04/24/15 1:15pm
Ryan Lammie, an artist and founder of the artist collective Radiant Hall in Pittsburgh, which he calls one of the most supportive arts communities he's been a part of. Photo: Ben Filio

Ryan Lammie, an artist and founder of the artist collective Radiant Hall in Pittsburgh, which he calls one of the most supportive arts communities he’s been a part of. Photo: Ben Filio

When the borough you call home becomes known as one the most expensive places to live in America, it’s natural to look around for better alternatives. For a hot, Internet second, Buffalo—which recently made that list of cities that young college graduates are moving to—looked like a fine choice, so long as you enjoy brutal winters and more economic initiatives than jobs. But there is another metropolis the 25-34 cohort is gravitating toward that is considerably more buzzworthy, filled with James Beard Award-nominated chefs, tech startups, and the cool factor of a soon-to-open Ace Hotel. The city that holds all this promise? Pittsburgh. It claims more brainpower than Silicon Valley, based upon the number of its college-educated residents, and offers good jobs and a low cost of living for its young transplants. Think Portland, Oregon, except half the size, and with higher employment.

To find out how Pittsburgh stacks up as a second chapter for Brooklynites in search of greener pastures, I spoke to seven expats. If they all sound a little boosterish, it’s not a coincidence. Pittsburghers seem to have a hard time finding fault with their city, despite being landlocked and getting twice the amount of snow as New York City (on average). Nearly everyone I interviewed who has relocated there speaks about Steel City as if they were on the payroll of the city’s tourism board.

“For so many years, when you said Pittsburgh, the first image that popped in people’s heads was this gloomy, dreary, smog-filled city, and that’s not who we are anymore,” Alexis Tragos, 32, told me. (more…)

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04/13/15 9:00am

After a recent night out at Bar Bolinas, where most of their Northern California-inspired menu was a hit, one annoying miss stood out–the obscure words and vague menu descriptions that have become the norm at Brooklyn restaurants. What’s with this trend of menus that keep the explanation of dishes so short and sweet that it’s not clear to even well-eaten diners what’s going to actually be in each dish? Nowhere is this more prevalent than on cocktail menus. For example, here’s Bar Bolinas’ brief list:

drinks

Now I’m no trained mixologist, but I do drink out enough that I feel like I shouldn’t need a translator to figure out what any of these drinks are going to taste like. I get that Elijah Craig is fairly well known, but would it kill their hipster hearts to write “Elijah Craig bourbon? Or to note that Dolin Rouge is vermouth?” And what/who are Suze and Salers? Are those the people who make the drinks? For the record, the server didn’t know either, but was happy to return and explain that Suze is a gentian liqueur (from the root of the gentian plant), with citrus-y and slightly bitter notes. I don’t say this to hate on Bar Bolinas–the service was friendly and the cocktail was excellent, whatever the heck a gentian is–I just think restaurants in general can stop prioritizing sounding sharp and cute over telling us what’s actually in something.

04/10/15 9:14am
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Lola RocknRolla and her band Megababe at Meow Mix bar, late nineties. Photo: Santos J. Arce

Jerre Kalbas is a lifelong New Yorker and a 97-year-old lesbian. When I tell her that there are only four remaining lesbian bars in New York, she literally drops her rice cake. “Four?” she asks. “That’s terrible. When I was growing up, there were so many.” I feel bad telling Jerre this news. I worry that my generation disappoints her. I want her to finish her rice cake.

Jerre was born in 1918, and was active during the 1940s, a time when “drinks were 10 cents” and police conducted raids on New York’s LGBT bars. I was born in 1983, and am active at a time when “Jell-o shots are $10,” and more women identify as queer than ever before. Despite this fact, there are currently only four active lesbian bars left in New York —Henrietta Hudson, The Cubbyhole, Ginger’s Bar, and Bum-Bum Bar. That leaves just two jukeboxes and eight public bathrooms for all of New York’s barhopping lesbians. Philadelphia’s last lesbian bar just died, as did DC’s, and San Francisco’s is on its way out. At just four bars, New York now has the most lesbian bars of anywhere in the country.

While New York is home to many more men’s bars than women’s, the decline has been felt by gay men as well. I estimate there are around 53 remaining queer bars total, in a city that just 30 years ago supported close to 86.  (This number comes from the Gayellow pages, which only includes published listings. The actual amount was very likely higher). That’s a 38% decline, despite a 16% city population increase. It’s even harder to pinpoint the number of women’s bars that used to exist, because some bars were run in basements, and no official statistics were kept. But anecdotal evidence is abundant, and the nationwide pattern is striking.

None of this is new news, and it’s nothing to celebrate. Imagine being the last four polar bears at the bottom of an endangered species list–it’s lonely. (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…)

03/27/15 9:00am

March, the month that promised spring and then reneged, has delivered some delicious talking points, from a compendium to the 99 essential restaurants in Brooklyn to John Oliver’s sharp takedown of March Madness. Here are 10 of the month’s most memorable stories to add to your party banter this weekend.

1. Full disclosure: I maniacally love March Madness. A lifelong college basketball fan, I do things like take the first two days of the tournament off of work and eat multiple meals in the same bar so that I don’t miss a single crazy upset. I bite off all my nails, I yell loudly at exciting parts and send my dog into fits of panic, and I once many years ago almost got into it with a smug child who was trash talking when my team was losing (not proud of that, btw). This is embarrassing not just because, in Brooklyn, I’m an overly earnest fan of a very conventional, kind of fratty thing in a land where many seem to believe that the only acceptable sports are bocce and pretending to follow futbol, but also because it is becoming harder and harder to justify supporting the multi-billion-dollar March Madness machine and to excuse the NCAA for its unapologetic profiteering on the backs of the so-called student athletes whose talent and hard work it exploits. John Oliver’s hilarious but sharp and unsparing takedown of the whole business, which aired earlier this month on Last Week Tonight, is required watching if you want to fully grasp just how preposterous the situation is.

One of two rooms in Yenifer’s dungeon. Photo: Heather Dockray

One of two rooms in Yenifer’s dungeon. Photo: Heather Dockray

2. In a city where real estate prices are an evergreen topic of conversation at every dinner party, our story of one Park Slope woman and her unorthodox method for coming up with the monthly rent on her 3-bedroom apartment–running a BDSM dungeon out of it–will at least give you a new and risque point of entry to well-trodden territory. (more…)

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03/17/15 1:00pm

A public library is not a typical amenity for an apartment building, but two public-private partnerships are in the works that will mix rental units and storefront libraries in Brooklyn. The plans for the Brooklyn Heights Library and the Sunset Park Library involve the sale of the dilapidated buildings to developers who will update the branches and build apartment buildings on top of them.

In the case of Sunset Park, all 49 proposed units will be strictly affordable, and leave room for a new, 20,000-square-foot library–roughly 7,000 more square feet than what’s now in place. In Brooklyn Heights, where the public-private partnership is further along, the mixed-use building that is being developed by Hudson Companies will add 132 market-rate apartments, 114 affordable units in Clinton Hill, and will modernize the existing Brooklyn Heights library, already one of the largest in the system. (more…)

03/17/15 9:00am
Photo: Kate Hooker

All Hands, a volunteer organization dedicated to rebuilding areas affected by natural disasters, is one of the nonprofits picking up the slack in the city’s Sandy Recovery efforts. Photo: Kate Hooker

It’s been almost two and half years since Superstorm Sandy beat the crap out of our city. For the lucky among us, who weren’t directly affected by the storm, life pretty much went back to normal once the subway system was back up and running. The same, though, can’t be said for homeowners whose houses were damaged or destroyed—thousands are still embroiled in the grim recovery process and have yet to move back home thanks to the slow-moving cogs of city government.

According to The New York Times, the city’s Build It Back program, which was initiated during the Bloomberg administration, has received some 20,000 applications for assistance to date. However, as of last week, construction had only started on 1,060 homes and less than 3,000 reimbursement checks had been issued. Charitable and community-based organizations, which are not subject to the same bureaucratic restrictions as government agencies, have been able to pick up some of the slack, but the reality is that there is still an overwhelming amount of work to be done.

All Hands, a volunteer organization dedicated to rebuilding areas affected by natural disasters, is one of the nonprofits that has been filling the void, and it recently received funding to set up a new long-term recovery project in Brooklyn. A group of volunteers–mostly in their 20s–flew in from all over the country in January and have been on the job ever since, hanging drywall or building door frames by day and sleeping on bunk beds in a Coney Island church basement by night. One Thursday late last month, I joined them for an eight-hour shift framing walls in a basement apartment in Canarsie. (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.

(more…)

02/27/15 9:21am

cheatsheet

    Awards season is finally over (with the exception of a few fallout ripples from last Sunday’s Oscars); the World Wide Web is no longer the Wild West it once was and we’ve finally found someone to explain to us what ISIS really wants. Here are 10 stories to keep the conversation flowing this weekend.

  1. I guess it’s still OK to talk about the Oscars? I dunno. We all endured that brutal NPH lockbox bit, John Travolta’s straight creepin’ and the frankly INEXCUSABLE omission of Joan Rivers from the In Memoriam segment. I feel like all the hot takes on the telecast itself dried up immediately, though, because, in the end, we’re talking about an environment that generates actual conversations about mani cam vs. clutch cam. However, if you’re in the “Boyhood was robbed” camp, you’ll appreciate this Slate piece arguing that by awarding Birdman Best Picture, the Academy screwed up on the level of when it snubbed Citizen Kane or The Graduate. Linklater might get another shot at a gold statue though—rumor has it he’s considering making a sequel.

  1. Michael Pollan’s long read about the rekindling of the medical community’s interest in “trip treatment,” or the use of psychedelic drugs to treat depression, anxiety and other mental health issues, will give you lots of fodder to fall back on when the topic of how cold it is out has been utterly exhausted. (more…)

01/09/15 9:24am
The Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island is home to the Chinese Scholars Garden and a working farm. Go for free with an IDNYC. Photo: Snug Harbor Cultural Center

The Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island is home to the Chinese Scholars Garden and a working farm. Go for free with an IDNYC. Photo: Snug Harbor Cultural Center

Before January’s end, so long as you are a New York City resident, you’ll be able to add a multi-tasking new card to your wallet. It works as a municipal identification card, a free membership card to more than 30 of the city’s most prominent museums and cultural centers, and a cross-borough library card.

The magic card in question is the new IDNYC. Mayor de Blasio’s office got the go ahead on the initiative from City Council in December, and New Yorkers will be able to apply for a card next week at more than 20 locations around the city.

Why sign up if you already have a driver’s license or passport? (more…)