Category Archives: New York

Entourage loves me

I finally saw Sunday’s season premiere of HBO’s Entourage last night. Previously on Entourage, Queens boy made good Vinnie Chase won critical acclaim for starring in an indie flick called “Queens Boulevard.” Now Vince’s brother, Johnny Drama, has landed a leading role in a new NBC drama from Valley Stream native Ed Burns, “Five Towns.”

Is Entourage going to name a fictional project after every place I’ve ever lived? Here are some other names the writers might want to use for new TV shows and movies, and why they should seriously consider them:

Sutton Place. I got my apartment in this Manhattan neighborhood through New York real-estate monolith and serial gentrifier The Corcoran Group. Entourage star Adrian Grenier’s mother sells real estate for The Corcoran Group. Ergo, Adrian Grenier’s mother has probably sold real estate in Sutton Place.

Evanston. I went to college here, but Entourage scene stealer and critical darling Jeremy Piven grew up in this Chicago-abutting suburb, where his parents spent decades running a prestigious theater program that produced the Cusacks, among others.

Atwater Village. Vince and his pals undoubtedly spend some time in the celebrity-infused L.A. neighborhood of Los Feliz. Atwater Village is right next door, but grittier, and they totally go for that.

Also eligible: Greenwich Village, That Neighborhood in Brooklyn Where I Lived Until Age 2 and My Parents Can’t Even Remember What It Was Called, Merrick, Atlantic Beach (Little-known fact: Sonny lived there in The Godfather!).


Top of the what?

A couple of years ago, I remember hearing a few scattered panicky reports about the impending sale of naming rights to subway stations. Everything is for sale these days, so instead of getting off at, say, Astor Place, you’d be at Starbucks Junction. The 79th Street station on the 1, 2 and 3 lines could be FreshDirect Central Terminal. (Eat it, Zabar’s!) 71st/Continental Avenue-Forest Hills might become, oh, I don’t know, Stolichnaya Station.

People around these parts talked about it for a few days, like people are wont to do — I’m sure there was no shortage of hysterical phone calls to boring NY1 phone-in shows — and then, like many things, it died out. But a few months ago, I started noticing something, something kind of subtle that I haven’t heard anybody mention. When my morning F train rolls into 47/50 Street-Rockefeller Center, the conductors no longer stop at the name of the station. Inevitably, they announce:

“47/50, Top of the Rock.”

It happens every time. I pass this station every single weekday and many weekends, and I can’t think of a single time since I started paying attention that the conductors have failed to announce Top of the Rock. Sometimes they go into explicit, tongue-tying detail: “This is 47/50 Street, Rockefeller Center, Top of the Rock. Change here for the B, D and V trains.” Sometimes they make do with a near-unintelligible “Mumblemumble Top of the Rock mumblemumblemumble.” Sometimes — I dare say often — it’s just, “Top of the Rock,” as if that says it all. Why, it’s almost like somebody instructed them to always say “Top of the Rock,” or else.

And what is Top of the Rock? An observation deck on the 70th floor of GE’s famed 30 Rock building, it’s a major tourist attraction. But there are much bigger tourist attractions in the tourist attraction capital of the world, and they generally only get mentioned at subway stops by completist conductors like the one I caught announcing incorrect directions to a Long Island Rail Road station last month. The Empire State Building and Macy’s rarely get mentions at 34th Street-Herald Square. Heck, Top of the Rock isn’t even the biggest tourist attraction at its station — Radio City Music Hall is a much bigger deal, as are the famous ice-skating rink and Christmas tree in the winter.

But what makes this a really obvious shill to me is the fact that Top of the Rock just reopened a year and a half ago after — get this — a 20-year hiatus. Its revival was much celebrated — in advertisements. The kind of people who run the subway and make the subway run couldn’t have cared less.

So even if nobody’s noticed, it certainly appears that subway sponsorship is here and most likely here to stay. And considering that Top of the Rock isn’t exactly a brand to rival Coke or Microsoft, my guess is it’s coming cheap. If it were going to be much of a financial drain, why would NBC throw away its money promoting New York’s second-highest observation deck when it could promote NBC?

This is only going to get worse, of course. It always does. What’s next? ESPN Zone? Mars 2112? I’m hoping standards continue to drop — maybe then we can get ourselves a Nuts 4 Nuts stop. It’ll smell better than the others, at least.

My (least) favorite subway lie

“There’s another train right behind us.”

That’s right, MTA — I’m on to you. I am completely convinced that this line, which subway conductors use every single time the train is packed and people are trying desperately to squeeze on, is utter bullshit. The few times I’ve ever taken their advice, I’ve had to wait at least another five minutes for the next train, sometimes longer. I strongly suspect MTA higher-ups teach conductors to use the line to avert a Tokyo-style crush whether or not there’s another train immediately following.

Any incidence of an actual train arriving following the use of this line is purely coincidental. Trust me. If you’ve got somewhere you need to be, just keep on squeezing. Don’t worry — other people will be gullible enough to fall for it.

Finally …

… somebody has bothered to investigate the bizarre Epoch Times, the weekly newspaper that came out of nowhere to be distributed all over New York in no time flat, and whose associations with Falun Gong are baldly obvious despite their repeated denials.

I’m all for religious freedom, and I completely believe that Falun Gong members are being imprisoned and tortured in China. But I’m also not big on duplicitous propaganda.

Hey, did you read about me in Time Out New York?

Melissa and I are featured in an article that comes out today about “undiscovered neighborhoods” in Queens. We hosted a writer from Time Out New York overnight a few weeks ago, showed him around, went out for dinner and drinks, generally evangelized the Hills like they deserve to be evangelized. A good time was had by all, I hope. I can’t wait to see it, and rest assured I’ll be violating the no-personal-websites rule at work in order to constantly reload their site, waiting desperately for the piece to appear, making the publishers untold hundreds of dollars in online ad revenue. I’m a journalism major, after all. Here’s why people go into journalism:

10%: To change the world and eliminate social injustice/liberal bias/”heterosexism”/”Islamofascism
90%: To see their name in print

They’re going to mention this blog, they say. Hope you’re not disappointed! This is, after all, the Backburner, and it’s the Backburner for a reason. What’s more, since the wedding, there’s no front burner right now, though I’m working on that.

Do continue to drop in, but also realize that I, like, have a job and stuff.

The Americanization of Max Brenner

Melissa and I paid a visit to the new Max Brenner’s Chocolate Bar in Union Square last night for some kickin’ chocolate pizza. I thought it would be disgusting, with its melted marshmallows and goopy chocolate on a pizza crust, but something was drawing me to it. It turned out I was right. It was disgustingly incredible. (It was also disgustingly $6.50, though I can’t really deny that my half was worth $3.25.)

This was actually my second visit to Max’s–during my four days in London over Thanksgiving weekend a few years back, I had some pan au chocolat at the Harrod’s location, which, if the Max Brenner website is any indication, is no longer around. Despite a couple of large cauldrons of churning chocolate, the London place was kind of understated. It seemed to be saying: “What, you’ve never heard of a chocolate restaurant before? Sure, this particular one is pretty special, but please, this kind of thing has been commonplace in English society for decades.” The New York outpost, on the other hand, is positively garish, with giant chocolate pipes running up and down the space and more than a modest dose of kitsch.

Maybe that’s the fault of the Wonkafication of chocolate culture. My best guess, though, is that it’s the difference between Britain and America, despite some evidence to the contrary.

Dirty real-estate tricks

I’ve now noticed this enough while perusing real-estate listings that it qualifies as a trend.

Let’s say an apartment is located on A Street and 1st Avenue. (All street names purely fictional.) There’s a subway stop called “B Street,” but it’s located on B Street and 10th. So in order to get there from your A and 1st apartment, you would have to walk one block down to B, then turn and walk nine blocks to 10th. Inevitably, dishonest real-estate agents will advertise this apartment as one block from the subway, because it’s one block from the same street where the subway is, at some other point, located.

On a related note, my favorite Craigslist trick is sneaking the name of a more-desirable neighborhood into a listing so it shows up in the search results. You’ll be searching for apartments in Chelsea, and you’ll find an ad for a studio in the South Bronx that says, “We also have apartments in Chelsea!”