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

Launching the LUNY! Fleet!

Launching the LUNY! Fleet!

The first time I ever saw a Smartcar, I  fell in love. Remember now, I’m a city boy, born and bred in The Bronx. This meant that cars were not a part of my teenage culture. Me and my pals rode bicycles and the NYC Subway. I didn’t even get my drivers license until I graduated college! As an adult I realized that cars were good to have around in Brooklyn for personal errands; also in my past life as a Facilities and Properties Manager for the City of New York I drove a city car all around town.

Our Smartcar in its original skin.

Flashback to the fall of 2000, when I visited Matt in Holland during his semester abroad. We rented a (non-smart) car and drove around the Netherlands, which is when I first saw a Smartcar. It was so small and cute and maneuverable. So I said to myself, “Self, this is brilliant! Its the ultimate urban car!”

Flashforwward to October, 2011, when my trusted mechanic (not an oxymoron in Brooklyn) told me my beloved ’98 Honda CRV was dying of terminal transmission disease, I knew what I wanted. I knew it was time to drive into the future and buy a Smartcar, but ONLY if we would Adwrap it, LUNY! style.

NY's First Family of adwrapped cars!

At the same time as my Honda was being junked, Matt’s beloved Eggplant Express hit the wrong end of a tow truck, and got scrapped. So we went from 2 cars to no cars. So it made sense for Matt and I to lease a 2011 Honda CRV at the same time as the Smartcar, and wrap ‘em both!

Our Graphics Genius, Jason Engdahl!

We have to give special shoutouts to Jason Engdahl, our incredible Graphick Genius (Jason’s the rockstar who did our logo and business color scheme,) who patiently helped us layout the two cars and their respective Adwrap designs; as well as Dave Powers of Adwraps, our wrap artist.

Smartcar in front, CRV in rear, Casa Levy always a beautiful backdrop

By Mark Levy

 

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Long Live John Lennon

The iconic shot of Lennon and Lady Liberty.

One of the best things you get from a Levys’ tour is the personalized touch… like a maraschino cherry on top of a Welcome to New York sundae! Sometimes its Grandma waving a red pillow from her Upper West Side balcony, sometimes its a visit to Casa Levy on a Brooklyn architecture tour. My favorite bit of “Personalized Gideon Tour” is when I bring my group to Strawberry Fields in Central Park to tell them how I got my name.

“Now which Beatles song does the name Gideon appear in?” The kids sit and ponder for a moment while the boomers in the crowd grin knowingly. I continue . . .

So many people, Imagining a world of people living life in peace

“Rocky Raccoon, in which the lyrics go ‘Rocky Raccoon went into his room, only to find Gideon’s bible!’ And I thank my parents every day… for not naming me Rocky.” It gets a quick laugh from the group, but each time it fills me with pride. Because I know that one of the greatest influences on music, pop culture, peace-culture and humanity had a big part in naming me. If I could, I would certainly thank John Lennon for both the personal influence he had on me as well as the awe-inspiring influence he left on my great city, I would. Sadly that’s not possible, as John was ripped from this world far too soon. So I do the next best thing: I make a pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields every December 8th, the anniversary of John’s death and a day I like to call John Lennon Day.

The Beatles first exploded into New York, and subsequently into the homes, hearts and minds of all Americans in early 1964 when their performance on the Ed Sullivan Show launched the British Invasion. But John’s personal relationship with New York didnt start until after the Beatles broke up in 1970. John’s relationship with NYC had more to do with his personal and family life than it did with his music. In interviews with John and Yoko, they both said that John always felt like a New Yorker, it just took him longer to come home.

“One of the biggest kicks is just going out to eat, or going to the movies, you know? Just doing things I couldn’t do when I was [in the] Beatles. Sometimes people stop for an autograph, or maybe they just stop to shake hands which is the coolest when that happens.” What a neat New Yorker!

For John, it was something of a euphoric shock to the system to go from being mobbed by thousands of fans as one of the biggest pop sensations of all time, to being an everyday family man in a city that he loved and that loved him. When people asked why John “went into hiding” after the Beatles broke up, he laughed:

“The illusion that I was cut off from society is a joke. I was just the same as any of the rest of you; I was working from nine to five – baking bread and changing some nappies and dealing with the baby.”

John was an iconoclast in so many ways, it seems beautifully fitting that he could be an iconoclast to his own fame. When it got to be too much for him, he simply chose not too be a celebrity anymore, he became an everyday New Yorker like you and me. It lasted far, far too shortly though. In an almost cosmic backlash, a fan so obsessed with John’s talent and presence came to New York to latch himself to John’s fame in the only way his troubled mind could comprehend: by ending John’s life.

One of my great regrets in life is to have been born after John Lennon left this city and world. Of all celebrities either here and now or dead and gone, I feel like I know John the best, not just because he gave me my name, but even more poignantly, his music and his legacy on this city helps keep me connected to my mother, who adored John and who passed thirteen years ago this winter.

We miss you John Lennon.

So every December 8th I make the pilgrimage to Strawberry Fields to sing his songs with all the other fans and devotees. Sometimes I hug a random stranger, sometimes I just close my eyes to feel the spirits of John and my Mom. after all, it was John’s death that inspired the revitalization of Central Park, starting with Strawberry Fields. So for the millions of visitors who enjoy Strawberry Fields every year, I like to think that John is smiling from the great beyond, and maybe (just maybe) wishing he could come back around for one last sing along.

By Gideon Levy

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The Levys’ Unique New . . . Philly!?

Mark, Jonah and Gid mug in front of Geno's

For those of you who didn’t catch word on the FB. we were whisked away to Philadelphia last week for a whirlwind two-day TV promo shoot to sell to a major Cable TV network!  Although we cant tell you which cable channel, nor can we tell you whether or not its going to ferment into something serious (if only we knew!) we can tell you what it was like to be followed by cameras for two days and to have every word out of your mouth and every bite out of your sandwich be captured for posterity.

It was weird. It was awesome. It was stressful. And it was a lot of work. Tuesday night, Mark, Gideon, Jonah and I drove down to Philly and checked into our hotel, the swanky Westin Philadelphia. We went out for dinner, talked about what the shoot was going to be like, and whether or not we’d have to “ham up” our characters for the cameras. After some tequila shots and beer chasers, we met with our producer, Sandra. Sandra prepped us that what she wanted to capture on camera was our individual, original, organic personalities, both solo and sparring with each other. That, and our apparent love for food. This was going to be a breeze, right?

Wrong. 5am wakeup and 6am the wheels were rolling. First thing we hit was the world-famous Geno’s Steaks, so we can talk about how the cheesesteak in Philly is world famous, but . . . “the Levys’ are gonna take you to where the locals eat!”  In freezing weather this line was repeated about a dozen times,  while Mark Gid and Jonah are yammering in the background about how good a cheesesteak is gonna taste at 6:30 in the morn. So of course we bought one.

Matt and Boo Messick, behind the counter at John's Roast Pork

Next stop, our first real shot was at John’s Roast Pork, a dockside institution since 1930. They keep day laborer hours, so its Mon-Fri, 6am-3pm. We were under the direction of Boo Messick, a 4th generation Philly Sandwich Superstar, and with her help we made, then promptly ate, a Scrapple, Egg & Cheese hoagie; a Roast Pork, spinach & sharp provolone hoagie; and a Cheesesteak hoagie. That and we learned how the Roast Pork is made, from raw to spiced to roasted to sliced to soaked to hoagie’d. It was most excellent and most delicious. And the girls at John’s are total sweethearts.

Rob Swinton, showing Paul the Cameraman how he shucks an oyster

After John’s, we went to the Reading Terminal Market for some fried oysters, pepper hash and chicken salad, courtesy of Rob Swinton, the legendary 40-year veteran of the grill at Pearl’s Oyster Bar. Rob started working at Pearls as a 12 year old, washing dishes. He made his way up the proverbial diner ladder and now makes a mean fried oyster and a Philly specialty called pepper hash. Mark was very excited to try out this pepper hash, thinking it a weird mashup of eggs, peppers and potatoes, when all it turned out to be was a cabbage, pepper and vinegar coleslaw. Tasty though. Just not what we were expecting.

After Pearls, we boogied to The Memphis Tap Room, a real hip joint with delicious micro-brewed beers on tap and Jesse, a serious whiz kid working the kitchen. He showed how to make his newest creation, a smoked porter brined beef brisket, with caramelized carrots, sharp cheddar and beer gravy on a brioche roll. This was gonna get paired with a local beer by Victory Brewing Comnpany, their immaculate Storm King Stout, a serious heavy smoky beast of a beer. We wrapped up around 6pm, and were stone cold unconscious a few hours later.

It. Was. So. Cold. In. That. Park.

Thursday was a much lighter shooting sched, with a 7am wakeup for an 8am call. No food shoots for Thursday, instead we filmed our impressions of Philly in a park with the skyline behind us, below-50 degrees out (guess who didnt dress for the cold!?) and us playing frisbee, and arguing with each other (natch.) Then we made it to another hotel, and setup for one-on-one camera line replays. Basically if Sandra liked a line but didnt think that it was said with enough gusto, she wanted to repeated for audio’s sake. That and some reaction shots that will splice well into the segment. Another dinner (Vietnamese, off camera) and 2 full days of Philly had us Levy guys clamoring for home. 2+ hours later, we were snug in Brooklyn beds.

So do we get our own tv show? Will the world learn about the Levys’ and their ability to eat everything as well as talk about everything? More importantly, will the Levys boys be able to eat and talk at the same time? WITH THEIR MOUTHS FULL?!? Stay tuned to find out!

By Matt Levy

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Operation Pop the Trunk

James Wilby. Little did I know of his counter-mission.

This mission, should you choose believe it, commenced the evening of Friday, November 19th, when one James Wilby was approached by Agent Ohio outside Wilby’s office building in Midtown East. I knew Wilby from Hobart College; his 26th birthday was a few days earlier. Wilby knew Agent Ohio from last years birthday spy mission: Wilby & Ohio met in Central Park, exchanged a USB stick for a locked briefcase, and Wilby was given detailed instructions that led him to a safe house where a surprise party was thrown in his honor. This year’s mission, however, changed everything.

Agent Ohio: a good man with some bad luck

Agent Ohio: a good man with some bad luck

The mission I planned would span three boroughs, involve a David Lynchian meeting with a character known only as The French Man and would culminate with Wilby’s discovery of a girl hiding in the trunk of a car. However, the counter-mission, engineered by forces unknown, ended with I, Operation Pop the Trunk’s Mastermind, chasing numerous vehicles through the streets of industrial Greenpoint in an effort to hunt down Wilby, who disappeared into the night. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Agent TJ. Looks trustworthy. Hardly.

Once Agent Ohio picked Wilby up from his office, he brought Wilby to a car piloted by rogue Agent TJ. Agent TJ could be trusted with one job – driving Wilby across the Queensboro Bridge to an undisclosed location. The tension was palpable during the drive: Agent Ohio didn’t trust Agent TJ, and Agent TJ had no idea who Wilby was. Furthermore, Agent Ohio’s girlfriend had been missing for nearly 24 hours and he wanted nothing more than to skip the meeting with The French Man and find her.

The French Man: his mysteriousness is exceeded only by his frenchness

The French Man: his mysteriousness is exceeded only by his Frenchness

Wilby was dropped off in front of Flux Factory, a sleeper cell disguised as an art collective in Long Island City. After introducing himself (in French,) The French Man proceeded to question, harangue and confuse Wilby, entirely in French. Wilby doesn’t understand a lick of French. Through gestures, Wilby grasped The French Man’s request for a piece of film. Once he handed off the film, Wilby was handed a briefcase. “Promenade du Norde. Promenade du Norde!” the French Man shouted at Wilby as he led him out of the labyrinthine basement of Flux, and, with nothing else to do, Wilby walked north.

When he made it a block north, Wilby practically stumbled into a scuffle between Agents Ohio and TJ. Upon seeing Wilby’s briefcase, TJ made a wild grab for it. Unsuccessful, he darted into a car piloted by a man known as Agent Waterbringer. Out of nowhere, a photographer with a long-range lens also jumped into the same car. After snapping some shots, the car peeled off.

Agent Ohio and James Wilby proceeded to open the briefcase to find discarded underwear. Ohio was neither surprised nor concerned; he received an anonymous text message with the location of his missing girlfriend. So they set off to another stretch of industrial LIC. Upon arrival, Ohio gave the keys to Wilby and said, “If I’m not back in ten minutes, get out of here.” Ohio took off towards an alley, when Wilby heard a knocking from inside the trunk.

Jeanne - A good girl caught up in a bad situation.

Jacking the trunk, Jeanne, Ohio’s missing girlfriend popped out and called after Ohio. He returned to the car and the two of them had a passionate embrace. Her story was questionable, but she told Ohio and Wilby that she was jogging last night and suddenly hit over the head. The next thing she knew, she was in the trunk of the car. He didn’t care, as long as she was ok. The three of them drove over the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn.

This is where things get slippery. Agent Waterbringer had Ohio’s vehicle staked out as it approached the bridge and he pulls in behind Ohio. All of a sudden another car, a Jeep, swerves between Ohio & Waterbringer. Inside Ohio’s Civic, Jeanne is confused and groggy, interrogating Wilby about what exactly is going on. At some point, once in Brooklyn, Wilby decides he’s had enough and exits the car and immediately enters the Jeep. The Jeep, piloted by totally unknown agents, begins to split off route—but Waterbringer is on its tail, banking left and right, keeping a sharp eye on the mysterious vehicle.

A dark night. A briefcase. A confrontation.

At a stop sign, a figure smoking a Black and Mild wanders into the street, smack inbetween Waterbringer and the Jeep. Waterbringer identifies him as James’ brother, honks his horn and the man scurries off. Catching up to the parked Jeep, Waterbringer pulls up and rolls down the window to identify the driver as Ryan, Wilby’s co-worker and one of my trusted agents in last years mission. But Wilby is nowhere to be seen – he must’ve taken off down a dark alley while the Jeep was parked.

The trail was cold, so Waterbringer assumed his workaday alias, Jonah Levy, and went to the bar where the after-party was planned. There he finds a few of James’ friends, including Ryan and James’ brother. “Where’s James?” he asks. “I don’t know”, they reply, grinning from ear to ear. Suddenly a strange man comes up to the table clutching bottles in his hands “Someone order seven beers?” He says in a gruff voice. It’s Wilby, incognito in fake mustache and wig. Agent Wilby, incredibly, engineered his own stakeout, extraction and infiltration of his super secret birthday surprise spy mission. Next year, we’ll have to incorporate a few decoys…

By Jonah Levy / Agent Waterbringer.

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#GoogleUniqueEats Foodie Tours!

It's a tough life, leading a foodie tour on a Partybus for Google users . . .

So when our friend Esther, who works as the Manhattan Google Places Community Manager, called me up and said “I want to hire you guys to lead a crazy food tour for Google on a Partybus . . .” my head started to spin. Visions of top-ranked Google Searches and Larry Page and Sergey Brin front and center, enraptured with all my knowledge dropping . . . until Esther explained further. It wasnt a tour for Google employees, it was a tour for Google Place Users. Google Places is Google’s new personalized local recommendation engine powered by users and their friends.

We scored delicious Venezuelan roast pork & plantain sandwiches here.

Users can review one place a day, or a hundred. The more you review, the higher up in the Google Places rankings you list. And the more reviews you snag under your belt, the more opportunities you catch for awesome activities. And Esther wanted us to create a Foodie tour, which is what went down last Saturday. We devised a Washington Heights and Chinatown Foodie Tour! You might remember Jonah’s Washington Heights blog post earlier this month.

Since Washington Heights is at the waay top of Manhattan, we met our group in Chinatown, where we pickedup some sweet sticky Chinese pork jerky to whet our appetites. Our partybus was waiting for us, along with a few cases of chilled, delicious Sixpoint beer, and off we went to the top of the the island, land of Dominican fried pastries and Venezuelan roast meat sandwiches!

When we say Partybus, we mean PARTYbus!

Our party bus, booked through Amex Limo, was a pimped-out sweet 30 passenger minibus with laser lights, a booming sound system, leather couches, beer coolers, a bar for mixed drinks and a party manager along with the driver. Our guest list were 23 New Yorkers, some lifers, some newbies, all users of Google Places and all excited to head towards a ‘hood they’d mostly never been to.

First stop was Cachapas y Mas, a Venezuelan fast food joint on Dyckman street near the Elevated 1 stop. We got the Patacon de pernil, which was succulent roast pork slathered in sauce and slapped between two smashed, fried plantains. Yum! They also tossed in a dozen Shark patties, totally gratis. Shark! Since all the beer was on the bus, we took our food to go and wolfed it down between sips of Sixpoint and Cape Codder cocktails.

Matt spooning pickled slaw onto Foodie pupusas!

After our Venezuelan stop, we went south along Broadway but north to Central America for Salvadoran pupusas at La Cabana Salvadorena, Broadway and W 187th street.  Our stop here included a pupusa de queso, con brocoli y zucchini. Pupusas are Salvadoran corn-cakes, stuffed with cheese and assorted fillings, with shredded cabbage coleslaw and crema served on top. We were the slaw-serving master.

Emerging victorious from our Russian Minimarket in Washington Heights.

From South & Central America we hopped a pretty quick flight to Russia, by way of Moscow on the Hudson, a crammed-to-the-gills Russian minimarket on W 181st street. We picked up some kielbasa, cheese, pickled tomatoes and pickled pickles. Back to the bus and the booze (for the food!) The tomatoes were extraordinary – flavor explosions.

Second to last stop (’cause it was getting late and we were still way the hell at the top of the island) was Empanadas Monumental – an incredible collection of fried Dominican pastries filled with delicacies like Ropa Vieja de Pollo (shredded and sauced chicken,) Lasagna, Pizza, and Carne de Res (beef.) Delicious, fried little pockets of joy. After our Dominican empanadas, we zoomed downtown, back to Chinatown for one last foodie stop. Of course it was one of our favorites which we includ on every LUNY! Noshing tour, the awesomely cheap Tasty Dumpling in Chinatown, for fried-and-steamed pork potstickers.

All this food description making you salivate? Well, although we’re not running another Google Places Washington Heights Foodie Tour, we ARE running a #GooglePizzaBus Foodie Tour! Info can be found here on our website, and we hope to see you on the partybus! Food and drink is on Google!

By Matt Levy

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