Monthly Archives: January 2009

Birthday Breasts!

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I recently attended a friend’s birthday celebration in the East Village.  Before the party I stopped by my favorite Italian bakery, De Robertis to pick up a festive birthday surprise.

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De Robertis was established in 1904 and has been featured in many movies and tv shows (Broken English, SATC – season 1, etc..).  They used to have a wall of celebrity signed portraits, but I think that went in the way of renovations.  I prefer it over the possibly more famous Venieros, which is on the next block.

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Now I hope that anyone who is reading this and doesn’t know me won’t get the wrong idea (I am definitely not perverted), but I bought my friend a set of breasts (called Cassatine Sicilane).  I highly recommend the breasts as a fun party present.  They are comical and they taste good too!  The breats are composed of ricotta cheese with mini chocolate chips over a thin layer of pound cake, topped with a candied cherry and covered in a layer of marzipan and fondant.  The breasts cost $3.50 a piece.  My only disclaimer is that they are very sweet, so a little goes a long way.  The breasts fell when the birthday girl was displaying them so they don’t look so hot in the below photo, but luckily they fell wrapper side down, and we probably would have followed the five second rule anyway…haha.

My friend showing off the breasts

The birthday girl showing off the breasts

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My New York – Lower East Side Tour

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My first stop on the LES was Hello Sari, which sells colorful saris, tunics, scarfs, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories from Pakistan, India, and Egypt.  The owner is a belly dancing enthusiast, and she also sells belly dancing outfits.  Everything in the store is between $5-$100 so you can find a lot of unique and affordable items.  I have a tunic dress  from Hello Sari (pictured below), and I receive compliments every time I wear it!

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My dress (around $85?  I'm not sure because it was a gift)

My Hello Sari dress

Down the block is 88 Orchard, which is a nice cafe with laid back atmosphere (and boardgames downstairs).

88 Orchard

88 Orchard

The Tenement Museum is a fun place to visit.  They offer different theme tours (an Italian family’s apt, a Jewish family’s apt, etc.), so you can have different experiences, but if you’ve ever been to a tenement building in NYC then you basically know what you’re going to see.  The tours are led by docents in character (it’s like the immigrant version of Colonial Williamsburg).  If you’re planning a visit during the holidays I suggest buying tickets ahead of time because they sell out.  I would also recommend going now because during the summer is it HOT HOT HOT, and they don’t use AC to give you the authenticate experience.

The Tenement Museum

The Tenement Museum

I LOVE the gift shop, which has a great selection of books and NYC memorabilia that isn’t too hooky.

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Next to the Tenement Museum is Il Laboratorio del Gelato, which has excellent gelato.  I considered getting some, but they don’t have a sit down area and it was snowing, so I opted for a sample instead.

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I had actually never been to Economy Candy before (so it doesn’t belong on the favorites list), but it’s a well known store and the prices seem true to name.  It could be a good store for buying small gifts because they have candy with pretty packaging.

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One of my favorite bars in NYC is Verlaine (the location of my b-day this past year), which is located next door to Economy Candy.  The bar has a French Vietnamese theme and has happy hour drink specials until 10 PM, 7 days a week (the famous lychee martinis and other drinks are $5., yuengling $3.).

Sorry, the snow killed the photo opt

Sorry, the snow killed the photo opt

Next door to Verlaine is Fat Baby, which is a lounge with good dance music.  I haven’t been there recently, but I used to go there a lot and it was always fun.  My only issue with Fat Baby is that it gets very crowded, so avoid it if you’re claustrophobic.

Fat Baby looks better inside

Fat Baby looks better inside

Unfortunately my camera battery died before I could complete the tour.  I was also planning on photographing the following:

The Sunshine Cinema – this is my favorite indie film theater.  It’s a historic building and they have a gourmet concession stand (although I would recommend buying snacks at the nicest Whole Foods in the city down the street instead).  I’ve enjoyed most of the films I’ve seen here, but I guess that’s a combo of chance and the management/someone in distribution having good taste.

Russ and Daughters – this is the BEST place in NYC for lox.  They catered my Bat Mitzvah, so clearly this is a quality shop for Jewish gourmet products…hehe.

There are a lot of other places that I like on the Lower East Side, but they are kind of random.  I love the Clinton Street Bakery (restaurant famous for brunch).  The Angel Orensanz Foundation is also one of my favorite buildings (it used to be a synagogue before it was bought and renovated by two artist brothers who turned it into an event space).

I hope the tour was informational and that I don’t sound like too much of a walking ad.  They are just places I like a lot and I guarantee I’m not getting any sort of kickback…haha.

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Adventures in Williamsburg

Rose Live Music

Rose Live Music

Last night I attended a poetry reading at the Rose Live Music bar in Williamsburg.  The reading was part of the Ear Shot Reading series, which selects MFA poetry students from different graduate programs to share their work.  The bar was nice and the $5. cover charge included a free drink, which I thought was a good deal.  I didn’t find the talent levels to be equal, but one of the poets was great, and I’m impressed by anyone who gets up and shares such personal work.  After the reading a jazz band performed, which was excellent.

After the bar we went to Foodswings, which is a vegan fast food restaurant.  I had already had dinner, but I tried some of my friend’s fries and a cookies and cream milkshake.  The chalk signs listed the names of many variations of fries (ex. mariachi fries), but the counter person was not too enthusiastic about describing the differences.  My friend ordered the “cheese” fries.  I thought they tasted weird, but I’m not a huge fan of cheese in general so vegan cheese is even less appealing.  Everyone else liked them.  The milkshake was awesome though!  I am curious to know what the base was because it didn’t taste anything like soy milk (maybe it was another nondairy replacement or the cookies just masked the taste?).  The cheese fries were $3.50 and the milkshake was $4.25.  Fast food is not one of my preferred cuisines, but I could definitely see how Foodswings has a certain appeal for the vegan crowd, and the atmosphere was fun.

http://www.earshotnyc.com/
www.foodswings.net
295 Grand St
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 388-1919

Foodswings

Foodswings

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Monica and the milkshake

I am a huge Smith's fan, so I had to take a photo with their poster

I love the Smiths!

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Fun Times in Washington Heights – Part II

2012 UPDATE: The Madame Alexander Heritage Gallery is closed until early 2013 because the company is moving facilities.

After the museum I decided to walk down Broadway, since I am not very familiar with Washington Heights, and I wanted to check out the neighborhood (it turns out there wasn’t a lot to see on Broadway other than restaurants and bodegas).  On a whim I stopped by the Madame Alexander Doll Factory on 131st Street where I went to a sample sale several years ago.  At the time I wanted to go on a tour, but they were only available by reservation for groups of fifteen or more.  I never bothered trying to put together a group since I don’t have friends who are (still) interested in dolls.

The building is now owned by Columbia University (it may have been several years ago too, but I don't remember seeing a CU sign on my first visit).

Madame Alexander Heritage Gallery and Factory

I collected dolls when I was younger and attended a lot of doll shows with my mother (mostly Madame Alexander and Ginny’s, as well as Steiffs and Muffies, which are stuffed animals).  I also liked American Girl Dolls (I actually worked at American Girl Place as a seasonal personal shopping assistant in college), but I consider those play dolls rather than collectibles.

the reception room

The reception room

I am so happy I decided to stop by Madame Alexander, because not only do they now have a store there, but they also offer daily tours to the public.  On the website it says you need a reservation for the tours, but they no longer have the fifteen person minimum.  I am not sure how often the tours run, but when I got there the receptionist said the next tour would begin in twenty minutes and last about a half hour.  I only waited a few minutes when a group of school children from a local charter school arrived.  A toy designer was going to lead them on a special tour and asked if I would like to join the group instead of waiting for the general tour.  I said of course and we proceeded into the factory.

First, we watched a short documentary about the history of Madame Alexander, which was founded by Madame Beatrice Alexander Behrman in 1923.  Madame Alexander’s father owned the first doll hospital in the U.S. and after seeing so many broken dolls she was inspired to create dolls for play.  The company rarely makes porcelain dolls and most Madame Alexander dolls have hard plastic bodies.

Scarlett O'Hara dolls and a wall of dies (used to cut fabric)

Scarlett O’Hara dolls, doll heads, and a wall of dies used to cut fabric.

Madame Alexander was the first company to make dolls based on licensed characters from books and movies.  In 1955, she created the fashion doll Cissy, which was the first doll to have an adult body and high heeled feet (pre-dating Barbie by several years!).  The tour guide told us that Cissy changed the play patterns of children because previously they considered dolls to be their contemporaries and after the creation of Cissy they viewed dolls as what they would become.  The dolls are made in the U.S., which I think is great because it is important to support local businesses and employee people here.  Although the doll’s bodies are produced in NYC, the tour leader/designer told us that they outsource for specialty finishes (ex. the beading on the clothes is done in India, since they specialize in beading there).

After watching the film we walked through the Heritage Gallery, which had glass displays with antique Madame Alexander dolls and modern dolls (flash use was not permitted in the gallery, so some of the photos are blurry).

the original Cissy doll

The original Cissy doll

Cissys

Cissys

more Scarlett O'Hara dolls

More Scarlett O’Hara dolls

I Love Lucy!

I Love Lucy!

Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly

Audrey Hepburn/Holly Golightly

modern Cissys

Modern Cissys and a Cisette

Spa Cissy

Spa Cissy

Eloise!

Eloise!

Next we visited the factory where workers were sewing doll clothing.  One worker demonstrated how he makes hats for the dolls on a sewing machine.  As a special treat for the school group we were allowed to pick a hat from a multi-colored selection (I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for me to take one, but the tour leader offered it to me, so I took an adorable pink hat).

the factory and union workers

The factory

union workers sewing

Union workers sewing

rows of fabric

Rows of fabric

demonstrating hat making

Hat production

Then we went to the Doll Hospital and the tour leader assembled a doll’s head using rubber bands, glue, and a press.  The doll’s body parts are held together with medical grade rubber bands, which can be easily fixed.

Doll hospital admissions

Doll hospital admissions

Tour leader/toy designer showing us the rubber band system

Tour leader/toy designer showing us the rubber band system

Next we saw the conference room, which was beautifully painted by one of the doll designers.  The room can be rented out for birthday parties.  We also visited the showroom where the latest dolls for 2009 were displayed.  Unfortunately we were not permitted to take photos in the showroom because the dolls have not been released yet.

pretty conference room

Pretty conference room

I love the doll's clothes!

I love the doll’s clothes!

 At the end of the tour the children were each allowed to pick one catalogue and the tour leader told me I could take as many as I wanted (they sell the catalogues at the front desk for $12. each).  Before leaving I also visited the store, which had some good deals and was definitely less expensive than FAO Schwartz.

I especially enjoyed talking to the tour leader about her background (she had another career before becoming a toy designer).  She told me there are eight designers on the design team and they studied toy, fashion, or costume design.

Typical MA designer's desk

Typical Madame Alexander designer’s desk (I own the Coco doll in the pink suit)

A trip to the Madame Alexander Factory probably won’t appeal to most adults, but I loved the experience.

Wendy wearing her new hat! (note Wendy is the oldest MA doll model still in production and the most popular)

Wendy’s new hat matches her outfit perfectly! (note – Wendy is the oldest Madame Alexander doll model still in production and the most popular)

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Fun Times in Washington Heights – Part I

Entrance to the Hispanic Society of America

Entrance to the Hispanic Society of America

This afternoon I visited the Hispanic Society of America, which I consider to be the greatest “hidden gem” in NYC.  I visited the society for the first time several years ago, but I decided to go again today after reading that the Dia Center had opened an exhibit there (Dia is an art foundation that supports contemporary artists).  Entrance to the Hispanic Society is free, and they also have a reference library for the study of the arts and culture of Spain, Portugal, and Latin America.  The Hispanic Society is located on Broadway, between 155th and 156th street, AKA Audubon Terrace (property previously owned by the renowned ornithologist/painter).

You might recognize the facade from Law and Order, which was filming outside during my first visit

You might recognize the facade from Law and Order, which was filming outside during my first visit

Dia and the Hispanic Society began a four-year partnership in 2007 for the Hispanic Society to exhibit works that Dia commissions.  The current Dia exhibit Derrotero is by the New York-based artist Zoe Leonard and has two parts.  The first section Analogue is comprised of 400 photographs that the artist took between 1998 and 2007.  The artist originally intended to document the gentrification of the Lower East Side, but she also incorporates photographs of related imagery from her trips to Uganda, Cuba, and Poland (ex. coca cola signs found on facades of buildings abroad and on the LES).

The photographs are organized thematically (i.e. bodega storefronts, rags, etc…).  I thought the photos were interesting, but I grew up downtown/have seen the gentrification of the LES firsthand and therefore didn’t find the exhibit so revelatory or groundbreaking.

Analogue

Analogue

The second part of Leonard’s exhibit consisted of antique maps from the Hispanic Society’s collection, which were housed in the main building (Analogue was in another building next door).  I thought the maps were a bit dull, so I didn’t photograph them.  However, the main building also houses the society’s IMPRESSIVE collection of Spanish decorative arts, paintings, sculptures, textiles, and archaeology.  The objects and paintings are installed around a beautiful carved wooden balcony.

NOTE – the Hispanic Society does not allow the use of flash and the interior is dark, so some of the photos are out of focus.

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Goya's "Dutchess of Alba?

Goya, Dutchess of Alba, 1797

This effigy looks so serene

This effigy looks so serene

Sadly, my favorite part of the collection, the Sorolla Room is closed for renovation until 2010.  The Sorolla room is a ballroom with SPECTACULAR murals by the artist Joaquin Sorolla, but the murals are in Spain until the renovation is complete.

Check

The sculptures in the courtyard are by Anna Hyatt Huntington, the second wife of the Hispanic Society’s founder, Archer Milton Huntington.

19th and 20th century painting wing with Don Quixote relief

19th and 20th century painting wing with Don Quixote relief

Across from the main building is a recently renovated wing, which houses the Society’s gorgeous collection of 19th and 20th century paintings.  Below are some of the highlights (I am sorry I didn’t note the painters or titles).

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I HIGHLY recommend visiting the Hispanic Society of America, even if you are not a fan of Spanish art or culture (although you might want to wait until the Sorolla murals come back in 2010).

http://www.hispanicsociety.org/

p.s. I just read on the Hispanic Society’s website that they offers free tours led by the curators at 2PM on Saturdays.  Also, both times I was there I was the only visitor (not including my mother the first time).  While I hope they attract more people, this makes for a more pleasant and intimate experience than you might have at the MoMA or the Met, although it doesn’t have the people watching appeal.

p.p.s. Across the street from the Hispanic Society is the Church of the Intercession, which has a Tiffany alter and one of the cemeteries of the downtown Trinity Church, where many prominent New Yorkers are buried.

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Eloise Revisited

2012 UPDATE: The Plaza mall was recently renovated again (and Cafe Demel is gone).  I plan on writing a post about the new food court in the future.

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In Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the main character Holly Golightly goes to Tiffany’s when she is experiencing the “mean reds” (something akin to depression and angst).  Holly – “When I get it, what does any good is to jump into a cab and go to Tiffany’s. Calms me down right away.  The quietness, the proud look.  Nothing very bad could happen to you there.”  Holly’s Tiffany philosophy is essentially how I feel about the Plaza Hotel.  Eloise was my favorite book as a child, and I used to love going to “visit” Eloise and then stopping by F.A.O. Schwartz across the street.  I was sad when I found out the Plaza was closing and undergoing renovations a few years ago.

A friend's birthday/tea party at the Plaza in elementary school (I'm wearing the grey dress w/ white collar/black coat in the front row)

A friend’s birthday/tea party at the Plaza in the 90s (I’m wearing the grey dress w/ white collar and black coat)

This summer I stopped by the Plaza, and I thought the lobby looked good (though still under construction at the time), but I couldn’t find the portrait of Eloise.  I asked a guard about the painting and he said in a matter-of-fact tone “Eloise has gone on vacation.”

A few days ago I stopped by the Plaza again to check out the new lower level shopping arcade, which opened this past fall.  I was pleased to find that Eloise has returned to the ground floor and that the lobby still has enough glitz/gold leaf to relieve me of the “mean reds.”  See below for more highlights from my visit:

Eloise and moi

Eloise and moi, circa ’93

My red eye tool is acting, so I like the 8 yr. old version of this photo more

My red eye tool is acting funky, so I like the 8 yr. old version of this photo more

The Palm Court looks the same, although it received terrible reviews and is supposed to ridiculously overpriced (always was though).

The Palm Court looks the same, although it received terrible reviews and is supposed to ridiculously overpriced (though it always has been dear).

the new retail section is pretty!

the new retail section is pretty!

Cafe Demel on the new lower level is an outpost of the famous Viennese cafe and looks lovely!

Cafe Demel on the new lower level is an outpost of the famous Viennese cafe and looks lovely.

the recession does not seem to be affecting Cafe Demel

I want to go back when I have at least one person to split a dessert with (starting at $7. a slice, the recession does not seem to be affecting Cafe Demel).

this is how I entertain myself

the Plaza lobby

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New Year, New Museum, New Blog! (corny, but somewhat fitting title for my first blog post:)

the New Museum of Contemporary Art

the New Museum of Contemporary Art (it was dark when I left the museum, so this isn’t a stellar representation of the building’s shiny white facade)

Last week I visited the New Museum of Contemporary Art, which reopened in a new building on the Bowery at the end of 2007.  This was my second visit to the museum.  During my first visit I was unimpressed by the art, but I liked the roof top balcony and found the crowd interesting.  I had never seen so many people in skinny jeans in one place.  I also spotted Fran Lebowitz in the elevator (I’m not a huge fan, but celeb sightings are always fun!).

On my recent trip I went to see the Elizabeth Peyton show, which is on view until January 11.  The exhibit is a survey of her work and features mostly watercolors of friends/celebrities from the rock music and art worlds.  Her first show was at the Chelsea Hotel, and a lot of the portraits are of people who are associated with the hotel.

The one thing I didn’t like about the show was that the portraits are not framed.  I understand that this was intentional, but I thought the works would have looked more finished with something around them.  I found it interesting that Peyton paints a lot from photographs.

I recommend the show because the portraits are beautiful.  I would love to commission a painting from Peyton one day!

7th fl./balcony

7th fl./balcony (you can’t see the balcony here, which was closed because of inclement weather, but the views are AMAZING)

Paper chair

Paper chair

Funny packaging at the concession stand/bar

Funny packaging at the concession stand/bar

Concession stand/bar

Concession stand/bar

Prices seemed high to me, but I guess that's not surprising

Prices seemed a little high to me, but I guess that’s not surprising

narrow staircase

Narrow staircase

Fun sign

Fun sign!

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