Crazy Fantasy

Stumbled upon some local history during a rabbit hole of link following which started at a dissection of the neon signs in Google’s New York office.

There are two of these signs; each is unique and spells the word “Google” in lettering emulating famous New York signs from the past and present. It seems that the right-most “g” in the sign pictured above is modeled on a restaurant formerly located at the corner of West 4th Street and Sixth Avenue known as “Groceria”.

If you know this corner then you probably also know that the stretch running along Sixth Avenue from West 4th Street down to Bleecker Street is something of an anomaly in the leafy West Village: the best description I encountered is that’s

a little piece of old Times Square, hearkening back to a delightfully crummy cacophony of sex shops, tattoo parlors, and hot dog stands

Papaya Dog, Fantasy Tattoo, Fantasy Parties, and – until recently – Crazy Fantasy rest incongruously at the foot of the 333 Sixth Avenue, an elegant Flatiron-like structure straddling West 4th Street, Sixth Avenue and Cornelia Street.

It seems that Groceria formerly occupied all of this space; a bright sun-lit Italian trattoria sporting elegant brass fixtures and frequented by celebrities such Frank Sinatra, Eli Wallach, and Nancy Walker. With its espresso machine and supermarket-like offerings it sounds like it was well ahead of its time and would thrive in today’s West Village.

Now, it seems the new owner of 333 Sixth Avenue is attempting to remodel the block by buying out the current tenants, Crazy Fantasy being just the first to go. Will they attract another neighbourhood asset like Groceria? As Vanishing City notes, it’s more likely we’ll get another frozen yoghurt option.

I’m just struck by how the redevelopment of the undesirable seedy block around the corner from my apartment may be what causes my own rent to rise to the point where I’m forced out of the wider neighbourhood altogether. Careful what you wish for!

Empire State: 102nd Floor

Again with the Empire State.

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Well, at least this time I go to the 102nd floor, a full 200ft higher than the standard trip to the 86th floor observatory. At 25 miles, visibility is the highest I’ve seen and so it finally seems worth going the extra mile.

Up here, it’s really really quiet. Away from the zoo that is the 86th floor, perhaps this is a truer way to experience 1250ft (380m!) of height?

The city looks like a model of itself…

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The Brooklyn Bridge

I really didn’t expect to have an entire afternoon free on this tour.

With the weather being beautiful we decided on something a little different and took the 6 train from the hotel downtown to the Brooklyn Bridge.

After this morning’s United Nations tour this perhaps could be another movie wish-fulfillment trip – it’s the bridge from “Once Upon a Time in America” and “Manhattan” to name just a few – but with the weather fine and visibility long it seemed the ideal thing to do. Sure how many New York sites haven’t been featured in a movie?

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Anyway, the bridge opened in the late nineteenth century and was a technological marvel of its age. A mile long, it towered above the city long before the skyscapers moved in. Nowadays there’s tons of bridges and even more skyscrapers but the Brooklyn Bridge seems to remain a favourite, an icon of the great city.

Pedestrians and cyclists share a wooden path above the traffic. Down there it’s all noise and congestion, up above it’s little different. Lone guys sell water bottles for a dollar; native tourist-weary cyclists narrowly miss bumbling Irishmen.

Strangers ask each other to photograph them in front of the New York skyline…

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The United Nations

Somewhere I’ve often intended to see is the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

The Rough Guide almost advises against going but, having really enjoyed the tour of their Geneva offices last summer, I thought I’d investigate. With the hotel being just a few moments walk away it seemed like a good choice for someone with a couple of hours to spare. Plus, North By Northwest is one of my favourite films…

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To enter you have to negotiate the usual security checks but, once inside, you’re relatively free to wander around. A photograph exhibition on the ground floor distracted me for a few minutes before booking the (English) tour.

Standard tour guide-y stuff follows: overview of the organisation, past and present secretary generals and some trick questions (“how many flags are hoisted outside the buildling?”; the number of countries in the UN + 1).

The building isn’t at all remarkable architecturally; bizarrely, the Geneva offices are much much prettier and, well, “New York”-y. With their 1930s Art Deco touches they could easily stand alongside The Chrysler Building or the Empire State. In contrast, the New York headquarters seem to have suffered from the standard 1950s ugly building syndrome.

However, you come to see the “big rooms – chief amongst these being the security council and the general assembly. The former deals only with matters of war, the latter with everything else; guess which one is more important!

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And…that’s it.

Unfortunately for me the gardens were closed – I’d been hoping for nice views of the East River but a “Japanese Tea Ceremony” stood in the way. Must be something to do with the cherry blossom.

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So, it’s good to say I’ve been there but I have to side with the guidebook and advise that’s it definitely not an essential New York trip. Only if you’ve the time and have done everything else.

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NYC Arrival

We arrived on time at 7pm in New York.

The flight was more enjoyable than usual; the usual cardboard food (and cardboard films) preceded a few very welcome games of cards. It turns out Aer Lingus sells packs onboard; I can’t remember the last time I played but am now hoping the return flight on Saturday will be the next…especially if I win again.

Anyway, clear skies allowed for some great views of the coast while approaching the airport and an interesting sunset upon exiting customs and entering the real world once more.

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Of course, you have to wonder how “real” this world is when you’ve just embarked on a three-day long free trip to New York…

New York, New York

“New York…again!!!” as somebody said to me.

This time it’s a whistle-stop tour of the north-east: two nights in New York and one night and most of the following – and last – day in Boston.

It is, I think, the shortest possible way to spend 4 days in America; a late flight tomorrow Wednesday and then an early flight home on the Saturday.

Accordingly, there won’t be much free time. However, even if I only get a couple of hours to wander the streets of New York I’ll be more than happy.

The Chrysler Building

You’ve 90 minutes in mid-town New York – what do you do?

We went to the lobby of the Chrysler Building. It has an interesting history this building, tied in with the Woolworth Building, at the other end of the city. They were both constructed at around the same time (1929 or so) under some amount of secrecy: the exact heights were kept secret, but eventually it became clear that the Woolworth Building was slightly higher. However, on the last day Chrysler hoisted the famous aluminimum tip from out of the roof (legend has it Woolworth had once refused Chrysler a loan) and made the Chrysler Building the tallest in the world.

This distinction was short-lived, however: the following year some now-forgotten insurance company built their own tower, making the other two look a bit silly.

However, it’s still one of the tallest buildings in the city and its lobby remains something of a masterpiece, open (unlike the Woolworth, which I’m proud to say we got thrown out of – although the glimpse we caught was truly spectacular) to the public.

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The Producers

The Producers has been on my “list” of shows to see for some time (insomuch as someone living in Dublin can maintain a list of Broadway shows), at least since when it hadn’t been playing on the one free night of my previous trip and I went to see “Rent” instead.

This was kind of “it” for me and Broadway: after the mediocrity of the aforementioned “Rent”, the horrors of “Momma Mia!” (deserving of a post in itself, if not an entire blog cataloguing minute by minute the awfulness) and the seeming lack of classics such as “West Side Story” or “Guys and Dolls”, I really haven’t enjoyed anything on Broadway and although last night’s “Spamalot” was fair, it neither improved nor dis-improved matters.

I had enjoyed both films (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and “The Producers”) but the chief difference – and strength – with “The Producers” against the other is that it is no more than the majority of the film’s dialogue along with some good songs. In other words, everything you liked about the film along with some good, relevant, numbers penned – intriguingly – by Mel Brooks himself.

Is this a real musical? Certainly there’s much more talking than singing, but then something like “West Side Story” is the same. Whatever it is, it works: each scene from the film is realised here with a minimum of change, the sets are, for a change, interesting and varied and the songs are musically interesting with no filler. I guess that really does make it a musical, and a good one at that.

Perhaps I’m biased towards jazzy shows, but compare the songs with “Momma Mia” (every song shoe-horned in, e.g. woman searches for purse then bursts into “Money, money, money”) or even “Spamalot” where the songs are instantly forgettable (except for “Always Look…”, itself shoe-horned into the wrong adapation) and this is heads and shoulders above.

Seeing “Springtime for Hitler” performed – as the play within a play – on Broadway itself is really quite spectacular and the idea of a Broadway show playing on Broadway is something played up really well; I’ve no idea how they adapted this to the West End. Far more important, however, it highlights how it made sense to adapt this film to Broadway unlike, perhaps, some other material (or, in the case, of “Momma Mia”, no material).

The “show within a show” theme might also explain the show’s appeal to Larry David, in the fourth year of Curb Your Enthusiasm (which brought the idea of self-referencing shows to strange new levels). Indeed, it was a little strange seeing the opening scenes played out in real life, having seen Larry David’s very good rendition on the TV.

Also, in addition, there are also any number of nice touches – the nod to “Porgy and Bess” being my favourite – and the acting is perfectly fine. Perhaps not up to Gene Wilder, but at least there were no accidental Australians in this show (a few comical Irish though!) – Americans doing what they do best.