Author: Ari Kellen (page 1 of 3)

The Aviary Coming to New York

New York, for all of its flaws, does do one thing right: its drinking culture.  When it was just a small Dutch trading post that didn’t go north of Wall Street and didn’t have a population of more than 400, there was still roughly one bar for every 20 people.  390 years later, New York’s subway system means you can get home whenever you want without having to get behind the wheel.  No matter what type of alcohol or environment you’re into, whether you like drinking craft beer in a dive or cheap beer in a fancy spot, New York City has got you covered.  

While New York is home to the country’s oldest drinking culture, it’s hardly the only city with awesome bars, although New Yorkers would like to think so.  One of the best cocktail bars in the country is Chicago’s Aviary, filled with innovative drinks whose names are just as clever as the drinks themselves, and that’s not to mention their unique presentation.  One drink is even served in a glass ship in a bottle!  If you’re a particularly jealous New Yorker, who would like to experience these but would rather it be in New York, then you’re in luck, because the Aviary is coming to Gotham!  This summer, it’s getting its second location at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel by Columbus Circle.  

The bar is owned by the same people behind Alinea, a Michelin three-star restaurant in Chicago with a famously innovative approach to cuisine that’s earned plenty of attention.  The menu will be headed up by chef Grant Achatz and bartender Micah Melton.  Drinking at the Aviary is just as much about good-tasting drinks as it is a truly unique experience, much how Alinea isn’t just about eating good food.  Speakeasies throughout the city offer an exciting and unique way to enjoy craft cocktails, but the Aviary brings it to a whole new level.  The bar is set to open up on the 35th floor of the hotel, and will be accompanied by an even posh-er bar, “The Office”.  While it remains to be seen if these Chicago bars will overtake some of New York’s famous establishments, without a doubt they’ll add a new and exciting flair.  

Navigating a New York Winter

Once again, it’s winter time in New York City.  People talk about the rough summers in New York, where the heat reflecting off the concrete is just about the worst thing in the world.  But you have to be prepared for the winters too!  People who are new to New York City are often clueless about how bad the winters can be.  A coat and boots aren’t nearly enough to prepare you for the hazards of walking down a treacherously icy subway staircase, dodging mischievous snowballers in Central Park and navigating slush puddles, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg (pun intended) in regards to New York’s winter hazards.  Here are some tips for surviving a New York winters, taken from a blog post by the inimitable Tracy Kaler:

What to wear: When New York is at its coldest and windiest in January and February, a down coat will be your saving grace.  You’ll also need waterproof boots to travel through snow and the inevitable slush puddles on sidewalks.  If you’re attached to stylish shoes, don’t wear them outside.  But don’t forget about accessories such as hats, scarves and of course gloves.  If you’re spending a lot of time outside, hand warmers don’t hurt either.

Snow removal: Unless you own a home in New York, you shouldn’t be responsible for shoveling or maintaining your sidewalks.  Your super and building staff will oversee that.  But when New York gets a lot of snow or several snow storms in a short period, it piles up quickly.  There’s nowhere to put it until it can melt, so visibility and walking are both tough.  So plan for additional time for your commute.

Parking: Owning a car in the city has its merits, but it’s also a big hassle in the winter.  If you don’t park it in a lot, you might want to, or opt for vehicle storage.  There are always more cars than spaces in New York, and when many of those spaces are snowed out, it’s particularly difficult.  

Dog owners: New York sidewalks are sprinkled with a whole lot of salt over the winter, and that can harm your dog’s paws.  Make sure that you avoid salted areas when walking with your dog, or better yet make sure they wear booties.  If they don’t have thick fur, then get them a winter jacket as well.  

Melting snow: When New York’s snow melts, it turns into a disgusting, gray slush.  Not only is it absolutely disgusting, but it also can cause flooding.  That’s where boots come in handy, because nobody likes stepping in slush puddles.  When the snow is melting, make sure you stand away from corners, otherwise passing traffic will splash the melted snow.

New York’s Holiday Attractions

New York is a special place to be all year round, but in december, as everybody gets ready for Yuletide celebrations, it’s particularly magical.  Whether it’s holiday markets, seasonal shows, department store windows, there are plenty of great things around the city for you to check out.  Here are a few of them:

Rockefeller Christmas Tree: Every year, a giant tree pops up in Rockefeller Plaza, decorated top to bottom in tinsel.  Overlooking the famed Rockefeller Plaza ice skating rink, it’s an essential sight to see, especially when it’s all lit up at night.  Just a fair warning: it gets crowded.

5th Avenue window-browsing: Every December, the various high-end department stores on Fifth Avenue put up elaborate window decorations based around various themes.  Most of the time they’re holiday-themed in one way or another, but each one is different, and even if you can’ afford anything in the stores, the windows are 100% worth perusing, regardless of the crowds.  

Christmas shows: The most famous of these is the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular”, but it’s by no means the only one.  Holiday-themed shows in New York City run the gamut, from more traditional (like the Nutcracker) to the notoriously raunchy Blunderland Variety Show.

Holiday markets: In various parks in Manhattan are “winter villages”, holiday-themed markets where all sorts of merchants congregate.  You can find just about anything, from jewelry to hot chocolate to socks.  A perfect place to go if you want to find gifts for everybody on your list in just one place.  They can be found in Union Square, Bryant Park and Columbus Circle.  

Ice skate: Even if it isn’t cold enough for the water to freeze, various places around the city offer ice skating during the Holiday season.  The most famous of these is Rockefeller Plaza, and while it’s certainly a great time, it’s hardly the only one, and it does get a bit crowded.  You can also try out Central Park, Bryant Park, Chelsea Piers, Riverbank State Park, and that’s just in Manhattan!

What To Look For This Thanksgiving Day Parade

Since 1926, Macy’s has hosted a Thanksgiving Day Parade that marches down the streets of New York.  In the 90 years that it’s been around, this parade has become synonymous with Thanksgiving, as people all around the world tune in to see the various gigantic floats.  In just several days, onlookers will be lining the streets of New York to get a glimpse at these gigantic floats, the same as they have for generations now.  Every year, typically a week before the parade actually happens, Macy’s opens the Parade Studio in Moonachie, New Jersey to a select few to take a look at what’s to come.  This year, it was a lucky group of about 300 third-graders.  I read an article recently that talked about some of the floats to look out for, and I know that I’ll be keeping my eye out for these this Thursday morning:

Girl Scout Float: Decorated with silhouettes of Girl Scouts and adorned with “badges”, the Girl Scout float pays homage to the organization’s storied history while also showing that it’s an up-to-date organization.  The float also features a giant crane operated by Girl Scouts.  

Krazy Glue Fun House Float: This float is bursting from top to bottom with color and lights, and in the center features a rotating room.  Performers will be inside the rotating center, who have been training on how to stay balanced inside the moving circle.

Aloha Spirit Float: While the floats on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade are typically Thanksgiving- or Christmas-themed, this one is tropical, with palm trees and a cabana.  In addition to a glowing volcano, the float features a working waterfall.  Let’s hope it doesn’t freeze!

Balsam Hill: Christmas decoration outlet Balsam Hill not surprisingly made an extremely “festive” float this season, decked with toys, five different trees (one of them three stories tall) and lined with over 300 feet of garland.  

The parade will be kicking off this Thursday at 9 am, Thanksgiving Day.  Be sure to tune in, or if you’re in New York, stop by for a visit!

The Grandma Restaurant

There’s something that few restaurants can truly replicate, and that’s a home-cooked meal made with love.  However, there’s one restaurant in Staten Island that’s getting pretty darn close: Enoteca Maria, where the kitchen is staffed by grandmothers, or “nonnas”, from around the world.  For about 10 years now, the kitchen has been opened to grandmothers who wanted to cook the food of their native countries.  While it’s traditionally an Italian restaurant, the grandmothers behind Enoteca Maria come from just about everywhere: Argentina, Algeria, Syria, Poland, Nigeria and of course Italy.  

The idea began when owner Jody Scavarella placed an ad in an Italian newspaper seeking housewives to cook regional dishes.  Over time, his roster has grown by word of mouth and exploded.  While some of the grandmas are from Staten Island, most come from Brooklyn, and some are from New Jersey and the Bronx.  In addition to the various grandmas, there’s one “nonno”, a Calabrian who makes all of the pasta.  Every night two different nonnas work: one from Italy, and one from another part of the world.  This way, it’s an Italian restaurant that sneaks in offerings from elsewhere.

According to Scavarella, since each of these nonnas is the matriarch of their particular family unit, each one of them feels like they’re the boss.  And when they’re all in a room together, there can be a clash of egos.  Nonetheless, these nonnas are a beloved fixture of the community, attracting customers from around the world.  

Enoteca Maria offers a home-cooked meal and an experience that few restaurants in New York, let alone the world, can offer.  Even if you have a grandma to cook for you, this is a whole other experience.  At the end of the day, patrons of the restaurant often applaud the nonnas that cook for them, making it a truly amazing experience for everybody involved.  

If you’d like to learn more, you can click here, or go and visit Enoteca Maria for yourself!

Visiting the Met at Night

Even if it’s a pretty well-known landmark, and located smack in the middle of one of New York’s busiest neighborhoods, the Met is a great place to leave the chaos of the city behind.  It’s a magnificent building with countless artifacts steeped in history.  But if you’re only going to the museum during daylight hours, then you’re doing it wrong.  Fridays and Saturdays, the museum has late-night hours.  Here are some reasons you should take advantage, based off an article I found online:

Fifth Avenue is beautiful at night: Fifth Avenue might have a reputation (not without good reason) for being whitewashed and overpriced, but it’s also beautiful at night, whether you’re looking down from above or simply walking on the sidewalk.

The Met rooftop: If you’d rather see Fifth Avenue from above, or maybe just see a great New York sunset, the Met Rooftop Sculpture Gardens offers great city views.  Weather permitting, it’s typically open from early May until the end of October.  During summers, it hosts single-artist exhibitions.

The Great Hall balcony bar: On weekend evenings, this bar has live music and good drinks while offering a great view of the Met’s Great Hall.  But act fast; it’s only open until 8:30 pm, with last call at 7:45.

The Met becomes totally different: Walking through the Met at night can be really relaxing, offering a chance to de-stress and disconnect from the outside world.  

Great art: No matter what time you visit the Met, there’s always fantastic art.  You don’t have to be an art nerd to appreciate the Met, with exhibits from various periods in history.  You won’t come close to seeing even half of the museum in just one visit, so try concentrating on just a couple of galleries per visit.  

Ancient Arch in New York

Since taking over large swaths of the Middle East, terrorist group ISIS has destroyed various monuments and historic buildings which they consider “idolatrous”.  One of those sites destroyed was what once was the Temple of Baal, an ancient temple that was later converted to a Christian church and then an Islamic mosque.  In August last month, ISIS militants destroyed it and beheaded the archaeologist who had served as its caretaker for 40 years since they viewed its pre-Islamic history as “sacrilegious”.  

Earlier this year, a rumor was circulating that the Temple of Baal would be rebuilt as a house of worship in Times Square.  This ultimately turned out to be false, but only half so: yesterday, a replica of the entrance to the temple, Triumphal Arch of Palmyra, was unveiled in City Hall Park.  A 3D-printed replica of the arch, created shortly after the original was destroyed, is now on display in City Hall Park, where it will stand until the end of the week before being moved to Dubai.  It was previously in London’s Trafalgar Square.  It was created by the Institute for Digital Archaeology as part of a joint venture with UNESCO, which gives 3D cameras to volunteers so they can photograph and preserve threatened sites in conflict zones in the Middle East.  Certain critics have objected to the temple’s reconstructing, saying that it would lead to ritualistic “debauchery”, yet so far that hasn’t happened.  

The 25-foot-tall replica was made of Egyptian marble and weighs nearly 30,000 pounds.  It will be open to the public for a week, with historical interpreters leading tours and workshops on site.  Roger Michel, the IDA’s executive director, has spoken of the arch as a symbol for the world’s resilience against the suffering and tragedy going on around the world.  

If you’d like to learn more, you can click here!

The Newest Met

The Newest Met by Ari KellenAfter a month of mediocre playing and disappointing losses, the Mets have got their swing back, and now a shot at the wild card doesn’t sound nearly as farfetched as it did at the start of August.  They’ve gone 14-4 in their last 18 games, climbing over two teams to get into a tie in the wild card race.  That was at least what Mets fans were thinking of when they went to bed last night.  This morning, they were met with a completely different piece of news: Tim Tebow was signed to a minor league contract.

Tim Tebow is most famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for his time in football.  A very good college quarterback, his career with the NFL was cut short after an uninspired season with the Jets, which made him one of the most hated players in New York.  He hasn’t played baseball in 12 years, but for whatever reason, the Mets signed him.  This foray was supposed to be a marketing stunt, a well-attended professional workout.  An assessment of Tebow’s workout noted that he had some power, but was “carved up” by mediocre pitcher David Aardsma and couldn’t throw.  Tim Tebow isn’t known for his baseball, and even as a quarterback was more well-known for kneeling in prayer before plays (known as “Tebowing”).  

For whatever reason, however, the Mets are allowing Tebow a chance to redeem himself, turning into an easy source of home runs in a far-off town like Binghamton or Columbia.  Yet that’s unlikely; Tebow hasn’t played baseball in 12 years, and he’s not off to a good start.  This is also a team with finances so shaky that they could lose Cespedes.  Tebow could get them some publicity at spring training, but that won’t do them much good if Cespedes is playing for the Phillies next year.  The Mets need all the help they can get to make it to the playoffs this season, and things like this threaten to harm their image.  

New York’s Bialy Scene

There are those New York foods that everybody knows about: pizza, bagels and hot dogs.  Then there are those that aren’t as well-known, such as knishes or the legendary hot dog/papaya juice combo.  And there are those that are even less known, yet still undeniably New York, such as the bialy.  The bialy is a cousin of the bagel, yet fluffier and instead of a hole, it features a depression filled with sweet onions.  It was originally brought to New York by Jewish immigrants from the town of Bialystok, Poland.  While they aren’t nearly as well-known as bagels, they have a fiercely loyal cult following.

In recent years, a new crop of culinary mavens have revived interest in traditional New York Jewish cuisine.  New Jewish delis began springing up, such as Shelsky’s and Mile End, in addition to modern bagel boutiques.  While bagels were one of the main focuses here, the bialy was mostly forgotten.  Yet bialys are delicious, and its slender profile make for more balanced sandwiches.  The bialy has many benefits: they’re crusty and chewy, but nonetheless soft and piant.  The depth of flavor in the onions can’t be underestimated either.  Bialys are part of the tradition of Jewish onion breads, which evolved among impoverished European Jews that needed to make good-tasting food out of limited ingredients.  The bialy fans of today have been trying to revive interest in onion breads, specifically the bialy.  

One of the oldest bialy spots in New York is Kossar’s in the Lower East Side, which has been open since 1939.  In 2013, it was purchased by a group of bialy fans who were interested in reviving interest in this unique type of food.  The Jewish community of Bialystok, who developed the bialy, is since gone, having either emigrated or been wiped out by the Holocaust.  In New York, this culinary tradition has been able to live on, but it was at risk of becoming extinct.  By the turn of the millennium, the oldest bialy bakery in the city closed and Kossar’s was in decline, but in the mid-2000s the Hot Bread Kitchen made it their mission to revive the bread, and began selling them by the truckload at the New Amsterdam market.  Since then, other bakeries, old and new, have been joining in on the action.  

Best Brazilian Food in NYC

With the Rio Olympics in full swing, you might want to try and feast yourself on some good, authentic Brazilian food around the city.  Around 46th street is an area called “Little Brazil”, which features plenty of Brazilian restaurants at Times Square-level prices.  But there are plenty of Brazilian joints across the city that offer delicious, authentic Brazilian food, and at much lower prices.  I recently came across an article that discussed some of the best Brazilian dishes in New York City, and where you can get them:

Pao de quiejo: Calling this “cheesy bread” doesn’t do justice to how delicious it is.  They look like munchkins, but instead of sparing portions of jelly, they’re filled with warm, gooey cheese.  
Where to get it: New York Pao de Queijo in Astoria

Picanha: A Brazilian cut of beer, sort of like filet mignon but with more fat.  It’s traditionally served with homemade salsas and a couscous-like side called “farofa”.
Where to get it: Colonia Verde in Fort Greene

Pastels: Sort of like the Brazilian version of hot pockets, but they aren’t cooked in a microwave.  They’re served with just about any sort of filling, from chicken to chocolate.
Where to get it: The Coffee Shop near Union Square

Feijoada: Considered the national dish of Brazil, feijoada is a black bean and meat stew served with orange slices, white rice, collard greens and farofa.
Where to get it: Casa in the West Village

Churrasco: Quintessential Brazilian cuisine, churrasco restaurants feature waiters walking around with swords of meat.  The key here is all-you-can-eat, with waiters carrying around samples of pork, beef and chicken until you’re just about ready to drop.
Where to get it: Fogo de Chao in Midtown

Moqueca de peixe: A traditional seafood stew that originated in Portugal.  It’s simmered with dende oil, green herbs, tomatoes, onions and coconut milk.  
Where to get it: Favela Grill in Astoria

Costelinha de porco: Traditional pork ribs coated in barbecue sauce.  
Where to get it: Berimbau in the West Village

Brigadeiros: Truffle-like treats made with condensed milk, cocoa powder and butter, then coated in sprinkles.
Where to get it: Brigadeiro Bakery in the West Village

Caipirinha: The national cocktail of Brazil, made with lime and the spirit cachaça.
Where to get it: Beco in Williamsburg