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Living in NYC

Stories for Friends. Advice for Strangers.

Category Archives: Entertainment in NYC

Amber and I entered into the Wicked lottery twice last weekend. The first time, Amber flew solo and took a stab at it on a Friday evening. If she won, I was to head over there immediately following work. She didn’t, though, so we both went together on Saturday.

A ticket lottery for a Broadway show is quite simple, and almost always the same no matter what show you’re trying to see. You need to arrive somewhere between 2 and 3 hours before show time, depending on the specific procedures of the show in question. A quick google search should clear such questions up, or just visit the link below.

When you get there, find the person with little sheets of paper and pens. It’s generally a guy wearing sun glasses, no matter the condition of the sun at the time. Anyone can sign up, and you can buy two tickets if you win (as long as you indicate that you want two on the paper). In our case, Amber won, so we got to purchase two front-row tickets for $26 a piece.

In all, we spent a couple of hours on a chance that we might get to see something we otherwise could not afford. Apparently that’s the purpose behind the cheap tickets (student rush, standing room only and lottery), and you can read more about it here. Playbill.com also has great deals on tickets if you sign up.

After spending a weekend playing the broadway ticket lottery, I can say with confidence that it is worth the time. A few things to look out for: you must have a photo ID with you (not that you should ever be out in the city without one), most of the time the lottery is cash only, and people will be jealous of you.

New York has ridiculous nightlife. I’m sure you can imagine it, even if you have never been here, because you see it in movies and on TV. Most of it is true – although I have decided that the drug-infused parties of the seventies and eighties no longer exist. There are still drugs, but the people on them are either stoners (who aren’t exactly in short supply down south, either), or random people wandering around looking for parties like that, only to realize they are alone, on self-imbibed GHB, and have lost 12 hours of their lives to undisclosed sections of Queens. (The last sentence is based on true events, of which I had no part).

What’s here for the rest of us is actually pretty cool. You can break it down into pretty basic categories. One is food, and that is certainly a recreational activity for me. Another is music. Anyone who knows me will tell you that music is the most important art form in my life. In this city, you can breathe it if you want to. I won’t waist your time with venues and random band names. Last week, CMJ (a New York music and film festival that garners international attention every year) dominated my industry. Cornerstone helped out with a couple of pretty cool events, and I got to see some extremely cool people doing things with instruments that I will never understand. But with my mom in town, we ended up hearing a different kind of music, and it wasn’t on the lower east side.

Three broadway shows in one weekend might seem like a lot, but mom and Amber pulled it off. I joined them for two, Million Dollar Quartet and Mama Mia. We went to MDQ immediately after one of the events for CMJ, so it was a stark contrast. After emerging from the show in the Nederlander Theater, I couldn’t help but feel like the production on broadway was cooler than any show at CMJ. I’m probably not supposed to say that, and maybe it’s not even true, but I definitely felt it.

There is something about the productions on broadway that make them remarkable. So much time, effort and talent from countless people go in to making those shows run smoothly day after day. In the case of Mama Mia, they have been doing it for years. I was excited to see that the actors in MDQ performed everything themselves, without the help of hidden musicians. They were fantastic.

So if you’re here visiting, or even if you move here for the music industry like I did, give both scenes a try. Let me know how it goes!

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If you have a 3-hour layover at JFK, I am sorry to say it’s not enough time to squeeze in much more than a piece of pizza. But if you find yourself in the city with a little time on your hands, you can pull off quite a bit in 24 hours. Next time you schedule a trip through one of our airports, opt for some extra layover time and try out my itinerary.

1. Visit Top of the Rock (twice)
There is nothing quite like seeing New York City’s urban sprawl from the 70th floor. You can buy one ticket for $30 that will let you go to the top of the GE Building twice in one day. Stop by in the morning, and head back after sundown. You can buy tickets at the building or online here. If you’re wondering if the view is better than the Empire State Building, it is.

2. Grab a Bagel and Eat it in Central Park
For the tastiest bagel I have had in Manhattan, head to H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side. Order your favorite flavor or something plain and bag it into the park. Don’t bother asking them to toast it, though. They don’t have toasters, and the bagels are perfect as they come. Note that there are other locations, and this is my favorite. Don’t eat at the one on the Upper East Side, unless you enjoy being disappointed. As you walk through the park, head east and make sure you check out the Central Park Zoo. You don’t need to go in, just look at the seals for free. If you happen upon the zoo at the turn of the hour, you can see the famous clock in action, too.

3. Experience Manhattan Shopping & Landmarks
Now that you’re done with your bagel and you have the park out of your system, you are in prime, classic NYC shopping territory. Stop by Bloomingdale’s first. It is at East 59th Street and 3rd Avenue. From there, you can head southwest and see an array of shops most people could never afford to buy anything from. You will catch Bergdorf Goodman’s famous window displays where 5th avenue meets the bottom of the park, as well as the beautiful Plaza Hotel. If you head further down 5th, you will also run in to the original Tiffany’s. It’s definitely worth a browse. All of this gazing should only take you about 2 hours.

4. Ride the Subway
Manhattan’s subway system is running on some sort of undisclosed schedule, so just go under ground and get on one. Don’t be afraid of how big the maps make the city look. If you’re lost, just get off and walk. It’s never that far, and you can always grab a cab.

5. Grab a Pizza for Lunch
You can not, in good conscience, come to this city without eating pizza. This not because of some cliche. It is because the pizza here is truly the best in the world. I have to warn you, though, that some of the worst pizza ever conceived by man can be found in Midtown. My recommendation is to just skip the neighborhood entirely (Yes, that means you won’t get to see the original Macy’s.) Picking a place to recommend here is really hard, because there are lots of good places. Since you are on a strict timeline, head down to the village to get the best slice in town. You can take the A/C/E to get there. Joe’s Pizza serves outstanding pizza by the slice for $2.50. Try it with an imported Mexican Coke, and don’t go overboard (this is just an appetizer). If you just can’t wait until stop #7, swing by Mamoun’s Falafel on MacDougal Street. Their falafel is good, and it’s only $2.50 as well.

6. Explore Greenwich Village
The creativity and energy sparked by this neighborhood makes it worth your while. I want you to walk through it and stop by Washingston Square Park to look at the fountain. You can also head down through SoHo to see one of the most beautiful shopping districts in the world. This takes us to our next stop – Chinatown.

7. Brave Chinatown
I normally wouldn’t recommend this, but anyone giving this city a shot needs to know what Chinatown is all about. Go there, try to buy a knock-off Omega for $10 and grab some dumplings for the road. They are cheap and delicious. Don’t bother trying to find the “best place.” Just duck in somewhere and order.

8. See the Financial District
The buildings in south Manhattan are beautiful and impressive. Make sure you stop by the September 11 Memorial and see the massive hole the buildings left. The New York Stock Exchange is also worth standing beneath.

9. See New York from the Water – There is something that happens when you see Manhattan from one of the rivers. Personally, I would choose the East River over the Hudson, partly because I don’t like the sight of Jersey. Brooklyn has a beautiful character, anyway. You can take a water taxi from Pier 11, just a short walk from the NYSE.

10. Take a Break for a Good Brew
It’s late afternoon at this point, and you must be tired. Whether you’re into coffee or beer, a brewed beverage is in order. For coffee, try Think Coffee in Manhattan. Or, if you want to jump the gun and head over to Brooklyn, go to Gorrilla Coffee in Park Slope. For beer, let your nose and your eyes be your guide. There is no shortage of places to drink in this city, but finding one that doesn’t stink is tough. There are several wonderul beer gardens that boast a wide selection of German ales. In Manhattan, it’s Zum Schneider in the East Village.

11. Take a Cab -They are dangerous and thrilling, sometimes smelly, and always fun. Jump into the street with a hand in the air, and several people will fight over you. It’s pretty fun, and they take credit cards, so your dwindling cash isn’t an issue here. Ride the cab across town to stop #12.

12. See Some Impressive Art
Skip the museums. There are two options here, both with the weary tourist in mind. If you love the theater, a trip to this city would not be complete without seeing a show on Broadway. Don’t bother with discount tickets – they’re a pain, and you’re on a timeline. Drop some serious cash on the show of your choice. When you come out, you will get to see Times Square at night, and you will be close to the Top of the Rock again. If you’re not into the theater, catch an IMAX movie at Times Square. You’ll get the same much-needed rest.

13. Visit Lincoln Center at Night
Lincoln Center is the cultural art megacenter of New York City. head up to 65th and Broadway and behold the complex at night. The light and the impressive fountain make it a breathtaking sight.

14. Eat a Nice Dinner
Ok. You’ve been to the Top of the Rock twice. You’ve run around Manhattan like a crazy person. Depending on your constitution, you may be hagard and road weary at this point. That’s nothing a steak won’t fix. Get on a train to Brooklyn and try out Peter Luger. I have never been there, but it’s supposed to be the best. Plus, you will be near Williamsburg. It’s the perfect place to spend your last few hours experiencing some New York nightlife. Eat too much meat and get a cab up to Willliamsburg. When you’re there, I want you to find a speakeasy and get a drink you can’t pronounce. You’ll need to do your own recon on that, but if you’re in the area give me a call and I’ll help you out.

15. Wave Goodbye from Brooklyn Heights
The view of Manhattan from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights is breathtaking, especially at night. Go over there in a car service (I’ll tell you why in a minute) and put your eyes on that skyline. Snap a picture or two and head back to your car. If you trust a cab to get you there, I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to catch another one to get to the airport. Don’t come crying to me if you miss your flight. Have your car service take you to the airport. It should cost about the same amount to JFK or LGA from Brooklyn Heights. If your flight is out of Newark, change it.

I hope you enjoy your full day in New York. Follow this itinerary and you’re bound to get some sleep on the plane. Any questions? I’d love to hear them.

Important Travel Notes:

Bring Cash – Lots of places just don’t accept the fact that we are a plastic society. Somehow New York missed the memo. With the taxes here, it doesn’t surprise me that half the places you will go are cash only. Make sure you have some.

Ask For Help – New Yorkers do not mind helping tourists out. If you’re lost, don’t stand in everyone’s way with a puzzled look on your face. Just ask the person closest to you.

The Bus Only Takes Quarters – If you plan on taking the bus back to La Guardia, or at any point in the trip, you will need exact change unless you have a metro card. That’s 10 quarters per ride. Bring a change purse, I guess.

My wife and I love movies. At this point, I am not even ashamed to say we watch one almost every night. When I got to this city, I looked at the price tag for viewing a film on the big screen. Averaging $13 for an adult, paying for the movies here is no joke. But going to the movies here is like being reborn. Let me tell you why.

The screens are huge and clean. Most of them are DLP, which means there are no blemishes and scratches on the picture associated with a spool of film being used several hundred times. The seats are comfortable, and the theaters don’t smell like vomit. Amber and I went to Times Square to see “Date Night” just before the bomb scare the weekend before last, and our theater had large, memory foam-padded captain’s chairs with leather headrests. I didn’t move an inch the entire hour and half, and I usually writhe around in agony as my tail bone gets more and more sore. IMAX theaters abound, and they are well worth the average of $17 you will pay for the experience. There are other reasons, I’m sure.

We just got a TV at our apartment, and it’s a good thing because I would gladly bankrupt us on decadent cinema experiences in this city.

Some friends invited Amber to a Hanson concert (and she went), and Alan and I met up in the east village for a show Wednesday. We went to Webster Hall to see Frightened Rabbit. Last year, they hooked us both at Pitchfork in Chicago. The show was highly anticipated, and I won’t say they disappointed us. One of the openers blew me away. Maps & Atlases is some sort of progessive indie rock band. Call them what you will, they are worth a gander. So take one if you’re so inclined.

Cheers.

When I heard The National was working on another album, I imagined them crouched over a pile of vintage guitars and organs, armed with a wall of tube amps and analog recording gear, mumbling into antique ribbon microphones (standard hipster studio posture, I know). After listening to it, I feel like that is exactly what happened – and it is awesome. Add a few orchestrations, a “spash” of brass, and you have the tasteful and enjoyable “High Violet,” streaming now on NYT.com. Give it a try.

Having a distinguishable sound these days is tough. In a wash of bands that are trying to sound the same, breaking through the droning of mediocre buzz bands is difficult both for artists and for music fans. The National is a group of artists like no other recording and performing right now. It’s not because they are innovative (although they are – they were hip long before it was cool to be that way), and it’s not because there aren’t people trying to sound just like them. It’s a tasteful mix of husky vocals and an outstanding band that clearly listens to its own music. I should not enjoy listening to this guy grumble about social structures and aingst-ridden love tales, but I do. And if I think hard enough, I realize that the National’s last three albums have all sounded similar. Normally decried by people who are looking for constant musical “innovation,” it comforts me to hear a band developing its sound over time and staying true to its roots as it evolves. The National seems to have this figured out, and I am very excited to pick this album up when it comes out. In the meantime, I will listen to it a few more times while I work. Let me know what you think of it.