Sunday, February 24, 2008

Found it! A true NYC Speakeasy

I've been going a little stir crazy here in B-town, so we've been taking regular day trips to NYC. Each time, I do my research (I know, SHOCKING) and find random crap to explore- not at all your normal tourist fare. When I read about a modern-day speakeasy, accessed only through a vintage phone booth inside of a late-nite hot dog joint in the East Village, I was on a MISSION.

The Neighborhood
For my West Coast readers (hi Dad! hi Margie!), the East Village is sometimes described as the last remnant of the gritty NYC that persisted until the 1990s ushered in an era of Disney-esque whitewash that has left seemingly all of Manhattan somewhat homogenized (Starbucks abound in neighborhoods once thought off-limits to such investment). The East Village has been the site of dramatic demographic change and social upheaval of all flavors over the past several decades: once the birthplace of American punk music in the 1970s (The Ramones, for example, got their start at legendary neighborhood venue CBGB), most recently it has become among the trendiest neighborhoods for the cool club crowd. So I guess it shouldn't be surprising that I found the following there:

The Hot Dog Joint

Crif Dogs is a 5-year-old neighborhood hot dog joint with a giant protruding phallus- er, hot dog sign- that reads "Eat me", apparently spelled in mustard (after experiencing the place, I would not be at all surprised if it was LITERALLY written in mustard, since Crif seems to give the middle finger to all sorts of other regulations). Crif Dogs is average sized for an old-school NYC eating establishment, i.e., narrow and TINY. It probably seats 15 people, but that's plenty of room when you figure that the turnover time is only the 10 minutes it takes to get in and out (7 minutes to figure out which scary-sounding dog you need to feed your marijuana and/or alcohol fueled 3 am "hunger," 2 minutes for them to chef it up, and 1 minute to scarf it down in 3 gaping bites.)

The Food

Bypassing "The Tsunami" (teriyaki sauce and pineapple have no place on a bacon-wrapped hot dog, sorry) and "The Spicy Redneck" (I don't care if it's so good it claims it will "make you want to hump your mama"), I opted for the daytime-friendly "Good Morning" dog- a fried, bacon wrapped hot dog covered in cheese and topped with a fried egg. HEAVENLY. Truly- the hot dog was crunchy on the outside, hot on the inside, and the egg was extra-yummy. [Note: the short menu reveals Crif's core audience with its four "Stoner Pack" offerings- a "grab bag" of undisclosed food, priced at $10/$20/$30/$40 and tailored to various numbers of people and levels of impairment.)

The Speakeasy

Quiz: What do you see in the above photo?
Answer Choices: A) Vintage phone booth, B) Entrance to a bar, C) Bathroom door, D) All of the above.
Answer: D, All of the above.

The Speakeasy
The Crif Dog adjacent bar, which has no other entrance, is accessed by opening the vintage phone booth doors, standing in a TINY box, picking up a plain white phone, pushing the button and asking for admission. Once inside, it looks like this, narrow and dark and decorated with scary stuffed wild animals on the walls. It is apparently called "Please Don't Tell" or "PDT" but there is no sign outside (duh), you need reservations to get any kind of table, and while it's been "open" (if you can call it that) a little less than a year, I'm dubious as to its legality, since liquor licenses are TOUGH to get and -sadly- there are all sorts of rules in place to exactly to prevent sketchy, backroom places like this from cropping up.

The Bathroom
Normally, the bathroom itself would warrant a whole blog entry, but it got lost in the above-described experience. Here's a cursory overview: the bathroom is accessed via a sliding door consisting of the 2 old wooden planks, to the left of, and immediately adjacent to, the phone booth doors. You cannot really stand up inside the bathroom since it's wedged under a staircase. It is dark-ish and covered in graffiti. What else would you expect? PERFECT.

Pigeon Haterz, Part II

If I thought the last anti-pigeon poster I saw in NYC was bad, this one (in the East Village's homeless/activist-friendly and somewhat grungy Tompkins Square Park) takes the cake. Check out how sinister these rats look? Talk about a modern-day propaganda campaign! It's like they are waiting to snatch your children away, or at least nibble on them and infect them with horrible diseases. YUK. No crumbs for YOU!

Bowery Poetry Club: Essence of the East Village

When slumming in NYC yesterday, I stopped into a grubby-but-cool performance place on Bowery called, appropriately, the Bowery Poetry Club. After buying the obligatory tourist-tshirt (which I discovered, upon unfolding at home, smelled strongly (and not surprisingly) of cigarette smoke), I availed myself of the welcoming invitation on a hand-written sign: "Pee downstairs" (complete with wayfinding arrow).

Good thing the place was so small, and that I only had 2 doors to choose from, because the sign on the ladies room (if you can call it that) door just read "Emily." (don't ask- I have no clue)

I post these photos of the inside of the bathroom only because it strikes me that, when I was in there, I was actually really pleased to have found a bathroom with actual flushing toilet, no huge line (Starbucks SUX), that could actually fit me AND my purse (see Crif Dogs pottie). It didn't really strike me how gnarly the place looked until I got home and saw these photos. GROSS!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Snoop Dogg coming to Binghamton? FO' SHIZZLE!!!

Sometimes on a boring afternoon in my office, I go to the website for the local newspaper and check the "breaking news" section of the local newspaper, in the hopes that something interesting just might actually happen around here. Somebody "upstairs" must have known I was going nuts around here, when a couple days ago I hit upon what I truly thought must have been "reporting error" or something:

"Rapper Snoop Dogg to headline JC show

The rumor's fo' rizzle -- Snoop Dogg is coming to Magic City Music Hall for one night only, at 8 p.m. Feb. 24.

The rapper, producer, entrepreneur, actor, reality TV star and hip-hop personality was born Cordozar Calvin Broadus Jr., later became Snoop Doggy Dog and is now known as Snoop Dogg. He has been making a name for himself ever since he was discovered by Dr. Dre, leading to such releases as "What's My Name?" "Doggystyle" and "The Doggfather."

Snoop Dogg is known as one of the paragons of West Coast hip-hop and his most recent release is "The Blue Carpet Treatment," released November 2006 and featuring songs with titles that cannot be printed in a family newspaper. His latest effort, "Ego Trippin'," will be released in March.

Tickets go on sale at noon Saturday at Magic City, 365 Harry L Drive, Johnson City. Tickets are $30 in advance, $40 day of show.

Details: 729-2323 or"

WHAT? NOT POSSIBLE. Now, I'm not a huge rap fan. And I'm definitely not a fan of paying money to go see someone play music in some huge venue where I could have a better view by watching it on TV. But the venue- Magic City Music Hall- is local and tiny. And Snoop? He is HUGE and definitely transcends the rap audience. Plus, he's from the LBC, so we're, like, from the same 'hood and shizzle. As far as my security concerns, I'm still not totally sure about it, but I'm hoping that Snoop's love of The Herb is stronger than his love of the gin&juice and weapons, and that his fans will behave themselves.

I'll try not to make this blog too long, because there is a LOT to talk about already, but I must emphasize that it is sooooooo unusual that a performer as huge as Snoop Dogg would come to our area at all, much less to a little dumpy place that only holds max 1,300 people. And at $30 a pop? How is that possible?? So I honestly thought I must have read too quickly, that it was really a Snoop tribute band, or worse- a knock-off band like Snoopy's Dogg or some crap. Because THAT would have made sense. Despite our half-cocked attempt to use rap/urban music as an economic development tool, as I sit here with six tickets in my purse, I still cannot totally process the truth before me.


It was (barely, in a tiny blip in the local paper) announced on Thursday that tix would go on sale on Saturday at noon at the venue, or online. But I was convinced that the online sales site would crash under the weight of the thousands of people logging on for the chance to see such a huge act, locally, for only $30, no less! I was determined to see the show, so I decided to go to the venue. Let's be clear- I've NEVER been one to camp out, for ANYTHING- not the latest Wii, not concert tix, nuttin'. So I decided I would make an exception and show up 3 hours early, guaranteed to take my place at the back of a huge line of University students and other wannabe gangstas.

Here in B-town? Not so much. You can see that when I arrived at 9 am, there was a grand total of ONE LONELY CAR in the sad little parking lot. And the chick looked PISSED that she had gotten there so early. So I left and got some coffee and a New York Times, only to return and find . . . ONE CAR.


By around 10:30 am (only 1 1/2 hours to ticket sale time!), there were literally 5 people in line. I got out and chatted for a bit- they all seemed surprised that there was not a crowd, too. I asked "why are you not buying tickets online?" That question was greeted by the dull, drooling stare of those who have never ridden on the information superhighway. RIGHT. I forgot who I was talking to. Dumb question.


Although I mostly waited in the warm car, people started to show up in a trickle, so I got paranoid and got in line (yes, it WAS snowing, thanks for reminding me that I wasn't even wearing socks and people thought I was a freak and must be freezing. "I'm from Los Angeles" I said. Oh, that explained it, apparently. "Did you come here for the SHOW?" No, dumb ass, I did NOT come to Johnson City, New York to see Snoop, who is based in L.A.), I did have to park my ass on the cold ground (I sat on a book I'd brought, and read municipal planning documents, to the suspicious glares of my comrades-in-Snoop.)

But this one guy, he is a whole blog entry unto himself. I'll break here. Check the next entry, below, for my FAVORITE guy EVER. Fo' Rizzle.


Sometimes in life, you come across people who so perfectly fit every stereotype, that they are just a walking cliche. This morning, I came across one such character, who we'll just call The Guy.

The Guy was the third car to pull up outside the Snoop Dogg venue this morning. Well, HE didn't actually pull up, I'm thinking it was his mother, because she was about 70 years old and she dropped him off at the curb. The Guy was decked out in his Saturday best- a really garish Blue and Red Giants jacket (the colors do not translate in the photo) and matching Giants hat, apparently covering up a sweet mullet (as evidenced by the skinny ponytail announcing itself out the back).

The Guy was by himself (shocking) and could NOT stop talking. A stream of good shizzle, though, so I actually started taking notes (with my handy dandy and ever-present highlighter, of course).

The Guy was 36 years old (or so he announced several times) and went to the local Union-Endicott High School (also not a shocker). I'm guessing that this was the height of his personal trajectory, because he kept rattling off stories about all the par-TAY-ing he he used to do in high school. In the woods, behind the school, near the river, various unconfirmable locales that smacked of "I wasn't invited to real parties. You know- the kind held in cool people's houses." Of course, those HI-larious anecdotes were only preface to his 20+ year career of concert attendance.

The Guy busted out names of acts that I literally had not heard since junior high, but to him, they were still like living Gods. Come with me, will you, on a tour of horribly dated and questionably tolerable bands from the 70s, 80s and 90s (actually, scratch "90s"- that's too generous): Ronnie James Dio, Queensryche, Pantera, Vince Neil, Kiss. OK, so maybe some of these were great bands at some point, but The Guy was clearly STILL following them. Pan-freakin-TERA? My God.

The Guy was clearly excited to be around other people. He was very outgoing. And extraordinarily annoying. Not dumb, actually, just a big fat loudmouth living in 1988. Here are some of my fave personal revelations from The Guy. These are NOT edited- I was jotting them down verbatim:

"I done some nasty things up there at Hooters. We'll leave that up to the discretionary imagination." (he's too JV for a real tittie bar, so he goes to Hooters for the cheap wingz.)

"I'm thinkin' I'm gonna get a room at the Red Roof so I can stumble back after the [Snoop] show and play cards and tell everyone 'come back with ME!'" (clearly a plea for love)

"Yeah, I did that when Vince Neil played here. And I almost got him to come back with me, too." (clearly the Red Roof Inn has some cache with the faded hair-band crowd)

"I coulda went on my computer (to buy Snoop tix) but it crashed 2 weeks ago and my neighbor's a jerk and I don't know if (how?) a credit card works."

"Do you think it's just 30 bucks for a ticket, or is there some extra charge? Cuz I only got 30 bucks." (You care so much about this show that you are the third person in line, but you didn't make sure you had enough money? Or did Mom only give you $30? This would at least explain the failure to purchase online- no credit card.)

(at the box office window) "One ticket."

As much as I sound like I think I'm sooooooo much cooler than The Guy, there is one prized possession that The Guy and I share at this moment:

Sunday, February 03, 2008

You really can find ANYTHING for sale in NYC

This tie shop was so bad, it really deserves more coverage than just the prior blog. The store was on Sixth Avenue near 31st Street, in NYC, amidst lots of wholesale stores selling cheap costume jewelry. I guess you could call it "the Chinese imports district." It is called "Newtop Import & Wholesale." The business card informs me that it is managed by someone named "Mr. G" and that "Jackson" is in charge of "Store Sales." Thanks a bunch, now I'm perfectly clear.

You can see from this photo that are a BOATLOAD of ties in this place. How can they have SO MANY STYLES, you ask? Here's how: by digging DEEP and stretching FAR. Some examples:

I think this one won my vote for Most Bizarre. And that is really saying something, given the competition. It appears to depict an alien Santa Claus, handing out gifts to all the little boys and girls. That is, if they don't flee in fear. That is one DAMN DISTURBING looking alien. Not a tie you want to wear to the office Christmas party.

This one, however, is a strong runner-up. It depicts a muffin (looks dry and tasteless, no less!), a hamburger, and a piece of pizza. The one next to it is a bunch of hot dogs with mustard. That one, I get. I can see some schmoe wearing it to a tailgate party or meat industry convention. But the muffin/burger/pizza combo defies comprehension. John asked, "What is the theme of that one- "Stuff I'm not supposed to eat?" Not a top-seller, to be sure.

What tie would Jesus wear?

When we were in NYC yesterday, we noticed a shop with some fabulous(ly awful) ties in the window. Sold in bulk, no less. Who doesn't need a dozen Jesus ties for $30? Intrigued, we went in for a closer look.

I wanted to buy a few (3 for $10!) for Christmas- you know, that time of year when we buy lots of crap that no one really wants?- but failed in that effort, due to my inability to determine which ones were truly the most awful. Instead, I thought I'd memorialize them in photos and thus be able to share with all the world. Here you go!

There were lots more, these are just the few that proved most (or is it "least"?) photogenic. Hmmmmm, which is the worst?

The first photo shows our Virgin Mother Mary, but with a typo- it appears to say "Immaculee Conception"- maybe this is French, but I'm thinking it's actually Chinese for "it's a really bad idea to mass produce cheap, religious-themed ties in China because you are guaranteed to screw it up." Next to that is one of Jesus on the mount, preaching to his followers. Since that one shows Jesus in action, leading his flock, that seems to be the Christian equivalent of a "power tie." If Jesus were a really bad motivational speaker, he might aspire to this tie.

Our next photo shows the two extremes: one lacks creativity with its blatant "I love Jesus" repeating pattern (in Guido black/shiny gold, of course). If Jesus were from New Jersey, he might wear this tie. The other one is much more subtle, with its cross and open bible. That one gets points for taste (it's all relative, right?) If Jesus were a school teacher, he might wear this one.

The one of Jesus praying skyward is a particularly strong contender in the "cheeze" category. (I included in the photo the tie with the "ha ha, funny" cartoon characters of the dradle and the Star of David- just for balance, and to let you know that Christians do not have a monopoly on God-awful (pun intended) religious themed ties). I'm not sure what this one conveys. Please post a comment (below) if you have a suggestion.

For some reason, I almost like this tie. I think it would be a good conversation starter. Would WOULD Jesus do?? I'm guessing he'd start by NOT wearing $3 cheap-ass ties from China. But if Jesus were a cop or a Union guy (hey, he was a carpenter, right?) he'd probably wear this conservative tie.

The joke is now on me, however, because, while preparing this blog, I found the mother of all religious tie websites, and the ones I've included here do not even begin to cover the full array of truly heinous religious ties. Enjoy!!

"Don't hate me because I spread disease and leave leftovers for rats"

We went to NYC yesterday and I noticed this sign at Greeley Square (Broadway and 33rd Street). What struck me was the old-school discriminatory tone. Pigeons, it seems, are one of the last groups on earth that it is acceptable to publicly deride, as a class. Pigeons are, the reader learns, disease-spreading vectors that while away their days digging up lovely flower beds, while leaving behind snacks for their un-winged (and therefore less fortunate) doppelgangers- RATS.

I suppose, in a world where we can no longer publicly discriminate against hobos, fat people, or a laundry list of formerly-acceptable targets of public derision, this sign just struck me as a bit mean-spirited. And I don't know what to make of the fact that the tiny Square was populated, it seemed, exclusively by homeless people on the day we walked past. Is the sign, which we haven't noticed at any of the many other public spaces around Manhattan, intended to protect the acknowledged homeless population that uses the Square? Or is it hoped that there will be some ripple effect in people's minds, so that the reader subconsciously inserts "homeless" for "pigeon."

Public feeding ordinances have been a very controversial issue in Los Angeles (where in 2002 a city council woman proposed a law against offering food to the public on a large scale) and NYC (where in 2007, the City proposed a ban on feeding pigeons)

Turns out, OF COURSE there is a pigeon rights group in NYC- PHEW!!- it's called Pigeon People, and it was formed to "offer people understanding so they will appreciate & respect instead of fear or hate" pigeons. In short: All you pigeon-haterz, listen up! Your days of ignorance-fueled discrimination against our ubiquitous flying friends are numbered.