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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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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What You Didn’t Know About Prospect Park

what you didn't know about prospect park by ari kellenAlthough it isn’t as well-known as Central Park, as Brooklyn’s largest park, it’s got plenty to offer.  While you’re out exploring Prospect Park, you might want to know some trivia so you can look out for historical details you may have otherwise forgotten.  I recently read an article in TimeOut that shared some facts about the park that you may not have known.  They might surprise you:

It use to be a popular spot for farm animals: After Prospect Park first opened in 1867, it was a popular hangout spot for local livestock.  While they weren’t allowed on the land, it was a tough law to enforce, and dozens of stray farm animals were regularly found on the land.  

It was built on a battle site: During the American Revolution, the land on what is now Prospect Park was part of the Battle of Long Island, also known as the Battle of Brooklyn.  It marked a valiant stand by the soldiers of the 1st Maryland Regiment, who although vastly outnumbered by the British were able to cover for George Washington while the rest of the army retreated.  

It used to have a full replica of Mount Vernon: To commemorate George Washington’s 200th birthday, Robert Moses erected a full replica of his home.  Sadly, however, it was torn down after just two years.  

It was part of an Indian trail: In the 17th century and earlier, Brooklyn was home to Lenape Indians, who used a well-worn trail that later became the best route of travel between the Dutch towns of Brooklyn and Flatbush.  It even played a part in the Battle of Brooklyn!  When Prospect Park was established, it became East Drive.  

It’s the final resting place of some 2,000 people: Since at least the 1840s, Prospect Park served as a Quaker cemetery.  Since Quakers rejected headstones as a form of vanity, many of these graves were unmarked.  If you’re curious, you can always bring a ouija board to the park at night!

It was made by people paid $1.70 a day: The construction workers who helped build the park, mostly poor Irish immigrants, were paid on a daily salary that today couldn’t even buy a Starbucks coffee.  It’s hard to adjust for inflation (inflation didn’t start being properly recorded until 1913), this wasn’t a big sum by any means.  

It used to host “ice baseball”: In the 19th century, Prospect Park’s frozen lake hosted a unique winter game known as “ice baseball”.  It was much like regular baseball, except it was done with ice skates and a slightly different ball.  It attracted thousands of spectators and players from as far away at Baltimore.  

It has an historic statue of Lincoln: After Lincoln’s assassination, Henry Kirke Brown created a series of large bronze statues of the late President.  The one in Prospect Park was the first one to be dedicated, so it holds the honor of being the Union’s first Abraham Lincoln statue.  

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Brooklyn’s Mohawk Community

brooklyn's mohawk community by ari kellenWhenever immigrants arrive in New York, they often congregate, creating ethnic enclaves in various neighborhoods.  While the demographics of these neighborhoods often change as older residents move out and newer ones move in, you can often see traces of their legacy: Hell’s Kitchen still features plenty of Irish pubs, places like Sammy’s Roumanian and Yonah Schimmel remain alive and well in the Lower East Side, and Mulberry Street is still dotted with Italian restaurants.  Yet in many other instances, these ethnic enclaves vanish without a trace: you’d be hard-pressed to believe that Alphabet City was once the center of New York’s “Kleindeutschland”, and chances are you haven’t heard of “Little Caughnawaga”, Boerum Hill’s small but tight-knit Mohawk Indian community.  

The Mohawk are not native to Brooklyn; they’re a tribe whose ancestral homeland is near what is now Schenectady.  They got kicked out of the region after choosing the wrong side during the American Revolution, and found themselves in reservations in Canada and northern New York.  Starting in the 1920s, Mohawk ironworkers from the Kahnawake reservation near Montreal found work building bridges and skyscrapers in New York City.  For whatever reason, these men congregated in an area that’s now in Boerum Hill.  Over time, their families moved down with them, forming an enclave known as “Little Caughnawaga”, which by the late 40s had about 700 members.  

At this time, Boerum Hill was a mostly Irish and Italian neighborhood, yet there were certain focal points of the Mohawk community.  One bar, known as the “Wigwam”, was a popular hangout spot for Mohawk ironworkers to discuss jobs and pick up mail from relatives up north.  Mohawk women would cook traditional white cornbread with kidney beans at a nearby lunch counter.  One Presbyterian church even offered sermons in Mohawk.  In 1949, a New Yorker article titled “Mohawks in High Steel” spoke of a growing neighborhood with “signs of permanence”.  Despite such signs, the Mohawk retained close ties with home; weekend and summer trips to visit friends and families in reservations up north were common.

Thanks to a rise in crime and a difficult economy, the “signs of permanence” that the New Yorker wrote about started to fade.  The community dwindled by the 60s, with many returning to Canada or marrying non-Indians and moving to the suburbs.  The Mohawk-speaking Presbyterian Church was converted into apartments, the Wigwam went out of business and traditional Mohawk bread is hard to find in Brooklyn.

While traces of “Little Caughnawaga” are few and far-between, it’s not a legacy that’s been forgotten by the Mohawk themselves.  In reservations, some Mohawk still retain thick Brooklyn accents, and ironworkers from these reservations still come to New York for jobs.  It’s nonetheless sad to see that this neighborhood has faded away, yet ultimately all things must pass.  

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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Queens

10 Things You didn't know about queens by Ari KellenWhen asked what the “hot” borough is, most New Yorkers will tell you it’s either Manhattan or Brooklyn.  And there’s plenty of great stuff to do in both, without a doubt.  But that’s not to discredit their eastern neighbor, Queens.  In a city as unique as New York, Queens still stands out.  It might not boast the brunches of neighboring boroughs, but it’s still got a whole lot to offer, and is rich in history.  Here are some facts you might not know about Queens:

It’s really big: With 2.3 million residents, Queens has just 400,000 less people than Chicago.  If it seceded from the rest of New York, it would be the fourth largest city in the US; the country’s current fourth-largest city, Houston, is a few thousand residents behind.  

It’s actually named after a Queen: Like many places in Colonial America, Queens is named after a British monarch: Catherine of Braganza, the Portuguese wife of Charles II.  When the British took the area from the Dutch in the 1660s, the region got some new anglophile names: “Nieuw Amsterdam” became “New York” in honor of the reigning monarch’s brother, the Duke of York, while the neighboring counties were renamed “Kings” and “Queens” in honor of the reigning monarchs.

It’s the final resting place of Harry Houdini: Located a good distance from any subway line, Machpaleh Jewish cemetery is fairly nondescript.  However, it’s the site of Houdini’s grave, a popular mecca for Halloween revelers and aspiring magicians.  It’s fastidiously looked after by The Society of American Magicians and the Houdini Museum in Scranton.  

The Rockaways is New York’s premier surfing spot: Located at the very end of the A train, the Rockaways is arguably New York’s best beach.  Hurricane Sandy hit it hard, but it’s been making a major comeback, and its beach is home to some great waves.  Even without a board, it’s well worth the trip.

It’s the most diverse neighborhood in the world: New York’s always been a diverse place; when it was a remote trading post with only 400 people living there, there were 18 different languages.  But Queens brings that to a whole new level; the 2000 Census counted 138 languages spoken in the borough, yet some experts estimate that number to be around 800.  Furthermore, a lot of these languages can’t be heard anywhere else in the world.  

The food is amazing: The brunch spots in Queens might not be as well-known as Brooklyn’s or Manhattan’s, but that’s not to discredit the food scene in Queens.  The neighborhood’s ethnic diversity means that you can get a whole lot of delicious and authentic food you can’t find anywhere else in the city.

Some of the world’s best pianos are made in Astoria: Although New York was historically a center of manufacturing, that’s changed recently due to high taxes and expensive real estate.  Yet the piano company Steinway & Sons, founded in Astoria in 1853, is staying just where it is, and has been using the same factory for 100 years.  

It’s the site of a major film studio: Kaufman Astoria Studios is an historic movie studio, and home to New York’s only backlot.  Classic films and TV shows such as “Animal Crackers”, “Goodfellas” and “Sesame Street” have all been filmed there.  It’s also the home to New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, a great museum chronicling film history.

There’s an abandoned Civil War fort in Queens: In 1862, the government built a fort to watch over the ships entering and leaving New York Harbor.  Although Fort Totten Park never saw battle, it had a long history as a base and training station for the US Army.  Some of it remains a training ground for the army reserves, but the public part is a great park.   

It’s the hometown of a lot of big names: The Ramones, Simon & Garfunkel, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Cyndi Lauper, Tony Bennett, Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent and Louis Armstrong are just a few famous musicians who come from or have lived in Queens over the years.  

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