Saturday, April 30, 2011

Caffeinated Weekends - Joe Coffee

Why "caffeinated weekends?"  Seems not exactly the direction we customarily aim for, that is, weekdays = caffeine, and weekend = ahhhh relax at home.  Monday through Friday, the quick morning caffeine blast before, or on the way to, the office is the norm around here.  However, when I was, until quite recently, an office worker, I would walk into any of the recent wave of excellent quality espresso bars as I grabbed mine to go, and I would regard with such longing the customers who had the luxury of time to linger over their purchase IN the shop, sitting with a book or laptop or their smart phone or even - gasp - a human companion, and sip and experience time in this group environment, able to enjoy the bustle and aroma and the charming baristas sporting their inventive head gear.

I've been making an effort, in this new non-office life of mine, to try every espresso bar that appears to be worth its espresso maker.  That would be in New York as well as in my travels.  And closest to home is Joe coffee.  Without a doubt, it's the best of the Upper West Side, and the lines that are always out the door are testimony to that view being held by (for better or worse) more than just me.
Unlike a number of other excellent coffee bars, Joe has a number of chairs and tiny tables, as well as two long outdoor wooden benches, and, even though popular all day longer, I've never had an impossible time locating a place to sit after at most a few patient minutes of waiting.  Another big advantage, far lower down on the list than the quality of the coffee and service, but often very important post-run, is that they have a bathroom - hooray!  They serve fresh baked goods from a variety of well-known bakeries in the city, including a few vegan items from time to time.  When they run out by mid-afternoon, though, that's it till tomorrow morning.

The place is tiny and should be at least double its size to accommodate its popularity (Joe, take a hint, please, the next time one of your neighbors' leases opens up).  In fact, when this uptown branch of the Joe Coffee group was building out in advance of its opening, I followed its every movement towards its first day, including the notices that they e-mailed to their followers when their beloved espresso maker (machine not human being) was being delivered and installed. 

All that is in the past now (two years, which I'll remember well for other reasons), and their loyal following was immediate.  Now that I'm a weekday regular, too, I tend to see the same folks there who sit and sip, rather than purchase and go.  I do both, depending on the day and schedule.  In any case, they know my name (and in their defense, those smart baristas have been welcoming me by name since long before my almost daily visits, back when I was just a fair-weather friend - that is, following my weekend Reservoir runs).  Perhaps caffeine helps the memory; I'm hoping so.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Come Hungry

... to Chelsea Market, that is.  In another of those "I can't believe I've never been here!" moments I keep posting over and over (there's a sad trend here), there is Chelsea Market.  The other day, I decided to get over to The High Line, quick!, while we were experiencing that rare, elusive thing called a spring day (that I've also been posting about too much).  I walked through Chelsea en route from the #1 train at 18th Street, and all of a sudden found all these people walking into this ENORMOUS building on Ninth Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets. 

The building's main hallway runs the entire length of the block between Ninth and Tenth Avenues!  It was the home of the National Biscuit Company (Nabisco), in which Premium Saltines, Fig Newtons, Mallomars, Oreos, Animal Crackers and other childhood favorites were produced.  As Chelsea Market, the building now houses dozens of retail and baking establishments, restaurants and food stores, utilizing all that open space to maximum effect.  Read more about the building's fascinating history here.  It's not just a place to grab a bite, or two, or three, to carry up to The High Line (or to dine in or take home, if you prefer), but also to wander and take in an interesting bit of New York industrial history.

My pictures can tell you more (and better) than my words today, but suffice it to say that Chelsea Market and the High Line are a great combo...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bedford Avenue

A weekend afternoon in Williamsburg, apparently rain or shine (since I experienced both, many times over in a few hours), is an experience of variety, cuisine, shopping, strolling and the best people-watching this side of the Meatpacking District.  Locals and visitors from across the river abound and will be duly entertained for the price of a short subway ride (or two) from Manhattan.  Plus, there are the wonderful views of Manhattan. 

I recommend first a long stroll up and down Bedford Avenue, where the "L" train stop will bring you above ground.  Glancing down the side streets along the way offers temptations, too, for diversions from the main avenue.  Just one example - I found a lovely, rustic bakery on one of the side streets called Bakeri, which has a tiny and charming back garden (as I noticed many of the neighborhood cafés, restaurants and bars did), complete with bubbling fountain, in which to enjoy my salad (bread was out of the question as it was still Passover, but I would have had a very hard time selecting just one item if I'd been able to do so).
Continuing up Bedford Avenue will eventually lead to McCarren Park, fascinating home to the famed hipsters of Williamsburg on a sunny Sunday, where I found many small groups of them covering every bare patch of grassy ground, picnicing, playing music or just deep in conversation.  

When it began to rain, I headed back to a public bench on the corner of Bedford and N. 6th Street that was protected by an awning, and I watched the passers-by and drew a few (not exactly scientific) conclusions (if you are from Williamsburg, please do not hate me - I loved my visit, and I plan to go back often, if you'll let me).  I noticed more of these things than I usually see from a random street corner in Manhattan:

boots with bare legs and short shorts
little dogs
hair of every length, color, shape and head location
red lips
flannel clothes
bubble tea
coffee houses and walking coffee cups
muscle t-shirts
back gardens
open air bars and cafés
places called "The ____"
"Where's Waldo?" caps (in 75 degrees)
people between the ages of 20-30
"ironic" clothes and accessories (like Hello Kitty pink luggage, being carried - seriously - by an adult)
foreign languages spoken
did I say bicycles?
couples holding hands
too many tattoos per square inch of human skin

Things there were NOT much of:

people in business clothes
scowling people (it was a Sunday, after all)
small frame eye glasses
old people
kids (OK, a few, and they were VERY hip)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Inspired Jewelry

Sunday, I found myself in Brooklyn.  One doesn't just "find" oneself in Brooklyn (from the Upper West Side of Manhattan anyway).  In fact, I'm embarrassed to admit that only recently have I come to enjoy a few of Brooklyn's treasures, such as BAM (perhaps it was my lack of free time raising children and working more than full-time?).  I'd been dying to get to Williamsburg; yes, it's true, I'd also never been to Williamsburg (more to come on that adventure in a future post), and it turns out the outdoor Brooklyn Flea is there on Sundays (it's seasonal, so check their website).  It was an on-and-off sunny day, mixed with a few spring downpours and drizzles, but it didn't seem to stop the Brooklynites, or the foreigners like me, from checking out the scene. 

First helpful thing to know is that it's barely a 30-minute subway trip to Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue subway stop on the "L" line from the UWS.  Unbelievable!  And what a world it is - young, energetic, hip (of course) and picky, picky, picky.  I mean this in only the best way possible.  The food on sale at the "Flea" - only the best, local, organic, homemade, original, get the idea.  Furniture - handmade, sold by the furniture makers themselves.  Vintage clothing and costume jewelry - designer!  
And the jewelry.  Well, I wasn't on a search for anything in particular, other than the market and the neighborhood I was exploring.  But, I was caught (as does seem to happen) by the jewelry on display from Saskia deVries
The stones, clasps and other pieces used in her hand-designed and hand-made jewelry are sourced from her travels all over the world, as are her inspirations for their design.  They're quite original and definitely a bit earthy, in a very sophisticated style.  There's high-impact to low, in size, color and design, but everything struck me in the way the look of such elemental stones could have such a polish.  In other words, these pieces can go with country or city, high or low fashion.  Also, they seem to be ageless (meaning, we can be our age and wear them).  Saskia was extremely helpful in describing everything there was to know about each piece and their elements.  She's so passionate about her work, and I didn't see a customer who wasn't drawn in by the beauty and unique quality of Saskia's designs.  Her booth isn't always at the Flea, she told me, but the Upcoming Events section of her website will let you know where she is going to be.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Picasso and Marie-Thérèse: L'amour fou

It's spring (so they say), and who doesn't love love in the spring (as my last post so wonderfully displayed)?  Well, another location in Chelsea is also displaying love - for free.  That doesn't sound quite correct, but stick with me here.  To get to the point, the Gagosian Gallery on 21st Street between 10th and 11th Avenues has an exhibit that would make most museums envious.  (As my old Wharton friend asked as we walked through the gallery, "What's the business model behind this?")  Yeah, well, given there is no entrance fee to walk through the well-lit galleries that are filled with many of Picasso's most daring works of the period 1927-1940, of and inspired by his muse, Marie-Thérèse, someone else (more educated in the art biz than myself) will have to answer that question.   This wonderful exhibit will be open through June 25, 2011.

And, if spring ever does arrive, The High Line is right nearby for an inspiring stroll before or after.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Spring Fever

Birds do it, bees do it...
Even jaded New Yorkers do it -
and even the driving rain yesterday didn't cause this smile-and-sigh inducing poster taped to a wall on a side street in Chelsea to wilt and collapse in yet another puddle.
Don't you just want to know what happened with these two people, and what may yet still?
seen taped onto a wall in Chelsea, April 23, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chocolate Loving

On a too cold April day (earlier today, that is), I wandered down St. Mark's Place (between First Avenue and Avenue A) after a lovely coffee at Abraço, where I was warmed by the other bodies pressed up against me in the tiny shop which can barely hold five or six customers (who are willing to take only whole milk in their coffee drinks, by the way....grrrr).  Good cortado, though.  

So, following the cortado, I was warmed and girded myself to head back to the subway in the gray of the late afternoon.  However, I was overcome by a shop awning and standing sign I just couldn't resist:
The Chocolate Library

Some marketing, huh?  The proprietor could run for President, and win, with that kind of salesmanship!  Could anyone resist going in to see what's happening inside?  I found the advertised FREE chocolate tasting, with happy customers all around me - 

Twas a very happy place, indeed.  So many varieties of excellent chocolates from around the world.  The shelves lining all the walls held mostly chocolate bars, organized by country of origin, somewhat like a wine store, but I found an intriguing ready-to-microwave French chocolate fondue that I will surely go back for.  The two-for-one special on the incredibly beautiful chocolates pictured below from a New Jersey chocolate maker called "2 Chicks with chocolate" (also being offered for tastes) overwhelmed me with its surprise of passion fruit caramel inside.  I bought two boxes (for one) and happily left with my purchase, into the still cold and even later day. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A New York One-of-a-Kind

 Two of them, in fact.  Bill Cunningham and Film Forum.  Though the film has moved to other theaters in the city, I had the pleasure of catching this documentary, Bill Cunningham New York, at an iconic movie house in the far west Village.  It's one of the few where you still have to stand "on" line (a phrase I still never use - to a Texan, it's "in" line and always will be), outside, in all kinds of weather.  Lucky for me, it was one of the few warm Saturday afternoons in the month of April, and I enjoyed my half hour standing in line with the rest of the New Yorkers who either love fashion, love Bill Cunningham's reportage in The New York Times ("On the Street" and "Evening Hours," both in the Sunday Styles section), or love a good back story of a one-of-a-kind character who could only exist - and thrive - in this city.  To boot, I made four new friends while standing ON that line in the late afternoon sunshine who invited me to join them for dinner afterward!

Only in New York!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Finally spring

To me, if not to the calendar, it's spring when the blossoms on the beautiful cherry trees flanking the east side of the Central Park Reservoir finally POP.  And pop is what they do (or at least that is how it looks to me, since I only see the trees in brief moments as I run by and under them).  And yesterday was that day - the day that, for me, they had popped!  I will go back and take more and better photos,  I hope, but for now, this is the quick, long view that greeted me with a start early yesterday morning.

The smile that it brought stayed with me the rest of the run and propelled me through the rest of the spring day that followed.  I look forward to more - more spring days, more blossoms, more runs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Mon Sac du Jour

My footsteps and subway travels, particularly during the non-office days I am enjoying so much in the last 5 weeks, have led me to many interesting new-to-my-weekday neighborhoods in Manhattan.  One, though, which I thought I knew well is Midtown, land of office buildings and designer shopping.  For many, many years, I worked in law offices all over Midtown Manhattan, and in the last year, although I haven't worked in this neighborhood in over 6 years, my French lessons at FIAF have happily brought me to the Fifth Avenue NQR subway stop at least once a week.
So I am surprised when I find anything new in Midtown (as I described in an earlier post about Fika and Macaron).  Well, it turns out that my favorite new bag is from a boutique right across the street from Macaron, at 59th Street between Madison and Park.  The shop is called m0851, from Montréal. Everything they sell is created and produced in  Montréal.  They have a few shops around the world, including two in NYC (Soho and Madison)...and Paris, bien sur. 
The style at m0851 is described by their website as "elegant and minimalist."  I would agree; that's probably what caught my eye in the store window.  I was drawn in, right away to the bags - the mailbags ("sac rabat") were the styles that most intrigued me.  With my new non-office lifestyle, I have found myself running all over town, carrying most of my belongings with me (only a slight exaggeration) from morning till night.  This bag can be carried slung over the shoulder and chest and holds quite a load, even my laptop.  The colors are earthy and the style is so lowkey that I've been able to carry it around all day, and later to dinner and evening activities, because it's neither office worker briefcase nor obvious unemployed schlepper tote bag.  "Sleek" is perhaps a good word.  It's hip and mature at the same time (my fashion goal!).
Prices are definitely reasonable for such a nice leather with such terrific no-label architectural modern design.  On a revisit, I noted beautiful fine leather jackets for spring and practical raincoats, also with a minimal style.  Many other bag styles and sizes are there (check out the beautiful website), as well as knock-out scarves.  I can't wait for the sales!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tribeca Signs

Today I spent a lot of time looking up.  That must be because I was in Tribeca and could actually see a lot of sky, along with some great signs and architecture in that neighborhood of old warehouses converted now into loft housing and retail.  (I do love the Upper West Side, as I expounded upon in my previous post, but its primary downside is the density and height of buildings.)  To be able to not only see the sky, but have the blue of the sky and the bright sun highlight and contrast the buildings and street scene is wonderful to me; perhaps that accounts for much of my love of Paris.  I can count clouds there, while by contrast (pun intended) I can barely see any from my own neighborhood unless I'm in one of my grand parks nearby.

That said, not only could I see sky today in Tribeca, but it was 75 degrees and sun - sun - sunny!  I'm obsessed by temperature lately, as we inch our way slowly, oh so slowly it seems, into spring.  Well, today was full-on spring and I took full advantage!!

In my looking up, I noticed terrific signs, and building names and dates, and other interesting titles and business names and slogans all around me.  Some were new, others quite old.  All lend a flavor to this neighborhood, which is now such a blend of age and youth, residence and enterprise, local and tourist, wealth and even greater wealth.  (Tribeca, I believe, is now the most expensive part of town in which to reside; and I was practically tripping over the strollers and nannies.)

Seriously, though, it's wonderful and, in fact, quite life-affirming to me to see how lively and diverse this neighborhood is, ten years after September 11, 2001.  I recall vividly how, soon after 9/11, we were encouraged to go spend some money in Tribeca; the first time I did so, I, too, still had young children at home and wanted to buy something in a small, charming toy store.  The shop had electricity and was open for business, but had no telephone service and couldn't clear credit card transactions, and so the shop owner wrote down the credit card number by hand in order to later record the charge when she could.  Everyone was so nice, strong, positive, and expressed gratitude for so much.  It was a time I will not forget, and I am sure that anyone who lived at that time in the "shadow" of the World Trade Center will remember forever those days.  And that makes the contrast today all the greater.

Just for fun, here are a few signs, buildings, etc., I spotted while taking the time to look around (and above) me today. 

A bit disturbing, if perhaps tongue-in-cheek.
Why don't we call them cordials anyore? 
I couldn't help myself - ah, youth, where have you gone to?

The Tribeca Grand, one of the neighborhood's chic hotels.

So many kid stores.
Wonderful old architecture, preserved beautifully.

...and more.

No problem finding a good patisserie in Tribeca, or ten.

 Trivia - anyone know where Staples Street is?

My future home in Tribeca?  That'd be OK.

Push what, I wonder?