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Bike the Boro Border Review!

Matt explaining the route on the Brooklyn/Queens Border

The endless grey skies above were a nice match for the equally endless industrial wasteland spread out before us. It was Sunday afternoon and 15 cyclists were about to achieve, if not the impossible, than the improbable. We were going to set off on our two-wheeled machines and attempt to ride inbetween the borders of Brooklyn and Queens. It was ambitious, not for the length of the ride (an easy 8 1/2 miles) but for the audacity of it. Had it ever been done before? No-one knows, or, more probably, no-one has riden and lived to tell the tale.

Matt outlining the line between Brooklyn and Queens

Well, people probably have riden the route, but from what we’ve searched, no-one has told it successfully. So this was our objective: to ride our bikes along the zig-zagging border between Brooklyn and Queens. To skirt the edges of at least a dozen plus neighborhoods, and just as many zip codes. To see if things were really all that different in Woodhaven (QNS) as they are in Cypress Hills (BK). To stop for a pint of beer in the oldest bar in Queens. To roll through the neighborhood known as The Hole. To end at the end of the border between Kings and Queens counties.

We were off! Armed with a trusty Bike Map of NYC 2011 edition, the route was carefully plotted and configured so as to follow, as closely as possible, the border between Brooklyn and Queens. After about 5 minutes of riding down Onderdonk Ave, we had to veer off-track since an impenetrable freight railroad line interrupted our flow. Soon enough we arrived at the Vande-Onderdonk Farmhouse, the oldest Dutch stone farmhouse in NYC, and Arbitration Rock.

Adventurous cyclists at Arbitration Rock! (in Queens.)

Arbitration Rock! The very name brings to mind historical delegations between warring communities! The story of the Rock is one of endless bickering and stone throwing between the English community of Newtowne (Newtown, now Long Island City) and the Dutch village of Bostwijck (Bushwick). So to settle the dispute, they picked a rock in 1788 and placed it as an arbitration point, using it to outline all borders between the communities, and eventually, Kings and Queens Counties. Mind you, this original 1789 border line is NOT the border that we biked. The original border cut through families farmhouses, so that their living room was in Brooklyn but their kitchen in Queens! In 1925 the city of NY decided to re-arrange the border so that it cut along street corners and not through houses. This was explained to us by the lovely docent at the Vande-Onderdonk Farmhouse. Then we were off again.

Friends grabbing a bite to eat in LIC, Queens.

Flushing Ave, Seneca Ave, a wrong-way right turn against traffic (but dutifully following the border!) on Menahan street, L on St. Nicholas Ave, R on Gates Ave, L on Wyckoff, then Halsey, Eldert st, Irving Ave and to the cemetery. LUNCH BREAK! Incredibly fatty Puerto Rican food in a parking lot on Cooper, plus real Pina Coladas! Now the BK/QNS border runs right through Evergreen and Cypress Hills Cemeteries but we weren’t attempting to roll over headstones and disturb the RIPers, so we jagged through Highland Park and came out on the Cypress Hills side of Brooklyn, made our way to Eldert Lane, and down the border again.

Stopping for a beer at the oldest bar in Queens

Beer stop! Neirs Tavern, in Woodhaven, claims to be the oldest bar in Queens and one of the oldest in America. Opened as the Blue Pump Room in 1829, it has had many changes, in name and layout, but is still the same bar in the same building. Mae West performed there. Its the bar where the Goodfellas meet. They were gracious enough to let 15 thirsty bikers plop down in the back room and drink cheap beer, as a break from the exhausting route-following dictations of lead cyclist-in-chief.

Mark and Alisa riding their way through the Hole.

Back to the border! Through Cityline/Ozone Park, East New York/Lindenwood. We came through The Hole - a netherland neighborhood half in Brooklyn, half in Queens and 30 feet below street grade. No sidewalks, no sewers. It floods every time it rains. Also known as the Gem streets for the beautiful names like Sapphire, Ruby and Emerald streets, it makes the irony of the economically and geographically depressed neighborhood all that more apparent. Through the hole we traced the border as far south as possible before it disappeared into a marshy inlet from Jamaica Bay and we were definitely in Howard Beach, Queens. A rousing success! From there it was through a bunch of Brooklyn neighborhoods – East New York, New Lots, to the terminal L station in Canarsie and the end of our ride.

End of the line - Howard Beach Queens.

Huzzah Boro Borders! you run right through the middle of our hearts! For more pictures, check our Facebook page, and for another take on the story, read Burger Conquests’s report.

By Matt Levy

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Broadway vs Off-Off-Off-OFF-Broadway

Spiderman on the Brooklyn Bridge. Pic from Hollywoodreporter.com

Six delayed openings,

Four injured characters,

A mad genius at the helm and a $70 million dollar stake…

Is it the latest scheme by the nefarious Green Goblin? A bank robbery by the Sinister Six? J. Jonah Jameson’s latest journalistic vanity project? NO! It’s the musical that everybody’s been talking about: Spider-man: Turn off the Dark. Anyone who’s got any ear on the pulse of Broadway knows a little about the massive investments and numerous stutter-steps in the biggest gamble in Broadway history. In 2002, Julie Taymor (director of films like Frida and Across the Universe) joined forces with Bono and The Edge of U2 to bring one of the most successful comic book franchises to life on Broadway.

Since that fateful day, news on the show has been….well, highly anticipated! At least four actors suffered injuries, ranging from minor concussion to numerous broken bones. Rehearsals and previews have been plagued with delays and technical difficulties. As the costs continued to mount and mount the preview reviews that came in were…less than stellar… The investors concluded that Taymor was no longer fit to run the show, and it was handed over to a new director and screenwriter.

Now the Levys aren’t haters! We want to see successful Broadway shows and the tourists who love them; we want to see such hard work and innovation rewarded. So when we snagged some tickets for the very night that the new previews re-premiered. (That makes this the… second time it’s opened? Third? Ah, whatever.) we went in with an open mind.

And I walked out with the feeling that my $70 ticket price was a waste of cash.

Sorry to everyone clinging to Spidey’s tenuous webs, but the songs sounded like U2 B-sides, Mary-Jane (played by Jennifer Damiano) was bland and lacking charisma, the villains looked like Disney characters on acid, the plot was awkward and incoherent. And why did the Green Goblin talk with a southern accent? When a play’s saving grace is its bright and exciting sets (and yes, some awesome flying sequences) you don’t quite get the sense that this is the next West Side Story.

Some Broadway shows just stick with us, with tunes that are endlessly hummable. As Levy hatchlings, every long car ride was made shorter by the Broadway soundtrack to Les Miserables on cassette. I’ve always loved the romantic classic I Got Rhythm, originally a 1930’s gem by George and Ira Gershwin from a musical called Girl Crazy. Which, in 1992, was made into a musical called Crazy For You. Which I went to see just 48 hours after the Broadway Spider-debacle.

Edward R Murrow High School in Midwood BK. Pic from the NYTimes

Edward R Murrow High School, the alma-mater of all three Levy boys, is known for their top-notch theater productions. Grandma sprung for tickets and we went to the (high school) theater. The sets were top-rate. The costumes were phenomenal. And the performances were the sort of caliber that sometimes you wish you saw on Broadway.

If tickets for a show on the great white way are a little out of your price range, then take a visit to the Anzalone theater at 1600 ave L in Brooklyn. Drop $15, and maybe a little more at the bake-sale concession stand and you’ll see some talented youngsters that truly deserve to see their names in lights.

Goooooo MURROW!!!

By Gideon Levy

*****

A Rebuttal, by Mark Levy

I loved Spiderman! Amongst the Levys, I’m distainfully known for my taste for  mid-brow pop culture. And as I often point out: pop stands for POPULAR, as in ordinary people liking it!  I thought Spiderman was exciting, the plot clear and understandable, the sets, video projections and costumes incredible, the flying sequences astonishing. The male leads were good, especially Broadway veteran Patrick Page (accent and all) as the mad scientist turned Green Goblin. I predict that it will be a major hit on Broadway for many years because it will appeal to school groups, families, tourists and Broadway musical fans.

Viva La Opinion!

 

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Levys’ Like: Campo Di Fiore

Here’s a new addition to the LUNY weekly mailings: a little section we like to call “Levys’ Like”. The four of us are all over town, drinking in the culture and we thought we’d start a small cooumn detailing the best of our discoveries. Each spot gets a ranking of 1 to 5 “L’s.”

On a posting of my favorite “daily deals” website theskint.com, I discovered that a little spot in Park Slope was giving out free samples of pizza. I rolled on down and saw that Campo Di Fiore had only been open for 9 months, a sandwich board out front claimed it was voted best pizza in new york from 2010! We’ll see about that…I bellied up to the bar where the owner Andrea Dal Monte, a native Roman, dished up some delectable bites served on wonderfully soft dough, just thick enough for proper pizza constitution. The first slice I tried was a matriciana, which is traditionally a pasta sauce. Spicy and succulent with dots of cheese and sausage, he transformed it into a square of pizza in the Roman style. The other slice he served was a burrada, with a fresh mozzarella made extra creamy and surrounded by cherry tomatoes and leafy greens: a cooler, springier slice. It all went down smooth with a Forst Dobbel Bock. Who knew Italians made good malt beer?

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The Once and Future WTC Site

Memorial Voids. Pic courtesy of 9/11 Memorial Preview Site

The events of last weeks attack on Osama Bin Laden’s compound has offered some closure to the New York’s 9/11 saga, and in a somewhat timely fashion: in four months from today we will be honoring the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 at the completed memorial.  On September 11th, 2011, you will find the footprints – known as Memorial Voids – where the twin towers once stood, surrounded by 30 foot waterfalls pouring down the inside—the tallest manmade waterfalls in the country. Surrounding each Memorial Void will be the names of the 2,986 victims of 9/11 and the 1993 bombing. Furthermore, all around the site there will be 400 sweet gum and white oak trees, creating a calm, tranquil atmosphere where one can contemplate the events that changed our world ten years ago. An estimated 4 million visitors will flock to the memorial in its first year.

I was just fourteen years old. I woke up at 6 o’clock in the morning that day, and it wasn’t just “any other day” as many refer to it. It was the primary elections for the mayor of New York! My father and I had been campaigning all summer for Mark Green. If Green had won, then my Dad would have probably become a deputy commisioner and NY’s First Family of Tour Guides would never have existed.

We were in the subway stations of downtown Brooklyn, and when we heard what had happened we ran down Flatbush Avenue, where we saw both the towers on fire and proceeded to the PC Richards by Atlantic Avenue to watch it on the news. Later that day, the most bizarre moment occurred; I saw ash fluttering down from the sky.

I was very fortunate. I barely knew anyone who lost anyone on that day. My cousin, who worked in the south tower, saw the first plane hit the north tower and immediately said to everyone on her floor, “Let’s leave”. She got home safely. I tell these stories to the thousands of clients I bring to the World Trade Center and it feels strange sharing all of this when there were so many who were so gravely affected. Why is my story even relevant?

Perhaps it’s my life-long Brooklyn born-and-bred status that gives me the right to educate people about what happened here. Maybe it’s my DCA sightseeing license that makes me qualified. Regardless, these people need to know what occurred on that day, and it’s my job, literally, to tell them. What I’m happy about, though, is that now I can show them what the future promises.

The (Future) World Trade Center Site. Pic courtesy of the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site

1 World Trade Center (formally known as the Freedom Tower) is only about sixty-five stories tall at the moment, but when it’s finished it will be 104 stories. At 1,776 feet, it will be the tallest building in North America. They say it’ll be occupied by the end of 2013. As for all seven buildings, they probably won’t be open and ready for business until 2020, but we’re not making promises. Catch is, they’re just office buildings. They’re places for people to work. The most important part, of course, is the memorial.

I never got to go to the World Trade Center. I never really remember seeing the towers before that terrible day. But standing at the site today, after circling it for the past five years, telling everything I know to people who want to listen, all of that may help to close the circle. And knowing that the face of global terrorism has been brought to a kind of justice brings us a little bit closer.

By Jonah Levy

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Levy TV!

Matt and his fans appreciating Brooklyn's Street Art

In case you havent heard all of our shouting from the rooftops, The Levy clan will be on TV this coming Saturday! No, we dont have our very own Reality TV show (yet . . .) but rather we’re going to be a short segment as part of NBC’s First Look program, screening at 7:30pm on Saturday May 7th and again, at 1am on Sunday May 8th.

First Look is a national lifestyle TV program that focuses on culture in the 10 major markets across America. Each episode is organized around a topic – Locavore dining in Chicago, LA, Miami and Dallas; DIY remodeling in San Fransisco, Seattle and Minneapolis, you get the picture. The May 7th episode of First Look is all about family businesses, and all four Levys get to share their favorite tours for 4 minutes of the half-hour program! Hey, it’s a start . . .

Mark and his group in the former Five Points (now Chinatown)

For the first segment, Mark met the camera and (ridiculously good looking) hosts Jackie and Nate at Columbus Park in Manhattan’s Chinatown, site of the notorious Five Points neighborhood. Part of our Ethnic NY Tour, Mark talked about how in the mid-19th century, the Five Points was the worst slum in the world, yet gave birth to such all American inventions like Bowling Alleys and Tap Dancing. Mark introduced the family business, then sent the camera on its way to meet:

Jackie & Nate, the ridiculously good looking hosts!

Jonah, in Hell’s Kitchen, talking about Sandwiches! The Hell’s Kitchen Sandwich Crawl, one of our newer, more delicious tours, grew out of Jonah’s love for sandwiches and storytelling, and layering the two together like a well-stacked Cubano. In the segment, Jonah expounded on the interesting backstories found in sandwiches and NY neighborhoods like Hell’s Kitchen.  He and Nate split a sammy and chow down. Meanwhile . . .

Matt caught up with Jackie on Vandevoort Street in Bushwick, Brooklyn to talk all about Graffiti and Street Art. From Graffiti to Galleries and Brooklyn Represent! are two different versions of Matt’s favorite tour. The tour marches through a half-dozen neighborhoods, talking about the development of post-industrial NYC and the role that street art plays in generating neighborhood change. For First Look, we took them on an outer borough adventure to learn about the difference between graffiti, tags, murals, wheatpastes, throw-ups and street art.

Gideon (and Matt) talk about Oral History at Bar 169

Lastly, Gideon met Jackie and Nate at Bar 169, to discuss Saloon Culture in the Lower East Side. Featured in our Jewish Gangsters of the LES tour, Gideon talked about the history of neighborhoods that are transformed from working class immigration to industrial no-man’s land to hip artist lofts to boutique designers and luxury condos. And often the only history is the oral history passed down from generation to generation. So it’s important to keep your ear to the ground and stay tuned.

Which is exactly what we Levys want all our fans and friends to do! Keep your ears and eyes tuned to NBC on Saturday, May 7th at 7:30pm for our National TV debut! And keep listening to the word-of-mouth history, especially when it comes from NY’s First Family of Tour Guides!

By Matt Levy

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