Month: August, 2006

Plan B(otanica)

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Events, Friends

After work, I met up with SYB, RV and LC at Café El Portal on Elizabeth Street for some self-billed “home made Mexican” before the half-birthday festivities. Cute little spot, and the Mexican food did taste authentically homemade to my palate, though New Yorkers generally are not considered experts at judging such things – versus, say, Californians, whose tastes are finely honed by the abundance of local, authentic Mexican eateries.

After perusing the menu for an inordinate amount of time, I finally opted for the chilaquiles to compare against those I had at El Paso Taqueria a couple of weeks ago. They arrived hot and piled high on the plate, and tempting enough to prompt the woman sitting at the table next to ours to order the same.

Very tasty, if not quite as tasty as the plate uptown. Much later in the evening, I was comparing notes with JK about taquerias around the city. We were raving to each other about what we thought was the same place “in the low 100’s”, but which turned out to be two entirely different places, on different sides of Manhattan. I believe he was referring to Taqueria Y Fonda La Mexicana up on Amsterdam between 107th and 108th Streets, which if memory serves, I visited with B well over a year ago after we discovered too late that our intended destination – nearby A Restaurant – was closed on Sundays.

Cafe El Portal

And speaking of Plan Bs…

We left the restaurant and made our way around the corner to Pioneer Bar where the festivities were scheduled to take place. As we approached, something seemed off. Terribly off. Two of SYB’s friends were already standing on the street outside the bar, or rather, where the bar would be… if it hadn’t closed suddenly and without explanation some time in the past few days. Whoops.

I later learned that Pioneer Bar is indeed no more, soon to be replaced by R Bar, which is scheduled to open in early September 2006.

After brief consultation with AB, the other half-birthday reveler, she and SYB decided to move the celebration to nearby Botanica on Houston. SYB began frantically calling around and texting the 60+ people on the invitation list to let them know about the change in venue.

The new locale turned out to be just fine for our purposes. We set up in the back lounge, and it was like having our own private – if very dark – living room, complete with worn, deeply squishy couches. Spent some time talking to MW, whom I hadn’t seen in ages – probably since the night of our dinner at Le Jardin Bistro.

I also met for the first time DX, SYB’s International Center of New York English conversation partner, who hails from Qingdao, China, site of the world-famous Tsingtao Brewery.

Just after 12:30AM, SYB set out to camp overnight in front of The Public Theater for tickets to Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Mother Courage (starring Meryl Streep) on Wednesday night. I got a text from him at 1:21AM, informing me that he was 6th or 7th in line, with just about 12(!) hours to go before ticket distribution. That’s dedication!

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Factotum at The W

Monday, August 7th, 2006 | All Things, Film, NYC History

Attended a screening of Bent Hamer’s Factotum tonight at the W – Union Square hotel’s Grand Ballroom.

In its previous life, the 20-story in Beaux Arts–style building now housing the W New York – Union Square was known to 20th century New Yorkers as the Guardian Life Insurance Building. Originally named The Germania Life Insurance Company (after its founding by German immigrants), the company was renamed to “Guardian” after the German association became a liability during World War I. And not coincidentally, the name change did not require changing any of the decorative “GLIC” masonry carved throughout the building.

The company headquarters was built in 1911, and boasted one of the early versions of neon signage on their distinctive four-story mansard roof. The current “W Union Square” sign is a tribute and close style reproduction of the old sign.

In 1998, the Related Companies, LP paid $45 million for the landmarked tower at Park Avenue South and 17th Street when Guardian decided to move its operations downtown to Hanover Square. The company spent an additional $100 million to transform the Union Square building into a boutique hotel, while maintaining some of the original old–New York charm, including the marble stairwells and moldings, original tiled elevator landings and a spectacular marble-columned, plaster flower ceilinged, double-height ballroom on the second floor that once had been Guardian’s bank hall, then employee cafeteria.

Here, the ornate white marbled grand arcade, with elaborately scrolled arches and overhead domes (with “GLIC” detail):

W Grand Hall

The Rockwell Group designed the space to accommodate old and new. The modern main staircase emerges from the sleek lobby, following the arch of the original one, which was removed during the years-long renovation.

W Staircase

At the pre-screening reception, CS and I were treated to an open concessions bar: funky glassed Voss water (Norwegian water in honor of the Norwegian director?), sodas, Twizzlers, M&Ms, Junior Mints, Red Hots, Pirate’s Booty, popcorn – the works. Also some tasty Crème de Cassis-concoctions in martini glasses, but those seemed like potential trouble, so we demurred after just one each.

As the title frame informs: “Factotum” means “man of many jobs.” The film is an adaptation of prolific cult author Charles Bukowski‘s 1975 novel and incorporates elements from his many short stories. A portrait of the artist as a young drunk, the film is a series of booze-soaked vignettes revolving around the debauched misadventures of Bukowski’s alter ego, Henry (Hank) Chinaski (played by Matt Dillon) — a self-destructive, self-proclaimed story writer who burns through a series of menial jobs in his quest for the fleeting satisfactions of gambling, women and drink. For a time, he maintains a relationship of sorts with Jan, another hard-living, vulnerable soul, played to raspy effect by Lili Taylor (who is in my mind indelibly associated with her role as would-be folk singer Corey Flood in one of my favorite movies, Say Anything. “The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.”) Hank and Jan’s rushed coupling seems doomed from the start, yet despite being fueled by mutual drunkenness, loneliness and brutality, there are surprising flashes of tenderness, such as when Hank stops in the street to place his own shoes on Jan’s feet when she can no longer walk in her high heels. The movie as a whole was like that, too, and despite suffering through repeated indignities and failures, Hank seemed to view his life with bemusement rather than rage or desperation, while making no apologies for his degeneration.

After the film, we enjoyed tasty chicken salads, al fresco at Republic on Union Square.

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The Dyckman Farmhouse

Sunday, August 6th, 2006 | All Things, Eats, Music, NYC History

The Dyckman Farmhouse Museum sits anachronistically perched on a knoll, 15 feet above street level at 204th Street and Broadway on the narrow northern tip of Manhattan. The avenue has been lowered many times since the Dyckmans, one of the early Dutch families of New Amsterdam, built the house around 1783 to replace an earlier structure that had been burned down by British troops during the Revolutionary War. Today the original farmhouse is a museum, run by the City of New York/Parks & Recreation and the Historic House Trust since 1916, when it was restored and donated to the city by two daughters of the last Dyckman to grow up there. It is Manhattan’s only surviving 18th century Dutch Colonial-style farmhouse.

The Dyckmans harvested salt hay (from the marshes lining the river borders of the property) and planted cabbage and fruit orchards on land worked largely by indentured and freed slaves until the mid 19th century. The family owned several hundred acres of Manhattan property – worth about a bazillion dollars in today’s real estate market – before the last of the Dyckmans decamped for the urban comforts of a Queen Anne-style row house on East 71st Street in the 1870s.
The museum grounds cover just under 1/2 acre on which sits the farmhouse itself – reopened this Summer after three years of extensive renovations – a reproduction smokehouse and a tiny formal garden (both put in by the Dyckman sisters) and a reconstructed Hessian Hut, which in its former life had housed German soldiers, primarily from the province of Hesse-Cassel, during the Revolutionary War.

Several weeks earlier, I had made reservations for the after-hours guided tour. The group numbered just six people, plus the guide, which was just manageable, given the confines of the small space. We toured the inside of the house, which was still in the process of being refurnished after the renovation. Most of the objects inside date from the 19th century, brought in by the Dyckman sisters. With the notable exception of a dining room sideboard, almost none of the furniture pieces are original to the 18th century farmhouse; many objects were scattered when the family vacated after three generations, and some were lost in a trade with Boscobel, another Dyckman home, in Putnam County. The wall along the interior stairs leading to the cellar kitchen bares one of Inwood’s many schist outcroppings. The upper floor houses museum offices and two refurnished bedrooms. The space was stiflingly hot in even today’s pleasant weather; the guide told us that during last week’s heat wave, the lone air conditioning unit, running at full blast, could not bring the temperature below the mid 80s.
Dyckman Farmhouse

Back Porch

Hessian Hut

On the way out, we chatted up Maeve, one of the summer interns, who earlier in the day had given us a good recommendation for our pre-tour lunch. Inwood, once home to Irish and Jewish immigrants, is a predominantly Dominican enclave. Galeria Restaurant at 207th and Vermilyea is just one of the many local eateries serving authentic food at reasonable prices. The slight snag was in the ordering process, which I couldn’t figure out: most of the pre-set meals seemed intended for much larger groups, and there didn’t appear to be any a la carte option posted. In the end, we just pointed at whatever looked good (fried/roast chicken, rice and beans, sweet plantains) which the server obligingly piled onto a plate until asked to stop — all for $6.
Galeria lunch

Páprika – an all-female group from Brooklyn, specializing in dance music from around the globe, e.g., Turkish pop star Tarkan‘s Simarik, better known stateside as “Kiss Kiss.” At Riverside Park South, Acoustic Sundays:

Paprika

GW Bridge

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