03/06/15 9:00am
Park Slope resident Yenifer S. put a BDSM dungeon in her apartment to help her pay the rent. Photo: Heather Dockray

Park Slope resident Yenifer S. put a BDSM dungeon in her apartment to help her pay the rent. Photo: Heather Dockray

When Yenifer S.’ roommate moved out earlier this year, the 24-year-old Miami native saw an opportunity. While many people in her situation might choose to get a new roommate, Yenifer, who now had a full house at her complete disposal, decided to go a different route. In the front room of her apartment, she did something she had always dreamed about doing: She built her own dungeon devoted to bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (better known as BDSM).

While living in Florida, Yenifer (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) had Google searched “How to make money” and landed on a page about BDSM dungeons. She began reading about the business and started operating one part-time. Without a house to call her own, though, her dungeon struggled to turn a profit. Then she moved to Brooklyn to launch a startup, and temporarily gave up the business. But with her roommate now gone—and 1,750 square feet at her disposal—Yenifer decided to capitalize on the opportunity and re-open shop. At the time, she was paying $1,800 a month in rent for a three-bedroom duplex in Park Slope, and she didn’t have a regular source of income.

BDSM dungeons might seem out of place in the Slope—at the local coffee shop where we mostly spoke about dungeons over granola, multiple people kept turning around to stare—but Yenifer assured me that hers is not an anomaly here in New York City where, as long as participants don’t have sexual intercourse, BDSM dungeons are legal. There are multiple clubs in Manhattan (Pandora’s Box and Paddles are the most notorious), and informal kink parties pop up throughout the city. As Yenifer explained it, dungeons like hers are a great opportunity for people looking to make money in the sex industry “without actually having sex.” (more…)

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03/05/15 9:00am
We’re always keeping an eye out for new films, albums, performances and openings we think are worth knowing about in advance. From Sufjan Stevens finally dropping a new album to a Brooklyn murder mystery movie you’ll seriously want to stream and the Björk retrospective everybody is talking about, here is our Culture Top 10 for the month.

Terms of Service by Jacob Silverman10. Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection
Jacob Silverman gives a thorough investigation into the world of social data that we are creating and giving away to the tech world. His launch party at powerHouse Arena is on March 17–save the date and leave your phones at home.
Published by Harper (3/17/15)








House of Cards season 3 photo courtesy of Netflix

9. The Third Season of House of Cards
Frank and Claire Underwood exchange their house of cards for the White House only to find themselves in uncharted waters for the third season of this wildly popular Netflix Original Series, all 13 episodes of which became available for streaming on Feb. 27.
Photo: Netflix

Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens8. Carrie & Lowell
It’s been almost five years since Sufjan Stevens released an album. We get that he’s been busy with other creative endeavors—he most recently scored and shot a cinematic ode to the rodeo for BAM—but personally, we can’t wait to put his airy, instrumental new offering on repeat when Carrie & Lowell (named after his mother and stepfather) drops later this month on March 31. You can listen to the trailer here.
Photo: Asthmatic Kitty





03/04/15 4:24pm
Ingrid Jungermann and Janeane Garofalo in "F to the 7th." Photo: F to the 7th

Ingrid Jungermann and Janeane Garofalo in F to the 7th. Photo: F to the 7th

It’s been a hard winter. You’ve been holed up indoors, streaming shows, and you don’t want to commit to anything more significant than your current TV diet. But web series are short, and you can consume them anywhere (even work). Here are three series to snack on. (more…)

03/04/15 3:15pm


Sponsored By Brooklyn Preschool of Science.

The Brooklyn Preschool of Science uses curiosity and wonder to provide a foundation for meaningful math, language, and literacy development.

Created By BlankSlate

From the moment you step inside, you can tell that the Brooklyn Preschool of Science isn’t your typical institute of education. A pterodactyl swoops down from the ceiling and bright blocks of color line the walls just inside the entrance. One classroom is lined with terrariums containing exotic creatures like an Australian bearded dragon and Madagascar hissing cockroaches; in another, green plants grow sideways from a living wall.

The Cobble Hill school is the brainchild of Carmelo Piazza, better known to his pint-sized fans as Carmelo the Science Fellow. Piazza is well known to thousands of Brooklyn children from birthday parties, day camps, after-school programs, and playgroups, and parents marvel at his unique ability to communicate his passion for learning with young audiences. Within seconds, he has the attention of every kid in the room, eliciting belly laughs and gasps of wonder.

Piazza opened the Brooklyn Preschool of Science in 2013, with the aim of using science as a jumping-off point for a dynamic early-education curriculum. To accommodate high demand, a second location will open in Park Slope later this year. Parents can apply now for both schools, which will be accepting children on a first-come, first-served basis. (more…)

03/04/15 12:04pm
This 3BR, 2.5 bath Montclair home, on a third of an acre, just closed for $730,000. Photo: Stanton Realtors

This 3BR, 2.5 bath Montclair home, on a third of an acre, just closed for $730,000. Photo: Stanton Realtors

There comes a point in every city-dwelling family’s life when you begin to wonder if it would just be easier (and cheaper) to pack it all up and move to the suburbs. And when Brooklynites begin this line of reasoning, the place that always comes to mind is Montclair, New Jersey, and the experts they call first is Stanton Realtors.

Why is Montclair such a desirable second act for Brooklyn expats? Because of all the important ways you’ll be trading up, without losing your connection to the city. Along with a quick commute—just 45 minutes by train, the same amount of time you probably spend getting to Midtown by subway—there’s a walkable, charming downtown filled with mom and pop shops and good restaurants, a large uptown village area and three smaller shopping districts, so you are never more than a stroll away from a café, wine store or dry cleaners. Amidst all this commerce are major cultural centers like the Montclair Art Museum and The Wellmont Theater, and a community that is economically and ethnically diverse. And among the many oases of green space—like the 408- and 157-acre nature perserves that border the area—there’s even a park designed by Olmsted, the same chap who designed your beloved Prospect Park.

Unlike Brooklyn, however, pouring your life’s savings into a house will not only guarantee more room for your clan, indoors and out, it will ensure that you enroll your children in a great school system, so you won’t have to risk a nervous breakdown getting them into a decent middle school and another heart attack when they start testing for high schools. (Montclair High School has 25 AP offerings—right on par with Stuyvesant.)

Since you already know what a three-bedroom, 2.5 bath home goes for in Brooklyn (over a million dollars, in most desirable neighborhoods), maybe you should see what you’d get in Montclair, or neighboring towns like Glenn Ridge, for a third less, on a third of an acre. Stanton has been selling homes in Montclair and the surrounding communities for over 90 years, and will give you a great introduction to the place you may soon call home.

03/04/15 8:15am
"Flight," a precarious shot by Raheim Simon, aka @black_soap, who is part of Sugarlift's group show of street photographers opening Friday night.

“Flight,” a precarious shot by Raheim Simon, aka @black_soap, who is part of Sugarlift’s group show of street photographers opening Friday night.

The grandaddy of art fairs, the Armory Show, is in town, and dozens of other art parties, fairs and exhibitions are coinciding with it. Some events, like DUMBO’s First Thursday gallery walk, where artist Alan Winslow will be creating portraits of 24 strangers in 24 hours at Rabbithole, fit right in with this art-themed week.

Pioneer Works is also hosting its regular Second Sunday series this weekend, with artist talks and live music that you can stream starting at 7:30 if you can’t make it to Red Hook. Just remember that the 8th is Daylight Savings, when we lose an hour to gain more sunlight, and create the impression that winter is finally over. At this point, we’ll do anything to lose the snow too—but it seems like it will disappear by next week. Hallelujah!

Here’s what to do this weekend, and how to spend all those extra hours of daylight. (more…)

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03/03/15 9:45am
Church service at St. Lydia's takes place over a communal dinner served Sunday and Monday nights. Photo: St. Lydia's

Church service at St. Lydia’s takes place over a communal dinner served Sunday and Monday nights. Photo: St. Lydia’s

If I’m being really honest, I’m not a person who has spent significant time wondering whether I need more organized religion in my life. It factored pretty minimally into my upbringing and, although my Bible ignorance was an issue when I had to study Milton in college, I never felt like I was missing much. Obviously, I can respect religion to the extent that it provides comfort and ethical guidance—not justification for close-mindedness, judgment and the Fox News politics I happen to abhor—but I’ll confess that I might sometimes be a little cynical about how that often shakes out based on my limited exposure to religion as an adult. At any rate, I was thinking a lot about my beef with organized religion on a recent arctic Monday night, as I trudged over the Gowanus to attend Dinner Church at St. Lydia’s, a nontraditional church/co-working space that recently set up shop on Bond Street.


03/02/15 2:20pm


The impact of science in our daily lives seems obvious at first–we all walk around with a palm-sized computer in our pocket more advanced than the delivery truck-sized computers used to put Neil Armstrong on the moon just 45 years ago. But science covers a lot more ground than gadgets from Apple; it affects everyone in a very personal way, and Story Collider: Stories About Science is a New York-based storytelling series and podcast that investigates the ways it impacts our lives. On the podcast and at their live shows, which they’ve performed in San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and London, you’ll hear from those who work in a specific scientific field as well as everyday people who suddenly find they are faced with a problem that they need science to overcome. The podcast is hosted by Ben Lillie, a particle physicist (above, right), and Erin Barker, a two-time winner of the Moth’s GrandSLAM Storytelling competition (on the left), who will be performing at The Bell House tomorrow, Tuesday, March 2 at 8pm. The best part? You can RSVP to gain free entry at thebellhouseny.com/calendar.

03/02/15 10:30am
Chef José Ramírez-Ruiz and pastry chef Pam Yung of Semilla. Photo: Olivia Boddie

Chef José Ramírez-Ruiz and pastry chef Pam Yung of Semilla. Photo: Olivia Boddie

Chef José Ramírez-Ruiz and his girlfriend, pastry chef Pam Yung, were tired of cooking other people’s food. After working for years in kitchens such as Brooklyn Fare, Per Se, Isa, Degustation (him), and Roberta’s, Tailor, Room 4 Dessert (her), the longtime couple finally decided to give up a steady paycheck to do their own thing.

In 2012, they collaborated on Chez José, a BYOB popup serving creative, evolving, mostly veggie prix fixe dinners. The concept, creativity, and food were all theirs, and it was beloved by local diners and many reviewers. But the space, a by-day breakfast/taco joint in Williamsburg, was tiny—only 4-8 diners a seating. They needed a staff, a prep area, a liquor license and comfy seats.

Then Lake Trout, the Baltimore-style restaurant which served those amazing fried fish sandwiches, was forced to shut down and its owner Joe Carroll suggested José and Pam use the Havemeyer St. spot for Chez José dinners. After several months of success, Joe was interested in solidifying the partnership.

“We had a series of conversations during the fall/winter of 2013 and it just seemed like the right progression,” said Ramírez-Ruiz. Late last year he and Yung, with Carroll’s help, opened Semilla, which they consider a continuation of the spirit and philosophy behind the now-closed Chez José.

After an extensive renovation, Semilla is now a beautiful, minimalist restaurant that isn’t exactly big but is brilliantly designed to maximize space and function. Eighteen diners can sit around a blonde-wood U-shaped table for the daily changing “vegetable-forward” $75 tasting menu, which includes about 10 small inventive, rustic dishes. Past menus have featured burdock arancini with miso sauce and house-dried pepper; beets with fermented ramps, sunflower seeds and hay yogurt. Dessert might be fig leaf ice cream with buckwheat crumbs and a fermented grape granita.

The carefully curated beer and wine list features many lesser-known bottles, like a series of “complete” wines (which are briefly touched by the grape skin), some unusual sherries and top-notch dry ciders. There are two seatings every night, around 6ish and 8ish, and the restaurant smartly staggers the reservations—6:15, 6:30 etc.— so not everyone arrives or eats at once.

In the middle of the horseshoe table, the fantastically knowledgeable and approachable servers, as well as José and Pam from time to time, serve, clear, replace silverware, answer questions and suggest wines in a graceful, seamless dance. (Our server offered us a taste of a wine that had been previously opened, and one from a new bottle of the same wine, to compare the results of its aging.)

Despite their motion and proximity, the dining experience feels quiet and private. The courses are perfectly timed and spaced so that you are rarely eating the same thing as your neighbor, but may peak at what’s next. (Otherwise, the menu is a complete mystery; “José never writes anything down!” Pam said when I asked her for one.)

Plus the small kitchen only accommodates a few burners, an oven and one sous chef, so José must rely on skills he likely learned at Chez José —preparing and organizing many small components so each dish is ready to fire at multiple times during the evening.

Our recent dinner was a series of earthy, uniquely textured but unpretentious dishes, like a lentil cracker with creamy parsnip and trout roe; a flakey sandwich made with slaw and buckwheat groats between two dehydrated cabbage leaves; ribbons of cooked beets enveloping morsels of velvety beef in a marrow-rich foam. Perhaps the most delicious event of the meal was Pam’s rich blue barley and flaxseed sourdough bread with fresh butter and sour buttermilk. In fact, some diners were there only for this bread, and maybe a couple glasses of wine. It’s that good.

It’s an impressive and passionate operation—every night is a different menu of creative and complex dishes that are constantly evolving as the chefs tweak, edit and invent. Even the bathroom has a twist—a one-way mirrored window that looks into the efficient kitchen.

Amidst all this hard work, Chef José found some time to chat. (more…)

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02/27/15 2:00pm

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby US coverNick Hornby’s Funny Girl follows Barbara Parker’s transformation from Miss Blackpool, Beauty Queen of Lancashire, to Sophie Straw, star of the BBC’s Barbara (and Jim) and toast of swinging ’60s London.

Before stardom, there are cringingly hilarious scenes of her retail job, and of fighting off sleazy agents and producers that value her body over her excellent comic timing. The trails are mercifully short however, and after one dazzling audition, she wins a part on Barbara (and Jim), a sitcom about at the lives of a young, temperamentally and politically mismatched couple, a hilarious and honest look at married life in Britain with 20 million viewers at its peak.

What I loved about Funny Girl was not only the chance to root for an ambitious, strong heroine, but a glimpse into the lives of those behind the scenes, particularly the creative partnership (and tension) between Barbara (and Jim)’s writers, Tony and Bill, who met while being arrested for suspected homosexual activity, though Tony has since been married.

Hornby’s descriptions of their writing sessions conjure the hair-pulling frustration of dialogue that crackles in your head, but fizzles on the page, and a deeper fear that their initially groundbreaking and honest portrait of a young married couple is too full of slapstick and pratfalls to be as trenchant and timely as they’d like.

Their tension is a microcosm of their decade: Bill’s desire to stay true to himself, in love and in art, and Tony’s yearning for the stability that comes with marriage and a steady paycheck. Lurking underneath this divide is the question: Can a comedic television show with set pieces of exploding toilets have a streak of cutting cultural criticism beneath the slapstick?

In Hornby’s hands, the answer to that last question is a resounding, Yes.