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  • Category Archives Bars Clubs and Fetes
  • Fashion’s Night Out

    If you’re the type of person who likes a party and trusts the advice of Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Kendall Jenner, campaigners for the event, Fashion’s Night Out might be to your liking. Over 700 stores throughout New York City participate in this annual, international event. Here, in SoHo, the streets were overflowing and abuzz with fashionistas.

    Participating stores are open late – it’s an opportunity to shop of course, and there are also musical performances, free drinks, special deals, and fashion designers and celebrities like Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Kate Spade, and Cyndi Lauper. From Manhattan to Milan, Atlanta to Australia, the after hours shopping extravaganza celebrated its fourth year. With stores in over 500 cities nationwide, FNO was bigger and better than ever before. Their mission statement:

    Fashion’s Night Out is an unprecedented global initiative created in 2009 to celebrate fashion, restore consumer confidence, boost the industry’s economy during the recession, and put the fun back in shopping! In the United States, the program is a collaboration between American Vogue, the Council of Fashion Designers of America, NYC & Company, and the City of New York.

    New York City, along with Paris, Milan, and London, is one of the world’s principal fashion capitals. New York is headquarters to more than 900 fashion companies and hosts one of four major Fashion Weeks. It is home to many Creative Experts and top fashion design schools, such as Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, and FIT. Fashion is a major part of the city’s economy – fashion manufacturing is 31% of all manufacturing jobs in New York City. The garment district is one of the few remaining manufacturing industries left in New York. The city’s fashion retail market is the country’s largest, generating over $15 billion in sales annually.

    Personally, I do not partake in the event, but for those that do, it’s the biggest party in town. Fashion’s Night Out…

  • It’s Time to Start

    It was late night in Key West, and I was strolling along Duval Street, the main thoroughfare. Here, like in New York City, bars close at 4 AM. However, unlike New York City, selling alcohol and drinking is allowed on the streets. Kiosks dot Duval Street, where blended drinks can be had, made right on the spot. Late-night revelers spill into the streets from the bars, many of them infamous like Sloppy Joe’s.

    However, I do not drink, so my attention was drawn to other kiosks, particularly ones selling snorkeling day trips to the Great Florida Reef – the world’s 3rd largest and only barrier reef in the continental United States. The reef extends 170 miles and is located a few miles offshore, just a short trip away from the chain of island keys themselves.

    This wonderment is very alien to a New Yorker, and visiting the reef seemed like one of the best things to do in the Florida Keys – exploring the marine environment. Price competition was cutthroat for excursions to the reef – good news for the consumer. My companion and I chose and reserved space on a spanking clean catamaran for only $27. The fee included round trip fare to the reef, snorkeling equipment rental, instruction on the use of the equipment, and an unlimited open bar (alcohol only on the return trip).

    And so we arrived to the dock the next day and boarded ship for what was one of the most memorable explorations of the natural world I have ever known. We were given our snorkeling and safety equipment, provided a lesson, arrived at our destination, and moored near the reef for several hours. We jumped into the clean, clear aquamarine ocean – a virtual aquarium brimming with sealife of every description.

    On the return trip, the bar was open for alcoholic drinks, and I was not pleased with two of our travel companions – young guys, frat boy types. It was early afternoon, and they appeared to already be poised for the business of serious drinking. It is one of my personal irritants – people who feel that alcohol is a NECESSARY condition for fun and that parties, outings, and socializing without alcohol is boring, as are people who do not share their love.
    It was only 4:30 PM, and the dialogue went something like this:

    Boy 1: I’m going to the bar. Do you want anything?
    Boy 2: What time is it?
    Boy 1: 4:30.
    Boy 2: Sure. It’s time to start.

    Time to start drinking, that is. Those are the words that ring in my head to this day, often when I see excessive drinking or bars. I see a guy on a catamaran making a smug, confident statement that the serious and necessary business of getting drunk was a job to be done without question and that apparently, 4:30 PM was the beginning of the work shift, when responsible workers know that It’s Time To Start :)

    Related Posts: Sober Kids in India, SantaCon, Surly Santas, Oktoberfest New York, McSorley’s

  • Hopping

    As a young boy growing up outside New York City, swamps and forests were the environs of choice for exploration. My best friend, Jaime, whom I know is reading these words, can attest to that, and our daily adventures brought us great joy and finds. There was nothing like a swamp for all manner of critters. Sometimes, following the lead of frogs who traversed ponds and swamps on lily pads, we would also travel across these waters, hopping onto tufted outgrowths. As might be expected, landing on such small targets and balancing for the next hop was often unsuccessful, and the drying of soaked sneakers and socks became the order of the late afternoon.

    In New York City, one can span dry land by bar hopping. This recreation is pursued by many, and evidence of such is best seen around 4 AM, closing time for bars, as the streets of the city are flooded with inebriated late-night revelers desperate for a taxi. In the colder months, groups of shivering, scantily clad girls can be seen competing for taxis which, at that hour, are in severe undersupply. The neighborhood with the highest concentration of bars in New York City is the East Village – not a big surprise. So if you are looking to bar hop, that’s the place to go.

    In the world of cyberspace, hypertext linking has become the new vehicle for those inclined to move. But, be it bars, swamps, or cyberspace, in time, one does weary of hopping or linking, and coming to rest and exploring and enjoying what is at hand becomes appealing.

    If you tire of bar hopping and are looking for the latest or coolest place (such as Death), then you may want to make the journey to Woodhaven, Queens, where you will find the antithesis of the East Village scene. Here, in a residential neighborhood at the corner of 78th Street and 88th Avenue, is Neir’s Tavern, what some say is the oldest bar in New York City. This is very much a local place, established in 1829 as the Blue Pump Room.

    The places exudes the charm and authenticity that many seek in a city where such places are rapidly disappearing. I ventured there one night to see the Lori Behrman band. The bar was where the Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas was filmed. There is live music four nights per week with no cover charge. They also claim the coldest tap beer in town, with a centuries-old beer system using packed ice to cool the beer coils to a temperature just above freezing. And fear not the pangs of wanderlust – there’s free WiFi for those who can’t resist Hopping :)

    Related Posts: No Red Faces, The Ear Inn, Gotta Get Out, Shrine to Kitsch, Claims and Hooks

  • Waiting at Death’s Door

    Taking photos in public is a tricky matter, particularly in New York City with such an extraordinary number of extraordinary subjects, both human and inanimate. However, many individuals, including photographers, are unclear as to the exact nature of the laws or their rights regarding photography in public. Basically, any person or thing in public view may be photographed and the images published without giving consent, as long as they are for editorial purposes, i.e., they do not appear in an advertisement. There are mitigating circumstances, however, where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as shooting someone in a bathroom in a home who is visible from a public space.

    Recently, while exploring the East Village at night, I came across an intriguing attractive storefront clad in wood. It was the classic, deliberately mysterious front with no windows and nothing to indicate what the place was. On closer examination, there was a small sign and matching nameplate set in the sidewalk that quietly proclaimed “Death & Co.”

    A lone couple waited outside to get in. I spoke to them – they were from out of the country and were told that they absolutely HAD to visit this place. I learned that it was a cocktail lounge – tres chic, trendy, and hard to get into. They were apparently told that they had to wait. I quickly slipped inside to get a look. It was an extremely striking interior but, ironically, had many free tables. I have no idea if the tables were reserved, however, it seemed reminiscent of the type of establishment that manufactures a sense of exclusivity and desirability by forcing prospective patrons to wait in line. This is a ploy long used by New York City nightclubs – places such as Studio 54 and the Mud Club were notorious for their policies of exclusion. Hordes would wait outside, each person hoping to be a lucky one chosen for admission.

    Soon, a young reservationist appeared with a clipboard. I was told that I could not take photos of the exterior. A slight altercation ensued. I informed her that I had a right to do so and that if she liked, we could call the police and review my rights to do so.

    She went inside and returned with the owner. He was quite polite and asked the reasons for my photography. I explained this website and gave him a card for New York Daily Photo. He apologized for his reservationist and agreed, of course, that I had the right to photograph a door on the streets of New York City. He gave me his card – a mysterious, understated thing with Death & Co on the face and Frankie Rodriguez with contact information on the reverse. He offered me the opportunity for a photo shoot of the interior at a future time before business hours.

    I promised to return. I asked the owner the reason for their notoriety. He answered that their drinks were very exotic, with unusual ingredients researched by the bartenders. Many reviewers online found Death & Co well worth the ordeal to get in. A number of others had similar issues as I did with the reservationist. Hey, but what do you expect Waiting at Death’s Door? :)

    Note about their name. From their website:
    In 1919, the Volstead Act brought a swift end to nightlife and the refined craft of the American bartender was outlawed. It was thought that to drink alcohol was to live a life shadowed by death. It was thought by some that these were death and company.

    Related Posts: In a Different Light, The Dark Side, The Core Club

  • Off-White by Design

    At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I must tell you that I really don’t like being in my apartment much. I say ungrateful because although I have worked hard like many, I have also been lucky. And to live in an 1837 landmark townhouse on Washington Square is one of the rare privileges afforded very few in New York City.

    Notice that I said apartment rather than home. The reason is simple: my place does not feel much like a home, for which I take full responsibility. It has not been decorated at all. Even the Shaker style, for all its spartan utilitarianism, at least has a style, grace, and aesthetic. I’m embarrassed to say and hate to admit, perhaps my place has devolved into a bachelor pad with a hint of hope.

    Recently I was strolling home from my office via Mercer Street. An exquisitely appointed retail interior caught the eye of a friend, who immediately recognized the furnishings as the Shabby Chic style of Rachel Ashwell, a woman whom she much admired and many of whose books she had acquired. She wandered inside. I waited outside at first but soon decided to explore the store myself. The shop had an extraordinary feel. Truly inviting and homey, a place you want to just linger in. And we did. See my photo gallery here.

    I was pleased to learn that Rachel Ashwell herself would be present for a book signing in just a few days, so I discussed with the staff my desire to return for the signing, meet Rachel, take photos, and do a story. The staff was extremely amenable, befitting my entire experience there. I was given a green light, and so, with cameras in tow, I returned last night for the small happening. It amazes me how so many such fetes with notables are going on concurrently in New York City.

    I know nothing of the Shabby Chic style, but it is immediately apparent that although there is a casual nature to the decor, nothing is really left to whim. The messy, mushy, wrinkled, and time-worn comfort is deliberate – every element is given thoughtful consideration, even down to the white pencils, offered free. The lighting in the SoHo shop is soft with a yellow cast. Intrigued about the details of the decor, particularly the colors, I asked about the paint, and, as I expected, the precise shade was known and written down for me as per my request – Winbourne White by Farrow and Ball.

    The turnout was not too large or too small. Free appetizers and wine were made available. Everything seemed just right. I waited in line and met Rachel briefly, telling her of this website. She was charming and cordial. I told her of my intentions and left my card.

    We often like our things crisp and clean with hard edges, particularly in a world ruled by the precision of modern technology. We like bright and bold colors and harsh contrasts. In my lifetime, painting a place white meant a pure white. On November 17, 2009, I wrote White by Design. But that’s white, not off-white. My apartment is now painted Atrium white – a stark, bluish white. I never understood the desire for off-white. Why be so muted? I understand now. The world can be a harsh place at times. Who wants to come home more of that? I have seen the light, and it’s a little yellower. I want to come home to a place that evokes the comfort of a time gone by. A place that is soft and Off-White by Design :)

    About Rachel Ashwell: Rachel Ashwell, was born Rachel Greenfield on October 30, 1959, in Cambridge, England and raised in London. Rachel is an author and interior designer who created the Shabby Chic style, opening her first store in 1989 in Santa Monica, California. Her mother restored antique dolls and teddy bears, and her father was a secondhand rare books dealer. While in her teens, Rachel began selling antiques at London outdoor markets, later pursuing a career as in England as a wardrobe and prop stylist for TV commercials and photo shoots. She currently resides in Los Angeles, California.

    Related Posts: White by Design 3, Yellow by Design, White by Desire, Rhapsody in Blue, White by Design 2, Coup de Grace, Soho Treasures

  • Rhino Rolling in Mud

    Although well acquainted with Webster Hall, in 40 years of living in New York City, I had yet to step inside the place.
    Webster Hall is one of New York City’s most historically and culturally significant large nineteenth-century assembly halls. The building, at 125 East 11th Street, was designed by architect Charles Rentz, Jr. and constructed for Charles Goldstein in 1886-87, with an eastern Annex in 1892.

    Webster Hall was the first nightclub in the United States. It has gone through numerous incarnations since its construction and currently serves as a nightclub, concert hall, corporate events center, and recording venue. It has a capacity of 2,500 people.

    My first visit was on Sunday for the QAS – Quarterly Art Soirée. This extravaganza takes places on all four floors of the space over the course of an entire day, from 3PM to 11PM. There were visual artists throughout the space, along with performances on the stages and in the lounges – music, dance, singing, aerial acts, burlesque, and a big finale by Flambeaux Fire.

    I was particularly impressed with the dress of many of the attendees and also with the masks of Stephan Keating – beautifully designed and crafted. The space was extremely comfortable, with attendees milling about, exploring the various art installations and performances. Overall, the event has a very festive feel. At one juncture, one of the staff members decided to wallow in a glitter spill on the floor, rubbing it over his face and rolling it, much as a rhino rolling in mud :)

    Related Posts: I Got Caught, Kristal Palace, Hoopmobile

  • Lonely in a Crowded Room

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    There was always a bit of drunken revelry – such were the times and so was my family. Alcohol provides not only a social lubricant, but often social embarrassment. Now out of harm’s way, those times provide rich fodder for stories never told.

    Those parties were some of the highlights of my sisters’ and my childhood. Family was involved and so they were much more than parties, they were reunions. The affairs I have attended at gallery openings and such in New York City always feel so vacuous to me. Admittedly, their function and the attendees reasons for attending are entirely different, but nonetheless, I cannot help but feel disappointed.

    One trend in retail in recent years is the pop-up store or gallery. As our economic times worsen, many businesses look for new ways to market existing brands, feature new products, sell seasonal goods or just make some needed cash with reduced rent in a temporary space. Marketers are all looking to create buzz these days, and in Manhattan, many of these pop-ups will certainly create some buzz.

    I strolled through SoHo with a friend when returning from our expedition to Nom Wah Tea Parlor in Chinatown (see Part 1 here). At 18 Wooster Street, we stumbled upon a major soiree in full swing, with the gallery’s front completely open to the street. It was a Fiat pop-up store. The front was cordoned off and the entrance guarded by the requisite bouncer and a woman with the guest list. There are the practical concerns of controlling attendees, however, I suspect the greater reason for admission is to create the illusion of exclusivity and desire to get in, a technique employed for decades in private clubs. After all, what retailer really wants to restrict admission to their showroom?

    When we arrived, however, there had been a break in policing the gate and we were encouraged by a bystander to enter. The place was replete with booming music, fashionistas dressed to the nines, hors d’oeuvres and snacks on immaculate trays offered by formally dressed servers. There was all manner of meeting, greeting, eating, drinking and flirting.

    Oh, and yes, there were a few that looked at the new Fiats. A few snacks and the feeling for a few minutes that I was worthy to be at an event so important was enough. But really, deep inside, I was anxious to go home. There was no better evidence of how someone could be lonely in a crowded room…

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • I Got Caught

    Closing time for bars in New York City is 4 AM. In the United States, only a handful of states or municipalities offer later closings. In those cases, there are typically no statewide mandated closing times at all, like in Nevada, where bars may remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But the majority of bars in the United States close between 12-2 AM.
    For many, party = alcohol and bars, so, the later the bars stay open, the better the party. For those where 4 AM is still too early, there are after hours clubs. For many, this is the biggest attraction of New York – at any moment, somewhere, it’s party time.

    A small band that I saw perform recently in the Village announced that they would be performing at Shrine NYC. I had heard of this bar/club, and in conversation with one of the musicians, he said that Shrine had some of the best music in the entire city. It is located in Harlem, at 2271 Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard near 134th Street. Visiting Shrine Bar & Restaurant sounded like a good way to broaden my horizons – for most Manhattan residents, Harlem is a remote outpost they will never visit. I asked two friends to accompany me on Saturday night for music.

    The club serves food, and we had decided to eat there as well as go for the music. Hunger called, and we arrived at 7PM – very early for a Saturday night bar scene, but already nearly every table was taken, and a performance was in progress. Our waitresses were disarmingly friendly. I am not sure if this is typical at Shrine or not, but it was not the perfunctory type of service one might expect in a place so boisterous and busy.

    A number of bands were booked there – soon the place was packed, and we no longer had a line of sight to the music. I suggested moving into the throngs for a full immersion experience when the Body Electric Afrofunk Band* was on. From the Body Electric website:

    We are a group of Students, 9 strong, with a shared passion for playing music. Like Fela Kuti, we believe music can invoke a trancelike state and convey meaning and emotion to the listener through the sheer auditory quality of the sound. One of the most important things about seeing live music is the interplay that takes place between audience and artist; we strive to break down the barrier created by “the stage” at every performance we can.

    This was certainly true. We had moved forward towards the group until we were inches from the keyboard player. We were IN the band. Women nearby were dancing or writhing.

    After their performance, I spoke with the trumpet player, Will Healy (see Deaf Jam here). I told him how I would never seek out any music described as funk. However, I absolutely loved Body Electric. They were superb technicians with entrancing music. When I told Will how much I enjoyed their set unexpectedly, he smiled and suggested “You got caught.” Well put I thought, and with no resistance or regrets. Yes, I Got Caught. :)

    *The band members are students at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY. See their Facebook page here and Myspace page here.

  • Deaf Jam

    Some years ago, I learned of a harmonica festival in New Jersey. This was to be a major event and I was very excited. The schedule was noon to midnight – a full twelve hours of the top players in the country with legends such as Jason Ricci and Howard Levy. Upon arriving, however, my companion and I were greeted with recorded music that was LOUD. So loud that we feared that we would actually have to leave before any performances even began. Desperate, I suggested that we ball up pieces of paper napkins and put them in our ears. It was so uncool, but we survived.

    Following the festival, I discussed my experience with a working musician, who said that excessive sound levels were common and often the fault of the sound crew, even against the wishes of the performers. Regardless of where the fault lies, LOUD and very loud seems to be part of the milieu of amplified music in performance. The most disturbing thing, however, was that in speaking to rock musicians, all admitted to noise induced hearing loss.

    I am happy to report, however, that in my experience, I see a change in climate, and the stereotypical self destructive lifestyle of the musician is not necessarily a badge of honor. Awareness is growing of the irreparable damage done to hearing by excessive noise.

    Recently, I visited Shrine NYC, a music club located in Harlem. During the performance of the Body Electric Afrofunk Band, I moved up to the group’s staging area. I noticed that nearly all the musicians had hearing protectors. I had a good line of sight to the trumpet player, Will Healy, whose ear can be seen in today’s photo.
    Last night I called Will to discuss this. The conversation was short – Will was celebrating his 21st birthday. He did tell me that he had already suffered some hearing loss and was working with Dunshaw, an audiology center in New York City. Dunshaw Audiology and Hearing customizes musician earplugs – an actual impression of the ear is taken and custom molds made.

    This morning, I spoke to Dr. Rhee Rosenman AuD, an audiologist at Dunshaw. I learned many things in our conversation, including the fact that the use of portable music devices like the iPod, at full volume, can deliver 100 db of noise – equivalent to an industrial environment or loud live music. Playing portable devices at full volume is common in New York in order to effectively mitigate ambient noise. This practice will result in hearing loss. Dunshaw works with many musicians and their specialized musician earplugs can attenuate sound by 25 db, but still allow music to be heard clearly with no muffling.

    Early in the performance of the Body Electric, I also noticed Will’s t-shirt with its very clever and ironic tagline: Beethoven – the original deaf jam*. Many things can be learned from Beethoven, and one is that there is no romance in loss of hearing – it is one of the great tragedies that befell this man, one of the greatest composers of all time. By the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he was completely deaf. During the end of his performance, he had to be turned around to see the tumultuous applause of the audience – hearing nothing, he cried. Sadly, it was the Original Deaf Jam :(

    *Deaf used here is a play the older slang term, def, to describe a person or thing that is cool.

  • Slammed

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Many will extol the benefits of spending the summer in the city. They will tell you of all of the wonderful events, many free, how much less crowded things are, and how tickets for events are more easily available since many New Yorkers are away. This is all true. But a long wait on a subway platform or a walk in the blistering heat amid concrete and garbage will quickly reveal why so many are away and you have the “city to yourself.”

    I was really not very enthused about trekking all the way to 236 East 3rd Street between Avenue B and C in this type of heat and humidity to go to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, where Urban Word NYC was sponsoring the Regional Teen Poetry Slam. A segment about this event had appeared that Sunday morning on TV. The host, an older white man, was extremely effusive about the poetry of a young person who was part of the event. He read some of his work. I was impressed.

    I respect poetry and I have read things I like, but I do not seek it out. This event looked to be some hybrid between rap and poetry, written about issues germane to kids a fraction of my age. But why not give it a try?

    It was so hot, with the kind of humidity that makes your skin crawl, and a shower is really just a foolish formality – undone the moment you set foot on the street. Surely it would not be crowded. Who is left in the city on a hot summer’s day, and who will venture out to the East Village on Sunday at noon to see poetry?

    We were the first and only ones in line, and although the prospect of waiting 30 minutes in the heat was very unappealing, after making the schlepp, my companion and I decided to wait. Soon, kids began to arrive and fraternize on the street – apparently many were known to each other in this subculture. I met the DJ and took his photo. By 1 PM, when the doors opened, the line had increased sizably.

    The space itself had been reviewed negatively by some online, so I imagined a seedy basement space with no A/C. After paying a nominal $7 admission, we entered the space itself, which was a big surprise – clean, cool, and comfortable. We had a choice of tables and were joined by a couple who were New York City High School English teachers. They had attended many poetry slams here before and had even brought their classes. They assured me that I would be very pleasantly amazed. Soon the room became full, and in no time, every table was taken and people were sitting on the floor or standing.

    My attitude was already changing.

    I thought that after four years of writing this blog that my skills and command of the English language had improved and that I aspired to becoming a wordsmith.
    Until Sunday.

    The command of the English language, the vocabulary, the insights, the creative writing, the rapidity of delivery, the rhymes, the rhythms, the memorization skills, the passion and theater were all nothing short of astounding. I was awed by these teenage kids.

    What really struck me was that, when examined closely, this entire activity was a celebration of the word. The event was sponsored by Urban Word NYC. Linguistic fluency and interest in language and writing is not a common association made regarding inner city youth. This phenomenon is really flying under the radar. It left me slammed…

    Note: Technically, this event was a slam, and like all poetry slams, that means a competition. Winners will go on to Los Angeles for the national competition. However, it was announced early on that the competitive aspect of the event was not the focus. This was a regional event, and teams had come from Connecticut, Boston, Philadelphia, and the home team from New York City. Poetry slams are regularly performed in New York City. The leader in this art form has been the Bowery Poetry Club. You can read my posting about it here.

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Sober Kids in India

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    One of the great things about New York City is that at any given time, somewhere, some group is celebrating something. And unless your religious or other affiliation prohibits it, you are most likely welcome to join in.

    Religious or secular, many need very little reason to party, as perhaps was the case yesterday evening with the person at the head of the line waiting to get into this bar. When I asked him what the line was for, he had no idea and apparently no interest in finding out. His response was rather perplexing, since both inside and outside the bar it was obviously a Mexican-themed celebration – Cinco de Mayo, to be specific. Confetti was fluttering in the air, and people were outfitted in traditional Mexican costumes. The bar was bursting at the seams and overflowing into the street.

    The bar is located on University Place in the Village, no stranger to partying. Just down the block is New York University, which has had the distinction of making Princeton Review’s “top party school” top 20 ranking.

    Growing up in a poorer and work-oriented environment, at times, there is a tiny nagging feeling that festivals, parties, and parades are capricious and unnecessary extravagances. This is money and energy that might be put to “better” use for those in need. I wrote about this and the need for human celebration on June 13, 2008, in Let’s Have a Parade.

    Growing up as a child, I often heard the cliched “Finish your dinner, there are children starving in Africa.” For some of the celebrants last night, the admonition might better be an analogous one I have seen bandied about: Finish your beer, there are sober kids in India :)

    Note: Cinco de Mayo (Spanish for “fifth of May”) is a holiday held on May 5. Not to be confused with Mexican Independence Day on September 16, Cinco de Mayo commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín. In an unlikely victory, 4,000 Mexican soldiers defeated a much larger (8,000 soldiers) and better-equipped French army. The holiday has very limited recognition in Mexico – it is primarily an American celebration with its roots in California in the 1860s.

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • No Red Faces

    When I first heard about homosexuals as a young boy, I wanted to know what they looked like. How could you tell if someone was gay, and where could you find them? And most importantly, how could they possibly identify one another in order to be together?

    These things were cloaked in mystery. One of the few things I was told was that they had secret signals, such as wearing an article of clothing in a particular color, like a red necktie.* I never saw any men with red neckties, nor did I encounter any men who were openly gay. For that, I would have to wait until I moved to New York City.

    Of course, at that time, things were very muddled, and misinformation ruled. Homosexuals, pedophiles, and perverts were all lumped together in a convenient basket of societal miscreants, a mess that took me years to untangle and sort out.

    One of my high school math teachers was a very accomplished artistic figure roller skater. He was married. One day a comment was made aloud, directed towards him, implying something of an effeminate or gay quality. Our teacher turned bright red. Nothing else was said. Was he a married gay in the closet or just embarrassed by a false accusation? I will never know.

    After my first visit to New York City in the 1960s, it was immediately clear that this was the locus for all things offbeat, unconventional, and counter-cultural – a place where those who were different could be themselves and accepted. This was the place I had been looking for, and New York City, particularly Greenwich Village, called out to me like a siren. It never occurred to me before moving here that the tolerance this neighborhood was known for would include gays.

    When I was a freshman at New York University (located in the heart of the Village), we were told there was a bar nearby where gay men openly congregated – Julius’ at Waverly and 10th Streets. This we had to see. A number of us went, nervously observing the patrons coming and going and even peering through the window, not knowing what to expect. However, they all just looked like everyone else. And I saw no red ties and no red faces…

    Note about the bar: Julius’ is the oldest continuously operating gay bar in New York City. The building dates to 1824, and it has operated as a bar since 1840. It has been frequented by many members of the gay community since the 1950s, including many well-known such as Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Rudolf Nureyev (see NY Times article here). Although not technically illegal, gays were not served alcohol prior to 1966. The State Liquor Authority had a regulation against serving homosexuals in bars, by considering them “disorderly.” In 1966, the Mattachine Society staged a Sip-In at Julius’, challenging the SLA and getting the courts to rule that gays had the right to assemble and be served. This paved the way for the Stonewall Riots.

    *Colored triangles were used to identify gays (as well as others) in the Nazi concentration camps during WWII. See a chart here and article here.

  • Respect

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    If you have never been to a New York City comedy club, you owe it to yourself. The city abounds in comedy clubs in many neighborhoods. New and established talent can be seen on a nightly basis. Cable TV and the Internet have made available an enormous amount of comedy – live and recorded. However, there is nothing like the infectious effect of live comedy on an audience.

    I have frequented a number of New York City’s comedy clubs over the years. Comics will often used the word “killed” to describe a successful show – e.g. he really “killed.” This is nearly literal – I have been to many shows where people look like they are going to die with uncontrollable laughter, tears running down their faces, and where smiles sometimes even turn to grimaces of pain. I have woken up after a previous night’s comedy show with actual muscle aches from laughing. But it is very therapeutic.

    New York city has been a birthplace, mecca and an incubator for comedic talent – standup comedians, comic film actors and writers. Particularly the Jewish American comedian – take a look at this short list:
    Larry David, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Jackie Mason, Zero Mostel, Joan Rivers, Groucho Marx and family (UES/Carnegie Hill), Mel Brooks, Andy Kaufman, Alan King, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon. Milton Berle, George Burns and the newer crop like Todd Barry, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Franken, Jon Stewart, and Bill Maher.

    Rodney Dangerfield, (born Jacob Cohen, just outside New York City in Babylon, Long Island) was an influential comedian well known for his standup work and film. His signature catchphrases, “I don’t get no respect” and “I get no respect” are legendary, as are his comedy routines built on his unique style of self-deprecating humor.
    Dangerfield shot to stardom after an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.* On September 29, 1969, Rodney opened Dangerfield’s, the longest running comedy club in the world. It is located at 1118 First Avenue at 61st Street in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Dangerfield’s club was a broadcast venue for a comedy showcase series with HBO.

    It has often been asked: “Why so many brilliant Jewish comics?” Suffering and persecution are common themes in the answers:

    “Look at Jewish history. Unrelieved lamenting would be intolerable. So, for every ten Jews beating their breasts, God designated one to be crazy and amuse the breast beaters. By the time I was five I knew I was that one.” – Mel Brooks

    “The truth of the matter is, persecuted people have two things they can do to win their point.” “They can punch back, or they can defuse it with laughter.” – Carl Reiner

    Rodney Dangerfield, like all the other great New York City Jewish comedic talent, easily gets my respect…

    *Ed Sullivan (1901-1974) hosted one of the longest-running variety shows in U.S. television history, from 1948 to 1971. Sullivan was also born in New York City. Broadcast from CBS Studio 50, it was renamed The Ed Sullivan Theater in 1967 and is currently the home of The Late Show with David Letterman.

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • No Squares Down There

    I was so excited as I eagerly awaited my copy of City Planning According to Artistic Principles, by Camillo Sitte, to come up at the main branch of the New York Public Library. I must admit, however, that I really had no intention of reading the whole thing – it was not available for circulation. I just needed to see that it really existed, touch it, and peruse it.

    Sitte was an Austrian architect, painter, art historian, and city planning theoretician. He studied what made a place charming. In his book, he extols the virtues of the irregularity of the medieval city. I have had numerous thoughts and conversations about what makes a city or town interesting. One element for me was the lack of order in the street layout. Nooks and crannies to be discovered, like an old bookshop where, upon entering, you cannot determine its layout, and wandering through it becomes an adventure.

    I relish neighborhoods or towns with the lack of a grid. I love meandering the streets of Florence, Montmartre in Paris, medieval villages of France, or the streets of West Village. Sitte’s book was the validation for everything I loved in a town or city and gave the reasoning behind why I find Greenwich Village one of the most charming areas in the United States.

    The West Village is part of New York City predating the Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 (see here). The maze of streets defy any real order – there are angles, triangles, bends, streets once parallel that now intersect, and even a street that splits and retains the same name (Waverly Place). Perhaps somewhat vexing to the driver or visitor navigating, its character is one of the things which drew me to this neighborhood long ago.
    On top of all this, in 1917, the city cut a swath, 7th Avenue, through the existing neighborhood, shearing sections of over 200 buildings, leaving many triangular shaped structures (see Northern Dispensary and Zena for two examples of triangular buildings).

    We have become the benefactors of yesterday’s victims. In the case of the Village Vanguard, its superb acoustics have been attributed to the triangular space. Some recording engineers and musicians say it is the finest acoustic space they know of.

    The Village Vanguard is legendary and, on February 23, 2010, celebrates its 75th anniversary. The club was opened in 1935 by Max Gordon. Originally it featured many other forms of music and entertainment, such as folk music, comedy, and beat poetry. In 1957, it became an all jazz venue. All the jazz greats have performed there – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus, Keith Garrett, et al. The club is also noted for its Live at the Village Vanguard sessions. The Vanguard still enjoys a reputation as a place to hear the finest jazz in the world. Through the red door and fifteen steps down to the triangular basement space. No squares down there :)

  • The Ear Inn

    One of the best ways to experience Olde, intimate, atmospheric New York is to visit its vintage bars. There are a number vying for the title of New York City’s oldest, such as Fraunces Tavern, Pete’s Tavern, and The Ear Inn, located on the ground floor of the James Brown House, a historic landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places. See more photos here.

    The James Brown House is one of the very few Federal houses left in the city. It is in largely original condition of 2 1/2 stories with dormers, double splayed keystone lintels, and a gambrel roof. The construction is all wood posts and beams set with pegs, with a facade of Flemish bond brick. The restaurant doors and window are late 19th-century. The panel to the right of the main door is a night shudder cover to the original shop window, an 18th-century-style feature unique to this building. Once there were cellar windows and fireplaces in the bar area.
    It was built in 1817 for James Brown, a prosperous African-American tobacco merchant, reputed to have been an aide to General Washington during the Revolutionary War.

    At the time of its construction, the house was only five feet from the Hudson River shoreline. After James Brown’s death, the city was booming with ship traffic. The river was filled out to West Street. New piers were built and rebuilt ever larger. From Spring Street, ships left for California, China, and Hoboken. The proximity to the water made it popular with sailors and longshoremen. It had a brewery that was later turned into a restaurant.

    The property changed hands several times. In 1890, it was purchased by an Irish immigrant named Thomas Cloke. Cloke sold the business in 1919 in anticipation of the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibited the sale of alcohol. During Prohibition, the restaurant became a speakeasy, while the upstairs apartment was variously a boarding house, a smugglers den, and a brothel. Ghosts have been heard and seen, in particular, “Mickey,” a sailor still waiting for his clipper ship to come in. Read more about the bar at its website here.

    One of the most interesting features of this place is the sign. A Columbia University student, Rip Hayman, rented a room in the house in 1973. In 1977, Hayman and friends bought the building and christened it the Ear Inn after a new music journal, The Ear, which was published upstairs. To avoid the Landmark Commission’s lengthy review on changing signage on historic buildings, portions of the letter “B” in the neon BAR sign were painted black to read EAR…

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