Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Walking with coffee (cont.)

More pictorial evidence of the wrongness of walking with coffee.

Although, on further consideration... if Britney Spears can manage to walk and sip, maybe I should be capable of it too.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Just a regular bucket of Joe

In London when I meet someone for a coffee, I order an americano. My coffee arrives in an oversized tea cup, is good and strong, and I drink it sitting down. Usually at a table. Simple.

Here in the country which presumably invented the americano, it is not so simple.

I learnt this the first time I innocently said 'yes' to TLOML's suggestion that we 'go and grab a coffee'.

My americano arrived in a paper cup the size of a bucket. And then TLOML lead the way out of the Coffee Bean, to walk slowly down the street. I was confused... and then aghast.
I am not used to the American tradition of walking with a coffee, I just can't do it. I'm too malcoordinated to walk and sip. Especially when I'm drinking from an enormous paper bucket.

As I result I learned that, when TLOML asks what I wanted to drink, I need first to ask him 'are we walking?' If we are walking, I'll have a shot of espresso which I can neck while he stirs his sugar into his latte. Only if we are sitting do I dare to order a longer drink.

But which longer drink? No more horrid weak americanos for me. I might as well be at a coffee morning drinking Nescafe red mug. And the size: 12oz of coffee is the norm here - 3/4 of a pint. It's too much!

My solution is to order a double espresso with a splash of water. Which makes me sound like a bit of a fusspot. And to make myself sound even more of a tosser, I have to put on a bad American accent so that I am understood, and request a 'double expresso, splash of warduh'.

Still, I stood with a colleague ordering coffee at the Big Corp cafeteria today. He asked for a large coffee, half decaf, half regular, and ice on the side. I don't feel so silly anymore...

Monday, June 27, 2011

Is West really best?

I've now lived briefly on both the so-called Left Coast, and the East Coast. And have heard plenty of generalizations about both.

Katy Perry sums it up well I think, 'California girls, we're unforgettable. Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top. Sun-kissed skin so hot we'll melt your Popsicle... We don't mind sand in our Stilettos, we freak in my Jeep.' 

My observations, like Ms Perry's, are all about appearances. I'm superficial like that, you see.

So I'm comparing the beautifully groomed green spaces of New England, giving on to those grassy dunes of the Hamptons and that fine white sand... with the beaches of Los Angeles, with their volley ball nets, big rocks, and the urban sprawl and untamed mountains behind.
And the fake boobs and Pilates-toned stomach of the Malibu barbie... with the rock hard thighs of the New York alpha female who runs for 10 miles before cranking out a 14 hour day building her impressive career

So far, in a couple of weekends in New England, my expectations are being met and the stereotypes confirmed.

There's one more stereotype which I hesitate to repeat since I have many good, smart friends in LA. But it is a commonly made assumption that, well, East Coasters are a little bit smarter. More likely to work in a job involving large numbers, slightly less likely to have undergone surgery for the same of their appearance. They read the NY Times rather than Entertainment Weekly, and prefer chess to beach volleyball. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. You can read more sweeping generalisations about Southern California on this earlier post.

I was surprised, therefore, to see this road sign at the end of a road in Westhampton this weekend:
Is it for visiting Los Angelenos? Or - whisper it - is it possible the East Coasters are not as smart as they want us all to believe?

Saturday, June 25, 2011


You might think of New Yorkers as an independent minded lot, if you were to generalise. Since I am in the business of making sweeping generalisations, allow me to continue. I'll let you into a secret.

New Yorkers are the biggest conformists ever.

A chic, stylish woman I met recently was horrified at the thought of wearing white after Labor Day, for instance. One should only wear white between Memorial Day in May, and Labour Day in September. It's an actual rule that even young, hip people who don't follow formal clothing etiquette will stick to. Weird, isn't it? I can't think of an equivalent British clothing rule.

Also peculiar to New York is the mass exodus in the summer. Everyone we know is headed for the Hamptons. Families take a house for the whole summer, so the yummy mummy can decamp for weeks on end while her hard working husband comes up on the Hamptons Jitney at the weekends. Those without responsibilities rent an expensive beach house for a month or two  in East Hampton and come up for long weekends. And even those who aren't subscribing to Hamptons real estate will still head up at least once or twice over the summer.

Even the independent minded dude we saw walking down 23rd Street in PVC budgie smugglers one sunny morning last week will probably be there.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people say 'It's so easy to get a reservation now it's summer and everyone's left the city'. Actually the population of the city remains the same, because tourists swoop in to take up the sidewalk space given up by New Yorkers. But since they're eating their dinner at Outback Steakhouse, the hip New York night spots are opening up for lesser mortals - those New Yorkers who don't disappear for the summer.

Like the 'no white after Labor Day' rule, I can't think of a British equivalent. It would be as if every other Londoner rented a holiday home in Whitstable for the summer. Which we don't.

Despite being puzzled by the level of conformity... I've decided to fit right in. Which is why I am typing this blog from a lovely beach house in the Hamptons. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A New Yorker's Guide to Gin

Gin is having a moment. TLOML has been convinced this would happen for years - to the extent that he was actually trying to find an independent gin company to buy stocks in. Alas, I fear we have missed the boat. Every good cocktail bar has a hip gin cocktail prominently on its list. It's the new vodka.

Hendricks was what started it all for TLOML. So refreshingly cucumber-y! He had a long relationship with the 'ultimate gin and tonic' at the SLS Beverly Hills. It involves Hendricks, Fever Tree tonic water, an edible flower and spherical ice cubes. Apparently they absolutely must be spherical.

Fortunately for our bank balance we moved away from spontaneous pop-in-for-a-drink-and-ooops!-spend-$100-on-bar-snacks proximity to SLS. So we got into mixing our own Hendricks and tonics at the beach pad, where I'm ashamed to admit the icecubes were never spherical.

Here in New York we noticed even more obscure gins on offer and thought it might be time to branch out. We recently bought a bottle of Old Tom on the recommendation of our friendly local liqor store owner.

Sceptical? So were we. Think it looks more like whiskey than gin? So did we. But it is really good. A sipping gin, if you can believe it. Well, TLOML enjoyed his neat over ice, but I needed a splash of tonic in mine to make it sippable.

I think the next thing for us to try will be a New York gin. There are two which are appearing behind our favourite bars with greater frequency. They're locally made, by alco-artisans, and that in itself was enough to sell us in.

Our current second favourite bar serves Brooklyn, which smells like lavender and tastes like heaven. Well, if heaven were a refreshing, botanical sharpener. But - like all the good things in life - it's hard to find. Only two stores in all of Manhattan sell it. The daftly spelt Breuckelen (apparently it's Dutch) is easier to find and shares many of the same qualities: it's made in Brooklyn by gin fanatics, and it's good.

I suspect all of these new artisan gins are being made by bankers who lost their jobs and decided to spluff their final pay cheque on a potstill and some juniper berries - while their female counterparts set up cupcake shops. I don't blame them, I can see the appeal. And I'm mighty glad they're making it so easy for us to enjoy good local drinks. No more booze-miles guilt!

Monday, June 20, 2011

More speakin' easy

As promised, I have been exploring some of NY's hidden bars (for which read - ostensibly secret but actually hugely popular and well documented bars leaping on the speakeasy trendwagon).

Last night we had a nice friends and family dinner at Pastis, at the Wondertwin's behest. Afterwards we decided it would be plain silly to go home at a civilised hour on a Sunday night. Instead we wandered down into the Village, to Employees Only.

If you want somewhere that feels slightly clandestine even before you enter, Employees Only fits the bill. The bar has blacked out windows, and a flouro psychic sign is the only indication of occupancy.

As you approach the storefront, a burly chap who looks like he's waiting for a bus apprehended us. I think he just wanted to check that we knew what we are about.

'Are you here for a drink?' he mutters. 'Affirmative,' we responded. Apparently satisfied, he let us pass.
Inside, there actually is a psychic sitting in the doorway. Thirsty, we passed on the whole ESP experience, and headed into the bar. Despite being late on a Sunday, it was pretty busy and with significantly more atmosphere than the Lenox Lounge midweek.
The burlesque girl on our visit was less skinny and also not dancing on the bar. But the vibe was similar.

The bar staff are quite intense and really super super serious. I suspect they don't call themselves bartenders, or even mixologists, but something far more heavyweight like 'Creative Director of Taste Combination.' They denied our request for a virgin bloody mary, insisting 'we don't do that', as if we'd just asked them to slaughter a small child. (The tomato juice and celery behind them gave the lie away). During the fifteen minutes it took the two of them to prepare a couple of cocktails neither one of them cracked a smile or made eye contact with us. It probably disturbs the vapours or something.

Still, well worth the wait. The cocktails were superb. Mine went straight into my Top 3 Perfect Manhattans of All Time list. The music was danceably good (Stevie Wonder, how can you not break out?! Although the Wondertwin and I did wonder why no-one else felt the same way. Fools). And we got treated to a little impromptu burlesque show to boot.

All in all, an excellent way to wind up a quiet Sunday night dinner. Hurrah for the speakeasy! Campbell's Apartment tomorrow...

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Chelsea, in case you didn't know, is boytown. As the galleries and artists moved in, the gays came too, to help with the gentrification process. There are rainbow flagged bars and protein powder shops everywhere you look.

And... this bakery:

I have a feeling I am not the target market.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Signature block philosophy

One of the many brilliant perks for working for Big Corp is the opportunity to develop, to grow and to learn. And I'm not just talking about management training courses or annual performance reviews. In fact, every email is an opportunity for edification.
I'm talking about those signature blocks where people add their favourite pop philosophy quote. Since I've begun working outside the UK my working day has been peppered with them. (I suspect it's a trend that will 
head to Blighty soon.)
Most of them quote a platitude you never knew existed, the relevance of which is pretty tenuous. Take this weird thought as a good example:
'Snowflakes are one of nature's most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.' Vesta M. Kelly
That one is tagged onto emails from someone I've always thought seemed physically, and mentally, a bit weak. So perhaps that's why she's so defensive. I love how she credits Vesta Kelly with the quote. I googled Vesta Kelly once and it turns out she is someone who makes her living creating 'motivational and inspirational quotes'. Seriously.
The worst are just made up. These usually lack something in snappiness. For example...
'The difference between knowing something and success lies in DOING!!'

Some are quotes from personal heroes, which in itself is pretty revealing.
'There is no limit to what a man can do, or where he can go, if he doesn't mind who gets the credit,' Ronald Reagan the sign off of a colleague who I will be following closely for evidence of Reaganing.
"Asking questions is a very good way to find out about something." Kermit the Frog the sign off of a lady who I don't think is kidding.

My favourites are the ones which bring religion into it. In a weird way:
'Helping hands are better than praying lips'
Or the puzzling
'When GOD solves your problems, you have faith in HIS abilities; when GOD doesn't solve your problems HE has faith in your abilities.'
Every time I get an email from this dude I want to write back 'No I don't! I don't even believe in... Oh, what's the use...!'

My signature block is devoid of philosophy. I've just gone for an oldschool job title and phone number. But maybe it's time to change that. I'm going to work on something really thought provoking, which sums up my personal philosophy, and is also good'n'snappy.
'Finishing work at 3pm is better than finishing work at 6pm' maybe?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nuts about nuts

I sloped off work at 3pm today and spent a couple of hours mooching around the shops on Bleeker Street. Then I headed for a pre-dinner cocktail at Bar Pleiades on the Upper East Side. It's not quite what Big Corp are paying me for, but hey, Wondertwin's in town and duty calls. Shopping and sipping duty that is.

Along with our bellinis, the good people of the Pleiades brought a selection of nibbles. Not quite enough to warrant the $20 / drink price tag, but a good effort nonetheless. Some quality kettle chips, a generous serving of good olives, and some rather delicious looking nuts.

I say delicious looking because at first all we could do was look. They were in this little glass fishbowl thing and try as she might the Wondertwin could not get her hands in there.

A failed nut fishing trip for her...

...and for me
Then we realised, like foxes figuring out a puzzle in one of Aesop's Fables, we had to tip the nuts out into a separate dish in order to eat them. No matter how you shake or tilt that little glass fish bowl, the neck of it is so small that you can only get two or three nuts out at a time.

Why make a simple bar snack so hard to consume?

We decided it was to do with nut allergies. This way no-one eats the nuts by mistake. And actually, while they are all cooped up in their little fishbowl, no-one even breathes the nuts in. So no-one can sue the Pleiades for free roaming nut particles endangering their health.

Which just goes to show that America is bonkers.

After our cocktail I headed for dinner with Arthuros and his glamourous wife, who had just completed a three day juice cleanse. She was so glowy and fresh looking from only eating healthy raw stuff I was rather glad those naughty nuts had been hard to get out and a little bit ashamed of all the tilting and shaking we did. Maybe they also make those salty fatty snacks hard to access for those of us who cannot control ourselves.

Which just goes to show that America might be bonkers but it could also be onto something...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Falling into the tourist trap

I often carry my camera with me in New York. I take pictures for this blog and Facebook, and for the memories since we won't be here for ever. So I am, I suppose, a tourist of sorts. Which really bugs me.

I don't mind looking like a tourist in a town or village I would never live in. But here in exciting throbbing NYC? In my city of choice I want to blend right in.

Tourists are a tiresome, unsightly inconvenience. They are annoyingly slow, shuffling along the pavement gawping at stuff, stopping to look at maps or take photos of lame things. They clog up subway exits trying to figure out which way is which. They ruin the vibe of formerly authentic, atmospheric bars. They are the reason there are so very many shops selling 'I heart NY' memorabilia. They affront my eyes with their ostentatiously comfortable shoes and slogan t-shirts - usually State pride for Americans, and something about sex or beer for Brits. And those ginormous rucksacks the Euro crowd favour? It's like they're going on a 20 mile hike, not schlepping around Times Square.

Phew! Glad I got that off my chest.

Having said all that the tourists do provide a useful function for making the rest of us feel like proper New Yorkers. (Even those of us who only moved here a few weeks ago and still carry a camera most of the time.)

Some cases in point: that chump on the High Line who loudly insisted he was on the Sky Line. The silly lady who asked for directions to 35th Street, standing in clear sight of the 33rd and 34th Street signs.

And today, near Grand Central, I heard a woman say, with relish, 'Sam's Cafe... mmm-hmm, dontchya just  love the names of these places?'. I did a double take and could tell from the cut of her jib that she was not kidding. Maybe where she comes from cafes are called something, um, less cool.

Aren't they daft?! Way to make me feel smug though.

My wondertwin has just arrived for a vacation - but she's spent enough time in New York not to look remotely like a tourist. The same goes for a number of dear friends and family who are coming to see us over the next few months. I just hope I don't embarrass them by getting my camera out... I can't make any promises.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The seven hour city walk

"If you stay in Beverly Hills too long you become a Mercedes," said Robert Redford. And if you stay in Malibu too long you become a Bentley, or a Chrysler cruiser, depending which end of the '27 miles of scenic beauty' you live. (We were at the Cruiser end, fyi).

So - in case you hadn't noticed, dear reader - I'm just loving walking everywhere in New York.

Fortunately for me, TLOML is too. He's a big believer in the digestive benefits of stretching your legs after eating or drinking too much, which is license to drink and eat too much of course. And going for a good city yomp has become a nice alternative to strolling along the beach.

Since that's how we roll now, a couple of weekends ago we struck out with our legs as our vehicles.

We walked along the Hudson to Battery Park City, about 3 miles away at the bottom of Manhattan. There we marvelled at the many buggies and toddler playgrounds and decided we knew exactly the kind of people who lived there (and admitted we may be such people one day).

We headed East, across the bottom of Tribeca. On the edge of the Financial District we rewarded ourselves for our 60 minute walk with a coffee at Kaffe 1668, a place which takes itself and its coffee extremely seriously in a totally unconvincingly irreverent way.

Then on to the oldest bit of New York, where furs were traded and fortunes made and lost. There I pointed out some old churches to TLOML, who feigned faint interest. We walked along Wall Street, and I took a lot of photos, although I wasn't really sure why. Probably the same reasons tourists take pictures at Piccadilly Circus, even thought it's basically just an overcrowded intersection with London's worst branch of Boots.

Our legs were aching now, but we tackled the length of Pearl Street which took us into the heart of Chinatown. We schlepped along East Broadway, TLOML drooling at the poultry hanging up in the windows while I thought of Eraserhead.

Our stomachs were starting to growl. So we headed up the Lower East Side to St Mark's Place and a great little bar for a Polish beer, followed by some well deserved yakitori. After we'd eaten, we placed three additional orders. A record.

Not sure we had walked enough, we then walked home past the Flat Iron and along 23rd Street.

This allowed us to go via Eataly for a gelato. Whereupon we agreed for the fourth time that we don't really like Eataly. Too busy.

By the time we got back to Rabbit Hutch Towers we'd covered about 7 miles in 7 hours. On reflection we thought that sounded like a pretty lame pace. But oh! Our feet did ache!

Roll up, roll up...

...stuff your face with fried food, and then roll on home again.

My big discovery this weekend is that fun fairs are the same in New England as they are in actual England.

TLOML and I went on a road trip to visit America's finest family in clean, green Connecticut. America's finest family are preternaturally smart, charming and attractive. Even the dog (a Portugese water dog, naturally) has a winning attitude and all-American good looks. America's finest family live in one of those perfect New England towns, with pretty white clapboard houses set behind birch trees on lush lawns. Picket fences abound. Everybody knows everybody, people choose organic, do their recycling and no old lady is ever left wanting for someone to help her cross the street.

Nothing noisy, dirty or remotely low rent ever happens here.
 Till the fun fair comes to town...

Then those well-behaved children want only to be strapped into a swirling, spinning machine with loud music and blaring lights screaming their lungs out. Muttering 'it's all so sticky', their elegant, fragrant mother goes on the Sizzler ride and loves it. And their dad, a man of sophisticated palate, hankers for some fried dough.

That's right, fried dough. According to the stand, 'authentic, Italian style fried dough.' They deep fry it in sheets about the size of a copy of Martha Stewart Living, and then in case the heart attack still feels out of reach, you can cover it in a mountain of refined sugar.
Funnel cakes are also available. They're a lot like fried dough except it's batter instead of dough that's being cooked in a vat of hot oil. The same applies with the sugar topping though.

I don't mean to sound sniffy. After all, being British I don't have a leg to stand on. Any decent fair in the UK would also offer fried dough in the shape of doughnuts, candy floss (aka cotton candy, aka pure ultra refined sugar) in a bag bigger than your head, and caramel apples. Plus a frightening range of indeterminate meats - grey burgers and hot dogs with a mountain of fried onions.

In fact I think this is one of the many things America does better. Cheap, calorie laden fatty food of limited nutritional value, that is.

It's not just the 'if you're going to be a bear, be a grizzly' attitude embodied by the fried dough stand. It's the cheap meat selection: I saw people with plates of ribs and fried chicken that actually made my mouth water. That's never happened when I pass the hot dog stand at the Hampstead Heath fair. Or maybe I've just been here too long, and seen one too many episode of Diners, drive-ins and dives...

Despite the call of my saliva glands, I resisted the cardiac arrest stands. We headed back to the city with talk of an healthy dinner. Then, oops!, we ended up at our new favourite local, the Tipsy Parson, where we tucked into homemade peanut butter with cheese crackers. Basically posh carnival food.

The road to obesity, like the one to hell, is paved with good intentions.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The lesser known Sky Line park

The High Line extension opened this week. The High Line was an elevated freight railway, which ran along the piers and warehouses of Chelsea and the West side - right through the middle of buildings to avoid darkening the avenues below. It used to go into the biscuit factory which is now the Chelsea Market, probably delivering butter and sugar and rolling pins, which was surely work of national importance.

After making a final delivery of frozen turkeys in 1980, it fell into disuse. Nature took the railway over and created something much prettier and quieter, but somewhat less useful for butter and sugar deliveries.

In 2009, as the local news anchor put it, in a rather Day Today-esque turn of phrase, 'what was once just the dream of a bunch of activists' became a reality: the High Line Park was opened. Between 21st Street and Gansevoort Street those crazy activists replaced the weeds you see above with pretty grasses and concrete slabs and little water fountains and public art.

It was a cool little park but rather on the short side. You could get from one end to the other in about 10 minutes flat. It was handy for us on our saunter back from the Chelsea Market but that's about it.

Until this week... when the extension opened. It runs past our block now, and all the way up to 30th Street now. I'm not quite sure when we'd ever go to Midtown but just in case... we no longer need to cross a single street to get to 30th Street.

The new bit is really good. It has a big patch of lawn and you get up close to the backs of residential buildings, in a way the first stretch doesn't really do.

Rabbit Hutch Towers is just out of sight on the right of the redbrick building

Also, we now have an icecream van parked right on our block most days. Most convenient.
The other, less exciting impact, is the arrival of a flood of tourists. West 23rd Street was always relatively free of out-of-towners but the High Line attracts them like wasps to orangina. Most of them are probably off to get in the way of actual shoppers by taking photos of fruit at Chelsea Market’s Manhattan Fruit Exchange. Grrr. "Off my land, tourists!"

TLOML and I saw one chump yelling into his mobile, Dom Joly style, ‘I’m in the Skyline Park! No, the Skyline!’

We smirked at each other like the smug New Yorkers we have already become.
Yeah, maybe the onslaught of tourists isn’t such a bad thing. It's always nice to have someone to make you feel superior.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New traditions

Your happiness is not really determined by what happens to you, but about how you respond to what happens to you. My glamourous entrepreneur friend tells me so, and she is one of the wisest people I know.

So having been wrenched from paradise, aka Malibu, we can either bemoan the absence of the sound of crashing waves outside our window and the almost-always perfect weather... or celebrate living in one of the most exciting cities in the world within a stone's throw of a dozen incredible places to eat and drink. We could miss the spacious two bed flat with all that room for all our crap, or make the most of the zen experience of living in a Rabbit Hutch.

It's all about adapting, and finding some new traditions to replace the old ones.

For grocery shopping, instead of driving to Ralph's and treating ourselves to a Malibu FroYo, we walk to Chelsea Market and reward ourselves with a fancy gelato. Instead of a late night scotch on the balcony, we stop by our new local for a night cap. And the drive up to Malibu Seafood for a quick tuna burger has been replaced with a saunter down 9th Avenue for a slice of Gotham Pizza.

Some of the other adjustments we are making, and happily so, include replacing our balcony overlooking the beach with a rooftop deck with wicked views of the Hudson River and Midtown.

From one nice deck... another. I know, life's tough eh?

I've replaced my contemplative constitutional walk along the beach with a stroll along the High Line and through the West Village. Instead of running on the track at the pampered Pepperdine campus, I make like a New Yorker and run by the river. I still get to look at water and rocks, just different ones.

My old walking route.

My new waterside view. I think these ghost piers are really cool, and looking at them is almost as calming as gazing out at the Pacific. Almost.
The closest I now get to a beach.

But who needs a beach to stroll along when you have the High Line?
Yeah, it turns out that 'what happened to us' in the move to NY ain't all that bad...

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Harlem Update

TLOML just got to reading my last post and has 3 additions and 2 corrections.

1. A video of Sylvia's, in case you - like us - enjoy watching a large man eat fried chicken:

Brits - Man Vs Food is a show where this dude tours America to take part in eating competitions. Like 'Eat a 12 lb burger and you get a free t-shirt'. He is TLOML's hero.

2. A photo of the vibey atmosphere in the Lenox Lounge's Zebra Room:
That's Sweet Georgia Brown on the left, the crazy Swiss in the middle, and a bunch of Danes on the right. Cringe!

3. Further elaboration on the Swiss dance moves. It was sorta like this:

4. A corrrection: that innuendo-laden singing I mentioned? TLOML says it was rather more direct. These are the lyrics he was thinking of:
'Don't touch my leg, 'cos then you'll wanna touch my thigh
Don't touch my thigh, 'cos you'll wanna touch my cherry pie'
Cherry Pie, by the way, is the name of Sweet Georgia Brown's new album. Presumably it's full of songs about her, um, lady bits.

5. Finally, and most importantly of all, TLOML would like it to be known that he is not a house husband. Although my last post made him sound like one a bit. (But if he were one, he'd be really good at it).

Across 110th Street

When you haven't seen the love of your life for a couple of hours, and he greets you with the words, 'Loads has happened!', and goes on to elaborate 'I bought some fruit, and the super came and fitted a new aircon unit and it turns out the fuse had gone which is why the light wasn't working... oh! and I put a wash on' that's when you know you need to inject a little adventure into your life.

So I thought I'd surprise him with a trip to Harlem, to the legendary Lenox Lounge. TLOML loves jazz, and southern food, and anything north of 60th Street feels like a grand voyage to me.

TLOML, trying to guess where we were going, said, 'we're not going into Harlem or something crazy are we?'.

I knew I was onto something. I googled 'Is Harlem safe?'. For every story of a brute muttering 'Imma cut you' and chasing a terrified cracker down the street, there was another story of a happy Columbia grad student sauntering along 125th Street late at night unmolested.

It sounded like the perfect blend. Being from a middle class enclave not far from this.... the Boro, I do enjoy just a frisson of urban danger on a night out.
So we headed North, TLOML guessing wildly that we were going to cocktails at the Met, or an event at Columbia. He was pretty pleased when we emerged on 125th Street and made for Sylvia's. Sylvia's has been in 'the historical village of Harlem' since the 1960s, and serves fried chicken, waffles and all that good stuff.

We took a table on the street and I looked out for 'pimps trying to catch a woman that's week, pushers who won't let the junkies go free, and women trying to catch a trick' (apologies to Bobby Womack). They were absent.

After taking down the chicken'n'ribs combo and some collard greens, we headed to the Lenox Lounge, the legendary jazz club which is described as 'bustling and boisterous', 'authentic' and having a 'cool vibe' in internet reviews.
 Never trust internet reviews.

Aside from us, there was a table of Danes in their 50s, two Swiss women (who I had earlier decided were Scottish schoolteachers, if that helps create a mental image), some grey haired Australians, and a solitary Japanese kid (who TLOML decided was just waiting for his tour bus to pick him up).

And by the way, we know their nationalities because the brilliant Sweet Georgia Brown worked the crowd so well. As TLOML said, it was like being on a cruise ship. Watching the olds get up and twist about awkwardly was compelling in a bad way. The Swiss women had some of the strangest dance moves I have ever seen. A sort of out of sync version of the 'birdie', and that description doesn't do the weirdness justice.

I should say, at least, Sweet Georgia Brown, the self-proclaimed 'last of the red hot mamas', was awesome, busting out some great innuendo-laden jazz and blues. We had a pretty good night all round. But edgy, vibey and atmospheric it was not.

Next time I want adventure, we're going to the East Village. And next time we want a chilled out night with daiquiris and good Southern food, we're going to Harlem.

PS Read my subsequent update here

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Speakeasies and secret bars

'In secret' appears to be the hottest way to drink right now. In fact if Boardwalk Empire is anything to go by, this has long been the case here in the States.

It's one of those things that just doesn't translate to the UK, where there's no need to hide your bottle in a brown paper bag. The closest we got to prohibition was in 1736, when the Gin Act imposed a prohibitively high duty on gin. Thanks to mass riots the tax was scrapped within 5 years. Ha! Take that, fun killers.

My first intro to the coolness of clandestine drinking in the US was courtesy of the fabulous and all-knowing Erinn V. She took us to La Descarga, in deepest darkest Hollywood. At first sight the man on the street with the clipboard was guarding access to a flight of lino-covered stairs which reminded me of my old dentist in Kentish Town.
Not the La Descarga entrance, but quite similar

At the stairs you arrive in another time and place altogether: the bedroom of a devoutly Catholic lady of many decades ago. Step into her wardrobe, as if heading for Narnia, and you emerge on the other side into a gorgeous little hall of a rum bar. It's an absolute gem and since I have left LA I don't mind sharing the secret (sorry Erinn...).
Inside La Descarga

New York may be a different matter. I plan on exploring a few more of these drinking dens, but am not sure I'll be revealing the details of all of them. Just in case my massive readership rushes in and ruins the hush-hush vibe.

For example, I know of a fun bar called PDT, which stands for Please Don't Tell. It's accessed through a phone booth in a hot dog place, but due to its name I will not reveal which hot dog place.

This last weekend we hit Cienfuegos, which we had heard was a bit of a hidden gem.. It was fun, charmingly shabbily Cuban, and with all the good rums available. But way too easy to find and to enter. So I don't mind spilling the beans on that one.

My hunt for the best in secret boozing continues. An old drinking buddy of mine, who used to smuggle bottles of vodka into the rather hip and expensive Highgate, to oil the wheels of our shameless flirting with the hot - or so we thought in those days - bar men, moves to NY next week. We are starting her introduction to NYC at The Campbell Apartment, a bar in an old flat in Grand Central. It's not that secret - but after that I promise you it'll be onwards and underground-wards for us.
The Campbell Apartment

There's everything to play for now. My Wondertwin arrives for a vacation pretty soon, and she'll settle for nothing less than hard liquor in illicit surroundings. Thanks to the research I am assiduously carrying out - and to her husband* - we should be able to hit a few quality speakeasies pretty hard.

Look out secret bars, we're coming to find you!

*Officially one of the world's finest husbands, not only because he does such a good job staying home with t'bairn while we sip wine, but also for his services to amazing pastrymaking.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Everything in America IS bigger

This may become a recurring theme. I've created a new label just in case.

Exhibit A was the Post Office.

Exhibit B: the apple.

Apples in America are like a whole meal in themselves. They are the size of bowling balls, take an hour to eat, and you can't buy more than 4 at a time because they won't fit in your old lady trolley.

Okay, I'm exaggerating for effect. But they are pretty ginormous. Here's a picture of a fuji apple, next to a chapstick, that famous international unit of measure.

Here's a picture of the same apple next to a pair of socks I balled up to be about the size of my favourite English apple, the russet.

And finally, for the American readers who don't believe an apple can be so tiny, here's a picture of an actual English apple - a Cox's - next to an average sized pair of pears. (I think I have found one of the few exceptions to my 'everything is bigger here' rule... pears are the same. Wonder why).

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Walking with the reds

Feeling vaguely gloomy last weekend, I decided to take my mean reds for a walk to the Financial District. For what does any sane person do, when they're feeling a little sorry for themselves? Find someone else to feel sorrier for.

I strolled down Hudson River Park, being overtaken by dozens of New Yorkers on their reguluation runs, cutting inland on Vesey Street to head to the World Trade Center Site. I couldn't find my way to the viewing platform, from which you can see into the construction site. About a year ago TLOML and I stayed in the Hilton which overlooks it, and gazed down, speechless (which is rare) by the scale of it - the size of that great big void. This time, just walking around the hoardings, and looking up at the new 1 WTC (thank goodness they decided against the South Park-esque Freedom Tower), was enough to get a sense of the size of the loss.

Walking is not only a brilliant way to get around NY, and a good way to score points with It is also just perfect thinking-without-thinking, looking around and contemplating, chilling with your ipod time. I wandered home through Tribeca, Soho and the West Village and arrived back 2 hours later feeling thoroughly restored.
The Financial District. Satisfyingly as I imagined.

Dominoes in the doorway to Sushi Hana, Tribeca

Charles Lane, a snicket between Washington Street and the river. Cheered me up no end, since snickets are such a rare sight in NYC.

A good lesson in karma.