04/12/17 9:10pm

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The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city and its inhabitants in the hours between dusk and dawn.

How often do we pass a place and remember someone from our history? It’s a curious bit of personal tradition for me to swing through Philadelphia and think of Shannon; Washington, D.C., to bow myself against the memory of Amy; Miami resonates with Evan; in Delaware I think of my lost friend Hilary; Trenton is for Dakota; Charleston is for Hannah; and Savannah is for Georgia, a girl named for the state I once called home.

Here I find myself between them again, traveling on a train with stops along the northeastern corridor, a place scattered with memories.

This corridor and these women stay connected in my mind; the electric charge that once existed between us persists against the erosion of time on memory. And on a 10:10pm northbound Amtrak late last winter, after a weary month of traveling with stops in D.C. and Richmond, the Carolinas and New Jersey, I realized that some places remain shallow reliefs of the people with whom you experienced them. (more…)

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02/23/17 9:14am

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The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city and its inhabitants in the hours between dusk and dawn.

Nothing had yet caught fire. After my late shift, I fell fast asleep.

I’d spent the night wandering in a haze, a low mist applied across the city invariably and without discretion. I stepped around patches and had nowhere to go but home, wondering whether there was somewhere for me to be and all I’d done was forgotten it. A strange tickle lapped at my neck and I felt like someone was behind me. I turned fast. No one was there, but every few steps along Queens Boulevard I took to turning back. Checking just in case.

Eventually I found my way home, careful as I crossed the streets, dodging headlights sponged in mist. I could see a police cruiser down the block, and counseled myself, No way, it’s not for you.

This state of paranoia never settles, and is often encouraged by the anonymity of nighttime. In my bones I feel an unshakable guilt, a teasing disruption in my liver and heart, a menace trapped inside my own menace. Sometimes I misplace it and then seeing a police officer sets it upon me. The paranoia stays and becomes second-nature. It is necessary to survival. I have lived with it always.

Someone once told me that if I were to look skyward more often, into the haze above Manhattan, I would come to see more, feel more grounded, become better situated and aware of these feelings inside this unnatural spree of concrete and metal. Hear something enough and it becomes your own philosophy. I heard those words—look up, dammit, look up!—and learned that my compass relied on the two towers that could be seen from almost anywhere–The Empire State and One World Trade. There are the pencil skyscrapers, light dribbling out the windows, but nothing like these. That’s where the collective hopeful ambitions come from. Excelsior!

My childhood in the city was spent looking down, navigating cracks in the sidewalks, bursting through crowds gathered at crosswalks. I had a fast pace, strode like I belonged, moved with a purpose and, for that reason, never gleaned much of the city. So I’m starting to look up these nights, pacing around on the streets, mindless and enthralled just the same. It’s when I am in this trance that I can peer up at these buildings and see inside them vignettes of lives I will never lead. (more…)

12/22/16 9:26am
Illustration: Laura Davies

Illustration: Laura Davies

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city at night.

There are roughly three different modes for subway cars, in my experience. There is, first and most familiar, the crowded commuter car in morning and early evening, where mere inches of personal space segregate straphangers into parcels of remorse or happiness or anger, based primarily on the day ahead, and its promise, or the day behind, and how those promises were either met or denied.

Second, there is the alarmingly vacant car, found in summer when the air conditioning succumbs to underground heat, or in winter when a homeless person claims a third of a car, cordoned off by garbage bags.


“It’s Saturday night,” he shouts, “get your head right.”


Third, there are subway cars that are sparsely populated, something dangerously close to pleasant in the early afternoon before school lets out, and downright sleepy at night, when passengers find themselves traveling underground, for any number of reasons, past the hour of midnight.

No matter which variety of car I find myself in, I am nearly always self-conscious.

My time underground is delegated to baseless fear and anxiety. It’s existential dread about being too close to someone, or unknowingly breaking one of the many unspoken subway laws–manspreading, pole hogging, staring. Sometimes I’m simply flustered about my appearance–the blemish on my face, the tear in my pants, the stain on my shirt, and I believe everyone is looking at me. This rarely happens above ground, outside of confined spaces. These fears surface most acutely in autumn for me. Call it subterranean affective disorder.

I once missed an express A train, the last one departs at about 11pm from Times Square, and found myself inside a later, local-bound car not quite like any of the ones I’ve described, or like any car I’d ridden in before. This was something different. It was not the first type of subway car, nor was it the second or third. It was not a distinct fourth type either—it was a car in transition. (more…)

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11/03/16 9:52am
Jessica Jones in the Court Square Diner.

Jessica Jones in the Court Square Diner.

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city at night.

There is just one spot in the five boroughs suitable for a psycho-prism support group meeting and for hatching a plot to take on the Yakuza. That’s Court Square Diner in Long Island City.

Located near the former 5 Pointz graffit mecca, and the junction of 7, G, M and E trains, the diner is a mainstay in the modern noir universe of Marvel. It is the go-to haunt for Matt (Daredevil) and Jessica (Jessica Jones). Scenes from CBS’s Person of Interest and FOX’s Gotham were also filmed at the stand-alone diner, one of the last in New York City.

Tucked beneath the elevated 7 train, it beckons after-hours mischief with its neon signs and slick, aluminum train-car interior. Silhouette etchings of the Queensboro Bridge and the Silvercup Studio sign line the mirrored walls. Across the street, an adult viewing booth sits incongruously tucked between Vietnamese and Thai take-out restaurants, in a neighborhood with high-rise, high-rent condos.

Absent from this scene on a recent Monday night, but not unimaginable given the atmosphere: an orange and white smokestack puffing clouds of baleful steam, suffusing the street with mood. (more…)

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06/27/16 9:32am
I, uh, ate two of the eight-donut sampler before I could grab my phone. Photo: Kenneth Rosen

I, uh, ate two of the eight-donut sampler before I could grab my phone. Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

June 3 was National Donut Day. So really, that makes June, National Donut Month in my estimation. Which is to say, don’t tell me when to eat my cream puff.

I’ve written about what I believe is the best donut in Queens, and have yet to seek out new horizons in toroidal fried glory in the Bronx or Staten Island. But if you find yourself in Manhattan or Brooklyn (maybe we can get together!), the careworn joints Holey Cream and 7th Avenue Donuts will leave the lights on for you.

Both are open late, and both dish out irreproachably delicious donuts. They’re definitely not vegan, or flavored with hibiscus, foie gras or truffle oil. But these are donuts in their natural habitat. (more…)

05/09/16 10:52am
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Coppelia hides in plain sight behind green plywood. Photo: Kenneth R. Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth R. Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

All that’s good in New York is hidden behind scaffolding. This holds true for theaters, shops and eateries alike. Such is the case with Coppelia.

On 14th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues, the pan-Latin diner is open twenty-four-seven and is in every way, with the slight exception of the soft-hued pastels and stylish tiling, no-nonsense. It offers Cuban diner stalwarts on plain white dishes with kitchen side towels for napkins. Order the pan con lechon ($9.95) and you get a plate with roasted pork, chicharron, picked red onion and chipotle mayo held between two slices of bread, no garnish, no salad, no fries or soup. Everything that you ordered and nothing more. An agreeable concision. On a recent Tuesday night I tried the tallarin verde ($18.95), fettuccine in a creamy basil sauce topped with cotija cheese and pisco-glazed shrimp, and it came piled on a plate, nothing more, nothing less.  (more…)

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03/21/16 11:05am
Haandi is well loved by many of New York's cabdrivers. Photo: Jason Lam via Flickr

Haandi is well loved by many of New York’s cabdrivers. Photo: Jason Lam via Flickr

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

Curry Hill, midnight. A line of yellow, dimpled with the black vinyl dashing of New York City taxi cabs. A low hum of Urdu fills the sidewalk beneath a bright red sign that glows: Haandi. Beneath the sign are the words Pakistani, Indian & Bangladeshi Restaurant. Though out of my way (located close to the 28th Street stop on the 6 train), Haandi is usually open until 3am and serves hot food until the doors close.

Up the cracked stairs, into the small space, along the tables strewn with tin foil, plastic cups and plates, pages out of New York Awam and The Pakistan Post doubling as placemats, you’ll find humble South Asian cuisine at all hours, rife with spice in a neighborhood that prides itself on olfactory dominance.

This late-night cabby-haven is quite unlike Alpha Donuts in Queens, where many drivers stop for a meal at the conclusion of their shift. Founded in 2001, Haandi is wedged between a buffet and liquor store in a part of Manhattan (28th and Lexington) frequented most often by college students hustling from Baruch, or the financiers on Park Avenue. There are posh Indian restaurants across the street, but none with the same energy.  (more…)

01/25/16 1:04pm
The incredibly overwhelming menu at Hana Foods makes choosing just one sandwich tough work. Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The incredibly overwhelming menu at Hana Foods makes choosing just one sandwich tough work. Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

The media mania over all things Brooklyn has finally slowed to a steady simmer of lifestyle pieces about pocket watches, monocles and mustache wax, and Williamsburg has almost been restored to what it has always been–just another neighborhood in a city that is constantly remaking itself, an urban palimpsest of dry cleaners, juice bars, boutiques and bodegas.

This is especially true along Metropolitan Avenue between Lorimer Street and Union Avenue, off the L-G stop. No place in Williamsburg more boldly embodies the juxtaposition of old and new. On the corner of Union and Metropolitan you’ll find Kellogg’s Diner, which once felt like a neighborhood institution and then suffered a tone-deaf, shiny retro renovation that left it neither authentically old school, nor on-message, hipster cool. There it sits uneasily, in the perennial shadow of sidewalk construction sheds. A block up, on the corner of Lorimer and Metropolitan, you’ll see Zona Rosa, another tin-can eatery that correctly hit the cool-kid mark with tacos and a rooftop bar. In between: Crest Hardware, beloved to the neighborhood for carrying everything from caulking guns to tomato plants and for being home to a pig named Franklin; JR & Sons, a dive bar plucked straight from a Dennis Lehane novel; Desert Island for your comic book needs; and Yola’s, a reliably mediocre, cheap Mexican joint that has sated countless hungover cravings for melted cheese and guacamole.

On two recent late-night dinner outings it hit me just how goddamn weird this stretch of Metropolitan is in its mix of old and new businesses, maybe because my two destinations could not have been more different: Sugarburg, and across the street Hana Food. (more…)

01/05/16 11:54am
Though similarly unassuming, Ken's shaman wasn't quite as warm as the Oracle from "The Matrix,"--no cookies. Photo: The Matrix

Though similarly unassuming, Ken’s shaman wasn’t quite as charismatic as The Oracle from The Matrix–no cookies. Photo: The Matrix

To reach the shaman, first I had to get real low.

I descended underground, hopped a downtown 6, made my way above ground, and navigated to a high rise in Yorkville. There, up 19 floors, through a putrid-yellow corridor in murky mauve lighting, at an apartment whose front door first concealed the muffled conversation of a couple and a yelping dog, then, swinging open, I met my shaman, a middle-aged woman dressed in a fur-collared coat, her arms crossed with impatience. I was late. And she was not happy. Like an echo of The Oracle in The Matrix, she was not quite what I was expecting.

Earlier in the week when I had the notion that I might seek spiritual guidance—I felt lost and confused, something about my career path and personal life colliding, whatever—I received an email from my editor asking if I’d like to write about a shaman. After falling down an internet K-hole of shamanism, I called a friend in California—vegetarian, hitchhiker, proponent of ayahuasca—who linked me to YouTube videos with the end goal of eternal enlightenment.

“I know as you go through this you will be the skeptic, as you should. But if you watch from your third eye you will see that all of this is within you. All of it,” he wrote. “No conspiracy, no bullshit, just truth.” (more…)

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11/16/15 10:54am
Baklava and a martini--what else do you finish the night with? Photo: Kenneth Rosen

Baklava and a martini–what else do you finish the night with? Photo: Kenneth Rosen

The Lobster Shift is a monthly column by Kenneth Rosen that explores the city’s all-night eateries and their inhabitants.

At two a.m. the Empire State Building goes dark. I’ve seen the lights dim while wandering the city during or after my overnight Lobster Shift at a newsroom in Midtown. The lights extinguish and the skyline edges closer to the eerie Gotham that this city once was. The past lingers below, on darkened streets where cabbies sip from Anthora cups, couples clutch each other and stagger home, manholes puff scarves of steam beneath high-pressure sodium light fixtures–a nocturnal landscape that may soon disappear.

South of the Empire State in Madison Square Park, the mellow amber glow from the Met Life Tower’s gilded peak is the piece of Manhattan that persists after my exit to Queens–always visible during my nightly walks home through Sunnyside. Its glow is so insusceptible to dimming that I like to believe the luminescence of its bigger sibling uptown hides there overnight, waiting.

When I think of those two towers, I think about a time in New York that lingers after dark. Like North Stars, they lead me to where people are awake, where there’s revelry and, importantly, food. (more…)

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