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

Taking the High Ground

So I says to the bartender, I says “Hey, can I get a Sandy?”

And the bartender says “A Sandy? What’s that?”

And I tell him: “It’s a watered-down Manhattan!”

Ba-dum-dum!

Too soon?

But seriously folks… Flooding of our beloved city during the worst storm in over 100 years is no joke, especially when it cost the city nearly $60 billion. Fortunately, we Levys were all safe and sound during Superstorm Sandy in the neighborhoods of Ditmas Park (Mark) Park Slope (Gideon) Bed-Stuy (Matt) and Crown Heights (Jonah). And what do all of these neighborhoods have in common? Two very important factors in our globally warmed environment: distance from the sea and HIGH TOPOGRAPHY!

Topography (or vertical distance from sea level for those who don’t remember sophomore year Earth Science) has always played an important role in New York’s history. Our city was founded by sailors and shipping merchants who needed easy access to the ocean. Considering that the city was also founded by the Dutch, prevention of flooding was a key element to our architectural heritage (as the Dutch like to say, “God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands!” IE, they prevented this low-lying country from constantly flooding.)

Anyone visiting brownstone Brooklyn or the Upper West Side knows all about the layout of our beloved townhouses. They usually stand 3-4 stories tall with the “parlor” apartment on the second floor acting as the main floor, and the “garden” apartment, accessed through a lower doorway acting as a lesser apartment. Historically, the parlor apartment held all of the expensive, handcrafted furniture and the lower level was for more modest quarters for a guest. This way, if a flood occurs, at least the finer furnishings would be spared from ruin… And we just hope you didn’t have any guests there at the time…

And anyone who’s seen a Spike Lee movie (His good, older films. Not the lousy new ones…) knows that when kids hang out on the steps leading up to the parlor apartment on a hot summer day, they say they’re “hanging on the stoop.” Little do these Brooklyn kids know that stoop is just the Dutch word for “step”

Another fascinating bit of New York etymology: The word Manhattan in the Native-American Lenape language means “Island of Hills.” In lower Manhattan, those hills are long gone: flattened to have a good surface to build a couple of skyscrapers. The further north you go, the hillier it gets, until you reach the high bluffs of Washington Heights, Hamilton Heights and Morningside Heights (notice a theme here?)

When the Episcopal Church wanted to build a Cathedral to rival the magnificent Roman Catholic St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, they planned to build it on the highest point in the area so that it could be seen from afar – ergo on a high bluff in Morningside Heights. Take that, Pope! The unfortunate downside to this plan is that for a cathedral of this size to not sink into the earth, it needed to rest on the hard Manhattan bedrock. Which, at that particular outcropping of hilly of land, happened to be seventy feet below the surface, meaning great time and expense just to get back up to floor level. (important note: 120 years later, the church is not yet finished…)

But it wasn’t until Sandy hit that the idea of apartments above the ground level and higher-ground real estate really hit home (literally) for many New Yorkers, especially those in the Rockaways, Coney Island, the Financial District and the East Village. If the climatologists have it right, higher sea levels are coming, and there’s nothing we can really do to stop them. Just remember, if you’re looking to buy real estate in NYC, always look for the high ground!

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Street Art Article in USA Today – Instant Graffitification

Everybody knows I love graffiti. Which means that I also love wheat-pastes, stencils, paste-ups, tags, bombs, murals and collages. Which are all elements of a new vanguard of urban expression – Street Art. I like to say that “Street art is graffiti with a college degree.”

Back in October, USA Today asked me to put together a photo-essay and accompanying blurb about the BEST Street Art in NYC. In my various research, I ended up getting in touch with a few of my local heroes, finding out all about what they do and how they do it (mostly under the cover of night) in order to serve their passion, which is putting art up onto the streets.

Take a gander below, both of the pics and the text, and if you’re ever interested in seeing the art in person, checking out the neighborhoods and their amazing art-fueled transformation, I’d love to show you around Brooklyn’s street art scene.

By Matt Levy

*****
Street Art.

Wheatpaste. Freehand. Murals. Stencils.

All of these describe the new vanguard of street art in New York City. Graffiti may have once indicated a neighborhood hit bottom, but today street art ups a neighborhoods cool factor. And with the cool kids comes cafes, shops, restaurants, safer streets – and increased property values. Think graffiti with a college degree.

Street Art can take many forms: – a hand-colored wheatpaste poster slapped on a wall, a drip painting on the sidewalk, a sculptural installation on an abandoned building, a hidden hand-cut glass mosaic or a tag so large it can only see it via satellite. NYC’s best street art comes from a field of multi-disciplinary and multi-ethnic artists who aim for neighborhood beautification via illegal (and legal) means.

Post-industrial neighborhoods have gone from beat-down to boutique-ified. Bushwick in Brooklyn is a beautiful example. In the late 1970s, Bushwick was the bottom of the barrel – destitute and derelict, known for arson and arrests. Now Bushwick is NYC’s most creative neighborhood, thanks to its artists.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at these pics. And we’ll see you on the streets.

– Matt Levy is a native Brooklynite and owner of The Levys’ Unique New York! NY’s First Family of Tour Guides. His signature tour is From Graffiti to Galleries.

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Have You Seen Mr. Bones?

In what is certainly one of the more interesting emails we’ve received in quite some time, a cold-cases hobbyist contacted Matt earlier this week asking if we could help him with a 50-year old missing persons case. As wild as that sounds, the inquiry centers on a victim with a connection to the Greenwich Village bohemian poetry scene in the 1950s. And since we know history and run a GV literary tour, maybe we could help him. We couldn’t, but maybe you can.

Interested in other unusual happenings and history? Check out our unique tours or let us develop a tour just for you!

Can You Help Solve a Fifty Year Old Mystery?

He was a large man with brown hair, over six feet and over 200 pounds. His skeletal remains were found a half mile north of the Midway plaza of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Bedford, Pa., on October 9, 1958. He had been dead for months and died of a gunshot wound to the head, though it is not known if it was homicide, suicide, or accidental. “Mr. Bones” was wearing a motorcycle jacket, dungarees, and engineer boots. He had gold dental work and contact lenses, which were uncommon and expensive in 1958. The contacts were traced to a doctor in Illinois, but no record of who purchased them exists. No vehicle was found near him, so it is possible that he was hitchhiking.

A key found on “Mr. Bones” had “Active 195 Avenue A” stamped on it. His mess kit was sold by the Kiffe Co., then located at 523 Broadway, NYC. The two addresses are 1 ½ miles apart. He also had in his possession three books, two of which were on the subject of poetry.

Could he have some connection with Greenwich Village? Do you know of, or have you heard of, someone who disappeared back in the ‘50s and who could have been “Mr. Bones”?

If you have some clue as to his identity, please let us know.

For more information on “Mr. Bones”, please click the link below.

http://doenetwork.org/cases/585umpa.html

And if you have any information to add, please email Matt@levysuniqueny.com so he can pass it along to our cold-cases hobbyist. Only YOU can help solve the mystery of Mr. Bones!

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Into the (Shakespeare in the) Park Line

Restless purple clouds drift under a night sky. A breeze rustles through an enchanted forest. Off in the distance a flag flutters over a majestic castle, which overlooks a land of magic and beauty. In order to witness such beauty, some noblemen pay small fortunes; others peel their eyes open before dawn and wait for hours for a taste of Sondheim. The song I sing is about three brothers who took the latter route and arrived at 81st street and Central Park West at 5 o’clock in the morning. Seven hours later, they scored tickets for their friends and loved ones to a free production of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods at the Delacorte Theater.

I’ve been enjoying an amazing bounty of culture and entertainment at the Delacorte for at least fifteen years. My Grandma has brought me to some incredible shows, including Twelfth Night, starring Julia Styles, Zach Braff, Oliver Platt, Christopher Lloyd and Jimmy Smitts. “Shakespeare in the Park” shows two world-renowned performances a season; the first is often Shakespeare and the second is a more contemporary production. Two years ago I got to see the highly acclaimed revival of Hair, which soon thereafter hit Broadway (this production may have the same future!)

The Delacorte Theater is named after a fascinatingcontroversial & joyful philanthropist George Delacortet; the Public Theater is the organization that presents the show at the Delacorte. Started by Joseph Papp 50 years ago, a theater producer who tirelessly fought for open government funding of the arts, the Public Theater believes in the democratic virtue of bringing free theater to diverse audiences in order to address contemporary issues and provoke conversation. This production of Into the Woods is no different. For those unfamiliar with the show, lyricist Stephen Sondheim teamed up with longtime collaborator James Lupine to bring a new type of tale to the stage using a litany of classics with a shockingly modern twist.

A young narrator escapes into the woods after a fight with his father; using characters like Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, the Witch, and the Baker and his Wife, this show stirs up questions and lessons about raising children, losing parents, discovering maturity and rediscovering oneself. With Sondheim’s sarcastic lyrics, adult themes and ambiguous metaphors all wrapped up in delightful melodies and hilarious patter, this show teaches and entertain all at once, with something for all members of the Delacorte’s diverse audience.

However, the Shakespeare in the Park experience is not just the show but also acquiring the tickets! For decades, theatergoers have been lining up before dawn (sometimes before midnight!) to score free tickets handed out at 1pm for each evening’s performance. Matt, Gideon, myself, as well Matt’s girlfriend Jenny and our friend Liz packed in for the long haul with blankets, pillows, papers, iPads, sandwiches, salads, snacks and an epic game of Risk.

The Game of World Domination has been a staple in the Levy household for years, complete with trash-talk, diplomacy and vendettas so deep that after one particularly brutal game, Matt refused to talk to Mark for a week. Gideon and I had a intense battle, not because I wiped him and Matt off the globe in one massive sweep but because acorns were falling perilously close to the board. Victory arrived just in time for us to pack up and snag the tickets before returning to Gramma’s apartment on the Upper West Side for a much-needed nap. All that was left for the day was to dive back into the woods for an enchanting evening.

By Jonah Levy

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Mark and Alisa’s Wedding Album!

We’re happy to share some photos from our wedding on June 10 at the Queens County Farm Museum and are thankful to all our friends and family who could join us for this blessed event.

Signing the Ketubah, the traditional wedding contract.

We made our own Chuppah, the traditional wedding canopy, from cloth we purchased from a Lower East Side fabric store. We then had it sewn by my local Pakistani tailor and attached to poles from an Orthodox Jewish lumberyard. New York City! After asking our friends to sign the fabric, we also gave out small pieces of the Chuppah poles to our guests as gifts. Cantor Lisa B Segal officiated and sang.

First kiss as husband and wife.

If you know us, then you know what city folks we are, through and through. However,  hosting our wedding at the Queens County Farm Museum, NY State’s oldest continually operated farm was a beautiful, historic way to celebrate our lives.

Although our wedding was down home at the farm, we NEVER forget our love for New York City. Ergo, our wedding cake toppers.

And if you couldn’t make the wedding in person, we hope this pictorial review can bring you there in spirit.

All our love,

The happily married couple, Mark Levy & Alisa Brot.

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