I had planned to go out to Punxsutawney, PA again for Groundhog’s Day but the weather really turned this year. There was an Arctic Vortex (or whatever they are calling it this week) and the weather plunged in Pennsylvania. It was going to be 20 degrees on Groundhog’s Day (that meant 0 degrees that night) and raining when I would drive home on Sunday and I thought that would be over doing it for me.
I later saw that it did go up to 38 degrees that day in Punxsutawney, higher than expected but the overnight Friday night into Saturday was 4 degrees and sorry but the thought of standing in Gobbler’s Knob for five and a half hours in that weather was too much. I did that in 2016 in 30 degrees and that was bad enough. I will wait until next year.
I then remembered that we have our own Groundhog Festival here in the New York City area at the Staten Island Zoo with ‘Groundhog Chuck’, an event I had heard of in the past. So when I knew that driving to PA was out (I was assisting with the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department at the Marcel Paper Factory fire on Wednesday night January 30th, 2019-See The Brothers of Engine One Blog site on WordPress.com that I write), I went online and looked at the festival that they had at the Staten Island Zoo.
So on a cold morning, I got up at 3:30am in the morning to get ready to go to Staten Island. It was not too much better on an early Saturday morning here as well. It was 19 degrees (versus 4 in PA) in Staten Island but off I drove into the darkness. The trip to the Staten Island Zoo was not that bad. I got to the zoo in forty minutes and there was plenty of parking. I guess not as many people had the same idea that I had. There were only about six other cars in the lot when I arrived.
A group of about ten of us were waiting outside the back gate when someone finally came to the gate and told us we were at the wrong gate. It would have been nice if some zoo personal was directing people to the parking lot (which was dark with not a lot of signage to see) and had a sign to go to the front gate.
When the ten of us got to the front gate we were lucky in that the TV crews had already set up and there were only about ten other people there at the time so we got great views of the stage.
Trust me this is WAY smaller than the festival in Punxsutawney, PA. There were about a hundred and fifty people there that I could see and that included the staff, the politicians, the choir from P.S. 29 and their parents and the crowd of us but that made it more intimate. You were not elbow to elbow with people and did not have to camp out for the night. The Staten Island Zoo did a nice job. I still think they should move it to a bigger area of the zoo so that the kids could see it. Also, it would have been nice to put the choir and the dancing Groundhog (a staff member dressed in a Groundhog costume) on the stage so that more people could have seen them.
The Zoo staff introduced some of the local politicians to the event. Some of them kept it short and sweet and a few others had to make it about themselves and bring up things in Washington DC, which I think at an event like this has no place for it. It is a family event.
Still one of the local politicians made a good MC for the event and then introduced a student from P.S. 29, who played the “Star-Spangled Banner” for us on her violin and that was followed by the P.S. 29 choir, who sang a song about Groundhog’s Day. It was really cute and the kids did a nice job entertaining the crowd (See the video below).
The Groundhog Ceremony at the Staten Island Zoo 2019 (that’s me in the Spartan knit hat)
Then the band, “Rock a Silly” played their song for Staten Chuck and it was quite clever. (See the band’s video on YouTube below).
The Rock-A-Silly Band with their original song for “Staten Island Chuck” (I give the band full credit for this video-very clever guys!)
The band got the crowd really moving on this cold morning.
After all the entertainment, it was time to hear the report from Chuck and the handlers took him out. There was a little of a commotion and then the report came. In the middle of this ‘deep freeze vortex’ Chuck’s prediction was SPRING IS COMING! Everyone cheered loudly at that. With that, there was a little more entertainment, then I was off to tour the zoo.
The Staten Island Zoo is very nice even in the cold weather. I was able to go into the main building and see the monkey, the reptile and the aquarium exhibits, which were nicely displayed and labeled so that you knew what animals were what. The only problem with the zoo is the space is very limited and surrounded by houses so there is no room to expand, so the living space for the animals is small. Still they look happy and content.
I stopped at the Zoo Cafe for a doughnut ($1.00) and to look at the gift shop. They had an interesting ‘Staten Island Chuck’ stuffed groundhog ($12.00) that I had to keep myself from buying. The zoo gift shop is stocked with all sorts of ‘Chuck’ coloring books, tee shirts and little do-dads as well as plush animals, pencils, shirts and hats. The zoo cafe has the usual hamburgers, chicken fingers and fries on the menu that will appeal to any child.
I walked around the zoo as it started to warm up (now 25 degrees) and went to the outside pens to see the pigs, donkey’s, kangaroos, emus, geese and ducks. The poor emus looked so cold that they were chasing after me with a look in their eyes like either I had food or was going to take them inside. I really felt for the animals in this cold.
By the time I left the zoo, it was 9:45am and the zoo still had not opened. There was myself and two other families left in the early hours zoo and by the time I got back to the parking lot, there were only six cars left.
Even though it was not the crowds of the event in Punxsutawney, PA, it was still a cute event that you should not miss on future Groundhog’s Day when you are visiting New York City. The Staten Island Zoo puts on a good show!
Admission: Adults (15 and over) $10.00/Seniors (60 and over) $7.00/Children (3-16) $6.00/Wednesdays after 2:00pm is free to everyone. Free with membership. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.
The Cafe and the Gift shop are open when the zoo is open.
Places to eat:
Zoo Cafe (Inside the Zoo-hours are when the zoo is open)
I had some business to do uptown on my way back from Chinatown in Lower Manhattan and had to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the afternoon, so I decided to check out the new Q line stops along the new Second Avenue line. The Q line runs all the way from Coney Island with me picking it up on Canal Street. What an amazing trip!
The new construction of the subway lines has been in the works for almost a hundred years and has recently completed four stops along the Second Avenue line that make travelling to uptown Manhattan a real pleasure. The fact that not too many people have caught on to the line yet makes it even better as there is plenty of room to sit down on the brand new cars and you are not squeezing in like on the number 6 line. If you have ever been on the Number 6 subway in Manhattan at rush hour, you know what I am talking about. Sardines are not squeezed in like this.
I have been on the line twice since it has opened and what a pleasure it is to get a seat and relax instead of someone pushing into your back for a three stop trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The subway car is one of the new ones with the blue seats you do not have to squeeze into and you can see and hear all the announcements. The old joke of everyone is ‘mumbling’ over the speaker is still true on most subway cars in the city. With all the racket going on between the cars, the speakers and the occasional person singing and dancing in the subway car (I don’t think they have discovered them yet), you can’t hear a thing. It is so nice to read the paper in peace on this line.
It is interesting to note that they have been trying to build this part of the subway since 1919. This first phase of the subway route was conceived when it was realized that the ‘Fourth Avenue line’ was over-crowded and needed to ease the congestion. In 1927, a rapid transit plan was put out that called for a six-track Second Avenue subway line. These plans were abandoned with the Great Depression in favor for completing the IND line. It was revisited again in the 40’s then World War Two broke out.
In 1965, one year after the Urban Mass Transit Act mandated that federal funding be made available for transit programs, the MTA was founded. The Second Avenue Subway plan was proposed in 1968 with one two-track line stretching from 34th Street to the Bronx. The city broke down in 1972 when the city was granted $25 million in Federal funding. Construction started at East 103rd Street and Second Avenue but construction was halted in 1975 due to the Financial Crisis and the project was abandoned again with only three little tunnels between Chatham Square and Canal Street, 99th, 105th and 110th and 120th Streets. (New York Magazine and Gothamist.com 2016)
With Environmental Impact Studies done in 2004, the project was planned in four phases to be completed between 2004 and 2006. Ground was broken for Phase One in 2007 at 99th/101st Street and the project was to done in four phases with the first to go from 63rd Street to 96th Streets. Phase Two has been planned to start in 2019 with the line expanding to 125th Street with the last two Phases expanding down to Lower Manhattan. This will create the T Line while bringing back the W Line to Queens. All of this will alleviate the traffic on the 6 Line. (New York Magazine, Gothamist.com).
The best part of the subway line on top of the cleanliness is the artwork. The MTA Art & Design had four different artists create the work for the four completed lines. This creativity starts at 96th Street as you enter the subway with a combination of steel and blue lights and take the escalator down a futuristic tunnel down to the platform and you gaze upon the artwork of artist Sarah Sze. When you see the work from the subway platform, it almost looks like flying papers outside. When you walk the whole platform, you see what she is trying to achieve.
Her ‘Blueprint for a Landscape’ when completed with tile masters from Spain who used porcelain to produce the work. It takes a few walks around to see the true detail of the work. The work is made up of fragmented images of scaffolding, birds, chairs and leaves. It is like being outside in a wind storm. The main body of work on the platform you can see the papers flying around and as you take the escalator up, you see the blue and white scaffolding, which took me two trips to figure out what is was. Off to the side, you see the birds in flight. It is like seeing a day in New York City with the different aspects of the city flying by. The most touching part is the ‘Subway’ poem by Billy Collins (born 1941).
As you fly swiftly underground
with a song in your ears
or lost in a maze of a book
remember the ones who have descended here
into the mire of bedrock
to bore a hole through this granite
to clear a passage for you
where there was only darkness and stone
remember as you come up into the light
A touching poem to match the beauty of the art work.
At the 86th Street stop you will be dazzled by the artwork of one of my favorite artists, Chuck Close. I had marveled at his artwork when I lived in Chicago at the Contemporary Museum. You always know his work by the powerful real life images that he presents. He created 12 large-scale works that spread throughout the platforms. Really look at the artwork and you will see that they are made of tiny mosaic pieces.
It was also the detailed construction of these pieces and the work that went into creating them that is impressive. There are even two self-portraits of Mr. Close in the station proudly pronouncing his work to subway riders. Take the time to really look at the details of each piece even when security looks at you funny (as they did with me twice).
At 72nd Street, Brazilian artist, Vic Muniz has created a series called “Perfect Strangers” with portraits of real New Yorkers. There are portraits of men holding hands, a policeman holding a popsicle and a man chasing flying papers, who I have read is the artist himself. The artist created this work based on staged photographs on people he knows.
Again really look at the details that created these works. I almost immediately thought I was going crazy when I thought one of them was Daniel Boulud, the famous chef holding a fish in a bag until I read later on that it was him. To see him immortalized in a subway station artwork I thought was a real testament to him as a chef.
The 63rd Street station is not modernistic as the other three stations but still has a sense of newness to it. It is also kept so clean now to match the other stations. Artist Jean Shin work is featured at this station. You really have to go outside the station to see the just of her work which was quoted as being inspired by the idea of illustrating the demolition of the Second and Third Avenue elevated lines.
Her more geometric pieces really show the metal work of a different era as well as her work was based on when “she dug through archives at the New York Transit Museum and at the New York Historical Society and used photographs she found based on the images of everyday riders and pedestrians from the 1920’s through the 1940’s, along with geometric shots of elevated girders being dismantled” (New York Times 2016). It took some reading on my part to figure it out. Again you really have to walk the stop to get the feel of her work.
The best part of these new stops are how clean they are and how well-managed the people from the MTA keep them. The three nights I travelled the new Q Line, the gentlemen from the MTA are constantly mopping and sweeping the cars and the platforms. They take immense pride in taking care of ‘their’ station and it shows in their work. The MTA should proud of how well-maintained these new stations are and should take note for many of their other stations that could use the same TLC.
So this is your opportunity readers to see the subway stops on your way to the Met or the Museum of the City of New York, the Conservatory or even Central Park and see the marvel of how art, commerce and construction and immense creativity on the part of the MTA, the City Planners and dedicated construction workers put their best foot forward and gave the city a living, breathing ‘art museum’ to pass through every day.
But SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! We want to enjoy first before the tourist get there.
Update since this Blog: August 1, 2018
According to Our Town Paper of the Upper East Side, the ridership on the new Q line has exceeded expectations as it is stealing riders from the Number 6 line:
The Q/F Stop at Lexington & East 63rd Street: 20,893 riders
The Q/F Stop at East 72nd Street: 28,145 riders
The Q/F Stop at East 86th Street: 23,722 riders
The Q/F Stop at East 96th Street: 17,150 riders
This has eased the Number 6 line by almost 23% to 29% on most of the same stops. Right now there are plans to expand the line to East 125th Street with stops at East 106th Street, East 116th Street and East 125th Street that could be finished by 2029 if the funding from the government comes through. The cost could be around $6 billion; work on Phase One lasted ten years and cost $4.5 billion. The first phase took almost a hundred years to build with most being set up in the early 70’s before the money crunch of the City.
I finally finished my two Brooklyn tours through school and was back up in Harlem today. It was a long day of walking as those city blocks across are long. I started at the subway stop at 168th Street and walked down to 155th Street (the subway was not running to 155th Street over the weekend). As usual when I have to walk down Broadway, I stopped at my new favorite bakery, Estrella Bakery at 3861 Broadway (check out the numerous reviews on TripAdvisor) for chicken pastilitos and cubanitos.
If you like hot snacks and sweet desserts, this will be your ‘go to’ place for a quick snack when walking up here. It is still one of the reasons why I don’t complain about getting off at 168th Street when the C subway is not in service. I like to stop at one of the pocket parks on Broadway to relax and eat. It was a long afternoon of walking.
Don’t miss this excellent Dominican Bakery on Broadway
My walk over these three days took me from 155th Street to 145th Street from Riverside Drive to Lenox Avenue (there are still some side streets on the other side of Jackie Robinson Park that I have not finished yet). Don’t let these maps fool you, these are long blocks being walked in humid weather.
I started my walk today at the Hispanic Society of America Museum at 155th Street which is on the Boricua College-Manhattan Campus. It shares the campus with the American Academy of Arts & Letters, which closed down in June for the rest of the summer. The Hispanic Society of America is a free museum that is small enough that you can enjoy the visit for about an hour without being over-whelmed like you would at one of the bigger museums.
The Hispanic Society of America
It was a small but no less impressive collection of Spanish Art from different periods. The Hispanic Society of America was founded as a free museum and research library in 1904 by the American scholar and philanthropist Archer Milton Huntington (1870-1955). Over the past century, the Hispanic Society had promoted the study of the rich artistic and cultural traditions of Spain and Portugal and their areas of influence in the Americas and throughout the world. The Museum and Library constitute the most extensive collection of Hispanic are and literature outside Spain and Latin America (Hispanic Society of America literature).
The museum had a nice crowd that afternoon, (how these people found it I will never know. I never knew it existed) and the galleries were small but the work was impressive. Some of the pieces that stood out were Jouquin Sorallo y Bastida’s ‘Vision of Spain’ created between 1911-1919, with many traditional views of parts of Spain and ‘After the Bath’ done in 1908, which looked more like a contemporary beach scene. The one piece that stuck in my mind was a new piece to the collection, ‘The Four Fates of the Soul’, which showed Death, Heaven, Purgatory and Hell. The sculpture really proved it’s point and made me think that we really are being watched from above. Even the guard as I was leaving said it was a new piece to the collection but people really talked about it as they were leaving.
After the museum, I had about ten minutes to walk around Trinity Cemetery, which is a quiet but scenic place. The graves on this side of Broadway overlook the Hudson River and are so peaceful with beautiful views, it makes you think of where you want your final resting place to be located. To live eternity here says something. Even the views of New Jersey are gorgeous. Be sure to get to the museum and the gravesite early as they do close at 4:00pm.
I began my zig-zag trip of this part of Harlem at 154 Street and from there until 145th Street, the areas between Riverside Drive and Edgecombe Avenue house some of the most beautiful and elegant brownstones that I have seen in the city. So many of the them are under scaffolding as the new population moving up here is putting a lot of money into the renovations of these properties. The results are amazing with wooden doors, elegant metal work cleaned up and lively planters all around the stairs and the windows.
Sugar Hill Neighborhood
With the CUNY campus just south of this area, you can see that college population is spreading its wings all over the neighborhood as the students, even in the summer, are moving in or living in this neighborhood and invest in buying in the bodegas, restaurants and hanging around the parks. The more diverse population looks like it is really making an effort to work together for this neighborhood. The most beautiful of these blocks is concentrated between Amsterdam Avenue and Nicholas Street so take time to really look at these homes and see the love and care that is put into them.
Jackie Robinson Park where the students hang out.
Another stop I made was in the Hope Garden at 153rd Street that runs through 152nd Street. This was an empty lot between all the buildings that has now been cleaned up and the neighborhood held their Annual Open House & Barbecue for the neighborhood. It was not much of a turnout at that point of the afternoon but all the neighborhood seniors looked at me like ‘oh oh, another one is moving in’. You begin to pick up on these things when you walk through neighborhoods that have not seen me before.
Hope Steven Garden
Everyone was really nice though and some of the ladies were explaining how the neighborhood banded together to clean and landscape the garden. The garden now contains peach trees, berry bushes and a grape arbor while supporting a cat colony that lives in the garden. Some of the neighbors were grilling hamburgers and hot dogs and older residents were chatting amongst themselves. No one made a fuss about me eating and since I was not hungry, I did not partake in the barbecue but it looked pretty good.
Most of the residents sat around and chatted with their neighbors or busy working in the garden. As I sat down to rest, two of the women who volunteer here, looked like they wanted to recruit me to do the same as they told me the story of how the city’s water aqueduct runs underneath the garden so they can never build here and how bad the neighborhood had become and how it was coming back to life. It takes a big person to show the immense pride in a neighborhood.
I stopped back in Convent Garden again to visit Ms. Davis, who was chatting the afternoon away while getting her exercise working in their garden. She was telling me that they will be having a jazz concert with food on Labor Day Weekend and invited me to join in. This I don’t want to miss as it is my two favorite things, jazz music and food. The volunteers were really working away at making this garden the well maintained and colorful place that the garden is to the neighborhood. Everything is in full bloom right now.
Convent Garden in full bloom
The Sugar Hill neighborhood is really impressive and you could see that this was not one of the places that went downhill as the rest of Harlem decayed in the 60’s, 70’s and early 80’s. It was and still is an grand group of homes that their owners take a lot of pride in. Now that the rest of the city has caught up with it, it will be interesting to see what comes out of it the next few years.
Another small oasis exists on 149th Street, which is Maggie’s Garden. It was locked at the time but also another garden taken from an empty lot and brought back to life. Maggie Burnett, are Harlem resident, turned what was once a ‘rickety old house’ when torn down into an urban oasis starting in 1974. Fighting off drug dealers to build the garden, she got some help from New York Restoration Project and its founder, Bette Midler who assisted in 1999 helping clear the site and now it is a garden with trees, flowers, a full vegetable garden and a barbecue. You could not see all that from the locked gates. (Daily News article).
I was able to start my walk on the other side of Bradhurst Avenue on the other side of Jackie Robinson Park. I will let you know that the college students from CUNY have discovered the park and were sunning themselves the afternoon I walked around the park. Bradhurst Avenue has a lot of new buildings on it and the businesses include a Starbucks so you know that neighborhood is going through a transition. To let you know though, this transition stops here and the further you get away from the park, the seedier the area gets. By the time you hit Lenox Avenue, gentrification has not hit this area of the neighborhood and you should watch yourself. The buildings are beautiful and there is a police station a block in but it still needs a lot of work on this side of West 145th Street.
The end of the walk that day was at 145th Street and lunch at Harlem Brothers Pizza & Wings at 346 West 145th Street which is right next store to Victorio’s Pizza that is more of the rave. The pizza was just average and the sauce did not have much flavor to it. The funny part was to listen to Indian music while eating my pizza. That was strange. My recommendation is go to Victorio’s Pizza and get it to go and eat it in Jackie Robinson Park. The middle of the park has benches to sit on and the park is really pretty with its slopping walkways and rock work and it’s large trees to sit under.
The entire walk between 155th Street and 145th Street with an extra afternoon walking down Convent Avenue took almost five hours. Again, don’t let these blocks fool you as they are long and you will want to stop in the parks and gardens and walk around.
Places to Visit:
Jackie Robinson Park
Bradhurst to Edgecombe Avenues at 145th Street to Manhattan Avenue
As part of my exploration of the city, I took a break from my usual walk of Manhattan and went on a walking tour of one of the city’s most up and coming neighborhoods, Bushwick in northeastern Brooklyn. When I started working in the city in 1990, you would not be caught dead in Bushwick let alone be dead if you went there. It had the highest amount of crime, child mortality, AIDS, drug and gang problems in the whole city and sensible people stayed away. With Greenpoint and Williamsburg now gentrified and everyone pushing east and south, the northern parts of Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East Greenpoint and finally to Bushwick.
I took the tour through the Fashion Institute of Technology (I am an Alumnus Class of ’93) in their ‘Hot Topics’ Talks and Tours program and we had an excellent tour guide, Deborah Geiger who is the Director of Content for Envirosell, a consumer shopping behaviorist, who just happens to live in the neighborhood as well. This was her third time moving their since 2001 and she said she has seen the neighborhood quickly change.
I had been Bushwick once years ago when writing my novel, “Firehouse 101” (IUniverse.com 2005), when the protagonist’s neighbor goes there for a late night party and he thinks she is out of her mind. While the neighborhood is still a little sketchy, like all places in New York City, it’s best to look over your shoulder every once in a while and still keep the eyes in the back of your head.
Our trip started at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I got there so early that I was able to tour the ‘Uniformity’ exhibition at the Fashion Institute Museum. This little museum is a true gem and my three years there as a student I never once went inside. The school did a nice job with displaying the history of the uniform and the role it played in corporate, government and school structure. I was most impressed with the airline uniforms for stewards and the original McDonald’s uniform. It is a small but very detailed exhibition and should not be missed if you are in the area (located in the Shirley Goodman Building on the FIT campus).
We took the A Train to the L Train when we transferred at Union Square. I swear to God when you travel on the L Train it is like being on a college campus. Everyone looks like they are in their 20’s or else trying too hard to be a ‘hipster’. I have been on the L train a few times and it is like they cloned the some guy and kept manufacturing him. Everyone has the same beard and glasses. At least it is so hot outside that the knit hats are put away (or Thank God that trend is over). The herd seems to get on and off at Bedford Avenue, the heart of Williamsburg. As you go further west, it starts to change again and more diverse once you hit East Williamsburg and Bushwick.
We got off at the Bushwick Avenue and Montrose Stop just above Flushing Avenue which according to the New York Times Real Estate section is the border between East Williamsburg and Bushwick. I guess there is a debate on where Bushwick really starts. We started our tour walking up Bushwick Avenue to Meserole Avenue to look at the street art and the new breweries and clubs opening up along the street. It is amazing what these entrepreneurs are doing with these old factory buildings.
Our first stop the tour was the City of Saints Coffee Roasters at 297 Meresole Avenue. The City of Saints has three locations, here in Bushwick, one in the Village and the other in Hoboken, NJ. This is the main processing plant for the coffee. We were met by Jim Osborn, the head roaster and a partner in the business. He explained to us the whole procedure of how they find the beans in Central America and Africa, how they work with the exporters and then how they are received. We then discussed the process of how the beans are roasted, tested and blended to make the perfect coffee flavor. We then had a tasting of some of the blends and even though I am not much of a coffee drinker the way they mixed the beans in some of the coffees was very impressive.
What I like the most about the store was the artwork and the way the store was set up. The graffiti art was interesting and the open air café really welcomed in the community. You got to see how the whole process was done while enjoying the atmosphere of a coffee shop in Bushwick.
City of Saint Coffee Shop in Bushwick, Brooklyn
We toured around the neighborhood walking down Johnson Avenue to Varick Avenue then down Ingraham Avenue then back to Morgan Avenue on to Bogart Street to see street art that is on walls around the neighborhood. Some of the street art is interesting but most will be gone as it gets painted on top of by other artists.
Our next stop was the Odetta Gallery at 226 Cook Street. This small gallery faced outside walls filled with more art. It really fit into the neighborhood. The owner of the gallery was explaining how she opened the gallery in Bushwick to be in the middle of the art explosion in this section of Brooklyn and the center of art innovation.
Her current exhibition was by artist Kurt Steger whose exhibition ‘Scribing the Void’ with original musical composition by RSM was on display. The work was very original in that the piece on display was the outline of a rock in Central Park which I thought was a very original idea. What Mr. Steger did over a series of days (he had to work quickly in the park) was take an outline of a rock formation near the middle of the park and then recreate the outline in a pattern in a series of pieces put together in one form. The music came about based on the outline of the piece formation of the rock. The two interplay with each other in the exhibition.
Kurt Steger’s “Scribing the Wall” at the Odetta Gallery
Mr. Steger came to the gallery to talk to our group and that was a real treat as it is always nice to get the artists perspective on their work. I had a nice conversation with him on where the idea for the project came from and some of the art he created. I thought it was interesting when he told me that he created a 9/11 structure that was used as a healing tool by people affected by the tragedy.
He would do readings by the sculpture to help with the healing process. The piece was eventually bought by a hospital to use for that purpose. His work really transcends the overall look to it. His outlook on his work and its meaning was insightful. He and the gallery owner were looking to sell this particular piece to one of the museums that faced Central Park. He was fascinating to talk to that afternoon.
Mr. Steger is originally from California and has lived in Brooklyn for years. He and his wife, Meg Hitchcock have recently moved their studios to the Hudson River Valley. His works are intended to heal our inner nature (Kurt Steger Bio).
Our next part of the tour took us around the industrial part of East Williamsburg to our next stop to the Brazilian bakery ‘My Sweet’, where the owner Paula Barbosa created her small candy and sweet shop at 630 Flushing Avenue. She is known for her delightful little treat, Brigedeiro, which is a type of Brazilian truffle made with condensed milk, cocoa and butter and slow cooked. These little treats are cooled, rolled into balls and then rolled in nuts or sprinkles. Each is made by hand with much care and each looks like a little jewel. She also has a line of flavored homemade popsicles and Brigedeiro bark made with a combination of the mix with cookies. The prices reflect the work going into them as each Brigedeiro is $2.00, the popsicles are $4.00 and the bark is $3.00 per bag.
My Sweet Bakery Bushwick
She got into the business when she was giving them away as gifts and people started asking for them. She then took them to a food fair and got a wonderful write-up from the New York Times and the business just took off. She said she was getting calls from people and could not fill the orders fast enough. Now in a three-man team she turns out these special treats to her customers. I wolfed down a bag of her ‘bark’ in about 15 minutes with the help of many of our touring group. A little expensive but well worth it to visit this quirky little shop in the middle of what looks like a happening area. Plus Paula is charming, welcoming and a pleasure to talk to about her product.
We double backed on Grattan Street to Bogart Street and passed the famous pizzeria Roberta’s. I have been wanting to try their pizza for a long time but good luck snagging a table. The tour guide said it is tough to get into on a weekend. So our trip took us up the road to ‘Syndicated’, a unique restaurant concept at 40 Bogart Street. It is a bar, restaurant and movie theater rolled into one. The front of the building houses the restaurant and bar and the back section is a very nicely decorated theater concept.
Under the direction of Chef Bret Maeris and Managing Partner Tim Chung, they opened this year a very unique watering hole for the neighborhood. Wanting to keep with the tradition of a small independent theater in a neighborhood sorely lacking a movie theater, for $3.00 you can see a movie and order small plates too much on while watching the film. Dennis explained that they are trying to cater to the Millennium crowd while not alienating the older clientele in the area. They had a Keanu Reeves retrospect recently that was very popular. Like Tim explained to us, the current audience were kids when these movies came out and are nostalgic for them. It is pricey with entrees starting between $13-$18 but worth it to try for the experience.
Tim explained to our group that they are trying to fill a need in the neighborhood. There has to be more entertainment in Bushwick besides bars, so they filled it by adding the theater. The goal is to expand the Bushwick Film Festival and have more places to show movies. Add in people’s love for solid American food and you have a very entertaining concept. The menu includes classics such as fried chicken, burgers, fish and chips and grilled cheese. Great comfort foods for an evening out.
We finally crossed over the border of Flushing Avenue to official Bushwick and turned onto Wyckoff Avenue into an area called ‘JeffTown’ by our tour guide named such because of the subway stop at Jefferson Street. This is where you start to see the more residential side of the neighborhood and the more trendy coffee shops, restaurants and stores. This is the Bushwick that I imagined.
We took a quick tour through the Brooklyn Pop-Up Market at 49 Wyckoff Avenue and explored where small business owners are opening their businesses for the first time to test the waters. It is a unique building of small stores, interesting concepts and people trying to create businesses for the first time. It is worth the trip just to see some of the new food concepts that are opening and interesting gift stores.
Brooklyn Pop-Up Market
As we turned the corner on Troutman Street, we passed an artist who was commissioned to do a painting on the side of the building and he stopped and graciously stopped to explain the project to us. Debbie, our tour guide explained to us that some ‘street art’ just appears and then is painted over and over again and sometimes the owners commission it. How long this painting would last, who knows? In a neighborhood where ‘taggers’ rein you never know.
Our tour was supposed to end at Union Pizza Works at 423 Troutman Street, a neighborhood pizzeria but everyone had other plans that evening. We took the above group picture in front of a mural on Irving Street and then took a quick walk to the end of our tour at Maria Hernandez Park in the heart of Bushwick. This is where the neighborhood comes alive. We all said our goodbyes here with hugs and pictures.
After everyone left, I have to be honest, I did not want to go back to some of the restaurants I passed with the $17 pizzas and $12 hamburgers. I wanted to see what the neighborhood was really all about and you see that in true Bushwick with the residents who have been here for years. I entered the yet to be gentrified east side of Bushwick where the Spanish population dominates and ate locally.
Amanda’s Kitchen Bushwick
I grabbed some baked goods at Gaby’s Bakery at 238 Knickbocker Avenue on the other side of Maria Hernandez Park and then picked up empanadas’ at Amanda’s Kitchen at 264 Suydam Street and sat in the park and watched the world go by which is something that a $12 hamburger with people who are trying too hard to be hip can’t accomplish. Here was the true Bushwick with everyone intermingling and trying to figure it all out. Even Amanda herself seemed pretty proud when I ordered from her with my broken Spanish. She seemed impressed that I tried so hard.
Gaby’s Bakery Bushwick
After devouring the Mexican pastries and meat pies, I joined the neighborhood block party that was going on between Knickbocker Avenue and Irving Avenue on Suydam Street. I saw families going about life without a care in the world. Maybe things will change for them in a few years as the gentrification of the area continues and their buildings become more desirable being on the park. For now, they were having a good time just barbecuing, playing games and gossiping with their neighbors.
Isn’t that what life in Brooklyn is all about anyway?
This tour was taken through The Fashion Institute of Technology’s Hot Topics ‘Talks & Tours’ program and was conducted by Deborah Geiger, our tour guide, who is the Director of Content for Envirosell, a consumer shopping behaviorist.
Well I finally finished my tour of Washington Heights. I had spent so much time in the neighborhood that I felt like I lived there. This part of Manhattan took a long time to tour as there is so many interesting things to see and places to visit. It has also been tough with the time change and the days getting shorter. It is now getting dark at 5:00pm.
This part of Washington Heights I started on Sunday afternoon walking from 181st Street from Broadway to Amsterdam Avenue to 167th Street just at dusk. I was also able to tour some parts of High Bridge Park.
I started the long journey at Quisqueya Playground at 180th Street. It’s a nice little part of the park for small children with a pleasant playground and a nice view of the bridge. It is also a good place for a pit stop for the bathroom, which finding a public bathroom can be a chore off the beaten track.
Quisqueya means “cradle of life” and it was named after one of the two aboriginal names for the island of Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic). This was named by Christopher Columbus for the “la Isla Espanola”. The park was created in 1934 and was renovated in 1998. The park is very popular with local children (NYCParks.com).
I criss-crossed the streets back and forth looking at classic pre-war apartments with brownstones tucked in here and there. In some parts of the neighborhood, you might even find a lone wooden home, a through back to a time when this was a more rural area as late as the 1930’s. In the six months that I have been doing this walking project, I am amazed by the number of changes I keep seeing in such a short period of time.
So many merchants along the 180th Street and St. Nichols Avenue shopping districts have either closed or in the process of changing hands. Many of merchants along St. Nichols Avenue have been upgrading their businesses improving the look of their interiors and their selection of products. It is reflected in the way the neighborhood is changing.
All over the streets and avenues, scaffolding is going up around apartment buildings and brownstones. Much work is being done between 187th Street to 183rd Street around Yeshiva University as the school keeps expanding and more students are moving into the surrounding buildings. The area around Columbia Medical Center is going through a major change as the facility expands around Broadway to Audubon Avenue. Not just in the buildings themselves but the surrounding apartment buildings and brownstones as more people working at the hospital move in as well as the businesses that cater to them. Don’t be fooled though the area still has a rich Dominican flair with lively music being played and great restaurants and bakeries that cater to everyone.
I continued my walk to the corner of St. Nichols and 178th Street where a very busy street vendor was making fresh pastilitos, which were some of the best I had eaten so far. Her chicken pastilitos were filled with a generous portion of well-spiced chicken and beef and were still steaming hot from the fryer. She seemed surprised that I was so enthusiastic about eating them. Her version was really good!
As I munched my way down the various streets, I peeked in stores and restaurants and looked over many of the wares being sold on the street. There is such a great selection of items to buy at very reasonable prices. One woman on St. Nichols Avenue was selling dolls and doll carriages at half the price of the stores. It was the Dominican version of the Lower East Side.
Water Tower in High Bridge Park
It was one of those unusually warm days where the temperature went up to 68 degrees making it a perfect day to walk around High Bridge Park. The park was so beautiful and relaxing on a warm day. The leaves were still on the trees with a warm yellow and gold hue to them and I walked past the empty pools by the Water Tower, which was closed off to touring. The tower was built in 1842 and used to transport over 47,000 gallons of water to Midtown from the Croton Aqueduct (NYCParks.com). The tower is currently closed off for renovation by the Parks service.
You could see the High Bridge from the top of the buff. These cliffs really prove that Manhattan is not flat. It still has its rustic look from the Ice Age. The view of the river is just spectacular.
High Point Bridge and Tower
The best part was there were a lot of people out enjoying the day, so you could see how much the population up here uses and appreciates the park. There were a few heated soccer and baseball games going on Sunday and the playgrounds were in full swing both on the weekend and after school. Where the kids are the food vendors are as well. I had my selection of ice creams, meat pies, croquettes and soups to choose from. I made a second trip to El Manantial Bakery at 1220 St. Nichols Avenue (see review on TripAdvisor) for Guava pastries and sugary doughnuts.
I ended my Sunday tour at 167th Street touring around the Mirabel Sister’s School, which is home to a whole new school complex and apartment dwellings. This is where IS 90 is located, which was quiet on Sunday but bustling the next day after school. There are four schools in this complex which is right next to the police station, which means security is very good in this area. The kids had the playground and the park to stretch out in.
On Monday afternoon after a long day in the Soup Kitchen working on prep for the upcoming week, I started my walk on the border of Washington Heights and Harlem at 155th Street. This area is bustling with traffic that is coming in and out of the Macombs Dam Bridge.
I criss-crossed the streets between 155th to 170th Streets. The most impressive housing outside the Upper West Side is located between 157th and 163rd Streets. I have never seen such beautiful apartment buildings and brownstones that have had so much care put into them. So many of the them were still decorated for Halloween and upcoming Thanksgiving. There is so much impressive stonework on the buildings you must remember to look up and really see these buildings from both sides of the street.
Halloween in Washington Heights
Still one of the most beautiful sections of this part of the neighborhood is around the Morris-Jumel Mansion and Jumel Terrace with its well-tended brownstones with potted plants and decorations around the doors of these two impressive blocks surrounding the mansion. White lights adorn some of the trees and there is even a Community Garden at 162nd Street that must be nice to plant and sit in on a Spring or Summer day. The grounds of the mansion were closed that day for a private function but I had been on them before and it is a nice place to just sit and relax and enjoy the view of the river.
Morris-Jumel Historic District
I walked around the Sugar Hill Luminary Park which needs a good mow and some new landscaping but must have been something in its day when the Harlem elite lived in this area. Pretty much all the brownstones in this area have been snatched up and renovated.
For lunch, I had a slice of pizza at Slice Pizza of Amsterdam at around 180th Street and Amsterdam. The pizza is terrible, warmed over from the morning and no flavor in the sauce. There was no taste to it. It’s a pretty restaurant catering to the changes going on in upper Amsterdam Avenue but everything in the cases looked like it had been sitting since the early morning, so they obviously are not getting that much business in the early morning or afternoon until school lets out. Walk by the schools when they let out and eat at one of the street vendors. At least you will know the food is fresh (Yelp reviewers have said that the pizzeria has now closed down for business February 2019).
I walked the entire length of Edgecombe Avenue which lines High Bridge Park and talk about an area in transition. All the apartment buildings that line the park are going through what I call the ‘new window complex’. It s when a building is being renovated for new residents and high rents. The entire area by the park is being refinished and sandblasted. This little gem of a neighborhood has the most spectacular view of the park and the river.
On my way back to the subway I stopped Estrella Bakery Corp. at 3861 Broadway (see reviews on TripAdvisor and DiningonaShoeStringinNYC@Wordpress.com) and had the most amazing snack. A potato croquette called a ‘Renelito’, which is mashed potatoes filled with a spicy beef and then breaded and fried. These melt in your mouth and they are so flavorful. I could not believe how fresh and delicious they were to eat. I also had one of their Cinnamon roll pastry called a ‘Quesito’ which is a puff pastry rolled with lots of cinnamon sugar and then baked. Both were a bit of heaven and great way to end today’s walk. This is a bakery you should not bypass when in the neighborhood.
I took time from my walk today to go to the HX 2015 Expo, formerly the International Hotel/Motel Show at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan. I visit the show every year for my profession in the Hospitality field. Even though the organizers of the show said that it has changed its focus, I thought the show was smaller than it was last year and is about the third of the size it once was back in 2004 and 2005. Things have changed so much in our field since 9/11 and the financial meltdown in 2008 and are slowly picking up in our field. I spent the afternoon walking the aisles of bedding, equipment, furniture, inventory data and latest computer programs for the Hospitality field. The show has become a lot smaller when they no longer had food vendors come to the show, which at this show were the busiest vendors. I was able to see the whole show and talk to various vendors in two hours.
Two vendors that stood out to me were Sagra Specialty Equipment & Foods and Sparkling Ice Mountain Spring water drinks. Sagra had the most interesting display of a custom made chocolate fountain that looked like tiers of gravy boats descending down the flow of melted chocolate. The product was called the Cascade Fountain and the presentation was unusual and beautiful at the same time. It was also very easy to clean as all the parts come off and you put them through a wash rather than clean a whole machine in the traditional chocolate fountains.
The Cascade Fountain glittered against the lights and its presentation with the layers of gravy boats created a conversation piece to all the patrons attending the show. Everyone agreed it was an unusual product. The taste of the chocolate was excellent as well as they have their own line of flavors in dark, milk and white chocolate and a caramel sauce as well. The product is designed to work in all chocolate fountains, no oil needed, have a microwave bag and pour in or melt in the fountain basin. The product is gluten free and made in the Belgian-style with imported cocoa beans.
Two other products that Sagra was displaying was their Lollywaffle maker, which looked like a long waffle on a stick. It made a widely talked about impression on the patrons at the booth and make a great presentation to future customers. The demo person was sampling from another machine, the Lollywaffle bites, which were waffle ‘doughnut holes’. Small little round bites placed on sticks that were dipped in the chocolate and handed to us cause some pushing by the people at the stand. It really was the power of their product. Their waffle flavors come in Belgium, red velvet, chocolate, cinnamon bun, pizza on a stick and waffle dog. If the waffle dog had been sampled, there would have been a bigger line at their booth.
The other vendor that stood out was Sparking ICE, a naturally flavored sparking Mountain Spring Water. Their product was delicious. Sparkling ICE combines mountain spring water, natural flavors, fruit juice, vitamins and antioxidants to create a great tasting, zero calorie to make a refreshing sparkling beverage. The two flavors that I sampled were the Orange Mango and the Pink Grapefruit, which were both refreshing and flavorful. The product is currently only available in supermarkets but the company wants to expand into the hotel industry. It is a drink worth trying.
I still think that the show should bring back more food related merchants that are trying to crack into the hotel industry. It might bring a bigger crowd back to the show.
I took a walk on Riverside Drive today, completing the west side of Broadway from 181st Street to 153rd Streets, on a beautiful sunny day. Being a little humid did not help but as the day wore on it got cooler and nicer to walk. Riverside Drive breaks into breaks into two sections around 161st Street with one section ending at Broadway and another part aligning the park. I decided to take the long route first and walk down to about 143rd Street, enjoying the views of the park and stopping to look at the views of the palisades in New Jersey There are lots of scenic spots to view from.
I stopped for lunch at George’s Pizza at 726 West 181st Street, a well known pizzeria that has been around since 1960. They have a great lunch special of two giant slices and a can of soda for $5.00 and the pizza here is really good. The pizza maker makes a nice sauce and it has a rich flavor to it. The pizza was perfectly cooked and with the size of the slices, I did not need any dinner. It is a small hole in the wall place that is popular with the locals and was very busy that afternoon. You really need to check it out when in the neighborhood. The pizza cook is a really nice guy to boot.
I doubled back up Broadway to about 156th Street and started the walk up Riverside Drive from here. What’s nice about this section is the stone wall along the pocket park that lines this section of the drive. They make a nice bench for conversing with people as many residents seem to take advantage of during the day. There were lots of people socializing on this sunny afternoon. What’s nice about the little park between the streets is the rock formations similar to the one you will see around 190th Street harking back to a time that this area was dominated by rocky hills not paved smooth by roads and housing developments. There is a natural beauty to this park.
The brownstones that line this area are surrounding by potted plants and window boxes, showing a colorful display of seasonable flowers and plants. They accent the buildings very well. I was able also to finish all the side streets between Riverside and Broadway noticing that a lot of these buildings are now under renovation. More and more of these buildings are going from rentals to condos and you can see the money that is going into upscaling them. You can see it from the lobbies that you can view from the street to the new windows and sandblasting that is going on in the front of many of these buildings. This part of the neighborhood is going through a major transition.
I doubled back down Broadway to look over the selection of restaurants that were closed the last time I walked this part of the street and took a long walk on 155th Street down to the bridge. It really is a funny thing about 155th Street, how much it changes from one side of Manhattan to another. For some reason, you really can feel the difference from one side of the street to the other. By Riverside Drive, it is all brownstones and pre-war housing that is being renovated. By the other side by the bridge, it is a large public housing complex.
On a break it was back to the lady who sells the shaved ice for a mango ice cup. I really look forward to those two scoops of mango ice. It must be all the years that I lived in the islands myself. I still am trying to find the elusive Guamanian treat of a combination of soft serve, shaved ice and lining it with fruit syrups. Now that was heaven on a hot day.
The last part of the day was spent walking up the east side of Broadway. Not knowing when I started on this side of the street, I walked from 155th Street to 207th Street. It didn’t take as long as I thought but my feet reminded me it was a distance. It was interesting to see all the restaurants I tried, all the stores I entered and all the bakeries I had to stop in, all delicious and very reasonable. There are many great business owners up here. I made it to 207th Street when it got dark.
The outdoor cafes of 207th Street were in full swing that evening with such a warm night and everyone was out eating dinner and just enjoying the first warms days of the Fall. New York really comes alive at night, especially in this area where people are still in Fort Tryon Park jogging, walking or just out playing dominoes. You see that side of people that enjoy living in this neighborhood.