Named "New York's Wackiest Tour Guides" by the Travel Channel!

Abandoned CT Beach Colony Swarmed by Artists!

What do tour guides do on their Sundays with no tours booked and no desire to hang out in the five boroughs? They take a tour! Not a tour per se, but an artist-led exploration to an unknown locale, complete with mysterious but fun activities. A trip that goes places and does stuff, via yellow school bus. Its called Going Places (Doing Stuff) and it rocks.

Get on the Flux Bus!

Held weekly in the summer, but monthly starting this month, GPDS is an adventure, curated by Jean Barberis and Georgia Muenster of Flux Factory, a community of artists who live and work in a former greeting card factory in Long Island City. Jean and Georgia select a New York artist / writer / tour guide / impresario to curate a mystery bus trip. Those who buy their tickets for the ride have no idea where they’re headed; only 1) the time and location of the departure & return, 2) what to bring (a flashlight, booze, money for lunch, a lemon were all on this trip’s “need” list) and 3) the title of the trip. Sunday’s trip was called “Pleasure Forever” and I knew I had to go after I bumped into Jean at a dance party last weekend, while he was shucking a dozen oysters he picked himself.

Re-contextualized art house in Pleasure Beach CT

Sunday’s tour was curated by a trio of artists called Over Take whose previous art experiments took place in shifting urban spaces. Their broad objectives are to make their way inside (often illegally) and re-energize the place, via painting, graffiti, murals, wheatpasting, installation, garbage collection, altering structures, or other methods of crazy art-manipulation. They had been living for 5 weeks this summer in a abandoned beach community called Pleasure Beach, just across the sound from Stamford, CT. This was where they took us, to share the magic of a derelict artist shantytown, before CT tore it down. Plus, oysters!

Orange pants, seashell beach

After a pit-stop at Grove Beach, another eminent-domain’ed beach community on Staten Island, we set off for Pleasure Beach. Upon arrival at a dead-ended parking lot on the sound, we were told to walk quickly and as non-conspicuously as possible through the beach and over hills, all while carrying our gear and coolers filled with snacks. This was a little difficult when one is wearing bright orange polyester pants. As we crunched through a beach we realized we were marching over millions of empty seashells. Extraordinary.

Another extraordinary art / graffiti'd / wrecked beach house

After 20 minutes of walking down Long Island Sound’s seashell piles, we reached the former village of Pleasure Beach, now about 20 (and dwindling) houses, slathered in graffiti, paint, sculptures, broken everything, and more, mid-tear down. Our Over Take artists gave us a tour of the place, pointing out houses that they’d art-manipulated, noticing dirt pits where houses they’d installed in were now gone, and bringing us to the wrecked theater, next to the collapsed carousel and cavernously empty beach gazebo and changing rooms. It was like touring a bombed-out beach ghost town. When the families left, they left behind everything – toothbrushes, bedsheets, silverware, children’s drawings, beds, everything.

This is what a wrecked, torched carousel looks like

After participating in a spiritual cleansing of the bad juju inherent in a community in the midst of a wrecking ball, we re-entered the theater, sat down amongst the mold and dust, and enjoyed a digital slideshow (courtesy of power generator and projector – Pleasure Beach lost its juice in the late 1990s when the residents were booted out) of the photography of Joe Yunckes lovingly archiving the decay and destruction of the beachfront community.

Matt and Jean (in red sweater) shucking oysters to feast

Following Joe’s photo show, a handful of us went down to the beach to dig oysters for dinner. Those piles of shells weren’t just decorative! Armed only with flashlights and plastic bags, a half-dozen of us tromped down to the sand and started searching for oysters. Within 30 minutes we had scored a massive pile  of them – over 200 for us to clean, shuck and devour. Back at base camp we did just that, adorning the mollusks with mignonette and the juice of aforementioned lemons. A bunch of beers went around, the GPDSers raised an oyster to toast forgotten communities and the artists and historians who remember them. Then it was back on the bus to return to NYC.

By Matt Levy

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Why We Are Marching As The Mr T(ea) Party This Halloween!?

WE PITY THE FOOL who wont march w. The Levys' Unique New York!

Somebody’s got to take a stand. Somebody’s got to do what’s right. Somebody’s got to walk the walk not just talk the talk. And we’re the damn fools to do it! But, why Mr T? Why, exactly, do we “Pity the Fool?” (And who was “The Fool”  Mr. T was always referring to?)

Mr. T, an actor most famed for his role in the 1980s action/comedy series The A Team, created a distinctive persona that blended subtle hints of violence with masssive amounts of bling. Born Laurence Tureaud, Mr. T started his career as a bouncer in the tough clubs of his Chicago hometown. When the bounced patrons returned to retrieve their necklaces lost in barfights, they got no further than the door, meeting, a bedecked T, with all that bling wrapped around his massive neck.

From a formidable bouncer to bodyguard of the stars is an obvious leap, and Mr. T soon protected the likes of Muhammed Ali, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross. In 1980, Sly Stallone noticed Mr. T while filming NBC’s America’s Toughest Bouncer, and it took off from there with the T-ster eventually appearing in over 30 movies and TV shows. At the height of Mr. T’s fame, his bling cost over $300,000 and took him an hour to put on. His Mohawk haircut was inspired by a Mandika warrior’s ‘do.

But, why OUR Mr T(ea) Party? And why in NYC? Well, we figure it’s some smart word play/cultural connections that might not make any sense, but would be fun and seriously goofy. And smart, fun and goofy is what makes it perfect to debut in NYC’s Halloween parade.

Incredible spooks and amazing creations at the Halloween Parade!

The always outrageous Greenwich Village Halloween Parade is the place to be for New Yorkers on the legendary night of spook. Few NYers know that the parade is the largest public participation parade in the country.  If you want to join, all you need to do is think up a awesome concept & costume, talk your friends and family into joining, show up at the staging areas along 6th Avenue and Spring street, and voila! Instant public participation parade.

The parade was first marched in 1972, led by Greenwich Village’s local artists and parents. By 1974, the Theater for the New City and local artist and producer Jeanne Fleming took over production and developed it into the world-famous parade it is now. The 2010 iteration will be the 38th parade; last year had 60,000 marchers and over 2 Million spectators. Just like the Thanksgiving Day Parade, every year is more outrageous and better attended. And we’ll be there, baby, in our mohawks and bling, shouting down the corrupt politicians in DC. We pity those fools the most!

by Mark Levy
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Elegy to a Lost New Yorker

Eight and a half million lives pass through NYC’s streets every day, swelled by millions more commuters and visitors. The souls of so many millions, carrying so many joys and heartbreaks mix with the minds of a billion opinions, stories, hopes and fears. When one of these lives leave this world, we continue without pause on our paths, but the Levy family and our loved friends have stopped this time to reflect on a spectacular life well lived and recently lost.

Bennett Levy, Mark’s father, was born 90 years ago in the Bronx. He lived through the Great Depression, was employed in the garment industry during its heyday, and vividly remembered the blackouts of World War II. He worked as a machinist making valves during the war effort, which he sent off to the Manhattan Project!

Gramma and Pop during the late 1940s. Such a handsome couple!

After marrying the sole love of his life, Harriet, in 1948, the two of them moved to a new Mitchell-Lama Co-op building in Manhattan twenty years later and became the quintessential Upper West Siders. Walks in Central Park and the NY Botanical Gardens in the Bronx; Nights at the opera and New York Philharmonic orchestra at Lincoln Center; dozens of Broadway shows throughout the years; he was actively engaged in his lifestyle even as he entered his 90th year of life.

Pop kept his Scoutmaster uniform pressed and ready for action.

He loved New York City and the buzz of the people walking through its streets. He was very dedicated to organization on a local level (a co-founder of Bronx Reform Democrats) and a national level (he marched with Martin Luther King Jr. down Broadway!). When the city went dark during the blackout of 1969, he and my father got dressed up in their Boy Scout uniforms and directed traffic on the Grand Concourse.

Thats Pop on the far left, giving Gideon rabbit ears. (Thats Matt with orange hair!)

For the millions of people who passed him on the streets or the hundreds who held a rapt conversation with him, they probably won’t notice one less person, plucked from our dynamic city. But for the Levy family and our dear friends the empty space at the head of the dinner table will be missed. After all, the heated conversation that emanated from my grandfather touched on every topic from the war in Afghanistan to whether or not dogs dream in color.

A young idealist, ready to change the world!

However, the extraordinarily active life that he lived has indirectly touched thousands of lives and will continue to, as all of his thoughts, opinions and experiences have been passed down to his daughter, son and grandchildren. Because we have channeled his spirit on to every curious soul who takes our tours. And, if years from now the Levys bring on a new generation of guides, they will share the same spirit, passed down from their great-grandfather, Bennett Levy.

By Jonah Levy

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Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz Bonanza!

Matt talks about the awesomeness of the Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz tour

After months of planning and weeks of preparing and hours of research, it was time. The media had been alerted, the blogs had been hollering it from the rooftops, the various bicycle, beer and history-geek communities had re-tweeted the bejeezus out of it. It was time for the Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz!

Checking out the Fallert Brewery on Lorimer & Meserole in Williamsburgh

Contrary to popular belief, the Bike Brooklyn Beer Blitz is NOT an excuse to pound a six-pack and then ride wobbly through the streets of Brooklyn. Rather, it’s a descriptive & illustrated tour, via bicycle, of the neighborhoods of Williamsburgh and Bushwick, focusing on the architecture and history of the long-faded German brewing community.

The Breweries of Brooklyn, by Will Anderson, publ. 1976

At the very end of the 19th century, Brooklyn was home to more Germans than any other city in America. This is thanks to ethnic strife and an 1848 political upheaval, in which 1.5 million Germans moved to America between 1840 and 1860. 200,000 of them settled in NYC, with most of them in BK.

The brand-spanking new Schaefer Brewery, on Kent Ave, in 1916

And they brought BEER! Germany in the 1800s was not one unified country but a gathering of smaller nation-states with their own styles and brewing traditions. It was much like today’s Chinatown, where one can taste Szechuan, Hunanese, Fujianese and Tawainese within 4 blocks;  an intrepidly thirsty soul could travel from block to block in North Brooklyn and have wildly varying beers at each brewery – double bocks, hefeweisens, kolschs, lagers and pisners. In 1898 Brooklyn had a grand total of 48 breweries – more than Detroit, DC and Milwaukee combined! Beer was also not nearly as alcoholic as the stuff we quaff today, so everyone drank it, and drank a lot of it. In 1907, Brooklyn had 1.5 million residents, and the 40-odd breweries that existed brewed 2.5 million barrells of beer. Thats 2 barrels of beer for every man, woman and child in Brooklyn!

A wrecked car outside of the Huber / Hittleman Brewery, in 1975

Sadly, history has not been kind to the Brewers. You had the General Slocum disaster of 1904 (a steamship explosion which killed 1,021 victims, mostly German women and children,) World Wars 1 and 2, and Prohibition in-between. Add to that Eisenhower’s America of the 1950s, in which it was de rigeur to enjoy mass-produced beers shipped via mechanically refrigerated trains. Local beer manufacturing couldn’t compete with breweries which had massive real estate outside of NYC, which meant volume, cheaper costs, less labor problems and more money for advertising. In March of 1976 legendary Brooklyn breweries Schaefer and Rheingold closed within one week of each other.

The beautiful Ulmer Counting House & Brewery, on Belvidere Street

So our tour aims to celebrate the history of these intrepid brewers and their boisterous community by rolling through Brooklyn and stopping to look at various brewery buildings, a dozen of which are still standing. Each has obviously been repurposed as artist lofts or Chinese dumpling factories or privately owned mysteries, but they look just like they did when they were built, whether in 1868, or 1896, or 1904. Thanks to the awesomeness of the Ipad, Blitzers could compare a sketch from the 19th century with a photo from the 1970s with today’s building.

Resting at the end of the tour, a history well learned.

Of course, it would be a travesty if we just talked about beer for 3 hours without having any, so mid-tour’s bar stop at Matt Torrey’s fit the (mash) bill, for a beer. And the tour ended at Evergreen Cemetery to celebrate the Brewer’s Row of Mausoleums, with a special surprise waiting for us. What was the surprise? You’ll have to take the tour to find out! Cheers! To Beers!

By Matt Levy

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