Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Pre-Holiday NYC: Parties, Events and Stoop Stories

In pre-holiday New York there is never enough time to go, see and do all there is to experience across the city. Last night was no exception.

Untapped Cities, a hip and witty online publication, gathered its best and brightest for a glittering event near Lincoln Center. The Historic Districts Council held a holiday celebration that featured New York architecture, classic film and gourmet goodies. Tenement Museum kept their brand new gift shop open into the night for a not-so-festive but fascinating look at the foreclosure mess. The monthly Stoop to Nuts storytelling at Cornelia Street Café promised wine, city lore and laughter in Greenwich Village.

The Untapped Cities party, where writers and photographers who reveal the hidden corners of the world met to celebrate, was my favorite choice. My best option as someone with a sniffling, achy, watery-eyed cold, was to find a tucked-away table at Cornelia Street Café and enjoy New York storytelling.

That best medicine, laughter, was plentiful as humorist Carl Kissen explained what it’s really like to endure Christmas as a Jewish kid growing up on the diverse Upper West Side, where there is no escaping the pang of Christmas Envy and yearning for the “forbidden conifer.” He reminded all that to children waiting for the dispensation of holiday presents, “Parents are the Warren Buffets and Bill Gates of the family…to children, parents ARE the 1%.”

Playwright Kelly Wallace-Barnhill shared single-girl adventures and tales of awkward dates that started and ended on her Lower East Side stoop, the often vomit-streaked “proscenium to home.” Elizabeth Rowe, the artistic director at N.Y. Story Exchange, brought the audience to stillness and tears with a mesmerizing true story of Christmas Eve in World War II trenches. With words she transformed the narrow, low-ceilinged basement at Cornelia Street into a battlefield at midnight where enemy soldiers met in a blood-soaked no man’s land singing Silent Night in German, French and English together.

Taking on the impossible task of following Ms. Rowe’s story, event host and master storyteller, Thomas Pryor, took the stage with a tale that linked holidays and hemorrhoids in a way that was both hilarious and delightful. Afterward, Amanda Thorpe and Mary Lee Kortes held the audience rapt with their vocals, guitar-strummed rhthyms and storytelling. The haunting, “When Winter Comes Howling In” should be on every radio station’s playlist during the holidays.


Mr. Pryor brought the audience back to his Upper East Side childhood with his tale of The Lost Pants as featured on the Prairie Home Companion.

Next, award-winning storyteller, Barbara Aliprantis, took us on a high-energy trip through her Greek-American immigrant childhood, from “sugar cube houses” on the island of Paros to Flatbush where teachers inspired her to love telling stories “at the drop of a hat.” Ms. Aliprantis has been curating storytelling eves at Cornelia Street Café since 1996 and with Thomas Pryor since 2003.

Clear your calendar for the second Tuesday in January – that’s when they will be celebrating the event’s 15th anniversary with more superb storytelling.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Best NYC Shops for the Best NYC Holiday Gifts

Ready to plunge into holiday shopping? If your out-of-town friends and family love New York as much as you do they might enjoy a little something from the big city. Go subway retro...

or New York City brunch authentic.

Or pay holiday homage to the ubiquitous food cart - New Yorker's last source of cheap eats.

Go the Fifth Avenue route with this glitzy yet fun bauble from Henri Bendel (Photo by Rosemary Nardone, clic klink to see more NYC treats and edible treasures at

or send off this pack of I Love New York miniature holiday ornaments...please say you won't!

How about a unique pin, one that might evoke memories of a childhood apartment or envy for a rent-controlled place in the city? You can almost heare the pipes knocking and hissing.

How about a nice cup of New York coffee? A city icon in ceramic. No clear cups, green straws or fancy names. Just coffee - black or regular - from the neighborhood diner.

My favorite places to shop for New York-centric gifts? I like to start at The New York Transit Museum Gallery and Store where you can skip the transit-maps-on-clothes section to find meaningful gifts for ex-pat New Yorkers, even a chunk of subway history for a former straphanger.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum Store is hands down my favorite place to shop year-round for New York memorabilia, books on history and city architecture, quirky gifts and more. Browse in person -  you'll enjoy talking with the knowledgable guides and curators on site. It's a place to linger and learn.

Don't overlook City Store, located at the Manhattan Municipal Building and at the Manhattan Office of the City Clerk. As official purveyors of NYC 'tchotchkes', they've got gift-worthy goods on their shelves, from stationery and plush-toy city squirrels to items that might hurt a nostalgists feelings. Choose wisely - wearable pieces of Yankee Stadium aren't for everyone.

Then there are all of the one-off shops throughout the East Village - set aside some time to zig-zag the streets and explore. It's worth it. The Library Shop, located at the 42nd Street New York Public Library just past the lions, and The New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side are two more favorite places where shopping is local and interesting.

Happy Holidays, New York!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Because the Night Belongs to Neon

Photo by Kirstin Hively

New York’s best neon lights glowed brightest indoors on the Upper West Side last night. That’s where Kirsten Hively drew a full house of New Yorkers to a screening room at Macaulay Honors College and into her quest to find, document and celebrate the city’s most electrifying handcraft.

What began last year as a personal hobby sparked by Upper East Side doldrums and the 100th anniversary of neon became a photo set on Flikr, a popular blog, a successful Kickstarter project and an I-Phone app in quick succession. The application makes it easy for anyone in New York to share Hively’s fascination with the particulars of neon. Want to find the nearest example of calligraphic, vintage or figural lighting? Click on an interactive map and Project Neon guides the way.

Why the focus on neon? “The city by day is textural...but by night colors shock and delight the senses,” said Cristiana Pena, Director of Preservation for Landmark West! The award-winning, community-based non-profit organization committed to preserving the architectural heritage of the Upper West Side, hosted last night’s event. “I think they are beautiful and really light up the night,” said Hively during her presentation. “Neon signage is free and open to everyone, like an open air museum.”

Photo by Maria Gorshin

In a fast-moving hour and a half, Hively led a rapt audience on a tour of the history, science and rationale behind neon. It turns out that neon is more than bright, often quirky signage. It serves as a “beacon in the night” most often for businesses that can be difficult to find in an emergency – pharmacies, liquor stores and parking garages. Also, “it’s hard to draw faces in neon” according to Hively, who shared humorous examples of glowing attempts from neon hotspots as far as Coney Island, the Bronx and Queens to Times Square. The Upper West Side’s Dublin House, with its animated sign and familiar harp, distinguished itself as home to “the gem of New York neon art.”

As New York’s ‘mom & pop’ shops continue to disappear from New York’s streetscape so do neon signs. How can they be saved from disappearing all together? Hively gave advice as straightforward and easy to follow as a blinking red neon arrow in the night: “The best advocacy is to support the businesses that have them so they can continue to shine.”

Follow @heyprojectneon and @LandmarkWest on Twitter to learn about two free I-Phone apps at once – Project Neon’s guide to New York City’s best and brightest signage and Landmark West’s walking tour of Upper West Side landmarks.

Visit to follow Hively on her neon adventures and to see the 700 illuminating images of neon she has captured to date. Her photos are currently on exhibit at City Reliquary in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Perfect New York Apartment

I found the perfect apartment yesterday. It has it all: hardwood floors, sunny, great views, dog-friendly, park access, rooftop garden and it's in a historic district surrounded by museums, cafes, bookstores and shopping! It's yours for only $795 - the perfect New York apartment.  Oh, and it's walking distance to the train for easy commutes into Mid-town. By the way? It's in Philadelphia.

The Rittenhouse Square realtor's sign that inspired this just-for-fun post:

The Fight for A Philadelphia Gem

When you veer off into unknown territory you're likely to find the unexpected. That's exactly what occured yesterday as I left the commotion of a busy Philadelphia street to explore a charming little alley. Red brick townhouses framed by shutters and ivy lined a narrow brick cartway strewn with autumn leaves. The noise of the city fell away as if muted by years of history. I explored tentatively, wondering how residents in the area might react to a stranger photographing and gazing about the area. I found my answer readily in an informative flyer prepared for all who might happen by.

It turns out there is a power struggle taking place in that hidden little gem of a side street in Philadelphia - between residents who would like to see it privatized and those who believe that Irving Street, after 200 years in the public domain, should remain open to all. Since Irving Street was never put on the Philadelphia City Plan back in the 1800s, residents can easily move to deny public access. Instead, one small group of Irving Street residents has organized to protect the public's right to enjoy it.

What incredible generosity that residents of this intimate space are willing to share it with others instead of gating it, hiding it from view and using it for personal interests as has been suggested. Some might argue that they are fighting against their own interests - afterall, they could eliminate potential nuisances like noise, litter and loitering just by closing it off. But the residents who have come together to form Save Irving Street see those issues simply as part of vibrant city life - problems that should not justify privatizing a historic street. This is where I want to stand up and cheer! Count me amazed by the residents of Irving Street and a big admirer of a tiny sliver of Philadelphia.

For complete details and updates regarding the future of Irving Street please visit