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.

3 Girls, an Island, and a lot of Pizza

10 04 2008

My very beautiful and very talented friend Tiffany has decided to apply to be a host on Globe Trekker. I know she would be fabulous at the job and have been helping her with her audition tape, which has to be a five minute tour of some place. Living in Brooklyn, she chose her home town. From this experience have come several adventures, the most recent of which was yesterday’s trip to Coney Island.

Yesterday Tiff, Libby, and myself went to frolic on the boardwalk, where, given that it was off-season, there was lots of room to frolic. It was freezing, and after lots of hard work filiming (and goofing off) we found ourselves cold and starving. Tiffany had recently seen a great pizza place on TV, and had subsequently heard rave reviews about it from her friends. We had to wait half an hour in a coffee shop for Totonno‘s to open, but it was well worth the wait.

Being Italian myself, and daughter to a world-class pizza maker, I consider myself something of a connoisseur. I am not usually satisfied with any old pizza, since I can make my own. In fact, when my brother came to visit me in New York we went on the quest for a great slice of NY pizza. We were both sorely disappointed in the city that is supposed to be famous for just that. But Totonno’s is the real thing.

It was established in 1924 and looks it. It’s tiny, a one room pizzeria that seats about 40 max, at small formica tables and booths. The white tin walls are embellished with designs and wallpapered with photos of famous visitors from years past, including Babe Ruth and, oddly, Conni Chung. We somehow found ourselvs under several pictures of the Bush family. Oops.

The waitress, whom we thought might be part of the family, suggested a large and a small pizza for the three of us, claiming that she herself was known to eat a large on her own. Then she gave use topping suggestions. The large would be spilt, half original with cheese and marinara, and half white pie with garlic, peppers and onions. We eagerly agreed to default to the expert and settled down with a few Brooklyn Lagers (including fun varietals like the Winter Ale and the Pennant Ale). Then our waitress went and made our “pie” herself. We watched her work the dough, pile on the toppings and slide it into the huge oven behind the counter.

Then we chatted with the group of older men who were causing a ruckus in the booth behind us. They were all from Brooklyn, complete with thick accents, and visiting Totonno’s on the whim of one of their group who had since relocated to Mississippi, without losing his accent despite 20 years. Their pizza came first and within seconds we were far less interesting than the concoction before them. And when ours came a few minutes later we understood why. it wasn’t just a pizza but a work of art: colorful and oozing gooey cheese, and that was before we even tasted it.

And taste we did, over and over. We devoured the large and decided that the small was still in order. Though the traditional was good (perfectly seasoned marinara and fresh mozzarella) we decided to reprise the white pie for our small. And then we ate it all. I think I ate five slices of pizza yesterday, and then I was in a food coma for about five hours, but it was well worth it. The crust was thin and crispy throughout, the cheese was gooey, and the combination of garlic and sweet onions was fantastic. I promised the girls a pizza party at my house some time soon, but I fear it won’t quite compare.