Category Archives: NYC Walking Tour

I heart NYC

Why I Love New York City

“Living in New York must be so exciting,” friends from outside the city often remark. And they are right, it is exciting, even after 26 years residing here. I’ve lived in about a dozen apartments, moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back to Manhattan again. And, I’ve had twice as many jobs as apartments.

The view I am lucky to have in Manhattan!

Still I’m enthralled with New York City, thrilled by the frenetic energy, captivated the residents and our collective scrappiness in the face rent that is just too damn high, the artistic events on offer 24/7/365. I groove on the toughness–though not rudeness–of the folks I meet every single day on the streets, on the subway, in the stores, grabbing a cup in coffee shops and sitting next to me at live theatre, music, storytelling, comedy, and other events. These people, New Yorkers, are my people. I’ve been meeting more and more natives recently, but it’s also true a lot of folks come from elsewhere. Some come in search of fame and fortune, most come for a sense of freedom to express themselves in various ways that are not encouraged nor welcomed where they grew up, and most everyone I know likes the anonymity the city provides, at least sometimes.

Anonymity on the Cheap

Have we met before?

There’s definitely nothing like the “Big Apple” and taking a bite of it puts a spell on those who dare to do so. It’s the difficult lover you can’t leave, the too-expensive bling you buy anyhow, your eccentric aunt who dresses as she pleases and says exactly what she wants, or your outrageous, creative friend from high school who moved here to get out of their home town. And, even if you don’t have a friend like that, you will meet one here!

I’m so tired of those NYC v. LA lists! Even worse are those painfully angsty articles about people trying to “decide” to leave (really they’ve already decided, but want to get paid to write an article about it), or those who have left and want to burden us with how they are coming to terms with it and are oh, so glad they left.

I want to talk about what New York City means to me, someone who loves the place, with all of its flaws.

New York City Subway Platform

Please step aside and let the passengers off the train.

First, let’s talk about the subway. Sure, there are stalls and delays, and the weekends are all fucked up, and especially hard for visitors to understand. But, that’s because work is being done to improve the structure and therefore, the service. Of course, the price for a ride is too high, but folks, the NYC subway is so clean and runs so beautifully compared to just a few decades ago. And, may I remind you that the MTA is moving more than 5.5 million individuals around New York City and her boroughs EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. That’s a lot of people! And when a tourist asks directions on the subway, not only do they get an answer, they receive the assistance of many local riders, all of whom are convinced their route is the best way to get the visitor to their destination.

Building a a snowman in Times Square

Crossroads of the world.

On the day I am writing this, it happens to be snowing. Many New Yorkers seem to be afraid of snow, even though it snows here ever year. Activities today have been cancelled, and lots of folks who made plans with other folks are unwilling to fulfill them. But, other folks carry on, trudging through the slippery danger of un-shoveled sidewalks (there a law to do so, btw) and delighting in the white stuff.

There are the skyscrapers, the parks, the street art, the yellow (and green) taxis, and so much more! Local Expeditions has recently added several new tours to cover the bountiful urban beauty and rich history of this city. On our GATWAY: THE IMMIGRANTS tour we  walk through the Lower East Side, a district shows that within decades how the Irish Five Points became in turn the Jewish quarter, then Little Italy, now Chinatown and today’s Courthouse District. If you take the JACKIE ROBINSON’S BROOKLYN tour you’ll find out why no other major league team in 1947 was willing to sponsor a black man on the field–Brooklyn welcomed it! If you are appalled by the actions of our current 2017 POTUS like we are, you’d love our F@CK TR#MP: CHEAP ETHNIC EATS IN MIDTOWN foodie adventure where we’ll visit West African steam tables in Chelsea, food courts in Koreatown, Pakistani grills in NoMad, Indian buffets in Curry Hill, etc., etc. etc.  as long as your feet and stomachs hold out! And, if you are a romantic and like NYC love stories, check out the sneak-peek of our GOWANUS? YES, GO ON US!

And, there are the bodegas. And bodega cats. Both are staples of NYC life, especially in the boroughs. Recently someone posted a review on Yelp calling out a bodega cat. The response was swift, fierce, and very funny.

Photo of a cat

Everyone needs a job.

As a queer person, I love that NYC protects 31 gender identities. This is something that is extremely important in the current fascist political regime when our federal government, along with many states and cities, are passing laws allowing discrimination against transgender people, LGB folks, and other gender and sexual minorities.

Gender Identity Chart

Guide to NYC’s Protected Gender Identities

At the end of the day, New York City feeds my craving for living amongst like-minded creative folks. And, I don’t mean only artists and writers, but New Yorkers of all stripes who make it here despite all the obstacles.

To-Go Coffee Cup

No sugar? Say it twice. Say it loud. Say it clear. (The default is a “regular” which has two tablespoons and milk.)

That’s why I love New York City–it’s my one and only!

Talking About Coffee in Brooklyn

Talking about coffee in Brooklyn? That is one of our favorite things to do at Local Expeditions because we love our coffee as much as our best friend. Everyone’s life journey to the caffeine buzz is different. It started for me when I was a kid staring at my parents enjoying their after-dinner cup of coffee at my aunt’s house. They made the coffee look SO good. After years watching this post-dinner ritual, some adult asked me if I wanted a taste—with the warning I probably wouldn’t like it. They were right.

The next time I tried coffee was out of sheer and utter desperation. I was in Missoula, Montana, in graduate school and found the only way to keep up with the coursework was to literally stay up all night working, several nights a week, all semester long.

It never occurred to me to buy a coffee maker, but rather I thought my only option was to pour hot water over instant coffee, drink it quickly, and hold it down till the wave of nausea passed from the nasty taste.

This was in the late 1980’s and I thought, “That’s as good as it gets.” What I didn’t know was coffee/café culture had been underway for years and was currently alive and well in Seattle. Consequently, Italian made espresso machines had started making their way east, through the Pacific Northwest and into this Montana college town.

My very first latte was served to me in Missoula at Butterfly Herbs. My friend Kathleen who worked there suggested this beverage to me. This was radically different from the instant coffee—and though is still had a “coffee taste” it somehow tasted good! And the tentative sipping dragged out the consumption of the latte, which slowly revealed the mood-elevating effects of the caffeine. A coffee addict was born.

Its a drug

Fast forward to my move to New York City in the early-90’s. I didn’t think of myself as a coffee addict, but it was apparently quite obvious to all my friends who had already transplanted to NYC. I received repeated warnings from multiple people that NYC wasn’t like Missoula—you couldn’t just grab a latte anywhere, anytime. Unless you were in a fancy Italian restaurant, or deep in Brooklyn in an Italian neighborhood, I was going to be SOL. Except for ONE place in Manhattan, the Big Cup, located in Chelsea.

Big Cup Coffeehouse

R.I.P. BIG CUP

By 1995 the mainstream “latte” had hit NYC. Independent cafes flourished, particularly in the East Village. Then Starbucks began opening stores in Manhattan. The Big Cup closed. Other independent cafes opened, and closed, and opened. A few of those have managed to survive even to this day.

Then shortly after the turn of the century the artisanal coffee movement was founded. A handful of young enthusiastic coffee entrepreneurs began to open small, independent coffee houses, predominantly in Brooklyn. Local roasting companies began popping up and now you can find a roasting plant right in the back room of many local cafes!

So whether you already live in one of the five boroughs, or are visiting NYC, I would love to share my top three favorite North Brooklyn cafes with you!

Supercrown Coffee

SUPERCROWN COFFEE ROASTERS

Supercrown has the strongest, richest, yet smoothest coffee I’ve ever tasted. And their roasting plant is in-house so you can enjoy the amped up aroma of coffee while you are having a coffee. The drink everyone has been talking about is their coffee milkshake made with Van Leeuwen Sweet Cream, espresso and espresso grinds. You can also have tea, lemonade, individual pour-overs, light snacks and pastries. A beautiful atmosphere to enjoy a beverage in, you can find Supercrown in Bushwick at 8 Wilson Avenue. (Closest train is the L to Morgan Avenue.)

Cafe Grumpy Roasters

CAFE GRUMPY

Café Grumpy. First of all, their grumpy faced logo says it all—all about how I feel before my first cup of coffee. Though Café Grumpy has several locations throughout NYC, my favorite is the original location in Greenpoint at 193 Meserole Avenue. (Closest trains are the G to Nassau Avenue or the G to Greenpoint Avenue.) Their coffee is outstanding, their roasting plant is next door, and the best part for me is sitting in their cozy café slightly off-the-beaten Brooklyn neighborhood path.

Strangeways cafe

STRANGEWAYS COFFEE

I must admit I like borderline freakishly small café spaces with a slightly punky/beatnik atmosphere. So if you like to sit elbow-to-elbow writing angry thoughts in your journal or reading a hard copy of “The New York Times” (it’s delivered daily) then Strangeways is your place. Located on the boarder of Bushwick and Ridgewood at 87 St. Nicholas Avenue, they serve up some lovely latte art and use Fourbarrel coffee from San Francisco and Lofted Coffee (roasted in Brooklyn). And the cheese scallion scones they sell are the perfect morning snack with your first cup of joe. (Closest trains to Strangeways is the L to Jefferson Street or the L to DeKalb Street.)

Tune in again for more tips about the best coffee experiences to be had in Brooklyn!

~By Local Expeditions team member Lisa Haas

DECAF IS FOR SISSIES

DECAF IS FOR SISSIES

Anatomy of a Citibike DUMBO Tour

This Mother’s Day, May 8, 2016, we had a small group of folks on our CitiBike DUMBO tour. The description of the tour on our website gives the basics, but I want to share what happens from the POV of someone who has done the tour from beginning till end! Here are some of the highlights from this recent expedition.

While I was headed to our meet-up spot, I was surprised to find Marge Simpson hanging out in Chinatown:

Maggie Simpson sitting on Marge's lap in Chinatown

Marge with Maggie Simpson on her lap in Chinatown

I joined the others at our meet-up spot, the Confucius Square CitiBike dock and kiosk where we were greeted by our guide and founder of Local Expeditions, Nancy Blaine.

Statue of Confucius

Statue of Confucius in Confucius Plaza, Chinatown, NYC

It’s $10 for a CitiBike Day Pass. This cost is not included in our tour price, but it is a real bargain especially because a day pass lasts 24-hours and you can ride around NYC long after the tour ends! All you need to get the pass is a VISA/Mastercard credit or debit card. (And if you love bike riding, I suggest you go ahead and get a 3-day pass for $24, which gets you unlimited 30-minute rides in a 72-hour period. It’s a great alternative to taking the subway.)

Citibike Dock and Kiosk

Fleet of Citibikes in Confucius Square

Nancy walked us through the process securing our day pass at the Kiosk and we un-docked our bikes and headed over to the Manhattan Bridge. If you’re from out of town, you may be asking yourself “What about the cars?” Both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges have bike and pedestrian paths separated from the traffic. And, Nancy escorted us the entire way onto and over the bridge.

Resting spot on Manhattan Bridge

Resting spot on Manhattan Bridge

Riding over the bridge, we saw some infamous NYC graffiti!

Graffiti on Manhattan Bridge

Manhattan Bridge Graffiti

When we arrived in DUMBO, we docked our bikes at the Citibike kiosk (they are everywhere) and went on a walking tour, which led us by the most Instagrammed spot in NYC on Washington Street; many cool stores; and the Brooklyn Flea, an outdoor market offering unique food, clothes, art, furniture and more!

Flea Market in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Flea in DUMBO

We sat down for coffee and pastries at the excellent Almondine Bakery to have a rest, regroup and trade tourism stories. We all agreed Almondine serves, without a question, the best croissants in NYC.

Croissants at Almondine Bakery

There they are!

Later, Nancy told us about the major engineering feats of the amazing Brooklyn Bridge along with other history about DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) and how it has become one of the hottest neighborhoods in all of NYC.

History of DUMBO BK

Urban history of DUMBO

We toured more of the neighborhood and went to St. Ann’s Warehouse. St. Ann’s Warehouse is one of the most unique live performance theatre spaces, on the East Coast. (They are currently showing the BIANCO no-fit state circus and “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Gillian Anderson.)

Tennessee Williams

“…After all, a woman’s charm is fifty percent illusion…”

Here’s our intrepid guide in front of the NY Ferry landing:

NY Ferry landing

Nancy Blaine

To end the tour, we picked up another CitiBike and rode back to Manhattan via the glorious Brooklyn Bridge.

NYC Bridges

See the Manhattan Bridge behind us from the Brooklyn Bridge!

I had such a great day on this exciting tour. And, getting to meet the other tour participants was fun, especially with our instant camaraderie!

By Local Expeditions team member Lisa Haas