"Know York" – What’s next?

Okay, it’s time for your vote to count, with or without superdelegates… Which neighborhood should be explored this weekend? Select and submit!

East Village
Long Island City
TriBeCa
Fort Greene
Bronx Park
Staten Island
Coney Island
Bay Ridge
Battery Park City
Other (Insert your answer in the comments sections)

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"Know York" – Week 8: Harlem

Yesterday, New York was blessed with cloud-less sunshine and relatively mild temperatures for a March afternoon. My college pal and fellow music-major, Chris, is visiting his sister in the city for a couple weeks, so he agreed to join me on a “Know York” adventure. As we set off, heading West on foot from our meeting spot of 94th and Lexington, I enjoyed hearing his interpretations of my blog thus far, and his excitement to be partaking in some nitty-gritty New York exploring. We walked across Central Park and then caught the B train up to to 125th Street.

Every neighborhood in Manhattan, or New York City for that matter, has its own distinct style and flavor. Each has had its own unique history, events, demographic and traditions. Harlem is no exception, setting itself apart from the rest of Manhattan with a rich history and its ability to overcome setbacks and stereotypes. Today, Harlem is much cleaner and safe than thirty years ago, and is filled with a dynamic population that is overwhelmingly proud of their little neighborhood. More more information on the history of Harlem, I recommend checking out the wikipedia article here.

Once Chris and I got up to street level, we decided to complete our walk across town and catch a glimpse of the Hudson River and New Jersey. One our way we came across the Cotton Club, a historic nightclub. I should mention here that I dropped my camera the other night and it’s in need of some repairs before I can take pictures again. 😦

We saw also some other notable sites, including the Apollo Theater, Clinton’s Tower, and Whitecastle. If you have never been to Whitecastle before, don’t change that. On our way back East along 125th Street, Chris found a shoe store and proceeded to buy some very snazzy dress shoes. I was getting pretty hungry, so we found a little buffet and loaded up styrofoam boxes with soul food. Among my items were baked chicken, black-eyed peas, macaroni and cheese, green beans, and sweet plantains. In the words of Rachel Ray: “yumm-o!” And you can’t complain about a lunch that costs $6. After lunch, we walked around a bit more, and saw hundreds of picketers, protesting the big businesses on 125th Street. I don’t know much about the situation there, but it seems there are quite a few residents who don’t like the Starbucks, H&M’s, Gaps, and other corporate stores that keep popping up.

Tired from walking and our filling meal, the two of us heading to the 4/5/6 station at 125th Street and took the short subway ride back down to my neighborhood. It was a shorter exploration, with not as much to see, but it was still charming to take in the energy of Harlem, along with the beautiful sunshine!

Happy Easter everyone!

Analyze This, That, and the Other Thing.

Look at this image. Is she turning clockwise or counterclockwise? If you focus enough, you may be able to see it either direction, but if your first instinct is clockwise, you are right-brained (creative) and conversely, seeing the dancer spin counterclockwise means you are left-brained (logical).

I’m apparently left-brained. One of the traits of these left-brained nerds is the burden, sorry- I mean tendency of being analytical. I have always known that I am an extremely analytical person. The fact I keep a blog, analyzing myself and daily activities, even writing here an analysis of my analyticity loudly argues the fact I am annoyingly and astonishingly analytical. And admiring alliteration. Always. Anyhow…

I have lately gotten stuck in a rut, thanks to my inability to stray from my preconceived notions of what my blog “should” look like. Which is ridiculous. Why would I get hung up on such a small detail? (Or would it be “hanged” up? thought Ashley after typing that sentence.) Weeks and weeks ago, I planned a Know York adventure with my good friend Jess, to the charming and unique West Village neighborhood. I was so blinded by the thought of neatly summarizing centuries of fascinating history and anecdotes that it prevented me from sharing with my “bleaders” (a term I am confessedly borrowing from one of my recent reads, “Julie and Julia…” Blog + readers = bleaders) the fun experiences I created for myself on my adventure. Isn’t that what it’s really about? My analytical mind wanders the far reaches of possibility, wondering what other formulated template I could adapt, how it would affect the overall presentation of my site, etcetera etcetera etcetera STOP.

We are now spinning clockwise. And continue. Uninhibited. Hell, crack open a beer.

KNOW YORK – WEEK SEVEN – WEST VILLAGE WITH THE AWESOMELY FABULOUS JESS

IF you want to know the history of the West Village, google it. It’s in Manhattan, on the west side, down below Chelsea. We met on Bleecker street and headed West, towards everything good. (Though the East side of Bleecker street is equally spectacular. I should add here, most of my details will probably be wrong, considering we actually took this trip about a month ago. Our first place of business was Magnolia Bakery – a super cool establishment that offers yummy cupcakes for about $2. After waiting in line with the other panting patrons, we finally got our digits on these two beautifully delicious cupcakes. How fab?!

Then we walked all around the funky and fantastic “village.” This is a neighborhood I would LOVE to inhabit. I know that I say that about every place I explore, but I truly mean it here.

Then we saw the most narrow house in Manhattan. 9 1/2 feet wide. To put things in perspective, think about Yao Ming. He’s practically that tall. (Once you pass 7 feet, it’s all the same.) Apparently, this building has been around for quite awhile, and some cool people like Ernest Hemmingway lived there. I don’t know, google it.

On our way we went, passing the historic “Chumley’s,” a prohibition era bar at 86 Bedford Street, hence the term “86 that.” We also spotted some puppies for sale in a window and the infamous “Gay Street.” Hahahahaha lolz oh-em-gee did you buy that poster on the street and like woah, are you in middle school? Sarcasm doesn’t translate well in bright green.

For whatever reason, I had predetermined our lunching spot of the day, because I really wanted to try oysters for the first time in my life. So on to our lunch spot, “Fish,” on Bleecker. $8 gets you six raw oysters with various sauces and your choice of wine or beer. I chose wine and was a bit squeamish as the curious looking creatures arrived, chilling in a platter of crushed ice and broken dreams (of creating pearls). The first one was a little tricky. It got stuck on the shell, but I eventually got it in my mouth. Not bad. Pretty good, actually. I need to try it again.

So ten bucks were spent and good times were had. Alright. There you go. I had to get this down since I am exploring West Harlem tomorrow. Wish me (and my right-brain) luck.

Okay I’m back on board. For now. At least I think.

"Know York" – Week Six: Upper West Side

Week Six?! Time flies when you’re having fun. After a long night of improv and post-show debauchery, I set out Saturday afternoon to explore one of the most “stereotypically New York” New York neighborhoods. Think… Seinfeld.

Week Six: Upper West Side

Where is that exactly?
Though one might gather the indication of location from the neighborhood’s name, I thought I would take the liberty of explaining the exact borders of the Upper West Side. The area stretches from the Hudson River to Central Park and from 59th Street up to _________. Okay, New Yorkers cannot agree of the exact ending point of the UWS. If you asked a Realtor, he would tell you the area encompasses Washington Heights. If you asked Woody Allen, he’d claim the border is strictly 110th Street. I’ll let you decide. Whatever the case, I actually stayed South of 83rd Street. I only had about four hours. To truly explore the Upper West Side you would need an apartment conveniently located around 75th and Amsterdam. Hey Dad, I know you have been thinking of investing in real estate….

History:
Just like most New York City neighborhoods, the Upper West Side is overflowing with historical significance. Originally named the “Bloomingdale District” (from the Dutch “Bloemendaal”), the West Side was a sprawling countryside landscape containing summer homes of the city’s elite. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, more and more suburban villas were built and the neighborhood eventually declined as lower class residents began to fill squatters’ housing and seedy taverns. Haha, “seedy taverns.” That just made me laugh out loud. After 1904, with the arrival of subway stations, the Upper West Side quickly boomed and became an ethnic melting pot. During WWII, a large population of German and European Jews came to New York and settled in the Upper West Side, creating a rich and vibrant Jewish culture. Today, the neighborhood is still bustling with diversity and tradition, lending itself as the backdrop to many “New York” movies and television shows.

Ashley and Sydney’s DAY OF FUN:
I met up with another improv buddy, Sydney, for our adventure to the Upper West Side. We traversed Central Park on foot as we discussed the happenings of Friday night, complete with his admitting to eating the equivalent of an entire pizza pie. Nice. All this talk of food got us off to a good start on our quest for some lunchtime fare. We went with a traditional New York fast food: Gray’s Papaya. This place sells two honkin’ franks with a soda for $3.50. Pretty good deal, in my opinion. Dogs eaten, caffeine consumed, we headed out for some exploration. $3.50 spent. One of the best parts of this day was certainly just walking through the streets and admiring the beautiful architecture. I’ve never seen a neighborhood so uniformly unique. (Is that an oxymoron?) We found the smallest park in Manahttan, “Septuagesimo Uno,” which you might know of if you’ve seen the mediocre movie “Little Manhattan.” But don’t put it on your Netflix folks, it’s not good. The park is about the size of a New York townhouse, nestled in between two residences like the center of an Oreo. Nice analogy, Ash. After our little discovery, we wandered up Broadway and made our way to the best store ever, Zabar’s. This store is so New York. It was a busy Saturday afternoon, so we faced our fair share of gourmet yuppies (I’m a self-proclaimed gourmet yuppy) and Jewish grandmas. We were lucky enough to wind our way through the store on a gastronomical enterprise, tasting cheeses, prosciutto, hummus, and sausage. Sydney added that I should note: $0.00 spent. Or “free ninety-nine,” to quote Kanye. After leaving the store, we knew we should start mentally preparing for the real Everest of the day, the Natural History Museum, by grabbing a cup of coffee. We found a cute little shop (after passing about ten Starbucks) and ordered a small coffee for the road. $1.50 spent. Did I mention Saturday was a beautiful day? It was a little chilly, but the sun was out and everyone seemed in a cheery mood. Until…. we got to the museum. It was quite amusing to observe many museum-goers on the verge of a mental breakdown. This is what happens when you go to a world-famous museum on a beautiful, albeit chilly, Saturday. Stroller heaven. The Museum of Natural History has a “suggested admission” of $20, but Sydney flashed his corporate card and we got in for free, guilt free. $0.00 spent. This was my first time to the museum, but I had been aching to go since watching “Night at the Museum” with Ben Stiller. The place is gargantuan. I think that every New Yorker should go, just to experience the shear awesomeness of the mammal exhibits. Check out the “Squid and the Whale” at left. I wish I would have had a little extra dinero, because the planetarium is high on my list of things to do in New York City, especially after my recent viewing of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” After a couple hours of indulging in natural history, our legs and feet were barking, so we headed out and hopped on a crosstown bus. Not a bad adventure, to say the least… and I only spent $5.00!

"Know York" – Week Five: Park Slope

This weekend was reserved for one of the neighborhoods I was looking forward to most – Park Slope. One of my improv buddies, Victor, just relocated to the area a couple months ago after moving out of Manhattan, so we ventured out to explore together. Despite the dropping temperatures and wind chill, we had a nice adventure, all in a ten dollar budget!

Week Four: Park Slope, Brooklyn
Where is that exactly?
Park Slope is in the western part of Brooklyn, bounded by Prospect Park and Fourth Avenue, Flatbush Avenue and Sixteenth Street. Seventh Avenue and Fifth Avenue are the “main drags,” while the east-west side streets boast the famous Brooklyn brownstones from the late nineteenth century. There are a variety of ways to get there – I took the R train to Victor’s apartment, then took the F train back to make a stop in the East Village on my way back.

History:

Well, Park Slope is another one of those neighborhoods in New York City that is perpetually on the rise, getting more and more elite. In 2006, Natural Home magazine named Park Slope one of America’s ten best neighborhoods, rated by parks, gathering spaces, farmer’s markets and gardens, public transportation, locally-owned businesses, and environmental and social policy. Historically, Park Slope was developed during the 19th century, and was classified as one of the richest neighborhoods in the nation. The area of Prospect Park West was known as the “Gold Coast,” named for its sprawling Victorian mansions lining the park. (Think of it as an equivalent of Fifth Avenue or Central Park West.) Here’s a little trivia for you – most of you know that the LA Dodgers are originally from Brooklyn, but they actually started as the “Brooklyn Atlantics,” and played at Washington Park in the heart of Park Slope! The park was later destroyed in a fire, and the team was passed around from borough to borough until it ended up in…. Los Angeles. In the 1950’s, Park Slope observed a drastic social decline as the middle-class families fled to suburbia, and a new breed of working-class inhabited the neighborhood. Things didn’t start to change until the 90’s, when young dot-comers and professionals moved out of the rising rents of Manhattan. (Sounds like Williamsburg, huh?) Today the neighborhood seems to be a good mix of young and old, rich and poor, commercial and local. And you know it’s a cool place to live when the neighborhood boasts a large population of actors, musicians, artists, and writers.

So what did you do?

First, I made it over to Victor’s apartment in “South Slope.” One of the nice things of moving out of Manhattan is the luxury of more space. The bedrooms were bigger, the kitchen was huge, and they have an enormous backyard! I guess it’s a trade – more space for a much longer commute. After getting the grand tour, we headed out into the cold to venture up Seventh Avenue for some lunch. Now, in preparing for these little adventures, I have generally had a lot more background information on neighborhoods in Manhattan – so unfortunately, I had not yet planned on dining options in Park Slope. I thought it would be easy to find lunch for $5.00 – $6.00, but we actually spent some considerable time hurrying through the chilly streets before we came across “Mr. Wonton.” This Chinese restaurant was offering a lunch special for $5.50, and we were both quite hungry, so we settled in for some grub. The food was mediocre, but it was nice to drink some hot tea and sit to chat for a little bit. Check out my awesome fortune! After lunch, we continued up Seventh Avenue and popped into the Park Slop Food Coop…. oh. my. GOD. This place is a great market that offers food at about 20-40% off the prices you normally pay at other markets – plus, everyone that works there is also member, so you have great people willing to assist you! The exchange is that to be a member, you must work a 2 and 3/4 hour work-slot every four weeks. But I’m seriously considering joining the coop – simply for their insane prices… they sell some spices for 13 cents! Victor and I continued up Seventh until we reached the Brooklyn Library and Grand Army Plaza. We found a modest farmer’s market and tasted some local fare, including a variety of apples I had never seen before! We also found our way around the tip of the park to see the entrance to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Unfortunately, we had just missed the free admission time slot they offer on Saturday mornings, but I am definitely planning to go back when more flowers start blooming! We turned around and headed down into Prospect Park. I had never realized that Prospect Park was so big! It was a quiet, cold day, so we enjoyed a mostly uninterrupted walk through the curving sidewalks of the area. Check out this sculpture we came across – does anyone else things this looks like a young Opa? or Kyle? After our nature walkabout, we found ourselves back down in Victor’s neighborhood. I reminded him that we still had $2.50 left to spend, so we found ourselves a cozy little coffee shop, and got coffee for $0.90 and cookies – two for $1.00! $1.90 + tip = $2.50 spent. It was nice to sit down after walking all day and just enjoy our caffeine and sugar. Another adventure accomplished! So far, this seems like the neighborhood that most closely matched my personality and style – could I brave that hellish commute to head into Manhattan? Well, at least I work from home…

"Know York" – Week Four: 華埠 (曼哈頓)

Yes, I am referring to the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan. And yes, the Chinese characters above really do mean “Chinatown.”

Week Four: Chinatown, Manhattan
(The largest Chinatown in North America)

Where is that exactly?
Though the traditional borders are smaller, today the neighborhood spans from Delancey Street in the North, to Chambers Street in the South, and from Broadway in the West to East Broadway in the East. The bordering neighborhoods of Chinatown include Little Italy, SoHo, the Lower East Side, and the Financial District. A few subway lines run through and around the neighborhood, including the 6, the J/M/Z, the B/D/and sometimes F, depending on how far you feel like walking. I took the 6 down the Bleeker Street, then walked along East Houston (pronounced “How-stun”) to meet up with Chris at the edge of Little Italy.

History:

Just like many cultural neighborhoods of Manhattan, Chinatown came to be after a large population of one culture moved to the island in an attempt to start anew. When gold became less plentiful in the West, the first people affected were Chinese and other foreigners. The ever-declining post Civil War economy eventually gave way to blaming the Chinese for the depressed wage levels, and California labor groups led the efforts in punishing the immigrant workers in a most unconstitutional way, The Chinese Exclusion Act. I mentioned this to Chris while we ate our lunch outside a Vietnamese deli, and we both reveled in the notion of how ridiculously insane our ancestral Americans were. To give you more information on the Chinese Exclusion Act, check out this article from Wikipedia.

Faced with the discrimination of the West Coast, Chinese immigrants moved East to find jobs. In 1870, Manhattan’s Chinatown district had a population of 200. By 1900, there were 7,000. In the early days, Chinatown was armed with street gangs, largely due to the extreme discrimination from White Americans. The only park in Chinatown, Columbus Park, was built on what was once the hub of gang activity, known as the “Five Points” neighborhood of Manhattan. During the 1800’s, Five Points was the bloodiest and violent slum of immigrant New York. During the 1960’s, The U.S. finally got their “act” together to pass the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, allowing more immigrants from Asia into the country. At this time, the community of Chinatown expanded drastically, and today has grown to encompass parts of Little Italy and the Lower East Side. The neighborhood is truly a cultural experience, but the disturbing history behind the streets still lingers on, immortalized in winding streets and old tenement buildings.

Day of 樂趣 (fun):

So like I mentioned, Chris and I met up on Houston and Bowery, then walked down Bowery to look at all the restaurant supply stores. He had told me about an amazing Vietnamese sandwich place around the corner, so we headed over to Broome Street for lunch. Upon first walking into the place, I was blown away by two things: 1) the beautiful assortment of goods for sale (at left) and 2) the incredibly cheap food they were selling. It seemed like robbery. The store was filled with so many products I had never even seen before. The service was friendly, the music was great, what could possible go wrong? $3.95 spent.We got our sandwiches, mine with pork and his with chicken, and proceeded to enjoy their deliciousness. After eating, we headed back down Mott Street, and winded our way through a Chinese supermarket, a cheese shop, and a bakery (we were still near Little Italy). I have to say, it felt so humorous to be walking through the market, as Chris and I are both very tall white people – we stood out…. just a little bit, I think. Remember when I asked what could possibly go wrong? Well, it turned out that there was some sort of peanut product in the sandwich Chris ate, and did I mention he’s allergic to peanuts? He made it seem like he was going to be fine and he just was going to head home – he peaced out and I kept exploring. After making my way back up Bowery and stopping into the Dragon Bakery for a sweet bun ($0.80 spent), Chris informed me he was indeed in the E.R. I felt like a terrible person for letting him leave alone when he was really having a deathly allergy attack, so I cut the rest of my exploration a little short. Even though it was only a half day, I had a lot of fun and look forward to going back down to maybe actually (gasp) BUY somethings from a Chinese market. After spending only $4.75 for the day, I can certainly afford it!

"Know York" – Week Three: Chelsea

Yeah, yeah, yeah… this is delayed but it’s HERE!

Week Three: Chelsea, Manhattan
Where is that exactly?
On the West Side of Manhattan, Chelsea is just below Hell’s Kitchen and the Garment District, and just above Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District. The neighborhood stretches from the Hudson River across to Sixth Avenue. Both the A-C-E and 1-2-3 subway lines run through Chelsea, but I decided to stretch out my walk and get off the 7 train at 5th Avenue/Bryant Park (nearest cross-street 42nd).
History:

Chelsea was named for the the Moore family’s Federal-style house of the same name, which took its name from the manor of Chelsea, near London. “Chelsea” occupied a full block between Ninth and Tenth Avenues south of 23rd Street, but was later replaced by high quality row houses in the mid-19th century. By 1900, the neighborhood was primarily Irish, and was home to the many workers of the Piers. The borders of Chelsea had also expanded from Eighth Avenue all the way to Sixth Avenue. Before World War I, Chelsea was an early center for the motion picture industry. Today, the neighborhood is mostly residential, with a good mix of tenements, apartments, and rehabilitated warehousing. A large gay population thrives here, as well as an increasing number of art galleries, excellent nightlife, and diverse restaurants.


And what did you do?

Well, as I mentioned, I started my walk from Bryant Park near Times Square, and headed down Sixth Avenue (the Eastern-most border of Chelsea). Along this stretch, one can find multitudes of craft stores and whole-sale priced bags and shoes. I happened to come across a row of Bead shops, where I spotted this amazing seating area outside “for husbands.” (You might have to click on the picture to get a better view.) I then cut in West on 37th to walk by the infamous fabric store “Mood” – if you watch Project Runway, you know exactly what I’m talking about. This area of NYC was particularly inspiring for me, as I have lately been thinking that I’d like to start some sewing projects. It has been sew long. [Insert obligatory laugh to Ashley’s pun here.] I was a little intimidated to actually step inside Mood, so I resolved to instead stand from across the street and stare. Maybe I can work up the courage for next time… Next, I headed down 7th Avenue, or the aptly-named “Fashion Avenue” and continued to gawk at the beautiful fabrics in shop windows – though it should not be withheld that there were MANY horrendous-looking displays down Fashion Avenue. Satisfied with my findings in this part of the neighborhood, I headed further West and then down 10th Avenue to end up in the Gallery District of Chelsea. Walking West on 24th Street, I popped into a number of exquisite galleries – my favorite of which was the Yigal Ozeri collection at the Mike Weiss Gallery. Filling full of culture, I realized that my belly was devoid of food, so I continued down 10th and over to the teens. I was surrounded by some beautiful architecture here, and even came across a church which offers its services in German! I must add here that… I want to live in Chelsea sooooooo bad. Sew bad. It’s the neighborhood that houses the UCB Theater, it’s just below the Theater District of Times Square, walking distance to great art/culture/dining/nightlife. What more could you ask for? Anyhow… around the corner, I found myself at Room Service at 18th Street and 8th Avenue. This Thai restaurant is a self-proclaimed “Bangkok Contemporary Kitchen” and boasts an extensive menu plus a lavish and creative dining-room concept. The idea is that you should feel like you are in a fancy hotel dining by, you guessed it- Room Service. I ordered the $6 lunch special, which included Pad Thai and a green salad with peanut dressing – a great deal for some fantastic service! $6.00 + $1.50 = $7.50 spent. Chelsea Market, on 9th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets. This “industrial-chic hotspot” resides in the historic Nabisco factory, which now houses gourmet restaurants and stores, bakeries, coffee shops, and live music. I immediately walked into Eleni’s a bakery studded with multi-colored cup cakes. I decided upon a chocolate cupcake with butter-cream frosting and shredded coconut. The perfect dessert! $2.00 spent. >As I strolled around enjoying my cupcake, I notice the Chelsea Wine Vault and decided to check it out. I sampled some gin and some Argentinean wines and decided on a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc as a birthday gift for Natalie. (Not a part of my $10 budget!) Well, my day seemed to be winding down, and I knew that I needed to get home to get ready for Natalie’s birthday evening. With 50 cents left to spare, I headed into Chelsea Market Baskets, and blew the rest of my budget on some candies! $0.50 spent. A day well “spent!”