Best Of :: People & Places
We might forget that parks are supposed to be for play. Striking sculptures, like Jaume Plensa's four-story fiberglass head in Madison Square Park, are nice to look at, but they take up valuable picnic and catch-playing real estate. That's why the Tompkins Square Park Ping-Pong table is so perfect. The table sits near the park's dog run, but its sleek concrete design makes it look like something from Walter Gropius' game room. This is so aesthetically pleasing, it's easy to forget that you can actually play Ping-Pong on it. That is, until you see two strangers locked in a tense best-of-three series with each other. The table's sturdy construction is care of local manufacturer Henge, whose mission statement says they "coax donors into giving [the tables] to public spaces." Like most stationary objects in the East Village, the table has been subjected to its fair share of graffiti. Unlike elsewhere in the neighborhood, however, the Parks Department is quick to use high-pressure hoses to clean up any tagging—the table is dedicated to one of their own, after all: retired Tompkins manager Harry Greenberg. Avenues A to B, from East 7th to East 10th streets, nycgovparks.org/parks/tompkinssquarepark
New York is full of charming 19th-century streets, but one that's less known and kind of hard to get to only makes it more charming and more 19th-century. Our current fave owes its relative obscurity to its location in what's become a time-capsule pocket neighborhood in Brooklyn. We're talking Vinegar Hill here, bounded by DUMBO on the south, the East River to the west (strange as that sounds), the Navy Yard to the north, and the oppressive Farragut Houses to the east. And if Vinegar Hill could be said to have a main street, it's the lovely and atmospheric Hudson Avenue, which blissfully retains its intimate 1800s feel. Walking down it, the street feels almost like a movie set, as improbable as it looks in 2011. The Vinegar Hill House restaurant is likely what brings most outsiders to the street these days, but we recommend a lingering stroll along it anytime. Although a couple bottles of Lighthouse Ale at the rustic bistro's bar will certainly lend Hudson Avenue an extra glow.
Streetsblog founder, Honku creator, and longtime bike-lane advocate Aaron Naparstek is not an easy person to ignore. While the biking community, such as it is, has worked with the bike-lane-friendly Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, years on the margins have made its advocates a touchy group. Naparstek and acting Streetsblog EIC Ben Fried have pushed back hard against what they've seen as anti-biking messages and reacted aggressively and in concert with organized pro-bike interests to fight against bad press—even just loose tweets and asides—and to push stories about injured bikers and the perfidy of the anti-biking forces. In the course of that, they've managed to earn the resentment of some media types with what can come off as disproportionately aggressive responses. Joining an older and out-of-vogue tradition of advocates who might be addled but are basically right on the facts, Naparstek, currently on a fellowship at Harvard but continuing to weigh in frequently on New York issues, is a force to be reckoned with, especially as long as he can keep the commissioner's ear.
New York City is a land full of cheap dates. Where else can you make a perfectly entertaining and even romantic outing out of traipsing over a bridge, catching a ferry, going on a long, meandering walk through neighborhoods known and unknown, maybe stopping in a bar or restaurant for some drinks or food, maybe packing your own to take along with you and stopping at a green spot to snack? A favorite of ours is taking the cheap (free on weekends) Ikea ferry from Pier 11 at Wall Street to Red Hook, Brooklyn, on a sunny day. Jump off the ferry and head down to Van Brunt Street, where you can browse boutique wine stores and art galleries, relax with a pint at the taxidermy- and tchotchke-filled bar Bait and Tackle, have a proper dinner (less cheap, equally delicious), or just a drink at The Good Fork or Fort Defiance, or get fresh lobster rolls at the Red Hook Lobster Pound and enjoy them sitting on a bench outside the store. For dessert, if you have cash left, head to Baked. All on Van Brunt Street: nywatertaxi.com/tours/ikea, redhookbaitandtackle.com, goodfork.com, fortdefiancebrooklyn.com, redhooklobster.com, bakednyc.com
Oh, jeez—construction. Construction and trucks. Construction and trucks and rumble sirens. Construction and trucks and rumble sirens and people bitching into their cell phones. In other words, New York City. Really, sometimes it just has to stop. It's not always so easy to zip out of town to flee the oppression, so the city's little in-town escapes seem all the more precious. Our choice these days is nestled behind a low brick wall at Hudson and Barrow streets in the West Village and comes to us courtesy of those good people the Episcopalians. What they've done, see, is nurture their beautiful Garden at St. Luke in the Fields into something quite lovely and soothing. Tend it and love it, then open the gates and let us undeserving public people in to enjoy its lush Edenic calm. Sigh. Thank you, Episcopalians. Check it out next time you're in the nabe and need a quick calm-down. But leave a nice donation in the little box on your way out, or St. Luke might have a few words for you in his next gospel.
The only kind thing to be said about sports-talk callers—"not for nothing, Mike, but if I was making $6 million a year I'd hustle down the first baseline"—is that they're not as terrible as sports-talk hosts (excluding the great Steve Somers), perhaps because they get cut off after a few minutes instead of having to fill hours of airtime with their addled "ideas." The only kind thing to be said about sports-talk-radio hosts is that they're less offensive than political-talk-radio hosts, if only because the stakes are so much lower that their stupidity is less consequential. And political-talk-radio hosts at least share the aggrieved tone of their sports-talk kin, which puts them both up on the toneless dullness of public-radio hosts, lulled into deep self-satisfaction by their own voices and affect. Brian Lehrer would be a hell of a radio man if the bar was set much higher, but given the alternatives, his smart topics, deep knowledge of New York (among many other topics), willingness to ask simple and direct questions and to listen to the answers makes him the city's indispensable moderator. WNYC 93.9 FM and 820 AM 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday