Friday, September 29, 2017

To the Archives!

Of all the many wonders of the Internet (and I'm not talking about social media, podcasts, or p-o-r-n), perhaps the most amazing thing is that seemingly ephemeral artifacts once lost to history -- or at least locked away or archived someplace so obscure as to be functionally if not literally lost -- can easily be found. Just a few taps on a keyboard and, voila, history -- in the form of documents, articles, new reports, recordings (both audio and visual) and other curiosities of the past -- will instantly appear. 

The Internet can be a time machine -- we can make the past present again. Once upon a time we had to rummage through boxes in storage bins or archives or thumb through picture books or wrestle with microfiche to summon up days of yore. Now we just sit at our computer.

Here are two very different but equally fascinating examples of things that seemed lost to the past but that are now very much present again:

1. In the 1980s, the city government launched a project to photograph every building in NYC. All of these photos, some 800,000 of them from the Municipal Archives, are now available in this searchable database. You can scan a map of the city, zoom in, and click on a street to see what it looked like almost 30 years ago. It's quite fascinating -- I can see the block I lived on as a kid and the block I live on now as they appeared back in the day. If you have any fond memories of certain streets or neighborhoods, check this archive out!

2. And then, of course, there's Donald  Trump. Specifically, the 15 hours of conversations he had with radio star Howard Stern between 1993 and 2015. These appearances are like the Nixon tapes -- a deep dive into the psyche of a president. Unlike Nixon, who spent his time ranting about Jews, Trump's conversations with Howard are mostly about "broads." Perhaps the wildest conversation is from 1997, after Princess Diana died, where Trump talks about his attempts to woo her and how, according to him, he could have "nailed" her. But oh, he would have made her take an AIDS test first. Yes, that's the 45th President of the United States folks! What a gent he is ...

The great thing about the Internet is that the past is firmly within our grasp (after all, this blog has been around for more than a decade, a living real time recorder of history itself). The bad thing about the Internet: the past is now something that nobody, not even a billionaire POTUS, can ever truly escape. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Pete Davidson talks Staten Island and Mental Illness on WTF

If you watch Saturday Night Live (and I don't, really), then you know who Pete Davidson is. He's the young -- very young -- cast member dubbed the show's Resident Young Guy. 

He's 23, talented, works on SNL, and dates Larry David's daughter. Needless to say, most people are probably insanely jealous of him.

However ... his dad died on 9/11 and he has Borderline Personality Disorder. Worst of all, according to him, is that he's also from Staten Island. (Okay, okay, I kid ... sort of.)

Anyway, you really need to listen to this interview with Pete Davidson on Marc Maron's WTF podcast. Pete talks a lot about Staten Island and coming to grips with his dad's untimely death. It's amazing, heart rendering interview of tragedy, resilience, and triumph. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Greenwich Village in the 1960s

We'll Take the Village

Newsflash: the city is changing ... Okay, that's not really news but sometimes it's interesting to see -- literally -- how it's changed.

That's why I love this Village Voice slideshow of Greenwich Village over the years. It's spans from the 1950s to today, and shows the fascinating people and places of that most mythic of neighborhoods of lower Manhattan. You'll see the famous and the not-so-famous and, most of all, you'll look at history as it happened.

Talking about the Village Voice, as it ceases print publication, the iconic red newspaper box that you could find on the street, and pick up an issue for free from, will soon be gone. This slideshow of the red box around town will make you sigh. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Interview: Katharine Heller of the "Tell the Bartender" Podcast

The bartender is a popular character in American culture, the sympathetic souls who serves both booze and sympathy to their customers. Whenever you need a shoulder to cry on -- and a strong drink or two -- a good bartender will give them to you.

So what's it like to be a real bartender? To find out, Mr NYC asked Katharine Heller, of the Tell the Bartender podcast and a former NYC bartender to tell us all about booze, bartending, and listening to people's stories:

Tell us a little bit about your bartending experience and how it inspired you to create the podcast

When I was a bartender my favorite part of the job was meeting new people. Everyone has an incredible life story, and many people don't realize how fascinating their lives can be. To me, at least.

What are some of your wildest stories or moments from your bartending days?

I think one of my favorites was when a fight broke out, and one of our beloved regular customers punched a guy in the head, knocking him out, and he looked at us like, "I'm so sorry" and ran. We cut the music, turned the lights on full and my co-worker leaned down to tend to the man who was bleeding. He woke up, took one look at my co-worker bending over him, and grabbed her breast. Everyone was like, "OH OK HE PROBABLY DESERVED IT." He was fine, but we barred him. The regular was welcome back with open arms.

Do you have a favorite episode or moment from your podcast?

I love "I Didn't Know I was Nugent" because I never thought I'd find myself agreeing with anything Ted Nugent said. The ep is an interview with a man who found out, at age 40, that the father who put him up for adoption was Ted Nugent. It's wild.

What's the most powerful life lesson you've learning from a guest on your podcast?

Compassion. I talk to some trauma survivors who use the podcast to tell their story, and signal boost other people's needs. On Episode 87: Service Dogs > Brogressives, Julie, a sexual assault survivor, uses the last minutes of her interview to read a letter from another survivor. Some people like to make fun of those who have PTSD from trauma as "snowflakes". For me, I see them as the strongest, kindest people. To be vulnerable in telling a story like that is to have compassion, and I'm in awe of many of my guests.

How has living and working in NYC inspired your life and work?

I was born and raised here, but I am always excited about how much great art is being created here.

What is your favorite of the following drinks (either to drink or serve)?

Cocktail: Gin and tonic
Beer: Stella
Wine: Pinot Noir
Spirit: Vodka
Other: Sure

Tell us about the future of your podcast and would you ever go back to bartending? 

I'm a podcast producer and actor but I'd do it for a charity event.

Extra bonus questions: how does someone get a bartending job in NYC and get onto your podcast?

I don't care so much about bartenders so long as someone has a good story.

Thanks Katharine!

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Night Mayor

If you're a fanatical Game of Thrones fan, like moi, you know all about the Night King, the frighteningly leader of the White Walkers and their Army of the Dead who aim to destroy the Wall (spoiler: they did) and conquer Westeros. 

Now NYC will have a Night Mayor -- but calm your hearts, he or she isn't looking to destroy everything and kill everyone in his (or her) path and turn New Yorkers into glowing blue-eyed zombies. 

No, this Night Mayor will simply be the Commissioner for the newly formed Commission on Nightlife that will act as a liaison between city government and the massive nightlife industry in this town. There are complex issues that relate to city rules and regulations of the nightlife industry so this new commission is an attempt to consolidate and streamline them. Pretty boring. 

But still -- having a Night Mayor is cool. Apparently lots of people want this job. 

So enjoy the nightlife (and boogie!):

And also enjoy Game of Thrones:

Never Built New York @ Queens Museum

I don't plug a lot of museum exhibits on this here blog. There's so many great ones going on at any one time in NYC that it would be an exercise in futility.

That said, here's one that any and all NYC Geeks should see: Never Built New York at the Queens Museum though February 18, 2018. 

It's an exhibit of designs, plans, prints, layouts, models, schematics, etc. for building projects in NYC that were proposed, seriously considered, but never happened. This exhibit, in effect, shows an "alternative NYC" (NOT like Trump's "alternative facts"), a city that might have been, that almost was, but didn't happen. 

Remember Jets stadium in Manhattan proposed back in 2005? What about Governor's Island becoming an airport? An expressway going through Soho? Those are just some of the proposed building projects that never happened -- and would have made NYC very different place?

We look at the physical structure NYC today and (if we think about it all) think, "I guess this is the way it was meant to be." But no. The city we live in is the result of choices, of projects built, of dreams realized, but of many more abandoned. 

NYC is not destined to look or be built one way or another -- it's present and future is a result of the choice we make. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"Leaving New York" - A Shameless Plug

A few months back I published my first e-book, a novel called Leaving New York. It's a rip-roaring yarn about two lost souls from NYC who take a wild road trip across America. 

It's fast, it's funny, it's philosophical, and it's a hell of a good read. Don't take my word for it: read some of the excerpts that I posted on this here blog.

Leaving New York is the kind of fun novel that the publishing powers-that-be don't seem be publishing anymore -- so I did it for them. When it comes to this book, imagine that JD Salinger, Jack Kerouac, Quentin Tarantino, MTV and Facebook got together and had a baby and it would basically read something like Leaving New York.

Best of all? It's all yours for only $0.99! If you have an Amazon Kindle, you can buy and download it for this ridiculously low price and get hours of entertainment. It's the deal of the year!

You can find a link to the novel on Amazon here or you can click on the cover icon on the right-hand side of this blog. 

Read Leaving New York and have a great time! 

Monday, September 18, 2017

"Fatal Attraction"@30

It's hard to believe but thirty years ago today, the ultimate male nightmare flick opened in theaters: Fatal Attraction. The story of a married New York lawyer who has a fling gone
 real bad with a beautiful but deranged book editor became the cultural sensation of 1987 -- and one of the best thrillers ever made. It's also a NYC story -- a place where ambition, greed, and lust reign.

I remember when this movie came out, it played at the now long-gone Paramount Theater on 59th Street and Columbus Avenue. I went to school nearby and, walking to the bus stop on my way home, would pass by the now iconic poster/billboard for this movie. The movie ran at this theater for about six months -- back when hit movies had much longer runs in theaters than they do now. 

Fatal Attraction still holds up -- and should make any man think twice about cheating. 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Interview: Ross Barkan of the Village Voice and the Guardian

Politics in NYC is a complex world. Few report about it so well as Ross Barkan, columnist for the Village Voice and Guardian. Ross is that rare thing in political reporting these days -- a thoughtful, impartial, and honest voice. As NYC gears up for its own elections this fall, Ross was kind enough to give Mr NYC readers his insights about the state of New York politics and the future of this city. You can follow Ross Barkan on Twitter at

Crime and affordability have been the Big Issues in previous NYC elections but this year doesn't seem to have one defining issue. What do you think will be the main issues in this fall's campaign?

Crime is so low right now, but I imagine Nicole Malliotakis, the Republican nominee, and Bo Dietl, the Trump-like independent, will try to make it an issue. To me, that's silly. There are actual problems facing this city. Housing is extremely unaffordable, which has fed our homelessness crisis. Our subway infrastructure is coming apart. Unfortunately, the city has so little say when it comes to transit--the MTA is state-run and effectively controlled by Governor Cuomo--but the mayoral candidates certainly have a right to debate fixes. I hope they do. Housing and transit should be at the forefront of the race. Will they actually be? We'll find out. I hope we stop talking about statues. 

During his first term, Mayor De Blasio was not overwhelming popular and yet he won big in the primary and is favored to win a second term. Does this show the power of "holding your base" in politics or because, despite what the polls show, New Yorkers think he's actually done a good job?

It's an interesting question. De Blasio's 2013 primary win was more dominating than people understand, and helps explain some of his arrogance. In a crowded field of big-time contenders--Christine Quinn initially dominated media coverage, followed by Anthony Weiner--de Blasio was able to hit 40 percent and avoid a runoff, something no one thought was possible before that race began. He won almost every assembly district in the city. He won every borough. He built a coalition of liberal whites, Latinos, and blacks that isn't seen often in city politics. As mayor, he has never had a sky-high approval rating (Bloomberg and Giuliani went north of 70%) or a disastrously low one (Bloomberg sat in the 30's at one point). He's not a major personality, he has an awful relationship with the media, and he doesn't inspire visceral devotion or loyalty. But he has a core following, particularly in nonwhite outer borough neighborhoods. He is the first mayor in two decades to explicitly make it his mission to care about people who are poor and disenfranchised. Does he do enough to help them? It's fair to say he can do much more, but he's tried. Is he too beholden to real estate developers? Sure. Did some of the corruption investigations, even if they didn't lead to indictments, say something about an administration that prioritizes big donor access? Yes. De Blasio also has serious accomplishments as mayor--the universal pre-K program in particular--which voters can respect. He's been blessed with a good economy and a low-crime environment. He's definitely someone who benefits from the way our politics are set up, where Democratic primaries are everything, because his core base of support is so far unshakable. I'm not convinced, however, he couldn't win an election overwhelmingly if turnout increased or we held (as we should) nonpartisan elections open to all voters.

What effect, if any, will the Trump presidency have on this election? Does a President Trump hurt the Republican candidate by motivating Democratic voters or does he actually help her by motivating Republican voters?

Donald Trump is not good for Republicans in New York City. There are a lot of Republicans with intriguing ideas who deserve to be heard, like J.C. Polanco, the Republican candidate for public advocate. But Trump is extremely unpopular in the city and is toxic for the Republican Party here. Malliotakis has a challenge--on one hand, she's worried about losing core Republican support by disavowing Trump because he does have many fans in her home borough, Staten Island. On the other hand, her chances of even coming close to winning are zero if she's successfully branded as a "Trump Republican." (In her defense, she backed Marco Rubio pretty strongly in the primary.) Malliotakis' cause is rather hopeless, truth be told. Joe Lhota got 24% against de Blasio in 2013. Malliotakis can improve on that margin. How much, though, is unclear. This is another argument for nonpartisan elections or a "jungle" primary, where candidates of all parties run together and the top 2 face off in November. Malliotakis, a real conservative on many issues, represents viewpoints that aren't held by a lot of people in the city. 

Assuming all the incumbents are re-elected, who will be the leading candidates for mayor in 2021?

2021 is so far away, and I've learned many times over not to make firm predictions about politics. But you do have a field, at least, that is already coalescing. Comptroller Scott Stringer, who hungers for the office like few others, will run. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams has said he'll run. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will probably run. Public Advocate Letitia James may run. You could see the next speaker of the City Council take a shot at it, or even outgoing Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, if she's so inclined. There will probably be other Democrats. Maybe Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Maybe someone we can't even imagine.

Finally, what do you think most of the media and public are missing or don't fully understand about this year's NYC election?

In terms of issues, I wish there was more focus on public housing. Were NYCHA a standalone city, it would be among the largest in America. In terms of the election, what is the public and media missing or doesn't understand? Maybe that 2017 is a return to normalcy for city politics. You had 20 years of Republican mayors, which meant competitive general elections and primaries where Democrats fought among themselves for the opportunity to take down the Republicans. NYC is a Democratic town and we'll probably look back at that 20 year period as an anomaly. You also had crises that drove Democratic incumbents from office (Abe Beame, David Dinkins.) We're in a period of relative stability. De Blasio, the incumbent, is on firm footing. I don't think it means a decline in civic life if you don't get a feisty 2017 primary and general election. Ed Koch glided through two Democratic primaries and the Republican Party was so dead n 1981 it gave him its ballot line. No one remembers Robert Wagner's first re-election. There's a reason for that. 

Thanks Ross!

Friday, September 15, 2017

We'll Always Have Allison Steele

Even though I wrote it almost ten years ago, one of my most popular blog posts remains the one about Allison Steele, the legendary radio DJ who ruled NYC overnights for decades. She died more than 20 years ago but, amazingly, people who listened to her back in the day still remember that gentle, beautiful voice. In tribute to that post, I've decided to give Mr NYC readers yet another listen to the wondrous sound and soul of Allison Steele.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Like the New Look?

After more than a decade, I decided to give Mr NYC an upgrade and give the blog a hotter, bolder, more colorful vibe. I hope it meets with your approval.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Re-Elect De Blasio as Mayor in 2017

He gave my family and tons of others Pre-K. Crime is low. It still costs too damn much to live here but he knows that and is trying to do something about it. That's enough for me. Onto victory in November!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

About Queens

If you like tennis, and are a US Open devotee, you'll enjoy this big article on the McEnroe brothers. Queens natives, they helped to redefine and popularize the game back in the day -- particularly John McEnroe, with his crazy on the court antics and outrageous personality ("YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!" is now sports lore). Most of all, they helped to put Queens on the map, making it the de facto capital of tennis in America. 

And the face of Queens is changing too. If you commute through Long Island City everyday, as yours truly does, you're going through a construction site. High-rise buildings are going up en masse. People are moving in at a rapid clip and a once somewhat sleazy, industrial neighborhood is now the latest "discovery" for gentrifiers. For a long time LIC was "up and coming" but it never "up and came" until now. It's rather amazing that this neighborhood right across the river from Manhattan was such an urban desert of construction and people, you'd think lots of people would want to live there. The reasons for this delay in interest are various: there isn't great public transportation, crime was high, it was located near the Queensbridge Housing Projects (racism surely played a role), it doesn't have great park space, it didn't have great shopping districts, it didn't have great public schools, and it just seemed bleak. And, yes, it was sleazy: you could literally see strip clubs from the Queensborough Plaza subway station. But now that's all changed now. LIC is the latest hot neighborhood -- and, of course, it's getting very expensive.  

Of all the boroughs in NYC, Queens is the most diverse, both ethnically and geographically. It's full of dense, built up neighborhoods and suburbs. This is reflected not just by the buildings and houses but also by the food. Recently, food guru Anthony Bourdain toured the borough for his CNN show Parts Unknown. It's a great episode and very revealing of what a culinary marvel the Garden Borough is.

Like all of NYC, Queens has a proud history but it's also changing all the time -- making history every day. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Classic Mr NYC

Today is 9/11, sixteen years since "the event" that changed our world forever. Obviously today is an important day of remembrance.

Of course, down in Florida, the honorary 6th borough of NYC, the people there are recovering from Hurricane Irene. Since today is 9/11, and hurricanes are in the news, I recall the last time a big storm hit our city and our populace endured its toughest test since 9/11 -- Hurricane Sandy.

During that big event, I blogged about it constantly and provided updates. If you'd like to take a stroll down memory lane (hard to believe it's nearly 5 years ago), please go here

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Nostalgia Heap

So the "big" news in NYC this week is that the Village Voice, that sixty-plus year old free weekly newspaper, will no longer put out a print edition. Like most publications these days, it'll be online only. 

To me, the newsworthiness of this story isn't that the Village Voice is going online only -- but that it took so long. The destruction of print publications has been happening for the better part of a decade now. Still, NYC will look a little bit different as the blue and white voice of progressive values vanishes from our streets and transfers to our "devices." 

Call it a sign of the times -- or a victim thereof. 

This change in the Village Voice is triggering the predictable nostalgia articles for the "good old days" by people who used to work there. As I've mentioned before, nostalgia is all the rage these dark Trumpian days, particularly in NYC.

To sling further items onto this nostalgia heap, it's worth remembering that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of Studio 54, the hottest nightclub in history, the club that defined the disco era and the beautiful sleaze of the 1970s. It was the club everyone wanted to go to and that nobody could get into. It's the club that spawned movies and documentaries and a whole culture of chic. Predictably, the people who "remember it when" are writing about Studio 54 with affection and sadness. The most amazing thing about the Studio 54 era is how short it was -- roughly from the Spring of 1977 to early 1980 (when its owners got busted for tax evasion and went to jail). The club has become legendary -- probably because the Studio 54 era was so short lived that it never got old and lame. 

But the reality is that Studio 54's reign was probably destined to be brief, no matter how tricky the tax returns of its owners were. By 1980, Ronald Reagan was marching towards the White House, the economy was stuck in stagflation, American hostages were languishing in Iran, and the original cast of "Saturday Night Live" was departing. The mood of the country was changing, the culture getting more conservative. Even by 1980, Studio 54 seemed like an embarrassing relic of an embarrasing era. Like a great show that's been on the air one too many seasons, it probably would have suffered a backlash at some point. 

But once something is cancelled, once it goes away, the fond memories begin. The memories pile up -- thus, the nostalgia heap.  

Ah, nostalgia. I get it. Again, I'm as nostalgic as the most nostalgic person there is. But to my brothers and sisters in the nostalgia business, I plead to you: stop it. All of these articles, all of these "memories" ultimately just lead to depression. They don't do you or your readers any good. They make us  sad about the present and scared for the future, and risk giving us false feelings about a past that probably wasn't so great to begin with. "But," these nostalgia mongers might argue, "just look at the maniac in the White House -- can you blame us? Wasn't the past better?"

Who cares? The future is here and always will be.  We're not going to make our futures better by crowing about how great the past was. NYC isn't going back -- and shouldn't. Let not us not remained trapped in a museum of memories. Let's go into the future and keep the nostalgia pile to a minimum.