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March 2005
You’re Not in Kansas Anymore: A Lifer’s Guide to NYC

By Eric Weiss

 

Reverend Billy
A hardcore matinee of the band Most Precious Blood at ABC No Rio.
Photo by Kevin Lysaght

I’ve lived in New York City my entire life, yet each day I learn something new about this town. I find it somewhat humorous when visitors speak of living in New York “just for a couple years to see what it’s like” or when fresh-faced college kids come here to get the “New York experience.” Ridiculous.

New York cannot be deciphered in a few years, just as simply acquiring a Manhattan (or for that matter, Williamsburg) address does not make you a New Yorker. The truly remarkable thing about this city is the fact that it takes a lifetime, if not more, to truly get to know it. After three decades of living here, New York is in my blood. From the cement haven of the Queens backyard where I learned to walk to the gritty city streets (where I learned to run), New York has become a part of me.

Simply put, I love New York City. Despite all of the hassles of living here, there’s still no other place I’d rather call home. I guess you could call me a lifer. I was born and raised here and truth be told, I’ll probably die here; my ashes thrown into the night air as the Cyclone plummets down to earth from the Coney Island sky.

But, before I get to that final (and free!) ride on the Cyclone, I’ve still got some living to do. So, in homage to my beloved city I’ve compiled a (by no means exhaustive) list of some places and things that I think make this city worth getting to know.

Moo Shoes
When Moo Shoes opened in 2001 it sent the NYC vegetarian community into a tizzy of excitement. After years of wearing functionally boring, stiflingly sweaty plastic shoes from bargain basement chain stores, Moo Shoes was literally a breath of fresh air for our feet. With an amazing selection of non-leather vegan shoes, Moo Shoes has brought animal advocacy and veganism one step closer to the mainstream with a chic, bustling storefront that befits its trendy, Lower East Side locale. Remarkably, their shoes look so damned good, Moo Shoes not only pulls in the veggie set, but also the boutique hopping hipsters this neighborhood is known for.

And, much to their credit, Moo Shoes owners, Erica and Sara keep the store well stocked with not only cruelty-free shoes, belts, bags and jackets, but also a plethora of free animal advocacy literature and magazines, proving that commerce and compassion can indeed go hand in hand.
Moo Shoes, 152 Allen Street, NY, NY; (212)-254-6512; www.mooshoes.com.

Tuesdays
In most cities Tuesdays are nothing special. But here in NYC each Tuesday is a thing of exquisite beauty. You see, Tuesday is the day that the vegan dessert fairy (aka Danielle of Vegan Treats) visits New York, spreading ridiculously decadent cakes, Whoopie Pies, brownies, and cheesecakes to our metropolis. Seriously, these cakes and desserts are worth heading out for on a Tuesday night, no matter what the weather, just to insure you get first dibs on that Peanut Butter Mousse Bomb! Spreading her Vegan Treats fairy dust over restaurants like Atlas Cafe, Foodswings, TeaNY, and Red Bamboo, Danielle truly makes NYC an even sweeter place to live.
Vegan Treats, www.vegantreats.com.

ABC No Rio
In a Lower East Side neighborhood that is becoming increasingly (and nauseatingly) gentrified, ABC No Rio stands as a testament to radical culture and to the community it serves. Since its inception 25 years ago, ABC has been fighting for its survival—first to legally stay in the building, and then in trying to raise enough capital to renovate.

Throughout it all ABC No Rio has stood strong and has remained a vibrant space that epitomizes the DIY (Do It Yourself) spirit. Offering everything from politically charged art shows, legendary punk matinees (featuring some of the best mohawks our city has to offer!), poetry readings, open mics, music, and film as well as photography lessons, a darkroom, print shop, computer lab, ‘zine library and a kitchen for Food Not Bombs, ABC No Rio is a true gem for New Yorkers who value art, music and culture that is pure and unhampered by corporate interests.
ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington Street (btw Suffolk and Clinton), NY, NY; (212) 254-3697; www.abcnorio.org.

The Borough of Queens
To most people, including many New Yorkers, New York City equals Manhattan, plain and simple. However, to get a feel for the real tastes, sights, sounds and people of New York, and not simply the airbrushed version of this town, you’ve got to head to the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island and the place where I was born and raised, Queens.

Ironically, the city’s most ethnically diverse borough is most often associated with everyone’s favorite TV bigot, Archie Bunker. Yet, despite Archie’s closed-minded outlook on life, Queens’ diversity is its greatest asset and luckily, is reflected in the many culinary treats its varied neighborhoods have to offer. Favorites like the tiny Indian vegetarian restaurant Dosa Hutt, Flushing’s Buddha Bodai with their delicious veggie dim sum, and the incomparable homemade Italian ices (with fresh fruit) at the Lemon Ice King of Corona make Queens a vegetarian destination in its own right.
See www.queensbp.org.

Vegan White Russians
We all know that alcohol doesn’t solve any problems. But still, who can resist the temptation of some liver poisoning intoxicants after a long day of, say, anti-foie gras leafleting?

Well, depending on where you live, you’d better pack up those leaflets and hit the town early, because if you’re looking for a stiff drink in LA or San Francisco at 2:30 in the morning you’re out of luck. Same goes for Philadelphia. And Chicago. And Boston. But in NY, we don’t play games. Craving a Vegan White Russian at 3:35 a.m.? No problem. Head over to Lucky 13 Saloon in Brooklyn and they’ll hook you up, no hassle, no fuss, and no puritanical two a.m. last call. Co-owner, and committed vegan Melody Henry will imbibe you with vegan-made White Russians until four in the morning, which, in my (drunken) estimation is the perfect time to start leafleting again.
Lucky 13 Saloon, 273 13 Street (at 5 Ave), Park Slope Brooklyn, NY; (718) 499-7553; www.lucky13saloon.com.

The New York City Subway System

Having just celebrated its centennial, the NY City Subway is one of the greatest achievements in the history of mass transit. Despite its (often undeserved) reputation for crime, dirt and inefficiency, the subway is largely to thank for the growth of this city. Not only has the subway given the big middle finger to our country’s obsession with cars, but for many New Yorkers, the subway has made the act of not owning a car the real luxury. After all, who needs an SUV when you’ve got the IRT?
See www.mta.nyc.ny.us.

Food
Despite what some misguided, sandal wearing, left-coasters might claim, San Francisco and LA have nothing on New York in terms of vegetarian and vegan dining. Sure, I’ll give credit where credit is due… San Francisco and LA both have some amazing veggie restaurants, but really, in terms of sheer numbers, be it choices, selection, or diversity, no one can touch New York’s veggie spots. There’s a reason why New York City vegans are more robust (by my incredibly unscientific analysis) than their skinnier West Coast counterparts. Pick a type of cuisine and we’ve got it. From the vegan fast food of Brooklyn’s Foodswings to the upscale dining of Manhattan’s Candle 79, NYC is the place to visit if, for instance, you absolutely must pack on 10 pounds in a weekend.

With so many veggie restaurants to choose from, the question is not “where should we go tonight” but rather, “how many should we go to tonight?”
See www.satyamag.com/restaurant.html.

The Coney Island Polar Bear Club
Each Sunday during the winter, members of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club embark on an icy plunge into the Atlantic Ocean. No matter how cold it is outside, no matter how frigid the water temperature gets (sometimes as low as 33 degrees!) the Polar Bears come out and swim. These people must be absolutely crazy, right?

Now, I’d tend to agree with you, if not for the fact that I happen to be a member of the club. Why would anyone join such a club you ask? Well, I’m certain that everyone’s answer would be different, but for me, it’s the absolutely euphoric feeling I get when I hit the icy water. It reminds me in no certain terms that I am alive and, cliché as it may sound, that life is for living each day.

Plus, it’s fun as all hell. Where else can a grown man or woman yell, scream, and cheer with friends in a weekly celebration of the cold, the magic of Coney Island, the splendor of this city and most importantly, our lives?
See www.polarbearclub.org.

 

 


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