NYC’s Affordable Art Spots

NYC's affordable art spots by Ari KellenMuch as I don’t want to admit it, there are some of bad things that you can say about New York City.  Thankfully, however, one thing you certainly can’t say is that they don’t have a flourishing art scene.  It’s a city covered with art galleries that allow you to take some unique art home.  Yet art in New York, like many things in New York, is expensive, often jaw-droppingly so.  While the more fabled art galleries in the city have got absurd price tags, there are plenty of places selling art that, relatively speaking, is actually reasonably priced!  I recently read a post on the excellent blog “Tracy’s New York Life” that shared five places to find affordable art in New York.  Here they are:

Printed Matter: As a non-profit, you already know off the bat that it’s going to be reasonably priced, because nobody is supposed to profit!  Since its founding over 40 years ago, Printed Matter has been committed to fostering a knowledge and understanding of art books.  While the focus here is on books, they’ve also amassed a huge amount of edition prints, ranging from leading contemporary artists to lesser-known up-and-comers.  

Collyer’s Mansion: Lower Manhattan may have a reputation as the center of New York’s art gallery scene, but Brooklyn, and not just Williamsburg, is slowly stealing its thunder with places such as Collyer’s Mansion, designed to offer livable pieces that double as art.  Here you can find an eclectic assortment of unique pieces that will keep your apartment, no matter how small, nice and stylish.  

Pierogi Gallery: Established in 1994 as an alternative to traditional “white cube galleries”, Pierogi Gallery has been fighting the mainstream since before it was cool.  From its new Lower East Side location, it hosts a unique program of exhibitions and events while also offering visitors a chance to peruse their affordable art pieces.  

Whisper Editions: By working with artists and designers, Whisper Editions offers a great collection of art and art objects.  Here, the overall aesthetic is something like “modern rustic”, but with a clean, sleek finish.  You can get pieces ranging from gold-dipped antler to prints to surfboards.

Beam: Since it was first established in 2013, this Williamsburg spot has been offering well-curated products from both emerging and seasoned artists.  The offerings here are an eclectic mix of different styles, all united by undeniable personality.  

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Wanted: Subway Genius

Wanted: Subway Genius by Ari KellenThe song “Charlie on the MTA”, made famous by the folk group the Kingston Trio, tells the story of a man trapped on the Boston subways because of an MTA fare hike.  It’s a goofy song, and the story behind it is absurd, but it highlights the people of Boston’s dissatisfaction with their subway system.  And while New York and Boston are different in numerous regards, in that they can at least agree (even if their reasons for dissatisfaction are a little different).  Even Governor Cuomo seems to agree; yesterday, when addressing a crowd at CUNY Graduate Center, he challenged the MTA to look internationally for “groundbreaking and innovative solutions” for the crowding and delays for which our subways have become infamous.  And if the best solution requires funding beyond the $8 billion committed by the State to the MTA, then Cuomo has promised to find a way to pay for it.  

Cuomo’s “MTA Genius Transit Challenge” has called for three different categories: 1) signal system overhauls, 2) new subway car designs or overhauls to the preexisting ones and 3) WiFi and cell service throughout the subways.  The winner in each category will win $1 million.  When discussing the challenge, Cuomo compared other cities and their metro systems.  Copenhagen, for example, has driverless electric trains with open-ended cars, while every station in Hong Kong has high-speed Wi-Fi.  He argued that the technology is out there in different cities, for New York it’s just a matter of utilizing that technology to good use.

This comes as a different approach from before; as recently as last week, Cuomo was trying to distance himself from the MTA.  Watchdogs and advocates have expressed their approval of Cuomo’s initiative, but still have concerns about what an actual plan would entail.  Under Cuomo, the State has appropriated $5.4 billion of a promised $8 billion in capital funding for the project, yet that only becomes available after the MTA drains all of its capital resources from previous years.  To be implemented in New York City, many of the transit innovations that have worked in different cities could end up being more costly due to both a 24-hour system and the complexities from navigating preexistng infrastructure.  

Cuomo has also expressed his willingness to take over renovations of Penn Station from Amtrak and prioritize the Gateway Tunnel project, which would expand the rail line between Newark and Manhattan.  Doing this, however, would require federal, State and private funding, and how that’s going to happen remains to be seen.  

If you’d like to learn more, you can click here!

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Seaside Bars of New York

Seaside Bars of New York by Ari KellenWith spring in full swing and summer just around the corner, plenty of New Yorkers are letting themselves go outside and walk around.  Even if few New Yorkers want to take the day off to go to Coney Island just yet, and much of New York’s waterways are much too dirty to want to swim, there are still ways to enjoy New York’s waterfront during this weather, namely the floating bars, whether they’re barges or actual boats, surrounding the boroughs of New York.  Here are a few of them:

The Brooklyn Barge: Located right next to Transmitter Park, easily one of my favorite parks in Brooklyn, this 80×30-foot barge features a full bar, as well as a “land” area with picnic table-style eating.  Beyond drinking, the barge offers scuba and sailing classes, vessel tours and paddle boarding.

The Crow’s Nest: Located in that part of Murray Hill beyond where the clubs are, the Crow’s Nest offers one of the few reasons to explore that part of the city.  Looking over the Manhattan skyline on one side and the Queens and Brooklyn skylines on another, it features burgers, a raw-bar and cocktails.  

North River Lobster Company: Red Hook Lobster Pound and Luke’s Lobster are both delicious, but none of their locations are on a boat.  That’s where North River Lobster Company comes in.  This boat lets you sail around the city for just $10 while offering both beer and lobster rolls.  

Grand Banks: Modern Tribeca is a swanky neighborhood with high heels, higher prices and even higher rents, but at the same time you get what you pay for.  If you’re looking for that Tribeca experience, but on a boat, then visit Grand Banks, docked at Tribeca’s Pier 25.  It’s like a nautical tribeca, with classy cocktails and oysters.

Frying Pan: After a Coast Guard lightship sunk off the coast of Maryland, it found a second life after being salvaged and turned into the Frying Pan, one of the most famous boat bars in New York.  With its vibrant bar and great atmosphere, it’s a place that stands out.  

Willy Wall: Willy Wall is considered by many to be one of New York City’s great summer secrets, but it requires effort to get to.  It’s so far out, that you can’t even get there by subway; rather, you need to pay for a ferry ticket to take out there.  On the plus side, this means it’s less likely to be crowded.

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New York’s Night Mayor

New York's Night Mayor by Ari KellenNew York, as a city that never sleeps, is known for its nightlife, and indeed it’s a $10 billion industry.  New York never sleeps, so that means the people running it shouldn’t either.  That’s why one city councilmember, Rafael Espinal, is in the process of creating a “night mayor”, who would serve as a friendly go-between for City Hall and New York’s booming nightlife and independent art scene and ensure that wouldn’t be hindered by unnecessary bureaucracy.  

The concept of a “night mayor” is new to the US, but it’s an idea that’s been steadily gaining momentum across the ocean since Amsterdam adopted it in 2014 to “transformative” results.  Zurich, Paris and London have all followed suit, realizing the potential of a thriving nightlife to kickstart a city’s economy.  In Espinal’s proposal, the focus of New York’s “night mayor” would go beyond nightlife, and also be focused on keeping the DIY spaces and smaller venues around the city open.  Espinal, who represents parts of Bushwick, East New York, Brownsville and Cypress Hills, pointed out the closure of punk venue Shea Stadium as a reason for a New York “night mayor”.  He claims that the city has gotten to the point where the only sustainable venues to survive in the city are high-end clubs or places with similar models, which is hardly conducive to an innovative arts scene.  

Many of those who own these venues are in favor of Espinal’s goal of enacting “sensible nightlife policies”, although the power of such an office remains unclear.  Many feel that current interdepartmental regulations are flawed at best.  Espinal and one venue owner, John Barclay, have pointed to a Prohibition-era law that requires dance venues to have a “cabaret license”, which is in turn owned by less that 1 percent of the food and beverage establishments of New York.  This is used as a failsafe to shut down any businesses that New York or the NYPD doesn’t want around.  In addition to adopting a “night mayor”, Espinal hopes to abolish this law.  As of yet, however, the actual structure of this office remains unknown, and Espinal doesn’t have any names in mind for a proposed “night mayor”.  

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The Beginning of The End’s Lawsuit

the beginning of the end's lawsuit by ari kellenStarbucks recently attracted plenty of attention due to its brightly-colored, over-sugared Unicorn Frappuccino, a fascinating drink that changes colors and flavors as you drink it.  I tried to order it a couple times just to see what it was about, but each time they were out of it, and now they don’t sell it any more, which I take as a sign that I should not be drinking it.  And apparently, they’re pretty bad for you.  A grande Unicorn Frappuccino contains 59 grams of sugar, more than what the FDA calls a daily recommended intake, setting you up for an inevitably devastating sugar crash.  But hey, at least it’s unique, right?  Dunkin Donuts certainly isn’t serving anything like this, and I doubt that any small coffee shops in Brooklyn could think of something this creative?

You’d think so, but then you’d be wrong.  Back in December, The End, a coffee shop in Williamsburg, started selling a Unicorn Latte, months before Starbucks.  Owner Bret Caretsky alleges that Starbucks harmed his business by launching their own version.  Caretsky’s lawyer points out that the size of Starbucks offers them an “unfair advantage” in the competition.  Starbucks, in response, claims that their Unicorn Frappuccino was inspired by unicorn-themed drinks that have been trending in social media, as opposed to the unicorn-themed drinks that were created by coffee shops in Williamsburg.  The End, according to the lawsuit, wants an undisclosed amount of money for damages, as well as a public apology.  They had applied for a trademark for its latte in January, but it’s still pending.  

Both drinks look pretty similar and use the name “unicorn”, but that’s admittedly where the similarities end.  The End’s version uses healthy ingredients such as ginger, spirulina and maca root, which are nowhere to be found in any Starbucks Frappuccino named after a mythical creature.  While The End was the first coffee shop to sell a unicorn-branded product, it’s part of a “unicorn” food trend that’s been around for much longer.  Furthermore, this isn’t the first time that a New York restaurant has accused Starbucks of taking one of its ideas; in the past, David Chang attacked the coffee giant for stealing the “bagel bombs” from his Milk Bar.  I think it’s an unfair thing for a big business to try and hijack a smaller business’s ideas, but what I can tell you is that Both David Chang and Bret Caretsky can take comfort knowing that their versions are a whole lot better.  

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How to Avoid Looking Like a Tourist in NYC

how to avoid looking like a tourist in nyc by ari kellenA city of 8 million people, every year New York welcomes 48.8 million visitors.  And the crazy part of it is that most of the time, you can tell who these visitors are.  The stereotypical tourists who offer their patronage to the Bubba Gump’s in Times Square stick out like a sore thumb.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want a real New York experience, then you need to change how you look and what you’re .  I recently read a blog post on some tips to make New York tourists better blend in, and I thought that I’d share some of them with my out-of-town friends.

Walk with purpose: New Yorkers walk everywhere they go, and when they do, they walk with purpose.  Apart from the Financial District, New York’s grid pattern is easy to navigate.  A similar tip: since most of New York’s streets are one-way, locals will cross if there aren’t any cars coming.  Tourists, on the other hand, wait on the curb for the “walk” sign.  

Walk on the right side: The sidewalk is like a second street for New Yorkers.  Keep to the right so as to not break the flow.  If you need to slow down or stop for whatever reason, step to the side so as not to get in anybody’s way; New Yorkers hate that!  

Avoid the “I heart NY” everything: New Yorkers have a strong aversion to anything with “I heart NY” on it.  Such a strong aversion that no New Yorker would ever wear it, not even a hipster who was trying to be ironic.  It’s fine if you want to, but you’re more or less telling everybody that you’re a tourist.

Be assertive: New Yorkers are confident and assertive about everything they do.  They’ve got their metro cards ready to swipe before they get to the turnstile, and know what they want to order before the line gets to them.  This all saves time, the one resource no New Yorker ever wants to waste.  

Stay out of tourist spots: A lot of people talk about Times Square, but spoiler alert: it’s not that great, and it couldn’t possibly be further away from what New York actually is.  Most locals avoid it because they know it’s full of tourists and people trying to take your money.   

Don’t look up: When walking, most New Yorkers look either straight ahead or at the ground.  Tourists tend to walk slow and look up.  

You can ask for directions: Before going out, you should have the directions of where you want to go saved on your phone.  This is a lot more easy than pulling out one of those personal NYC maps, which scream “tourist”.  If you do need to ask for directions, don’t stop somebody on the street, but rather head to the closest convenience store and ask an employee.  

Don’t get star struck: Because New York is so compact, there’s a good chance you might see a celebrity (I’ve been keeping a tally of celebrities I see, and it’s been getting pretty impressive).  If you run into one, play it cool and don’t stalk them.  Maybe flash them a friendly-yet-brief smile, but don’t ask them for a photo or an autograph.

Don’t stare: Plenty of different fashion trends and beautiful people can be found in New York City, and you can absolutely admire them from a distance, but don’t stare.  A true New Yorker has seen it all before, so they’ll know right away that you’re a tourist.

Don’t complain about the price and tip well: New York, because real estate is at such a premium in such a small space, can get expensive.  If you want to spend a lot of money in New York, it’s very easy to do so, but don’t complain about the price, and always leave a tip for good service.  

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What’s Up With the Mets?

The Mets started this season on a strong point, and for a moment were the top team on the NL East.  However, such dominance didn’t last long; although it’s still very early on in the season, they’re already below .500, and while they could make it to the wild card later on in the season, they’ll have trouble taking the NL East title from the Nationals.  But it’s not entirely bleak for the Mets; while this season is shaping up to be a tough one for the team, it’s not over yet.  I recently read an interesting article arguing that the Mets are setting the groundwork for a big win in the near future.

The Mets have still got some pretty talented players in their roster; they might have lost Colon to the Braves in a bittersweet loss, but Jay Bruce has been stepping up to the plate in a big way, in many instances hitting home-runs that have saved the game.  Alderson and Collins seem to be making decisions similar to a few years ago when they were rebuilding the team.  Some spots on the Mets roster could spell trouble, for example Asdrubal Cabrera.  For the second straight season, he’s forced to play the infield’s most difficult position while fighting through all sorts of injuries.  This happened last year as well, and it didn’t end great.  Flores and Duda are both out, meaning that Collins needs to rely on Reyes, Bruce and Rivera.  Sometimes this goes well – Jay Bruce has been doing very well this season – but not always.  

While this is a perfectly acceptable approach when expectations are low, it’s not sustainable if the Mets want to be the last team standing.  According to a quick survey on baseball insiders, the Mets are the only baseball team that consistently plays shorthanded.  That’s perfectly fine if you don’t expect to break .500, but it doesn’t look good if the Mets want to get as far as they did in 2015, or even last year.  For the Mets to make it to postseason, Collins and Alderson need to play a lot more aggressively.  Such players as Rosario, Cabrera, Reyes and Conforto, if used properly, could help propel them to postseason as opposed to making fans wait years for any hope of making it to postseason.   

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Eating All the Way to Citi Field

eating all the way to citi field by ari kellenI love Queens a whole lot, but most people in Manhattan and Brooklyn don’t visit much, apart from going to see the Mets.  Most people just view the 7 line, which runs through the heart of Queens, as little more than a long ride up to Citi Field.  Yet there’s so much more off this above-ground line than meets the eye.  Next time you’re on your way to “meet the Mets”, here are some great places to grab a bite or a drink right off various stops on the 7 line:

Irish pub woodside (Woodside 61st St): Once upon a time, New York was scattered with Irish ethnic enclaves, most of which have faded away as their residents moved out.  One of the few neighborhoods that still has a sizable Irish population is Woodside, Queens.  Although the Irish community isn’t as large as it once was, the pubs in Woodside still offer a level of authenticity that’s now lacking in most of Hell’s Kitchen.  If you don’t want to spend $12 for a Bud Light at Citi Field, then visit Donovan’s or Sean Og’s, both of which serve better beer for half the price.

Papa’s Kitchen (Woodside 61st St): In addition to being an Irish neighborhood, Woodside is home to a large Filipino community.  My favorite joint to visit is Papa’s Kitchen, a tiny spot (I don’t know how they fit in there) serving delicious, authentic Filipino.  Since so much Filipino food is deep-fried, it’s the perfect food to soak up that beer you had at Sean Og’s.  On evenings, they do karaoke, making Papa’s Kitchen an experience that goes beyond food.   

Tibetan food (Roosevelt Ave/Jackson Heights): Jackson Heights is the center of New York’s small but tight-knit Tibetan community.  Here, various hole-in-the-wall restaurants serve up top-notch noodles and momo (a type of dumpling) at ridiculously low prices.  Two places that really stand out are Phayul and Lhasa Fast Food.  Both of these are pretty hard to find; the former is up some stairs marked by a nondescript sign, and the latter is literally in the back of a cell phone shop.  But they’re well worth a visit, and will fill you up for less than what you’ll pay for a hot dog and fries at Citi Field.  

Tortas Neza (Junction Blvd): Owner Galdino Molinero, also known as “Tortas”, is an avid soccer fan who has turned his cash-only food truck into a love letter to the fútbol of his native Mexico.  While his loyalties lie with the Pumas, his 18 different overstuffed sandwiches are each named after a different Mexican soccer team.  Even if Tortas Neza is geared towards soccer, that’s in no way to discredit these sandwiches as a good prep for a baseball game.    

Rincon Criollo (Junction Blvd): After the Cuban Revolution closed down their popular Havana restaurant, the Acosta family brought their home-style cooking to Queens, opening Rincon Criollo in 1976.  Ever since, the restaurant has earned a well-deserved reputation for good old-fashioned, home-style Cuban cooking, and was even featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”.  The portions here are generous, prices reasonable, and the taste beats even Citi Field’s sausage & pepper sandwiches.  

Flushing Chinatown (Flushing Main St): It’s well-known that Flushing is home to New York’s largest and most authentic Chinatown, though most New Yorkers seldom visit; it’s even further than Citi Field, and once you get there, there are so many places, and it’s such a large neighborhood, that it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed.  Yet for your post-game dinner, there are some places that are well worth a visit: the food stalls of the Golden Shopping Mall, hot oil wontons from White Bear, fall-apart tender Muslim lamb chops from Fu Run and the flavorful traditional Sichuan of Spicy & Tasty.  All of these serve truly delicious, stand out food at low prices, offering an authentic experience you can’t get anywhere else in New York.  

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Flipping a Stolen House

flipping a stolen house by ari kellenFew things are more cutthroat and surreal than the world of New York City real estate.  In a city that’s home to some of the world’s most outrageously expensive property, people will do just about anything, even in a place as far-out as Canarsie.  Yesterday, Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man for stealing a woman’s house with fraudulent paperwork and then flipping it to unsuspecting investors.  

This story begins when former Board of Education administrator Hillary Kerman went where many people go after retirement: Florida.  Kerman used to live in the two-family house before a fire in the early 2000s, and has since left the house vacant, waiting for the right time to sell.  She spends her summers elsewhere in Brooklyn, and her winters and springs in Florida.  While she was in Florida, Kenneth Pearson came up with a plan: steal the house with fraudulent papers and then flip it with the help of investors.  Last spring, Kerman noticed that something was amiss that May when she didn’t get her annual tax bill for the house.  When she dug further, she found out that somebody had filed fraudulent paperwork to steal her house, and then went to the house and found that it had been completely gutted.  

Although Kerman had left the house vacant for some years, the damage from the fire was minimal, and many things were still left in the house, including vital documents and various personal effects: her and her grandparents’ wedding albums and all of her parents’ possessions, and somebody had even torn out the trees and rosebushes in the house.  Prosecutors were surprised to see how quickly the thief had moved.  Pearson sold the house to flippers in just two months for $265,000 (these are Canarsie prices, not Manhattan prices), who never bothered to look inside.  It had been cleaned out, and so they knocked down all the walls to make an open floor plan.  

Since this happened, Kerman needs to sort out various details, such as how to start getting her mail again.  The investors are also having a hard time getting money from their title insurance company.  After a month-long grand jury, the police finally found Pearson, who now faces four felony counts.  The most serious charge, filing a false instrument, carries 7 ½ to 15 years in prison.  

If you’d like to learn more about this bizarre story, you can click here!

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Is Pepsi Getting Political?

is pepsi getting political by ari kellenThe current political situation in the United States has left many people upset and disillusioned, with just about everybody and every brand getting political.  The Women’s March back in January was a gigantic protest event that truly rocked the country, with one out of every 100 Americans taking part.  During the Super Bowl, one notable Budweiser commercial told the story of founder Adolphus Busch, which explored his early years as an immigrant with a subtext critical of Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant stance.  Even Pepsi has taken a stand in their most recent commercial featuring Kendall Jenner, yet this was pulled almost as quickly as it was released.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the commercial features Kendall Jenner, half-sister of Kim Kardashian, leaving behind a modeling shoot to join a vague protest march.  By handing one white police officer a Pepsi can, she’s able to bring everybody together.  In the background, Skip Marley’s song “Lions” plays.  The song references the Lion of Judah, a symbol in Rastafarian ideology meant to save Africans and the diaspora from the colonial powers (i.e. rich white people like Kendall Jenner’s family).  

One thing that’s always fascinated me about commercials is their ability to create unique worlds and events, if only for about 30 seconds to a couple minutes at most, that in the real world would never happen.  This new Pepsi commercial is definitely one of those, yet it’s also kind of tone-deaf.  The protests to which this commercial pays homage started out against Wall Street and the inequities of capitalism, exemplified by gigantic corporate giants (like Pepsi).  

It might seem like a complete lack of self-awareness that Pepsi would try to make itself a champion of the protestors, yet at the same time this follows one of the basic tenets of advertising: go where the money goes.  It follows a trend that various other big brands are going: Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Burger King and even the Fearless Girl statue set up by the State Street fund.  For those who are concerned about the direction of big business and our country as a whole, such moves can seem refreshing; a way to say “we’re on your side”.  But at the same time, it’s difficult to decipher whether or not they’re sincere, and whether or not these big corporations are doing the same thing they’ve always done: try and make more money, just this time with a different tone.  

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