Tag Archives: Astoria

explore: astoria park

A few shots in the sunset tonight down at Astoria Park and the river, playing with my 50mm/1.8 lens. Happy summer:

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taste: on oysters

Before I met my husband, who basically has a second stomach just for oysters, I’d eaten them once in my life. I might have tried them when I was younger, but I’m pretty sure I’d been overwhelmed by the smell, the texture, and the general all-or-nothing, down-in-one commitment that they took. You can’t nibble the corner of an oyster to see if you like it. The first time I remember eating oysters and enjoying them couldn’t have been more absurd, and perfect. It was at a friend’s extremely fancy Cape Cod wedding, where there was a raw bar and champagne after the ceremony, and what could I do but pretend like I belonged there? As a handsome waiter watched, I did my best impression of a WASP to the manor born, and learned the value of a squeeze of lemon on hand.


I’ve gone from cautious to obsessive at warp speed. Oysters make anything an occasion, and now, for us, it’s not really an occasion without them. Luckily New York is in the midst of a full-on bivalve infatuation, and there are dollar-oyster happy hours all over the city (and of course, a website devoted to them.) And Astoria, I’m happy to report, is getting a dedicated oyster bar. Mar’s isn’t fully open yet, but it has a raw bar and fabulous cocktails (my friend had a Martinez with Dorothy Parker gin, which she–no martini novice–pronounced perfectly dry and balanced, and I tried the Negrosecco, a dangerously delicious Negroni variation with Prosecco). It made for the most decadent of midweek happy hours, with deep, creamy little west coast oysters and flat, briny east coast ones, served with a house-made horseradish, a deconstructed mignonette (vinegar separate from spices) and lemon. They’re certainly among the best I’ve had.

explore: do it (outside)

It’s hotter than balls in New York right now, but it’s cooler by the river, in the evening, if you can fight off the bugs. I’m writing a piece for my dear friend Ali’s fantastic online art review Artvehicle about the current exhibition at Socrates Sculpture Park (which will have a more decorous lede) so this evening I walked down there to take some pictures. I’ve written about Socrates many times before, and it might be my favorite outdoor space in the city. I love the combination of a community-minded space and a genuine curatorial vision; I love being able to visit a farmer’s market in an outdoor gallery, and I love the juxtaposition of picnic space, views of the city, and weird, challenging, quirky, colossal, and silly art.

Here were some of my favorite pieces from the main show, Do It (Outside), conceived and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, which presents a series of instructions from artists on how to create a piece of art, which cannot be permanent and must be dismantled at the end of the show. It raises all sorts of questions about creation vs. “realization,” and highlights the importance of space, collaboration, serendipity… plus, there’s candy (courtesy of Felix Gonzalez-Torres) and lounge chairs.  Continue reading

explore: new neighborhood eats

Astoria’s never *not* been a great food neighborhood—it tends to be the one thing any New Yorker who’s never been there knows about it. Although things are changing rapidly, as the old Greek places start to close and the influence of All Things Brooklyn makes itself felt, there are still more great places to eat within walking distance than we could reasonably get through in a month of all-out gluttony. What with one thing and another we ended up eating out a lot this holiday, including at two new places.

The Strand Smokehouse opened earlier this year, but we hadn’t made it there before their Fourth of July party yesterday. There was a band playing something appropriately bluesy and down-homey, and there were casks of bourbon and pounds of meat.


These photos are terrible, I apologize. They’re just phone snapshots, since I still struggle with feeling self-conscious and weird when I take my big camera out to a restaurant, and because I also want to eat and not get rib juice all over my Nikon. But I will be making the effort to up my visual game in these posts.  


Here’s what we ate, and while the last thing I want to do is delve into any kind of Paula Deen controversy, I think we can all admit that while this is delicious, it is also bananas from a dietary point of view. Meat! Mac and Cheese! Pickles! Biscuits! Bourbon! God bless America–you are all going to die. While we didn’t try the eight varieties of home-infused moonshine (we’re going to wait and enlist Sam in that), we did have a bourbon-mint-chamomile iced tea and a very tart rye Manhattan twist with “hop bitter” and moonshine fruit. I wasn’t 100% sold, but I’d try something else from the list. The space is vast, with a terrace out front, a lovely garden out back, and a cavernous, airy hall between them. Go big or go home. There are huge long wooden tables, and last night there were girls in red, white & blue dresses playing cards and sharing beer from a growler.

Tonight was a little less festive, but just as delicious. Milkflower is what I mean when I say that we’re all Brooklynites now. It’s a new wood-fired pizza place around the corner from us, with a huge floor-to-ceiling window in the front with the name etched on the glass, brick walls and Narragansett lager, locally-sourced veggies and house-made mozzarella and gelato. It hits me where I live.


I almost didn’t get a picture of it, we ate this special salad so fast: pineapple caprese, with that fabulous chewy house mozzarella, pineapple, tomato and basil in a rich and tangy balsamic dressing. They also have a Hawaiian pizza on the menu. Is pineapple becoming a thing?


And this was the Brussels Sprout pizza with egg, pepper, and truffle oil. My  dining companion in the appropriately hipsteriffic Lebowski t-shirt wholeheartedly approved its message.

look: after the superstorm

I sincerely hope these don’t become annual posts.

Hurricane/Superstorm/Frankenstorm Sandy pounded the east coast yesterday, and much of the city is underwater, without power, or otherwise struggling, so we are extremely grateful for our high ground in Astoria and the large local contingent of dedicated small businesses, most of which are up and running, if they ever closed. There was a line outside Bareburger this afternoon (Tuesday) waiting for tables. We’re not going to go hungry, and save for a little light-flickering anxiety, we were able to eat, drink, and watch weather-disaster-porn in safety and comfort. The best collection of pictures of the storm’s impact in NYC and surrounding areas is here, via the inimitable Alan Taylor.

Here are a few pictures of the aftermath in the neighborhood. It’s cold and blustery out, but dry, and things are getting back to normal. I have a new camera lens, too, a manual-focus 50mm/1.8 which I LOVE and am trying to master. Here goes:

Worst downed-tree damage I saw – 31st Avenue

More common sight: leaf litter & general mess. 31st Avenue

Skies clearing over 30th Avenue

The Apple House still open for business

Sandbags and tarp outside the Academy for New Americans

Tree down across the street from us, 30th Drive

look: historic pool photograph

Astoria Pool, summer 1940

This is my current desktop image. I love all the high-waisted swimsuits. And that beautiful bridge? I’m planning to get married underneath it, in the park just a little beyond the pool.  (I wrote about the pool, in its modern dress, last summer.)


explore: fridays at the noguchi museum

On the first Friday of the month, the Noguchi Museum, just across the street from Socrates Sculpture Park, is open late, is free to get in, and serves beer and wine for $5. You can wander throughout the museum, which was originally Noguchi’s workshop, and admire the huge range of sculptures and designs he produced. If you only know him as a designer of lamps and infamous coffee tables, there’s a whole rough-hewn, monumental, granite-and-metal world to discover. Plus, the shaded gardens are one of the most peaceful places in the city:

Noguchi Museum. 9-01 33rd Road, LIC (at Vernon Boulevard). Weds-Fri 10-5, Saturday & Sunday 11-6. General admission, $10.

explore: office space

One of the things I love about living in a densely populated and wildly expensive city – seriously – is seeing creative solutions to the problems that that density and expense create. Specifically, the problem of space for creativity. Whatever the many flaws of Starbucks, it’s always struck me as one of the most convenient places in New York to park a laptop and get to work, mostly because it’s anonymous enough that I don’t feel guilty for mooching off the electricity and the bathroom facilities on the strength of one black coffee per two hours.

The quest for the perfect coffee shop to work in is one I take seriously – when I lived in Williamsburg, Atlas Cafe on the corner of Havemeyer and Grand, a couple of blocks from my apartment, came close to the Platonic ideal of the working cafe, where the food was good and cheap, the coffee generous, and the clientele earnestly hunched over MacBooks under a wall-sized map of the world made you feel a little guilty if you weren’t.

But sometimes you don’t want to traipse around for the perfect spot, or it’s Saturday afternoon and too noisy to set up your private-in-public desk, which is where the whole industry of workspaces to rent comes in. One day, I’d love to afford to work somewhere as gorgeous as the Oracle Club, in LIC, or Paragraph, or the Writers Room (which pointedly compares its daily rate to the cost of a double latte), but even those rates feel indulgent for now, like joining a gym which just makes me think that I should run outside for free, and admit that the problem is motivation, not space.

So I’ve been hunting around in the NYPL for a spot that’s not too windswept with AC and loud with tourists, and doing my best to make my desk at home workable. Then suddenly something new shows up. How about an office in a tree?

Continue reading

look: after the hurricane

A ribbon hanging off the flag at our local public school

I’ve never lived through truly extreme weather – I’m from Southern England. The most dramatic storm I remember was the 1987 gale that downed trees and caused a lot of damage in the southeast, after weather reports scoffed at any danger. It gave my eight-year-old self nightmares whenever the wind made tree branches scratch my bedroom window. Since living here, extreme weather has been more frequent, but it’s always worse somewhere outside New York. I watched Katrina footage like I watch scenes from war zones – without being able to wrap my head around it by reference to any memory of my own. The stories my midwestern friends tell about racing tornadoes in their car are as alien to me as the weird green color that they say the storm turns the sky. So I had no idea how to react to Irene over the last couple of days – was this overreaction? Or sensible precaution? We wouldn’t really need a flashlight and a bathtub full of water and canned foods, would we? Continue reading

love: astoria park pool

the pool and the hellgate bridge

I’ve lived a 15-minute walk from this pool for two summers now, and yesterday was the first time I’ve got it together to go for a swim. The pool is open 11-3 and then 4-7 every day, and I was there for the evening session. It was the first hot and sunny day after a few days of heavy rain and gloom, so it was busy – I assume it’s always busy – but it’s huge, so even with several hundred kids playing all over, it didn’t feel overcrowded. The whole experience was unexpectedly nostalgic and moving for me; the bare-bones locker rooms with their turquoise-painted open-fronted changing booths took me right back to the municipal pools and lidos that I grew up visiting, and the feeling of curling your toes on the scratchy wet concrete floor, hopping the puddles and enduring the dankness and dark corridors for the sake of emerging into the light and the blaringly bright poolside.

overlooking the concrete bleachers

It’s not easy to swim laps since most people are hanging out in groups and playing, carving out little corners for themselves by the ropes that bisect the pool or at the edge of the water, but if you persist in your mental lane they’ll move out of your path. The place has all the democratic charm of a busy park on a sunny day, but concentrated and intensified by the excitement of the water.

the vast pool, looking over to the snack bar and picnic tables

The pool is a glorious monument of WPA architecture, stunning in its proportions, its generosity, its sheer presence. Nothing temporary or cost-cutting cramping its style. It opened in the summer of 1936 on the Fourth of July, making it the oldest outdoor pool in the city. Although it’s free it feels lavish, and as I lay drying off on one of the white plastic recliners in the sun I couldn’t help feeling like I was getting away with something.

would you look at those lines and curves?