The Oldest House in Manhattan

On Saturday I visited the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights with my friend Monica and my mentee. Built in 1765 by British Colonel Roger Morris as a summer residence for him and his American wife, Mary Philipse, the landmarked Palladian-style building is Manhattan’s oldest house. 

Notably, George Washington used the mansion as his temporary headquarters for 34 days during the Revolutionary War. Fourteen years later, Washington held his first cabinet dinner there attended by Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Below is Washington's War Room from which he monitored the movements of the British forces.

In the Morris' time, slaves and servants worked at the mansion and adjacent farm. The mannequins below are part of a temporary exhibit called "The Fabric of Emancipation" which includes fiber works by local artists inspired by the history of the mansion and the impact of colonialism on the experience of the African Diaspora today.

We were fortunate to be lead on a tour by docent Margaret A. Oppenheimer who is an art historian and author of the critically acclaimed book “The Remarkable Rise of Eliza Jumel: A Story of Marriage and Money in the Early Republic”. Eliza Jumel was the home’s longest and most notorious resident. Born the illegitimate daughter of a prostitute, she married the wealthy French wine merchant Stephen Jumel and died one of the richest women in America. After Stephen's death, Eliza's wed former Vice President and infamous dueler Aaron Burr at the mansion. Less than a year later, Eliza filed for divorce and was represented by Alexander Hamilton's son in the proceedings.

The Jumels were Napoleon sympathizers and traveled back and forth between France and America. Accordingly, the house is furnished in the French Empire style and contains a bed that Eliza claimed was owned by Napoleon.

There is a lovely community garden behind the mansion which grows flowers, vegetables and herbs on the location of the original eighteenth century vegetable gardens.

Funny poster at the gift store:

Sylvan Terrace, a cobblestone street with 20 wooden row houses, is directly across from the mansion and part of the Morris-Jumel Historic District. The row houses were built in 1882 and originally occupied by middle-income tenants. Restored in the late 1970s by the Landmark Preservation Commission, there is currently one on the market for $1,700,000.

I highly recommend visiting the Morris-Jumel mansion and Sylvan Terrace. It was so fascinating to see where Colonial history unfolded and learn about Eliza Jumel's colorful life (I look forward to reading Oppeheimer's book). The mansion's hilltop location in Roger Morris Park feels distinctly unlike Manhattan while being just a train ride uptown.

The Shephard - elegant LIVING in the West Village

I recently visited the sales gallery for the Shephard, a new luxury condominium located at 275 West 10th Street, between Washington Street and Greenwich Street, in the West Village. The 12-story historic warehouse building was originally constructed in 1896 for industrial use and converted to rental units in the 1970s. The Naftali Group is in the process of renovating the building, re-engineering the mechanical systems, and transforming the rental units into 38 upscale residences. Stribling Marketing Associates is handling the marketing and sales.

The building is being modernized but great attention has been paid to ensure that it maintains its historic West Village feel. It is undergoing a complete façade restoration and will have new Landmark-approved, super-insulated, UV-protected windows. 

The kitchens have been custom designed by Gachot Studio and will feature solid mahogany cabinetry made by hand in Italy, Statuary white marble countertops mixed with durable honed black granite work surfaces, and custom Valli and Valli hardware with brass and satin nickel accents. All appliances will be Miele.

The master bathrooms will have custom white marble mosaic fan tile flooring. Bianco Dolomiti marble slab accents, mahogany vanities and medicine cabinets, custom millwork and cabinetry, and radiant-heated floors and fixtures by Lefroy Brooks. I love the simple and elegant look of all the interiors!

A new lobby has been created by incorporating a neighboring historic carriage house. The lobby will provide access to a landscaped garden and beautiful wood-paneled library.

This is a photo of a simulation of the garden.

In keeping with recent trends, the amenities will include a game room with custom ping pong and vintage arcade games, an indoor basketball court, golf simulator, screening room, gym and pilates studio, boulder climbing wall, private steam rooms, individual storage rooms, and a resident’s club.

The 2 bedroom/2.5 bath residences started at $4,950,000 for 1,744 square feet, but they have all sold. Available residences start at $6,950,000 for a 4 bedroom/4.5 bath unit of 2,932 square feet and range up to $29,500,000 for the largest 5 bedroom/5.5 bath penthouse of 5,985 square feet with a 1,536 square foot private terrace.

I visit new developments every week, but based on the classic design aesthetic and charming West Village location, the Shephard is leading in my favorite new condominiums.

 

 

A Chat with my favorite contemporary poet: Monica Wendel on WRITING and BUSHWICK

I am extremely proud of my good friend Monica Wendel who won the 2015 Coal Hill Review chapbook prize for her third chapbook, English Kills, published by Autumn House Press. (A chapbook is a small book or pamphlet of poems.) To celebrate Monica’s book, we visited the namesake English Kills Creek and then discussed her writing process, inspiration, and favorite local places over coffee at the Swallow Cafe in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Monica at English Kills 

Shane:  Where do you find inspiration for your writing?
Monica: Many of my poems are inspired by dreams. I'm especially drawn to the moments in life that seem strange and dream-like (a city being the "lentil capital of the nation," for example) paired with the moments in dreams that are dull and everyday (like waiting for the subway). And dreams are always inspired by real life.

The Swallow Cafe 

Shane: How did you choose English Kills for your book title?
Monica: Weirdly enough, that came from a dream. I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and I had a dream that I was by the Newtown Creek, which forms a border between Brooklyn and Queens. When I woke, I knew I wanted to write a poem about the dream; looking on Google Maps, I saw that Newton Creek branches into English Kills and Maspeth Creek. But -- perhaps more importantly than where I got the title -- it seemed to encompass many of the themes in the book. Language, and dead languages, weave in and out of the poems. English Kills has two meanings -- it's a place, but it also sounds more violent -- and many of the poems engage with the idea of perception. Finally, English is my "mother tongue," as they say, and many of the poems are about children and their parents.

Shane: What is your writing process like?
Monica: My process starts with dream, or a piece of artwork (collaboration with the artist Paulin Paris, solicited by 7x7 magazine, inspired many of the poems in English Kills). Then I revise with the help of my long-time writing group, which usually takes place in someone's kitchen.

Shane: How do you like living in Bushwick?
Monica: Hmm, that's an interesting question. I love being in the middle of so much art and graffiti and cool bars, but it feels very temporary -- I know the landlord is going to kick us out when the lease is out, and it makes it hard for me to settle in. Also, there aren't any trees on my street, just industrial buildings. Still, I love the mix of people and purpose, the cement trucks turning behind a wall while artists and tourists walk by, drinking lattes on the other side. But I don't plan on staying.

Shane: What galleries, restaurants, and bars would you recommend there?
Monica: Galleries: There are so many to choose from! We host art shows in our loft about once a month, though we're not technically a gallery. You can't go wrong by wandering into the 56 Bogart building and just seeing what catches your eye -- recently, Life on Mars showed a series of paintings by Paul D'Agostino that I really liked.   

Restaurants: Roberta's is insane, but for a reason -- it's insanely good. They have a takeout window now, so you can get a pie and eat it in the park nearby.

Bars: I love 983-Bushwick’s Living Room (and I know you do too!). The bartenders are friendly and the mixed drinks are amazing, especially this habanero cocktail that they have (El Burro Loco). 

Monica and Shane at 983-Bushwick's Living Room

The poems in English Kills have a geographic and topical scope much vaster than Bushwick as Monica passionately describes relationships, current events, and daily life from Long Island to Europe and beyond. English Kills is available for purchase directly from the publisher Autumn House Press or on Amazon.com.

A Tale of Two Doughnut Shops

Recently it feels like there has been an explosion in artisanal doughnut shops in New York City.  Doughnuts are the new cupcakes!  So while I am by no means a doughnut connoisseur, I thought I would share my favorite two doughnut stores – one specializing in yeast doughnuts and the other in cake doughnuts.

I first visited the Doughnut Project in the West Village after reading about the co-owner Leslie Polizzotto whose background as an art history major and attorney-turned-entrepreneur reminded me of my own.  It has quickly become my favorite doughnut shop – I love the colorful graffiti-laden walls, fun atmosphere, and unique flavors.

The Doughnut Project specializes in small batch, handmade yeast donuts, which come in innovative flavors such as bacon maple bar, salted chocolate with buttered pretzel cookie crumble, olive oil and black pepper, beet stuffed with ricotta, and cream cheese glaze topped with sesame seeds, pepitas, sea salt and garlic. The latter resembles an everything bagel and has been getting a ton of press lately. There are also seasonal and weekend specials such as lemon drop and blueberry fritters.  

My favorite flavor is the beet stuffed ricotta, pictured below, which is not as strange as it sounds. I love the vibrant color!

Much less cute and far more inconvenient, Underwest Donuts makes my favorite cake doughnuts.  The shop is located inside a car wash on the West Side Highway, but it’s worth the trek. 

The proprietor of Underwest, Scott Levine, previously worked at Chanterelle and Il Laboratorio del Gelato and his doughnuts also come in some unusual flavors. Rotating glazed doughnuts include dark chocolate, maple waffle, carwash (vanilla-lavender), mulled cider, halva, and brown butter. 

The sugar doughnuts are made-to-order in a machine and then coated in cinnamon, coco raspberry, or expresso bean.  Or you can get a classic plain doughnut.

The maple waffle doughnut is pictured below, but my favorite flavor is actually the glazed brown sugar. 

Both stores carry Brooklyn Roasting Company coffee, which is a sign that BRC produces some quality coffee. 

For more information, visit the websites of The Doughnut Project and Underwest Donuts.

ZAHA HADID IN THE CITY

I recently attended a private preview of the 520 West 28th Street sales gallery. The building is a new luxury condominium overlooking the High Line, which has the distinction of being the first residential building in NYC designed by starchitect Zaha Hadid. Born in Baghdad and based in London, Hadid notably became the first female receipt of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2004. 

Hadid's works have a distinctive neo-futuristic style and models of her most famous buildings were on display. 

Although Hadid’s designs initially looked very sci-fi-inspired to me, I learned that she is most influenced by natural forms. Her fondness for curves can be seen in the hand-rubbed metal facade of 520 West 28th Street, which is comprised of an interlocking chevron pattern that maximizes privacy and security between the residences. 

520 West 28th Street will feature 39 unique residences with floor-to-ceiling glass walls.  Available residences start at $4,975,000 for a 2-bed/2.5-bath apartment (1,691 interior sq. ft.) and range up to $25,000,000 for the largest 2-bed/4.5-bath penthouse (4,460 interior sq. ft., 2,040 exterior sq. ft.).

IMG_3509.jpg

I watched a video describing the many luxury amenities that will be offered by the developer, Related Companies, and they are basically endless. There will be a 24-hour concierge, doorman, porter, resident manager and handyman available on-site. Mail will be hand-delivered to residents. The private spa suite, inspired by a Turkish hammam, will feature a 75-foot skylit saline swimming pool, cold plunge pool, waterfall shower, sauna and steam room, chaise lounge, and massage treatment beds. There will also be a state-of-the-art fitness center, reservable lounge and entertainment suite equipped with a chef’s kitchen, and the only private IMAX theater in NYC. The lobby will feature furniture designed by Hadid and will have views of the landscaped garden, including a 34-foot tall year-round blooming live wall. There will also be an automated valet for underground parking, a bike storage room, and private automated storage. 

This is the model kitchen and model bathroom (Hadid designed chandeliers will not be included with delivery). 

My favorite part of the presentation was the video simulation of the completed Hudson Yards project, which is also being developed by Related Companies (in partnership with Oxford Properties Group). Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in U.S. history and the largest development in NYC since Rockefeller Center. I have passed the construction site many times, but found it difficult to envision just how drastically improved the West 30’s neighborhood will be until I saw it in 3-D. I look forward to the area being a destination for commerce and culture.

520 West 28th Street is expected to be completed in 2017. For more information and floor plans, visit the website here

A lovely afternoon in chelsea

This past Saturday I went with my mentee and a friend to see the Fairy Tale Fashion exhibit at the Museum at F.I.T. The exhibit examines both the influence of fairy tales on high fashion and the significance of fashion in fairy tales. As noted by the curator, it is evident that in fairy tales “dress is often used to symbolize a character’s transformation, vanity, power, or privilege.”

The exhibit highlights 15 fairytales and pairs them with accessories and garments by famed designers such as Dolce and Gabbana, Tom Ford, Marchesa, Rodarte, Alexander McQueen, Rick Owens, and Prada. Although not all of the garments and accessories were directly inspired by fairy tales, it was easy to see the connection. It was also interesting and fun to read the summaries of many fairy tales that were unknown to my mentee and I.  And the dresses were fantastical and stunning! 

Fairy Tale Fashion is up until April 16, 2016 and I highly recommend it for children and adults alike!

After the exhibit, we walked a short distance to HARBS Japanese bakery.  I had passed HARBS numerous times and seen the impressive cake display through the windows, but I had never been to the back tea room. The atmosphere was lovely!

The bakery is known for their crepe cakes, so we ordered the crepe cake of the day, which had layers or cinnamon and chocolate cream. It was delicious! We also enjoyed caramel tea and my mentee got the non-caffeinated fruit tea, which was bright red and appropriately magical-looking after the fairy tale show. 

Although everything at HARBS was rather dear, it was definitely worth it. I can’t wait to go back!  They also just opened a location on the UES.

For more info on HARBS, visit the website here

Preview of 360 Central Park West

I recently had the opportunity to tour the new luxury condominiums at 360 Central Park West Central Park with Stribling broker and on-site sales director Jeffrey Stockwell.

360 Central Park West is a 16-story building constructed in 1929 and designed by renowned architect Rosario Candela (Candela designed many of the city’s most prestigious residential buildings along Sutton Place, Park Avenue, and West End Avenue). 

Argo Real Estate has commissioned CetraRuddy Architects to transform the original interiors into bright open spaces with luxurious finishes. Argo received special approval from the Landmarks Preservation Committee to add 34 windows to the façade, providing additional light and spectacular views of Central Park.

Below are highlights from my visit to the sales gallery and one of the three-bedroom apartments.

I love the lacquer wall in the living room!

The residences have beautiful five-inch solid oak herringbone floors. The kitchens feature burnished cooper range hoods and honed Italian marble countertops and backsplashs.

The master bedrooms have lots of closet space and en suite baths.

Unfortunately, I did not have a wide-angle lens with me and thus could not properly capture the floor-to-ceiling Bianco Namibia marble slab walls in the master baths. They are stunning!  

Central Park is looking dreary here, but the views of the park and the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir are fabulous!

The fully attended building will feature a children’s playroom, gym, private storage and bike storage, and a pet-grooming station.

Current availability includes three-bedroom apartments starting at $3,595,000 and a four-bedroom apartment priced at $5,750,000. 

For more information, please visit www.360cpwny.com.

Inside the Ukrainian Institute of America

Since childhood I had been curious about the French Gothic limestone chateau on the corner of 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, so I was excited to see the building on the list of sites open to the public for Annual Open House New York (OHNY) Weekend. I have to admit my interest in the mansion was piqued c. 1999 when I saw the movie Cruel Intentions and the evil Valmont stepsiblings appeared to reside in the house.

A National Historic Landmark, known as the Fletcher-Sinclair mansion, the house was originally built in 1899 for businessman Isaac Fletcher and designed by prominent Gilded Age architect C.P.H. Gilbert (Gilbert designed dozens of mansions and townhouses around NYC, including the nearby, similarly opulent French Gothic Warburg mansion, which today houses the Jewish Museum).

After Fletcher died, disgraced oil industrialist Harry Sinclair purchased the mansion, followed by Augustus and Anne Van Horne Stuyvesant (unmarried brother-sister descendants of Peter Stuyvesant). In 1955, the Ukrainian Institute bought the building and has continually used it as a center for the Ukrainian-American community and a showplace for Ukrainian culture. The Institute hosts art exhibits, concerts, screenings, readings, children's programs and lectures, all open to the public (turns out I didn't need to wait years to see the inside of the building).  

The chateau has lavish details, both inside and out. There are lots of gargoyles, whimsical figures, and gothic drip moldings on the exterior. There is also a dry moat around the building.

Although I was initially disappointed to learn that the indoor shots in Cruel Intentions were filmed in L.A., the mansion's interiors did not disappoint. There are intricate wooden carvings, ceiling moldings, ornate lighting fixtures, and crystal chandeliers throughout the house.

How funny is this built-in scale in the bathroom?

On one of the upper floors there is a permanent display of work by acclaimed Ukrainian sculptor Alexander Archipenko. There is also an interesting temporary painting exhibit titled “Faces of Ukraine,” featuring Socialist Realist portraits and scenes of Ukrainians in the post-World War II period up until the mid-1980s. 

I highly recommend stopping by the Ukrainian Institute to see the art exhibits and stunning building. Just be sure to call ahead because the nonprofit rents out the building for private events.

For more information on the Ukrainian Institute, visit the website here.

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all good things for 2016!  I hope you enjoy these photos of my favorite holiday scenery and windows around NYC this season.

East Village by Way of East London: Studio Visit with Zoe Buckman

I recently visited the East Village studio of English artist Zoe Buckman with the American Friends of the Israel Museum (AFIM). Buckman works in various mediums such as photography, sculpture, neon, embroidery, and installation art. 

Prior to the studio visit, I came across multiple articles about how Buckman preserved her placenta through plastination and turned it into a marble-encased sculpture. I will admit that I did not initially think this sounded very appealing. However, upon hearing Buckman speak, I was much more appreciative of the work. Buckman gave birth to her daughter through a home birth and learned from the midwife that her placenta had partially depleted and would have caused a miscarriage if she did not give birth early. Significantly, the plastination process took nine months to complete at the Institute for Plastination in Germany.

The placenta sculpture is part of Buckman's series titled “Present Life,” which explores transience, permanency, and mortality. The series includes photographs of flowers that Buckman received after her daughter's birth, which she photographed as they decayed, thus preserving them as reminders of mortality (memento mori for all my art history buffs!).

My favorite works were from the series titled “Every Curve,” which explores “the contradictory and complimentary influences of Feminism and Hip Hop” in the artist's upbringing. Hanging around the studio were vintage lingerie pieces that she hand-embroidered with lyrics by Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.  These two artists had the most prominent influence on her youth in East Hackney.  

Born in 1985, Buckman is a relatively young artist.  She was also incredibly warm, sincere, and charming. look forward to following her work in the future.

For more info on Zoe Buckman, visit her website at www.zoebuckman.com

Castle in the Sky: The Woolworth Tower Residences

I recently visited my friend and fellow Hopkins alumna Jill Preschel for a tour of the Woolworth Tower Residences atop the iconic Woolworth Building. Jill is the Senior Sales and Marketing Director for Alchemy Properties and it was a treat touring the site and sales gallery with her.

The Woolworth Building is my favorite skyscraper in lower Manhattan and it's a National Landmark.  The building was commissioned by F.W. Woolworth of five-and-dime fame and designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert.  It was famously the tallest structure in the world at the time of completion in 1913. Alchemy Properties is currently converting the top of the skyscraper, starting at floor twenty-nine, into thirty-four private condominium residences. Available residences range from one bedroom apartments priced at $4,575,000 to the eight-story, five and a half floor “Castle in the Sky” penthouse priced at $110,000,000. Notably, the penthouse has the highest ever asking price for a condominium in downtown Manhattan.

We began by visiting the 40th floor construction site where I was impressed by the stunning views. I also loved seeing the terra cotta façade details outside the windows, which I had never noticed from ground level. The conversion includes a restoration of the terra cotta façade and the installation of Landmarks Commissioned approved new windows inspired by Cass Gilbert’s original design, which will add light and views to the residences.

Next we visited the sales gallery, which features a model two-bedroom apartment. The apartment interiors were designed by the Office of Thierry W. Dupont, who also oversaw the restoration of the Statute of Liberty and Claridge’s London hotel, and the ongoing restoration of the Ritz Paris. The apartment's dark herringbone oak floors, custom ceiling trims and cornices, and solid maple panel doors gave it a very historic feel.

The sales gallery also includes a preview of the Woolworth Tower Residence’s private lobby, which will be located at 2 Park Place, right off City Hall Park. The lobby will feature the original coffered ceiling that is being meticulously restored and relocated from the late F.W. Woolworth’s personal office.  The Woolworth Tower Residences will also have private high-speed elevators.

A restored panel from the original coffered ceiling of F.W. Woolworth's private office, which will be relocated to decorate the private lobby.

The Woolworth Tower Residences will feature a 24-hour doorman, full-time on-site concierge, and personal mail delivery. Other exclusive amenities for residents include an entertainment lounge, a personal fitness studio, a pool, and a wine cellar with private wine storage for each residence.

The Woolworth Tower Residences are expected to be completed in 20-24 months.  I can't wait to see the Residences when they are done, especially the eight-story penthouse!

Nature in the City: wave hill

This past fall I took my mentee to Wave Hill, which is a 28-acre public garden and culture center in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx. The garden overlooks the Hudson River and has stunning views of the Palisades. 

We drove to Wave Hill, but there is a free shuttle from the A train.  The mission of the institution is to "celebrate the artistry and legacy of its gardens and landscape, to preserve its magnificent views, and to explore human connections to the natural world through programs in horticulture, education and the arts."  To that end, there are free workshops offered daily in everything from Tai Chi to arts and crafts. 

We arrived around noon and ate at the café in Wave Hill House.  The food was decent, but the setting was more memorable.  Wave Hill House is a former country estate built in 1843 and rented over the years by the families of several prominent Americans, such as Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  The house underwent a two-year restoration and reopened in 2013.  It's now a popular wedding venue and it was fun seeing a groom's party having their photos taken around the grounds (can you find the bridal gown in the photo above?). 

After lunch, we went for a short hike on the wooded trail.  We were the only people on the trail and it felt very Blair Witch Project-esque (in the best possible way).

My mentee’s favorite part of the outing was rolling on the hills. 

Wave Hill is a bit of a schelp from Manhattan, but it's lovely and definitely worth the trip.  We are planning on returning in the spring and doing one of the family arts projects.

For more info on Wave Hill, visit http://www.wavehill.org.   

The Colorful World of Hunt Slonem

Recently I had the opportunity to visit the artist Hunt Slonem's studio with fellow American Friends of the Israel Museum (AFIM). Slonem is an internationally renowned Neo-Expressionist artist who is most famous for his paintings of bunnies, tropical birds, insects, and Abraham Lincoln. 

A few months ago Slonem relocated his studio from Hudson Yards, New York to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and we were the first group to tour the new spectacularly colorful space. Slonem is an avid collector of art and antiques and the studio displays just a portion of his collections of Neo-Gothic furniture, top hats, marble busts, and blown glass.

Slonem generously spoke at length with our group and he was fascinating.  He grew up in a military family, moved around frequently in his youth, and studied in Nicaragua, Mexico, and New Orleans. His works are heavily influenced by his travels and interest in spirituality.

In addition to scouring flea markets for antiques, Slonem loves restoring historic houses that are at risk of demolition. He owns six properties, including two historically significant plantations in Louisiana. 

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the studio was the aviary in the back, housing at least 65 birds. Many of the birds were given to Slonem by families who inherited them and were unable to care for them. Slonem has employed the same caretaker to feed the birds for over thirty years.

Slonem had rabbits as a child and has been painting them since discovering that he was born in the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. My favorite paintings were from his Diamond series and feature his iconic bunnies outlined in glistening diamond dust.

It was a delight to meet Hunt Slonem and his studio was one the most visually interesting places I have ever seen. For more information on the artist, please visit his website at www.huntslonem.com.

 

destination: Red Hook, BK

A couple years ago the New York Times had an excellent article about day-tripping in Red Hook. The writer precisely summed up my thoughts, stating that Red Hook is a strange place to choose for a day trip…[b]ut for variety, charm, oddity and rugged urban beauty, there is nothing in the city like eating and drinking your way across this Brooklyn neighborhood.” This summer I visited Red Hook three times, drawn by the many culinary delights, lovely waterfront parks, and free Ikea ferry. Here are some highlights from my last trip:

There is very limited public transportation to Red Hook, so I took the Ikea water taxi ferry from Pier 11 (the Wall St. terminal) in Manhattan to the Fairway stop in Brooklyn. The ferry is free on weekends and the ride is about 15-20 minutes. My friend Monica biked and met me at the Fairway cafe.

Our first stop was for a tasting at the Red Hook Winery. We tried three different Long Island wines for only $8. I am not a wine connoisseur, but they were all pleasant and I was impressed with the sommelier’s knowledge of the wines and respective wineries.

Next we walked down Van Brunt Street, stopping at a couple cute boutiques, most notably Foxy & Winston. The charming owner, Jane Buck, is a designer who sells screen-printed textiles, stationary, and other gifts. We also passed a surprising number of green spaces.

Our ultimate destination on Van Brunt was the Red Hook Lobster Pound. Monica does not eat seafood so we went to the takeout window where I got the traditional Maine style lobster roll. It was delicious! 

For dessert, we visited Baked where Monica got one of the famous cookie bars. 

I love Baked, but there is a location in Tribeca, so instead I opted for something I can only get in Red Hook - a swingle at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies (a swingle is a mini chocolate-dipped key lime pie on a stick). It was one of the best desserts ever!  

We also stopped at Cacao Prieto, a chocolate factory and distillery in an impressive Dutch-style brick building.  

While it seemed like we really ate and drank our way around Red Hook, what’s most impressive is that we barely made a dent.  Among other intriguing sights, we passed a colorful Mexican popsicle shop, a pop-up brunch restaurant in a warehouse, and the famous Red Hook Food Vendors. To be covered on a future trip…

The Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade AKA The Cutest Event of the Year

This past Saturday I attended the 25th Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade for the first time and it was amazing.  There were hundreds of costumed dogs, many accompanied by owners in matching ensembles.  I overheard someone say, "this was the best day of my life,” and I do not think they were speaking in hyperbole.  My only grip is that it was super crowded, but so it goes.  The dog parade is now being added to my calendar as a must-do annual event.  If only I had a dog to dress up with...


Pastries fit for Marie Antoinette in the West Village

A few weeks ago, I was walking in the West Village when I passed a lovely storefront with a large crystal chandelier that reminded me of an antique shop, but there was a woman decorating pastries in the window.  Upon further inspection, I discovered that the shop is the first U.S. outpost of the French bakery Aux Merveilleux de Fred.  The bakery specializes in two products - the namesake merveilleux and cramiques.

Merveilleux are meringue cookie sandwiches covered in whipped cream and toppings such as shaved chocolate or nuts.  Although the pastries look like something that Marie Antoinette could have been found eating at Le Petit Trionen, they are of Belgian origin and the name is associated with the French Directory era (merveilleuses were women who wore over-the-top fashions in the period after M.A. met her unfortunate end).

The merveilluex come in six flavors with fanciful names:

  • le merveilleux (the marvelous) = dark Belgian chocolate;
  • l’incroyable (the incredible = speculoos cinnamon cookie and white chocolate;
  • l’impensable (the unbelievable) = coffee;
  • le magnifique (the magnificent = praline and carmelized hazelnuts;
  • le sans-culotte (the revolutionary) = caramel confectionary; and
  • l’excentrique (the eccentric) = amarena cherry. 

The mini is $2.25, individual is $4.95, and cakes can be ordered from $5.70 per person and serve 4 to 24 people. 

On my first visit, I tried a chocolate merveilleux, which was light while still tasting decadent (and delicious!).  On my second visit, I opted for the amarena cherry, which was the most aesthetically pleasing, resembling an upscale Hostess Sno Ball.  Unfortunately, it was cloyingly sweet.  Since I only bought one at a time, they were presented on napkins, but the packaging for larger purchases is quite elegant and would be an impressive hostess present.  Added bonus – the merveilleux are gluten-free!

Cramiques are brioche-like breads, which come in various flavors such as sugar, raisin and sugar, and chocolate chip.  At $1.70 for a roll and $5.40 for a boule, they are reasonably priced and would be a great addition for a tea party. 

My initial thought was that it must be difficult to sustain a business that only sells two products, but based on the number of people shopping during my two short visits, I would say Aux Merveilleux de Fred is here to stay.

Address: 37 8th Ave, New York, NY 10014 (between Jane and Horatio Streets)

Website: http://www.auxmerveilleux.com/home_en/

An Afternoon in Little Russia by the Sea

There is no greater place to feel fully immersed in a foreign culture without leaving New York City than Brighton Beach a/k/a "Little Russia by the Sea."

On a recent Sunday afternoon, I met up with my friend Monica in Union Square and we took the subway about 40 minutes to the Brighton Beach stop.

As we walked along Brighton Beach Avenue, the main thoroughfare running beneath the elevated subway tracks, it was fascinating to see and hear that Russian was completely dominant – in the Cyrillic street signs, the periodicals at the newspaper stands, and the conversations around us.  There were Russian vendors selling goods and delicacies directly on the sidewalks in front of their storefronts.  

We bought cheese and egg filled breads for only a couple dollars and ate them while walking to the boardwalk.

Our next stop was for a pick-me-up at the most famous institution on the promenade, Tatiana’s Restaurant & Nightclub.  

We were pleased that there was no minimum to sit outside, though the wait staff was not exactly attentive.  We ordered tea with jelly (jelly = delicious stewed cherries) and hot pink vegetable borscht.  The food was better than expected, but the people-watching was even more superb.  Despite the broad daylight, the dress code for adults at a children's birthday party inside appeared to be club attire – short tight dresses and platform heels dominated.  Needless to say, Tatiana’s did not disappoint and I would love to go back for the four-course, $20. lunch special or the nighttime floor show.  

After Tatiana’s, Monica swam in the ocean while I walked the length of the boardwalk to Coney Island, about 10-15 minutes away.  The crowds on the boardwalk were incredibly diverse and engaged in all different sports from kit sailing to volleyball to strength training.

Before heading back to Manhattan, we stopped at the Vintage Food Corporation, a Turkish bazaar selling inexpensive dried fruits, nuts, olives, cheeses, and other gourmet items.  There was a colorful Russian candy section, but it was difficult to navigate without English labels.

We both bought a plethora of groceries and headed back to Union Square, exhausted after the fun, authentically Russian beach day.

My favorite places in Brighton Beach:

Tatiana Restaurant & Nightclub - 3152 Brighton 6th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11235 (718) 891-5151

Vintage Food Corporation - 287 Brighton Beach Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11235 (718) 769-6674

Day trip to Long Island City: The Noguchi Museum, Socrates Sculpture Park, and Strand Smokehouse

I recently went on a day trip with a friend to Long Island City (L.I.C.), Queens.  L.I.C. is a gentrifying industrial neighborhood, which is popular for its short commute from Midtown, several contemporary art institutions, and high-rise rental buildings with spectacular views of Manhattan.

Our first stop was the Noguchi Museum, which is about 40 minutes from Union Square by subway.  I had read about the museum in the book “New York’s 50 Best Places to Find Peace & Quiet” by Allan Ishac and it is certainly deserving of its inclusion.  The museum was founded and designed by the Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi.  It was notably the first museum in the United States to be established by a living artist to display his own work. 

Isamu Noguchi was born in Los Angeles in 1904 and he had a prolific career, spanning from the 1920s until his death in 1988.  As the son of an unwed American mother and Japanese father, he struggled with his dual identity, which is explored in some of his work. 

Noguchi designed sculptures, gardens, furniture and lighting, ceramics, architecture and stage sets.  

Early in his career, Noguchi worked as an assistant to Brancusi in Paris and learned stone sculpture from him.  Brancusi’s influence is evident in Noguchi’s simple, elegant stone works. 

Unfortunately, the sculpture garden is closed for renovation until October, but the museum is still worth a visit.

                                                                                                                                   By Zachary Einzig

After a 45-minute guided tour, we walked to the Socrates Sculpture Park, a public park and sculpture garden. 

The park has panoramic views of Manhattan's Upper East Side.  There were people fishing and sunbathing.  It was quiet and serene.

Our last stop was for drinks at the Strand Smokehouse, a BBQ restaurant and beer garden near the Broadway subway station.  The prices were very reasonable ($8 for two tap beverages in mason jars), and the atmosphere was fun and festive.

It was a lovely day.  I would do it all over again and recommend the same! 

N.B. - The most famous museum in L.I.C. is the MoMA affiliate, P.S. 1, which is housed in a former public school.  I visited years ago and found the art unimpressive, but the exhibits change and the summer Saturday afternoon Warm Up parties are supposed to be great.  I hope to go before the end of the summer, or it will be added to my "must do" list for next year.