Best Temporary Public Sculpture That Should Be Made Permanent

Any new work by the American sculptor Martin Puryear will always rank among the best of that year, but Big Bling — the temporary public sculpture that’s presided over Madison Square Park since May — deserves special notice. Standing forty feet tall, the sculpture is the artist’s largest to date. Whereas some public art can feel like an imposition — or a plain nuisance — Big Bling‘s monumental presence is slyly, almost seamlessly woven into the cityscape by virtue of its organic, architectural form and comparatively modest materials: wood, fiberglass, chain-link fence, and acrylic gold leaf. Its abstract figure recalls an animal seated on its hind legs, a thick gold shackle piercing its head — the titular “big bling.” Infused with the specter of slavery, the sculpture reframes one’s view of the city and its relationship to capital. Bling is proof of money, whether you put it on yourself or someone else has put it on you. Any way you polish it, a shackle is a shackle, no matter how precious its metal, or how blinding its gleam. Big Bling is a monument New York needs to keep around. 

Through April 2, 2017

Madison Square Park, Manhattan



Two More Days to Get to These Holiday Pop-Ups — Which Is Worth It?

“Text if you want to vote for Peppermint Place,” the sign says. That would be the gingerbread house that looks like all the rest except it’s got a peppermint swirl for a roof. You could also vote for the Cinnamon Shack or Cocoa Cottage, though the creative differences in houses that make up Gingerbread BLVD are so minimal, you’d swear you’ve landed in a cookie version of a retirement village in Boca Raton.

In reality, you’re in Madison Square Park, looking at a beautiful Christmas tree while companies hawk free goodies in order to persuade you to spend more money. Cater your holiday dinner, says one. Don’t bother baking dessert when we have ours ready to go, says another. Gingerbread BLVD takes precious childhood memories and turns them into a marketing campaign — and the holiday spirit here has about as much a chance at survival as a sequel to Sony Pictures’ The Interview.

Cinnamon Shack. Notice the craftsmanship.
Cinnamon Shack. Notice the craftsmanship.

The saddest part of this corporate gingerbread subdevelopment is that it competes for attention with the work of a real guy out there, chef Jon Lovitch, who creates a large-scale gingerbread village every year and gives away the pieces for free at the end of the season. It’s called Gingerbread Lane, and it’s located at the New York Hall of Science — the last place on earth a kid would think to spend the holidays.

His is a much more magical place than this goods-hawking attention ploy, but it’s located far from well-trafficked Madison Square Park, which lures tourists and locals looking for a festive stop.

This tree is just a distraction to get you to start buying stuff.
This tree is just a distraction to get you to start buying stuff.

If you or visiting relatives must see a gingerbread village this year, go to Lovitch’s version. If you’re just looking for a holiday pop-up with genuine cheer, on the other hand, head instead to Miracle on 9th Street, a pop-up bar with holiday-inspired drinks. See the “Wise Men,” served in a frankincense-smoked glass, or “Bad Santa,” a warm rum drink with coconut milk in a jolly St. Nick-shaped mug.

It’s a silver lining in a town covered in tawdry tinsel.

Gingerbread BLVD and Miracle on 9th Street close on December 23; Gingerbread Lane is open until January 12.

Ghosts of product placements past perhaps?
Ghosts of product placements past perhaps?

This Week’s Five Best Food Events in NYC – 6/9/2014

Bummed about California Chrome missing the Triple Crown? Or maybe the Rangers are giving you night sweats? If your weekend didn’t turn out as planned, here are a few food events that should get you back into your groove.

Decade of Shack, Shake Shack, 23 Street and Madison Avenue, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m.

Celebrating a decade of really long lines and amazingly addicting food, the Madison Square Park location of Shake Shack is offering celebrity-chef created shackburgers all week long. Each day, the Shack will feature a limited number of a different chef’s creation; look for work from David Chang, April Bloomfield, Andrew Zimmern, Daniel Boulud, and Daniel Humm. On June 12 — the stand’s actual birthday — the team will be giving out “pay what you’d like” Shack-ago dogs, and there will be live music all day long. Dominique Ansel will also be contributing a birthday cake, which will be available while slices last. There is a two burger per person limit, and all sandwiches are available on a first come, first serve basis — so expect lines.

Dethroning the Deceitful Pork Chop: Black Progressive Era Food Reformers and the Case Study of the Tuskegee Institute, NYU Food Studies, 411 Lafayette Street, Monday, 6:30 p.m.

Jennifer Jensen Wallach, author of How America Eats: A Social History of U.S. Food and Culture , will lead a discussion on African-American food practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The talk will specifically cover the work of Booker T. Washington, who viewed food habits as a possible avenue for breaking down racial barriers. Tickets start at $10.

Crab & Beer Feast, Ngam, Tuesday, 99 Third Avenue, 6 p.m.

Ngam is running a $40 special of two jumbo Maryland crabs every Tuesday night. The crabs are steamed with Thai herbs and served with spicy dipping sauces, and Singha beer pairings are also part of the experience. Supplement your seafood with dishes from the regular menu, which will also be on offer. Seatings, which take place at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., must be made in advance by contacting the restaurant.

Beard on Books: Luke Barr, James Beard House, 167 West 12th Street, Wednesday, 12 p.m.

Luke Barr, a descendant of famed food writer M.F.K. Fisher and editor at Travel + Leisure, will lead attendees on a historical journey through his great-aunt’s diaries. His book, Provence 1970: M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and The Reinvention of American Taste, captures the historical meeting between James Beard, M.F.K. Fisher, Julia Child, Richard Olney, Simone Beck, and Judith Jones, delving into how these encounters helped shape American cuisine in future decades. A suggested donation of $20 is encouraged, and the event includes refreshments provided by Sarabeth’s.

Hop Plant Sale and Peak Organic Tap Takeover, Rosamunde Sausage Grill, 285 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, Thursday, 7 p.m.

If you’re a fan of home brewing, take your creations to the next level by picking up a hops plant or two. Guests will learn about Thousands Win, an organization that specializes in rooftop gardens growing hops in urban areas, while sipping Peak Organic Brewing Company beers. For more information on rooftop hops, read about Thousands Win’s innovative enterprise.


This Weekend’s Six Best Food and Drink Events – 6/6/2014

Sticking around town for a few days? We’ve got just the thing to make your summer staycation the best choice you’ve made all week. Here are the six best food and drink events in NYC this weekend.

National Donut Day, Madison Square Park, Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street, Friday, 10 a.m.

If there’s a piece of Homer Simpson in you, head to Madison Square Park to celebrate National Donut Day with free coffee and donuts from Entenmann’s. The baker will reveal its new red velvet donut flavor at the event, and you can take selfies with a seven-foot-tall rendering of the sweet.

Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, Madison Square Park, Fifth Avenue at 23rd Street, Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m.

Pitmasters from around the country descend on Madison Square Park this weekend to provide pulled pork and brisket to the masses. The line-up includes Daniel Delaney of Briskettown and famed barbecue maestro Ed Mitchell; live bands and cooking demonstrations are also part of the two day affair. Anyone can queue up to purchase barbecue, but you might spring for a VIP ticket package, which will help you avoid the line.

Shaken or Stirred Summer Mixology Classes, The Royalton Hotel, 44 West 44th Street, Saturday, 1:30 p.m.

These classes, which also take place on June 14 and June 21, will cover the basics of cocktailing for beginners and provide tricks of the trade to seasoned party hosts. You’ll be able to taste your handiwork and get immediate feedback on how your cocktail career is shaping up. Tickets are $75 and can be purchased through the hotel’s website.

(RED) Dish Competition, Smorgasburg, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Smorgasburg is going (RED) all weekend in support of AIDS research, and 30 vendors will prepare a special dish from which proceeds will benefit the cause. On Sunday, those dishes will go head to head in friendly competition judged by Mario Batali and Dominique Ansel. The cook-off starts at 1 p.m.

Butcher Paper Dinner: Pies ‘N Thighs presents COLD FRIED CHICKEN!, Brooklyn Grange, 38-19 Northern Boulevard, Queens, Sunday, 3 p.m.

The ladies from Pies ‘N Thighs will be preparing some cold fried chicken for this rooftop farm dinner, while Queens Brewery will be taking care of drinks. The $80 meal includes southern sides like biscuits, cornbread, and a seasonal salad, with a fruit pie for dessert. A DJ will be on hand to spin tunes, and guests are invited to tour the farm pre-meal.

Dinner with Ruth Riechl, Contrada, 84 East 4th Street, Sunday, 5 p.m.

Have dinner and receive a copy of Ruth Reichl’s new book Delicious!, her first fictional piece, which weaves a story of a food writer with life experiences similar to…Ruth Reichl. The dinner, which is $55 per person, will allow guests the chance to interact with Ruth while they dine on chef Jason Audette’s fluke crudo and sweet corn agnolotti dal plin. The dessert for the evening is inspired by the only recipe in Reichl’s book, a spice cake. Dinner is payable at the end of the event, but reservations should be secured in advance.


Refreshingly Pragmatic, If/Then is a Musical About the Choices of Its Middle-Aged Heroine

It’s a beautiful day in Madison Square Park, and Elizabeth (Idina Menzel) is planning her afternoon. Will she accompany Lucas (Anthony Rapp) to a fair-housing demonstration or join Kate (LaChanze) for coffee? Who cares, right?

Yet from this simple choice, endless consequences follow: romances found or forsaken, professional opportunities gained or lost. In Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s If/Then, a musical thought experiment, we witness two chains of events that present alternate fates for Elizabeth, a thirtysomething urban planner who’s renounced a moribund marriage and moved to New York to start fresh. Menzel alternates gracefully between the two Elizabeths: One climbs the ranks of city government; the other falls in love.

If/Then is highly entertaining. It’s also a star vehicle, hard to imagine without Menzel’s magnetic presence. (The songs are unimaginative, the choreography hit-or-miss.) There are other lapses, too, like a facile subplot pitting Elizabeth’s urban planning against Lucas’s grassroots agitation.

But a clever ending avoids the fatalism that If/Then‘s double plot might imply — that’s a lot of pressure to put on a single afternoon’s whim, after all. And it’s refreshing to see a Broadway musical about choices, not fairy-tale fates, with a heroine who’s pushing 40 and forthrightly facing life’s possibilities.



Recall momentarily the View-Master you likely had as a child. With the red device pressed firmly to your eye sockets, you saw a wondrous slide-show pass before you. Sandra Gibson and Luis Recoder have effectively revived this childhood relic with their newest public art piece, Topsy-Turvy: A Camera Obscura Installation. Measuring 10 feet by 10 feet, this all-white cylinder sits like a monolith in Madison Square Park, inviting visitors to venture inside and see the outside world through strange eyes: a camera that captures exterior light and projects a distorted, film-like reality onto the structure’s inner walls, all in real time. Gibson and Recoder are veteran collaborators in the world of experimental film and performance art, often manipulating reality and repackaging it through various media. Catch their installation now through April 6.

Mondays-Sundays, 10 a.m. Starts: March 26. Continues through April 6, 2013


Musical Lineup Announced for the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party — Free Concerts!

Today the musical lineup for this year’s Big Apple Barbecue Block Party was announced. The event–the 10th annual–takes place this year on Saturday, June 9, and Sunday, June 10.

Three bands will be playing each day, and the music, if not the barbecue, is free. The Block Party takes place in Madison Square Park. The musical selection spans punk rock, alt-country, and soul music genres, and the schedule follows.


1 p.m. Jon Langford–One of the founding members of the celebrated New Wave band The Mekons, Langford has had a rich solo career since the mid-1980s and is a member of the Chicago-based group Waco Brothers and also occasionally tours with the Three Johns. A visual artist as well, Langford has created labels for Dogfish Head Brewery.

2:45 p.m. JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound–Vocalist JC Brooks, guitarist Billy Bungeroth, drummer Kevin Marks, keyboardist Andy Rosenstein, and bassist Ben Taylor make up an outfit that modernizes the Soul sounds of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Brooks’s voice is often compared to that of Otis Redding and James Brown, and the band regularly performs covers of Wilco and Luscious Jackson as part of its repertoire.

4:30 p.m. Southern Culture on the Skids–Headquartered in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Southern Culture often writes songs about food: fried chicken and banana pudding being two obsessions, the latter of which they’ve been known to pelt the audience with during performances. Think Weird Al meets the Allman Brothers.


1 p.m. Roadside Graves–The Metuchen, New Jersey, band is a favorite of legendary Jersey scribe Jim Testa and has four albums in the can. Of them Testa wrote: “Jeremy Benson’s finger-picked electric guitar leads flowed from the frets with prickling intensity, buoyed by Rich Zilg’s strummed acoustic. The band blends the free-flowing guilelessness of the Grateful Dead with the handmade clatter of Bob Dylan and the Band’s The Basement Tapes, and somehow makes it all work.”

2:45 p.m. The Revelations featuring Tre Williams–Daytona Beach native Tre Williams first came into the public eye when he signed with Nas’s Ill Will Records, and indeed the singer guest on Nas’s Hip Hop Is Dead. With the Revelations he has recorded one EP and two albums, including 2011’s Concrete Blues, which was named Soul Album of the Month by Echoes magazine.

4:30 p.m. Alejandro Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys–New York old-timers might remember when Escovedo–once a member of the SF punk outfit the Nuns–helped the Kinman brothers found the country-punk band Rank and File in the East Village in the early ’80s before abruptly moving to Austin, before everyone else. Since then, Escovedo has turned out 11 solo albums and is widely regarded as one of the prime progenitors of modern alt-country.

Alejandro Escovedo
Alejandro Escovedo


Southern California–based artist Charles Long calls his latest interactive mixed-media installation Pet Sounds. However, don’t expect Brian Wilson to play a role. Instead, you’ll find a series of brightly colored pipe railings—which all meet up in a common seating area, where the railing will then morph into big, undulating blobs that vibrate and make noise when you rub them—on the Oval Lawn of Madison Square Park. We’re going to call it our perfect low-maintenance pet for the summer.

Mondays-Sundays, noon. Starts: May 8. Continues through Sept. 10, 2012


Loudon Wainwright III

The de facto “awkward dad” since birthing Rufus and Martha, New York folk singer Loudon Wainwright III was scouted by Judd Apatow to play a father who attends his son’s university in the cult TV show Undeclared. Tonight’s opening of the Madison Square Park music series is also a family affair, with a triple bill of Loudon, Sloan, and Lucy Wainwright, each boasting a bittersweet songwriting style perfect for the leafy tarp of Madison Square Park. Though Wainwright’s “new Dylan” hype was never cemented like the critical acclaim of his progeny, an affable attitude and perpetual self-deprecation make Loudon an unforgettable act to see live. Just ask Martha—her song “Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole&” is indebted to dear old dad.

Wed., June 17, 6 p.m., 2009


The Best Places To Find ’80s Prices!

I miss the ’80s even more than I miss my twenties. I was really famous then. I was glamorously swept into clubs with my entourage—yes, I had an entourage—and never once wished I was home vacuuming my stamp collection. The boîtes were filled with entertaining eccentrics, people taking your picture (with real cameras), and others anxious to farm out various forms of attention as if they were ego dealers. What’s more, the second I reached the upstairs VIP lounge, an employee always stood there dutifully holding my cocktail of choice—vodka-cran—with a simpering smile. The ’80s were so great that you could down several of these every single night and never know it might be a problem.

Everything wasn’t processed, addressed, labeled, hyped, and mass-digested. Things could be secret, dirty, undiscovered, and even scary. I miss not only the large, zany clubs, but the muggers, the questionable neighborhoods, and the idea that going below 14th Street actually meant something. I miss the mom-and-pop stores, the super-cheap prices, the counterculture, and the culture itself. And yet, even with all the changes that have made New York so very rich and sanitary, there are glimmers of ’80s black magic still happening—if only you’ll hold your nose and believe.

Traipse around parts of the East 20s at night and you’ll find that although some old welfare hotels are now three-star boutiquey getaways, there’s not much else studding the area except for unsavory-looking people and piles of garbage so fetid that even the unsavory-looking people won’t touch them. This is my home, and I love it!

Craving some more substantial playmates? Hang out on the outskirts of Madison Square Park—across from where Shake Shack snacks up the area—and you’re guaranteed to be greeted by a rat who’s way larger than your forearm and who’s no more afraid of you than you are of a gift bag. It’s weird, but every single time I go there, I seem to see the very same rat—I’ve seen him thousands of times!

And have you noticed that homeless people seem to be back, just like in the ’80s? Faboo, darling! But how to deal? I know just what to do—don’t give them a cent! That’ll make you feel like ’80s greed and opportunism are really back with a vengeance.

Want to save even more precious moolah? For inexpensive clothing, ’80s prices still abound at Jack’s 99-cent store (115 West 31st Street) and Weber’s discount store on the same block (119 West 31st Street), if you’re bold enough to be cheap enough. Yes, 20 years after the Brat Pack era, 99-cent stores still manage to charge 99 cents! I never understood why anyone would throw dozens of dollars away at fancy department stores when you can get fringed ponchos, talking greeting cards, toilet cleanser, 2 percent milk, and kitsch decorations at these places for a fucking buck! If you run into someone you know there—and you won’t—just say you’re doing research on the ’80s economy. And, by the way, Jack’s doesn’t always have all the great stuff all at once, so when you do find something special, grab it in bulk. That explains why you’ll see me balancing 20 boxes of waffles on my handlebars as I toddle home with a shit-eating grin.

Nearby, Conway (11 West 34th Street) also teems with both household and clothing items, and though we’re not talking 99 cents, this isn’t exactly Bergdorf’s either. Not long ago, I bought a pinstriped shirt there complete with patterned tie—all flawlessly packaged together in plastic—for only $6.99. The outfit makes me look like a refugee from a dinner-theater company of Guys and Dolls, but frankly, for conversation-breaking sake, it’s the only outfit I’ll ever need.

There’s cheap food, too, even in Times Square, if you bother to vault over the parade of theme restaurants that greedily poison tourists’ minds and stomachs. Crawl into the food court on the west side of Eighth Avenue between 44th and 45th streets—you heard me—and look beyond the Nathan’s, Arthur Treacher’s, and Subway, which you can get just about anywhere. Come on—don’t act like you’re above this. Keep prowling until you find a glorified counter there called Kabab & Curry, which serves dirt-cheap Indian food with a minimum of fuss (or, admittedly, ambience; this place is really squalid).

Amazingly, you get a couple of perfectly delightful pieces of tandoori chicken, plus rice, daal, naan, and the vegetable of the day, for only $6.50! That’s even cheaper than my Guys and Dolls outfit—and I can usually guilt them into throwing in a couple of extra vegetables, too.

By the way, to cap off your meal, the best ice cream in town—and by far the most piss-poor in price—is at another hallowed shrine to anti-snobbery: McDonald’s! For a mere buck, you get delicious soft-served shit on a cone, and the extra 29 cents must be for the lovely serving of attitude. (“I think he’s an actor,” a cashier once mused to his co-worker about me right in front of my face, as the pal insisted: “No, he’s giving me an insurance-salesman vibe.”)

Actually, I’m just a critic—and I’m here to tell you that old-style New York performance art isn’t exactly dead either, even though the stuck-in-’84 set likes to claim it is so they can sit home and watch Lost. Please! Drop by P.S. 122 (150 First Avenue) or Here Arts Center (145 Avenue of the Americas), and then try to tell me there aren’t still a zillion underground performers out there who are as zany, brave, inventive, and even boring as ever. Sure, they all have to live in the outer boroughs to stay alive, but at least they’ll schlep over the bridge to put on a show for you. And, of course, you can always go there, too.

For some real ’80s-style edge, there are still places catering to potentially risky gay sexual business, reminding you of the first saucy wave of AIDS denial, way before the current one. In Chelsea, you’ll see all kinds of shady-looking people (and occasionally some cuties) running back and forth between two adult emporiums, Blue Store (206 Eighth Avenue) and Rainbow Station right across the street (207 Eighth Avenue), as if it were the dick decathlon. These are basically the Jack’s and Weber’s of cheap sex. Both places have adjoining rows of booths in the back, which feature age-old “glory holes”—slots in which you can deliver your package and wait to see what response it provokes from the boy next door. If that’s a little too impersonal for you, feel free to sweet-talk the person through the slot and take them home, but I know people who’ve done that—and they’re still looking for their laptops.

Of course, if you really want ’80s New York to come back, you’re going to have to take some serious drugs, put your head underwater, and dream on, because it’s just not going to happen, honey. Things change, and you eventually have to embrace that or you’ll end up rabid and running around on all fours near Madison Square Park. So celebrate the new Gotham! Swat away imaginary bums and panhandlers as you enter the Bowery Hotel and order some Reverse Osmosis water. Savor every drop of it, darling, because your only other choice is to move to a red state.