the table by the shop window, watched the street hustle, and enjoyed a tasty, no-fuss New York slice. And as much as everything has changed, in that moment, it’s all the same as it ever was. Being there is a strange metaphysical treat, and this ageless pizza is still terrifically good.
We could not be happier to see the amazing reviews our friend (and talented broadcast journalist) Alison Stewart has garnered this summer for her fascinating book, First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School.
Portrait of Alison Stewart by Craig LaCourt for On the Real. www.craiglacourt.com.
Some slouch named Bill Clinton had this to say about it: “In First Class, Alison Stewart skillfully chronicles the rise and fall of Dunbar High School, America’s first black public high school. Recalling the institution’s extraordinary legacy and the lives of its accomplished alumni—her own parents included—Stewart will convince you that there’s cause for hope, and that the school’s brightest days may still be ahead.” Alison has been writing and reporting on the stories she cares about for over two decades, so it’s no surprise she was one of the most candid and engaging guests we’ve ever had on the program. Get her book! But first: listen to her tell her own story.
(Don’t forget you can download it to listen on the go at iTunes)
For someone who loves film and served over a decade in the industry, it’s been way too long since I’ve plopped my ass down in a theater and enjoyed two dimly lit hours of images flashing in front of me on the big screen. Embarrassingly too long. This weekend, the drought was broken and I went to see a movie, fantastic and real. The Spectacular Now is the story of an unlikely romance between two high school seniors blossoming under dark clouds of peer pressure, alcoholism, death and divorce. Sounds refreshing, huh? Well, it is and here’s why.We meet Sutter Keely when he and his girlfriend, Cassidy, are the life of the party. The high school party. Drinking heavily, laughing, jumping into the pool to get the shindig started. Sutter is the quintessential, fun-loving, wise-cracking high school douchebag with no plans for the future. Early on, their relationship heads south and Sutter is heartbroken. Through an unfortunate turn of events, he meets Aimee Finicky, a classmate whose name he can’t remember and has never had a date or a drink. I’m going to have to stop there in the plot in the interest of not spoiling the rest of the story, but what unfolds is unexpected, heartwarming and utterly relatable. None of the characters in The Spectacular Now are polished or contrived. The production team was careful to keep the story narrow and focused and the actors deliver award-worthy performances. In a time when summer movies are all about aliens, guts, gore and superheroes, this movie delivers just the right amount human punch to bring us all back down to earth to remember who we are and where we came from. Whether you’re 18, 40 or 80, these dynamic and true characters are very likely to resonate with you in this beautifully shot, directed and edited portrait of American youth dealing with very real issues that so often get swept under the rug. The Spectacular Now is open in New York and LA and should be in the rest of the country in a few weeks. Go see it. And don’t be ashamed if you shed a tear or two….the summer’s shoot ‘em up fare will still be out there to remind you how macho you truly are.
Weather permitting, tomorrow we’re heading to the Rockaways. It’s August, the city is a muggy armpit, so why not make it a beach day? In less than 40 minutes from midtown, you can be wiggling your toes in the Atlantic. If you’re game to go, we’ve got a few of our own personal tips to share with you.#1) LEAVE EARLY. Like, 9:30am early. And take the Belt Parkway. Not only is it a gorgeous route along the water and under the Verrazano, you’ll fly there in zero traffic. By the time you roll up to da Rocks at 10ish, you’re almost assured to get the best parking closest to the beach and a prime spot anywhere in the sand you want. It’s quieter, mellower scene in the morning on the beach, and damn near heavenly.
#2) FUN TIMES AT 86th STREET. There’s several stations where you can enter, have bathroom access, etc., but 86th is the jam if you plan to stay and hang out. First of all, Rippers is there. A collaborative concession stand between the Roberta’s geniuses and The Meat Hook gang, when it opens at 11am they’ll be serving up tasty chow and beers and you can be first in line. The burger is great, but be sure to try the fish torta. For dessert, keep your eyes peeled for the old school Marino’s ice cart parked on the boardwalk. Only three bucks for a medium sized Solo cup packed with cold sweetness. And if you make it until noon, there’s alternating DJ’s, live bands, and more right there on the Boardwalk at 86th Street. This is why you should go there. This is why.#3) MR. HAND, YOU DICK. If you decide you want to go the “active” route with your beach day (versus the “wait until the bar opens so I can drink” route described in #2), you’re in luck. Interested in surf lessons? Try Locals at Beach 67th Street or NY Surf School at Beach 69th Street. Both offer individual or group lessons, and the gear is included. Just show up on the beach and go. Try Boarders Surf Shop if you want a one stop shop: rent boards, wetsuits, storage lockers, lessons, even changing rooms with hot showers. And if you want to connect with a whole surfing and artistic community, check out Rockaway Beach Surf Club. (@ 302 87th St). In addition to surfing, they offer outdoor film screenings, performances by local DJs and musicians, and art exhibits. Word is they’re getting a beer garden, too.#4) LEAVE EARLY. Like, no later than 2pm. Just long enough to maybe stop off at Rockaway Taco for a delicious chorizo taco to sustain you and Baxter on the way home. But get out of there before everyone else otherwise that lovely stretch on the Belt to the BQE is one giant parking lot. Don’t let New York City traffic kill your beachbuzz, dude.
There’s another month and change left in summer and one of our favorite summertime delights is lobster. Boiled, grilled, poached, in a roll…whatever. We’ll take it. Problem is that those bottom-feeding crustaceans are expensive in this town. But we found a place that takes their lobster seriously and for seriously cheap. Centre Seafood, Inc. on Centre Street between Grand and Hester is our favorite place to grab the live ones to take home or to Aunt Judy’s Sunday Seafood Roast in Sheepshead Bay.It ain’t fancy, but the folks here fly a mix of pound and a quarter to two-pound lobsters in from Canada’s North Atlantic (sorry Maine) every week and keep them alive in these huge filtered tanks full of salt water lining the wall. You just tell them what size and how many you want and they go fishing. On a recent trip, the price list read like this: 1 ¼ – $7.50, 1 ½ – $7.80, 1 ¾ – $8.30, 2 – $9. Not bad, we’d say, for one of the world’s most coveted delicacies on one of the most expensive islands in the world.Once you have them, you have to get them home and cook them. There’s the traditional way, which is to dump them head first into a huge pot of boiling water for 17 minutes while you clarify your butter and crack a beer. For the more adventurous types, we highly recommend you get the grill fired up and follow the instructions of the amazing Eric Ripert. Even though it is certainly messy, his way is the most humane way to kill the lobster (make sure you have a huge knife). And searing it on a hot flame with butter and Herbs de Provence is they way to go. Serve them up with his ridiculously good tomato salad and you’re in business. If you’re not a lobster lover, Centre Seafood, Inc. also has live Blackfish, shrimp, Alaskan King and Dungeness crab depending on the season. It’s one of those old-time Chinatown establishments that must be visited to be appreciated. Enjoy your lobster and have a great August!
Today we’d like to introduce you to one of the coldest gangsters that organized crime in New York City has ever produced: Albert Anastasia. Born in southern Italy at the turn of the century, Anastasia snuck into New York City aboard a frigate and instantly claimed the unionized piers of Brooklyn as his new home. Possessed of a brutal and explosive temper, Anastasia’s natural inclination to kill made him a no-brains choice as an enforcer for the racket lords of the waterfront. He wasn’t a dude to cross lightly, either. During those early years on the docks, he was convicted and sentenced to death on a murder charge of a dockworker. But days before he was going to get the chair, all the witnesses from his trial simply… disappeared. As a direct result, the case was reopened and Anastasia released. And that was that.Now a lot of guys would have quit while they were ahead, but Anastasia was an ambitious man and he soon made hard friends in high places; legendary wiseguys like Frank Costello, Al Capone, and Lucky Luciano. When Prohibition finally ended, these new pals of his started a national crime syndicate and they had a plum job for him: the position of Chief of Murder, Inc. We’re not talking about the record label, either.
For the uninitiated, Murder Inc. was the mob’s hit man division. A department where stone cold contract killers only need apply. And so it was that Anastasia ran Murder, Inc. from 1934 to 1940, until his lieutenant Abe “Kid Twist” Reles turned rat fink. Reles went on record fingering Murder, Inc. for more than 63 murders on the orders of Anastasia. Mind you, he was dead wrong on that number by a mile: during its ten years of operation, it’s estimated that somewhere between 900 and 1,000 murders were committed by Murder, Inc., many of which were never solved. But in the end his allegations didn’t stick, because while in protective custody Reles ended up “falling out a window” under very mysterious circumstances. Once again no case was ever brought against Anastasia, who then joined the Army presumably to help to cool things down. After his service, Anastasia moved to New Jersey (natch) and assumed control of what later became the Gambino crime family.
I’d like to imagine his dad once encouraged him to do what he loved, but Anastasia genuinely loved killing people. And as head of his own mob family, the killing only picked up tempo. He cultivated underground nicknames… warm and fuzzy little monikers, like “The Mad-Hatter” and “The Lord High Executioner.” He reportedly was such a dick that he ordered a witness to a random non-Mob bank robbery executed simply because, “I can’t stand squealers!”But you know how the coda on these stories goes… One bright day, he just orders the wrong guy whacked. A boss man named Frank Costello. Anastasia’s button man fired on Costello and missed. Big mistake. I’ll let the website CrimeRack detail his operatic denouement:
“At 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 25, 1957, Anastasia walked into the barbershop of New York’s Park Sheraton Hotel and sat down in the deep leather of chair four. The barber Joe Bocchino, who had been cropping Anastasia’s short, curly hair for years, covered him with the candy striped barber’s cloth and began to clip at the gang boss’s hair while a manicurist sat next to the chair and worked on the Mad Hatter’s fingernails. Jimmy, the shoeshine boy, began to slap brown polish on the gangster’s wing tipped shoes. Two short, squat men wearing fedoras and sunglasses then entered the shop and pulled .38 caliber revolvers, waving the shop people away from chair four. As they scattered in fright, both men began to blast at the seated figure. Anastasia had been dozing in the chair, his eyes closed. They popped open just before the first shot was fired. The gang boss raised his left hand as if to shield his head from the bullet which tore through the palm. Two more bullets smashed his left wrist and entered his hip. Anastasia let out a roar and struggled to get out of the chair, reaching, some reports later said, for a gun that he no longer wore. Bullets crashed into the barber’s shelf in front of the chair, shattering bottles of hair tonic. Another bullet struck Anastasia in the back as he stood upright for a moment, the barber’s cloth still clinging to him. He sank to the floor, and one of the gunmen calmly walked up to the prone figure and fired a bullet into the back of his head. Their gruesome task completed, the two gunmen raced for the door and vanished.”
Weather permitting, every Sunday over the summer there’s a huge outdoor party on the Gowanus Canal. Your intitial reaction might be one of skepticism, “…a party on the Canal? Yak.” Wrong. It’s the coolest looking thing I’ve seen in years. It’s called MISTER SUNDAY and it’s held from 3-9pm in a post-industrial quasi-event space called the Gowanus Grove, and I know all about it because a) I can hear the DJ spinning tunes from my apartment, and b) because I usually take Arlo the dog for his walk and cross old Carroll Bridge for a look.It appears to be the most incredible mix of people, it’s like the Breakfast Club getting down in there. All kinds of different folks, young and old, hanging out and laughing, drinking the house beer and sangria, snacking from food trucks, dancing, smoking, pondering the mysteries of the universe. All this for $10 admission if you RSVP. But I haven’t been yet and I know it’s so lame of me. You see, I have a 4 month old baby, and a three year old, and I work on Sundays, and I’m basically one huge excuse-filled cream cannoli.But it looks so goddamn fun that I need to ask you for a favor. I need you, faithful reader, to go to this thing next week. I never ask you to do much for me. In fact, you need to admit this relationship is pretty one-sided. I’m typically doing all the heavy lifting here. This is why I need you to go to the Mister Sunday party so that I can live vicariously through you. And you need to write and tell me all about it. Because this looks like the most fun party ever. Doesn’t it? I love that it exists.
Tucked away on a cobblestoned corner in Red Hook lies the Brooklyniest place ever: Cacao Prieto. Cacao Prieto produces bean-to-bar chocolate made fresh daily from the organic, single origin Dominican Cacao and also distills a line of small batch, cacao-based liqueurs and rums. Oh, and they also make a pretty top-shelf whiskey, too. You’re right to have the chills: it’s a chocolate and booze factory.They describe themselves as a “meeting place of ideas, of traditions, of dreams and technology” which on the face of it seems like serious chutzpah but when you read the backstory, it certainly seems plausible. The owner, Daniel Prieto Preston, is a former aerospace engineer who sold his successful defense company but was coping with a strict non-compete clause. Looking to reinvent himself entirely, he paid a visit to his families century old Cacao farm in the Dominican Republic and had the fermented chocolate epiphany from which Cacao Prieto was born. He not only was able to establish complete vertical integration from farm-to-factory, but used his skills as an engineer to create some unique chocolate making machines which gives the entire place this incredible Steampunk-meets-Willie-Wonka vibe.Perhaps a nod to the farm which provides the beans, there’s a picture-perfect rustic central courtyard, with actual roosters walking around. Just hanging out. Cock-a-doodle-doo, the whole bit. You really need to see it to believe it.And as for the product? Super, super, super high-end dark chocolate. You know it when you bite into it. Delicious. Refined. Even the wrapper for a bar of their chocolate is like a work of art. These guys are not fooling around. As for the booze, we also tasted their 7 year old bourbon off their Widow Jane label. Smooth, rich, rounded and so good that I bought a bottle of it. They also make a rye, but it was a bit too peppery for my taste. We finished up with some tastings of their coffee liqueur and rums, and they were truthfully terrific. OTR Inside Tip: this place would make a seriously good date. Take your sweetie there for a tour of the place, sample the dark chocolates and rich spirits and then head right next store to the adjoining gorgeous Old World cocktail bar, Botanica, and tie one on.
We just got back from a week at the beach where we had access to one of the most legendary vehicles ever built…a 1971 Volkswagen Bus…and it had beach passes. That means that you get to drive to the beach every day and park for free (along with four other people) at one of the most gloriously wide, white and empty beaches in the world. And it’s 90 miles from Manhattan. So that was fun, but I’ve been noticing camper versions of the bus all over my neighborhood lately and it makes me want to pack up the kids…actually, maybe just the wife…and head upstate in one of these classics and find a perfect little clearing along the banks of some enchanting Catskill Creek.As it turns out, Westfalia began manufacturing these versatile little vans for Volkswagen in 1951. They were hugely popular with American servicemen during the 50’s and 60’s who could purchase them in Germany through Volkswagen’s Tourist Delivery Program, drive them around exploring Europe and then drop back off at the factory for shipment to The States. Sounds like a helluva vacation to me!During the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, the counter culter that favored the Volkswagen Camper was well doumented. Sometimes, by the legitiment press and others by a certain comedy that packs more one-liners than any human being could be reasonably expected to regurgitate in a lifetime.Today, old and good ones are hard to come by. The sweet versions can run anywhere between $10,000 and $30,000 depending on miles and condition. But, look at all the stuff you could get with one. Here’s a quick run down of the accessory list…
- Various foldout seat arrangements for sleeping
- Birch plywood interior panels
- Laminated plywood cabinetry for storage
- Ice box or cold-box
- Sink (some models)
- Water storage and pump
- Electrical hookups
- Screened jalousie windows
- Laminated folding table
- Attached “pop up” tops with canvas/screen sides
- Awnings and side tents
- A portable chemical toilet
- A camping stove
- Various camping equipment
- Child sleeping cot in driver cab
- Storage box which matches interior. Can be placed between front seats by sliding door.
- Rear swing table
- Small map table mounted on dash
- Automatic Transmission (beginning in the 1970s)
- Air Conditioning
All sounds pretty sweet to me, but it wasn’t just about what equipment the campers came with, it was about how much equipment you could pack into one of these babies! And if you think that these classics are no longer attractive to certain counter-cultures, think again. Look what’s happening in St. Augustine, Florida. Someone has even thought of a way to use disposable popcorn popping tins to market these things.Brilliant!!! I’ll take one! Now if I could just come up with a parking space and the 30 grand Ms. Popcorn Popper is asking for this one.
Hot damn, is it summer in the city this week. Commuting is particularly rugged. Standing on the sweltering subway platform this very morning, I could feel the encroaching drip of sweat at my temples almost instantly and so tried to transport myself by focusing on reading my book, Money, by Martin Amis. And I suddenly felt that the protagonist, John Self, was speaking directly to me. So much so that I wanted to share it with you.
“I came down the steps of the Ashbery that morning and burst out laughing at the heat. New York can’t be serious about this. I have read, or television has told me, about parts of space where the manmade boomerangs fly. It’s hot out there, several million degrees Fahrenheit. Psychopathic heat. In New York, in July, the heat is psychopathic. On bucking Broadway the cabs all bitched and beefed, ferrying robots, bad dogs, uptown, downtown.
New York is a jungle, they tell you. You could go further, and say that New York is a jungle. New York is a jungle. Beneath the columns of the old rain forest, made of melting macadam, the mean Limpopo of swamped Ninth Avenue bears an angry argosy of crocs and dragons, tiger fish, noise machines, sweating rainmakers. On the corners stand witchdoctors and headhunters, babbling voodoo-men — the natives, the jungle-smart natives. And at night, under the equatorial “overgrowth and heat-holding cloud cover, you hear the ragged parrot-hoot and monkeysqueak of the sirens, and then fires flower to ward off monsters. Careful: the streets are sprung with pits and nets and traps. Hire a guide. Pack your snakebite gunk and your blowdart serum. Take it seriously. You have to get a bit jungle-wise.”
Good luck getting jungle-wise out there and have a great weekend!
We know you’ve probably been thinking, “You know what this summer needs? Some more rain!” Well, lucky for you there’s an art exhibit open at MoMA that will help you get that precipitation fix you’ve been jonesing for. Kidding aside, we’re suckers for immersive art and this exhibit is surely that. They’ve created an indoor rain environment whereby you can exercise mutant-like powers to stop the rain from falling on you (see also: “umbrella-like” powers.) From the MoMA website:
A field of falling water that pauses wherever a human body is detected, Rain Room offers visitors the experience of controlling the rain. The work invites visitors to explore the roles that science, technology, and human ingenuity can play in stabilizing our environment. Using digital technology, Rain Room creates a carefully choreographed downpour, simultaneously encouraging people to become performers on an unexpected stage and creating an intimate atmosphere of contemplation.Sure. But what they neglect to mention in that description is that it’s also pretty damn trippy. But hold up, now. Before you head up there here’s the OTR Inside Tip: wait times for this thing range up to 8 hours (for reals) and if you don’t want to literally wait the whole damn day in line you can do it the non-psycho way and get a ticket to merely “view” it. OK, so you lose the participation aspect, and won’t actually get to go underneath the rain… but it’s only a 20 minute wait. This is a project worth seeing, but we say not worth the pain for the rain.
As the July heat wave continues with no sign of any let up, the practical urban dweller is forced to find practical work-arounds to make summer city life bearable. Short of ice-cube lined underwear, we cannot think of any more necessary and ingenious heatwave prevention device than the Chillsner.It’s a frozen metal rod that stays inside your beer bottle, connected to a lip on the top. You don’t need to remove it to drink. It’s fixed, and doesn’t flop around. That’s right: it’s an in-bottle beer chiller. And so your suds stay ice-cold outside the cooler, even when nestled in your sweaty palm. Even the last sip stays chilled. You can order one right now by clicking here and have it frozen by Friday night. And no need to thank us for the tip; it’s hot town, summer in the city and we’re all in this together.
This weekend, it’s going to be super hot and steamy. Again. Know what would be really nice? If we could all take a refreshing swim in the East River. Yes, I said the East River. I appreciate your reaction, because the idea makes me throw up in my mouth a little, too. But thanks to some visionaries with access to Kickstarter, this idea might not be too far fetched in the near future! Basically, these guys are proposing to build a floating pool (imaginatively called, “+ POOL”) which also serves as a filter for the river water. It’s like one big floating bacteria straining plus sign.
In their own words: “+ POOL started with a simple goal: instead of trying to clean the entire river, what if you started by just cleaning a small piece of it? And what if you could change how New Yorkers see their rivers, just by giving them a chance to swim in it? + POOL is designed to filter the very river that it floats in through the walls of the pool, making it possible for New Yorkers to swim in clean river water for the first time in 100 years. The layered filtration system incrementally removes bacteria and contaminants to ensure nothing but clean, swimmable water that meets both city and state standards. No chemicals, no additives, just natural river water.”The design seems genius, too, because it can be segmented into four completely different activity pools. Think about it: if you’re some curmudgeon doing laps, you hate those pesky brats playing Marco Polo, amirite? This way swimmers of all persuasions can enjoy it at the same time. This thing is maybe the best idea ever—and as of four hours ago, it’s been completely funded. Just imagine the day when we might swim in the East River without getting the clap or brushing up against spare tires and dead bodies. Last one in is a rotten egg!
Forgive my language, but there’s some serious shit happening these days in Gowanus and it only seems to be gaining momentum. First there was the bike shop. Then the killer pie store. Then the revisionist clam shack. Then came Brooklyn haute cuisine, and the amazing pastries. Now there’s a member’s only social club for the arts, and a 17,000 square foot shuffleboard parlor. A fancy-schmancy grocery store with a 20,000 square foot greenhouse, too. The latest opening is super-cue chain Dinosaur Bar-B-Cue, and despite there already being some great smoke options in the area, our family went last week to check it out for dinner.One unexpectedly positive side effect is that the formerly bleak stretch of Union Street between Third and Fourth Avenues is now consistently redolent of hickory and spice. The restaurant itself is cavernous, huge, and bustling– perfect if you have a big group to contend with, or just a noisy kid. And the food? Well, come on. It’s great. These guys haven’t been packing crowds in every night for years at the Harlem location by accident. Let it be said, I still think the burnt-ends from Fletchers rule and the brisket from Fort Reno a close second– but the Dinosaur ribs are pretty much the best around. Thick, meaty babybacks that fall off the bone, moist, sweet n’ spicy. Might be worth the trip for the ribs alone.But I don’t want to give short shrift to a must-order specialty they call Dino Poutine. Like college-era disco fries squared, I want you to imagine hot hand-cut french fries covered in brown gravy, pimiento cheese and a mountain of tender pulled pork, garnished with a heap of scallions. There it is, and it is good. If it’s a heart attack in the making, is there a better way to go?
Have you seen the city’s proposed Taxi of Tomorrow? The insanely blah, humdrum rolling box that will be the uniform conveyance for all city riders next year? Yeesh. Bring back the Checker cab, man! That’s when taxis were cool.From the day it was rolled out in 1956 until the last day of production in 1982, the Checker Cab had one model: the A8 Marathon. In a town known for changing on a dime, for 26 consecutive years this taxi’s distinctive body went virtually unchanged. It was bulky looking. Bulbous. Built like some kind of ponderous tank with grand proportions, it was intended to be both spacious and durable. It was a prominently featured character in dozens of films for decades, because the thing fairly screamed “New York City.”It was a gas guzzler. It had a trunk the size of a studio apartment. The backseats were like a spring-loaded couch with deep cushy benches and opposing jump-seats. Jump seats! Those distinctive vertical tail lights. And unless you were a real pro, the only way to differentiate one from say, 1959 and 1979 would be some little things. You know, like seat belts. Not that you needed them, because not much was surviving a head-on with this hunk of yellow sheet metal.And I’ll admit, I may have a soft spot for the Checker because my great-grandfather Jacob Weiss drove one in the late 50’s. He was an immigrant, and I’m told he loved the job. I’m also told he really liked soft bread, he knew the streets like the back of his hand, and probably had no idea that one day taxis in this town would resemble a rolling Cheerios box. Oh, well. Progress!
Today we’d like to introduce you to a genuine New York City hero, Tim Brown. As a boy in middle school, Tim had big dreams of becoming a New York City fireman. And years later, he ending up not just achieving that goal but becoming a brother in some of the most elite firefighting companies in the world. For over 20 years, Tim has served the FDNY, Rescue 3, the NYC Office of Emergency Management, FEMA, and NY Task Force 1. But as Tim tells it, there is no training that could have mentally prepared him for the morning of September 11th, 2001. We all know what happened that day, but Tim’s story is one you have not heard. Almost unimaginably, Tim was at the base of Tower 2 at the moment it collapsed. And what happened to Tim in the days, weeks and years afterward makes for a moving story as big as the heart of the man telling it.Portrait of Tim Brown by Craig LaCourt for On the Real. www.craiglacourt.com.
Nostalgia and food are two things I cherish and, when combined well, make me want to do back flips over waterfalls…or, in this case, a pork chop. Specifically, the pork chop at M. Wells Dinette at PS1 in Long Island City. You see, I am a child of the seventies and eighties. In those decades it was commonplace for your parents (mine at least) to leave you with a babysitter that was probably only a year or two older than you and a couple of Swanson TV Dinners. There was the turkey dinner, the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and of course the Salisbury Steak…always a favorite. Presented with one today, I’d likely throw it in the trash before taking a bite, but the idea of them is so fantastic. The smell is one that I’ll never forget. And the perceived taste of those god-knows-what-they-are mixed up ingredients takes me right back to my basement in Baltimore digging into one of those tin-trayed wonders while enjoying Waylon Jennings open up the latest episode of The Duke’s of Hazzard.Last week, on a long overdue trip to M. Wells Dinette, I ordered their pork chop on the recommendation of one of their incredibly friendly and accessible servers. So after I enjoyed my share of their perfectly prepared half-dozen oysters, to-die-for fluke crudo and ridiculously rich, creamy and intriguing chicken liver mousse on meringue toast, this beast of an entrée was delivered to my school desk and my senses withered into the warm bliss of childhood. The smell and it’s presentation immediately brought me back 20 years. It was like a grown-up Swanson TV dinner minus the vegetable medley and brownie (bleh!).Unlike Swanson, the folks at M. Wells Dinette are using, dare I say, real ingredients, but their process may not be so different. The pork chop is not actually a pork chop, per se. They use pork ribs and slow roast them until the meat falls off the bone. Then they grind that meat and pack it into a chop-shaped patty around the bone. It then gets roasted in a hot oven and served on top of the most perfectly creamy mashed potatoes I’ve had since my grandmother last served them in her Stewartstown, Pennsylvania kitchen. The whole thing is topped with beautifully thickened pan gravy and chives. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t full after finishing the first third of this perfect and hearty entrée, but I could not stop eating it. By the end, my plate looked as if it had been licked clean by a hungry pack of wolves and I was already scheming on when my next trip to M. Wells Dinette would be scheduled. Everything was surprising and solid here, but my pork chop in all of it’s nostalgic wonder is something I will dream about for months and years while I try to recreate it in my own kitchen. M. Wells Dinette is a place you need to try, but the pork chop on their ever-evolving menu makes this a run, don’t walk situation.