new york

An Evening in Queens

I went to NYC over the summer, and one afternoon a Californian friend dragged me all the way to Rockaway Beach to hang out with some sk8er bois. 


F1010032On a balmy Tuesday afternoon we embarked upon an epic journey to Rockaway, Queens, to see a pair of Lexi’s skater friends from her hometown in California. Spencer and Joey had been spending their holiday working at a smoothie bar on Rockaway beach, being drooled over by teenage girls on cruiser bikes and hanging out with the myriad other beautiful young people that had chosen a sunny summer in Queens over wherever they’re from, be it Hunt’s Point or Honduras. The boys were sharing a bedroom in a terraced house also occupied by a Californian skater with the most amazing shark tattoo, a deaf Brazilian masseuse, and a pair of beautiful South American best friends. They were living the dream. It may have taken us a marathon two and a half hours to get into Queens from Manhattan, but we were met with beers and buddies on a gloriously sunny beach so we didn’t mind too much.

Rockaway has gone through many incarnations. Spencer’s aunt, visiting for the day, told us that when she was younger the place was hip and cool and full of beautiful youth at the weekend – just as it is is now. In the thirty years in between a surge in immigration and poverty hit the neighbourhood hard, and we were told that streets we now casually strolled down in the dark would have been absolute no-gos a decade before; now the houses are full of a mix of young hipsters and foreigners alike here for the summer, and well-established families living alongside each other in harmony. Hipsters head in from Brooklyn and Broad Channel to spend their afternoons on the beach. Spencer and Joey’s house shared a backyard with a young Puerto Rican family and their ecstatic pitbull puppy, and across the street crowds of kids on razor scooters and skateboards were playing tag outside the social housing. It’s not all good news – most of the buildings along the waterfront are glitteringly new after the devastation of last winter’s storms, and graffiti tags over the sidewalk sported slogans like “We will rebuild. We will not give in.” The shadow of Hurricane Sandy still hangs heavy over Rockaway.

F1010034Their plasterboard house was full of surfboards and skateboards, paintings by its residents and vinyl on the walls. We piled into the tiny hallway only to be angrily shushed by Berenice storming out of her room covered in massage oil, and abashedly retreated behind a flimsy curtain entrance to the boys’ room to munch on vacuum-packed cinnamon cookies that Joey’s mum had shipped over from California. Spencer’s cousin owns a tiny organic cafe right next door, but we opted instead for Rockaway Taco, a surfer stall on the corner famed across the city for its excellent fare. I had a chorizo one. It was great. As we set off to walk their boss’s dogs, strays rescued from the garbage dumps of Puerto Rico, Spencer greeted almost everyone we passed on the few blocks towards the house. They are all invariably in their 20s, many foreign, and every single one incredibly attractive; Rockaway Beach seems to be the place to come to enjoy a summer of eternal fun, youth and beauty. And dogs. Everyone has one. The front yards of these rows of houses are invariably filled with Virgin Mary shrines and American flags, plastic pink flamingos and the occasional vegetable patch. We passed two community farms that host hog dinners and a rundown piano with flowers spilling out of the lid, all soundtracked by the omnipresent planes roaring overhead towards JFK. Two black cats picked their way across a vegetable patch and begrudgingly allowed themselves to be petted, descending into deafening hissing and a retreat behind a surfboard as our charges lolloped down the porch steps to nearly bowl us over. We walked them a few blocks and then ram them around a skate park by the water, before returning them to cat glares so we could head on to an evening’s cannnine-free entertainment.

More eating and more drinking at a Thai place on the waterfront, lit by twinkling fairy lights that swayed in a bracing wind from which we hid under Peruvian blankets. It was a lovely spot, flanked by houseboats that gently knock against the dock, and we were joined by all the housemates; Columbians and Puerto Ricans and Californians discussing university plans and leaving parties, and the unspoken undercurrent of how to continue a relationship with each party on a separate continent. We moved on with much laughter and skateboarding and screams of uncoming traffic to a house party for Peruvian New Year, in a garden rigged up with suspended table lamps and disco lights, another piano filled with flowers and a film projected onto a neighbouring wall. A cat sprawled at the entrance basking in the attention of countless party-goers, and a familiar smell filled the air (and our lungs). Everyone has to leave far too soon, and all we have time for before rattling back to Manhattan on  the A train is perhaps the most delicious beverage ever invented: a frozen Pina Colada from an Irish bar full of drunks.

Spencer has a true cliche tattooed on his forearm that we all laugh at, but it also seems bizarrely fitting for this summer town of carefree party people: Live Life. No Regrets.

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A Night In Brooklyn

F1030003Some thoughts from an evening in New York over the summer.

I went out with some Californian friends of friends to the depths of Williamsburg. This was unchartered territory for me, as I’d only whizzed in and out of Brooklyn on my last visit to NYC for a comedy night and a visit to a friend’s terrifying hostel and my impressions of the area otherwise were derived entirely from Girls, Broad City, and Brooklyn 99. All things can be learnt from American comedy TV.

Williamsburg itself reminded me a lot of the edgier neighbourhoods in Berlin. Every other building promised an atmospherically-lit bar full of people with moustaches and turn-ups. Brightly coloured bikes clustered around lamposts or cast silhouettes through floor to ceiling windows, and both Vice and Brooklyn Lager have giant warehouse bases in the area. Our first stop was a painfully trendy hotel that I have been meaning to visit ever since one of my favourite photographers managed its refurbishment publicity; The Wythe is all about brunch and exposed brick walls, but better than that has a rooftop bar that overlooks the entire Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn Bridge. We had draught beers and complained loudly about men – which seems to be the prime topic of female conversation in this city – before interrupting a romantic moment to Instagram the twinkling metropolis over the water.

F1030006What followed was a whirlwind of bar-hopping and money haemorrhaging on shots and Mexican beer, which is predictably the cheapest thing to drink – and in this city of IPAs and excessive hoppiness by far my beverage of choice. Identical twins served us at a bizarre bar with a floor three inches deep in sand and a ceiling of surfboards. A rack of martini glasses teetered precariously above our table and leis of dollar bills strung up like garlic wreaths were distributed amongst scraps of beach polaroids and bumper stickers. A group at the table next to us complained loudly about men, and Lexie informed me that in America “If you don’t make a scene it’s not dinner.” We moved through a couple of different options including a kitsch ice-cream parlour and an empty dancefloor with a silhouette of a stuffed fox in its window and a party of Orthodox Jewish men out the back, before we settled on a dog-friendly drinkery near Metropolitan Avenue. Because dogs are MY FAVOURITE. In brief pauses between petting pugs and vainly trying to attract the interest of a French bulldog, we picked up four Englishmen following Ryan Adams on a tour around America and a hairdresser from New Zealand. Those of us who didn’t have work in the morning ended up in a bar appropriately named “Honky Tonk”, dominating the jukebox and loudly complaining about men.

I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t gush about NYC. Even those hipper natives who have learnt to contain their enthusiasm under the guise of “I don’t really care about anything” hipsterness (something that Williamsburg seems to personify), even they cannot manage to hide their awe. And though I hear it’s hard to live here and many prospective residents fall by the way-side within a few months of braving the city that never sleeps, I can absolutely see just why people stick out the fight for space and the inordinately high rent and the hellish subway system and hang around. We were kicked out of the bar at 4am and wandered through the first of the morning light to an all-night diner, where I discussed the Santiago di Compostello route with a passionate Portuguese guy over a burger. And as dawn broke above Manhattan’s jagged skyline a Pakistani cabby drove me back over the Williamsburg Bridge and told me that though he lived in London for eighteen months, nothing compares to New York. Amen.

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Restaurant Review: Mighty Quinn’s

F1030011Mighty Quinn’s boasts some of the best BBQ in town, as evidenced by a fifteen minute queue to get to the counter. Its Lower East Side facade was almost obscured by a fire-engine belonging to four burly customers chowing down on ribs, and a rowdy group of creatives took up half the interior making the most of the lunchtime beer pitchers. The place is light and airy, like so many New York eateries, with a minimalist and industrial vibe, a giant counter of meats and barrels and a diverse customer body; policewomen and suited business sorts joined the fire brigade and the motley crew of assorted student hipsters that made up the queue snaking down the side of the building.

I will not lie. I was indeed tempted by the brontosaurus rib – a pound of beef served on the bone and slow-smoked in their famous BBQ sauce. Everything is hacked up on the hot plate before your eyes by a competent and helpful staff of beautiful young men who are no doubt all struggling actors and models – who in this town isn’t? We begrudgingly settled for the pulled pork sandwich with sides of buttermilk and bacon broccoli and the sweetcorn and edamame salad, and it was all bloody delicious. Even my lunch companion lasting out a meat-free diet couldn’t resist multiple bites of my pulled pork delight, and we washed it all down with McKenzie’s “hard cider”, the only cider worth drinking in this country of luke-warm apple juices. A mighty find indeed, and barbecue that Texas might be proud of.

Restaurant Review: J. G. Melon

I spent much of my summer eating at restaurants in the states through a fabulous internship with southern food critic Morgan Murphy. I can’t share any reviews from our time on the road with him before his book comes out, so in the meantime I will be posting a few of my favourite reviews from my trip to New York afterwards.

F1010031JG Melon’s is a revelation. Recommended as an essential NYC spot by friends of friends when drinking and food-discussing, I’m so glad that I stuck out the obstacle course of dog walkers through the Upper East Side to land at its polished wooden bar next to its quietly munching regulars. Based in a building dating from the 1920s (PRE-WAR!), it was founded by a Jack and a George that lent it their initials and promptly began to distribute alcohol, and was also host to a scene from Kramer vs. Kramer! So NYC.

I was early for my lunch date so ordered a beer and fell into conversation with a bespectacled old guy at the counter, busy drinking iced tea and attacking a plate of JG’s trademark cottage-fried potatoes. He turned out to be an ex-soap actor who had a few tales of the biz, but it didn’t take too much small talk for him to go on to reveal he was in fact the husband of the president of Fox Searchlight Pictures, in town for a premiere; the next 40 minutes were naturally filled with anecdotes about embarrassing himself in front of Amy Adams, making his wife jealous chatting to Angelina Jolie, and descriptions of just how nice Forrest Whittaker is. I get the feeling JG’s tables are packed with such interesting characters native and otherwise, who, like Raymond, make a point of visiting whenever they’re passing through (and always order their regular).

When my lunch companion arrived and Raymond had gone off on his VIP way, we followed the advice of our barman and ordered bacon burgers and the house Pilsner. Neither disappointed. Good foods served in the midst of regulars fulfilling all the NYC stereotypes: a Jewish father chastising his son for gaining a paunch since their last lunch, an ancient 80-something on his third Bloody Mary bemoaning the state of the neighbourhood, two hoarse-voiced ladies lunching and hating on their husbands. (Complaining is the sport of the city, and everyone here is a professional.) JG’s is just how I pictured an authentic NYC restaurant, with its giant neon sign and fire escape painted a cheery green, watermelon decor and juke box and middle-aged waitresses. And the cheesecake is gosh darn divine.