Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Classic Mr NYC

My recent post on beer gardens as the new salons of NYC made me think about my previous posts on the growing phenomenon of these drinking establishments. 

Actually, it's been a phenomenon for some time. You can take a gander at my September, 2009 post about beer gardens and read about how old-fashioned beer gardens are suddenly becoming cool again.

Just go to show you: what's old can become new again.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Manhattanhenge - Tonight, at sundown

Is Marriage Equality Almost Here?

Governor Cuomo has been putting his significant political weight behind the marriage equality movement. Like the canny politico he is, he has done a great job coordinating the various gay marriage groups with his office and relentlessly pushing the message that now is the time for the Empire State to legalize it. 

But it's not that easy.

Simply put, it's a matter of math. 

While gay marriage is overwhelming supported in the State Assembly, thanks to the Democratic majority there, there are 32 Republican State Senators and only 30 Democratic State Senators. Of the Democrats, about four of them are violently opposed to gay marriage. And so far no Republican is publicly supporting the it. That means right now the vote would be roughly 36-28 against. But if four Republicans were to switch, then it would get passed and New York would become the first big state in America to legalize gay marriage. Cuomo and Bloomberg and the various groups are doing everything they can to woo some of the more malleable Republicans but they're afraid that they might lose their primaries or be denied Conservative Party support and that this will do them in.

I think they're wrong. Quite the opposite: I think if these Republicans vote for gay marriage, they will be rewarded politically and also financially: Bloomberg and various wealthy donors have indicated that they will give these senators huge campaign contributions and this will help them hold their seats for years to come. So let's keep our fingers crossed -- and hopefully by next month, New York State will have seen the light.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The New NYC Salons

Thursday night was last call at Elaine's, the Upper East side saloon famous for hosting the city's elite for almost fifty years. This saloon was the city's last great salon, where the great talents of this city came together to eat, drink, and talk about their work and lives. What made Elaine's so popular was that it was so exclusive -- it was where cultural powerhouses came to feel part of a club.

Now Elaine's is gone. And, as those denizens who were there on its last night said, there will never be another one like it.

But I disagree. Exclusive salons in NYC like Elaine's or Toots Shor may be no more, but a new generation of salons is blossoming all over town. What are they? 

Beer Gardens!

Call them democratic salons or 21st century, new media salons. Instead of writers and intellectuals kibitzing in exclusive surroundings, beer gardens are where bloggers and ordinary people congregate to talk about their work and lives -- and they're open to everyone. Beer gardens are where the great minds of this century in this city are going to meet each other and exchange ideas. These are the places in NYC where people hold court, have fun, and plot the future. Beer gardens are the new salons of NYC.

"To everything there is a season ..."
The exclusive cultural salons of NYC had their day -- and what a long, great day it was. But, with Elaine's gone, that day is over. Yet when one door closes (literally in this case), another one opens (actually many, literally, considering how many beer gardens are opening up around town). So do not fear. The salons of NYC are alive and well. They've just changed with the new millennium -- and that's probably a good thing.

The Real Donald Trump

When The Donald announced that he would yet again deny America his services as president of the United States, his stated reason was that business was his "passion" and public service just wasn't tempting enough for him to give it up.

Fair enough. To each his own, I say.

But what is this "business" that he's so passionate about? What exactly is The Donald Empire?

At first blush, the answer is obvious: real estate. Walk around town and your eyes will fall on various buildings called Trump this or that. He also dabbles in Atlantic City casinos and Florida golf courses, and he is probably best known to the nation he can't quite get himself to govern by hosting the NBC show The Apprentice. Yet behind his seemingly impressive business portfolio is a lot of sleaze: stock swindlers, drug addicted accountants, whore mongering partners, and outright fraud. Also, a lot of the businesses he claims to be involved in, he's not really involved in. He has created a successful enough brand name for himself that he sells it to other businessmen (hence things like Trump Vodka and Trump University which really aren't his). 

Ever since he openly flirted with running for president, The Donald's business dealings have drawn a great deal of attention. And it hasn't been good news. There have been lots of articles recently about all this and you must read this Daily Beast article that is probably the most comprehensive about how sleazy and creepy most of Donald Trump's businesses and associates really are.

Naturally Trump realized that, if he actually did run for president, the scrutiny would only get worse and might actually hurt his empire. The material for attack ads is endless. And ultimately, he was smart enough to realize that his presidential aspirations were doomed before he ever had them in the first place. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Where did you grow up?

There was a great segment on today's Brian Lehrer Show about growing up in New York City -- and if this was good thing or not. If you would like to listen to it, you can go here.

Personally, I don't think it's either better or worse -- or makes you a better or worse kind of person -- wherever you grow up. Whether it's in the heart of NYC or way out in Siberia, the environment in which you were raised gives you certain experiences and knowledge that people elsewhere don't have.  Of course, it also means that you miss certain experiences and don't develop knowledge of other places. That's why, once people grow up, it's a great thing for people to travel and meet people from other places. And learn.

Speaking as someone who grew up in NYC, I'll say that I'm very glad that I was raised here and wouldn't wanted to have grown up anywhere else. Still, sometimes I wish that I'd lived a more Mayberry kind of life, swimmin' in the swimmi' hole, fishin' in the fishin' hole, shooting my dinner, and all that fun, crazy country stuff. Yee-haw!

A Lady at the MTA

Adding a little bit of pomp and circumstance to the dreary entity that is the Metropolitan Transit Authority, comes word that one of its board members, one Nancy Shevell, is engaged to Sir Paul McCartney, he of Beatles fame. 

Once they are married, Ms. Shevell will become Lady Nancy. Presumably that means that, when she drinks tea, she will now have to keep her pinkie up.

So now when the rest of us working stiffs are schlepping around town on the dysfunctional MTA beast, we can know that parts of its incompetence is due to a Lady of the Realm, married to a Knight Commander of the British Empire (and the guy wrote "Hey Jude"). 

And who says the British lost the Revolutionary war?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We're Still Here ... Dammit

The last few days have been a study in hysterical idiocy: for several days now, the lunatic followers of some so-called "reverend" named Harold Camping have been yelling and screaming that the world was going to end around 6 PM on May 21st. 

Obviously, as I'm writing this on May 22nd, the didn't end. We're all still here -- as broke, overweight, and exhausted as ever. 

This lunacy has been all over NYC. I saw some guys in the subway waiving signs, declaring that May 21st was the date of the rapture and that Jesus was a comin'. And there have been signs everywhere too -- apparently a 60-year old MTA worker from Staten Island spent his life-savings on trying to promote this nonsense all over town. This morning he was, to put it mildly, a tad miffed

So we're all still here. And that means we all have to go to work tomorrow and pay our rent in at the end of the months. The more things don't change, the more depressing they stay. Dammit.

Bosom Buddies Opening

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Goodnight Elaine's

Well, I guess it had to happen eventually. Mark this under the "End of an Era" category. It's official: Elaine's, that legendary East Side watering hole to the city's cultural elite, is closing after forty-eight years.


It appears that the saloon just couldn't survive without it's namesake. When Elaine Kaufman died last year, it seems that the spirit of the place died with her. The celebrities stopped coming so the tourists did too. Elaine's was never know for it's great food -- it was more about "the scene" -- so, after she died, it just became another overpriced restaurant, and not a very good one at that. Thus business dried up and its fate was sealed.

Woody Allen was recently interviewed about the demise of Elaine's and even he said that the food was bad but the atmosphere was great. Remember: Elaine's appears in the first scene of Manhattan, one of his greatest movies, so he'll be linked to its memory forever. 

So goodnight Elaine's. I was glad to have gone there for dinner once and thank you for adding to the cultural life of this town. You, like your late owner, will be missed.

If you're interested, you can read my Elaine's archive here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

We Wuz Played!

Last month I blogged about the joke that was the potential joke of a Donald Trump for President candidacy. I argued, quite well I must say, that his candidacy was nothing more than a joke and that he was playing the media into giving him lots of publicity.

I was right.

Today, Trump finally put up and shut up: he announced that he won't be running for president. His loud, riduclous freakshow has finally ended, not with a bang but a whimper. 

Now only two questions remain: who will the Republican nominee for president be and what silly publicity shtick will The Donald dream up next?

As this article suggests, with Trump gone, the silly season in presidential politics should end. All of the serious Republican candidates need to declare if they're in or out and all the non-serious Republican candidates need to go back to their reality TV shows. 

And so it ends, for now. New York's own carnival monkey is taking a break. The only thing left to be decided is the future of our great republic. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Big Brother is watching you ... and you can watch him watching you!

In this era of hyper-security, a major world city like NYC is locked, stocked, and barrelled with security and traffic cameras all over town. They spy on our streets and roads shamelessly, at all hours of the day and night, to make sure that traffic is moving properly and that people aren't up to any funny business.

Better be careful when picking your nose in public -- it's probably being recorded for all eternity. 

These cameras are everywhere. And, of course, if you go into any building or store around town, in all likelihood you are being watched by cameras there too. Basically, you can't go anywhere in NYC (except private homes) and have any expectation of privacy.


But you don't have to be a victim. You can sniff (some of) these cameras out. I found a link to a site that has lots of information about security cameras in NYC. Also, the Department of Transportation has a full list of its traffic cameras that you can check out -- and see which ones are active and which are inactive. 

Better yet, you can actually watch TV and see these traffic cams in action! NYC TV has a dedicated channel called City Drive Live (on my TimeWarner system, it's channel 72) where you see nothing but images of traffic all over town. Every few seconds they cut from Times Square to the BQE to the Verrazano Bridge to the Cross-Bronx and on and on. It's kinda of mezmerizing -- you get to see the whole city moving at once. But it's also kinda scary -- because you basically can't drive anywhere without being spied on.

Oh brave new world that has so many cameras in it.
So ... do you like to watch? (Sorry, couldn't help it.)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hawk Cam!

Now from zebras to hawks. 

In keeping with the wildlife theme of this week's posts, you should go and check out the Hawk Cam that The New York Times installed outside the window of NYU President John Sexton. A hawk named Violet set up a nest right outside this window and has been nursing some eggs that hatched on May 6. Now Violet is a mommy and is taking care of her baby. Violet had to be rescued briefly because her leg got swollen because of a tag that was put on it a few years ago but now she appears to be better and is concentrating on being a mommy.

Could this story be any more adorable?

Zebra Update

In case you were wondering, the reason there was a zebra milling around Soho earlier this week (and thus the photos below), is that Men in Black 3 was being shot in the area. Apparently this was the reason for the zebra and for the entire neighborhood being menaced by this production all week.

I work in the area and was literally forced into streets since the sidewalks were jammed with over sized lights, production crews, Kraft service tables, and gigantic tubes (presumably there to blow area or something like that). Even worse, tourists and gawkers were crowding the vicinity, trying to catch a glimpse and shoot a picture of Will Smith. It was a nightmare! And not only that, but apparently Mr. Smith had a gigantic, oversized vanity trailer that had to be moved to a private parking lot -- since it was taking up valuable parking space.

Oh well, I hope this will help the NYC economy. And this movie better be good otherwise I will personally by PO'd.  

Monday, May 9, 2011

Soho, May 9, 2011

If you happened to be crossing Grand and Mercer streets at various points today, you would have happened upon ... a zebra. Specifically, this zebra.

Yes, a zebra in ... in Soho. Apparently it was part of some movie shoot going on in the 'hood.

What a noble beast. 
Gotta love New York!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What's In a Grade?

Big article in The New York Press this week about the grades we see on restaurants here in NYC.

In the last year, the Department of Health has been inspecting restaurants and forcing them to post their cleanliness grades in the windows. The best is an A (obviously), followed by a B (borderline) and a C or lower usually results in the restaurant either being shut-down or an appeal (which results in the "grade pending" signs you sometimes see).

Like all great ideas, this one works great in theory. It supposedly incentives restaurants to be as clean as possible and shames those that aren't. It also, obviously, affects business. My wife, for example, refuses to eat in any place with less than an A rating.

But according to this article, this rating system is deeply flawed and doesn't always reflect just how clean any restaurant supposedly is. Perhaps it's impossible to create a perfect rating system, but this article shows that perhaps we shouldn't take these restaurant rating at face -- or window -- value.

Arthur Laurents RIP

Few people defined Broadway theater more than Arthur Laurents. He died last week at age 92 and had been a force in entertainment since the 1940s.

An irascible, brilliant writer and director, he wrote the book for such classic musicals as Gypsy and West Side Story. He wrote a little show in the early sixties called I Can Get It For You Wholesale that marked the debut of a very young up-and-comer named Babra Streisand. He wrote movie scripts too, including three classics: Rope (directed by Alfred Hitchcock), The Way We Were (featuring Barbra Streisand's signature song), and The Turning Point (ones of the greatest ballet movies ever made). He also directed theater and taught the craft of writing and directing to generations of artists, including to people like Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Soundheim.

He was also openly gay, and proudly lived with his partner for more than 50 years. 

Arthur Laurents was one of the New York greats and he will be missed. 

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Decade of Bloomberg

On January 1st, 2012, it will mark exactly ten years since Mike Bloomberg took office as Mayor. We are fast-approaching that date and, two years from that day, he will be mayor no more.

This has been the decade of Bloomberg in NYC and already the man is thinking and talking about his legacy. Thing is, he doesn't seem all that interested in NYC anymore. He views himself as a national leader, a spokesman for the political center. And while people still think he's a smart guy and been a successful leader, at least at home, his charm and presence are wearing thin.

This article goes in depth about the developing consensus about the decade of Bloomberg and it seems to nail it quite right. Simply put, people think he's been a good mayor and good countervailing influence on our other toxic political culture. But they also think he's been around a little too long, overstayed his welcome, and the public is clearly getting sick of him. He's like the guest who's the life of the party and tells all the great jokes -- but the won't leave after his jokes become unfunny.

So as the decade of Bloomberg grinds on to its twelve year deadline, it looks like we have two and a half more years of unfunny jokes from our city's increasing unwelcome party guest. 

Times Square Sings Star-Spangled Banner after Osama bin Laden is Killed

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

And the winner is ...

The Nissan NV200! 

Huh? you might be saying. 

Well, it's the winning design for the new NYC taxicab. As new cabs are commissioned, these will re-stock the city's fleet. They have more leg room and windows that will provide passengers with the a more panoramic view of the city. 

Hope they're as good as advertised. For me, I'll take a good old-fashioned Checker cab every time.

Farewell to a Monster: One New Yorker's Thoughts

When I heard about the death of Osama Bin Laden, I didn't really know what to think. But I sure know what I felt -- joy. 

It was the first, and I most certainly hope the last, time that I have ever been elated at some one's death, particularly a violent, horrible death like his. Like most people, I don't welcome any body's demise. As a liberal, I'm against the death penalty. But though I know it's probably not a good thing to celebrate a death, any death, my feelings ruled the day. 

And Bin Laden wasn't just anybody and he sure was no liberal -- he was a monster. A monster responsible for the senseless murder of thousands and thousands, for the ruined lives of their loved ones, and for drawing the United States and the world into a decade of war, fear, paranoia, and outright depression. The first decade of this new century and America's first new millennium were basically destroyed and lost by him ... and for what? For a lunatic ideology that sought to bring the world back into some kind of imaginary 7th century "caliphate",  a la-la-land based on a perversion of the Islamic religion. His ideas were so loony that they would be funny if they didn't have such deadly consequences.

I lived through September 11, 2001 and saw the Twin Towers fall with my bare eyes from my office window. I still can't talk or write about it properly because it just makes me want to cry. But the good news is that while New York was viciously attacked, I never doubted for a moment that the city wouldn't continue to survive and thrive. And survive and thrive it most certainly has. This city is more amazing, more diverse, more exciting than ever. Tens of millions of people still visit every year and more and more people move into the city -- NYC keeps growing and growing. To say that Bin Laden and his terrorist allies failed to destroy America and its greatest city is so obvious that I don't need to go on and on about it here.

So life and New York City go on. We are a city of hope. And hopefully all New Yorkers and all Americans are sleeping a little better tonight.