March in NYC

As both the great outdoors and the good people of Facebook have continued to remind us, it’s effing cold and windy outside and this winter feels like it is NEVER going to end.  But it will, and it all starts with March. Or, so we hope, anyway. While you can drink yourself stupid any day of the year, March provides a plethora of opportunities to do so - what with Americans’ deconstructed understanding of St. Patty’s Day and all. Nevertheless, drinking opportunities are aplenty, so I won’t even get into them here. Below are this month’s “Top” events, designed to expand your mind (or your taste buds) rather than kill your brain cells. Enjoy!

1.       BJORK

Call me biased, but this woman is a genius in every sense of the word. Prolific as ever, Bjork is touring New York this spring with a series of intimate shows at City Center and Carnegie Hall. I scooped up tickets early at $50 but, unfortunately for many, they’ve now skyrocketed on Stub Hub. If you can’t afford to catch a show, grab a ticket to NYC’s Governor’s Ball (which you should be doing anyway - $135). She performs on day 2, Saturday. Oh, AND she has her own retrospective on exhibit at MOMA, featuring much of her life’s work thus far, beginning March 8th ($25 to enter MoMA – or free if you’ve got a corporate relationship!)

2.       The Amory Show

Continuing the theme, March is a truly phenomenal month for art in NYC. Sprawled out over two piers (92 & 94), The Armory Show is a breathtaking, immersive display of over 2,000 pieces of art. The breadth and depth of exhibitors is absolutely unparalleled anywhere else in New York. With how large the showcases are, it’s an easy way to spend an evening out.    

3.  Entrepreneurs Festival

Check out a showcase of 80+ startups, plus speakers, panels, parties and roundtables, all taking place at NYU’s Tisch Hall.  

4.      Brisket King

Head over to the Irondale Center in BK to taste endless brisket by competing chefs, along with spirits and craft beer, of course.

5.      New Directors Film Festival

If New York is known for anything, it’s known as the hotspot for up-and-coming talent, regardless the industry. Check out this 10-day event at Lincoln Center and MOMA to see the work of emerging, international filmmakers. +5 for bragging rights and fodder for dinner table discussion.

6.       Flower Festival

Lord knows, we need some color in lives with all this cold. Get out and shoo the winter away at this year’s annual Macy’s Flower Show (who knew this even existed?)

7.      Restaurant Tasting

Head over to the Metropolitan Pavilion and indulge yourself in food samples from 50 restraurants and 35 nations – all chosen by the ever-trusty Village Voice food critics. With your ticket comes complimentary, paired drinks. Naturally.

Top NYC Speakeasies

Last week, I brought you to PDT down in the East Village, aka my favorite speakeasy to date. While it is easily the most well-hidden speakeasy with the best drinks, it's also the most well-known and so, not surprisingly, the toughest to get into. So, that being said, there are a few other hot contenders I'd like to share.

Back Room: Back Room is an actual operating speakeasy from the 1920s where the likes of Lucky Luciano hung out for "business meetings." I've never experienced a wait here and it's great for groups. The velvety-fireplace-gentleman's-living-room vibe has a low-key allure to it. And the novelty of having your drink served in a tea cup/paper bag doesn't wear off. Located somewhere on Norfolk St., this is one place that I've been to three times and each time I have trouble finding it. Look for the guy in a long black jacket posted up by an alleyway down a set of stairs. Oh, and keep an eye out for celebs, they love it here.

Blind Barber: Located on East 11th, the Blind Barber is a little easier to find than most speakeasies since there's always a line outside of it. Blind Barber actually operates as a barber shop during the day. Guests walk through a barely-lit barbershop and a secret door opens to boisterous party area. You'll get in eventually - you just have to wait (or throw the bouncer a $20). Once inside, the DJ plays awesome throwback hip-hop and there's a small room in the very back that's been converted to a library for those of a more quaint persuasion. 

Employees Only: Tucked behind a Psychic's curtain, Employees Only lies in my beloved West Village on Hudson Street. Matt took me here three long years ago and I was totally smitten - you know, with the bar ;). This place is best for dates - it's small with lots of sit-down tables and the food is just as delicious as the very well-touted cocktails. However, the bar area definitely gets brimming, too, so I wouldn't rule that out. Plus, it's in the West Village, so #win.

Know any speakeasies we missed!? Comment below!

Shh... Please Don't Tell (my favorite nyc speakeasy)

Two things New Yorkers love: a good cocktail and a great secret.

These days, the former can absolutely still be promised - and the latter can be, too, albeit a little less seriously. While modern-day speakeasies don't boast the secretive nature they once lived and died by (what with the internet and no more prohibition), reservations and even the actual location of some of these places can still elude even the most savviest of New Yorkers. Luckily, I've made my way around a drink or two these past three years, so I have some first-hand experiences to share. I'll start with my favorite (and most recent) one:

My birthday was this past Sunday and, for it, my boyfriend told me he had a little surprise planned out. The one catch? He'd have to make a call at 3PM and wasn't positive it would all work out. Lo and behold, 3PM came and 'a' call turned into about 40 straight calls. My second-hand anxiety kicked into gear. I didn't want him worrying about a reservation - there were a million places we could go.

So, he finally opened up: he wanted to take me to the famed speakeasy "Please Don't Tell" down in the East Village. Once he finally got through to the other end of the line, though, the reservations were all booked and our only chance was to go early and get in line (PDT opens daily at 6PM). We thought about it over a couple glasses of wine and decided to go for it. 

We arrived at 5PM at Crif Dogs on St. Marks and 1st Ave. The small hot dog joint only had a few customers, 4 of who were already posted up near at the telephone booth (i.e. the secret passageway entrance to PDT!). Luckily, they bailed after a few minutes, which made us first in line.

We took up two stools, ordered some cheese fries, and made ourselves right at home. As we waited, we watched Bruce Lee's "Enter The Dragon" on one of Crif Dog's super-old mini TVs while DMX's "Slippin" played in the background. I swear, the music went perfectly with the "boards, don't hit back" scene. Easily one of the highlights of the evening.

nyway, by the time 6PM neared, a line of 15 or so people had formed behind us. The light blinked on in the phone booth and I stepped inside to dial 1. 

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We made it! We were the first two people in and were placed in the best seats in the house, right at the bar. Sitting at the bar at a mixology lounge like PDT is like sitting at the Sushi bar of a great chef - it's a real treat! We skimmed through the menu and decided that the more ingredients we had never heard of, the better. Then, we watched our bartender "Long" work his magic crafting up the two most delicious cocktails either of us had ever tasted, period.

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A fun part about PDT is that you get to sip on the most perfectly crafted cocktail you've ever had and then order cheese fries and a hot dog! And even the food comes through a secret trap door from the kitchen. Even though we had ordered cheese fries already, we obviously went ahead and got another round + 2 dogs. 

After two fantastic hours, we decided to head home to catch SNL 40 (how good!?). But before that, I had a birthday beer back out in Crif Dogs, Matt tried on a new friend's hat and we ordered 1 last round of cheese fries. Naturally.

While PDT has been my favorite speakeasy to date, there are a few other standbys that I've come to love (and aren't quite as much of a hassle to get into!) Tune in next week to find out more of my favorite NYC secrets :

NYC Restaurant Week Picks 2015

Ah, yes, RESTAURANT WEEK. But before you throw down $38 + tax/tip too quickly, ask yourself this: are you sure it’s worth it? $38 for a three course meal sure sounds like a deal, but for those of us on a budget, it’d be wise to remind ourselves to still choose our restaurants carefully. But alas, have no fear, for I have done all the leg work for you, yet again. Criteria is listed below, based off a similar list I crafted this past summer:

1)     The Restaurant Must Serve Dinner (3 courses - $38)

$25 for lunch is great and all, but I’m not 75 years old so I really don’t have any interest in going out to eat at 1PM. Honestly, when was the last time you went out to lunch, let alone spent $25 on it?

2)     The Cuisine Must Be “Worth it”*

 French, Steak/Seafood, Upscale American New/Classic, Japanese

*If you’re spending $38 per person on Chinese or Mexican, you’re doing it wrong.

3)     The Ratings & Atmosphere Must Be Just Right

All 5 restaurants on the list are well rated, have something unique about them and are curated to keep you warm during this Polar Vortex we’re experiencing.  

 Top 5 Restaurant Week Recommendations

21 Club – Classic American – 23 Zagat – Midtown – Historic Speakeasy

*Manhattan’s Most Prestigious Landmark 2006 Wine & Dine

ACME – American New - 21 Zagat – Noho -  Sexy

*America’s 10 Sexiest Restaurants 2012 Details

Tavern On The Green – American – N/Y Rated – Central Park West – Classic

*Headed by noted chef Jeremiah Tower, recently renovated, in Central Park

Charlie Palmer Steak – Steakhouse – N/Y Rated – Midtown East – Fine Dining

*Surf n’ turf, locavore focus and 400+ wine list

Sarabeth’s CPW – American Comfort – 20 Zagat – Central Park South – Sophisticated Casual

*Traditional stand-by, located on CPS and has oysters on the RW app menu

5 Healthy, Affordable & Easy-to-Make Breakfasts for Work

I’m an all-out breakfast person. I have no lunch routine and can honestly do without it some days. As for dinner, it comes in a close second to breakfast, but oftentimes some wine and a little fruit & cheese platter will do the trick. Breakfast, on the other hand, I have no exceptions for. If I don’t eat a filling breakfast, I turn into a monster and I am not to be f-cked with under any circumstances.

In a perfect world where time and money flow freely, I would wake up every day the way I do when I’m on vacation - over the course of a drawn out, 2-3 hour breakfast. I’d kick things off with tall, cold glass of water with lemon, followed by a freshly-brewed cup of Rook coffee with a little heavy cream (swoon) all while enjoying some form of impressive literature, a.k.a the Saturday Comics. Then, about an hour later, I’d break out some fresh berries to nom on while my poached eggs with bacon-avocado toast was being magically made over a bed of fingerling potato-kale hash. Naturally, I’d be soaking all of this up on a porch somewhere overlooking the ocean with the sun rising and happy birds softly chirping along the horizon.

Unfortunately, the normal Monday-Friday does not allow for such a magnificent breakfast routine. And as someone who clearly has a strong affection for eating during A.M. hours, I’ve had a difficult time adjusting. To compensate, I used to order my breakfast daily from a midtown bodega near my office. Regularly, I would have two eggs over easy, a side of bacon, hash browns with cheese, onions and peppers, rye toast lightly buttered and some fruit. After a while, though, I knew I had to change things up. For one, I was in need of a nap or a long walk after eating every morning - neither of which is plausible at my place of work. More importantly though, I was spending close to $50 a week on breakfast (thank you, New York prices). That’s $200 a month on breakfast. Not necessary. So, I changed things up and crafted a new morning menu.

The criteria? Each breakfast has to be satisfying, healthy, and CHEAP. Of course, it was also important that each meal be easy to make and heat up, whether at home or at work. (NOTE: I’m all for the whole “don’t eat at your desk” thing, but when you don’t have a cafeteria, you don’t have a choice.)

1.     ‘Topped off’ rice & beans + an apple

Do you know how little it costs to cook a plate of rice & beans? And furthermore how delicious and nutritious it is? Brown rice costs pennies (even if you get the microwaveable kind) and it holds very well over time. Same goes for beans. Make a batch of each on Sunday and bring them to work in separate containers. For added deliciousness, slice up an avocado, pack a baggie of diced scallions & shredded cheese, and stash hot sauce at your desk. Hello, Latin-American vacation.

2.     Frittata & berries

A frittata is basically a quiche without the crust. It’s surprisingly easy to make as well. All you need is leftovers and eggs, really. I always have spinach and mushrooms in my fridge, in addition to some kind of cheese and I’m never short of potatoes. Here’s how to make it: sautee some potatoes with onions, adding in whatever veggies you have left over. In a separate bowl, scramble eggs with cheese (I recommend pepper jack for a kick and a good melt) and pour over top evenly. Do not stir. After a minute or two on the stove, pop the pan in a 375-degree oven for about 10 minutes. Now, just slice it equally into 4-6 large slices and you have a satisfying, hot breakfast for an entire week! Note: A mix of mozzarella and prosciutto is also delicious for this.

3.     Cereal + hardboiled egg + clementine

This is perfect if you, like I, have a work refrigerator with endless cartons of milk in it. Milk that’s always fresh + always free = deal. Trader Joe’s has healthy cereals for as low as $2.69, clementines come in packs of 16 or so for $4 and organic eggs cost $4-5 a carton. Basically, you’re getting 12 days of breakfast for less than $1 a day. Boom.

4.     Fresh Banana-nut / Apple-Pie Oatmeal

Sure, you can buy the steel-cut oats that will pretty much feed you for a year, but you can also “splurge” on the $3 boxes of 8 packets in the fun flavors of apple cinnamon, maple syrup, etc.. It’s still healthy, okay? Seriously. It is. To freshen it up, chop up apples (for the apple cinnamon pack) or slice a fresh banana (for the maple-syrup pack). Top it off with some crushed walnuts & a drizzle of honey (also stashed at your desk). For some protein, make the oatmeal with that free office-milk. Or, just boil an egg!

5.     Avocado-Bacon Toast

Okay, so you may or may not have a toaster at your office, but regardless, this toast is doable. Cook the bacon ahead of time and store it in the fridge. Mash up 1-2 ripe avocados and add a little lemon and sea salt. Toast up some version of a nutty, whole-grain bread, smear the goodness and top it off with a slice or two of bacon. It’s honestly as easy as that and should last you 2-3 days (a squeeze of fresh lemon does wonders). If you don’t have a toaster in your office, you can always swap the bread for a bodega-bagel OR, better yet, eat this breakfast at home

 Do you have a favorite breakfast that you audible to in the morning? Share below!

10 Ways to Spend Valentine's Day (that DON'T involve a fancy dinner out)

Valentine’s day is an extra ridiculous holiday and it’s silly to give it more credit than it deserves. (That being said, if my boyfriend is reading this: I will take flowers. But also, feel free to get the $5 bouquets. I can’t tell the difference anyway.) While the holiday shouldn’t hold an ounce of the emotional weight that Hollywood and Hallmark would credit it with, it does happen to fall on a Saturday this year. This means it will be even more in-your-face than usual. So, what can you do (besides going out to a fancy restaurant for dinner) to enjoy the day? Whether you're single OR coupled up, here are my top 10 suggestions

1.       Indulge yourself at the spa – get a massage, some reflexology or maybe a facial. While you're in the sauna, practice that whole gratitude thing we talked about. You'll leave feeling spectacular.

2.       Organize a boozy brunch – since most V-day activities take place in the evening, grab all your friends (single or not), and make a boozy brunch of it. Then, you’ll be home in time to…

3.       Cue the Netflix! Get nestled under the covers and put in an order for your ultimate seamless trifecta. Like maybe soup dumplings from one place, and then a ginormous order of assorted sushi and spicy salmon rolls with extra spicy mayo from another.  And then, like, a cheese calzone if you happen to get high at some point during the evening and need more food. Just a suggestion.

4.       Make a homemade dinner for once. Filet mignon, creamed spinach, and a fine red wine will cost you a fraction of the price that you’d be paying if you went out to a restaurant.

5.       Watch The Vagina Monologues – and learn what V-Day is really all about.

6.       Have a tequila party and play Cards Against Humanity. See how inappropriate things can get.

7.       Call your parents! Better yet, visit them. You know, because really “they’re your first valentines” and also because free food.

8.       Go to the restaurants no one is going to on Valentine’s day (but are always packed otherwise) like, I don’t know, SHAKE SHACK anyone!? After all, it can be argued that there are few things more romantic than a double cheeseburger.

9.        Have a potluck with friends (couples and singles alike!). Everyone brings a shareable food item and a bottle of wine and the whole team goes HAM together. 

and finally...

10. Go to a comedy club! Again, whether single or coupled up, you'll find plenty of reasons to laugh and loosen up a bit. What more could you ask for?

The Single Best Way to Start Your Day

Some people prefer a nice, long stretch while others swear by things like cuddling with a loved one, taking a shot of apple cider vinegar, or even using the circadian rhythm alarm clock. Regardless of preference, though, one thing is for certain: people’s morning routines have long been a point of discussion. And it makes sense that we would care. After all, how we wake up is usually pretty indicative of how the rest of our day unfolds. If you’ve ever woken up late, spilled something on yourself first thing, or had a really bad dream the night before, you know that an interrupted morning routine can really throw you off.

But what if I told you that adding one thing to your morning routine could have a genuine, positive impact on the rest of your day every single time? Furthermore, what if I told you that it took 2-3 minutes tops, you could do it ANYWHERE, and it cost virtually nothing? Would you believe me? Probably not, but it's true.

Enter: the art of practicing gratitude. 

Think about the very first thing you do when you wake up. It involves your phone, doesn't it? Checking our phones first thing is a tough habit to break - after all, what else wakes us up easier than the dopamine-fueled activity of scrolling through a social media feed? Unfortunately, this means that we are already outside of our own heads within our first waking moment - it means we have immediately relinquished any sense of control over our environment and have handed the wheel over to whatever external factors jump in our path. That's kind of terrifying isn't it? Next time, try turning off your alarm and putting the phone back onto your nightstand. Sit up straight. Take a few deep breaths. And, well, count your blessings.

This doesn't have to be a religious thing  (though, it's alright if it is). It's really much more of a spiritual practice; a way of stepping back and taking stock; a method for starting your day off with a clean slate. Sure, the first few times you are groggy-eyed and foggy-brained it may be difficult to think of 3 things. But the more you practice it, the easier it will come.

A tip: if you really have trouble "thinking" first thing in the morning, count your 3 things before you go to bed the night prior. Write them down. Then, when you wake up, read them back to yourself. 

I've been practicing this for about 7 months now and I can genuinely say it has changed my life for the better. By practicing gratitude, I am forced to wake up and immediately acknowledge the positive circumstances of my life. Here's what this morning's list looked like:

I am grateful for...

1) cozy Friday evenings cooking dinner and drinking wine in a warm apartment

2) the freedom of being young

3) the power of natural sunlight

By taking pulse of my physical environment, current events happening in the world and my own internal feelings, I'm able to kick my day off to a much more positive start. I tend to come back to the things I counted in the morning later in the day when walking to get lunch or spacing out for a moment at my desk. If you keep at it, this practice really weaves a wavelength of good vibes through your day. Lately, I've been writing it down as often as possible which I also find helps. 

In our western society, we often forget how much power we truly have internally. For the slightest of health concerns, we quickly turn to pills, procedures and the like. For relationship issues, we vent outwardly to others. For happiness, we aim to acquire material possessions. But, at the end of the day, we still go to sleep with only our own peace of mind (or lack thereof) and wake up just the same. Perhaps, it is time to focus within, even if it is only for a few brief moments...

 

February's Top 5 Things to do in NYC

February is cold, bleak and boring, right? WRONG. February is, first and foremost, my birthday month. So, ipso facto, it’s fabulous. Between Black History month and Chinese New Year, it’s also a month full of vibrant culture and myriad chances to learn. Not as if there is ever a shortage of things to do and places to go in NYC, but in February, there most certainly isn’t. Plus, in the heart of the local’s winter, February represents a time when most New Yorkers are feeling rested, having finally recovered from the insanity of the holidays, and are ready to get up, get out, and enjoy this frost-bitten city we love to call home.

So kick back and check out this month’s Top 5 in NYC!

See a Broadway Show… for way less!

We’re coming up on the tail-end of 2-for-1 week on Broadway, but there are actually plenty of other ways to score cheap tickets. If you’re not into standing in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square for ½ price tickets day-of (and if you are, kudos, because there are always great deals), then how about becoming a member of New York Show Tix? NYTix lines up all the currently running shows and lists out each one’s various discounts. It’s only $4 a month and they don’t automatically recharge you. It’s definitely the way to go in order to have access to all the information you need without all the footwork and time spent browsing 10 different sites. Oh and P.S. did you know you can usually score standing room only tickets for $27 a pop at the box office the night of a performance?  And did you further know that there’s something called a “lottery” for nearly every show, every night? And that this lottery can score you front-row seats to Book of Mormon for $25? Yeah, you’re welcome.

Make the Most of Restaurant Week

Restaurant week is an interesting thing – it can be an opportunity to take advantage of some great deals, but you have to be careful. Don’t worry, though, that’s why you have me here to guide you in the right direction J.  During the summer, we took advantage of L’Ecole and I would go back in a heartbeat. This winter, I’ve got my eyes on 21 Club. Stay up-to-date with Tangent Pursuit and I’ll be sure to let you in on all the secrets!

Indulge Yourself on Valentine’s Day

Okay, calm down everyone. Valentine’s Day is, indeed, perhaps the cheesiest of hallmark holidays. But, why don’t we take the 3-day weekend and make it mean something more? If you’re coupled up, how about ditching all of the hoopla of dining out and, instead, grabbing a bottle of good champagne and a solid charcuterie platter and hanging in for once? If you’re single, there are plenty of those “stop light” themed dating parties, but my guess is most people despise them. So maybe try reveling in the fact that the only person you have to worry about pampering is yourself? Set up a spa day alone or with friends and relish the care-free day.

Get a Little Cultured

Not only is this Black History Month, but February 19th  also marks the Chinese New Year. Celebrations for Chinese New Year start early and go on for a while, kind of like Mardi Gras, but the main chunk of the celebrations occur from February 18th to February 24th this year. Head over to Flushing Queens or to downtown Manhattan for fireworks and some authentic Chinese New Year celebrating. To gain some insight into Black History, get involved in an NYPL conversation or check out local culture hubs like Symphony Space for their calendar of events. Symphony space has Keep on Keepin’ on, a documentary about the life and times of famed Jazz star Clark Terry Jr. running on Sundays all month. I caught it last year at Tribeca Film Festival and it was well worth it! If you’d like something a little more light-hearted but just as engaging, how about Black Women in Comedy?

See Something Wild

Check out Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs at MOMA, enjoy the Kinky Film Festival and its opening night Gala, run around in your Undies for a cause (or watch others do so), or head over to Monster Jam for their annual monster truck show. There really is something for everyone, here.