It was a gorgeous day today, so it seemed a good opportunity to take the camera out on my lunch break and snap a few shots of the gargoyles hanging out around my office at Astor Place in Manhattan. So I wandered up and down Lafayette and Broadway between Great Jones and the south end of Union Square to see what I could find.
I am a huge fan of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Well, I am a huge fan of the first three books, tolerate the fourth, and consider the fifth one of the worst books I’ve ever read — but I am still qualifying myself as a huge fan since I am looking forward to the rest of the series regardless of my displeasure with A Dance with Dragons. But I am also cheap and slow, so I have yet to watch any but the first episode of HBO’s adaptation, A Game of Thrones. I keep meaning to, but then I just end up watching another season of Starz’ Spartacus instead. But when HBO and local villain Time-Warner Cable announced an exhibit of props from the show as part of the push for the new season, I was interested enough to go. Unfortunately, so was most of the rest of New York.
This is the first of what will be many random summaries of wandering and day-to-day adventures. I tend to get bogged down in research and endless expansion of scope when it comes to writing about the strange and entertaining sights across which I stumble (or deliberately seek out) throughout the week, which results in articles never actually getting posted. These frolic write-ups are summaries, really, with minimal background information or historical context. Some of them will be expanded upon later, and others don’t really afford much expansion. But they will be presented here so that we may, together, enjoy frequent romps through whichever city, town, or wilderness in which we happen to be wandering.
February 21′s Good Spirits represents the second Edible magazine event I’ve had the chance to attend, the fourth time they’e done this particular event, and for my money they put on one of the best and best-organized food and drink events in the city. This year’s event was held at 82 Mercer, and only twice in my preparation did I pause and stupidly ask myself what their address was. It’s a nice space with two cavernous rooms which, for this event, were lined with tables staffed by some of New York’s most interesting food, spirits, and cocktail makers. It’s almost overwhelming the amount of food and drink available for the sampling, but Edible organizes their events in such a way that, even with a large crowd and a lot of vendors, it’s easy to both gauge what you want and actually get to it. A lot of food and drink events are circus disasters, oversold, jammed too full of attendees, and impossible to move around during. Not so here. I know talking about crowd control and logistics isn’t terribly exciting, but when you’ve been to enough events that don’t have these things down, you suddenly realize how important it is and how much more enjoyable it makes an event.
Despite living in New York for some fifteen years now, and despite the iconic nature of this particular attraction, I had never been on — nor indeed even seen — the Roosevelt Island Tram. Somehow, despite countless trips up and down the FDR Drive and occasional trips back and forth across the Queensboro Bridge, I never once caught a glimpse of that bright red skytram being tugged across the East River on suspended cables. It could possibly be because I was, you know, driving, and if you’ve ever been in that particular part of town you know that it does not usually work out very well to distract oneself from the road. Eventually though, and probably after staying up late watching Nighthawks yet again, it was determined that enough was enough. High time to get suspended high above the river en route to a river island about which I know very little and which is visited rarely by anyone who does not live there.
In February of 2005, the bleak winter landscape of New York’s Central Park was splashed with color when Bulgarian artist Christo Yavacheff and French artist Jeanne-Claude erected hundreds of gates with bright orange curtains along twenty-three miles of Central Park pathways. Construction of the art piece took 5,390 tons of steel, 315,491 feet of vinyl tubing, and 99,155 square meters. The gates were assembled in Long Island and trucked to the park, where they had to be erected without being bolted or dug into the park.
Like many of the country’s big city’s New York was once a mecca for mid-century exotica, tiki bars, and places conceived entirely on the impressions of far away lands one could get from the album covers of Martin Denny or Alfred Lyman. Almost all of it is gone, though a few places still pay homage to American fantasies about Polynesia and the mysterious East. Nestled in a nondescript strip mall in Staten Island is New York City’s last remaining vestige of authentic tiki culture. Tiki establishments usually came in one of two flavors: the Trader Vic’s style cocktail lounge or the gussied up Chinese restaurant. Jade Island Restaurant, as you might guess from the name, is among the latter.
New York’s subway stations are adorned with many an odd historical curio, image, mural, or hidden wonder. One of the first ones I ever noticed and thought to wonder about was the beavers diligently gnawing away at branches throughout the Astor Place 6 train station. These furry little devils probably represent the point at which I decided not just to live, work, and play in New York, but also to poke around in its history — the stranger and more obscure, the better — and eventually become one of those weird old guys who wanders around with a pair of binoculars, offering tourism tips and trivia to random passersby who probably just want to get their picture taken with one of those ratty-looking Times Square Elmos. Anyway, despite being a relatively small (and these days, frequently shut down for weekend construction) station, Astor Place packs a lot of people in every day thanks to its East Village location. It also manages to pack a substantial amount of oddball history onto its modest platform, history that includes the richest man in America, an abandoned passage, a deadly riot, and yes — beavers.
As we mentioned in the article about the secret train platform beneath Grand Central Terminal, the venerable New York City landmark turned one hundred this month. The anniversary is being marked by a number of events, sales, displays, and tours that unfortunately were already sold out by the time I learned about them. Still, not one to be deterred, a crew of us dropped in for the birthday celebration and sought out our own Grand Central sights and curiosities. I’ve poked through the station numerous times yet still managed to find some things I’d never seen before.
Happy 100, Grand Central. The clock above the information booth has an opal face and is worth somewhere around $10-15 million, though rumor has it that the one on display is a replica. There is also a tiny cylindrical tube inside the booth. It contains a stairwell that leads to an employees’ only area below the floor of the plaza.
Because it is well documented elsewhere, I won’t go into the history of F.W. Woolworth, the Woolworth Building, or the stores to which the old man lent his name. For that, I urge you to check out the fantastic Woolworth Building episode of the Bowery Boys podcast. With that history thusly filed away, we can pick up our merry frolic through one of the city’s most iconic yet rarely seen first skyscraper. I say rarely seen because although you can marvel at the impressive exterior, the historic neo-Gothic lobby is off-limits to tourists, gawkers, amateur historians, and anyone who doesn’t work at a company housed in the building. It might be possible to get a glimpse if you wander in just after regular business hours and are really kind to the guard at the front desk, but barring that gamble on the mercy of strangers, you will just have to get a job at one of the many businesses that call the impressive building home. Oddly, my employer does have space in the Woolworth Building, but we have no access to the lobby. They don’t want our kind of rabble hanging around in there. But even if you do work in the building, there are still hidden niches and off-limit secrets to which you don’t get access.