12/28/16 1:00pm

We asked our contributors, friends and notable Brooklynites to share their favorite New Year’s in NYC. Here, Jonathan Schnapp, co-owner of the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, shares his epic night in his signature, e e cummings style of email. His shuffleboard palace is throwing their third annual New Year’s Eve Flamingo Formal on Saturday, a totally free, fun night and a great excuse to dress up for the last hurrah of the year. For more ideas, check out our last Ideal Week: New Year’s Eve in Brooklyn edition.

If you have the will and the wheels, you make a progressive party out of New Year's. Photo: Torbakhopper via Flickr

If you have the will and the wheels, you can make a progressive party out of New Year’s. Photo: Torbakhopper via Flickr

hmmm-
my best NYE huh?

it might have been the winter of 1998…
earlier that year i had taken a trip to SF and ridden a scooter for the first time
it was magical and i vowed to do whatever was necessary to procure my first vespa that fall.
sure enough, when september rolled around i dragged my butt
out to up and coming williamsburg
threw down $1500 bucks for a 1976 blue sprint 150
and called her ‘putt putt’.

by NYE i’d gotten the feel of the hand shift, the tides of traffic,
and the way cabs reacted impulsively when searching for a fare.
i felt the rhythm of the lights and the pockets of space between cars-
i was all shaolin soccer with my shit… i was one with putt putt.
that NYE i decided to attend
EVERY SINGLE PARTY I WAS INVITED TO.

it turned into a tour of the greatest city in the world
on the craziest night of the year.
my itinerary:
LES, Chelsea, Hells Kitchen, Upper East Side, Tribecca, Brooklyn Heights, Greenpoint, Union Square
i started at 5pm and got home by around 4am.

did it all in a black suit, skinny tie, and chucks…
no jacket
(big mistake)

12/28/16 11:07am

If you need a recommendation for an epic New Year’s Eve bash, Oriana Leckert is the person to ask. The author of Brooklyn Spaces: 50 Hubs of Culture and Creativity and events editor for Brokelyn knows all the borough’s DIY venues and the parties they spawn. She used to write our New Year’s Eve party roundup for years, and she tracks quirky events and alternative nightlife for her own blog year round. So when I asked her to name her favorite New Year’s Eve out of all the parties she must have experienced over the years, I anticipated that it would be a hard decision.

“I’ve been in this city now for 15 years, so I’ve had a lot of New York New Year’s. I’ve done the gamut, I have done a ‘crazy’ rave at the Electric Factory when that was still a place, a Bushwig drag extravaganza at Secret Project Robot, and a Cheryl party at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple. Then, recently, I’ve been trying to do more of the quirky, iconic Brooklyn things. I did the fireworks at Coney Island a couple of years ago, and the steam whistles at Pratt, and those both stand out as kind of silly but also really memorable.”

Pratt’s now retired, New Year’s Eve steam whistle show. Photo: Pratt

For anyone not familiar with Pratt’s tradition, the annual event brought antique steam whistles from trains, factories, and ships, including a 1930s ocean liner, back to life. The art school led the resonating show for the public for 50 years, before its chief engineer performed the final one in 2014. “It’s really surreal, it feels like being in a movie, because between the darkness and the steam, you can’t really see very far in front of you, so you’re sort of stumbling a little bit manically to keep track of where your friends are, and figure out where the next steam whistle will come from. It was really fun. It was really, really fun,” said Leckert.

But it still doesn’t make her cut as best New Year’s in NYC. “I think that out of all of them, the first one I thought of when you contacted me was my second or third year in the city. Because of an array of hijinks, we had moved on December 31st so New Years was our first night for my partner and myself in our new apartment.” (more…)

04/03/15 3:31pm
"Brooklyn has 99 problems. I need to have 99 solutions," says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Photo: Office of the Brooklyn Borough President

“Brooklyn has 99 problems. I need to have 99 solutions,” says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. Photo: Office of the Brooklyn Borough President

Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s first black borough president, has been in office for over a year now. Based upon the subjects of his press releases so far, he’s taken the largely ceremonial role of borough president much more seriously than his predecessor. When the bombastic Marty Markowitz was in office, his staff often sent memos noting that he was co-hosting events like the “Candidate Stickball Challenge” or performing various ribbon-cuttings. The statements coming out of BP Adams’ office, by comparison, are far less geared toward photo ops. Some of his ambitious proposals to date include the recent Access-Friendly NYC initiative that he unveiled to make NYC public buildings even more accessible than what the Americans with Disabilities Act requires; a series of town hall discussions he initiated to advance police-community relations in the aftermath of the Eric Garner decision and the assassination of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu; and the advancement of gun safety in New York through the adoption of pilot programs in the NYPD such as one using fingerprint recognition technology to fire guns.

While some are critical of the fact that he has taken up too many causes, Adams says he does not want to be known for just one issue. He is also working to connect Brooklynites in any way he can, from opening up Borough Hall to a wide range of groups from all over Brooklyn for events and meetings to broadening Wi-Fi coverage throughout the borough.

I sat down with the warm and welcoming Adams in a stately Borough Hall conference room in March to learn more about his plans for Brooklyn and beyond, including his interest in a future run for mayor. Below is the condensed version of our conversation–but you can listen to the entire 43-minute interview here. (more…)

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.

(more…)

02/11/15 4:33pm

Jdilla_donuts_altLPcoverIt’s not easy to admit this as a longtime rap fan—we’re talking since the days of Run DMC, Whodini, insert ‘80s hip-hop performer here—but here goes:

I totally missed the boat on legendary hip-hop and R&B producer James “J Dilla” Yancey.

Even though he worked extensively with De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, two of my all-time favorite acts, and was one of the co-founders of Detroit-based rap group, Slum Village, I wouldn’t have been able to identify a single Dilla track, even if it was Jay Dee night at the club.

Dilla died on Feb. 10, 2006 from complications related to lupus. He was only 32 at the time of his death, and his last couple years were spent battling illness. In fact, the majority of the tracks on Dilla’s classic Donuts album—released three days before he died—were put together on a computer set-up during an extended hospital stay. (more…)

11/14/14 8:54am
This storage bench, upholstered with reclaimed coffee sacks, is one of Recycled Brooklyn's signature designs. Photo: Levi Sharpe

This storage bench, upholstered with reclaimed coffee sacks, is one of Recycled Brooklyn’s signature designs. Photo: Levi Sharpe

When you start a woodshop in your kitchen, you have to make some sacrifices, starting with dinner.

“We were making dinner and building tables at the same time,” said Matt Loftice, 44, a thick-bearded former screenwriter. “It was a lot of dust, man—dusty pasta.”

Brothers Matt and Steven Loftice share a love for breathing new life into recycled materials by transforming them into furniture. After building pieces on nights and weekends for several years as a hobby, Matt gave the business a name, Recycled Brooklyn, and launched an Etsy shop in 2010. Steven, disenchanted with his career in advertising, quit his job and hopped on board full time, two months later.

Though their price point is slightly higher than entry-level Ikea–items start at around $180–it’s not far off mass market staples like West Elm and Pottery Barn, and their pieces are handcrafted. “I could never afford custom furniture, and most people can’t,” said Steven, 42. “That’s why at 10 o’clock in the morning the line at Ikea is half a mile long.” (more…)

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11/10/14 11:00am
Gus Vlahavas from 2006 (David Chiu)

Gus Vlahavas in 2006 (David Chiu)

Gus Vlahavas, the longtime owner of neighborhood institution Tom’s Restaurant in Prospect Heights, died last Tuesday, DNAinfo.com reported. The news hit hard for me personally as Gus was one of the first people I interviewed when I was a student at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism covering the Atlantic Yards beat in 2006. When I first started reporting on the area, I was quite nervous because I really didn’t know anyone–I was extremely shy and scared that I was not going to have any sources. But when I first stumbled upon Tom’s Restaurant, Gus greeted me very warmly. He probably knew from the beginning that I was a journalism student (perhaps the press pass, reporter’s pad, and my anxious expression were dead giveaways) and kindly offered me a tea and answered my questions patiently and gregariously. Since that first meeting, I must have visited Tom’s Restaurant four or five times, trying to get a sense of who he was and the history of the establishment, which in itself was fascinating. Miraculously, I don’t think Gus ever saw me as annoyance as I peppered him with questions (if he did, he didn’t show it), and he even let me record audio of him for a slideshow presentation about the restaurant as well. (I still have that project and I hope to somehow upload it for posterity’s sake).

Given the type of person he was, it’s not surprising that so many people from the neighborhood spoke very highly of him. Had he not been so kind and willing to give this budding student reporter a break, I probably would have had a hard time making it through that semester. I was pained to hear about his death, and by the fact that I hadn’t been back to Tom’s in a while, and I wish had stopped by,  just to at least say hello to Gus. 

The following is the story about Gus and Tom’s Restaurant that I wrote for my first reporting class, eight years ago.

RIP Gus. Thank you so much for everything. (more…)

06/24/14 1:04pm
Morbid Anatomy Library 2

Like a super-sized cabinet of curiosities, the Morbid Anatomy Museum will house a massive collection of esoteric books and artifacts dealing with death. Photo: Joanna Ebenstein

If the idea of a cultural institution devoted to disease and death sounds morbid, that’s because, by definition, it is. Set to open in Gowanus this Saturday, the Morbid Anatomy Museum will be one of the world’s biggest wunderkammers (cabinets of curiosities), displaying artifacts and ideas deemed too taboo to talk about in polite society.

“I believe death is taboo because it’s treated as this horribly tragic event where your loved one is taken away before their body is cold and they’re pumped full of chemicals, made over, and laid out in this strange place with other dead people,” says Tracy Martin, the museum’s executive director. “We’re so removed from the whole process of actually experiencing death that it’s become frightening. Death is a natural part of life.”

Martin may feel more comfortable with death than most. Not unlike the Six Feet Under clan, she grew up in a family that ran a funeral parlor. But by putting our fears on display, she hopes to change our perception of them. “The more you learn about something, the less frightening it becomes,” says Martin. “There is a beauty in death.”

It’s the obscure allure of macabre material that Martin and Joanna Ebenstein, creative director of the museum, are most interested in exploring in their new 4,200-square-foot space on the corner of 7th Street and 3rd Avenue. (more…)

05/29/14 10:00am
Julia Fierro's debut novel, Cutting Teeth, is a vivid, wryly observed study of the hothouse of 21st century parenting.

Julia Fierro’s debut novel, Cutting Teeth, is a vivid, wryly observed study of the hothouse of 21st century parenting.

You hear the phrase “long-awaited debut novel” thrown around a lot these days, which is ironic given that it’s become something of an oxymoron. More and more reliant on bankable household names to meet its meager bottom line, today’s book industry tends to be wary of the humble debut novelist. And the writers who do elicit genuine excitement are far more likely to be the precocious than the long germinating type. All of which makes Julia Fierro’s new book Cutting Teeth a rare literary beast—a first novel that’s been hotly anticipated by industry insiders for months, by an author who’s honed her craft for years. The heat surrounding Cutting Teeth can be chalked up in large part to Fierro’s subject: the trials and travails of modern parenting, an issue so relentlessly fascinating, so deliciously divisive that the book seems destined to land on sandy blankets across America this summer. But it’s safe to say that at least part of the interest surrounding the novel is due to the author herself. This may be Fierro’s first published novel, but she is no stranger to the publishing world.

If most of us struggling literary types fall squarely into either the MFA or the NYC camp these days, Fierro happily straddles both worlds. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the founder of Brooklyn’s own Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop, Fierro has emerged in recent years as a doyenne of the literary scene. Her social media conversations read like a Who’s Who of Literary America and her writing school (which, full disclosure, I’ve attended) has increasingly come to function as a sort of high-end clearing house for up-and-coming writers. Some of her recent instructors include Emma Straub of Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures fame, critical darling Adam Wilson, and Ayana Mathis, whose novel The Twelve Tribes of Hattie was an Oprah Book Club 2.0 pick.

Given Fierro’s literary stature, some may find it surprising that this is her first novel. But it becomes easier to understand when you see how much energy she devotes to nurturing the talents of those around her. At a recent reading, Fierro was introduced as “the mother of literary dragons,” but it might be more accurate to call her Brooklyn’s literary fairy godmother. To those who know her she is a nurturing force: the first person to praise the work of promising newcomers, to dole out a much needed hug or to provide a key reference to an agent or MFA program.

Fierro’s ability to draw normally reclusive (or at the very least awkward) writers out of their shells and into conversation with one another begs comparison to another literary mother hen from a different era, Gertrude Stein. But unlike Stein, Fierro seems less concerned with reinventing the form than with stretching our sympathetic imaginations. This fierce urge to connect, which animates her life and teaching, comes through on every page of Cutting Teeth.

Set in Long Island, Cutting Teeth charts the mounting tensions between six Brooklyn parents (and one long-suffering nanny) marooned together in a ramshackle beach house for the weekend with their children. Over the course of the book, Fierro seamlessly shifts between one perspective and the next until her readers are close enough to recognize themselves in each. A literary dramedy about love and family and all of the fantastically messy stuff in between, Cutting Teeth has been dubbed “a Mommy book” by some, but it is better understood as a vivid, wryly observed study of the hothouse of 21st century parenting.

I spoke to Julia Fierro in early May about the genesis of her book, the taboo against overt emotion in literary fiction and the trouble with genres.

More summer reading recs>> (more…)

02/14/14 8:53am

This week, as scores of couples celebrate their love over chocolate and oysters, in satin sheeted beds covered with rose petals, we are celebrating sweethearts whose work, together and separately, is a love letter to our fair borough. You could call them Brooklyn Power Couples–two people pursuing a shared dream of say, their own bake shop or feature film, as well as couples who are complementary visionaries in two different, but related fields. Whatever their callings, these pairs rock their professional lives by day and their love lives by night. We should all be so lucky.

Piper Kerman and Larry Smith, whose six-word secret to staying together is "Fascination. Adventure. Resilience. Compassion. Child care." Photo: David Boyer

Piper Kerman and Larry Smith, whose six-word secret to staying together is “Fascination. Adventure. Resilience. Compassion. Child care.” Photo: David Boyer

Larry Smith and Piper Kerman are both, among many, many other things, memoirists. After founding SMITH Magazine, he created a formula for distilling a life or experience into its essential elements: the six-word memoir. She wrote Orange is the New Black, a memoir about the year she spent in federal prison, and works as a communications consultant and with advocates for criminal justice reform. They met over breakfast, at Kate’s Kitchen in San Francisco, where they were both meeting up with a mutual friend who was visiting from out of town. Smith and Kerman have been together for 17 years now, have a three-year-old boy, and they each offered us six words of advice about staying in love for the long term.
Smith: Fascination. Adventure. Resilience. Compassion. Child care.
Kerman: Practice your virtues; enjoy your vices.

Elizabeth Yeampierre and Eddie Bautista met after a protest against police misconduct. The Sunset Park couple are still advocates for social and environmental justice. Photo:

Elizabeth Yeampierre and Eddie Bautista met after a protest against police misconduct. The Sunset Park couple are still advocates for social and environmental justice. Photo: Rico Bautista

Over 25 years ago, Elizabeth Yeampierre and Eddie Bautista crossed paths in nearly the same way they do today. “We first seriously met organizing around racial violence and police misconduct in the late 80’s and went out after a protest for coffee to strategize,” Yeampierre explained over email, adding, “Nothing says romance like organizing for racial justice.” Today, the two activists, who have a 24-year-old son, Rico, work at separate organizations that share the same goal of guaranteeing all New Yorkers a safe and just environment. Yeampierre, a former civil rights lawyer, is executive director of UPROSE, the oldest Latino, community-based organization in Brooklyn. She helped pass New York State’s first brownfield legislation and blocked the building of a power plant in Sunset Park. Bautista is executive director of NYC Environmental Justice Alliance (of which Yeampierre is also a co-chair) and in the course of his career, he’s helped pass legislation to retrofit New York City’s diesel-powered school buses to reduce air pollution inside the buses, a waste management plan that is environmentally equitable across boroughs, and convened the Sandy Regional Assembly to propose rebuilding priorities after the superstorm. While they have no tolerance for injustice, “not taking ourselves seriously” is part of their relationship’s secret sauce.

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Patrick Martins, Anne Saxelby and their son, Max.

Put Anne Saxelby, the founder of Saxelby Cheesemongers, and Patrick Martins, founder of Heritage Foods USA and Heritage Radio Network, together and you’ve got dinner for two. (Saxelby actually offered a Valentine’s dinner in a box with Waygu steaks from Heritage and two cheeses this year.) “Our first date (though kinda unofficial) was at this bar in Dumbo after I finished a day of grueling grilled cheese sandwiching at the Brooklyn Flea,” Saxelby told us via email. “Neither one of us knows the name of the place to this day, but we just said, hey, let’s meet at that bar in Dumbo and somehow were both talking about the same place.” While two business owners with a young son might seem too busy to kick up their heels very often, Saxelby says that planning weekend adventures, whether in the city or somewhere else, is key to keeping their romance alive. She also offered up an eminently practical piece of advice to go with all that meat and cheese magic: “Try not to be stubborn when there’s a disagreement.”

A scene from "Turtle Hill, Brooklyn," which real-life couple Ricardo Valdez and Brian Seibert co-wrote and co-star. Photo: courtesy Brian Seibert

A scene from “Turtle Hill, Brooklyn,” which real-life couple Ricardo Valdez and Brian Seibert co-wrote and co-star. Photo: courtesy Brian Seibert

Over the course of eight 10-hour days, Brian Seibert and Ricardo Valdez starred together in a film they co-wrote called Turtle Hill, Brooklyn, a love story about a couple that takes place during a 30th birthday party, all shot in their apartment in South Slope/Greenwood Heights (a neighborhood they call Turtle Hill–“we’re hoping it catches on,” says Seibert). The relationship on screen bears no resemblance to theirs in real life, but many festival audiences last year assumed they were portraying themselves, and were surprised to learn they’re still together. In fact, they just celebrated their seventh anniversary. “A willingness to compromise, and having similar goals in life” are some of the reasons the two remain close, says Valdez. “Working like this and the connection we kept during the shoot made our relationship stronger in a lot of ways,” said Seibert. “It was as much work as it was fun and we’d work in this way again in a heartbeat.” (You can download the film on iTunes.) (more…)

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