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…)

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…)

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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