Bottle Service Will Not Die: Cielo

November 5, 2009

Bottle service is for losers

My first rant re: nightlife in NYC.

I’m a househead (aka old-school club kid).  I like to boogey. And I take it seriously: sneakers not heels, deep soulful house, avoidance of the Chelsea clubs, no drinks on the dancefloor because you’ll spill it all over me. I’ve met some of my best friends and boyfriends in a sweaty club or warehouse party. We share a love for music and dancing, which I cherish.

But I admit, I don’t go out to the clubs as much anymore.  Life happens, even club kids age out and pursue other adventures.

Ben Watt played at  Cielo a couple of weeks ago, so it was an excuse to go out for a dance.  Normally, I wouldn’t venture into the Meatpacking District on Friday or Saturday (do I need to explain why? Well, just wait), but I didn’t think too much about it this time around.

I got shut out of buying my ticket online so I showed up early. The party’s official start time was 10pm, but they didn’t really let people in until 11pm. So we waited on line for nearly 30 minutes, even though there were only about eight people ahead of us.

We were greeted by airport-tight security at the door.  I’d forgotten that Cielo had been shuttered a few months ago due to some drug-related issue w/the NYPD. The door people went through EVERYTHING, including the bills in my wallet, and every narrow nook and cranny of my purse.

Walk in, fork over $25 for admission, only to have another door guy demand that I check my jacket and umbrella in for another $4. Go to the bar, order a drink for $15. A bottle of water costs $5.

What a way to make a guest feel welcome! All of this robbery occurred before Ben Watt even started his set.

My friends and I settled on some seats next to the DJ booth, a home base with some room to dance.  A few minutes later, a waitress and busboy with a giant chrome bucket shooed us away (without a word or even eye contact) so that a crew of middle-aged group in black could take our seats. Our new neighbors did a lot of talking and looking around, but not any dancing.

I thought the days of bottle service were over due to the recession’s back-to-realness. That was wishful thinking.  I was reminded why so many people declare nightlife dead in NYC.  I understand that clubs need to make their money to survive, but it’s too bad the great DJs have to play in these unfriendly venues to make a living.

However, it was a relief to see a fellow househead swipe an unattended glass of champagne from the bottle-service table.  At least somebody is keeping it real in here!

Ben Watt was an A+ (and opener DJ Willie Graff similarly rocked). Cielo’s sound system and lights were top-notch, as always. These are my favorite things about Cielo, and they keep me coming back.

However, the mostly Eurotrash, bridge-and-tunnel,  racially homogeneous crowd there to get stoopid or pick up was a C+. I still hold on to some hope that the situation is more laidback Sunday-Thursday.  Yay for Francois K on Monday nights.  And yay for First Saturdays at Brooklyn Museum, BklynYard, summer dance parties at Coney Island and Fort Greene Park, Water Taxi Beach, PS1 and weekdays at Sapphire and Sin Sin.

A bit tired of the meatpacking club experience, I left earlier than I’d hoped, but not before my face had the pleasure of coming within two inches of a sloppy drunken couple shoving their tongues down each other’s throats, as I waited on line for  coatcheck.

Trick-or-Treater’s Paradise

October 28, 2009

So who needs some Halloween inspiration?


The Candyman can

Doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been through this store, I still get hopping excited when I’m in the LES and see the storefront.



Wall-to-wall candy!

Established in 1937, Economy Candy is an old school candy store on crack,  the  manifestation of a sweet tooth’s imagination.  This place is bursting at the seams with sugar.  Only a hardened soul could walk in and out without indulging themselves.

My kryptonite: grape Nerds, chocolate-covered gummy bears,  sour apple straws, Sixlets.

So what happens when a trick-or-treater walks in on Halloween? Is it what children dream about (a total free-for-all)?

Economy Candy

108 Rivington St (near Essex), New York, NY

Holy Wow: The Highline

October 20, 2009

When I heard that The Highline was opening a few months ago, I thought it’d be a cute little narrow walkway with a pretty view (I pictured something like Battery Park).

This jaded native New Yorker was floored.  The Highline is magical!

The things that “wow-ed” me. And I did say “wow” about 20 times in 20 minutes:

– First of all, it’s enormous, and it’s only gonna get more enormous as it expands further north to 30th Street. It currently runs from Gansevoort to 20th St.

– The view of the skyline (obviously). I went at night, which maximized the intensity of the experience for me.

– Intersecting angles of the Highline itself and the surrounding structures

– The privilege of walking along an above-ground path that has been cut through Manhattan. It’s like one of those “flying” dreams…except you’re walking.

–  Walking under The Standard Hotel, and planning to have a cocktail there for a future special occasion.

– The dynamic design of the benches and other furniture which pay tribute to the railroad tracks.

– How the railroad tracks have been incorporated into the landscape design.

– The plants and flowers that live in between the tracks.

– The neat lights in the blue tunnel.

A view of The Standard from below

A view of The Standard from The Highline below

Go for a stroll on The Highline

Go for a stroll on The Highline

Visit the Highline at night!

Visit the Highline at night!

Futuristic blue tunnel

Futuristic blue tunnel

This city needs more thoughtfully-designed public spaces for New Yorkers to relax and congregate.  A part of me wishes that we’d turn  Ground Zero/WTC into a cool park like this one.

To the people behind this monumental effort to restore The Highline and open it to the public: thank you!

It’s Fun to Be Scared: Haunted House

October 16, 2009

Was with a group of friends on Saturday night when somebody said “Hey, let’s check out that haunted house.”

The peer pressure kicked in.  Some people are entertained by mutilation and murder.  I can barely get through the evening news, forget about horror movies.  But I didn’t want to wimp out.

Get your Halloween on

Get your Halloween on

“You have to walk through it alone. It’s a rule,” he reminded me.

Oh, joy. We went over to a theater that was set up as a makeshift haunted house on 23rd and 11th ave.  Was greeted by a ticket guy who would only say that this was an “unconventional” haunted house and that we have to prepare to be touched, and to crawl. We signed waivers.

Forked over $14 each. For an extra dollar you get a shot of whiskey. Why the hell not? Might as well go all the way. Saw some other girls waiting on line and thought, heck if they can do it, I can do it too, right?


Not gonna ruin any surprises but here’s the official non-spoiler review: I was more nervous BEFORE the haunted house than when I was INSIDE the haunted house.  The anticipation while waiting on line — hearing people screaming behind the curtain and then thinking about getting forced to face my worst phobias  — is what got to me.  But once inside, I took a ninja attitude. I’m a big girl! This ain’t real!

Even though there were a few creepy psychological tricks waiting inside the haunted house, I was surprised that I hardly screamed or jumped. I did walk a little too fast which I regret since the experience only lasts 15 minutes max.

However, one of my male companions (somebody who loves slasher movies, gore,  roller coasters, etc) yelled “safety,” the code word for “I’ve had enough, stop scaring me.” One “section” of the haunted house had stirred something dark inside, and a staff person relieved him (although he bravely continued on to the rest of the haunted house).  We’ve all got a button waiting to be pushed.

Tip: You can use your haunted house ticket stub to score a $4 draft beer at The Half King Bar& Restaurant down the street. Try their tasty sweet potato fries.

Haunted House, Vortex Theatre, 164 Eleventh Ave (near 23rd St)., New York, NY

Cost: $14 admission. $1 if you want a whiskey shot. Ages 18+.  Until Oct 31st.

Lucky’s Famous Burgers

October 12, 2009

My friend and I popped into the new Lucky’s Famous Burgers location on 23rd St. near 8th ave last week.  We were in the mood for some burgers!

There were only a handful of customers inside — which worried me — and the floor looked unswept.  A few (friendly) employees were standing around watching the game on TV, not doing much….one was even doing hanging tricep pushup dips above two counters behind the register. Why couldn’t they sweep the floor? Also, something about the orange and red decor (although cleverly lit and designed) was too close to McDonald’s for me.

And after reading about all that E. Coli and ground beef business  in the NY Times last week, I said to myself  “Why didn’t I go to ‘healthy’ grass-fed, etc etc. burger joint if I’m gonna risk my life eating a burger?”

Anyway, I ordered one of their $10 meals which included: two mini cheeseburgers, one order of fries and a 20 oz soda.

My meal, in bad lighting

A portion of my double mini cheeseburger meal, in poor lighting

I was pleasantly surprised! The burgers were juicy, with pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion and their special sauce,  all lovingly wrapped. The fries were the most outstanding part of the meal: fine crinkle cuts, crispy and nicely seasoned.

Closer look at the (mini) burger

Closer look at the (mini) burger

The portion size was perfect for me, too.   I ate half of my meal (one burger) at Lucky’s and saved the rest (the second burger) for snacking on at home later.  Two hours later, the fries stayed firm and flavorful, not over oily or soggy. And my burger bun held up.

Nice job, Lucky’s.

Lucky’s Famous Burgers

Atlantic Ave. Tunnel Tour

October 9, 2009

Hey, where are these people going?

Hold up -- somethings not right here.

Hold up -- something's not right here.

What? You haven’t been to the OLDEST subway tunnel in the world?

In 1981, after months of research, interpreting maps,  and navigating city bureaucracy, the 20-year-old student Bob Diamond crawled through a shaft in downtown Brooklyn and discovered this tunnel, built by the LIRR in 1844.

Worlds oldest subway tunnel

World's oldest subway tunnel

“Built to provide grade separation for early Long Island Rail Road trains that lacked brakes good enough to operate on city streets.  The tunnel eliminated vehicular and pedestrian traffic conflicts and delays.”

The half-mile tunnel (built in under seven months under the direction of Cornelius Vanderbilt) was not too profitable so it was sealed off in 1861.

Tour leader Bob Diamond, NYCs Indiana Jones

Tour leader Bob Diamond, NYC's Indiana Jones

Visit the tunnel yourself with a tour led by the intrepid Bob Diamond, who will tell the captivating story of his discovery.  He’ll also talk about the steam locomotive that he believes stands right behind a brick wall at the end of the tunnel, abandoned and waiting to be excavated.

Make sure to wear sneakers and bring a powerful flashlight.  Be prepared to climb down a ladder and to peel off layers of clothing as it gets warm and humid underground.

Here are some things I encountered during my visit to the tunnel:

Speak loud, I cant hear you down here

Speak up, I can't hear you down here

Old cheese curds

Old cheese curds

I went in December 2008 and they had some random, wacky actors running around doing historical re-enactments that I didn’t quite appreciate (very Williamsburg-acting-troupe, not my taste).   I hope it’s just Bob talking nowadays, because I could have listened to him reveal more about his past and current adventures.  He’s a genuine NYC treasure — so don’t miss this.

Cost: $15

Tours leave once a month in front of the Trader Joe’s on Atlantic Ave and Court St.

Call 718-941-3160 to make a reservation.

Nolita Mexican: Cafe El Portal

October 7, 2009
Underground Mexican joint

Underground Mexican joint

Cozy little Cafe Portal is the place where I meet my Nolita/LES friends for a cheap and tasty dinner after work (or before a window shopping stroll).  The basement level restaurant is a teensy, dark space, so it’s for those who don’t mind sitting knee-to-knee with their companion and elbow-to-elbow to the peeps at the next table.

Intimate and cozy

Intimate and cozy

My favorites: roasted corn, chile rellenos, fish tacos, oaxqueno de mole com pollo (chicken mole), pork tamale. Must have: cucumber water which can also be made into a margarita — try it with their habanero tequila if you want to spice it up (watch out!)

Cafe El Portal, 174 Elizabeth St. near Spring St., Manhattan, NY

Brooklyn Museum: First Saturdays

October 5, 2009
Brooklyns largest dance party

Brooklyn's largest dance party

Just went back to this gathering on Saturday night and it still gives me a warm feeling inside. There aren’t many other places in NYC where you wade in this cross-section of beautiful people of all colors and ages.

How can you not smile at the kids going bonkers on the dancefloor?  Grandmothers and teens chillin’ side-by-side on a Saturday night? There’s so much to take advantage of at this free monthly event. The choice is yours: simply stroll through the exhibits, grab a beer and people-watch. Or you can meet a new “friend” on a Saturday night in a elegant setting that isn’t completely about boozing (or hooking) up. It’s the perfect cheap date or place to hang out with buddies.

Sure, the acoustics are far from perfect in the Beaux Arts court (the classiest dancefloor in Brooklyn), and the sound always seems to disconnect  at the eleventh hour just when everybody is warmed up to dance.  And the event usually gets a bit warm and crowded. But it’s one of the first places I’d take an out-of-towner if they want to witness Brooklyn in action.  A  relaxed, fun, educational, and unpretentious vibe — just what I hope for in an cultural institution.

Cost: FREE

Before it gets TOO cold: Studio Square

October 1, 2009

There may be a nip in the air but I still hope that it will warm up this weekend (forecast says Sunday might hit the 70s).  Got to take advantage of the great outdoors then, right?

Drinking in the great outdoors...of Astoria

If I don’t get myself to a grassier part of town, I’ll probably hit up Studio Square in Astoria again.

This biergarten is a massive space by NYC standards: 18,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space.  I recently visited for the first time on a breezy Thursday night.

I sated my hunger with a decently prepared $8 brat (courtesy of Schaller & Weber) that came with a side of sauerkraut.  My friend enjoyed an Angus burger with fries and one of 18 brews.

We relaxed at one of the picnic tables in the cobblestoned-courtyard which features a fire pit.  A competent band played covers of popular (mostly oldies) rock songs. They were the kind of band that performs at weddings. Each song received a round of light clapping, just to show some support, I guess.  A few ladies jiggled self-consciously to the music as they rose from their seats to visit the restroom, or to re-adjust their short skirts.

The crowd was authentically Queens:  plenty of girls who weren’t afraid to show how much effort they had put into their hair and makeup.  Lots of NY accents. A fair amount of exposed — yet non-aggressive —  muscles, button-down shirts and hair gel. And most importantly, not an ironic T-shirt or beard to be seen, even in this young crowd.

After months of weaving around the hipster crowds of Manhattan and Brooklyn, it’s kinda refreshing, isn’t it?

Studio Square, 35-33 36th St., Astoria, NY

Party in My Mouth: Berkshire Bark’s Tropical Heat

September 29, 2009
Chocolate-y Spicy Goodness

Chocolate-y Spicy Goodness

There are not enough spicy + sweet ready-to-eat products out there.  I can probably name a dozen if I thought really hard about it.

I actually don’t go ga-ga over chocolate as much as the average gal, but this one chocolate’s got a hold on me.

Berkshire Bark’s Tropical Heat is Belgian dark chocolate + roasted macademia nuts + dried tropical fruit (coconut, mango, papaya, pineapple) + ancho chile Powder + cayenne pepper.

Come to mama

Come to mama

Berkshire isn’t shy about the “heat.”  I was afraid there would only be a trace of chile so that nobody  is offended — especially since this is from the Berkshires (populated with mostly polite people, not known for spice).  But my Indian food-loving* taste buds were pleasantly surprised.  This was tingly and fun! There is a liberal amount of fruit mixed in, so you get a tasty spicy/fruity combo in each bite. If you’re a fan of Oaxacan mole sauce, you should give this chocolate a try.

Cost: About $6 in gourmet food stores including Amish Market, Dean & Deluca and Fairway

* Somebody should make a vindaloo chocolate bar. Or a Tom Yung Goong chocolate bar. ..just for kicks.