Audubon Eco-Cruise of the NYC Harbor

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Swinburne Island, with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Brooklyn behind

Of the approximately 900 bird species found in the United States, more than 200 frequent New York City on an annual basis. Yes, our concrete jungle is also a city of islands, with numerous parks and waterways, a place to encounter birdlife—and not just pigeons. 

To get a better look at some of the waterfowl that make their part-time or full-time homes in our city, Audubon New York offers summer and winter cruises of New York City’s waterways. The winter cruise, which I took in February 2013 and again this past weekend, also showcases harbor seals, which migrate south every year and can be found in our waters from November through May. Continue reading

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Riding upstate on the Hudson River Day Line

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During the last half century, an escape to upstate New York has usually meant a drive up the Thruway or Taconic, or a train ride on Amtrak or MetroNorth. But in the early 20th century, ferries shuttled New Yorkers between Manhattan and points along the Hudson, from Indian Point to Albany.

I was reminded of this earlier this month when, on a road trip upstate, I came across a postcard depicting the Hudson River Day Line Steamer “Hendrick Hudson.” Sent to a Mrs. R Tyde in Stephentown, NY, on July 26, 1950, the back of the card reads, “Dear Folks, Spending the day in Bear Mountain. We had a nice trip up and a nice dinner when we got here. Love to all, Claire, Eleanor and Margie.

That nice trip came near the end of a long, slow decline of a Hudson River steamer industry that had peaked a quarter century earlier.

Launched on March 31, 1906, the $1 million Hendrick Hudson was billed as the “grandest and swiftest river steamer in the world.” At 400 feet in length and 82 feet wide, the steamer had six decks and could hold more than 5,000 passengers, “a capacity equal to that of the five largest hotels in New York City.”

A booklet announcing the launch continued, Continue reading

Hotel Seville and Lower Madison Avenue

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“During the last ten years Madison Avenue has undergone a very great change. It was formerly one of the fashionable districts for residence purposes, second only to Fifth Avenue in its desirability, especially in the section south of Forty-second Street. With the rapid improvement of Fourth Avenue and also the development of Fifth Avenue, a number of the owners of Madison Avenue properties realized that it could be improved to advantage with high-class commercial structures.”

This was the lead from a June 1, 1913, New York Times article that bore the headline, “Rapid change from a social centre to a section of small, high-class shops.”

The article went on to quote Lawrence B. Elliman of the firm Pease & Elliman, who said “In the section between Twenty-third and Thirty-fourth Streets, the private character of the section has practically disappeared and there are only a very few of the old residents still occupying their homes in this district.”

While it may be difficult to imagine a Madison Avenue of private homes and estates, such was the character of the neighborhood at the turn of the 20th Century. Among the first buildings to herald a change to a more commercial character was the Hotel Seville. Completed in 1904 at Madison and 29th Street, the hotel still stands there today, though it was renamed the Carlton in 1987.  Continue reading

Madeline, The Carlyle and Hotel Bemelmans

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“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” These words have been etched in my memory since I was a teenager, reading this book to my younger brother, then just a toddler. He was too young to read, but smart enough to have the book memorized. All I had to do was turn the pages, and he could recite every word.

As an adult, the more I read about the Austrian-born author, Ludwig Bemelmans, the more convinced I am that his more grown-up writings are one of the best kept secrets of 20th Century American literature. His Madeline books are well known to a few generations of Americans. New Yorkers may also know him for Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle on the Upper East Side. Some of us may also remember the New York Historical Society’s 2014 exhibit, Madeline in New York: The Art of Ludwig Bemelmans. But his writings about food, travel, restaurants and the hospitality business in 1930s New York City seem to be widely unknown.

I recently finished reading Hotel Bemelmans, a series of autobiographical stories chronicling Bemelmans’ time working at New York City’s Ritz Carlton Hotel or, as he calls it in the book, the Hotel Splendide. From Anthony Bourdain’s introduction to a 2002 reprint of Hotel BemelmansContinue reading

Lost Restaurants of NYC: The Lobster

The Lobster

“There is no other like The Lobster!”

The year 1920 marked the beginning of the end of many New York City restaurants. By the end of the decade, the effects of Prohibition would force many restaurateurs to close their doors. But for Max Fuchs and Simon Linz, this decade marked the beginning of a successful business known simply as the Lobster Restaurant.

I discovered this restaurant through a book of matches that I picked up at an antique store in Lambertville, NJ, for less than a dollar. The matchbook reads, “The Lobster. Our policy of serving only FRESH IN SEASON SEAFOOD has not been changed in more than 35 years of continuous service to the public of New York.”

In the same neighborhood where grand “lobster palaces” flourished two decades earlier, Fuchs and Linz opened the Lobster Restaurant — at 145 West 45th St. Very little is written about The Lobster in the pages of the New York Times, but Rian James gives a solid two-page review in the 1930 edition of his Dining in New York.

Continue reading

New York City at its Best: Marathon Sunday

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This month, I completed my second New York City Marathon. While many friends and family members congratulate me for what they see as an impressive accomplishment, I see the experience as a privilege.

Sure, it takes a lot of training to be able to run 26.2 miles in one stretch. I logged nearly 400 miles — and wore through a pair of shoes — in the four months leading up to the marathon.

But once training is out of the way, the marathon itself is a 26.2-mile-long block party, made possible not only by my training, but by the enthusiasm of the 2+ million New Yorkers who line the streets to cheer on total strangers by name and hand out water, bananas, bagels, saltine crackers, candy bars, pretzels and paper towels.

Because I had my name printed on my shirt, I heard “Go Vince, go Vince, go Vince!” for most of the five hours it took me to complete the course. I high-fived hundreds of spectators along the way. It’s no wonder I had a smile on my face as I ran through five boroughs, across five bridges and through countless neighborhoods, each with its own character.

This year, the winds gusted up to 40 mph, but the crowds were still out. And we runners were enthusiastic, too. Nothing can full convey the excitement of the starting line, but for an idea of it, check out this video I shot just moments after a cannon signaled the start for those of us in Wave 2.

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Lost Restaurants of NYC: Enrico & Paglieri

Enrico and Paglieri, Greenwich Village

On a February evening 38 years ago this week, the possessions of a deceased 94-year-old restaurant owner lay strewn about a sidewalk on 11th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, in front of a group of row houses that now serve as a student center for The New School.

Though she left behind friends and surviving family, Josephine Paglieri’s furniture, clothing, books, photographs and letters waited for a city sanitation truck to haul them away. The New York Times described the scene in a Feb. 7, 1976, article.

Presently, a young hippie came by, grabbed one of her battered suitcases and began to stuff her old books into it. He hastily selected the few leather-bound ones…

Somebody else rummaged through Mrs. Paglieri’s worn dresses. “These are great for old clothes,” she said. Other people peered inside the drawers of Mrs. Paglieri’s plain wooden bureau.

That night a large sanitation truck rumbled up the street to pick up the goods. An old olive-green velvet couch crumbled under the tongs of the truck’s crusher.

The desk fell apart when the sanitationmen tried to pick it up. A lifetime of personal papers, letters, souvenirs and stationery swirled all over the sidewalk outside the restaurant that Mrs. Paglieri used to own.

The sanitationmen shoveled and swept, and threw them inside the truck. But one photograph remained on the street behind the vehicle. It was a picture of Mrs. Paglieri as a young girl, with her family.

The driver of the sanitation truck picked it up. He glanced at it while the desk was splintering under the weight of the garbage machine, and then tossed it inside with the other garbage. He hopped into the cab and roared off, leaving behind a few papers fluttering in the wind.

An old black-and-white postcard that I picked up at the Antiques Garage West 25th Street Market led me to this heartbreaking story.  Continue reading