New York: NYC 2005
Daniel Emberley, 2005
Our friends who teach at Columbia were kind enough to again loan us their apartment for the month of August. We were able to visit for three long weekends, thanks to cheap Greyhound fares. Here’s what we saw and did, keep or trash. If you want an overview of the city, refer to last year’s write-up, now up on the Web at http://www.emberleysos.com/new_york.htm (how’s that for a shameless plug of my business <grin>)?
NY Botanical Garden: This was our only excursion into the Bronx, still lots to see and do up there. The gardens are magnificent, with the most amazing greenhouses we’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, between them the Garden and the Bronx Zoo have completely eaten up the once-public Bronx Park, put fences around their facilities, and charge admission. They’ve taken a public amenity and privatized it for the benefit of rich Manhattanites and to the detriment of poor Bronx residents. At least the Zoo put entrance gates near the subway. Botanic Garden has their entrance off the commuter train station from Grand Central, a half hour walk around the fence from the 2 and 4 subways. Uncivilized behavior from an institution that should be for all New Yorkers.
Deli: Artie's, Junior’s: We were let down by our old favorite deli, Junior’s, in Brooklyn. Yes, they still sell the panoply of great Jewish cuisine, with our favorite matzoh ball soup, tongue sandwiches, and complementary pickles. Unfortunately, the service is getting sloppy, with many of the staff not really knowing what Jewish food is. In its place we’ve enshrined Artie’s, Upper West Side on Broadway between 82nd and 83rd. All the kosher cuisine you could ask for, and waitresses with a friendly but no-nonsense attitude. A shame they don’t have Junior’s cheesecake selection, but after a pastrami special, who has room for dessert?
Annex Flea Market, 6th between 24th & 27th, Sat & Sun
Greenflea, Columbus & 77th, Sun
New York has terrific flea markets, usually combined with farmers markets, fresh bakery, and crafts people. Annex is in Chelsea, in a parking lot, and had better crafts. Greenflea is in a junior high school and playground on Upper West Side, better antiques/junk, including a great guy who sells paper ephemera (cut-and-paste your own dollhouse, etc.)
SoHo: Continues its slide into shopping mall without a roof. Very few art galleries left, and the old artists lofts are now luxury housing. We tried to hit the Cecilia de Torres Gallery, 140 Greene Street, but Cecilia had closed the gallery to hit the Hamptons, a not uncommon experience in the NYC art world in August.
Chelsea: The gallery scene is firmly ensconced in Chelsea, having jumped the Village following the gays north. Basically, every former warehouse/garage west of the former elevated service railroad (the High Line) is now or will soon be gallery space and loft condos. We got to some terrific shows there:
Cheim & Read, Jenny Holzer, 547 W. 25th
J. Cacciola Gallery, Jeanette Pasin Sloan, 531 W 25th
James Cohan, Bill Owens America, 533 W 26th
Pleiades Gallery, Asian, 530 W 25th
Sean Kelly, Mapplethorpe, 528 W 29th (same pieces as up now at the Guggenheim, but without the $12 cover charge)
Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Warhol portraits, 544 W 26th
If you’re going, expect few of these galleries to still be at the addresses above, things move too quickly. Walk over to the 20’s between 10th and 11th Avenues, pick up a gallery guide, and see what you can see. Adaptation of the spaces can be fantastic, or boring white-walls, but is always fun to explore. Galleries are free. Ask for a price list from the snooty woman dressed in black at the front desk.
When you get tired of art, the retail of Chelsea off of Ninth Avenue is pretty decent. The New York Cake and Baking Company is on one of the side streets in the 20’s; check Yellow Pages for address before heading over. A complete blast, any tool, mold, or ingredient you ever wanted for baking. We added to the cookie cutter supply.
Rubin Museum of Art: Also in Chelsea, the Rubin was opened last year by the former Secretary of Treasury and his wife in a renovated warehouse. They have an amazing collection of art from the Himalayas. Michael and I sort of yawn at Tibetan art, but the space and displays are brilliant, and drew us in. A decent tea room serves as cafeteria: a little pricey, but worth the break it provides. Take the complementary headsets; they help you understand what you’re seeing.
Cooper Hewitt: Our favorite design museum, up at the north end of Central Park, had two fabric-related shows. Current trendy designer Hella Jongerius had been given access to the Museum’s extensive textile collection and created ten new fabric patterns inspired by same; both her inspiration and the finished product were on view. The major show, “Extreme Textiles”, looked at how fabric is being used in everything from heart surgery to space suits to building construction (yes, there are skyscrapers going up now that are essentially woven out of carbon fiber). Very cool.
Harlem: Given that it’s just across Morningside Park from where we were staying, we knew we owed ourselves a walk through Harlem. Gentrification there is in full swing, with the grand apartment buildings and 8-floor tenements housing the most mixed population since German and Irish were block-busted out in the 1910’s to create the African-American neighborhood we all think of. Walked up Adam Clayton Powell, down 125th Street, and around Marcus Garvey Park to the MetroNorth Station. Retail on 125th is looking great, as is appropriate for a street that has such excellent subway service. The miracle is that it was depressed for so long, a testament to the power of America’s mortgage bankers. Row houses along Marcus Garvey (aka, Mt. Morris Park) are beautiful. Found no evidence of the old Italian/Spanish Harlem under the MetroNorth train tracks, that market must be history.
Greenwich Village: The Village is justly one of Manhattan’s great neighborhoods. Despite all the population shifts, it remains fun, comfortable, and laid back, no matter that Italian pizzerias have been replaced by expensive restaurants, and NYU’s architecture just gets uglier every year. Highlights:
Lucien Pellat-Finet: a clothes gallery at 14 Christopher Street. Cashmere sweaters with marijuana and skull patterns woven into them, starting at $10,000. Who can afford this stuff? Once purchased, who would then have a place to wear it?
Mxyplyzyk, design house wares, 123 Greenwich at 13th
Bayard Condit Building: Louis Sullivan’s only New York skyscraper, at 65-69 Bleeker Street near Cooper Union. Terra cotta to die for. Still an office building; the Warhol Visual Arts Foundation is one of the tenants.
Met: The premier art museum in America; too big to see in one go. Fantastic Chanel show comparing work of Coco Chanel and her designer-heir Karl Lagerfeld. Amazing to see how prescient Coco was, often the only difference between 1920’s glam and 1980’s glam was use of synthetics or Velcro. Decent Newport cabinetry show; Colonial furniture never looked so good, just behind the Frank Lloyd Wright room in the American Wing. Show of textiles owned by Matisse paired with paintings he used them in as props. Sol LeWitt showing odd fiberglass sculptures on the roof, with the tremendous view of Central Park. All great, all too much, be sure to stop for afternoon tea.
Museum of Modern Art: With the recent renovations, MoMA is now officially too big, also, and no less confusing than it was before. Design Galleries continue to shine. Architecture galleries had a show on proposed renovations to the High Line (see “Chelsea”, above) into a public park. Phillip Johnson’s original sculpture garden looking pristine, there are terrific views of it and his AT&T Building from several spaces in the building. Temporary shows were of American photographer Lee Friedlander (excellent), and comparing Post-Impressionists Cezanne and Pissarro (a little dull, didn’t really prove their thesis).
Mount Vernon Hotel and Garden: This was once called the Abigail Adams Smith Museum. It is the former stables of a Colonial estate on the East Side. The plantation house is long gone, but the stables became a country inn during the 1820’s. The Colonial Dames have run as a museum since 1924. Is pretty cool stone structure, totally surrounded by glass and steel high-rises. Of course, is closed in August, but worth the walk around the gardens. 421 E 61st (1st and York). Pair with a visit to Roosevelt Island via the nearby tram terminal, Bloomingdales, and/or the Conrans store near the Queensboro Bridge, and you’ve got yourself a full afternoon.
NY Historical Society: I’d been last year, but Michael hadn’t. They were showing Hudson River School paintings, which were more intelligible since we’d scene many of the sites depicted last year on our Hudson driving tour. The museum is fantastic, with semi-open stacks on the top level that are a cross between galleries and a cleaned-up attic.
Grand Central Station: Recent restorations have been very good to the building, and the commuters who use it every day. Go for the star ceiling in the grand waiting room, the branch of the NY Transit Museum near the Stationmaster’s Office, and the food court one level down. Museum was showing how the subway has been depicted in the movies, great fun. Across the street is Altria world headquarters, nee Philip Morris. The Whitney Altria branch is small and the current exhibit lame, but I was glad to see the space, at 120 Park at 42nd. Don’t worry, it’s regularly re-hung, and could be showing something cool when you go. Plus, it’s free.
P.S.1, Red Hook: Once a surplus public school, P.S. 1 was taken over two decades back by a bunch of artists who made it one of America’s premier alternative art spaces. Then they ran out of money, and were absorbed by MoMA. Get to Long Island City in Queens, get off the subway at Courthouse, and go. Is an incredibly rich layering of old and current installations, with many of the older shows by once unknown and now famous artists lingering in bathrooms, stairwells, and basements. Current show is the second version of “Greater New York”, supposedly the best in contemporary art being made in the five boroughs today. Picture D.C.’s Art-O-Matic, but with a curator to throw out the worst of the dreck. Fun. From there you can catch the G train, the only subway line that does not go through Manhattan, south into Brooklyn. We took it down to Cobble Hill, a trendy neighborhood south of Brooklyn Heights. We walked southwest to Red Hook, formerly the piers where spices, coffee, and bananas entered the northern United States. The docks are mainly abandoned, but are starting to be converted to housing, artists lofts, and (eventually) an IKEA. The draw was the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition, an open show of artists who work in and around Red Hook. Proving the need for curators, this stuff made Art-O-Matic look good. Who knew they had bad art in New York <smile>? BWAC is way at the end of a pier, pick up the bus that runs down Van Brunt to save you a boring 45-minute walk to 499 Van Brunt.
Jersey City and Hoboken: Our continuing search of “where do New Yorkers live, and would we want to buy a condo there?” took us across the PATH trains to New Jersey. PATH is a completely independent subway system that runs under the Hudson between Newark/Jersey City and Wall Street/Penn Station. In addition, Newark and Bergen County each run their own subway/light rail systems, so there are a multitude of transit options on the Jersey side. We started at Journal Square in Jersey City. This was not as run down as Newark (see 2004), but still suffered greatly from urban renewal in the 1970’s. The concrete egg-crate over the Journal Square PATH station looks like something out of Logan’s Run. The downtown itself has potential, with a great former Loew’s theater, ringed by several Victorian and later neighborhoods. We walked to the Jersey City Museum, and did a walking tour around the Van Vorst Park Historic District. The park is beautifully restored, and the Eastlake, Italianate, and Queen Anne residences surrounding terrific. Not Park Slope terrific, or Dupont, but you can see they’re trying. Funky coffee shops and craft stores have opened up, and there is a strong gay presence. Definitely, this neighborhood is a contender.
Hoboken is due north. We could probably have taken the Bergen Light Rail, but instead walked north to the Holland Tunnel and caught PATH up to Hoboken. If you do this, watch the transfer at Pavonia/Newport. The Hoboken station is the former Erie Lackawanna Rail Terminal: a great green copper building bridging ferry piers, above ground rail, and subway. Before the Penn Central built tunnels under the Hudson River, this is how New York connected to the rest of America: ferry from West Side to Hoboken, and onto a train here. It’s south and east of most of the city, separated by the lovely Frank Sinatra Park along the Hudson. West side is lined by luxury condo towers from the last decade, with drop dead views of lower Manhattan. We walked north through the park, up the hill that is the Case Institute of Technology campus. It would be worth going to Case just for the dorm rooms with Manhattan views. Down the hill to the west is Washington Street, Hoboken’s main shopping drag. Lots of women’s clothing stores, theme restaurants, and ice cream shops, some still run by friendly old Italian ladies. Overall, though, Hoboken was a disappointment: too much money, not enough imagination, a place for boring straight people. Like Bethesda, Brookline, or Rice Village; not our world.
Yonkers: Our friend Gene had invited us to visit him in Yonkers, north of the Bronx. We caught the MetroNorth train up from Harlem, and were off at the Bronxville station 30 minutes later. A beautiful old railroad suburb, with luxury shopping and restaurants and prices to match. Great housing stock, that looks like it has never been poor since built in the 1890’s-1920’s. Like Forest Hills, in Queens, some terrific Tudor-style apartment complexes, but very white bread, very Westchester. They have a good Woolworth’s-like store with big toy department.
Shows: We started many days at the half-price TKTS booth on Fulton Street. On Fulton, west of South Street Seaport, is an L&N Hawaiian Plate Lunch franchise, selling tasty and filling rice/barbecue/coleslaw plates. Who knew that macaroni salad is a Honolulu staple <smile>? We only paid list to see Dolly Parton, rest of the shows below were at 50% off or better, which made possible our seeing so many.
Broadway – Beauty and the Beast, Hairspray, Light in the Piazza, Sweet Charity: All of these had excellent production values and decent performances. None of them were so amazingly performed to write about, except Light, which still has its original performers. Music was more operatic than show tune, but good storyline. Wonderful scene of a fighting Italian family, with commentary by the mother. Performed at Lincoln Center, which Michael had never seen, so worth it for that alone.
Off Broadway – Joy, and Oedipus in Palm Springs: Both down in the Village. Joy is headlined by the guy in the Dell ads, who was probably the weakest performance of this ensemble of seven gay couples falling in and out of love in San Francisco in the 1990’s. Oedipus was written and performed by The Five Lesbian Brothers, their take on what would happen if Oedipus happened amongst L.A. power lesbians – sort of The L-Word and Aeschylus Cuisinarted together. Did not work as either comedy or tragedy, sadly. More naked female flesh than we had ever seen live; we did not need Row B for that education. Gravity is apparently even less kind to the adult female form than it is to us guys <smile>.
Dolly Parton – At Radio City, absolutely brilliant. The New York stop of her “Vintage” tour; she plays more instruments than we knew existed in country music. Lots of covers of 1960’s protest songs, look for the CD coming out this fall, will be worth it. Again, Michael had never been in Radio City, radiant in its Art Deco glory. We got stepped on by a bunch of drunk Irish au pairs who kept visiting with friends a few rows over, eventually they shifted for good, or we might have had to start a little range war right there in the second mezzanine.
Buying a condo: One of our agendas, both last year and this, was to get to see a lot of neighborhoods we’d heard about, but never seen. When we get the house and condo paid off in a few years, we hope to buy a little studio somewhere in greater New York. Our judgment at this point is to go for something on Manhattan south of 14th Street. All the areas we saw are worth living in, with many cool features. However, if we’re getting a vacation home, we need to make sure it is convenient to the maximum number of ways in and out of the City, and the only place we really see that is downtown. Fortunately, the options are myriad, from Tribeca to Chinatown, the Village and SoHo to Lower East Side, 1860’s row houses to converted Wall Street lofts. We’ll keep you posted with progress!
Here’s what was on our list of things to see and do that we didn’t get to. Guess it’s true that when you’re tired of New York, you’re tired of life <smile>.
Arthur Avenue/Little Italy
Bronx Museum of the Arts
Hall of Fame of Great Americans
Brooklyn Children’s Museum
Brooklyn Museum, Monet's London
Dumbo Arts Center, 30 Washington Street, Th-Mo 10-6
Sahadi, Atlantic Avenue: Syrian community?
Asia Society: Indonesia photos, Japan/Indonesia Dance, to 8/21
Chelsea Art Museum, Goya plus, 556 W 22nd, Tu-Sa noon-6
Chelsea, Theological Seminary grounds
Circle Line, Pier 83 (42nd Street) or Pier 16 (South Street Seaport)
Costa del Sol, 742 West 9th
Craig E. Starr, Wayne Thiebaud, 5 East 73rd, M-F 11-5
Governor’s Island (ferry from Fulton Street, www.nps.gov/gois)
Guggenheim: Art of Tomorrow, to 8/10; Mapplethorpe to 8/24
International Center of Photography, 1133 6th at 43rd
Little India? 6th St bet. 1st & 2nd Ave.
Mount Vernon Hotel and Garden, 421 E 61st (1st and York)
Pergola des Artistes, 252 West 46th bet B'way and 8th
Spanish Harlem? Park Avenue under the railroad bridge
Studio Museum (Schomburg Center?)
Tea/drink at the Plaza
Ukranian Museum, Alexander Archipenko, E 6th St.
Whitney, Banks Violette, Invented Worlds, Robert Smithson
American Museum of the Moving Image
Gantry Plaza State Park, 49th & East River
Crimson Beech (FLWright house), Jacques Marchais Museum Tibetan Art
Historic Richmond Town
Staten Island Institute Arts & Sciences
New Brunswick, Rutgers, Zimmerli Art Museum