Honky Tonkin’ in Nashville

4 02 2010

For the past week I’ve had the same song stuck in my head, and, though I once really liked it, I’m about done with it by now. It’s a goody by GarthThe American Honky Tonk Bar Association—I thought it was made up, “honky tonk,” and then I started planning a trip to Nashville, and I heard it everywhere. That’s really what they call their bars along Broadway. And every time I say the words (or even think them), the song returns. This was not so fun when I was stranded in Philadelphia, nor is it so fun now that I’m back in New York.

But somehow, while in Nashville, that I should have this country anthem floating about my brain seemed fitting, and the phrase “honky tonk” worked for these cool little bars, lined up one after the other, each wallpapered with yellowing photos and album covers featuring some of our country’s greatest musicians. Somehow it just, made sense.

Given my mishaps on Friday and then Saturday, honky tonkin’ was about all I had time for during my 14 hour tour of Nashville, so it’s a good thing I made it count. I touched down around 2:30 Saturday afternoon and hightailed it to the hotel, where Libby and I cranked some music to set the mood (Dixie Chicks, of course) and readied ourselves for what promised to be the long night ahead. Then we trudged through the snow (no, I don’t exaggerate—the good people of Nashville evidently don’t deem it necessary to shovel their sidewalks) down Broadway and wandered into a honky tonk.

The bar was large, rendering it mostly empty save for a lone musician on stage, a few folks listening up front and some locals lining the bar. We found ourselves a table somewhere in between, ordered a few beers, and observed, but not for long. Next thing we knew we were in the midst of a “crew” growing around some dudes from Atlanta who occupied the table in the center of the room. Our little makeshift troop grew to about 12 and we decided to continue the chaos down Broadway, visiting each honky tonk in turn.

Of course with each honkey tonk the music improved, and the moods were sillier, and, well, there was lots of dancing. There was even a little Watermelon Crawling (or something like that). The only unfortunate part of the evening was the poor decision to part from our new friends in order to keep our dinner reservation at an upscale, eco-spot that was a little too upscale for its own good, and far too much for our mood. But we made up for it by returning to Broadway and capping the night off with some dueling pianos at the Big Bang Bar.

The next day, I discovered, with some disappointment (countered by not a little relief, at least on the part of my very tired head) that the Nash Trash tour I’d been looking forward to, led by the (in)famous Jugg Sisters in their big pink bus, had been canceled because the area where they parked their bus had been locked up due to that crazy snow. Instead, we decided to indulge in some yummy southern style food, and treated ourselves to a slew of sides—including some mind-blowing tater tots (yes, tater tots)—at a humble, cozy, down home spot called South Street before heading back to the hotel an hour early because, it seemed, in the overall weekend confusion I was not accounting for my watch being on New York time.

There are no photos to record the chaos (on account of both my camera and phone batteries dying) but there ere indeed misadventures, laughter, and general gaiety. In short, travel bloopers aside, it was a successful weekend. All 24 hours of it.





Bookmark This Bar

27 02 2009

Midtown Manhattan is, for the most part, a no man’s land when it comes to interesting places to dine or drink. I’ve recently, however, discovered Bookmarks, a smart little lounge atop the Library Hotel. I give fair warning now: when I visited this bar the other night the service was not so hot. But what it lacks in character, it makes up for in charm. Some may call the book theme kitchsy, but I, book nerd that I am, adored it. The list of unique (and extra strength) cocktails is long, and all bear the names of literary greats. Dickens has one, as does Hemingway (which, by the way, happens to be misspelled). I actually had my first taste of absinthe in a drink called, appropriately, the Oscar Wilde.

On the one side the mahogany-walled writer’s den has a working fireplace to defrost the brain on those cold winter nights. On the other side, the poetry garden invokes a seaside artist summer home, the type of retreat creative types need for relaxation and fresh ideas, if, of course, by retreat you mean a view up at the big buildings of Midtown. But somehow that is refreshing and idea-sparking in itself.

Bookmarks is located on the 14th floor of the Library Hotel, 299 Madison Ave at 41st St, (212) 204-5498





Winter at the (North) Beach

6 01 2009

As a continuation of my “I heart SF” week, I present: Beach Blanket Babylon. Though it’s not the first thing that generally comes to mind when one thinks San Francisco, this hilarious song-and-dance with the giant hats has become something of a San Francisco staple, and it should be. It’s been running for 34 years; it’s the longest running musical revue. Ever. Not to mention that the zaniness, the theatricality, and, most importantly, the political plays make it everything we’ve come to know and love (and expect from) San Francisco.

The show began in 1974, a brainchild of Steve Silver and was so popular that it now has a permanent home at North Beach’s Club Fugazi, a tiny nightclub where there are no bad seats.  The story itself is silly to say the least, but it’s filled with upbeat songs, side-splitting jokes (that change based on the current events), and fabulous singing from the likes of BBB star Val Diamond who, celebrating her 30th anniversary with the show this year, has become something of a San Francisco institution in her own right. But man, those hats.

The show runs Wed and Thurs at 8 pm, Fri and Sat at 6:30 pm and 9 pm, and Sun at 2 pm and 5 pm. Ticket prices range from $25 to $78.

If you’re making a night out of it, try Steps of Rome for fantastic Italian (where the eye candy is as yummy as the food) or  L ‘Osteria del forno, a tiny North Beach hideaway with some of the best food in the city. For a nightcap, try Figaro, where dessert is a must or the historic Tosca, a favorite watering hole since the 1920s, complete with red vinyl booths, the famous antique jukebox and seven strong classic cocktails, including the Tosca signature: rich cappuccino flavored with Ghiradelli chocolate and spiked with brandy. You don’t get much more San Francisco than that.





Haunted Haunts

31 10 2008

Halloween is here again. Every year it seems to sneak up on me, and every year it finds me with neither the costume nor the will to come up with one. Perhaps it stems from growing up, when my mother, who also never had the drive or passion for creating costumes, always “nudged” me toward costumes that were easy for her to create: the PG&E linesman (my father could get the hard hat from work), the cheerleader (my sister wasn’t wearing that uniform any more), and even Jane Fonda (yes. Jane Fonda). Somehow, save for the year I wreaked havoc on the house by insisting on being a pumpkin, I was amenable to her suggestions, however odd or non-age-appropriate (what other six year old was Jane Fonda?).

Anyhow, to this day my Halloween costumes typically involve minimal creativity and minimal effort, and I’m just fine with that. However, I do enjoy the holiday. Who wouldn’t love a holiday that’s based around candy? And here in New York, I love it even more for the ghostly aspect of it. Being obsessed with history as I am, I am fond of ghost stories and their ability to transmit our past and keep it alive in the future. And so, without further ado, a list of some of my favorite New York “haunts,” in no particular order:

  • Bridge Cafe. (279 Water St) The building itself dates back to 1794 and is said to have been home to Irish prostitutes. It’s been a bar since 1847, making it New York’s oldest continually running bar, haunted, they say, by pirates who frequented the place before the Brooklyn Bridge (in whose shadow it lies) was even a thought.
  • The Chelsea Hotel. (222 W. 23rd St.) Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was living at the hotel when accused of his girlfriend’s murder and overdosed before his trial ended. He can still sometimes be seen near the elevator doors.
  • Ear Inn. (326 Spring St.) This place has a long history, starting as the home of James Brown, aide to Washington in the Revolution. Since then it’s had various incarnations, from brewery to speakeasy, to boarding house and brothel. It is haunted by Mickey, a sailor who died out front.
  • White Horse Tavern. (567 Hudson St.) This place dates from the 19th Century but it’s more famous for being the place where bohemian writer Dylan Thomas drank himself to death (read: 18 beers) in 1953 and is still said to return from time to time.
  • Algonquin Hotel. (59 West 44th St.) This elegant hotel was the regular lunch spot where Dorothy Parker held court for the Round Table, her 1920s group of literati, who joined her for lunch and literature. Parker seems to come back for a visit from time to time…
  • St. Mark’s Church. (131 E 10th St.) The historic church was erected in 1799, and before that it was the private “Bouwerie Chapel” of early New York leader, Peter Stuyvesant. Though the church itself was built after Stuyvesant’s death, it is considered one of the most haunted places in the city, mainly by Peg-leg Peter, Stuyvesant’s ghost, whose distinct wooden leg footsteps can sometimes be heard wandering the grounds.




Unexpected Happy Ending(s)

27 03 2008

Today’s post was supposed to be the first of my book(s about travel) review series. It will be, but not in the way I’d intended. It seems I got sidetracked.

Yesterday’s New York Times UrbanEye email alerted me to the Happy Ending reading series, which held a reading last night at (surprise) Happy Ending Lounge in the Lower East Side. Yes, the bar’s name refers to its seedy past, when it was an “erotic massage parlor.” I’ve never been downstairs but imagine that the self-described “1960’s Las Vegas” vibe must pay more homage to its former incarnation than the sophisticated red velvet booths on street level. Either way its sign-less facade on a deserted street feels a bit speakeasy-esque.

But last night was about the reading series, which was not only phenomenal but particularly apropos given my upcoming (as in—yikes!—next week) writing group meeting, for which I’ve done nothing, except decide (another yikes! for good measure) that it’s finally time to let go of those novel chapters I’ve been hanging onto since college. But the evening was brimming with talent, and, as luck would have it, inspiration. Happy ending number two. But enough about me…

Amanda Stern hosts the music and reading series at Happy Ending on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month (summers off), where readers gather to sip complicated (but delicious) cocktails from Happy’s long list while singers sing and writers read. Each reader must take some sort of public risk while the singer of the evening has to get the audience to sing along to one cover song. (Supple-voiced folk singer Kelley McRae, whose own songs render chills, sang En Vogue’s Giving Him Something He Can Feel but the audience was a little shy—or just too entranced by her voice.)

Artist Matthew Bokkam read from his 2006 project “The New York City Museum of Complaint,” a tabloid/newspaper he created of letters of complaint compiled from the New York City municipal archives. The gist of his findings: New Yorkers complain. About everything. Just last night we heard from a man requesting that Mayor LaGuardia champion the right of burlesque dancers to be more, well, burlesque, and from a woman who had a list of complaints longer than my ever-growing to do list (odd thing was many of her would-be outlandish hardships—like not having heat—were things I’ve experienced). Bokkam’s risk, as an act of sympathy for said women, was to read her letter with a quarter stuck up his nose. Well done. (Un)happy ending number 4.

And now for the book review portion of this post, even if it’s not the book review I initially intended, nor even one I’ve yet read. Tod Wodika read from his newly published novel with the elaborate title, All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well about a mixed up historical re-enactor who takes his re-enacting a little too seriously. Not only well-written but utterly hilarious. I was so excited by the 10 minutes he read that I can promise a more thorough review to come. In the mean time, suffice to say it’s travel enough in its jumps from modern to Middle Age worlds. And if it has a happy ending, all the better.

And one last thought that proved to be an unexpected delight of an evening. I got to speak with Amanda afterward about my latest project, and not only was she excited but willing to partake. The project being that of bringing a part of my beloved Litquake, otherwise known as San Francisco’s amazing, stupendous literary festival, here to New York. More on that one later. For now, it makes yet another happy ending (so many that I’ve lost count).





Horsing Around

18 03 2008

Ginobli mingles with some furry friends on the way to the parade.
Ginobli mingles with some furry friends on the way to the parade.
It’s amazing how much joy a stuffed (pet) horse can bring. The horse, Ginobli belongs to Libby, and I’ve come to think of myself as his honorary aunty.

A few important things to know about Ginobli (or Ginobs as his friends know him):

  • Libby “won” him (but he’s a free horse so we don’t say that around him) at Dave and Busters two years ago and he’s been part of the family ever since.
  • He’s named after NBA star Manu Ginobili of the San Antonio Spurs. (Another fact of interest: Manu is from Bahia Blanca in southern Argentina.)
  • He’s not just a stuffed horse, and he’s certainly not a dog. He’s a Clydesdale.
  • His favorite song is Crazy Horses by The Osmonds. And…
  • He makes friends everywhere he goes.

Ginobli on the wall.

Ginobli meets his twin.
Resemblance? I think so.

Yesterday, Ginobs went to St. Patrick’s Day parade in New York. He started at the end, on 86th Street and worked his way down to the Met at 82nd, charming many a spectator along the way.

Ginobli and the big green hat.

He was so popular, grand marshal Tommy Smyth was probably jealous. He even acquired presents along the way, like a glittery green bowler hat from a kind lady whose child refused to wear it.

Ginobli’s Marach calendar shot.
The parade itself was your usual parade fare: walls of firemen and law enforcement marched, along with a few school groups, several bag-piping troupes, and ladies and gents in antique garb. Far more amusing were the crowds that populated its sidelines. We’re talking hardcore Irish here: giant green hats, gold sequined pants, green hair, necklaces, anything you might think of. These New Yorkers love their St. Pat’s.

But the parade is only the precursor to the massive party that followed in Irish pubs around the city (specifically, as I noted earlier, on Third Ave.) After all the crowd entertaining, Ginobs was tired and cold and insisted on having one beer, so off we stopped at Pat O’Brien’s. Almost immediately we were engulfed by firemen cheering for Ginobli, taking photos with him, and insisting on buying his mother and aunt (whom I think they felt sorry for since we’re both jobless) beers, so that ONE beer turned into three or four, and Ginobli found himself crowd surfing.

Ginobli and the crowd.

All in all, an eventful day for Ginobs. And Libby and I learned a few things too…

  • Wandering around the streets with a huge stuffed horse will get you some pretty strange looks, unless you’re at the St. Patrick’s Day parade.
  • Horsing around gives you a whole new perspective on otherwise somewhat ordinary experiences.
  • Horsing around is a lot more fun with a real (stuffed) horse (er, I mean Clydesdale) around.




The Other Green Travel

16 03 2008

St. Patrick’s Day is not just a day in the tri-State area. The Irish set here really make the revelry last. As long as they can. The festivities start with the Hoboken Parade (usually the first weekend in March). Die-hard Irish and party devotees head across the river for a day of green beer and raucous parties. I’ve not attended myself, but have heard from friends that it’s chaos in the streets and there are lines to get into the bars.

Then comes St. Patty’s itself, which is marked by a whole weekend (whichever falls closer the the actual day) of green-clad Manhattanites, and many visitors, stumbling through Manhattan’s street at all hours of the night, and all hours of the day for that matter. These devotees aren’t messing around: the party often starts with beer over breakfast.

Though there are Irish bars and pubs all over the city, I’ve decided that Third Ave. between 18th Street and 30th Street is the Irish pub hub. Last night, decked out in my own green (and no, I don’t own green stilettos, nor even green shoes for that matter, though perhaps they should go on the list), I made my way up Third Ave. to meet some friends at the Mad Hatter. Along the way I passed Pug Uglies—where last year I saw a real Irish band, in full traditional dress, parade through the world’s tiniest (and most crowded) parade route—and several other Irish bars, all drenched in green lights and overflowing with the aforementioned green devotees, now barely able to walk due to the day’s long party.

The scene at the Mad Hatter was about the same as its pub neighbors, and after one beer my friends and I retired to the next likely St. Pat’s party place: Mexicana Mama’s, where we swapped guiness and U2 for the less traditional margarita and Mariachis. Somehow it was no less crowded, however. We waited an hour for our table, but the great food and the Mariachi serenade (we chose the ever-popular “De Colores“) made the wait worth it.

We ended the night with one last Guiness (which I only pretended to drink, ssh don’t tell) at O’Neill’s Irish Pub, also, remarkably, on Third Ave. but in the Forties (see, I must be onto something), where we listened to an Irish band and watched in rapture as the guy on the end gently tapped a large drum-like instrument (yes, that is the technical term). Over the crowds at this point, I didn’t enjoy the music for very long before I was ready to go home.

I’ll make up for it tomorrow when I visit the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade (the perks of not having a day job). It starts at 44th Street (at 11 a.m.) and winds its way up Fifth Ave., stopping near St. Patrick’s Cathedral where the Archbishop of New York, His Eminence Cardinal Edward Eaganwill watch and bless the parade. Given my penchant for partaking in parades, I’ll be avoiding the temptation this time around by watching closer to the end (86th Street), and then I’ll report back tomorrow.





Art: The Real Story

6 03 2008

I met up with some friends last night and told them about my evening at the Armory. The art part they enjoyed, but the real thrill was the party, which, who are we kidding, is the real story anyhow. No?

After all, the Biennial is as much about the social aspect as it is about the art. So now to tell, in true New York fashion, about the party, an event to see and be seen in its truest form. Celebrity sightings were limited, although Julia Stiles was about. As for the rest of the crowd? You don’t get more “artsy” than this, folks.

I saw men in top hats, men in tie dye, men in dresses. Berets were definitely a popular choice, and I think there were several young Allen Ginsberg types, and possibly one ghost of Edgar Allen Poe. My favorite was the man with the pink sport coat and matching pink head band a la Jane Fonda Sweatin’ to the Eighties.

As for the females, black was definitely the color of choice, and ranged in style from the tasteful black dress to the sparkly black cat hat. Yes, I said sparkly black cat hat (complete with ears). I didn’t see her talking to the woman in the dress made of feathers, but I expect if they didn’t know each other they became lifelong friends that evening.

Oh, and did I mention what the most popular installation was? I’ll give a hint: it was perhaps the most interactive room of all and its contents burn the throat a tad.





Adios Zapatos

13 01 2008

One thing to note about the salsa scene in Buenos Aires: It’s not just about wanting to dance but about being able to. We arrived at the salsa club Azúcar an hour after it opened: 1:00 a.m. There were already several people on the dance floor, dancing with impeccable technique and astounding flare. It seems a new trend in salsa is the use of hidden hand lights which go off at key moments of the dance.

To the side of the dance floor, about 12 females sat alone at about 12 random tables waiting to be asked to dance. More ladies loomed mear the dance floor with the same hope. Capirinhas in hand, we joined this latter group and quickly discerned the conundrum: The men would not ask ladies to dance unless they had seen them dancing already (aka if they had seen skill). They took one look at us gringas and kept on going.

But finally some men took pity on us. As I whirled and spun on the floor I realized it was harder than I remembered—and that I wanted to lead. I quickly got over that, however, and was soon dancing with Manuel, a very good (and very patient) dancer, but next came my second problem: my feet.

It seems that those heels I so hurriedly purchased the night before my trip in case of just this scenario were not such a good idea after all. The backs kept sliding down my heel, which was not only uncomfortable but meant that my foot kept twisting and turning sideways, making it extremely painful and difficult to dance.

So I did what any real salsa dancer would do: I carried on. This meant stumbling far too often and exclaiming to Manuel, “Son mis zapatos” until, exasperated, I finally took the shoes off. Then I was holding my own on the floor (at least in my humble opinion, that is) and had a ball twirling and dancing the night away.

And now? Well, now I’m stuck with a pair of uncomfortable shoes that I most likely won’t wear again on this trip and that most certainly take up too much space in an already stuffed backpack. Stupid shoes.

Lesson learned: Don’t salsa in uncomfortable heels. Don’t pack them either. And while we’re at it, don’t even buy them the night before your trip in the first place. Perhaps next time I’ll go dancing in my hiking boots…