Friday, February 27, 2009

Gentrification Crashing on the East River?

Vanishing New York brought my attention to this piece in the Times. It is interesting to consider what will happen to neighborhoods on 'the verge' with the current economic downturn. Locally, I'm particularly interested in how this plays out with the LIC condo boom. We've already seen a number of those new buildings accepting rental tenants when they can't sell units. This has sent some would-be owners scrambling to get out of their agreements before closing.

Long Island City is a fascinating test case of this sort of thing. There is so little residential neighborhood there compared to the number of new developments. It seems every bit the test-bed in engineering a neighborhood. I have no idea what it will all look like if/when these developments fail, but I'm curious to see. Not sure if this bodes terribly well for new establishments like Dutch Kills.

Astoria on the other hand seems relatively culturally intact. While the number of shops that have recently closed on Steinway Street isn't a good sign, this is every bit the pre-existing neighborhood. Already a mish-mash of cultures, Astoria will likely benefit in the long run from the slowing tide of gentrification. Most of the property here is rental property anyway, and the hiccups in redeveloping LIC will slow the hand of those who would like to tear down and redevelop the neighborhood. 

Successful newer establishments like Blackbird's have found a niche and steady local clientele. They've catered very well to the Astoria that actually exists, as opposed to a hypothetical neighborhood that could be.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in Soho

Last night I attended a party at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Annex in Soho. It was my first chance to get a look at the space, and I had been looking forward to it. I wasn't disappointed.

The Rock Annex is a much smaller space than the Hall of Fame in Cleveland, but they pack a lot into what they have. Entrance is staggered, so only so many people are walking through a given exhibit at a time. While I haven't seen this at work with large crowds of tourists, it worked really well at last night's party. Everybody had time and space to explore the exhibits without any crowding issues.

The exhibits blend hi-tech, interactive media with memorabilia throughout rock history. Guests wear headphones throughout the Annex, and as they approach an exhibit, the corresponding music tracks begin to play. This lets you wander in any direction you like, making it a big difference from traditional audio tours. My personal favorite example of the blend of interactive media and traditional exhibits is the Jimmy Hendrix section of the Guitar Heroes gallery. Concert footage of Hendrix wailing away at "Purple Haze" plays on a massive screen. As the music fades, the image vanishes to reveal a display case behind the performance. Included in the display, amidst guitar straps and other minutiae, are the original lyrics for "Purple Haze".

New York Rocks is an exhibit close to home. NYC rock history is explored here with the Talking Heads, Blondie, the Ramones, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, John Lennon, and of course, CBGB. That they've replicated as many elements of the club here as they have is fairly impressive. Graffiti and sticker-encrusted walls are preserved under glass. It's a look back at an old New York that would almost feel too sterile, too museum quality, if not for Joey Ramone shouting in your ears. For a split second you're there.

The last exhibit hall currently houses The Clash (the exhibit runs until sometime this Spring). It was remarkably well done. As a Clash fan, it was magic. This is a massive gallery to devote to a single band. I think this is probably the best thing about the Rock Annex. A few times a year, they'll rotate this exhibit, and focus on something new. It gives a reason to return.

Overall, it was a really fun way to spend an evening. There is definitely something there for any rock fan.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

35th and 36th Streets in Astoria

Forgotten NY has a nice piece on Astoria, with lots of photos. Definitely worth checking out.

While only briefly covered in the Forgotten NY piece, the Museum of the Moving Image is really a great spot in that neck of Astoria. Once they finish their renovations, I expect it will be a much stronger attraction. 

As is, it really isn't a bad spot to spend an hour or two. Especially if you like vintage arcade games. The museum's collection includes Asteroids (1979), Battlezone (1980), Berzerk (1980), Defender (1980), Donkey Kong (1981), Frogger (1981), Galaxian (1979), Gauntlet (1984), Missile Command (1980), Ms. Pac-Man (1982), Qix (1981), Space Invaders (1978), Super Breakout (1978), and Tron (1982).

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Headlines for February 25

As reported in numerous places, New York Water Taxi is adding another Water Taxi Beach this summer. Governors Island will play host to the city's newest fake beach. Harry Hawk and the crew have some fantastic burgers, so it'll be interesting to see what has become a Long Island City staple expand beyond Queens. Between this, the Circle Line Downtown acquisition and the Ikea shuttle, Water Taxi has emerged as a major player on the water.

Eater continues speculation on the rumor that Tishman Speyer is looking to turn the legendary Rainbow Room into more Rockefeller Center office space once Cipriani vacates. I think that would be a big mistake on Tishman's part, especially considering they would have the opportunity to more closely tie a new Rainbow Room to their very successful Top of the Rock Observation Deck.

Ephemeral New York looks back at Soho Zat, a haven for comics, zines, and graffiti artists back in the day. It later became Bomb the System, finally becoming Scrap Yard after 9/11.

Joey in Astoria confirms that the El Rey Del Taco Truck, an Astoria staple, will soon be expanding into a storefront on Steinway St. They're keeping the truck as well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Condo and Co-Op Crunch

As bad as the economy is, the worst is likely yet to come for those who live in condos and co-ops. Gothamist and Crain's are both reporting on skyrocketing maintenance fees for many Manhattan buildings, citing one Upper East Side co-op whose rates are shooting up 15%.

It is especially fierce in buildings that depend on retail and office rental income for their bottom line. Crain's notes:  "Ground-floor retail leases are major sources of revenue for many residential properties. For instance, such space in a building on Madison Avenue in the East 80s can fetch at least $300 a square foot. Retail rents can bring in millions of dollars, according to Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman's retail leasing and sales division."

With the retail vacancy rate in Manhattan closing in on 18%, the numbers look pretty grim there.

While there are advantages to buying in a depressed economy, condos and co-ops may be a really rough bet. Home-seekers may be better off renting for the time being. Who knows, maybe you can find your very own Greek temple.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Welcome, City Room Visitors!

The blog has seen a big spike in traffic today since being linked over at NY Times City Room. For those who are new here, archive links are on the right. As are subscription buttons if you like what you see. 

No Sleep: Where you pay for the whole seat, but you'll only need the edge!

Thanks for checking the place out.

Warren Ellis' Crooked New York City

In his 2007 debut novel, Crooked Little Vein, veteran comic book scribe Warren Ellis spends a good deal of time looking at New Yorkers as a species in the zoo that is modern American subculture. The lead character, private detective and self-described "shit magnet" Michael McGill, is a New York transplant, living and working on the edge of a "pre-Rudy zone" in Alphabet City.

McGill approaches NYC as a challenge, which in some respects puts him at constant odds with elements of the city he now calls home. He lives in New York, but is perhaps more properly a Chicagoan. His outside perspective on New York is well represented by Ellis, himself a Brit. The story plunges him into an absurd to the point of brilliant mystery, where he must track down the "Secret Constitution" of the United States, which has been lost since the Nixon era.

Ellis' New York City is one where any fetish has a place (this is true of other cities as well in the book, especially and most disturbingly Los Angeles, but we're focusing on NYC here). Our shit magnet protagonist follows one of the early leads in his investigation to a private club that specializes in Godzilla bukkake. I don't want to ever know if there is a factual basis for that. I am quite happy to pretend it is purely a product of Ellis' demented mind.

McGill's traveling companion for this cross-country journey is a thesis student, and native New Yorker, named Trix. She's his tour guide into the strange, opening doors to worlds of polyamory, saline-injection fetishists and more. Through these sub-cultures the get closer and closer to the secret constitution. Their rapport bristles with an awkward sexual tension, but is also used to highlight the differences between Trix's New York, and the more mundane parts of the country. 

Travelling in Ohio, Trix is particularly astounded at the presence of American flags outside of people's homes (for the record, I have had a similar moment travelling in Ohio). Mike is dismissive of her surprise on account of her being a New Yorker. Mike's response shows how he still perceives NYC as an outsider:

"People in New York are either New Yorkers, or they're Spanish, or Italian, or Irish, or  whatever. Who the hell moves to Williamsburg and says, Hey, I'm an American? Hell, even after 9/11, if you wanted to tell someone they were being a good guy, people were saying, 'You're a hell of a New Yorker, buddy.'"

There is something to that. Something which New Yorkers take pride in and many others  (particularly in Middle America) scorn. We frequently see our city as the center of our world,  and have, as John Updike famously said, a “secret belief that people living anywhere else had to 
be, in some sense, kidding.” Something that separates us from Sarah Palin's 'pro-America parts of America.' The 'Main St vs Wall St' line which echoed throughout last year's presidential campaign which only seemed to further illustrate the ontological differences between NYC and the rest of the country.

What is it about this city that inspires us to act that way?

This question isn't the focus of Ellis' novel, so he doesn't set out to answer it on a  specifically local level. But it, among others, is posed, sometimes literally and sometimes between the lines. The tension between normal, straight, vanilla America and the crooked social preferences of New Yorkers is embodied by the tension between Mike and Trix. Geographic and social boundaries are both examined in their journey. The lines between normal and abnormal are drawn, crossed, erased and redrawn throughout the novel, as Ellis pokes at the absurdity beneath the puritan hang-ups that still linger in American society.

Crooked Little Vein is an excellent first foray into prose fiction for Ellis. A worthy successor to his Transmetroplitan, one of the finest comic series I've ever had the opportunity to read.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Subkulture at Hell Gate Social

Last night was SubKulture at Hell Gate Social. For those who've never been to the bar, let me set the scene. It's way east in Astoria, at 12th St & Astoria Blvd. The exterior has this imposing and unmarked black door (a small sign with the bar name is a good 12 feet up). It has all the look of a private club. Behind that door is one of the coolest bars you'll find in the borough.

(pic via Hell Gate Social website)

Subkulture is a monthly party at Hell Gate where DJs Belladonna and Scandal spin alternative classics, punk, glam, goth, metal, post-punk, new wave, britpop, psychobilly and whatever else crosses their mind. The atmosphere is fantastic and the regulars are pretty friendly. Things seem to really start picking up around the 11:30 to Midnight time frame. I was a bit exhausted so I checked out before 1:00 last night. Next time I'd like to be less of a weenie and stick around longer. 

It's the sort of place we need a little more of in Queens (not too much more of, because I'd really rather not be Williamsburg 2 Electric Boogaloo)

I had a fantastic time last night. Definitely looking forward to the next Subkulture event.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Drama's Tour Guide

Over the course of the last week, we had a visit from the newly christened Major Drama First Class, who is, amongst other things, a roller derby girl in San Francisco. One of the things I most enjoy about out of town guests is getting to show them around. As much as I like showing them the things I love about the city, I really enjoy the chance to see the city through their eyes as well. I find it helps me appreciate aspects of the city I might never otherwise consider.

The Astoria portion of the trip was largely covered by food from Blue Restaurant and Cup, and too many drinks at Blackbird's. We have many fond wishes for the Blackbird's waiter who is off North Carolina. Fond wishes and a complete confusion as to why anyone would ever want to live in North Carolina.

Thursday afternoon, we took some time to wander the East Village. We browsed through Trash & Vaudeville for a bit. This is probably one of my favorite stores in Manhattan. Their racks are chock full of everything you could need to dress a rock band for a world tour. Or play Rock Band at Hell Gate. I'm kind of thankful that they don't sell more things sized for me, as I'd spend even more money there than I already have. There are only so many club clothes you can own once you've crossed 30 and your club excursions are less and less frequent.

We searched for birthday gifts for Drama's boy, but came up empty. Not that we didn't find a few thousand dollars worth of outrageous shit we could have bought for ourselves (but didn't).

We stopped at the Joe Strummer mural outside Niagara. Joe wasn't a NY native, but his spirit resonates strongly with the place. I like to stop by and say hello every time I'm in Thompkins Square.

Photo from Forgotten NY, who has an excellent feature on Thompkins Square.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Astoria in Brief

Blue Restaurant seems to have slipped in quality. There have been several new hires over the last month or two, as they've introduced their new menu, and the service just isn't what it used to be. I'll be keeping an eye on this one, since they've been my regular diner since moving to NYC. Hopefully things will improve.

Tuesday nights are Bingo Nights at Blackbird's. They've put a twist on the church hall classic. When you win, you get a shot. Last Tuesday, we bowed out before the festivities started since the drink of the night was tequila, and Senor Cuervo is no friend of mine.

Saturday night is Subkulture at Hell Gate Social. Dj Belladonna and DJ Scandal will be spinning from 10 to 4. I'm pretty excited to have a night like this in Astoria, as opposed to having to trek to Manhattan or Brooklyn. 

Quick Update

Sorry I've been lax in posting. NYCC kind of ate my brain, and ever since I've been consumed by a massive redecoration project at my apartment. The blog should be getting back to your regularly scheduled programming shortly.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Rockabilly Burlesque at Hell Gate!

Tonight, at 10 PM, Hell Gate Social in Astoria presents AM Preacher and the Snootie Little Cuties in a burlesque show backed by live rockabilly. Looks like fun. When the dancers have names like Bird of Paradise, Madame Hari, Miss Kissy Wishes (seen right, performing with AM Preacher), Rosie 151, Rubie Figg, and Strawberry Cream Puff, I fail to see how you could go wrong.

The bulk of my day will be spent over at the Javits Center today for NYCC, but I hope to see you at Hell Gate tonight.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

NYCC - Yet More Parties

Tonight's pre-party at D&B should be quite large. I understand they had over 500 RSVPs by yesterday afternoon. I've got info on some additional parties for convention-goers. 

Thursday February 5, 2009
7:00 PM to 10:00 PM
Donation : $5 & up for current CBLDF Members; $10 & up for non-members

Kick Off NYCC with the CBLDF!

Join the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund in kicking off the 2009 convention season at our New York Comic-Con Welcome Party on Thursday, February 5! Enjoy drinks, free sliders for early arrivals, and door prizes! This party is sponsored by Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics.

Attending artists will include: Colleen Doran, David Mack, Rantz Hoseley, Dean Haspiel, Mike Cavallero, Nikki Cook, Mahmud Asrar, Brahm Revel and many more!

Saturday February 7th
7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m
Who: Internet superstars and hosts of Revision3’s weekly comic book show iFanboy: Conor Kilpatrick, Ron Richards, and Josh Flanagan; Tim Hwang, founder of ROFLCon, the world’s greatest Internet culture conferences, Garnett Lee, editor of 1UP and Mark Andrew Smith & Joe Keatinge, editors of the Harvey Award Winning Popgun Anthology published by Image 

Featured attendees also include: Christian Beranek, writer, Disney’s Kingdom Comics; Paul Cornell, writer, Marvel Comics’ Captain Britain & MI13 and television writer, Dr. Who and Robin Hood; Mike Norton, artist, Green Arrow & Black Canary and Trinity; Tom Katers, co-host, Around Comics and host, Tom vs. The Flash; Meredith Gran, writer, Octopus Pie; Jonathan Rosenburg, creator, Goats; Scott Kurtz, creator, PvP; Brad Guigar, creator, Evil Inc; Robert Khoo, business manager, Penny Arcade; Neil Kleid, cartoonist, RANT Comics, Action Ohio, The Chemistry Set; Wes and Tony, Amazing Superpowers; Scott Ramsoomair, cartoonist, VG Cats; Johnny Johnny, Tiki Bar TV; and more to be announced!

I have also recieved word from a representative at Dave & Buster's that several of the con exhibitors will be hosting events at D&B over the course of the weekend. So keep your eyes open for info on that. 

For as complete a rundown of NYCC events as you're likely to find anywhere, check out the ever vigiliant Heidi McDonald at The Beat.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Look at the Queensborough Bridge

Ephemeral New York checks in with a post about the Queensborough Bridge. They include one of my personal favorite quotes about the bridge. F. Scott Fitgerald wrote in the Great Gatsby that “the city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time in its wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.”

I remember the first time I crossed the bridge years ago. Looking out along the East River around sunset, my eyes seized on the Ravenswood Power Plant, known to many as "Big Aliss". Its three striped smokestacks had been featured repeatedly in the movie "Conspiracy Theory", which I have a serious soft spot for. Having seen that movie rerun on TBS and TNT something like a billion times, the visual had an instant familiarity with me that most seem to reserve for icons like the Empire State Building.

In warmer weather, I like a nice walk over the bridge. The view is pretty spectacular, if constantly changing with the real estate development on Roosevelt Island and in Long Island City. On one day where a tunnel fire had caused massive delays on several Queens-bound trains, I opted to walk through pouring rain from my old office at Rockefeller Center to my apartment in Astoria. Aside from being waterlogged, it was a pretty nice walk. The Queensborough's pedestrian walkways aren't as appealing as those on the Brooklyn Bridge, which I think contributes to its role as the East River bridge of lesser regard. Hopefully that can be remedied in the future.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

New Visions of NYC

Abstract City at the Times looks at a Lego NYC. 

Streetsblog is interested in what the city would look like if some of the infrastrcuture spending in the Stimulus Package were directed to public transit. Maybe then the light rail proposed by the The Institude for Rational Urban Mobility would be vaguely likely. Or, you know, the 2 Train could smell less like piss without going out of service.

One way to radically transform the city would be converting the city's taxi fleets to electric hybrids. Of course, that would happen much faster if the government would provide tax relief for those who convert existing vehicles into plug-in hybrids.

NYCC - Your Party Primer

New York Comic Con starts on Friday, and I expect you'll see lots more about it in the media later this week. The convention continues to announces guests and events, so it should be a blast. 

It has been confirmed that the convention is moving to October for 2010 and beyond, so no more February conventions. Smart move.

This Thursday there is a pre-party for NYCC at Dave & Buster's. They're hyping the following guests: Mike Perkins, Mark Brooks, Joe Quesada, Jay Leisten, Joe Benitez, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Phillip Morris, Aaron Douglas, Dekker Dreyer, Brian Thompson, Yuri Lowenthal, and J. LaRose. I know there are several well known comics names on that list, but... Brian Thompson? Perhaps one of the best guilty pleasure B-Actors of his generation. You may recognize him from such films as Cobra, or from TV "classics" like Kindred: the Embraced. 

The party will also play host to a raffle to benefit the Hero Initiative, which is an excellent cause.

D&B has been named "the official con bar", but since it is far from the Javits Center and February is cold, I wouldn't expect to see too many con guests popping up there during the show itself. Perhaps once the extension of the 7 Train is finished, that will change for future cons. I'd expect Bar-Con to be occuring elsewhere. Twins Pub is a good bet, with its promimity to the convention center, Penn Station, the excellent 24-hour Skylight Diner, and midtown hotels. 

The Indy After Party, hosted by the Comic Artist's Guild, will be at Blaggard's on Saturday night. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

NYPD Dishonor Roll

Harrassment? Graft? Certainly not from the NYPD.

The Gotham Gazette follows the allegations that NYPD officers have been arresting middle-aged gay men at sex shops under false pretenses. More than 200 people gathered to discuss the situation at a recent town hall meeting at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center.

Robert Pinter, a 52-year-old gay man who was arrested for prostitution at the Blue Door in the East Village on Oct. 10, spoke at the town hall meeting. He said a young man — a 29-year old undercover cop who, Pinter said, looked even younger — cruised him in the store. He was "charming and persistent, and we agreed to go home for consensual sex, but as we were leaving he said, 'I want to pay you $50 [to have sex].' I didn't respond, but I thought it was strange," Pinter recounted. As the men left the store, Pinter said, a group of men who did not show police identification pushed him against the wall

"I thought I'd been set up by a gang," he said. "I asked them why they were doing this to me. I was totally clueless. They handcuffed me and said, 'Why the f--- do you think we're arresting you — loitering for the purpose of prostitution.'"

Gothamist and the Post both check in with stories on a YouTube release of surveilance camera footage (seen below) that may have several NYPD officers in hot water. The footage, from a November 14, 2007 raid of Beer Goggles, a Staten Island bar, shows officers putting stacks of bills taken from a video poker machine into their pockets. The officers are on record as having confiscated approximately $700. It remains unclear if all of the money in their pockets was accounted for, but that is certainly not an official procedure for storing evidence.