Best New Nabe Makeover: Nomad
OK, we admit that we’re certainly biased with this category since our editorial office is located right in the middle of the area north of Madison Square Park. We can totally go for grunge, but this neighborhood was a sad place to spend at least nine hours every day. We tripped over the haphazard hawkers lined up and down 28th Street, walked by the Oriental rug shops on Madison and eagerly awaited any new restaurant that tried to surface. We didn’t expect much to change in our daily work lives, but then the Ace Hotel opened and a bleak area of Manhattan finally became a destination. Unlike some dubious neighborhood titles, we even like the term Nomad for this unloved brown blot on the taxi map. With the recent inauguration of The Hurricane Club, a yuppie-Polynesian douche-pit, and the Gansevoort Park Avenue, however, we’re already feeling the gentrifier jitters. Could an area that had no identity suddenly cross over into a place to avoid so soon?
Best Magazine One-upmanship: Dueling New York and New Yorker Profiles
Maybe you trust the magazine awards and don’t question the absolute authority of our culture barometers, but this year gave thoughtful readers a chance to see what editors do and how easily a story can change when shaped with a different agenda in mind. New York magazine’s ongoing dark narrative promotes the seductive and destructive forces at work in the city, so Andrew Goldman’s July profile of David Koch in New York didn’t really do much in tearing him down. While Goldman revealed Koch’s moneyed schemes, like footing much of the bill for the Tea Party organizations (he called him “the Tea Party’s wallet”), it didn’t really press hard on his funding cancer research and hospitals while simultaneously creating the carcinogens that allegedly cause cancer. Then Jane Mayer’s Koch brothers story, titled “Covert Operations,” in The New Yorker, blew it away. That was followed by dueling Nick Denton profiles, with one side wallowing in vulgar exceptionalism and the other taking Denton to task while trying to locate a deeper motivation. As we continue to figure out the direction print media will go in a digital age, and the eroding of our trusted voices, we’ll need to continue to be more discerning readers, careful of the manipulation that is taking place. Now it’s your turn to decide which side to take.
Best Place to Freak Out Your Midwestern Friends: Sammy’s Roumanian
167 Chrystie St., betw. Delancey & Rivington Sts., 212-673-0330
This Downtown destination labels itself a “steak house,” but it’s really more of a vodka-soaked dinner-and-a-show kind of place. A safe haven for Eastern European Jews, Sammy’s combines schmaltz and kitsch with vodka frozen in blocks of ice and Kasha Varniskes. The live keyboardist holds sing-alongs throughout the night, and is happy to shout, “Goyim!” at any scared-looking WASPS. If you’re lucky, after the plates of liver and homages to Mel Brooks, the whole restaurant will break out in dance and your formerly scared pals will leave tipsy, happy and full. With stories to bring back home.
Best Place to Mourn Our Collapsed Economy: The Shuttered ESPN Zone in Times Square
Formerly at Broadway & W. 42nd Street.
Amidst one of the city’s densest tourist areas, the ultimate sports bar couldn’t survive. Where can one get a beer and a cheeseburger and check in on the game after dragging the kids through Toys R Us? Nowhere. The simplest of concepts was perhaps too simple for such a dollar-driven area. It’s a painful reminder that brand names mean nothing in this day and age. Perhaps ESPN should have thrown a few employees in Chris Berman/Stu Scott costumes or hired former NYC sports stars to sit in the lobby and spin yarns from the good ol’ days.
Best Second-Hand Surprises: Goodwill
217 W. 79th St., betw. Broadway & Amsterdam Ave., 212-874-5050
Unlike other city nabes, the Upper West Side isn’t flush with thrift shores, and in this economy, baby, we need ’em. You can go to Salvation Army on West 97th Street, which is, frankly, quite skanky, or Housing Works on Columbus—a bit too tony, but great steals on furniture and designer togs. Goodwill, however, offers a happy medium that won’t overwhelm. It organizes all clothing neatly by size and color, and you will always find surprises. To wit: a boy’s Gap dress shirt, perfect for bar mitzvah-hopping ($9.99); a green corduroy J. Crew jacket ($14.99); a chic gauzy girls’ top, great for wearing over leggings; a sterling bracelet with dangling hearts ($4.99); or six cheery red-and-white striped plastic popcorn holders, perfect for family movie night (50 cents each). And for those who haven’t abandoned the technologies of the 1980s, there are cassettes and classic VHS movies. In these tough times, one needs a reliable thrift store for last-minute Halloween costumes and expensive outerwear items like sweaters, jackets, snow pants and snow boots. Beat the chill at Goodwill and use the dollars you save to head someplace warm (they sell beach towels, too).
Best Untold Broadway Drama: Megan Mullally vs. Patton Oswalt
After her quickie appearance on Parks & Recreation, we were eagerly anticipating getting some quality Mullally time last spring in the Roundabout’s revival of Terence McNally’s Lips Together Teeth Apart. But she apparently didn’t feel the same way about co-star Patton Oswalt. The gossip blogs (and the New York Times) alluded to a Mullally ultimatum: Oswalt or her. Director Joe Mantello called her bluff and Mullally was out in a huff. Too bad the best thing to come out of last year’s Roundabout season took place behind the scenes.
Best Job We Didn’t Know Existed: Vegetable Butcher
Jennifer Rubell is the “vegetable butcher” at Eataly, according to co-owner Mario Batali. Didn’t know there was such a thing as a vegetable butcher? Neither did we. Rubell will peel your carrots for you. She’ll trim your artichokes (the only veggie that does make us feel like we’re tearing into something fleshy). She’ll make sure your pretty veggies that you’re paying a shitload for are even prettier, and you never even have to touch them. Who knew that New York could get that much crazier?
Best Picnic Spot: Roof of Lincoln at Lincoln Center
142 W. 65th St., 212-359-6500
We don’t really plan to dine anytime soon at the super swanky Lincoln restaurant located alongside the reflecting pool and Henry Moore sculpture on the Lincoln Center campus. But the restaurant’s paraboloid roof is perfectly free. Planted with a special grass to compete with the swarms of visitors, the roof may seem like a gimmick, but the architecture firm of Diller, Scofidio + Renfroe understand how to create an enchanting space for people to enjoy on multiple levels (remember, they’re also behind the High Line). Take a walk on the roof and you’ll see that it is one of the most captivating and unusual views in the city. The best is at night, when you can peek into Alice Tully or Avery Fisher halls across 65th Street as the well-heeled promenade for you. Remember: They can’t see you.
Best Unusual Celebrity Spotting Destination: SPiN NYC
48 E. 23rd St., at Park Ave. South, 212-982-8802
While the ping-pong craze never fully materialized in other locations and the trend-that-never-was may have already passed, SPiN NYC remains the spot for table tennis enthusiasts and semi-pro diehards. It also continues to be the best place to have casual encounters with all sorts of celebrities on weeknights. It’s not uncommon to be sipping a drink at the bar and have co-owner Susan Sarandon saunter over, acting completely casual. Other TV actors and musicians are known to stop in for a quickie game or a chance to chill out, but it’s Sarandon who keeps us panting and wanting more.
Best Cool Space in a Meatpacking Building: Gasser & Grunert Gallery
524 W. 19th St., betw. 10th & 11th Aves., 212-807-9494
The starchitect development in the Meatpacking District may have slowed a bit, but there are still some bright spots to discover. Although Shigeru Ban’s Metal Shutter house is pretty much a snooze, the gallery located on the ground floor has proved to be a fascinating work in progress. Gasser & Grunert Gallery is still a large, raw concrete space that is just as much fun to visit as the exhibits on view. Artist Tim Roda took over the space earlier this year and created a strange world in the raw concrete play area. The subsequent exhibit, titled Games of Antiquities, was composed of photographs that showed the building populated in some sort of Roman spectacle with strange rituals, with some of the objects created on display. Sometimes it’s better to leave things alone and let the imagination take over.
Best Organization Making Downtown Cool: Lower Manhattan Cultural Council
As much as we all want artists to prosper, it’s difficult for most to navigate the ins and outs of the city’s bureaucracy or figure out a way to gain any sort of traction if they do manage to surmount the many hurdles put in their way. That’s where an organization like the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council comes in. Keeping Downtown culture alive, LMCC provides grants for arts groups to collaborate with public education institutions as well as presenting work downtown to imbue overlooked spaces with vibrant energy. For example, choreographer Christopher Williams enacted his The Voyage of Garbhglas, based on Irish Faerie lore, at the Irish Hunger Memorial in Battery Park City. Even more ambitious, the 37,000-square-foot outdoor exhibition and performance space named LentSpace opened this summer and hosted rotating artworks commissioned by LMCC. The city is healthier (and wealthier) because of the hard work of organizations like this.
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